Posted on November 06, 2013 in Countdown

No Such Thing as an Off-Year – It’s Election Day!

As anyone who gets our action alerts knows, we get pretty excited about Election Day. Don’t be fooled by the odd-numbered year – just because there wasn’t a big election in Congress this week doesn’t mean the results aren’t worth paying attention to. We’ve been making the case to the community for months now that local and municipal elections are an important opportunity to make your vote count more. Just look at the results of Tuesday’s election for Attorney General in Virginia, a race that drew significant attention from our community in heavily populated Arab American areas in the northern part of the state. With about 2.2 million votes cast, Republican Mark Obenshain leads Democrat Mark Herring by 481 votes – that’s 0.02% of the votes cast! In addition to the nationally significant races in several states, we’ve been closely watching a number of state and local elections where Arab American candidates have been on the ballot over the past year; you can see the full list, with all the results, here. 13 Arab American candidates had their big day yesterday. We were pleased to see 7 winners, and we have high hopes for all of them. Republicans Greg Habeeb and David Ramadan were reelected to the Virginia House of Delegates. Lori Kaback, a Democrat, was reelected as Town Clerk in Danbury, Connecticut. In Michigan, we saw record numbers of Arab Americans vie for seats in local offices in Dearborn and Hamtramck. Four Arab Americans – David Bazzy, Susan Dabaja, Mike Sareini, and Robert Alex Abraham – were elected to the City Council of Dearborn, Michigan, marking two milestones for our community: for the first time, the majority of Dearborn’s seven-seat City Council will be occupied by Arab Americans, and Dabaja will be the first Arab American Council President. She’s only the third person ever to be elected President without having served on the Council before. The previous two went on to run for mayor. With important wins in 2013, Arab Americans have a lot to look forward to in the way of increased participation moving forward to 2014. 

We’re too Intelligent to Fall for This

Over the last few weeks you’ve heard us gush plenty over the USA FREEDOM Act, which puts real and substantial limits on the Government’s ability to collect Americans’ information and ends the NSA’s abuses exposed this summer (read our Government Relations team’s op-ed in The Hill). Everyone seems to agree that we need to do something, but no one quite agrees what it is. This week we heard from the intelligence establishment, and let’s just say they’re not eager to reform the system, even though they would tell you otherwise. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Cal.), Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, has introduced the FISA Improvements Act of 2013. Despite the name, we’re still looking for any “improvements” this bill makes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Feinstein’s bill expressly allows the dragnet collection the NSA is already doing; it would be the first time ever that Congress has authorized the collection of records and information on every person in the United States. And it introduces only the most paltry structural reforms, and virtually no additional transparency and oversight. Don’t be fooled. The USA Freedom Act doesn’t just have a better name than the FISA Improvements Act – it’s a better bill. Make sure your representatives in Congress know you think so.

Kerry’s Middle East Visit Underscores Non-Existent US Middle East Policy

Arabs have many misconceptions about the US and our foreign policy. For starters, policy conversations in the Middle East usually entertain the myth that we (the US) are smart – that we know what we are doing and intend the consequences of our actions. But here at AAI we have a counter-narrative: sometimes the US, especially when it comes to the Middle East, has no sinister ulterior motive or secret grand plan to influence events; we simply just don’t know what we’re doing. That is, we have no policy. During Secretary of State John Kerry’s trip to the Middle East this week, that fact was very much on display. In Egypt, Kerry ignored the contentious trial of ousted president Mohamed Morsi, and instead declared that the Egyptian military’s “road map is being carried out to the best of our perception.” It’s an interesting contrast from ill-planned remarks delivered by US ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson, who only a few days before Morsi’s ouster enraged Egyptians by delivering a message of support for the Morsi government, to say nothing of the US’s move a couple weeks ago to withhold $260 million in military aid to Egypt, a move Kerry says is “not a punishment.” During his trip to Saudi Arabia, Kerry yet again delivered mixed signals on the US’s Middle East policy, stating, “we [the US] don’t have the legal authority, or the justification, or the desire at this point to get in the middle of a civil war [in Syria].” After the whirlwind of a potential US strike on Syria not long ago, we’re left scratching our heads. Maybe the US does have a sinister master plan. But we think it’s something much more frightening: the most powerful nation in the world simply has no idea what it’s doing.

A New Approach to Citizen Diplomacy: The Gabr Fellowship

If you’ve been following us on Twitter lately or taking a look at our blog, chances are you’re familiar with our work over the past three weeks with an extraordinary group of young American and Egyptian individuals. At an event last week in Washington, DC, the inaugural class of Gabr Fellows presented the projects they have been working on throughout their fellowship in Egypt and the US. In addition to learning about each country’s political and social culture, the Fellows are working together on projects including setting up interactive TV screens in US and Egyptian cities, establishing microclinics in Egypt, and implementing sustainable energy projects to benefit Egyptians in rural areas along the Nile. The projects are fascinating, both by themselves and in their implications for creating a new wave of direct people-to-people connections independent of governments. With attitudes of Egyptians and Americans toward each other at an all-time low in some respects – and both countries feeling even more distrustful of their own governments – the Gabr Fellowship’s approach to citizen diplomacy is just what the doctor ordered. 

For Political Gossip Lovers, Christmas Comes Early

Everyone loves a bit of gossip. Whether it’s about singers, actors or athletes, we tend to have a fascination with the lives of people who don’t necessarily have anything to do with our own, but what about behind-the-scenes accounts of nationally significant events like the presidential election of 2012? Well, if you’re into that, Double Down, a new book by journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann about the 2012 presidential race, is just the thing for you. Halperin and Heilemann’s latest book is the sequel to Game Change, the book-turned-HBO film highlighting the ineptitude of Sarah Palin (and much more) during the 2008 presidential race. By all accounts, the new installment contains very juicy accounts of events that transpired in both the Romney and Obama camps, including, as one CNN reporter in a review of the book puts it, “Romney’s fascination with fat people,” “[New Jersey Governor Chris] Christie’s raging temper,” and, oh yeah, President Obama “meditating on drone strikes and telling his aides that he’s ‘really good at killing people.’” But there is more still, including a rather crude comment from former president Bill Clinton about how lucky President Obama is. According to the same reporter who wrote a review published in the Washington Post, for some, the book may be “too dependent on the hunches and agendas of sources rather than hard measures of why Obama won.” We’re not going to come to a judgment on the book here, and we’re certainly not using coveted “Countdown” space to make a sales pitch for it, but for anyone who has a hard time finding politics entertaining, this is our special “Countdown” way of saying, “think again.”



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