Posted on October 27, 2017 in Countdown

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Emperor Has No Clothes

It’s hard to tell how many Republicans know the orange emperor has no clothes, but a few are saying it loud and clear: This week, Republican Senator Bob Corker said that Trump "lowers himself" and "debases the country" by lying all the time, expressing deep concern for the “very sad” state of our country. Republican Senator Jeff Flake followed suit with an even more damning statement: “We can no longer remain silent, merely observing this train wreck...The longer we wait, the greater the damage, the harsher the judgment of history.” But what do Corker and Flake have in common? They’re both not running for reelection, signaling that opposition to the orange emperor makes it incredibly hard to win the base over. So who’s doing well in the current climate? Alabama candidate Roy Moore, who was aptly described by a conservative columnist as a “twice-disgraced former judge who believes 9/11 was divine retribution for our sins and an anti-Muslim bigot who can’t quite bring himself to rule out the death penalty for homosexuals.”  Can the Republican leadership please stand up and speak in-house truth to power? We’re rooting for sanity to win this fight for the soul of the GOP.


Where Were You When They Took Free Speech Away?

Anti-BDS legislation has been enacted in more than 20 states now, in order to thwart a peaceful effort aimed at pressuring Israel to abide by international law and respect Palestinian human rights. The latest was an executive order signed by Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, requiring all firms with state contracts to pledge they won’t boycott Israel. Hogan explained order by fiat since it failed to pass in Maryland’s state legislature by saying his state had no place for “boycotts and threats.” What does it say about the state of our education when a governor can put boycotts in the same category as threats without understanding the protected and honored history of the former? Speaking of education, there is worse news for free speech: The assault on the right to advocate for justice for Palestinians or criticize Israel may be coming to the Department of Education, with the Trump Administration’s nomination of Kenneth Marcus to serve as Assistant Secretary of (we kid you not) the civil rights division. Yes, nothing says both “civil rights” and “education” like a man who doesn’t know the difference between the very real problem of anti-Semitism on the one hand, and conscientious human rights advocacy on the other. Marcus has been trying to turn Title VI of the Civil Rights Act into a vehicle to suppress political speech by conflating it with religious discrimination. The Department of Education has rejected all of his previous attempts to do this, but if his appointment goes through, it’s not too hard to imagine where we go from here. All who care about free speech and combatting anti-Semitism need to watch this closely.


DNC Debacle?

Following a colossal defeat in the 2016 election, the DNC is hyper focused and regrouping for the 2018 midterm elections, which was the focus of this big DNC meeting last week. Oh, you saw the headlines already? Yup, though there is a whole “Unity and Reform Commission” (URC) to bring the party together after a contentious primary, the DNC meeting in Las Vegas became all about the removal of long-time DNC activists by Chair Tom Perez. Perez removed several people off the party’s Executive Committee, all of them former backers of Keith Ellison for chairmanship, including the only Arab American, Jim Zogby (it’s a safe bet you know him in his other capacity as our Jim, or AAI President Jim). To be clear, Jim retains his seat at the DNC, including on the Resolutions Committee, as well as the URC. But his removal from the executive committee has not gone over well with many, including us and those advocating for real reforms. As Jim said: “I'll keep fighting because as an Arab American, I know the pain of exclusion. I had to fight to get into this party and secure a place for my community.”


A New Challenge To Warrantless Surveillance

We know things are looking down on too many fronts, and our right to privacy is no exception. We’ve talked about Section 702 of the FISA Amendment before, which allows warrantless surveillance that’s aimed at foreign nationals, but which “incidentally” sweeps up mountains of information from literally millions of Americans. You’ll be glad to know that the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) are asking the federal court of appeals to find Section 702 unconstitutional, as it violates the 4th Amendment, which grants Americans the right to privacy.  EFF explains that the FBI “routinely” conducts backdoor searches into this data collected on Americans without a warrant. If civil rights groups win this one, we’ll get reacquainted with good news (it’s seriously been a while). But don’t get too excited: Human Rights Watch just revealed that the US Defense Department has authorized warrantless surveillance of any US citizen the executive branch says is suspected of “homegrown extremism”, even when they have “no specific connection to foreign terrorists.” Why is all of this warrantless exactly? And can we please catch a break from the attacks on our civil rights?



Do you remember when the Environmental Protection Agency was the agency charged with protecting the environment? Those were the days, weren’t they? Well, the EPA now is under Scott Pruitt, a guy who sued the EPA at least 14 times back when he was Oklahoma’s attorney general. He appears to be a man on a mission to destroy a lot of regulations that limit pollution. He’s also so unserious about climate change that even climate change skeptics think he’s only faking interest in the science of climate change. But at least the EPA under Pruitt will still allow scientists to speak about climate change, right? Wrong!  The agency “has canceled speaking appearances by three of its scientists.” So the war isn’t just on regulations, but on information too. Well, maybe we can make Orwell less uncomfortable in his grave by temporarily calling it the Environmental Devastation Agency.