Posted on September 24, 2013 in Countdown

Welcome to the UNGA

Welcome to the UNGA – where the rules are made up and the points don’t matter; where the world’s most contentious issues are arbitrated by the same countries that started them in the first place! The General Assembly kicks off this week with remarks from two potential and unlikely partners – Today, President Obama spoke to the General Assembly. Iran's new president Hassan Rouhani will take the stage later today. Be warned: he's no Ahmadinejad. It doesn't look like anyone will be walking out this year, as Rouhani continues his charm offensive with the international community after taking it to the American people in a recent Washington Post op-ed. What will come out of this year’s UNGA? Bombastic speeches may be less likely, but we highlight five important things to watch on our blog. Still, concrete progress on these issues seems unlikely. What matters most is the new tone between the United States and Russia and the United States and Iran. It's still all talk for now - Russia is holding out on any binding resolution that would enforce the Syria chemical weapons deal, and Iran has not presented any steps for dialogue on its nuclear program. The U.S. Congress will continue to be skeptical of any attempts at engagement. The UNGA could surprise, but for now, look out for an unlikely run in between President Obama and Rouhani, try to see if Sudan's president crashes the party, and begin placing bets on which world leader will write the next op-ed. 

To Win Michigan, GOP Must Court Arab American Vote

The Michigan GOP and the broader Republican Party are getting ready to launch a political offensive in the Wolverine State. Republicans are making the case that Michigan is up for grabs at a national level, and they see the 2014 midterm elections as a launch pad to win the state during 2016’s presidential elections. The pressure is on, as recent voting patterns in the state show that the odds are against them. A Republican hasn’t held a Michigan Senate seat in about 20 years. In order to verify the viability of their claim that Michigan is up for grabs in 2016, Republicans will have to prove that they can take advantage of Obama’s sagging popularity and win Carl Levin’s seat. But in a state that normally sways Democratic on a national level, Republicans will have to think outside the box. That means they’ll have to win back voters they have lost in previous years and appeal to a broader base. That base should include a sizable, concentrated, and engaged Arab American community. Since the Bush years Republicans have slowly lost support from Arab Americans, but since 2008, so, too, has President Obama. With Arab Americans on the ballot this year in Dearborn and Hamtramck, Yalla Vote has already been registering people to vote. Republicans would be smart to tap into that energy and focus attention on their cause going into 2014.  

Republicans Seem to Have Had Enough of Cruz

The biggest name in Washington this week is Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX.), who is the most visible leader of the Republican effort to shut down the federal government – and possibly push us into default – because he really, really, really doesn’t like the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). We discussed this week how dangerous that idea is, but the attempt by some Republicans to “kneecap” the government keeps going strong. On Friday, the House of Representatives passed a spending bill that only keeps the Government’s lights on if it shuts Obamacare off (the bill is dead-on-arrival in the Senate). But what’s been interesting this week is the pushback Cruz is getting from his fellow Republicans. A Wall Street Journal editorial criticized Cruz for making the House take tough votes, while refusing to fight for the kneecapping strategy in the Senate. Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI) – a tea partier like Cruz – agreed, saying House Republicans are “tired of being abused” by the Texas Senator. Even The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin – who supported the Cruz-led filibuster of Chuck Hagel’s nomination for Secretary of Defense – has jumped ship, saying Cruz is now bereft of common sense. The harshest criticism comes from Cruz’ own colleagues in the Senate – conservative Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) calls the kneecapping strategy “the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard.” And, according to an unnamed advisor to Sen. McCain, the Arizona Senator “[expletive] hates Cruz.” We’ll see what happens next, but it’s starting to look more and more like Cruz, who was elected to bring intellectual heft to the conservative movement, seems to care more about grandstanding than policymaking.

FISA Court Justification for Bulk Data Collection Flies under the Radar

It didn’t get much press, but last week the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) publicly released a decision allowing the government to collect, quite literally, all telephone records showing who every American called, how often, and when. We knew that FISC had already authorized the NSA to collect the data it was collecting, but we weren’t, until last week, privy to the legal justification for it. The court’s legal reasoning wasn’t surprising, but it confirmed for the first time the principle the government operates on: the government is entitled to just about any information it wants if it thinks it’s preventing terrorism. This is all based on outdated legal doctrine totally inapplicable to a world with the Internet, but the government and FISC are happy to use it to see who you’re calling. There needs to be more transparency in this process. At the very least, FISC shouldn’t be making such important decisions in secret. Keep paying attention, folks.

Lindsey Graham Needs More Wars

We’re literally starting to wonder whether there is a secret mandated war or military conflict quota that only Lindsey Graham, John McCain, and a few other members of Congress know about. With Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and maybe Syria, you might think the U.S. is going to war in too many countries lately and should wait before invading another one. But that’s where you’re wrong, says old “Countdown” friend Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), because this is the perfect time to go to war with Iran. Yes, you read that right: Sen. Graham said last week that he plans to introduce legislation authorizing the President to use force against Iran to deal with its nuclear program. Because, obviously, the best way to defuse (no pun intended) the nuclear crisis with Iran is to make it easier to use military force against them. Or at least such is the logic of Sen. Graham, who literally believes a nuclear-armed Iran would destroy the world.  Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), whom you may remember once tried to investigate Muslim interns on Capitol Hill, feels the same way. In case you had any doubt that this was a bad idea, those names should seal the deal.

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