Posted on August 13, 2015 in Countdown

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Fox Broadcasts First GOP Debates

Last week, Fox news kicked off the debate season with the first publicly televised GOP debates. Those who didn’t make the cut for the main event participated in a second tier debate. Two candidates in particular stood out amid the slugfest. Carly Fiorina managed to turn her JV debate placement into a victory, coming across as polished and electable. Ohio Governor John Kasich, debating in his home state, stayed out of the sparring and left an impression as a serious, mature candidate with nuanced views and a confident speaking style. Establishment favorite Jeb Bush’s performance was, in a word, “meh”; he came across as nervous and withdrawn instead of comfortable and measured. The presence of Donald Trump seemed to cause many of the debaters to up the bickering, with candidates spouting one-liners. Unfortunately, this meant that there was little discussion of actual policy solutions.  Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) got in a skirmish over the NSA’s surveillance programs and the PATRIOT Act, with Paul staking out his usual position and Christie playing the “tough on terrorism” card. Despite insulting reporters, Rand Paul, Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton, a moderator, three sovereign nations, longtime enemy Rosie O’Donnell, and all American politicians, Donald Trump managed to exude a hint of restraint. He deflected questions about his previous support for single payer healthcare and his donations to the Clinton Foundation to the apparent frustration of the moderators, who Trump later attacked on twitter. And finally, some of the candidates chose to resort to tired bigotry to appeal to voters, so we asked folks to contact the RNC to tell them just how tired of the bigotry we are


The Crater Filled Path to Diplomacy

With the conclusion of the negotiations over Iran's nuclear program, and as we near the deadline for Congress to approve the agreement, the foreign policy winds are shifting back to Syria. While we saw expanded use of military force in fighting ISIL by the U.S. and Turkey, it's time to turn back to diplomacy.  It's early days but there may be hope. Bashar al Assad remains unwilling to step down, even as his regime's control over the country continues to dissolve. But several moves in recent weeks suggest that we might be getting closer to some mediation and progress towards a negotiated settlement. This week, Turkey and Iran secured a 48-hour ceasefire between opposition forces and the regime and its aligned Hezbollah fighters in key flashpoints of the conflict in Zabadani, near Damascus and two villages in the Idlib province. The temporary truce comes as Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif meets with Assad in Damascus. Meanwhile, at a meeting in Moscow, Saudi Arabian officials could not support a Russian push for a coalition to fight ISIL over the fact that such a plan would involve working with the Assad regime, "Assad is a part of the problem, not a part of the solution to the Syrian crisis.” While there is no question Assad is indeed part of the problem and has been from the beginning, it is difficult to see a path to a negotiated solution that excludes completely elements of the regime.


One Year Later

Over the weekend, activists, mourners and others gathered in Ferguson, Missouri to commemorate the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed African American teenager who was fatally shot by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. By Tuesday, 57 people had been arrested and a state of emergency was declared in St. Louis County. Michael Brown’s death, along with other similar incidents, gave rise to the Black Lives Matter movement and reignited the need to galvanize local, state, and national policy makers to significantly remedy pressing civil rights and civil liberties issues like criminal justice, police brutality, and racism. According to the Washington Post, police have killed at least 60 unarmed people this year – and African Americans accounted for 40 percent of those deaths, meaning 24 unarmed African American citizens lost their lives at the hands of law enforcement officials. Yet, one year later, things have not changed much. The federal government continues to face several challenges in collecting data on the use of force by police, and legislators at all levels of government appear reluctant to implement meaningful reform. All Americans, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, political affiliation or sex, must recognize that we are all impacted by what is going on and we cannot afford to find ourselves in the same place one year from now.


No Luck with Chuck

One can only hope that this news will become null. Chuck Schumer, the Senate’s third ranking Democrat, lined up with the likes of Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee when he recently announced his opposition to Obama’s latest foreign policy achievement: the Iran deal. Schumer’s disapproval does not shake the political world; in predictable form, AIPAC is adamantly opposed to the deal, and is spending between 20 and 40 million dollars lobbying congress. The pro-Israel courting of Schumer cannot be underestimated: despite Schumer’s claim that he made his decision “without regard to pressure, politics or party,” Reuters pointed out that Mr. Schumer’s questions to the White House about the Iran deal “were lifted straight from AIPAC.” In a powerfully pragmatic speech last week, President Obama proclaimed that those who lobbied for war with Iraq (AIPAC included) are now spending millions to kill the Iran deal. The New York Times published a front-page article the next day suggesting that the “rift” between the President and AIPAC is somehow a bad thing, when in fact Obama’s departure is a great step forward. The Times quoted AIPAC’s communications director, who claimed that AIPAC did not take a position on the Iraq War, so it is unfair for Obama to compare their lobbying then and now. Evidence, though, is to the contrary – AIPAC made clear efforts to thrust America into Iraq, and is now making even clearer efforts to derail peace with Iran. Schumer, a self-professed guardian of Israeli interests who was poised to become the Senate’s next Democratic leader, may face consequences for bowing to right-wing lobbying; has pledged to withhold funds to Democrats who vote to destroy the Iran deal. Couple Schumer's decision with what we shared with you last week, and you would be correct in noting that established Democratic institutions are taking on voices attacking the Democratic president. This is indeed significant.


The Doctor is Out

The American Psychological Association recently voted to prohibit the involvement of psychologists in national security interrogations. This ban follows the release in July of the Hoffman Report, a revealing 542-page examination of APA’s involvement in torture and harsh interrogations carried out by the Bush administration. The report also details what it calls the “collusion” of several of the association’s top officials, ethics director included, with the Defense Department in order to “curry favor.” The report concluded, “APA chose its ethics policy based on its goals of helping D.o.D., managing its P.R. and maximizing the growth of the profession.” If you’re currently experiencing deja vu, don’t worry we have been here before. This ban matters because, while the practice of “harsh interrogations” will likely continue, psychologists will no longer be used as cover for these acts as they have in the past. This ban calls for the end of psychologists’ involvement in the conducting, supervision, and assistance in any and all harsh interrogation practices. Any members of APA who choose to continue their involvement in national security interrogation practices will be subject to ethics complaints and investigations. It is a small, but necessary, step in ending the torture of individuals detained by the United States.