Posted on March 20, 2014 in Countdown

Campaigns and Elections: John Zogby Says Chill, It’s Only March

With elections season on its way, political commentators more often than not love to interpret special elections and significant political events as a sign of things to come in November. The prevailing notion right now - even among some Democrats, it seems - is that Democrats are toast in November because of Obamacare, and will likely lose the Senate as a result. This apparent forgone conclusion is evinced by the Florida 13 special election race, which we told you about last week. But renowned Arab American Pollster John Zobgy is responding to the fervor with a simple message to everyone: Reality Check: November Elections Occur In November – basically, chill, it’s just March. In his latest column on the Zogby Analytics website, Zogby says “I am reading and watching a lot of the same crap as everyone else about the November 2014 elections,” but his take is different than your average pundit’s “phony analytics.” As a guy who knows a thing or two about predicting the outcome of races, Zogby says it’s just too early to tell. But he does know “there is a revulsion against BOTH parties. Just because the Democrats are not polling well does not translate into Republicans polling better.” We recommend you check out his take. We guarantee after reading it you’ll be ready to convey a more nuanced analysis of what is going down in national campaigns and elections right now.

The NSA’s “MYSTIC” “Turbine” “PRISM”

It’s getting to be really hard to keep up with all these NSA spying programs. The latest leaks from Edward Snowden reveal that the NSA has the ability to record “100 percent” of the phone calls made by people in a foreign country and can store and rewind those conversations for up to a month after they were made. This “retrospective retrieval"/ phone interception program is called MYSTIC. And there is another automated program called “Turbine” that we just found out allows the NSA to use "implants" that hack into your Facebook account and exfiltrate (yes, that’s a word) files from a hard drive. You’ve got to love the names these names: “PRISM,” “MYSTIC,” and “Turbine” – they sound like super hero names. But is the NSA saving the day, or are they just in possession of and abusing some of the most intrusive, albeit cool, spy capabilities available? And, if, as is the case with “MYSTIC,” the NSA keeps information on people in other countries, what’s to say they do not actually do this with U.S. citizens? Right now, we are being forced to take the President and the NSA at their word when they are not spying on people, just collecting so-called Metadata. In a speech delivered in January addressing the U.S.’s intelligence programs, the President said “the United States is not spying on ordinary people who don’t threaten our national security.” Collecting data on people without criminal predicate constitutes spying in our book, so we are less than certain about the legality of these superhero-esq spying techniques.

Syria Crisis Enters a Fourth Year

March 15th marked the three-year anniversary of the Syrian uprising and what has become the worst humanitarian crisis of the last decade. The actions taken by the international community to end the crisis have failed to address the magnitude of violence and suffering, which has cost at least 140,000 lives so far. In an effort to draw attention to the humanitarian toll, British artist Banksy started a social media campaign under the #WithSyria hashtag, reworking some of his most recognizable pieces to remind the public that the violence and displacement is still happening. Secondly, UNICEF has partnered with soccer star David Beckham in an awareness campaign, using the hashtags #childrenofsyria and #nolostgeneration. This was followed by newly appointed U.S. Special Envoy for Syria Daniel Rubinstein taking over for departing Ambassador Robert Ford as the top U.S. diplomat to Syria. Shortly after taking office, Rubinstein suspended operations of the Syrian embassy in Washington, DC, reaffirming the Obama administration’s lack of support for the Assad regime. As the conflict entered its fourth year, campaigns and allegiances have come and gone, yet “the bloody conflict in Syria will persist for years to come” phrase continues to circulate. Hopefully these new efforts will be more effective.

Putin: Naughty or Nice?

Christmas came early in Moscow. After getting nothing but coal, oil, and other state-owned conglomerates for Christmas last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin can now check the Crimean territory off his wish list. But what’s next for Putin? Some experts say he will now look to expand Russia’s influence further into Eastern Europe and wade even deeper into the Syrian crisis. After all, the annexation of Crimea overshadowed the Assad regime’s recapturing of Yabruod, a strategic city halfway between Damascus, a government stronghold, and “the capital of the revolution” - Homs. Whether Putin will seek to further diplomatic tensions with Western leaders is a contentious issue, probably more contentious than Putin’s candidacy for winning the Nobel Peace Prize, which he was nominated for earlier this month. That’s right. Putin was on the list of nominees for the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in negotiating the disarmament of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile. It will be interesting to see what Santa gives Putin later this year, because honestly some sort of supernatural force like Santa must be aiding him. Spoiler alert: we can assure you it will definitely not be a Nobel Prize.

Countdown to Peace

T-minus 40 days until the April 29th deadline set by Secretary of State John Kerry to reach a framework agreement on how to proceed with peace negotiations between Palestinian and Israeli leaders. The [verbal] shots are being fired already. Shortly after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas paid a visit to Washington, Israeli defense minister Moshe Ya’alon criticized the U.S. State Department once again, this time in what appears to be a veiled threat in response to the U.S.’s stance in the global diplomatic arena. "If you sit and wait at home, the terrorism will come again," he said just months after calling Secretary of State John Kerry “obsessive and messianic.” "This is a war of civilizations. If your image is feebleness, it doesn't pay in the world.” The Jerusalem Post quoted a senior U.S. administration official saying “we were shocked by Moshe Ya’alon’s comments, which seriously call into question his commitment to Israel’s relationship with the United States. Moreover, this is part of a disturbing pattern in which the Defense Minister disparages the U.S. Administration, and insults its most senior officials.” While Ya’alon was busy throwing insults, Abbas stressed the urgency of the peace negotiations, saying “We don't have any time to waste. Time is not on our side,” referring to the fragile state of the region and Abbas’s Fatah coalition that has been rankled with internal strife over the negotiations. As day 40 counts down, who knows what day 39 will bring!