Posted on December 17, 2015 in Countdown

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Leadership or: How We Learned to Stop Worrying and let Lindsey Graham Save the Republican Party

It's a real shame Senator Lindsey Graham was in the undercard debate and not on the main stage for the Republican showdown Tuesday night - he has been the only adult in the room as of late. Visibly annoyed with the low caliber conversation, Graham continues to try to clean up the global mess created by Trump and company's bigotry and ill-conceived diplomacy by issuing an exasperated debate stage apology to Muslims across the world, including millions of his fellow Americans who happen to be Muslim. Graham's entire debate performance seemed to be a lesson to his fellow candidates on why their bombastic proposals to defeat ISIL and terrorism in the U.S. are wrong, incredibly misinformed, unrealistic, and plainly not smart. Graham has some help in the past from other non front-runners Governors Bush and Christie who have both issued their own disavowals of Trump's bigotry, but Graham's prime time smack down takes the cake.


Speaking of Leadership, White House Tackles Hate

The White House followed up President Obama's oval office address with a meeting between senior administration officials and a small group of American Muslim leaders, including our own Maya Berry. For nearly two hours, Senior Advisor Valerie JarrettBen RhodesCecilia Munoz, and Melissa Rogers listened to the concerns and policy recommendations of community leaders who are seeing the real life consequences of the current climate of suspicion and hate (by some) towards Muslims, including many Republican candidates for President. Even though the White House has denounced the xenophobic rhetoric, there has been a surge in hate crimes which only adds to the serious mental health concerns for young American Muslims who are increasingly confronted with discrimination and bigotry. In addition to echoing concerns about how our community and our country are being negatively impacted, we highlighted the need for better protection for our community centers and mosques that are either receiving serious threats or have been the subjects of actual attacks. Changes in how the Department of Homeland Security security grants are administered will go a long way in helping to protect people.


Think Again, Turn Away (We're Looking At You, State Department)

Our government is trying its best to combat ISIL's very real social media allure, but the office created to carry out that mission is taking a dumbfounding approach to doing so. The Department of State's Think Again, Turn Away twitter account tries its best to tell "some truths about terrorism" (their words), often exposing truly inhumane realities about ISIL's brutality. So, we were confused to see the campaign retweet this year's Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice award recipients, one of which is the notorious Islamophobe Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The Lantos Foundation is free to do what it wants, but it is an extraordinary mistake for a Department of State twitter account to amplify Ali's profile and give the stamp of approval to her message. Do they really approve of her claim that the entire Islamic faith is a death cult? We get that sometimes mistakes happen and bad tweets get sent, but the tweet was later defended by the State Department because, according to the official, sometimes they may say things that “can make someone unhappy.”  We’re not just unhappy. To others (hint, terrorists) the tweet suggests the terrorists are correct in asserting the Western World is at war with Islam. The effectiveness of the “Think Again, Turn Away” campaign overall can be debated by thoughtful people. This is not about that. We’re trying to save the taxpayers some money and the government some embarrassment by having them correct their mistake instead of defending it.


Budget Blues are with the Freedom Caucus

Our third week of reporting on the must-pass budget deal finds the fate of two significant riders in the hands of the House Freedom Caucus. It's pretty fitting that the Freedom Caucus is ending is victorious year with so much power in their hands - remember, this is the Tea Party coalition which  ousted Speaker John Boehner and then played king maker to anoint Speaker Ryan's post to the House's leadership role. Now, the Freedom Caucus is playing hardball to make significant changes to Speaker Ryan's $1.1 trillion budget, and their efforts are working both for and against us. On the one hand, the Freedom Caucus members want to strip out a surveillance rider that was not debated on the floor and lacks privacy protections from Americans. We give them a thumbs up on that move. But on the other hand, the caucus is pushing hard to include the SAFE Act language which would impose untenable security clearances in the refugee resettlement process that would likely bring the program to an abrupt halt. A decidedly bad idea and luckily, one that is increasingly less likely to pass in any form this year. 


HaaretzQ Raises Some ?s

The left-leaning Israeli newspaper Haaretz joined the New Israel Fund to host a pretty impressive confab this week in New York. It was impressive enough to get appearances from President Obama, Senior Advisor to the President Rob Malley, and United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power. President Obama's video remarks reiterated some important parts of the same message he's been offering for his entire presidency. However, it was Malley’s and Power's comments that have raised some eyebrows—and by that we mean actually said something of significance. First, Power called into question Israel's long term intentions given the growth that continues in West Bank Israeli settlements. Then, Malley drew many headlines by saying that the unresolved conflict between Israelis and Palestinians not only contributes to the extremism that fuels ISIL, but actually prevents the ISIL problem from being solved. It's a bold assertion that calls up an age old truism—for better of for worse—that justly resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the necessary starting point for a new Middle East order. We're not ready to speculate on the White House's intentions to make another push for resolution, but as it goes in other cases, words matter. We hope their serious comments carries with it serious action.