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Two Bills Enter, One Bill Leaves

Wednesday May 20, 2015

Countdown Vol. 13, No. 13

 

Two Bills Enter, One Bill Leaves

This week, Congress will vote on what do with the controversial surveillance law, the USA Patriot Act, and several influential members of Congress are positioning themselves for an old western standoff. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), a 2016 Republican presidential candidate, all believe that a clean reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act or a two month extension of it should be passed because doing so is the only sure way to fortify our nation’s national security. Contrarily, Republican Senator and fellow 2016 GOP presidential candidate Rand Paul told media reporters that he would do everything “humanly possible” to ensure that Majority Leader McConnell and his fellow hawks do not get their way. Is Sen. Paul suggesting that we will see a reenactment of his infamous 13-hour filibuster on drones in 2013? Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) and other civil libertarian members of Congress believe that the USA Freedom Act, a bill which seeks to replace the USA Patriot Act and that was passed last week, does not truly curtail the National Security Agency’s (NSA) ability to illegally collect data about U.S. citizens. We agree, and here is your opportunity to take action in support of real—and much needed—reform on domestic surveillance.

Enough Already

This week the Illinois House unanimously approved a bill that requires State agencies to divest from any companies that boycott Israel. The bill similarly sailed through the State Senate, and the Illinois Governor's office says, "Governor Rauner looks forward to signing the bill to make Illinois the first state in America to divest from companies that boycott Israel" We're certainly not as excited as the Governor, nor should any American that holds any respect for our Constitution. This is a dangerous move and reflects recent efforts in Congress to achieve similar results at the national level. There's a fundamental misunderstanding among lawmakers in this country about efforts by the European Union, pension funds, or any institution to not invest in Israeli companies or to require clarity on the origin of goods exported by Israel as either from Israel proper or from illegal settlements in Palestinian territory. Such efforts do not 'boycott Israel,' as the Illinois bill reads, but rather are economic expressions of "displeasure with Israel's continued flagrant violation" of international laws regarding expropriation and population transfer to occupied lands. The Illinois bill and amendments to the Trade Promotional Authority legislation represent extremely troubling official manifestations of growing efforts to silence debate by those individuals that seek to express their disagreement with Israeli policies through the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions non-violent international movement. The Illinois bill limits citizens' freedom of expression and has no place in our democracy.

For It Before I Was Against It

It's been a fun few weeks for still unannounced Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush. From the moment he first gave hints that he may run in 2016, no discussion of his candidacy could avoid mention of the catastrophic term of his older brother former President George W. Bush. Of the many failures that make up the flaming tire fire left by the George W. Bush presidency, the 2003 Invasion of Iraq has a place of distinction. Bush, the younger, gave no less than four different responses to questions about the second Iraq War. Responding to Megyn Kelly on Fox News, he took the bold stance of saying he would have gone into Iraq even in retrospect. An interesting position given that many in his party, including his brother, and an overwhelming majority of voters, have agreed that the 2003 Iraq Invasion was not the best course of action given what we all know today. Following the Fox News comments, Jeb backtracked and tried to neutralize the backlash claiming the question was merely hypothetical, well yes of course it was Jeb…The 'un-decider' finally settled on a firm answer last Thursday saying that he "would not have gone into Iraq." This was a basic question. After trillions of dollars, the loss of thousands of American service members, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians killed and millions displaced, there should be no ambiguity about whether it was the right thing to do if we could turn the clock back to early March 2003.

Still Waiting

American citizens and nationals remain trapped in Yemen. Hostilities throughout the deeply impoverished country broke out last month and as yet the U.S. administration has done little to help Americans stuck in Yemen. The U.S. embassy in Sana'a, closed since February 2015, issued limp emergency messages on its website to U.S. citizens in Yemen with vague suggestions on how they may hope to leave the country—the most recent evacuation communiqué was issued more than a month ago. Following a temporary ceasefire, Saudi-led coalition airstrikes have resumed against Houthi targets in Yemen. That temporary lull in fighting should have been an opportunity for the U.S. to evacuate its citizens still in Yemen. Meanwhile, other governments have been picking up the slack, India has rescued 4,500 people including some Americans. U.S. Representative Debbie Dingell (D-MI), whose district is home to a large population of Yemenis and Yemeni-Americans, has been urging Secretary of State John Kerry to do more for U.S. citizens in Yemen. Last week an Amendment proposed by Dingell to the National Defense Authorization Act, expressing the sense of Congress "that the President should exercise all available authorities to evacuate United States citizens and nationals from Yemen as soon as possible." The statement will at least demonstrate to those stranded Americans that they are not forgotten, but there must be concrete steps to get Americans in Yemen to safety.

Let's Call It A Comeback

Look out Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI). Former Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) will seek to re-earn his seat, which he lost to Sen. Johnson in 2010, in what is expected to be one of the more interesting 2016 Senate races. Sen. Feingold represented the state of Wisconsin in the U.S. Senate from 1993 to 2011, having won elections in 1992, 1998 and 2004. During his tenure in the Senate, Sen. Feingold made several courageous votes in defense of civil rights and civil liberties. First, Sen. Feingold was the only member of the Senate to vote against the USA Patriot Act when it was first passed in 2001. With the ongoing debate about how much of a surveillance state we have become, it would seem Sen. Feingold was on to something. Also noteworthy is that Sen. Feingold was one of 23 Senators who voted against H.J.Resolution 114, a resolution whose passage provided then President George W. Bush the authorization to go to war with Iraq. As we currently find members of Congress debating the fate of the USA Freedom Act and how the U.S. should formulate its strategy concerning Iraq, Sen. Feingold would provide a breadth of experience. Unlike many of his colleagues in the Senate who only recognized the consequences of the USA Patriot Act and going to war in Iraq in hindsight, Sen. Feingold had the foresight to identify the long-term implications of those decisions 14 years ago.

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