Posted on October 13, 2011 in Countdown

Countdown: Vol. 10, No. 18

Let the Fun Begin

Today, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is bringing her special bill forward for markup. Which special bill, you ask? It’s the United Nations Transparency, Accountability, and Reform Act of 2011 (H.R. 2829); you know, the one seeking to cut funding to UN agencies that commit the crime of not being hostile to Palestinian rights. Recognizing how U.S. interests can be harmed by this bill, efforts are underway to poke holes and create exceptions to allow some funding to continue. Among these efforts is a potential amendment by Rep. Berman that will allow for UNRWA funding to continue under certain conditions. However incomprehensive the final restrictions turn out, this is simply a bad bill and a wrong-headed proposal by Ros-Lehtinen.

The Religious Test for President

People like Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann seem to have no problem making Islamophobic statements, but Mitt Romney’s Mormonism apparently has them conflicted: they wouldn’t want to seem like all around bigots by attacking his faith, but they probably don’t mind that some are trying to make it a problem for him. After Texas evangelical leader and Rick Perry supporter Robert Jeffress declared that Mitt Romney was a non-Christian cult follower whom Christians should not support for President, Bachmann and Cain were asked to comment on whether they agreed. Both stood short of defending Romney, and just dismissed this as a non-issue, while reasserting their own Christian faith. Ok, maybe it’s not as horrendous as Cain’s lack of comfort with the idea of Muslims serving in government or Bachmann’s mad ravings about Muslim culture, but that’s still pretty weak. Politicians should set political opportunism aside and reject Jeffress’s divisive comments more bluntly.

"Experts" like "Fortune Tellers"

You’re only as good as the people around you. The same applies (even more so) to individuals holding or seeking public office. Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney took a big step backward when he appointed Walid Phares as one of his foreign policy advisors last week. Phares, likened to Zuhdi Jasser and Walid Shoebat in the Center for American Progress’ recent report on Islamophobia Fear Inc. (see page 57), is one of those so called “experts” from within the Arab American community who attempt to validate claims that mainstream Muslim groups harbor sinister intentions and pose a threat to our society. Was this really a good choice for Romney, who himself is the target of religious bigotry and should know better? And we’ve said nothing about Phares’ history as a spokesperson of a group responsible for atrocities against civilians during Lebanon’s civil war (and his trivialization of those atrocities, as highlighted by the aforementioned report). You might want to rethink this one, Mitt.

Ralph Nader and 2012

Ralph Nader, Arab American consumer advocate and the best known 3rd party presidential candidate since Ross Perot, has weighed in on the 2012 election.  He spoke to Politico in defense of the two-party system. Ok, we’re totally kidding! Can you imagine? Nope, he took another stab at the two-party system as being too closed, catering to identical commercial interests, and so on. He suggested President Obama should be primaried by liberal progressives this election season, an effort “not designed to defeat him, [but] to hold his feet to the fire” regarding his 2008 campaign promises. Nader also hoped New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg (currently centrist independent, formerly Republican, formerly-formerly Democrat) would run for president and make it a 3-way race, surprising many and disappointing some of his hard-line left-wing supporters. Whether or not the third party option is a good idea is certainly open to debate, but what is beyond dispute is that Nader always has an interesting take on seasonable politics.

Grab Your Joystick, It's Campaign Season

When Herman Cain is not busy blaming the unemployed for their being out of work, or undermining the rights of American Muslims, he’s usually coming up with ways to simplify government functions. A few months ago, he suggested bills should be no longer than 3 pages (not a huge fan of reading, we take it). More recently, he’s been touting his “999” plan to simplify the tax code. Where did he get that idea from? The Huffington Post suggests there is a good chance he got it from a video game. Let’s hope none of the candidates are playing Mortal Kombat when they’re trying to decide which interrogation techniques are appropriate for detainees.

Jim in Iowa and New Hampshire

Like he does every four years, Jim traveled to Iowa and New Hampshire last week to meet with voters and discuss a wide range of issues, including U.S. policy in the Middle East. While his visit was short, his schedule was jam-packed with meetings and speaking engagements, and got quite a bit of media coverage, including in The Daily IowanBlogging about the people he met in New Hampshire, Jim said “Folks here are getting ready to challenge the candidates and are already smarter than most of the crowd that's running.” Jim also sold many copies of his timely book Arab Voices during his visit. For more updates, be sure to visit our website and follow us on Twitter.