Posted on March 02, 2018 in Countdown

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Rewarding Bad Behavior

As many of you know, Arab Americans face systemic harassment, detention, and occasionally deportation by Israeli authorities upon attempting to enter Israel or Palestine.  It’s so bad that even the State Department once said it’s “concerned at the unequal treatment that Palestinian-Americans and other Arab-Americans receive at Israel’s borders and checkpoints.” So how should we respond to Israel for its discriminatory treatment affecting U.S. travelers? Well, the U.S. Senate has an idea: All 100 of them signed onto a letter to DHS Secretary Nielsen urging to extend CBP’s Global Entry program to include Israel. The Global Entry program includes a bilateral agreement between the United States and a country, accelerating their nationals’ entry to the U.S. and vice versa “to ensure the best travel experience.” Ah, yes, nothing teaches them a lesson like rewarding their mistreatment of our citizens with special travel privileges for theirs! Because we’re not cool with this, we sent our own letter to the Senate, urging them to reconsider their endorsement of admitting Israel into the Global Entry program, at least until Arab American travelers are afforded equal protection. By the way, if you’ve faced mistreatment at an Israeli-controlled border, we want to hear from you.

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Winds of Change, For a Change

If you regularly read Countdown, you’ve heard about the piling attempts to undermine the First Amendment by penalizing non-violent protests of Israel, including boycotts, in various states across the country. Well, there was movement in the opposite direction last week, when California’s Democratic Party rejected anti-boycott language from being included on their platform (yay!). This wasn’t just about avoiding the bad, it was also about including the awesome: The party also approved a recommendation to support Congresswoman Betty McCollum’s bill seeking to protect Palestinian children from abuse in Israeli military detention. The party couldn’t reach an agreement on condemning Trump’s illegitimate Jerusalem decision, but they did express support for a potential Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, which is something. At the same convention, Senator Dianne Feinstein failed to secure the Democratic Party’s endorsement for her reelection, despite holding that seat for a quarter of a century. Whatever is going on in California, it certainly isn’t politics as usual.

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Changed Minds in the Mid-South

Kentucky Democrat Linda Belcher (no, not the fictional character from Bob’s Burgers) just won the state’s Special Election to fill the 49th District State Assembly Seat; a position she once lost to former Representative Dan Johnson. This time around, she won it with a whopping 68% of the vote in a district Trump carried with 72% of the vote. This enormous reversal has given political analysts yet another case study to review for clues leading up to the 2018 Midterms. The result didn’t sit well with Belcher’s challenger Rebecca Johnson, who claimed voter fraud was responsible for her loss. This claim of fraud has been refuted by the county’s election clerk, although it’s worth noting that eligible voters were incorrectly purged from Kentucky’s voter rolls by the Republican Secretary of State. A little farther south, we told you when Tennessee Senator Bob Corker announced his retirement after a very public fallout with President Trump. Recently, rumors emerged that he is reconsidering his retirement, and even trying to find his way back into the good graces of Trump and his allies. A reelection bid would set up a showdown between him and presumptive GOP nominee Marsha Blackburn. Alas, the drama ended this week when Corker’s chief of staff confirmed the Senator had changed his mind about changing his mind, meaning he won’t be running again (as of now).

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Familiar Names Make 2018 Election Bids

Mitt Romney has officially announced his campaign to replace retiring Senator Orrin Hatch. Due to Romney’s popularity in Utah---popularity stemming from his role with the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics and his 2012 Presidential bid---this race may already be decided. There’s still 248 days until Election Day though, and Utah has been known to surprise shoe-in candidates before. Another familiar name throwing his hat into the midterms is Sanders. No, not Bernie Sanders, Levi Sanders. Levi, son of Bernie, is one of eight Democrats running to replace retiring representative Carol Shea-Porter in New Hampshire’s competitive 1st District. Sanders’ platform reflects that of his father’s quite a bit, an unsurprising fact since he served as a Senior Advisor to Bernie’s 2016 Presidential campaign. The younger Sanders will have to navigate some tense political dynamics overall, particularly because some of Bernie’s most prominent supporters have already pledged their support for another candidate. Déjà vu, huh? And Trump may not be running for reelection for another three years, but he’s already making moves. This week, it was announced Trump is hiring Brad Parscale as his reelection campaign manager. Parscale joined Trump’s 2016 campaign team as the digital director without prior experience, and received credit for elevating Trump’s social media presence in 2016. This historically early start to reelection grants Trump an opportunity to influence midterms, and to test the continued pull of the Trump brand. We know what you’re thinking: digital director to campaign manager is quite the leap. Just remember that most of Parscale’s competitors for the job have bowed out of politics, thanks to the innumerable White House scandals.

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A Presidential Curveball on Guns

Following yet another tragic school shooting, this time in Florida, President Trump not only appeared to be backing strict gun control measures, but went as far as to accuse Republicans who don’t support such measures of being afraid of the NRA. He even suggested guns could be taken away from people suspected of being dangerous before affording them any due process. This must have come as a shock to the NRA, which warned its supporters during the election that Hillary Clinton was after their guns. But like all off-the-cuff ramblings from this president, they can be entertaining to watch, but you can’t base policy predictions on them. On Thursday, after Trump’s jaw-dropping comments, the NRA met with him, and subsequently tweeted that the President was not in favor of any gun control measures. Trump didn’t challenge the NRA announcement, and merely said his meeting with the NRA was great. Whatever you think of gun policy, the constant incoherence and contradictions of this administration may be great for late night comedians, but how good is it for the rest of us? Not very. Also, while we were all focused on the lame Trump policy dance, a group of kids from the school where the shooting took place have started a massive movement that now includes businesses distancing themselves from the NRA. Something different maybe brewing.

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