Posted on October 18, 2019 in Countdown

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Bigger and Badder

Well, folks, it went down this week, with 12 candidates on stage, and it was epic. Unlike previous debates, they saved the “centrists vs progressives” health care fight until a little later in the debate, and kicked off the night with the Trump impeachment, which they pretty much all favored (though Tulsi Gabbard threw cold water on it, cautioning that it would further divide the country). For a change, foreign policy was a factor in this debate, with the Trump-facilitated Turkish assault on the Kurds in Syria prominently highlighted. And, once again, Gabbard broke with the stage’s condemnation of Trump, insisting that the blame lays with “both parties who have supported this ONGOING [emphasis added] regime change war in Syria.” Um, excuse us, Ms. Gabbard, we totally appreciate your opposition to regime-change wars (we’re 100% with you on that), but have you checked the calendar lately? It’s 2019. Our government’s efforts to topple the Assad regime ended years ago. See, now, Turkey was (is) bombing the Kurds who are not Assad (not a single one of them is), and Trump moved the troops out of Kurdish areas NOT “because regime change.” Time for updated talking points. Another interesting thing happened at the debate: Klobuchar and Buttigieg were primarily taking aim not at Biden or Sanders, they were going after Warren like she was the likely future nominee. Do they know something we don’t?

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Remember This Thing Called Privacy?

If you think the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and everything about it is confusing, trust us, you are not alone! From “minimization” procedures, to “abouts” collection, “backdoor” searches, “upstream” surveillance, and everything in between, the jargon is utterly confounding. The process, however, seems to be even more complicated. Throw in a shadowy federal court with secret interpretations of the law and you have an esoteric morass of law and policy that is impenetrable to the general public. This is bad, not the least of which because the more inscrutable a topic the less likely we are to pay attention, and if we don’t pay attention we might pay the price. Case in point, the federal government recently declassified files that show the FBI’s procedures related to Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, one of the more controversial parts of the law, violated both the section itself and the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. Turns out that even the FBI is confused about the purposes and limitations of FISA, or perhaps some agents just don’t care. Either way, these practices resulted in (here it comes, ready?) tens of thousands of searches of Americans’ information in violation of the law. Ouch. Keep paying attention, lest we all pay the price.

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Get Checked Soon

In June 2018 the Supreme Court decided the Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute case, choosing to uphold Ohio’s controversial “use it or lose it” system for removing registered voters from their voting lists. In short, Ohio removed voters who did not vote in two election cycles and who did not return voter address verification postcards they received to their registered home address. Advocates were concerned of the ripple effect on other states that would take this opportunity to purge their lists, too. Those fears have been realized as many jurisdictions, and especially those with a history of voter discrimination, continue to practice mass voter purging. Earlier this year Ohio completed another purge of its voter rolls---235,000 voters were removed--- and the state recently released the list of removed voters. A review of that list found 40,000 of those voters were wrongfully purged, including leaders in the voting rights movement. This massive mistake is a red flag for voters everywhere, and the country will almost certainly see more mistakes like this as more jurisdictions and states expand their voter purge practices. So consider this a reminder to check your voter registration status regularly using your state’s election website to ensure you’re ready to vote when the time comes.

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Enough limbo: broken immigration policies need RELIEF

We know that the challenges facing our broken immigration system don't start or end with the horrors at the border. For instance, there is a massive backlog of people waiting for green cards. Right now, only 226,000 family green cards and 140,000 employment green cards are available each year. To resolve this problem, Senators Dick Durbin and Patrick Leahy introduced the Resolving Extended Limbo for Immigrant Employees and Families (RELIEF) Act this week, which would completely eliminate the backlog by increasing the number of green cards issued each year. Instead of using country caps that prioritize immigrants from certain countries, this bill would benefit all immigrants waiting for their green cards. It also would help #KeepFamiliesTogether by protecting children who qualify for Legal Permanent Resident status from "aging out" and by classifying spouses and children of immigrants as immediate relatives, which would seem like common sense but.... anyway. Immigrants and their families don't deserve the stress that comes from being neglected and kept in limbo. These new Americans-in-the-making need RELIEF: we urge the Senate to support this bill.

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Bye Establishment, Hello Robocop

Tunisia has spoken and they want Robocop! Kais Saied, the 61-year old newly elected president of Tunisia, was an independent candidate with little political experience whose demeanor and insistence on giving speeches in classical Arabic (not local dialect) earned him the nickname Robocop. An outsider during Ben Ali’s regime, Saied is a conservative from the Ariana district in the capital of Tunis, a heavily Islamist enclave. In 2014, he served on the committee of experts that supported parliament during the drafting of Tunisia’s post-revolution constitution. Despite a platform opposing LGBTQ rights, equal inheritance for men and women and supporting the death penalty, Saied’s landslide victory was largely thanks to a strong turnout from Tunisia’s youth. Polling estimates that 90 percent of 18 to 25 year-olds voted for Saied, compared with 49.2 percent of voters over 60 years of age. His rival, Nabil Karoui, who was newly released from jail for tax fraud and money laundering charges, only secured an estimated 1 million votes. What is striking is that Tunisians resoundingly rejected the establishment, including Ennahda – the opposition party. Kais's commitment to eradicating corruption and supporting decentralization efforts to empower local governance of cities and municipalities spoke to the voters. When a delegation from Tunisia visited with us last month, they emphasized that Tunisians are still struggling with excessively high inflation and unemployment rates, and tepid economic growth. As we explained recently in Countdown, those aren't issues the President alone can solve, but this election has shown that Tunisians have chosen change.

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