Posted on August 20, 2013 in Countdown

Surprise, surprise: NSA broke privacy laws thousands of times – per year

An internal audit of the National Security Agency – courtesy of the Incredibly Obvious News Department (not a real publication) – reveals that the NSA “has broken privacy rules or overstepped its legal authority thousands of times each year since Congress granted the agency broad new powers in 2008.” The audit reveals that the privacy violations ran the gamut of possible illegality: from violations caused by simple human error to systematic decisions by the NSA to listen on Americans’ phone calls. The secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court found one method of surveillance unconstitutional, but it didn’t learn about it until the NSA had already been violating the Fourth Amendment for months. This is the first clear instance of illegal activity we’ve learned about since the NSA’s massive spying operations were disclosed in June, but it shouldn’t come as any surprise. It is the inevitable result of the sweeping surveillance powers the NSA has, combined with the secret law system of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. People should listen to Arab American Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.): “This is what happens when you have secret laws [and] no meaningful oversight.” We have been making this argument for months, and finally, it looks like some people are listening. Members of both parties have said this report shows that, as we’ve said over and over again, tighter, more balanced controls on surveillance are needed, and law should be more transparent. We can keep our citizens safe while also respecting their constitutional rights – or at least we should be mature enough to have a serious discussion about it. But the NSA broke laws? Duh!

Egypt: Calling it Like We See It

Egypt is a tragic mess, but you already knew that. Nearly 1,000 people are dead - most of them Muslim Brotherhood supporters - as a result of violent clashes erupting after security forces stormed several Muslim Brotherhood protests sites. Attempts to demonize and delegitimize Brotherhood supporters by Egyptians who support the military crackdown and by Brotherhood members who refuse to accept that the majority of the country rejects their political supremacy, is moving the country further and further away from any hope of reconciliation. Given the events that have transpired over the past few days, one can’t help but ascertain that the military-backed government always had the intention of crushing the Brotherhood altogether. Despite the fact that the majority of Egyptians were loath to the Brotherhood and wanted Morsi gone, the killing of protesters, the killing of Egyptian police, and the violence against minorities, particularly Coptic Christians, will leave scars once the dust settles. For the young revolutionaries caught in the middle of failed Muslim Brotherhood government and violent military rule, news that former president Hosni Mubarak may be released from prison is yet another indicator that Egypt is coming full circle. As we watch from the states, it’s quite clear that divisions in Egypt are having an effect on Arab Americans, particularly Egyptian Americans who have family in Cairo, some of whom have been injured or killed. Though, in many respects, Arab American views toward Egypt’s continued unrest are in line with the deep division on the ground, we all agree the fighting must stop and that Egyptians themselves are the only ones who can carve out their own path forward. Despite the fact that the US has been behind the curve even before Tamarrod, the president said it right: “America cannot determine the future of Egypt.” No, it can’t. And it’s important that Washington also understand that threatening to withhold aid is moot. We need to get past the narrative that aid equals leverage. We all know who benefits from US military aid to Egypt and Egyptians, to be honest don’t care

Allen West is Building a Bigoted Empire

Allen West is back. Actually, the “Countdown” regular and former Congressman from Florida never really left politics. Despite his narrow loss in an expensive election battle last year with Patrick Murphy, West has been actively involved in doing what he does best: using scare tactics and amped up inflammatory rhetoric to reinforce his political agenda. Now out of Congress, West is actually in many ways more influential than he was in office, and that’s pretty scary. The authors of a lengthy piece in the National Journal which details West’s expanding political empire explained it this way: “Losing is the best thing that ever happened to him…By losing his spot in Congress, West may have failed upward.” Oh yes, you read that right – Allen West, the Islamophobic Congressman whose sordid rhetoric on race and a host of other issues is building a political empire. Complete with a Political Action Committee called the Guardian Fund, the Allen West Foundation, a 501(c)(4), and an Internet-based television program called “Next Generation TV”, he’s got the ability to come at any issue he wants from multiple angles. In light of recent events in Egypt, West has continued to take pages from the Bachmann-Gaffney playbook in an attempt to revive the discredited and ridiculous theory that the Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated the upper echelons of the Obama administration. He’s also blaming the events in Egypt on the president and using the unrest there to conjure up fears over an apparent existential threat to Israel’s existence. “Are we witnessing the end of Israel?” reads the first line of his PAC email just before he solicits readers to donate money. It’s troubling that West is growing in influence. His brand of politics is not helpful to Republicans, libertarians, Tea Partiers or Americans. And we at “Countdown” would be happy to sacrifice our rich content for the sake of the country if he would just go away.

