Posted on April 02, 2015 in Countdown

 

The Dem Dance

Heading into 2016, no one is looking at the Democrats to supply Presidential race drama, but the Democrats in Congress are churning out double-take headlines at an impressive clip in their bid to reclaim majority party status. Starting at the very top of the Congressional Democratic food chain, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) made Republican dreams come true over the weekend when he surprisingly announced that he will not seek reelection in 2016, leaving his enviable leadership position up for the taking. New York’s own Chuck Schumer has received Reid’s blessing as successor, pulling in favors from colleagues to edge out Senator Durbin of Illinois (House of Cards, much?). Schumer holds the promise of a much more strident, much more pro-Israel leadership role – he will, in fact, be the first Jewish Senate party leader ever, and of course New York’s pro-Israel community ain’t nothing to trifle with. But the fun doesn’t stop at the top. Maryland and Illinois are going to run a two-year long matinee of Democratic dances: With Mukulski’s retirement from the Senate, the fight between Rep. Chris Van Hollen and Rep. Donna Edwards to fill his empty seat, and the two races to fill their seats, Maryland has 3 races that might seriously reshape Democratic leadership in the House and Senate (Van Hollen was presumed to be Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s heir upon retirement). And of course, Democratic all-star Tammy Duckworth announced that she will have a go at winning back an Illinois Senate seat from Mark Kirk. With Congress on recess for all of next week as well, we’ll expect to see even more dancing partners announced.

Sorry isn't going to cut it

Now that Bibi’s racism has had it’s official coming out party in the American public, we need a quick postmortem examination of Bibi’s less than diplomatic speech before a joint session of Congress last month. The Congressional Black Caucus – whose members did not attend Bibi’s speech – went past the point of no return when one of their own, Rep. Clyburn (D SC-6), told the visiting Israeli kiss-and-make-up brigade that the Prime Minister’s maneuver was “an affront to America’s first black president.” It seems quite obvious to us that Bibi has always worn his race goggles, but it’s good to see a spade called a spade. The whole racist kerfuffle is backfiring big time too. Having offended the CBC’s righteous appreciation of diplomatic protocol, Bibi might have cost himself the veto-proof majority Congress needs to override any Iran deal President Obama signs off on. Indeed the CBC promised, "there will be no veto-proof majority in the House.” Bibi’s racism might have paid off in Israel, but it seems to have have cost him in Congress.

The Forgotten Forgotten People

In the face of unimaginable violence and strife in Syria, the international community has allowed itself to become paralyzed with uncertainty and inaction. While we have become accustomed to the idea of Syrians living with the threat of death looming over their heads, the plight of Palestinians living in Syria has been ignored from the beginning. As international delegations headed to Kuwait for the third annual donor conference on Syria, UNRWA warned that the emergency fund for Palestinians was dangerously low. This comes just four months after the World Food Program was forced to launch a social media campaign to fund a food voucher program for Syrian refugees that was suspended after donors failed to meet their commitments. While the U.S., EU, and the Gulf nations have been incredibly generous in their commitments, trends show that the pledges haven’t translated into reality. Of the $2.34 billion that was pledged last year, only 58 percent was received. These trends are even more dismal for UNRWA’s appeal, which had only four percent of its emergency work in Syria funded so far this year. This doesn’t bode well for the $3.8 billion that was pledged by donors yesterday—a number that falls well below the U.N.’s appeal for $8.4 billion needed for Syria alone. The greatest shame is not that we haven’t met funding needs, but that we have let the situation in Syria escalate to this tipping point where besieged people are slowly wasting away. The urgent need for aid and funding is the fallout of our failure to secure a just, peaceful resolution to a devastating four years of war. 

On the Brink

Yemen, one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world, has been deeply troubled for quite some time. The country has been beset with multiple civil wars and coups in its modern history and its economy continues to be heavily reliant on international assistance. It came as no surprise that the large scale protests that brought down the creaking, kleptocratic regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2011 did little to stabilize the country. Now we find ourselves with Saudi Arabia carrying out airstrikes, part of a broader forthcoming land campaign, against the Houthi rebels that had taken control of parts of the country, including the capital Sana'a, which forced out the Gulf-state-backed Yemeni president Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi. The Houthis had previously fought against Saleh when he was in power but are now aligned with northern tribes and forces loyal to Saleh. President Hadi retains the support of tribes and separatists in the southern part of the country. Hoping to dispel the prevailing narrative of the Saudi attacks in Yemen, the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. stressed that his country's actions are intended to "protect the people of Yemen" and that he "wouldn't call it a proxy war." Whatever the broader context, the attacks are causing not only increasing civilian casualties but dissolving any hope that the beleaguered state could be placed back on a track towards stabilization. The long suffering people of Yemen deserve better than to be the bystanders to a brutal struggle of competing powers from beyond their borders.

Newt Gingrich’s ‘Cultural Jihad’

At a recent House Homeland Security Committee hearing, Chairman Michael McCaul asked several famously open-minded and inclusive conservative figures such as former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and former NSA and CIA Director Michael Hayden, to speak about the ongoing battle against “Islamist extremism.” In his testimony, Gingrich resurrected Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations concept and stated that "radical Islamists" today are continuing a 1400-year mission to destroy our Western civilization. While the Qur’an speaks of a greater jihad, the daily inner struggle that every individual confronts, and a lesser jihad, the struggle against political and religious oppression, Gingrich spoke of a different dichotomy. According to Gingrich’s combative worldview, the U.S. is being weakened by both 'violent jihad' and 'cultural jihad.' As if American society needed another bigoted and misinformed term to enter its lexicon, Gingrich's 'cultural jihad' suggests that the violence perpetrated by groups such as the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is a direct product of the their purported adherence to Islam. Most troubling, aside from Gingrich’s clear inability to learn from decades of failed policy-making, is that terms such as 'cultural jihad' cast a broad net of suspicion all Muslims. With an increasing number of hate crimes being directed at Arab Americans and American Muslims, Gingrich’s comments pour gasoline on a fire that is already out of control.

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