Posted on June 23, 2016 in Countdown

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A Little Honesty About Guns and Terrorists

As has happened in the past, when tragedy strikes, the national security complex kicks into overdrive and pushes controversial legislation through our always-campaigning Congress. After the Orlando tragedy the push has been focused on how to prevent terrorists from buying guns. Democrats, who staged a sit-in for action on gun safety measures, are creating a kerfuffle on the House floor and in the media – making it seem like a major/significant/far-reaching gun control endeavor – all to restrict guns to a less than 2,700 Americans. We’d hate to suggest that Democrats are high-fiving themselves for looking tough on terror at such a small price. And Republicans for their part, are trying to bring a discussion about due process into the debate, and battering Democrats for their giddiness to circumvent it. Many Republicans are eager to express their worry about having a strong mechanism for people to correct their erroneous placement on the watch list so that they can buy a gun; but, if they really cared about due process and not just gun ownership rights, then the discussion of due process should zero in on the secret guidelines and extrajudicial processes for putting people on the watch list in the first place. Both sides are playing politics with incredibly important issues, both sides are campaigning on this posturing, and in the meantime, the Constitution is being undermined continually by how the watch lists actually work. And, we’re no closer to passing laws that actually address our national gun violence epidemic.


Terrorist Registration Aggravation in New York

This week the always on-point (not) New York State Senate passed a bill that would create a registry system for terrorists and suspected terrorists, kind of like a sex offender database. Wouldn’t it be great to know if a suspected terrorist is living in your neighborhood? It sure would be nice, but the problem is that it’s not possible, constitutional, or smart. This isn’t the first time the New York legislature has proposed making a database of terrorists, and a certain Republican nominee had his own idea for a list. In fact, we have quite a few of those lists already – remember the current gun control debate is based on these lists. What makes the New York concept novel is that it would publicly reveal the names of people who have either been convicted of terrorism (and for some reason are not in jail), or suspected of terrorism (which is SUPER problematic) by registering their names and addresses in a database. While we might be interested in public disclosure of names on that list to help fix the errors we know are on it, we’re not interested in creating more error-ridden lists and legitimizing the ones that already exist. No thanks New York.


Trump Calls in the Experts on Profiling

We learned this week that Trump does, somewhat, care about pivoting to the general election – by which we mean reining in his off-the-cuff style. Trump fired his controversial Campaign Manager, finally started fundraising, and even delivered a tightly scripted speech attacking Hillary Clinton on substance (never mind that the substance was riddled with inaccuracies). But what we really need to talk about is that time when Trump’s off-the-cuff self said, and we quote, “I think profiling is something that we're going to have to start thinking about as a country. And other countries do it; you look at Israel and you look at others and they do it and they do it successfully.” Since we’ve had ample opportunity to call out Trump for his bigoted call for profiling and surveillance of Arab Americans and American Muslims, we want to focus this week on the latter part of this gem of an idea. First off, we’ve been importing Israeli profiling practices since at least 2001, when the disastrous TSA SPOT program was brought over to beef up airport security. Since then, TSA SPOT has been discredited for being ineffective, scientifically baseless, and a gigantic waste of money. Secondly, profiling is a tale as old as time in this country, so his suggestion that we “start thinking about it” is a sign of real gaps in his domestic policy knowledge.


The State Department’s Dissent into Action on Syria

Unabated violence and destruction in Syria has finally boiled over here in Washington, D.C. Last week, 51 diplomats signed and submitted a memo challenging President Obama’s hands-off Syria policy through the Department of State’s dissent channel. Most are saying that this pretty unusual and noteworthy insurrection within his administration is not likely to change the President’s approach, even though many theorize that the President does really care what the headlines are saying about him as he is winding down his final term. The memo urges the President to use military action to force the hand of Bashar al-Assad to negotiate, and implies Obama’s unflinchingly patient diplomacy is broken. But even the loudest headlines – and there have been innumerable heartbreakingsensationaldevastating front page news items – aren’t shifting that complicated calculation the President and his advisors are making about more aggressive intervention in Syria. At the end of the day, it looks like we will get more debate on Syria policy, but not much change.


What and Who Are in Clinton’s Cabinet?

While there has been a whole lot of coverage of who Hillary Clinton is vetting and not vetting for her VP spot, we haven’t seen as much information coming out about Clinton’s likely cabinet choices. And maybe that’s why Trump keeps hitting Clinton with a line his supporters love, saying “Hillary will be 4 more years of Obama.” Because if Trump saw coverage of who Clinton’s likely Secretary of Defense will be – widely speculated to be Michele Flournoy – he’d understand how very different a Clinton administration might be, at least on Syria. Flournoy’s current operation, the Center for New American Security, recently debuted a new policy report on counter ISIS strategy that laid out a very different – and Obama-critical - vision for U.S. military engagement in Syria. The report’s release also earned a fancy conference and the legitimizing factor of Vice President Biden’s participation, which is kind of a big deal because the ISIS strategy the conference promoted is definitely not the one Biden is supposed to be defending. It’s all worth watching as names, resumes, and dirt is dug up on the future Clinton cabinet – and how the Democratic party will allow her divergence from President Obama’s battered foreign policy agenda.