Posted on March 31, 2017 in Countdown

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If You Can't Take the Profiling Heat, Get Out of the Profiling Kitchen

Two months into his post, Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has hit the ground for a listening tour. That tour brought him to Dearborn, Michigan this week - the city with the highest concentration of Arab Americans in the country. And it apparently didn't go well for Sec. Kelly at one small roundtable discussion with leaders from our community. In what the media described as a “tense exchange,” Sec. Kelly reportedly got up from his chair while threatening to leave because of persistent questioning about DHS's use of discriminatory profiling at the border. Sec. Kelly's defense of his department's approach and tactics while face-to-face with the American citizens whose civil rights are being impinged maybe a case of “the lady doth protest too much.” Being confronted with the on-the-ground implications of things like the Muslim Ban, domestic counter-terrorism programs, and rampant watch-listing must indeed be a difficult thing—all of which are, of course, programs that only exist because they are based on discriminatory profiling. So when Sec. Kelly’s sensibilities are rightly offended by profiling, we are left with two thoughts: 1) Sec. Kelly doesn’t know that his DHS officials regularly engage in profiling or 2) DHS has finally issued their much-anticipated updated guidance on profiling based on Spokesperson David Lapan’s comments after the meeting in Dearborn. Lapan said, "Secretary Kelly reiterated that CBP and ICE officers carry out their duties professionally, humanely and in accordance with the law, noting that they do not target individuals based on race, religion or political views." We are going to opt for the latter and assume that programs like this will cease. Also, we look forward to a more formal rollout of the new DHS guidance on profiling—you know the guidance that doesn’t allow for the national security, border security and local law enforcement loopholes. That is what Secretary Kelly was talking about, right? That’s what their comments mean. Thanks Secretary Kelly!


When a Terrorist Kills or Attacks and It’s Not in Your Newsfeed

We're getting tired of pointing out the incredibly problematic and de-contextualized coverage of terrorism in America. But here we are again, having to point out just how badly the media is missing critical developments in the story of terrorism in the United States. Recently there were two stories that deserved attention and government response but got neither. First, in New York a man drove to New York, and used a sword to murder Timothy Caughman, a Black man. The terrorist went on to unapologetically proclaim that this murder was a "practice run" for killing more Black people. This hate crime - undoubtedly brewed by the rising white nationalism that has been unleashed - didn't even warrant a response from Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Then over the weekend, the Jewish Defense League (JDL) - which the FBI deemed “a right-wing terrorist group” showed up outside the AIPAC conference in Washington, DC to intimidate peaceful protesters. And intimidate they did, quite openly and violently. So openly that they came with their flags waving just before they severely beat a Palestinian-American professor. Yet this story also hasn't gotten media attention or a government response. If anyone in the DOJ or the media needs a refresher on just how violent the JDL is, remember, the group was founded by the notorious Rabbi Meir Kahane who went on to create the Kach group in Israel (later Kahane Chai). Both groups were placed on the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. Baruch Goldstein, the terrorist who murdered worshipers in Hebron’s Ibrahimi Mosque, was a member of the JDL and Kach. The JDL has a Facebook page, Twitter account and website. Maybe these stories aren't "shocking" enough, or maybe there are bigger Russian fish to fry in the public consciousness, but there is no excuse for the lack of concern about a white nationalist terrorist and a terrorist group committing premeditated crimes against Americans.


Budget Be Damned (to War)

There's one month left for Congress to pass a budget that keeps the government working, and we're not at a good starting point. The budget request President Trump sent Congress earlier this month is kind of scary, no - it is actually, factually scary. The drastic and damaging cuts that President Trump's team has proposed to essential government work like the Department of Education, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of State, and USAID are scary. The proposed dismantling of diplomacy work in particular was so scary that some Republican members of Congress - who are more sympathetic to minimizing government endeavors domestically - have called the budget request "dead on arrival." These cuts are necessary, if not desirable, for Team Trump because of the requested $54 billion increase for the Department of Defense next year. It seems President Trump wants to undertake a massive revamp of our military, and he wants to do it in ways that don't make much sense to the experts. While we're not surprised by Trump's focus on the Department of Defense, it was a major part of his campaign rallies, we're increasingly concerned that President Trump isn't investing so heavily in our military just for it to stand around. In the first two months of the Trump Administration, the U.S. has grown its involvement in the Middle East significantly - in Syria, in Iraq, in Yemen, and elsewhere. Trump's distaste for diplomacy and soft power might just be the most coherent part of his presidency thus far. And well, we think that is kind of scary. 


Broadband No Longer Banned from Being Bad

Somewhere along the line we're pretty sure democratically elected members of Congress seem to have forgotten that their job is to represent the interests of their constituents, not the special interests of corporations. This week the House and Senate passed a bill that will help internet broadband providers make a whole lot of money at the expense of consumers like us. If and when President Trump signs the bill into law, it will mean that internet providers can spy on our activity and sell the records of our online adventures (including our search history and geo-location data points) to the highest bidder. It's arguably a surveillance-for-profit scheme, and now it has Congress's stamp of approval. Regulations prohibiting this type of surveillance were set to go into effect later this year because it's a pretty blatant invasion of our reasonable expectation of privacy online, but Congress has either lost its way (our guess), or Congress thinks that us citizens will benefit from having our online information collected and sold (not hard to imagine). The bill received widespread criticism and mass mobilization efforts to stop it. But for some curious reason, 265 members of the House and Senate still voted to gut the existing privacy protections. The White House is expected to sign the bill into law sometime soon. We're fighting our own cynicism about the discordant views on surveillance in government right now (surveillance for profit = good, surveillance for treason = bad, surveillance for surveillance's sake = good) to support a last ditch effort to stop Trump from signing the bill. 



We're running out of new ways to express our alarm over the conduct of the Republican and Democratic parties under the current circumstances - but we'll take this opportunity to take our shots at both. The Republican Party is suffering from more self-inflicted wounds than we have the stomach to count. On the one hand, there is the possibly fatal blow of a disastrous attempt to pass a bad health care bill. The fallout from the spectacular failure is basically ripping the party apart, with the House Freedom Caucus and Trump loyalists apparently in open warfare. Poor Speaker Ryan's attempt at unity in the GOP rings pretty hollow and delusional. But the healthcare bill isn't even the most likely cause of the GOP's imminent fall from grace. That'd be Russia-gate and GOP loyalty to Rep. Devin Nunes whose highly problematic and indefensible actions as Chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence are ringing alarm bells everywhere. After several scandalous, leaky press conferences and blatant coordination with the White House on his investigation into the Russian role in the 2016 election, Devin Nunes' leadership on the Intel Committee and stewardship of the investigation itself is still being defended by his Republican colleagues. There's only ONE Republican in Congress willing to say that'd it'd be wise, at this point, for Nunes to recuse himself from the investigation. The Democrats, for their part, are celebrating their victorious defense of ObamaCare (they didn't win, they actually didn't do anything besides allow the Republican Party to implode). But the Democrats shouldn't be gloating at all, not only have they done nothing worthy of celebration but they are losing on almost every other policy issue at stake under unified Republican control of the White House and Congress. Perhaps by comparison Democrats are no longer the party that deserves to be the most embarrassed by the state of its party, but that is a LOW bar. We're dumbfounded and disturbed.