Posted on April 20, 2018 in Countdown

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Breaking: The State Department under Donald Trump has stopped using the word “occupation” to describe Israel’s presence in the Palestinian OCCUPIED territories. We will have much more to say about that soon. TWEET THIS

Syria & the US

If you’re not paying attention, you probably saw that the Trump administration gathered hard evidence of a chemical attack by Assad’s forces in Syria, then launched a major military strike that degraded the Syrian government’s military. If you were paying attention, however, you saw that it was actually very different: Trump and our European allies launched a largely symbolic and inconsequential military strike on Syrian government facilities, after relying  “to an unusual degree” on open source material and social media to assess the suspected chemical attack. And if you think our elected officials have strong merit-based feelings on US military action in Syria, think again. If you look at resolutions demanding Congressional approval for military engagement in Syria in the Obama-era compared to a recent one in the Trump era, you see a peculiar partisan reversal. It’s almost like our elected officials care more about partisanship than genuine policy, and our administration is more interested in theatrics than piecing together sensible policy that actually benefits the Syrian people or at least addresses their extraordinary suffering. 

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Can’t Wait to Get Out of Here

In this week’s game of who’s-going-to-retire-from-Congress-next, our new winner is Charlie Dent. You probably already heard about House Speaker Paul Ryan’s decision not to seek re-election. Ryan has #noregrets about his time in office, but says he wants to spend more time with his children. Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Charlie Dent had already decided last September not to run for re-election, but he just announced he’ll be resigning in May. After saying that running as a Republican in the Trump era is a “no-win position,” Dent decided he couldn’t hold out eight more months to finish his term. Now, Governor Tom Wolf must set a special election date to replace Dent. Sounds simple, right? Wrong. Since the PA Supreme Court redrew the state’s congressional map only earlier this year, the special election to replace Dent will involve the current 15th District. But most of the current 15th District will be absorbed into the new 7th District in the next Congress decided by the November general. What a headache! If the governor decides to hold the special election alongside the general, then someone could run for both the old 15th District and the new 7th District seats on the same day OR different candidates could run for each district, with the special election winner just chillin’ for two months until the current term ends. Governor Wolf has 10 days to decide what to do, so let the countdown to the countdown of the special election and general election and next Congress countdown begin!

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Putting Our Foot Down

First, the Trump administration takes out the Middle Eastern or North African (MENA) category in the 2020 which we’ve fought tooth and nail to include so we can be counted. Then we file a FOIA to know why they insist on not counting us after we were set to be counted, but they won’t tell us. Well, now we’re suing to get the Office of Management and Budget to tell us exactly what happened. Our Executive Director Maya Berry said: “OMB’s non-action came after multiple Federal Register comment periods with overwhelming support for a new category and results ... showing that its inclusion would create a more accurate count. Our concern is that this thorough process was disregarded.” Well, disregarded we won’t be anymore! And keep in mind, this whole let’s not include a MENA question is coming at the same time as let’s add a citizenship question. Yes, this administration is playing politics with the census and sometimes you just have got to put your foot down.

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Everyone Gets to Vote

In 200 days, New Jersey could see its voter turnout for the November 6th election grow by half a million voters! This exceptional possibility is thanks to the new Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) Law signed by Governor Phil Murphy on Tuesday, making New Jersey the newest member of this growing club, following Washington State and Maryland. AVR automatically registers eligible voters when they apply for a driver’s license or state ID card, reducing the steps between a voter and the voting booth. Oregon was the first state to use AVR in 2016, registering 215,000 new voters, 45% of whom contributed to a record-setting turnout. The Brennan Center estimates universal AVR could benefit up to 50 million unregistered eligible voters, and reaching all these voters has inspired several reforms---early voting, same-day registration, pre-registration for 16 and 17 year olds, & online registration---to expand voter access. Restoring voting rights to former felons is gaining traction around the country, too, and New York Governor Cuomo is the latest to take notice. In an Executive Order signed on Wednesday, Cuomo established a streamlined process for the restoration of parolee voting rights. This wave of ballot access reforms is a long overdue response to nearly two decades of voter suppression laws, many of which are being challenged in the courts.

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Yet Another Wake Up Call

As Israel’s killing of unarmed Palestinian protesters in Gaza continues, the highly prestigious Genesis awards ceremony was set to honor American-Israeli actress and superstar Natalie Portman. But Portman’s representative had something interesting to say to the Genesis Prize Foundation: “Recent events in Israel have been extremely distressing to her and she does not feel comfortable participating in any public events in Israel,” adding “she cannot in good conscience move forward with the ceremony.” And yes, the sky did fall and, having lost their primary honoree, the foundation cancelled the award ceremony altogether. This is obviously another major wake up call for the Israeli government about its unacceptable treatment of the Palestinian people. But will they actually wake up? If an Israeli parliamentarian’s call to strip Natalie Portman of her Israeli citizenship is any indication, the answer is not yet. But the world will continue to wake up to the injustice imposed on the Palestinians, and we’ll keep fighting until Palestinians live in dignity and freedom.