Posted on June 15, 2017 in Countdown

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Bullets Shock the Nation, Again

Gunman James Hodgkinson was killed by a shootout with police, but not before wounding several people during congressional baseball practice, including House majority whip Steve Scalise (R-LA). As of the time we’re writing this, Scalise remains in critical condition, and will need further surgeries soon. The shooter’s politics were left-leaning and he appears to have been politically motivated, as there are reports that he targeted the Republican members of Congress. He also seems to have had a personal life marred with signs of rage, domestic battery, and professional failure. On the same day and on the other side of the country, a UPS employee killed 3 coworkers before shooting himself. Because the status quo of gun violence in this country is not acceptable, there will be a time to debate what might need to change when it comes to guns, mental health-care, and our incendiary political rhetoric. But for now, we want to offer our thoughts and prayers to the victims and their families, and wish Congressman Scalise a speedy recovery.

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The Investigation Stops Here

After repeatedly bragging that he wasn’t personally under investigation in connection with the Russia scandal, Trump is now (...you guessed it) under investigation for potential obstruction of justice over his firing of former FBI director James Comey. Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich was ecstatic at first over Robert Mueller being put in charge of the Russia investigation, tweeting several weeks ago that he was a “superb choice” with  “impeccable...honesty and integrity.” That opinion didn’t last long, as Gingrich now thinks the choice of Mueller should be reconsidered, because only the “delusional” (as in himself a month before?) can believe he’ll lead a fair investigation. Meanwhile, Trump did not have a Harry Truman moment and passed the buck further by reiterating that this was “the greatest WITCH HUNT” (with such tiny hands, how does his pinky keep slipping onto the CAPS LOCK button?) “in American political history - led by some very bad and conflicted people!” Wait, does Trump think "conflicted" is an insult? Or does he think the investigation should be led by people whose minds are rigidly made up in advance?

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Going to Extremes on Extremism

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held a hearing yesterday on “understanding the tools, tactics, and techniques used by violent extremists.” If you’re not sure what this is really about, you will once you realize that a team of anti-Muslim careerists were assembled as “expert witnesses” to discuss the problem: Ayaan Hirsi-Ali, Asra Nomani, and John Lenczowski. They were joined by Michael Leiter, former Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, whose testimony certainly had major shortcomings related to the major shortcomings of domestic "countering violent extremism" programing but who, unlike the rest, has actual expertise on the topic. There were the standard disclaimers of “not all Muslims”, followed by concocted hysteria about sharia’s encroachment on America...etc. But it wasn't all smooth sailing for the anti-Muslim narrative. Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) kicked off his questions by condemning anti-Muslim sentiment and xenophobia. But it was Senator McCaskill (D-MO) who delivered the most devastating cross-examination, fact-checking Lenczowski’s claims about Muslim “no-go zones” all over Europe with Leiter, who contradicted Lenczowski, confirming he “never saw anything resembling a no-go zone” despite his extensive work in Europe. Leiter went on to dismiss the claim that political correctness was hindering counter-terrorism efforts, as well as the “deeply mistaken” belief that “Sharia was making any inroads” in the US. You can watch the full hearing here.

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As Virginia Goes…

If we learned anything from the 2016 presidential election, it was that America was tired of establishment politicians, and was ready for an anti-establishment, Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders-type candidate. But this week’s Virginia primary elections seem to teach a different lesson entirely: On the Democratic side, the Bernie Sanders-backed Tom Perriello lost to establishment candidate Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, while Trump-inspired Corey Stewart was defeated on the Republican side by former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie. Was this a “buyer’s remorse” wave after 6 months of a scandal-ridden, anti-establishment presidency? Not exactly, since the Trump-inspired candidate barely lost despite going against someone with significantly more money and better name recognition, “suggesting that the Trump effect is alive and well in the state”, as Politico put it. But one thing Democrats can celebrate is the massive turnout, suggesting a re-energized base following the Party’s wave of defeats in recent elections.

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Bibi Shutdown Mania

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu’s biggest achievement so far has been to shut down the possibility of a just and lasting peace with the Palestinians, but he’s feeling ambitious so there are a few more things he’d like to shut down. He wants to shut down the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) because it supposedly “perpetuates the Palestinian refugee problem”. Bibi, you’re so humble, but we won’t let you run away from your achievements: It’s actually you and your government’s policies that are preventing Palestinian refugees from going home, don’t give that credit away! Netanyahu is also considering shutting down the local Al Jazeera office, probably because too much press freedom is bad for Bibi’s policies. He also wants to shut down foreign donations to NGOs in Israel, in a move seemingly targeting international support for human rights organizations in the country. And perhaps worst of all, Bibi has slashed Gaza’s electricity down to 2-3 hours per day for millions of Palestinians (though on that one, he seems to have help from the PA), leading Amnesty International to warn of a “looming humanitarian catastrophe”, to say nothing of the real possibility of renewed violence over Gaza’s suffocation. Will the US ever get the political will to shut down Bibi’s agenda for the sake of peace and stability?