Posted on April 02, 2013 in Countdown
Within days of his appointment, the new Chief of New York’s Police Department (NYPD), Philip Banks III, came out in defense of the department’s controversial Stop-and-Frisk program. Stop-and-Frisk gives officers the authority to search people they believe may be committing a crime. It has also been revealed that the NYPD keeps a record of those it stopped, regardless of innocence. Banks, who is third in line behind Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and First Deputy Commissioner Rafael Pineiro, called Stop-and-Frisk "an effective strategy when it’s done correctly." We’re not sure where Banks has been for the past 10 years, but the problem with that statement is, well, everything. The NYPD’s own data on Stop-and-Frisk suggests that the program is rarely effectively or correctly implemented. Over the past decade, the NYPD has wrongfully stopped nearly 9 out of 10 people they detain under Stop-and-Frisk, and has consistently stopped black and Latino individuals at much higher rates than whites. 1 out of 10: an incredible grade if your benchmark is failure. So what does this mean for the Arab American community? The NYPD’s controversial surveillance of Arab Americans and American Muslims is cut from the same cloth as Stop-and-Frisk, and despite efforts to appoint an independent monitor of the NYPD, Banks’ support of Stop-and-Frisk makes it highly unlikely that he will come out against the surveillance program in his new capacity as police chief.
We’ve written before about the dynamics between the Washington-based Democratic National Committee and the newly formed pro-Obama grassroots group, Organizing for Action (OFA), which redefined itself after the November election as a 501(c)4. So how have things have progressed over the past four months? If you ask Democrats who are affiliated with one or both entities publicly, they’ll tell you everything is fine and dandy, and that both the DNC and OFA know what their piece of the pie is in messaging, fundraising, and mobilization of the Democratic Party. “We’re the political arm of the president now that there is no campaign. OFA is exclusively on the issues side,” DNC Communications Director Brad Woodhouse told CNN in a recent interview. But privately, Democratic insiders like Woodhouse might be singing a different tune, especially when talking about the long-term relationship between the two. There are a few areas where the two groups will inevitably butt heads: fundraising and grass roots organization. OFA maintains an extensive list of supporters from both the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns and has an incredibly effective fundraising apparatus. Some worry that OFA will shift potential funders away from the DNC or create a situation where both entities will vie for funds from the same sources. Needless to say, Democrats may be put into the unfavorable position of backing OFA or the DNC at the expense of the other. It’s looking right now like it will come at the expense of the DNC, which is $22 million in debt. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the future.
Egypt’s most popular satirist, Bassem Youssef, was interrogated for several hours over the weekend as public prosecutors investigated allegations that he had insulted Islam and Egypt’s President, Mohamed Morsi, on his popular show el-Bernameg. Legal proceedings against public figures and opposition activists have become increasingly common in recent months, a troubling development in a country that just had a revolution intended, in part, to insure freedom of speech. Youssef’s program skewers political figures in a country where leaders often conceive of themselves as “the father of the nation” (a trope used by Nasser, Mubarak and now Morsi). They are used to public respect and deference, and Youssef provides neither. He also has influential friends around the world who have helped draw attention to his case and put pressure on the public prosecutor to drop these ridiculous charges. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland addressed his case on Monday, saying that the US has “concerns that freedom of expression is being stifled” in Egypt. Jon Stewart, to whom Youssef is often analogized, dedicated a must-watch portion of his show Monday night to Youssef’s case. Egypt desperately needs satirists like Youssef to illustrate that its political leaders are not gods or all-knowing fathers, but simply people, with foibles and shortcomings like everyone else. Fortunately, Youssef has pledged to not let his legal troubles restrain his comedy: “We are actually going to take it to even higher levels, we are going to take it through the roof. If you tone down the show, this is exactly what they want.”
For political junkies in Washington and around the country, the countdown to 2016 has already begun. After all, the vital Iowa caucuses are only 33 months away. On the Democratic side, the field is separated into two groups: Hillary Clinton, and everyone else. If Clinton elects to run, her dominance in fundraising and organization would likely dissuade younger hopefuls, like Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, from running. Clinton fueled speculation last month when she announced in a video for the Human Rights Campaign that she now supported gay marriage. The move was widely seen as an attempt to position herself on the right side of an issue that is now a litmus test for Democratic presidential hopefuls. On the other hand, as the Times points out, she and her husband are in the market for a multi-million dollar home in the Hamptons, not the easiest way to make herself relatable to John Q. Public. For now, Clinton is working out of a Washington “transition office,” though it’s not clear what she’s transitioning into. On the Republican side, meanwhile, presumptive Presidential contender Marco Rubio rushed to make sure his signature accomplishment wouldn’t be accomplished without him. After word leaked that labor and business groups had reached a deal on a vital part of the Senate’s immigration reform proposal, Sen. Rubio dampened enthusiasm by insisting a deal was not yet done. With his eye on 2016, Rubio needs to keep his options open. This way, if the right wing of his party revolts and reform dies, he can say he was against it all along. If it does eventually pass, Rubio wants to make sure that he, and not Chuck Schumer, receives the credit. It’s an inelegant dance, but it’s hard to focus on the here and now while planning for an election that’s three years away.
Last week, we wrote about President Obama’s trip to Israel and Palestine and the importance of his speech in Jerusalem, which outlined the shared humanity of all people in the region. Among other things, Obama spoke of the continued problems of the Israeli occupation, stating that “Israelis must recognize that continued settlement activity is counterproductive to the cause of peace and that an independent Palestine must be viable, with real borders that have to be drawn.” As if to underscore this very point, the Israeli High Court of Justice recently released documents from the Israeli Civil Administration, showing how the 325,000 acres of “state land” in the West Bank have been distributed in the past 33 years. Israel declared large areas “state land” in 1979, after the Israeli High Court ruled that the army could not constitutionally seize Palestinian lands. Of these state lands, over 38% has already been allocated to illegal Jewish settlement construction. But before you get upset about the illegal appropriation of land that has been illegally distributed to illegal settlements, we should point out that Palestinians have received some of that state land too: a whopping 0.7%. At this rate, they might get nearly 2% by the time all the land is distributed. We just hope Obama’s taking notice.