Republican Infighting Continues Over August Recess

We’ve been following immigration reform for a while now and haven’t stopped during August recess. While it’s been pretty quiet here in Washington, news is rife with reports of continued Republican infighting, especially on immigration reform. Since the 2012 election, the Republican Party has taken an introspective look at their policies in an attempt to come up with ways to appeal to minority voters. The immigration debate within the GOP in many ways is the current nexus of that internal debate. On one side, Republicans want to win over Latino and other growing minority voting blocs to win national elections. But the GOP’s national agenda often conflicts with district politics where, for example, creating a pathway to citizenship in immigration reform is starkly opposed. Some rhetoric we’ve been hearing over the past few days highlights the Republican split perfectly:  Unabashedly racist rhetoric and banter from Rep. Steve King (R-IA) began well before recess, but most recently he attacked Latinos by claiming that they came from a “violent civilization” and that they are making the US more violent by diffusion. Republicans, including Speaker Boehner (R-OH), jumped to issue a rebuke of Rep. King’s statements, with one Republican strategist going so far as to say: “...King should go get himself some therapy for his melon fixation (a reference to Rep. King’s bigoted statements about children of immigrants).” Oh, snap! While we’re concerned with King’s ramblings, we’re also glad to see some Republicans taking action against obvious bigotry. Indeed, recent reports suggest Republicans shifting their stances on immigration: favoring a more comprehensive approach, oftentimes including a pathway to citizenship. So while there’s still one or two out there campaigning against reform on behalf of the “American race”, what we’re seeing is members of Congress listening to you, their constituents, and embracing much needed immigration reform. As you know, immigration is not only a Latino issue; it directly affects our community as well. Make sure to push for it when you meet with your member over the recess

Eric Cantor Needs the “Mind Shift”

Last week, during a press conference in Jerusalem, Eric Cantor made some highly uninformed remarks about the viability of the peace process. When discussing the challenges facing the direct negotiations Secretary of State John Kerry has been attempting to convene between Israel and the P.L.O., Cantor said that Palestinians need to undergo a “cultural mind shift” and accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state before negotiations could continue. According to Cantor, all other crucial discussions, including the elephant in the room, namely, the ongoing occupation, are “predicated” on this point. Both elements of Cantor’s assertion deserve to be addressed. The broken record of “recognizing Israel’s right…” is a point that, for the purposes of negotiations, has long been moot. The P.L.O., the authoritative negotiating agent of the Palestinian people, has formally accepted Israel’s right to exist since 1993. The addendum, “as a Jewish state” is a relatively new demand, pushed by Netanyahu and his corps, although, unlike Cantor, he has insisted that such recognition is not a pre-condition for negotiations. The need for a “cultural mind shift” Cantor asserted moves us further down the ignorance spectrum. We’ve heard this sort of rhetoric before: in the last presidential campaign cycle Mitt Romney made similar comments which implied that there was something unique about Jewish culture which made Israel economically and culturally superior to its neighbors in the region. 65 years of forced displacement, military occupation, and restrictions on movement, trade and distribution of natural resources must not have factored into his analysis. Romney was swiftly rebuked by Israelis and Palestinians alike for comments so far removed from the reality on the ground. Cantor was in Israel leading a delegation of 28 Congressmen on a program sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation, a program affiliated with AIPAC which sent another 36 Congressman on a similar delegation the previous week.