Posted on October 25, 2019 in Countdown

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An Assurance that Casts More Doubt

While Trump’s congressional backers are busy making a bizarre public spectacle out of his impeachment inquiry, Senator Elizabeth Warren is keeping her embarrassments a little more quiet. The upside: she opposes Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories, and declared “everything is on the table” on whether she would leverage U.S. aid to stop Israel’s illegal colonizing of the Palestinian territories. Naturally, this sort of elementary common sense and accountability doesn’t sit well with pro-Israel apologists, including the Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI), who oppose conditioning U.S. aid to Israel on Israel ending illegal aggression (apparently we have to keep funding Israel’s crimes no matter what). DMFI was also troubled by Warren’s hiring of Max Berger, co-founder of IfNotNow (a progressive Jewish organization that opposes Israel’s occupation), and inquired about him. That’s when Warren campaign manager Roger Lau reportedly called DMFI’s Mark Mellman and “assured him that Max Berger...was not involved in any way on Israel policy.” As another IfNotNow co-founder put it, this is as outrageous as “calling Exxon executives to reassure them that a staffer who used to lead the effort to divest from fossil fuels on their campus is not advising their environmental policy.” Lau may have thought this “assurance” was a good way to play nice with everyone, but it’s precisely the kind of assurance that places Warren’s commitment to a progressive foreign policy in doubt. Not a great look.

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Oversight Over Oversights

Earlier this week, AAI signed-on to a letter, along with over 40 other organizations, calling on Facebook to protect civil rights. The letter, sent to CEO Mark Zuckerberg, touches on 3 specific areas: prohibiting discriminatory advertising, addressing white nationalism, and preventing voter suppression and census disinformation. Zuck better take the time to actually read it, because in a hearing yesterday Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Joyce Beatty exposed his shocking lack of knowledge regarding what his own company is doing in the areas of disinformation, voter suppression, discriminatory advertisingpractices and the protection of our civil rights. As we move closer to the 2020 elections and census, be sure to keep an eye out for #YallaVote and #YallaCountMeIn materials, instead of what you might see on Facebook.

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They’ve Got Plenty of Power Already

Here’s a story you probably missed (don’t feel bad, we did too). Earlier this month, two women were indicted by a federal grand jury in Iowa on charges related to the 2016 and ’17 Dakota Access Pipeline protests. Their offense: delaying construction of the pipeline, which was secured through eminent domain to “force its way” through privately owned farmland. They burned pieces of heavy machinery at a construction site, pierced steel pipes with a flame-cutting torch, and used gasoline-soaked rags to set fire to other equipment. Now they face up to 110 years in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines based on a nine-count indictment. Whether you think the punishment is fitting or excessive is entirely besides the point we’re trying to make. We have chosen to write about this case because most of the coverage missed a pretty important detail: you might be familiar with claims that the federal government does not have a domestic terrorism statute. Well, these women were charged with one. In fact, Congress has enacted 51 statutes that are defined as “federal crime(s) of terrorism” and apply to entirely domestic acts. So the next time someone tells you the feds don't have enough power and need a new terrorism statute to deal with domestic threats, remind them of this case.

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Lebanon’s On Fire

First, Lebanon was literally burning, which was tragic and awful. But now, Lebanon is figuratively on fire, which is amazing and awesome. The government there decided to deal with its financial shortages not by cracking down on corruption or wasteful spending, but by (wait for it…) adding a $0.20 daily tax on calls through messaging apps like Whatsapp. And that’s when about a million people (not exaggerating) took to the streets to say hell no! To be clear, this proposed (and now wisely scrapped) tax was just the straw that broke the camel’s back, after years of growing Lebanese frustration with sectarianism, lack of adequate electricity or government services, wide-spread corruption, diminishing wages and rising living costs. We can’t vouch for this being the single most important cause to protest for (though it is certainly worthy), we can vouch for the fact that the Lebanese have the most fun while protesting, as a stroll through the bigger protest hashtags on Twitter will show. Now, it remains to be seen whether the unprecedented show of unity will result in chaos, compromise, or a new era of political reform. But if the protests over five days and counting show anything, it’s that Lebanon is witnessing a watershed moment, and there’s no going back from here.

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Voting Rights Rollercoaster

I don’t know about you, but this AAI staffer hates rollercoasters [um, she doesn’t speak for the whole Countdown team]. And I want off of this ongoing voter rights rollercoaster now [ok, nevermind, we ALL want off this one for sure]. In Michigan, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling ordering the state to redraw several congressional and state legislative districts due to partisan gerrymandering. Wait, why would they effectively protect gerrymandered maps? Well, same as with Maryland and North Carolina, the Court decided that gerrymandering is a political question the Court cannot answer. On the bright side, voters approved Michigan’s Proposition 2 in 2018, which institutes a nonpartisan redistricting committee to redraw maps in 2022 (democracy delayed is better than democracy denied?). Realizing the nation’s highest court will continue punting on its duty to protect American voters from manipulative politicians, many voters are employing ballot initiatives to end gerrymandering in their states, which is a good thing. Turning to Florida, a semi-victory was secured in a case relating to former felon re-enfranchisement. In 2018, Florida voters approved Amendment 4, allowing returning citizens the opportunity to vote once they’ve completed all obligations relating to their sentences. The Republican State Legislature passed a law requiring all fees related to the individual’s case be paid before they qualify for re-enfranchisement---a modern day poll tax. A judge just struck down part of this law, but the solution offered won’t make it much easier for returning citizens to vote. Potential voters will need to engage in a multi-step process to have their rights restored that will require them to prove they cannot pay back their fees, which can amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Will some returning citizens successfully complete this process? Yes. But the spirit of Amendment 4, which meant to re-enfranchise nearly one million voters, is diluted. I know what you’re thinking, and, “AHHHHHHH,” is, indeed, an appropriate reaction to this rollercoaster.  

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One Compass Short at Google

Remember back when 1,500 Google employees signed a letter opposing the Trump administration’s Muslim/Refugee Ban and objecting to Google providing services to ICE and CBP in light of the abuse of migrant children at the border? Guess how Google just repaid them. No guesses? Fine, we’ll tell you: Google just hired Miles Taylor, the former Chief of Staff at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to lead their National Security Policy. His role at Google began after former Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen resigned from her role due to the controversies surrounding her policies which include the Muslim Ban and separating children from families at the Southern Border. And this isn’t just guilt by association. Taylor himself advocated for these policies. We wonder what Google cofounder Sergey Brin, a self-identifying refugee, has to say about Taylor’s stance on the Muslim/Refugee Ban and his work at Google (we’re waiting). Hey Google, your maps have been SO good to us with street directions. We’d like to return the favor with a moral compass to help YOU find the right path forward. Call us!

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