Posted on October 16, 2014 in Countdown


Ebola Spreads to the Midterms

For some politicians, the first question that comes to mind as the nation attempts to prevent the deadly Ebola virus from spreading isn’t how to go about doing so, but how can I use this to my advantage? That’s right – the global Ebola outbreak now qualifies as election material. Michigan Republican Senatorial candidate Terri Lynn Land used the outbreak to reflect on President Obama’s management skills, saying that both the president and her Democratic challenger Rep. Gary Peters need “to lead and come up with a plan”. In Texas, two potential presidential candidates are using Ebola to appeal to their constituencies. Ted Cruz wants flights from West Africa shut down,  expressing concern that “the administration is not treating it with the gravity it deserves,”  while Gov. Rick Perry assured his state that “things are under control”. Ebola is proving to be an infectious topic, pushing formerly hot subjects like ISIS, immigration and healthcare down the list of priorities in for candidates. In a recent senate debate in North Carolina, Republican Thom Tillis accused the Democrats of being ill-equipped to address the outbreak, while Democrat Sen. Kay Hagan accused Republicans of using “scare tactics”. We’re sure we’ll be hearing even more from candidates about the virus as the midterms approach.

USA Freedom At Last?

While some senators are in heated battles to keep their seats, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is eager to return to the District next month to pass the USA Freedom Act. If passed, the measure (S.2685) will curtail bulk data collection and domestic electronic surveillance. Leahy’s bill is a response to the watered-down version of the Act (HR 3361) that passed in the House in May. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) is also calling for the Senate to pass the USA Freedom Act, stating that US technology companies were hurt financially by last year’s news regarding secret NSA surveillance programs.  We’re pleased to see Rep. Goodlatte supporting the Senate measure, given that he oversaw the markup of the bill that left out some major reforms, leading U.S. firms like Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Twitter to oppose the changes.  We’re just hoping that the Senate Bill doesn’t meet the same fate. 

Enough with the Snark Already

On Friday, the Nobel Committee honored Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai with the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize for “their struggle against the suppression of children and young people.” Almost immediately following this announcement, journalists, public intellectuals, and scholars questioned the motives behind the decision to honor Yousafzai with the award. Since Yousafzai is a Pakistani Muslim, and Satyarthi is an Indian Hindu, some alluded to the idea that the prize was a mere political tactic to bring impetus for peace between India and Pakistan (we’re looking at you, Foreign Policy). More troubling however, is the argument that Yousafzai is a “western puppet”, chosen for her youth and accessibility and packaged to promote western policies and priorities. Our take? Yousafzai is an accomplished and extraordinarily brave 17-year-old. Malala’s courage and activism have drawn worldwide attention to factors that make it difficult for girls to receive an education. For this, she certainly deserves her Nobel Prize.

All the Cool Kids Are (Not) Doing It

Earlier this month, Sweden’s new Prime Minister announced his cabinet will officially recognize the State of Palestine joining 139 other countries that have already done so. And just this past Monday, the British House of Commons voted to recognize the State of Palestine. Despite its symbolic nature – and Prime Minister David Cameron’s transparent abstention from the vote – the move is an important encouragement to Palestinian aspirations. Heck, even Israeli settlers are supporting Palestinian claims to West Bank land. But this wave of recognition is all for not if the “cool kids” (read: UN Security Council members) don’t get in on the action. Instead of joining the majority of the world in recognizing the State of Palestine within the 1967 borders, the U.S. has belittled the recent overtures from Sweden and Britain as “premature,” and no one will be surprised to hear overstated condemnation from Congress when it reconvenes after the November 4th elections. But it is easy to see that the tides are changing, and Israel has much to be concerned about when it comes to global opinion of the “only democracy in the Middle East.” The question is – when will the scales tip? When will the cool kids come to grips with the growing global consensus that their peace process is not working and it’s time to recognize the State of Palestine?

In the Zone

This week, Carl Levin, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called for buffer and no-fly zones near the Turkish border. In a statement Wednesday morning, Senator Levin remarked that “both things will be necessary for Turkey to consider Turkish boots on the ground inside Syria along that border.”  As a leading Democrat, his comments marked a sharp departure from the Obama administration’s position. Senator Levin had previously called for a no-fly zone in March of 2013, but that was before the administration promised Assad that they would refrain from airstrikes if he turned over his chemical weapons stockpiles. Levin’s comments also mark a sharp departure from John McCain leading the call for a no-fly zone. McCain has been pushing for the zone since his secret trip to Syria over a year ago, arguing that it is the most effective way to curb the expanding conflict. We’ll be watching to see how Senator Levin’s remarks stir up his fellow Democrats, many of whom have been distancing themselves from the president this election cycle. 

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