Posted on May 30, 2015 in Countdown

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Patriot Act (kind of) Scaled Back

It has been almost fourteen years since the tragic attacks of September 11th, and Congress’ subsequent passing of the Patriot Act. It is no secret that the massive surveillance mechanism and bulk collection of Americans’ information – which officially expired Sunday night – has been a blatant violation of the Constitution and of our civil liberties. Despite 74% of Americans saying that they should not have to surrender privacy and freedom for safety, a recent Pew Research Center report demonstrates that a plurality of Americans do not believe that the government has done enough to combat terrorist threats – threats which President Obama recently warned about when declaring that the Patriot Act’s expiration could have severe consequences. Still, it is probable that Congress will (technically) scale back the Patriot Act with the new “USA Freedom Act,” an ironic, yet typical name for a piece of legislation that in reality does just about anything but protect American freedom. The fact that both President Obama and Speaker John Boehner support the bill shows that this “rollback” of the Patriot Act is all for show. The USA Freedom Act is the Patriot Act’s nearly identical twin. The White House even admitted that the new legislation still grants strong powers to the government that will “eliminate unnecessary risk to our national security.” Though phone companies – and not the NSA – would now be responsible for collecting all of Americans’ private phone and internet information, the government will have little trouble accessing the data. In addition, the surveillance regime that was exposed by Edward Snowden will be largely intact. It looks like we can all take comfort in knowing that big brother will still be watching. 


The Defender of Civil Liberties and the GOP Pariah

For now, the Senate failed to renew provisions of the USA Patriot Act and the main force behind that was GOP presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY).  Unlike many of his colleagues in Congress, Sen. Paul did something truly remarkable: he followed through on his promise that he would do everything possible to force the sunset of the Patriot Act. Sen. Paul’s actions have provoked a swift and harsh response from many of his fellow Republicans, particularly from the party’s hawkish camp. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the 2008 Republican Presidential candidate, told reporters that he believes that Sen. Paul is the worst candidate that the GOP could put forward, particularly because of his stance on the Patriot Act and national security issues more broadly. Fellow GOP presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) accused Sen. Paul of political grandstanding, and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), the president pro tempore, accused Sen. Paul of aligning himself with “very radical people – from the left to the right.” Sen. Paul’s latest actions have made him both the golden child of libertarians and the black sheep of a crowded GOP presidential field. National security has become a central focus for Republican primary voters and Sen. Paul’s libertarian crusade has done nothing to strengthen his national security bona fides in a way that attracts traditional party voters. Sen. Paul is trying to find a way to cater to his base while attracting more traditional GOP voters but sometimes you can't have your cake and eat it too. 


Why Hillary Might Need to Worry

Does anyone whose name is not Hillary Clinton have a shot at the 2016 Democratic Presidential Nomination? A few people are definitely trying. This past Saturday, former governor Martin O’Malley (D-MD) announced his bid in the 2016 presidential nominations. As he sets his sights on the Oval Office, many are looking at his past and citing failures such as his time as mayor of Baltimore, a city still in shambles. He defends his position—in past public office and as a presidential contender—with his improvement of the city of Baltimore and his 15 years of executive experience. Front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton is also defending herself as her personal attributes are eroding, with her democratic base harboring reservations due to fundraising practices at the Clinton Foundation resulting in her lowest favorability rating ever. Despite some bad press, Hillary’s longevity and name recognition may be enough to carry her to the Democratic nomination without serious contest. Senator Elizabeth Warren, who was thought to be a possible challenger, has recently decided not to run in the 2016 presidential race. But, others are warning Hillary that “objects in the mirror are closer than they appear” to getting the democratic nomination. That object would be Bernie Sanders (I-VT). The independent, most liberal member of the Senate is sweeping through Iowa. The two-term Senator drew hundreds of people to the largest presidential rally in Iowa thus far, and he is proving to be a challenge to Hillary. A replay of 2008 could come for Hillary once again, where Obama decisively won the Iowa Democratic caucuses. The Democratic field expanded further this week with Lincoln Chafee, the former Rhode Island Senator and Governor announcing yesterday—Go Metric System! Former Virginia senator James Webb is also announced that he is entering the race.


No Such Thing as Bad Publicity

Last Wednesday former Republican Senator Rick Santorum shocked no one in announcing his 2016 Presidential run. What did shock many political analysts was his performance in his previous (or maybe ongoing?) 2012 Presidential campaign, where he seemed to fare much better than expected in the rough 2012 Republican primaries. While many already discount his chances in 2016, previous comebacks indicate that we might see him well into the 2016 race. His face is already popping up in a few unexpected circles, including an ISIL online magazine called Dabiq, where the Republican hopeful is named the catholic crusader under the headline “In the words of our enemy.” Santorum seemingly took the position of "all press is good press," framing the incident as “They know who I am, and I know who they are.” ISIL, however, is allegedly less tough on Santorum than the New York Times. In an April interview on Fox & Friends, Santorum said the ISIL publication actually quoted him more accurately than the New York Times stating that it was “a remarkable comment on the state of the media today.” All things considered, Santorum displayed his political acumen when used this episode to bolster his campaign’s foreign policy chops. Santorum is also joined in the field of Republican hopefuls by Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and former New York Governor George Pataki, who at the age of 69 declared his candidacy even though his political clout is far from what it once was.


Flunked Civics Class

We’re sure many Americans are getting tired of the constant assaults on their ability to simply live their lives peacefully. And when  anti-Muslim bigots gather to intimidate worshippers is sold as a “Freedom of Speech” rally the hypocrisy is palpable. Jon Ritzheimer, a former U.S. Marine, who proudly wore military fatigues and a crude t-shirt denigrating Islam outside a Phoenix area Islamic Center, addressed a group of 250 mostly-armed protestors as “fellow patriots.” He claimed to be personally targeted by ISIL, and to his detractors says, “I don’t care if I offend anyone. This is America.” No, that is not America, and many took to social media to make that fact very clear to Ritzheimer and others like him. Hundreds came out in solidarity with the Phoenix Muslim community. Usama Shami, president of the Phoenix Islamic Center, spoke about the outpouring of support and large numbers that came out to counter the armed protestors, saying “a lot of people realize they need to speak against hate…there is a positive side to this.” We hope that the positive side continues to drown out the noise from the so-called ‘patriots’ that barely understand this country’s Constitution and the freedom and protections it ensures for all citizens. Their hatred is indeed #NotMyAmerica.