Posted on July 06, 2017 in Countdown

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When the Bully Pulpit Attacks

You may have heard former Republican congressman and current MSNBC host Joe Scarborough accuse President Trump of offering to block a tabloid from publishing a hit piece on him and his co-host and fiancé Mika Brzezinski, on the condition that Scarborough call the president and apologize for negative coverage of him. Trump, of course, insists this claim was “fake news.” Who you choose to believe is up to you, but the content of Trump’s tweets around the story is not in dispute. He called the TV hosts “low I.Q. Crazy Mika” and “Psycho Joe” and claimed he once saw Mika “bleeding badly from a face-lift.” He later paid the couple this compliment: “Crazy Joe Scarborough and dumb as a rock Mika are not bad people,” before bemoaning their “bad ratings.” A day later, Trump posted a fake wrestling video of himself repeatedly punching CNN in the face, in a tweet proclaiming (without a sense of irony) he was attacking “#FraudNewsCNN.” Incidentally, this fake video originally came from a racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim Reddit user. Sure, Joe and Mika can celebrate the massive hike in their ratings following this spat with the President, but the rest of us have to grapple with a new reality: Nothing is beneath the dignity of the Office of President of the United States anymore. Happy Birthday America!

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The Anti-American Founding Fathers?

Speaking of the 4th of July, there are many ways to celebrate America’s birthday. Whether it’s a cookout with family, the massive fireworks display downtown, or illegal fireworks in your backyard (we’re against the last option, but if you’re going to do it, at least do it sober), it probably all fades next to the sheer awesomeness of the very first 4th of July in Philly in 1776, which was celebrated with the official Declaration of Independence. But the National Public Radio (NPR) decided to mark the 4th by tweeting strange things about freedom, liberty and the right of the people to abolish the government were it to destroy their basic rights (who says things like that on Independence Day?). Some read between the lines and saw this as a call for an uprising against Donald Trump, triggering speculation that NPR may have been hacked, and a slew of tweets condemning it and calling for its defunding. Ready for the twist? Turns out NPR was just tweeting the Declaration of Independence. What does it say about the time we live in that the words of an essential founding document can stir this kind of condemnation and controversy.

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Strange Hobby

One of the following three statements is true: (1) McDonald’s burgers are made with rat meat, (2) Donald Trump once chewed the cushion off his favorite chair in a fit of rage, (3) arts and crafts chain Hobby Lobby is implicated in smuggling ancient artifacts out of Iraq. Can you guess which one is true? Hint: it’s the craziest one. Yup, Hobby Lobby has agreed to pay a $3 million dollar fine and forfeit more than 5,000 ancient artifacts smuggled out of Iraq via Israel and the UAE. The evangelical Christian-owned chain acquired the artifacts, the Department of Justice claims, but ignored many warnings and “red flags” about the likelihood of them being stolen. The Iraqi government can now submit a claim to retrieve items it claims ownership over. After many years of war and looting, it looks like the cradle of civilization will get a few of its most valuable remnants back, and without even putting Indiana Jones on the case.

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Hate’s Natural Outcome

Imagine if a Muslim attempted to crash his pickup truck into a church in Florida. Think that might make all the national headlines on the evening news? Well, you may have missed it, but a Florida man “intentionally drove his pick-up truck into two parked vehicles before smashing through the locked gate of the Islamic Society of Tampa Mosque” just last week. On a loosely-related note, a new academic study found that terrorist attacks receive five times more coverage in the U.S. if they are perpetrated by a Muslim, compared to a non-Muslim. But when Muslims are constantly painted as a security threat, it comes as no surprise that a recent poll found that a majority of voters now support Donald Trump’s Muslim/refugee ban on six Arab or Muslim-majority countries. That’s simply the natural outcome of the narrative deliberately promoted by hate-mongers, and perhaps inadvertently fostered and tolerated in mainstream discourse. We can and should battle the discriminatory policies that target specific communities, but in the long-run, we have to dig a little closer to the core, and address the way hate shapes the narratives Americans see and hear every day. We’ll have more on that for you soon!

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Humanity Before Politics

The deadline is up, and Qatar has not complied with the 13 “non-negotiable” demands issued by Saudi Arabia and its allies to end the isolation of the gulf state. That’s why Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the UAE expressed their disappointment and announced that the embargo will remain in place. Meanwhile, a Bahraini news agency reported on a new list of principles to which Qatar is being called to commit. Unlike the 13 demands, these principles are less specific, and simply call for a commitment to combat extremism, avoid interfering in the affairs of others, suspend provocative speech that promotes violence...etc. Could these principles provide a more flexible interpretation of Qatar’s adherence to its neighbors’ demands to resolve the crisis? That remains to be seen. But while Qatar has the resources to withstand its isolation for a while, war-torn Yemen not too far away is experiencing a massive outbreak of cholera that has claimed the lives of more than 1,600 people so far. Political disputes are not only understandable, they can sometimes even be welcomed when countries need to be prodded to pursue better policies. But when a political dispute takes the kind of humanitarian toll Yemen is experiencing, it becomes time to put humanity before politics, and to end this destructive war that clearly cannot lead to anything positive in the foreseeable future.