Posted on January 29, 2013 in Countdown

Ray LaHood Leaving the Administration

Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood announced earlier today that he is stepping down after serving four years in that role. To our community, LaHood, who is Arab American, has been a source of great pride. From his service in the House of Representatives to his exemplary leadership at DOT, LaHood has been hailed by officials from both parties as the kind of political leader Washington is in dire need of. In a statement thanking Secretary LaHood for his work, President Obama highlighted this very point noting, "Years ago, we were drawn together by a shared belief that those of us in public service owe an allegiance not to party or faction, but to the people we were elected to represent.” He also thanked LaHood for his friendship as the two became political allies when Obama was the junior senator from Illinois and LaHood was in the House. Before the speculation begins about his successor (wait, it already has), we too congratulate Secretary LaHood and wish him the best in his future endeavors.

A Ten-Year Path to Citizenship

Yesterday, a group of senators released a bipartisan framework for immigration reform. Finally, a pathway to citizenship for the nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants? Well, sort of. The plan forces undocumented immigrants to clear so many hurdles to gain permanent residency that the process is likely to take up to a decade. According to the proposal, enforcement measures must be complete “before any immigrant on probationary status can earn a green card.” Once the border has been deemed secure, individuals with “probationary legal status” will be able to “go to the back of the line of prospective immigrants,” and clear a number of additional hurdles before having the opportunity to apply for lawful permanent residency. The President has embraced the Senate plan and is expected to unveil his own plan this afternoon in Las Vegas which may carve out a more direct path to citizenship. Either way, the good news is that we are finally seeing real progress on comprehensive immigration reform. The bad news is there is no real agreement on what a "secure border" means. Much, much more to come.  

Americans, Including Arab Americans, Should Take this Seriously

We’re not happy about a proposed RNC-led initiative to implement Electoral College reform in several key swing states with primarily Republican legislatures. The states affected, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Virginia, Ohio and Wisconsin, currently award all of their electoral votes to the candidate who receives the majority of the popular vote. The GOP initiative, which is not supported by all Republican governors, would do away with the winner take-all system, skewing influence away from the heavily-populated urban centers, which tend to be more Democratic, and bring more influence to the less densely-populated, predominantly Republican, rural areas. For the Arab American vote, it could have profound effects. Much of our community’s population is concentrated in cities, especially in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Virginia. So, if you put this unpopular move into perspective for the Arab American community, our vote is more at risk than most. As a community we have to take this seriously. To understand how this proposal could alter election results, FairVote: The Center for Voting and Democracy laid out the possible scenarios for the reform and analyzed how the proposed plan would have impacted the 2012 election. 

Best Recognize

Since losing the recent presidential campaign and some seats in the House, Republicans have scrambled, rather publicly, to make sense of their electoral woes. It seems that prominent Republican leaders and party spokespeople have arrived at two basic conclusions to prevent getting pummeled at the polls in future elections: court the Latino vote more rigorously and stop saying stupid things. Stop saying stupid things...? Brilliant! This is good, we’re getting somewhere now. Hopefully no more talk about whether or not there are legitimate forms of rape or whether members of a certain religious group should be subjected to a loyalty oath. And we don’t agree with Republican governor Bobby Jindal that he GOP is the ‘Stupid Party,’ we just think the GOP should come to certain obvious realizations. For example, though Latinos are a politically influential minority in the country, simply supporting immigration reform will not gain their overwhelming support. And beyond the Latino community, there is an entire untapped voter base in other ethnic populations like the Arab American and Asian American communities which are burgeoning into strong, politically adept, and numerically rich voting populations. Want an example of what these communities did for Obama and Kaine in key swing state Virginia? Take a look at Loudoun County

Obama Administration Abandons Gitmo Closure

It’s official: the Obama Administration will no longer even pretend that it’s going to attempt to close down the infamous Guantanamo detention center. The administration made its intentions clear yesterday by announcing the departure of Daniel Fried, the special envoy responsible for working to shut down the prison. President Obama apparently felt as though prospects for shutting down Gitmo were slim, given the series of restrictions Congress has imposed on the transfer of detainees to the US or to other countries for continued detention or prosecution. This is truly disappointing. In case you’ve forgotten, during Obama’s first month in office, he pledged to shut down Guantanamo within a year. "I have said repeatedly that I intend to close Guantanamo, and I will follow through on that. I have said repeatedly that America doesn’t torture. And I’m gonna make sure that we don’t torture. Those are part and parcel of an effort to regain America’s moral stature in the world." – Barack Obama, Nov 26, 2008  

UN Drone Inquiry Important But Will Actually Do Nothing

We’ve been writing for months about the dangers of our unregulated drone program, and the growing international ill-will that it’s generated. Well, those chickens have finally come home to roost. After months of speculation, the United Nations finally launched its official inquiry into the use of drones, the first of its kind in history. Ben Emmerson, the UN special rapporteur for human rights and counterterrorism, began the five-month inquiry with a question that has been on the minds of many critics of the drone program: do drones really result in fewer deaths than conventional methods of warfare? Okay, it’s not so much “chickens coming home to roost” as it is a non-binding investigation by a body that’s relatively powerless to mandate any salient changes to US policy, but hey, we’re still excited that the drone program’s finally going to get some daylight. It’s not very encouraging, though, when the man in charge of the inquiry concedes: “Let’s face it, they’re (drones) here to stay.”

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