Posted on February 09, 2017 in Countdown

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Welcome Back - - - to the 2018 Countdown

Before you roll your eyes and plead with us for a longer break from election season, please know that we are coming back sooner than expected as well! But in the spirit of resistance and hope, Countdown is BACK to lead a snarky protest of our own (note to the White House: this is not an "astro-turf" protest, and neither are the others). We were gone a short (and tumultuous) two months, but if felt like forever. There's much to cover, so here goes AAI's 2017 coverage of all things political, important, and ridiculous here in Washington, DC. We thought it fitting to reflect on what President Trump might have learned in the first three weeks on the job.

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Epiphany #1 - We Have A Constitution & A Few Systems of Checks and Balances

President Trump had a very busy and very controversial first two weeks in the White House. We're not sure there is much ink left in his Presidential pen after all the Executive Orders that have been signed - but hey, Trump is well within the norm as far as quantity of orders and memorandums go. What is abnormal is the shocking content of some of the orders and immediate flood of legal challenges to the constitutionality of the ban on Muslims traveling, immigrating, visiting, or seeking refuge in the United States. Make no mistake, it is a Muslim Ban. And it has made Congress mad, the courts mad, and it is even opposed by the majority of the U.S. population. As of today, the ban has been stayed by a decision in the 9th federal court circuit, with more news expected on the stay this week. While President Trump and team are getting quickly acquainted with the constraints imposed by the courts (and the constitution they are sworn to uphold), they are also getting used to the informal checks and balances that are imposed by the cleansing power of a free (not fake) press. Repeated lies, we mean "alternative facts," have all but lost the trust of at least one major network which are not holding back on the new President's hostile relationship with facts that are not flattering. And there's a lot of those unflattering facts out there - thanks in large part to the nonstop leaks from the administration itself. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer has been the sharp end of the sword on this epiphany, we just hope that the lame-stream (oops, we mean mainstream) media continues to hold their feet to the fire so that the American public can get necessary information in a timely and truthful fashion. It's the small things.

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Epiphany #2 - Israeli Settlement Activity Is Bad, Like Really Bad

Another dumbfounding epiphany that absolutely NEEDS to strike the President is that you can't strike the "deal of the century" between Israelis and Palestinians while at the same time green lighting Israeli settlement growth. This might have started to dawn on the White House when the Israeli government announced major settlement construction plans in illegally occupied Palestinian land. The announcement challenged the bluster of campaign promises as well as the influence of many of the anti-Palestinian advisors Trump has surrounded himself with. In an unprecedented statement that we can only imagine the White House did not want to have to issue, President Trump tried to have his cake and eat it too by saying that settlements in the West Bank are not an impediment to peace but they are not helpful to peace. It really can't be both ways, and we know how the vast majority of the civilized world views that either/or equation. The Trump tight rope walking is pretty astounding, it is indeed a dramatic reversal of decades of bipartisan U.S. policy that holds settlements as an obstacle to peace negotiations. Nonetheless, the right wing Israeli government seems to be unafraid of testing Trump's loyalty to their radical agenda at the expense of Trump's obsession with being the Negotiator-in-Chief. Ever the thorn in the U.S. President's shoe, the Israeli government went ahead and made it even more difficult on President Trump's balancing act by passing a bill that makes it legal to steal privately owned Palestinian land. With no word from the White House or the State Department, we're left without any information about how the U.S. government is engaging with its closest, most important ally who just violated a litany of international laws. In the silent cavern of White House twitter accounts and statement releases, several members of the U.S. Congress have stepped up to make it plain. Sen. Feinstein - not usually one to be critical - took an unusually harsh, foreboding, and public approach to condemning the new Israeli bill. Check out her statement for everything you need to know - and hope to see - about what U.S. policy has been but can no longer be if Trump tries to have it both ways like he is right now. If you're in D.C., please join us to protest Israeli PM Netanyahu's visit to the White House next Wednesday, the 15th

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Obama Wasn't Right, But You Are Super Wrong, Part 1: CVE

We don't need to mince words when we describe President Trump's campaign, transition, and White House staff as the most hostile administration in recent history when it comes to their view of Muslims. There is much to be incensed and concerned about. But we cannot hang the entirety of Trump's anti-Arab and anti-Muslim national security agenda on his administration alone. Viewing Arab Americans and American Muslims through a securitized frame that requires resilience building as part of the advancement of U.S. national security is an Obama era creation, plain and simple. It's ridiculous to us that so many people only grew skeptical of Obama's "Countering Violent Extremism" (CVE) programming after rumors and leaks indicated that President Trump intends to rename the program to "Countering Islamic Extremism," making the initiative's problematic and dangerous agenda suddenly obvious. It has always been obvious to us that a federal program that views all Arab Americans and American Muslims as potential terrorists is more than a bit of problem. Point is simple, CVE programs were bad under Obama and will only be worse under Trump. Now many previous supporters of CVE - even community organizations who have accepted government grants to become partners with Obama's CVE agenda - are falling in line with us to oppose it. Grants have been rejected and key CVE researchers are admitting their newfound wariness about how the programs they built might be used to surveil, silence, and criminalize American Muslim communities. We're happy to welcome more people in to the anti-CVE camp. We need them. We also know that Obama was wrong, Trump is simply more wrong.

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Obama Wasn't Right, But You Are Super Wrong, Part 2: The Visa Waiver Program

We touched on the Muslim Ban at the top, but we are rolling our sleeves up and digging in now - because it has been painful to listen to the falsehoods being floated lazily repeated by the pundits, by Congress, and by the Trump administration. We're talking about the claim that what Trump is doing is reasonable because it was actually Obama who designated those seven countries as "countries of concern." Yes, it is true that the Obama administration signed into law a bill that was written by Congress that specified four countries as concerning, and then the Obama Department of Homeland Security added three more countries to the list all by themselves. BUT. A big but. This had nothing to do with the United States' ability to vet and screen immigrants, visa applications, or refugees from any of those countries - which is what Trump's Muslim Ban is claiming is insecure and warrants a shut down. The Obama policy was about the agreements we have with countries who participate in our Visa Waiver Program, under which the U.S. does not screen/vet/interview or require visas for citizens of participating countries. You can read the list of countries here - the program is meant to help foster easier travel and greater economic cooperation. But it isn't a crazy thought (though we ardently opposed the bill because it is discriminatory) by the Obama administration and Congress to say, hey, we should actually be screening these travelers too if they are dual citizens of "countries of concern" or if they frequently travel there. The Obama policy simply (but objectionably) said we should be screening these folks - NOT that we cannot sufficiently screen these seven countries or that anyone should be banned. Obama’s policy was bad - but Trump's policy is way, way, way worse (and we believe unconstitutional). Trump's team has been allowed to tell this lie too long. Hopefully that stops here.