Posted on March 16, 2018 in Countdown

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Flipping Out in Pennsylvania

Six months ago, we’d be reporting the victory of Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district special election like it was a huge upset. But after repeated unexpected special and local election victories for Democrats in hotly contested, formerly Republican-held seats, let’s just call this a mild surprise. The fact is, this trend of higher voter turnout and flipped seats is picking up steam, and we should expect to see more shakeups this year. It’s valuable to note Democrats aren’t winning in Republican strongholds on purely partisan grounds; their candidates seem to be winning because they have a pulse on local issues and speak to them. Lamb is not a typical Democrat, most notably because he’s pro-Second Amendment and a coal industry supporter. But Lamb is also a union supporter, and publicly backs pro-choice policies despite his personal opposition to abortion. This hybrid platform reminds us that voters and districts are more purple than polarized, and Lamb’s success connecting to voters on local priorities while ignoring the distracting national hoopla has given candidates another strategy to consider as midterms heat up.


What Diplomacy?

We’ll spare you the thousand theories for why Donald Trump fired Rex Tillerson (if you surf the internet, you’ll see that it’s either the fault of the Russians, the Saudis, the deep state, or the penguins), but we’ll focus instead on the man set to replace him: Mike Pompeo. He hates the Iran nuclear deal, and advocates for military strikes on Iran. He doesn’t buy climate change and opposed measures to combat it. He’s an anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist.  In fact, he’s so great at the anti-Muslim thing, he appeared on Frank Gaffney’s anti-Muslim radio show more than two dozen times, and received an award from the awesome ACT for America. Wait, you don’t know ACT for America? Then you gotta watch this video. Pompeo claimed that “radical Islamic organizations” were operating “not just in places like Libya and Syria and Iraq, but in places like Coldwater, Kansas, and small towns all throughout America.” He also falsely accused American Muslims of failing to condemn the Boston marathon bombing (and not that any group that has nothing to do with any violent act needs to condemn it but the fact is: many Muslim groups condemned it within hours). Pompeo claimed this imaginary Muslim silence not only “casts doubt upon the commitment to peace among adherents of the Muslim faith,” but also “made these Islamic leaders across America potentially complicit in these acts.” Pompeo’s strange views were certainly noted when he became the head of the CIA but that didn’t deter his appointment. Now, the potential of our chief diplomat holding these outrageous theories while doing the diplomacy thing with the Arab world or Muslim majority countries is another matter. Calling congressional oversight please.


Why Are We Rewarding Torture?

Pompeo’s dangerous nomination to head the State Department leaves a spot open in the CIA. And what better way to fill the void at the CIA than an even more dangerous appointment (and by dangerous, we mean this is really bad for our country and standing in the world). To head the CIA, Trump nominated current deputy director Gina Haspel. Problem is that Haspel played a key role in the CIA’s infamous torture program nicely dubbed the “Rendition, Detention and Interrogation Program.” While there are disputes about the location of the CIA “black site” that she ran, where detainees were indeed tortured, there seems to be no dispute that she played a key leadership role in a dark period in our nation’s history. If you find this troubling, you’re not alone. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein is now requesting that documents about Haspel’s role with the torture program be declassified. And that’s not all. When the CIA’s black sites came under scrutiny, Haspel started pushing for the destruction of torture tapes, and “accomplished her mission years later when she rose to a senior position at CIA headquarters and drafted an order to destroy the evidence.” At this point, you may be thinking you drifted into some nightmare, but we assure you she’s nominated to head the CIA in the real world. It looks like we haven’t seen the worst from this administration yet.


Escaping Fire and ICE

An ICE spokesperson in San Francisco, James Schwab, resigned earlier this week after ICE and AG Jeff Sessions criticized statements made by the mayor of Oakland. The mayor warned her city of an imminent ICE raid, and Sessions was not happy about it. But Schwab's disagreement wasn't political, it was ethical. He found the assertion that all undocumented people in the area were presumptively threats to public safety disingenuous. The Trump Administration has a long tradition of calling whole groups of people threats to public safety without any evidence (see: Muslims, refugees, Mexicans, immigrants, journalists, and judges, probably). “I asked them to change the information,” Schwab stated. “I told them that the information was wrong, they asked me to deflect, and I didn’t agree with that." Normally, government employees are fired after being caught lying. In Trump’s America, government employees resign or are fired (#Rexit) when they don't want to mislead the public or actually do tell the truth. At least Schwab quit before being told to watch the President's Twitterfeed for his fate.


The Ultimate No-Deal

So Donald Trump is hosting a conference on dealing with the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The Palestinians, upset over the Jerusalem decision, have refused to attend, but...Israel is at the conference? Um, can we save you guys some time and let you in on a little secret? Gaza isn’t suffering from a natural disaster, it’s suffering from an unlawful siege. You don’t need a conference to figure out how to solve it, just tell Israel to lift the siege they imposed. But the gem everyone is waiting for is Trump’s “ultimate deal,” to be released any time now. No one knows what’s in it yet, but “unconfirmed reports say the US" plan is to propose Abu Dis, a town outside Jerusalem, as an alternative capital of a future Palestinian state. Palestinians would not hold full passports or control their own airspace or borders under the proposals. If you can’t tell if this would be the Netanyahu plan or the Trump plan, you’re not alone. Also, can we please not call it a “peace” plan since it can’t possibly lead to a lasting peace? Lasting peace requires this weird thing called “justice.” But we won’t end Countdown without another awesome video from our president Jim Zogby, explaining AIPAC’s contradictions and why, despite all this madness, there is still hope for the future of U.S. policy in Israel/Palestine. And here it is if you prefer Facebook or Twitter.