Posted on August 04, 2016 in Countdown

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Convention Chaos and our Final Countdown

After what feels like an eternity, we are finally back from two weeks on the road for the Republican and Democratic National Conventions! We had a lot of programing in both cities — from comedy shows to block parties to issue forums— so be sure to check out our website for more info! Now, we’re trying to get down to business on all of our fall plans for #YallaVote (95 days until Nov. 8th!) but our heads are still spinning from all the convention-related news still unfolding, and we can't resist on weighing in. The Hillary convention was set up to be a disaster when hackers released new emails that proved DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and some of her highest aides were knowingly, purposefully, and significantly tilting the election in favor of Clinton's campaign. The Bernie Sanders delegates - who arrived in Philadelphia already feeling rightly burned by Party leaders - were further alienated and angered. We're actually quite shocked that the disruptions from Bernie delegates on the Convention floor were relatively few (that might be because of highly problematic DNC management of signs and chants in Bernie-heavy delegations), but they were indeed powerful signs of discontent within the Party, especially on TPP and Palestine. The scandal cost Wasserman Schultz her job (at least with the DNC) and continues to have repercussions for the Democratic Party. But it's pretty obvious that DNC drama is getting bailed out in the media by the unbelievable controversy surrounding the Gold Star family, Khizr and Ghazala Khan, who gave a powerful speech at the DNC. But before we get there, we have to remind everyone that the Republican Party seemed to be falling apart even before the Khan controversy. We are still trying to figure out the lasting impact of Sen. Ted Cruz’s non-endorsement speech on the Party and on his career. And we're still grappling with the number of Republican leaders who skipped out on Cleveland (seriously, the convention couldn't even bribe the entertainment or secure speakers). Before Trump's despicable comments about the Khan's, Republicans like John McCain, Jeb and George W. Bush, John Kasich, and others were not aligned with the Party's nominee. After Trump's bigoted and disrespectful comments about the Khan family, the number of RNC dissenters is growing fast. Even Mike Pence - yes, Trump's VP pick - is distancing himself from Trump and there are reports that the Trump staff is close to mutiny. So while the DNC is shedding leaders in order to make amends, the RNC is shedding serious support for the person at the top of the Party's ticket, Donald Trump.


Illegal Israeli Settlements Defy Logic in U.S. Politics But Not U.S. Opinion

Just a few days after the U.S. Department of State issued a statement calling illegal Israeli settlements "corrosive to the peace process" (duh), Representative Hank Johnson (D, GA-4) was ruthlessly attacked for analogizing the growth of illegal Israeli settlements undermining the peace process to termites eating away at floorboards. Johnson was first attacked for "calling Israeli settlers termites" (which is a blatantly incorrect way to interpret his comments) by a notorious far, far right-wing online outlet, which was then shared by several American Jewish groups, even making its way into mainstream publications including The Hill and TIME. Luckily, Rep. Johnson is also being defended by many American Jewish heavy weights - not because what he said was by any means brilliant, but because our elected representatives should be able to criticize the Israeli occupation - especially illegal settlements which are against US policy - without personal attacks. And the latest polling numbers are making that case too. Released last week at our DNC panel, a Zogby Research Services poll shows that 64% of Americans think Israelis and Palestinians should have equal rights, and a plurality of Americans in both Parties think the U.S. gives too much annual aid to Israel. The latter of which is poignant because we are about to deliver Israel the biggest US military aid package in history. The conversation and assumptions that have long kept elected officials scared to stick their neck out on this issue are changing - - despite the best efforts of the organized opposition to Palestinian rights.


Divided Causes for the Suffering Syrians on the Ground and in Congress

It has been a brutal summer for Syrians across the country, but Aleppo has been an inferno of misery. With ceasefires never holding, rival factions in open street warfare, and the international superpowers clearly not aligned - the death toll continues to rise and Aleppo becomes an even graver humanitarian disaster. Over the past two weeks we've been gone, a lot has happened on the battlefield and in Congress. The Assad regime, backed by Russian airstrikes, stands accused of targeting 6 hospitals in Aleppo and using chemical weapons (again) against its people in Idlib province. Reports of a humanitarian corridor to give escape to the people of Aleppo are now sounding more ominous of future misery than a helpful route out. Meanwhile in Washington, there's also no end in sight - well actually, March 2018 is the new end for "Temporary Protected Status" granted to Syrians in America, as President Obama announced an 18 month extension of the important designation allowing Syrians to stay. But the highly politicized battle over the U.S. refugee resettlement program wages on without abatement. Just as Secretary Jeh Johnson announced the U.S. is on track to resettle 10,000 Syrians by October, the Senate and House of Representatives were plotting their own plans for the program. In the House, Rep. Babin (R, TX- and 44 cosponsors  introduced a bill - HR 5816 - that would suspend the program and commission a study to "examine the impact on the national security of the U.S. of admitting refugees." The bill was referred to committee, where we hope it languishes in the bigotry that motivates it. In the Senate - thanks the the leadership of  - an important bill called the "Refugee Protection Act" (S.3241) was introduced earlier this month (although it was first introduced in 2010). The bill, provides greater protection for asylum seekers and refugees. While it remains unfortunate that the issue of Syrian refugees is politicized, we are pleased we have some politicians who rise to the occasion and defend what is right. 


Rigged Elections Face Set Backs in North Carolina, Texas

Another development we missed out on while we've been away is the key victories for voting rights that went down in North Carolina and more recently in Texas. We don't want to sound too victorious here - state voter laws have a lot of ground to make up after the landmark Voting Rights Act was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013, allowing too many states to pass bills that tore apart important protections for traditionally disenfranchised voters. We do want to celebrate what happened last month when North Carolina's 4th Court of Appeals handed down a ruling that overturned one type of these restrictive laws, one that installed discriminatory requirements for voter identification at the polling booth - which many say is a blatant case of racially motivated voter suppression. And in Texas, where backers of restrictive voter ID laws were forced to accept an out-of-court deal (which is now pending judicial approval) to ignore the law and allow the November elections to proceed without the cumbersome voter ID requirements. All this comes as Donald Trump amps up his recent claims that the November elections are “rigged,” citing knowledge of plans to commit voter fraud in order to defeat him at the polls. While we are being told that voter fraud is a definite concern, studies suggest otherwise since a US person is more likely to be struck by lightning than to commit in-person voter fraud.  And even if it were a real concern, the laws that are clearly meant to disenfranchise minorities or lower income voters shouldn’t be the remedy to fraud. 


CVE is Not for Me, Or You, Or the UK...

The "Countering Violent Extremism" push hasn't stopped pushing for the sake of the conventions, and we tried to keep up. While the highly problematic CVE programs continue to be on the government dole at increasing levels, the CVE parent program over in the United Kingdom has suffered an instructional blow that we want everyone to take note of. The well-respected Rights Watch UK published a lengthy report condemning "Prevent" program's (what they call CVE in Britain) impact on school children and their teachers. Prevent - like what we've seen the FBI try to implement in the United States - asks teachers to monitor their students’ thoughts and actions for any sign they might be terrorists-in-the-making. The report finds that Prevent's classroom programs have left students scared to express their true thoughts in the classroom, which is obviously counterproductive to the honest need to help kids who are going through common and often times celebrated "coming of age" growth points. We just want everyone to pause over the thought of teachers alerting the FBI to your kid who might have not-so-artistically drawn a picture of you gardening. Yup, that's what’s happening in the UK and that’s what these programs can lead to. The Rights Watch report on the ill effects of Prevent in the classroom needs attention here - that's where we are going if the programs aren't critically examined and stopped.