Posted on June 10, 2015 in Countdown

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This week the Supreme Court issued their long awaited ruling on whether or not U.S. citizens can, in fact, do whatever they well please when it comes to showing their love for Israel. While our nation's citizens can still get tax benefits donating to the occupation, and they can still silence free speech in their efforts to protect Israel’s good name, this week’s ruling drew a line in the sand that they CANNOT decide that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. In a 6-3 vote, the majority of the highest lawyers in the land backed President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama’s override of Congress’s 2002 law that allowed citizens born in Jerusalem to list “Israel” as their country of birth, thereby forcing the U.S. Government to proclaim Jerusalem as Israel’s exclusive property. The ruling accomplished the small Constitutional matter of protecting the President’s authority on foreign policy, which Congress has gleefully challenged on a number of occasions this year already. Thankfully, SCOTUS has some boundaries – while some in Congress and Israel’s extreme supporters continue to know no bounds.


Continuing Confusion on Settlements

We support that – we do not support that.Controversy erupted last week when French telecom giant “Orange” announced its desire to withdraw from the Israeli market. The company seemed be sending a message to Israel about settlement construction while lending further prominence to the BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanctions) Movement, which may be picking up some global steam. With Bibi and other Israeli politicians outraged, Orange has scrambled to address the controversy claiming that its stance on leaving Israel was financially – and not politically – motivated. Still, the incident sheds light on how the United States sees Israeli settlements and the boycott movement. In regards to these issues, the U.S. State Department and Congress seem to be on two different pages. Currently, two AIPAC-endorsed bills making their way through the House and Senate would, for the first time in history, affirm America’s official support of Israeli settlements – this is despite the bills’ deceitful cloaking in “anti-boycott” language. But it is also telling when State Department Spokesperson Marie Harf acknowledged that America is not necessarily urging other countries and companies not to boycott Israel. In response to the question of why the U.S. is pressing others to stay in business with Israel: Harf responded: “Well, I’m not sure that we are.” Harf’s statement brings to mind Obama’s recent interview on Israeli TV, where he hinted that the U.S. may not be able to continue blocking other countries’ bids at the UN for the creation of a Palestinian state. Well then, which one is it: are we pro-boycott, anti-boycott, even pro-settlement? It seems as though the U.S. has two options: legitimize settlements and permanently smother the two-state solution, or – on the other side of the spectrum – allow the framework for a Palestinian state to pass in the UN. Stay tuned.


ISIL-ate & Annihilate

The U.S. has had a difficult time coming to terms with how exactly to deal with ISIL. Following the terrorist group's takeover of Ramadi and Palmyra, Washington was abuzz with finger pointing and calls for developing a strategy. Well in case you were wondering if President Obama sorted it out yet, he said the following at the recent G7 Summit "We don't have a complete strategy, the details of that are not yet worked out," he continued "ultimately [ISIL] is going to be defeated." Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, with whom President Obama met at the summit, beamed "undoubtedly, we will win this war." We certainly hope that is true but strong words are never enough. The White House is set to announce on Wednesday its plans to establish a new training base in Anbar Province and to send, in the coming weeks, hundred of U.S. troops, including trainers and other personnel, to help drive the Iraqi military battle to retake Ramadi. It's heartening to see that others countries have also voiced their commitments to help. The UK will send an additional 125 personnel to train Iraqi forces, and Italy will help train Iraqi police. Still it may not be enough. Last week a State Department official said that with 4,100 coalition airstrikes thus far, 10,000 ISIL fighters have been killed. That number may not mean much as fighters continuously cascade into Iraq and Syria. Back in September 2014 the CIA estimated the group had up to 31,500 fighters, Kurdish leaders say that the number is over 200,000. It's clear that the strategy to combat ISIL so far has not been effective. The key could be in cutting the flow of foreign fighters; Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA), the top ranking Dem on the House Intelligence Committee said unless something is done on that front, "this conflict has the potential to go on indefinitely." 


The Jeb Bush Shuffle

It’s becoming clear that presidential races—once a visibility battle between candidates—have largely turned into a race between wealthy donors to see who can spend the most money without attracting the ire of the FEC. Candidates, meanwhile, have become show ponies who focus more on their supporters’ wallets than the issues facing the country. For an example, look no further than the wink-and-nod behavior of former Governor Jeb Bush, who staunchly refuses to announce a presidential campaign despite all evidence to the contrary. The reason for this elaborate tease is a loophole in campaign finance law which allows candidates to raise unlimited funds through super PACS without disclosing who’s behind the donations. Accordingly, Jeb Bush is incentivized not to announce his candidacy until the last possible moment, because as soon as he does so his super PAC can no longer coordinate directly with his campaign. It’s not just Jeb Bush either: Hillary Clinton—who has herself criticized Citizens United—is expecting to raise a combined $2.5 billion for this election, which is more than all the candidates in the 2012 election spent combined. As a result of such massive sums on both sides, the role of the war chest in election campaigns has drastically increased. Candidates are learning rather quickly that shaking it for dollar bills is a better strategy than actual policy debates, and it is not out of the question that the “Jeb Bush Shuffle” might become the new normal.


Not Far Enough

It's been over two years since Edward Snowden revealed to the public the broad surveillance of Americans carried out by the National Security Agency (NSA). On the eve of the sunset of three major provisions of the Patriot Act, the NSA lost its authority to collect phone records of millions of Americans, thanks to the USA Freedom Act that was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama this past Tuesday. The bill's sponsor Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) called the passage of the USA Freedom Act “historic”-but many are questioning if it goes far enough. National security hawks such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) mourned the death of these important provisions and congratulated future terrorists on their victory-although not one alleged terror plot had been disrupted in the U.S. since 2001 as a result of the controversial Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act. On the other side, all the way in Russia, whistleblower Snowden called the passage of the USA Freedom Act a victory, but says the privacy and civil liberties of Americans are still under threat. Now is not the time to celebrate. Instead of holding on to the metadata of ordinary Americans, the NSA will have to seek a FISA court order to get the metadata from telecom companies, providing only small hurdle to the collection of phone records-not a giant step for surveillance reform. The FBI will still maintain wide-ranging surveillance authority. The USA Freedom Act does not end mass surveillance—it merely limits the scope of it. What it does serve as, many are saying, is a distraction to disillusion the American public that more is being done to reform the Patriot Act than actually is. In a post 9/11 world where many were willing to give up their privacy in the name of national security, we have come far.  As long as parts of the Patriot Act are still in effect, and the USA Freedom Act is on it way to reinstituting lapsed authorities, our intelligence practices fail to align with America’s democratic values