Posted on July 02, 2014 in Countdown

More Tragedy in Israel and Palestine

Throughout the past few weeks, Israel has accused Hamas of the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers and has retaliated by conducting the largest military operation in the West Bank since the second intifada. On Monday, the bodies of the three abducted Israeli teenagers were found in a field in Hebron. “Off the deep end” and “unprecedented,” Israel’s retaliation, which includes over 34 airstrikes in Gaza, has left 13 Palestinians dead and counting, more than 400 Palestinians imprisoned, and numerous buildings and homes destroyed. When a prime minister calls for revenge, revenge is exactly what happens – the body of Palestinian teenager Muhammad Abu Khdeir was discovered today and hundreds in Jerusalem united in calls of “death to Arabs” yesterday. We can’t do much more than to heed the voices of the victims’ families. “I am against kidnapping and killing,” Muhammad’s father said. “Whether Jew or Arab, who would accept that his son or daughter would be kidnapped and killed? I call on both sides to stop the bloodshed.” The uncle of Israeli teen Naftali Fraenkel said, “The life of an Arab is equally precious to that of a Jew. Blood is blood, and murder is murder, whether that murder is Jewish or Arab…There’s no justification whatsoever to revenge.” Amid the chaos, these are the voices that need to be heard. As mourning in Israel turns to rage, and ignored frustrations in Palestine turn to anger, we can only imagine the implications this will have on future relations between these two deeply divided communities.

Will the “Pen and Phone” Work for Immigration Reform?

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em….right? Wrong. After President Obama met with House Speaker John Boehner in what was probably a really awkward discussion (the guy is suing the President, after all), Obama announced that he would no longer sit idly by, patiently waiting on the House to fix a broken, overburdened immigration system. More than one full year after the Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill, House Republicans are still refusing to take up comprehensive reform, content to simply brush the pieces of the tattered immigration system under the rug for now. Promising swift executive action, President Obama will continue to fulfill his “pen and phone” promise of unilateral changes to the immigration system, vowing to “fix as much of our immigration system as I can, on my own, without Congress.” While President Obama “will continue to push Republicans,” he has turned to his cabinet for recommendations, with action expected to come by the end of the summer. As many question the future of the U.S. immigration system under presidential action, President Obama afforded Americans a sneak peak – immigration enforcement assets will be moved from interior regions to United States borders. We’ve heard that actions prompt reactions, but as the President charges forward on immigration reform without Congress, it would appear that in our current political climate, its House inaction that spurs executive action.

ISIL is IS, Isn’t ISIS

We finally know what to call them! After being confused about the various editorial decisions to use ISIL instead of ISIS, a compromise seems to have been made. This week, an Islamic Caliphate was declared by the formerly confused group that has been causing havoc across the Middle East – ISIS (or ISIL) is now IS – the Islamic State. Bring back the Golden Ages! The attempt to recreate the Umayyad Caliphate comes complete with a “5 Year Plan” to (re)conquer territories across the Arab world, and even into Spain – don’t worry, it’s apparently fake. What isn’t fake is the declaration by the caliph of the new “Islamic State,” Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. He called on Muslims to support and obey him as the “worshipper, the leader, the reviver” and claims he is “the descendent of the Prophet’s family.” In all seriousness, IS’s ambitions pose a grave threat to the region. IS operates transnationally and so far controls areas between Raqqa in northern Syria and Mosul in Iraq. It seems clear that IS cannot possibly muster the strength and support to span across three continents, but we are still worried about the fate of those in Syria and Iraq (and increasingly in Lebanon) and how these troubling developments could impact U.S. foreign policy.

Where Does the Moderate Syrian Opposition Fit In?

In light of President Obama’s recent request to Congress for a 500 million dollar aid package to provide military assistance to moderate Syrian opposition groups, we wanted to bring you the just-discovered “Moderate Syrian Rebel Application Form” obtained by The New Yorker (okay, yes, it is satire, but it’s still amusing). The form provides criteria to identify the moderate opposition that are eligible to receive “U.S. military training and equipment” the administration has just promised to Syrian rebels. The piece does point to a serious issue. While we can assume the goal of the Obama administration is to keep the pressure on Assad, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find the “good guys” in Syria, especially with new complications from the “Islamic State” throughout Syria and Iraq. The Syrian rebels are currently fighting a two-front war, and it isn’t stopping the administration from potentially adding a third. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Ahmad Jarba, the leader of the Syrian Opposition Council, on Friday to discuss the administration’s recent proposals and noted, “In light of what has happened in Iraq, we have even more to talk about in terms of the moderate opposition in Syria, which has the ability to be a very important player in pushing back against ISIL’s presence and to have them not just in Syria, but also in Iraq.” Our track record picking winners is pretty dismal – are we biting off more than we can chew here?

Tide Turning on NSA Reform?

If you are a “Countdown” buff, you should know that the main legislation that curbs NSA surveillance, the USA Freedom Act, passed last month with bipartisan support. However, eleventh hour negotiations between the Obama administration and the House Judiciary Committee led to crucial provisions being dropped from the original House bill, drawing the ire of civil libertarians and privacy advocates. Despite that setback, and the administration and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC)’s granting the NSA a three month extension on its phone record bulk collection program, advocates such as Harley Geiger, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology are now saying, “the weakening of the USA Freedom Act in the House has backfired.” A few weeks ago, the House voted overwhelmingly on an amendment to a defense appropriations bill that would rein in the NSA’s ability to use the names and identities of Americans to search web data collected from the accounts of foreign targets without warrant. Additionally, 38 privacy and civil liberties groups wrote Senate leadership demanding stronger reforms. Will this all make a difference? We placed some hope in the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to keep the NSA in check, but their report this week wasn’t encouraging for reform advocates. Look out for major revelations this month from Glenn Greenwald, who broke the big stories on NSA surveillance. Apparently, his latest scoop will name names, so expect major headlines – we’re just hoping for some major reform too.

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