Posted on August 25, 2016 in Countdown

Click here to subscribe to Countdown, AAI's weekly take on news from Washington, around the country, and abroad.


Is this Real Life? No, It's Just the 2016 Elections

There are a lot of strange things happening in this country - and with 74 days left until Election Day, we are here to sort fact from fiction and fess up to where things are just plain confusing. In a marked change from the past few weeks, Hillary Clinton is the one feeling serious heat this week as more allegations of how she blurred, perhaps bent, the legal line between her duties as Secretary of State and her allegiance to the Clinton Foundation's donors. But we still haven't seen anything that demonstrates a real "pay to play" policy, so we're a bit confused about how the story has taken ahold of media cycles while there are more obvious issues to press Clinton on. And on the Trump side we can't really tell fact from fiction because the grand pivot we are supposedly seeing strikes us as inauthentic. Maybe the major staff changes last week have Trump nervous and more willing to play politics, but Trump's first attempt to woo non-white voters is really out of left field given Trump's history this election and throughout his entire business career. And his new (?) immigration plan - which sounds pretty similar to the plans he slammed during the primary - is a far cry from the defiant, radical deportation plan that rallied his base early on. Maybe Donald is learning what it takes to govern (i.e. reason), but then again, that seems like a fictional tale.


Israel Votes, But for Who?

Last week Donald Trump officially rolled out his campaign in the American city of Israel. Oh wait, we mean the country of Israel, but it’s not hard to understand how we got it wrong when folks are talking about the "Israeli branch of the Republican party.” Neither candidate has made Israel or Palestine an issue since their early AIPAC rendezvous, but the Clinton camp quietly made gains with the zero sum pro-Israel base by opposing basic facts in the Democratic platform and after having proclaimed her unbreakable support not just for Israel, but also Benjamin Netanyahu. In the other camp, Trump's early statements about being a "neutral" broker have given way to the launch of the Republican party's first ever ground game in Israel to court expat votes that he is - surprisingly - losing according to a recent poll. Trump's long awaited trip to Israel hasn't yet happened this election cycle, but maybe now it will since Trump knows he is losing the "Israel vote." He might also be facing some internal pressure to make the political right of passage from one of his advisors who funds the Israeli settler movement. We'll be watching to see if he takes the trip, and if his rhetoric goes along for the ride. 


Realities and Rallies for Syrian Refugees

The viral picture of Omran Daqneesh, the innocent and shell shocked Syrian victim of war, has startled people across the world. We're waiting to see if it has startled people to action because, viral pictures are nothing new to the Syrian slaughter and many (including us) are increasingly frustrated that the images haven't translated into more. But even before Omran's hollow stare caught the world's attention, the U.S. government was feeling pressure to step up their humanitarian efforts - and now the rally cry for President Obama to step up is gathering steam. Following the proud announcement that the U.S. will meet the goal set for 2016 Syrian refugee resettlement numbers, aid groups were rightly trying to put the U.S. ego back in check. In fact, OxFam America said that President Obama should double his commitment to resettle Syrian refugees because 10,000 is nowhere near enough given our capability, the scale of disaster, and the embarrassing comparison between our number and what other countries are doing to resettle innocent Syrians. This weekend, an impressive coalition led by aid groups will host a day-long Rally 4 Refugees in Washington, D.C. – sporting the now-iconic orange life vests like Syrians fleeing across the Mediterranean. We’ll be there highlighting the rigorous requirements of the vetting process, but we must all do more to demand our humanitarian policies align with the extraordinary crisis facing Syrians—one that lead a notable commentator to declare that “Anne Frank today is a Syrian girl."


New and Old Ways to Watch How You Are Being Watched

It's not that we're expecting the post 9/11 surveillance state to trim itself back, but we did hold out hope that when surveillance programs like the NYPD's mapping of Muslims in New York were found to be way outside the bounds of what is right or legal, that those programs would be reformed. The bombshell story exposing the discriminatory and ineffective surveillance scheme came out over four years ago, and the program was reportedly disbanded two years ago - but just this week a report by the NYPD's Inspector General made it pretty clear that the program is still operational. And while old surveillance programs are still going, new surveillance keeps coming. In a controversial move, the Department of Homeland Security looks to be acquiescing to the misinformed calls for social media screening of visitors to the United States. The move has garnered criticism from a gambit of civil liberties and technology groups, who correctly point out that this is a significant expansion of surveillance collection that will have a chilling affect on free speech. And at the same time, the proposal has no reasonable hope of being effective in keeping the bad people out. The creeping expansion of surveillance that scrutinizes online speech is a hot global trend - but we must hold our government accountable to the American standard of free speech. This proposal, like some before it, doesn't do it.


We Didn’t Know The Hill is Where Conspiracy Theories Go to Stay Alive

We won’t hold back the punches when a person with great political power - like long time Clinton aide Huma Abedin - needs to be called out, but only for the right reasons. We count amongst the WRONG reasons to criticize Abedin the oft-repeated conspiracy theories that because she is Muslim there must be some nefarious intent for her public service (which, by the way, she started with an internship). The charge that Abedin is an agent of the Muslim Brotherhood first found a national platform in 2012 when Michele Bachmann (yes, this Michele Bachmann) repeated the claim ad nauseam. But the clearly anti-Muslim, baseless, and bigoted charge is once again part of a presidential election not only because Bachmann is an official advisor to Donald Trump, but because a reputable D.C. news site has decided to lend its credibility to the witch hunt targeting American Muslim staffers by publishing an op ed detailing the conspiracy. It's not that attempts to malign allegiances of some Americans is new - it's a tale as old as American time - but we are dumbstruck that it's not widely, vociferously, and effectively condemned. Once and for all.