Posted on December 01, 2017 in Countdown

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Trump’s former national security advisor, Michael Flynn, has pleaded guilty today for lying to the FBI. Specifically, he lied about discussions with Russia’s ambassador regarding US sanctions on the country and regarding a UN Security Council vote on Israeli settlements. The charge is a relatively minor (emphasis on “relatively”, don’t go lying to the FBI now) and clearly the result of a plea deal with special investigator Robert Mueller. Given the context, this raises the question of what more Flynn may have told Mueller, and who he may have thrown under the bus. So, who will be next?


Incitement from the White House

If you’ve spent any time at all on social media, you’ve noticed that hateful, uneducated, fanatical trolls on the fringes of the internet often share fake memes and videos to stir up hostility towards one group or another. But never in a million years did we imagine the President of the United States would join the ranks of one of those hate trolls. But every time we think we’ve seen the limits to which the President is willing to sink, he manages to surprise us yet again. This time, he retweeted several anti-Muslim videos from a UK-based, right-wing extremist group, depicting random acts of vandalism or violence purportedly by Muslims. At least one video, the one claiming to show a “Muslim migrant” attacking a disabled Dutch boy, was proven fraudulent and the Dutch Embassy confirmed that the attacker was actually a Dutch-born citizen who served a sentence for the attack. In their tweet, the Dutch embassy also emphasized that “facts do matter”, in an apparent response to Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ embarrassing defense of the President’s tweets, in which she claimed that it didn’t matter if the videos were fake or not. UK Prime Minister Theresa May said Trump was wrong to retweet anti-Muslim videos, but Trump (ever so mature) fired back on Twitter, basically telling May to mind her own business. British Labour Party leader Corbyn described Trump’s retweets as a “threat to our society”, amid calls from MPs to cancel Trump’s visit to their parliament. Trump’s rhetoric & actions have long been dangerous at home and embarrassing abroad, but this really takes things to a new low—and puts people at risk. We got nothing funny to say about that.


When Tillerson Goes...

Ever since Tillerson reportedly called Trump a moron, it seemed only a matter of time before the Ego-in-Chief finds a replacement that’s more up his alley. Now, multiple government officials are saying CIA Director Mike Pompeo is the likely replacement. Of course, that’s the same Pompeo that trafficked in anti-Muslim fiction, like suggesting that American Muslim leaders are “potentially complicit” in terrorist attacks on America because of their imaginary “silence.” But another part of his agenda is also scary, as his opposition to the Iran nuclear deal includes him playing up an alleged relationship between Iran and Al-Qaeda, leading to speculation that he’ll push towards a military confrontation with Iran. But who would fill the CIA spot vacated by Pompeo? Apparently, it’s Senator Tom Cotton. Who is that, you ask? He’s none other than the guy who sent a letter to Iranian leaders a couple of years ago to dissuade them from reaching a nuclear deal with President Barack Obama. We may be confronting slim odds, but we’re hopeful people, so we’re still rooting for sanity to prevail in whatever comes next.


A Dangerous Game in Jerusalem

For decades now, successive US administrations have been using the national security waiver to avoid complying with a strange congressional demand to recognize an “undivided” Jerusalem as the capital of Israel (yes, no mention of East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine). In recent days, reports started circulating, citing Israeli officials, saying Trump was about to announce the moving of the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem as early as Sunday. Vice President Pence added to the rumors by saying this week that Trump was “actively considering when and how to move the American Embassy” to Jerusalem. Shortly after, the White House attempted to tamp down expectations, not by denying the efforts, but simply by noting they were “premature”, while King Abdullah of Jordan warned the move would threaten peace. When you consider that Trump is the sort of guy who disputes the authenticity of a tape he already apologized for, and is reportedly running around repeating birther conspiracies he already disavowed, it’s not really that farfetched that he might move the embassy on a whim. Playing with Jerusalem like this is dangerous.


Spotlighting the Tax Plan

There has always been a long-standing ideological debate about whether enormous tax-cuts are good or bad for the American people. But even if we avoid this traditional left/right debate altogether, there are still extremely troubling aspects to the current Republican tax bill that have not been discussed much. Did you know the proposed tax bill would eliminate a key provision of Obamacare that, according to the Congressional Budget Office, would leave some 13 million additional people uninsured in 10 years? Did you know that this supposed tax cut actually “slap[s] unprecedented new taxes on higher education”, making graduate school substantially more expensive? Did you know the bill includes repeal of the Johnson Amendment and would therefore allow non-profit institutions to engage in politics, by rolling back restrictions that have been in place since the 1950s? The move would allow non-profits, including religious organizations and institutions, to endorse political candidates. Churches, mosques, synagogues, etc. endorsing candidates, folks. What could go wrong? What was supposed to have passed yesterday appears to be now stalled because of estimates that it increases the deficit by $1 trillion dollars. No matter how all the tax parts of this bill play out, we are hoping for a cleaner bill that doesn’t change major policy.


Privatized Rendition? A Seriously Bad Idea

If you’ve made it this far into Countdown and you haven’t set your hair on fire, check this out: The White House and the CIA are reportedly considering proposals that sanction private covert missions by former intelligence agents, and that these missions would include “propaganda”, intelligence gathering, and even rendition. One of the companies reportedly being considered for a multi-million dollar contract is Amyntor Group, whose employees include “veterans of a variety of US covert operations, ranging from the Reagan-era Iran–Contra affair to more recent actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.” What are these missions exactly that CIA employees can’t conduct directly, and call for the hiring of private companies? Have we learned nothing from Blackwater? Ok, seriously, we need some good news before Christmas, we’re in desperate need for jolly holiday season.