Posted on June 04, 2013 in Countdown
If you’ve been reading recent editions of Countdown, or if you haven’t been living under a rock the past two weeks, you know about the scandal involving the IRS’ targeting of certain Tea Party groups for extra scrutiny during the application process for tax-exempt or 501(c) 3 status. The IRS’s actions have become a national scandal and have rightfully received widespread bipartisan criticism. But while the scandal involving the Tea Party has taken center stage, there is a related issue unfolding which has gone largely unnoticed. Last week, The Hill reported that a number of Syrian American relief groups, formed to send aid to ameliorate the growing humanitarian and refugee crisis caused by the Syrian civil war, are facing unexplained, unusual delays in their application process for tax-exempt status. Normally, the 501(c) 3 application process takes up to one year for the most complicated applications, but some of these groups filed for tax-exempt status over two years ago and they still have not been informed of the status of their application. Now, we’re not unreasonable - we know that given the chaos in Syria, there are certain concerns that need to be taken into account when considering these applications, but these groups deserve a timely response from the IRS, especially when we’re considering aid to people in dire need. We’d hate to find out that these delays are the product of politics rather than merit of the applications.
You probably guessed by the title of this “Countdown” item that we’re not exactly heartbroken our favorite conspiracy theorist and five-term member of Congress, Minnesota Republican Michele Bachmann, isn’t running for office next year. That’s right, in a video address last week Bachmann announced that she is not seeking a sixth term in Congress. Although we’re not sobbing at the news, we have to admit that Bachmann’s exit is a bittersweet one for the “Countdown” team. Needless to say, “Countdown” won’t be the same without the various Bachmannisms (‘Choot-spa’ – gets us every time) we enjoyed bringing to you every once and a while. But despite the lack of jokes, her departure is good for the country, and especially for the Republican Party. Though Bachmann’s conservative demagoguery was at times an asset for a burgeoning far-right wing of the Republican Party, her antics, not to mention the ethics probe she is facing over improper use of campaign funds, ultimately became a liability for the GOP. Two weeks ago, we reported that Bachmann’s opponent, Democrat Jim Graves, who narrowly lost to Bachmann in 2012, was polling ahead of the incumbent. Bachmann’s district is heavily Republican. Losing the seat to Graves, who dropped out of the race after Bachmann’s announcement, would have been a huge blow to Republicans, and would have been an embarrassment for Bachmann. In her video address announcing the decision not to run again, Bachmann said none of the controversies she’s dealing with had anything to do with her decision. Sure, we believe her, just like when she said the Muslim Brotherhood had infiltrated the upper echelons of the US government. We’re sure we haven’t heard the last of Bachmann, but her days as a member of Congress are numbered, and that’s ok by us.
It’s that time of year – appropriations! A number of appropriations bills for federal agencies are being considered by Congress, and this week the annual budget for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is under consideration by the entire House. The good news is that language prohibiting profiling has been adopted by the House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee and is currently in the bill. The language specifically prohibits the use of any funds for counterterrorism training or programs that give rise to racial, ethnic, or religious profiling. But, the bad news is that there’s still language in the bill providing funding for the DHS’s discriminatory 287(g) program. The 287(g) program gives local law enforcement the authority to enforce immigration laws on a state level, and we know that in a number of states such provisions have encouraged profiling, leading to increased scrutiny of certain groups on the basis of their race, color, or ethnicity. Are you shocked? We’ve seen this before. Remember Arizona’s so-called "show me your papers” bill? Well, that’s an indirect product of 287(g), and as a federal taxpayer, you’re paying for it - literally. Now, for some great news: two members of the House are taking a strong stance against this discriminatory program and have authored an amendment that would completely defund the DHS’s 287(g) program. TAKE ACTION TODAY and tell your representative to vote for the Polis-Chu Amendment!
Protests that began last week against the Turkish government’s plan to remove a park in central Istanbul to make way for development have expanded into a larger expression of discontent with the ten year rule of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a challenge to Turkey’s confident image as a model to post-revolutionary Arab countries. Though protesters initially gathered to protect one of the last green spaces in Istanbul from its planned development into a shopping mall, demonstrations have spread around the country after police attacked demonstrators. Many commentators were quick to analogize these Turkish protests to the revolutions of the Arab Spring, but it’s important to remember that Turkey is a democracy, if an imperfect one, and that Erdogan was easily reelected just two years ago. Despite significant popularity, Erdogan has troublingly authoritarian characteristics like his imprisonment of journalists, favoring of AK Party allies and attempts to insert religion into public life, as in his party’s recent efforts to ban alcohol. For many secular Turks, Erdogan’s approach to government reflects something he supposedly said to Jordan’s King Abdullah: “Erdogan once said that democracy for him is a bus ride: ‘Once I get to my stop, I’m getting off.’” And in blaming “extremists” for the protests, Erdogan joins Ben Ali, Mubarak and Assad in denying the legitimacy of opposition to their rule. Though his sins are nowhere near as severe, Erdogan would do well to recognize the legitimacy of the non-violent protests and use them as an opportunity for moderation.
Last week, we told you about Senator John McCain’s secret jaunt into Syria where he met with rebel leaders in an effort to try to push the Obama Administration to arm the opposition. The news came as a surprise to us all, so much so that we couldn’t help but wonder whether or not there was any validity to a report in the Onion which read: “Family Concerned After John McCain Wanders Into Syria.” Now, we’re not as mean as the Onion to insinuate that the septuagenarian senator’s age caught up with him, but McCain’s visit to Syria illustrated why arming the rebels is a bad idea better than we ever could. Sen. McCain and others arguing for arming the rebels have insisted that we can find “the right rebels,” the ones that love America, democracy, apple pie and have never done anything unsavory. But then again, unfortunately, McCain’s handpicked photo-op of the “right rebels” included a rebel commander implicated in kidnapping a dozen Lebanese Shia pilgrims earlier in the war. Oops! Not to worry – we’re sure the CIA would do a better job than McCain in deciding who to give weapons to (see: Afghanistan, 1980). Fortunately, some in Sen. McCain’s own party saw the irony in his Syrian photo-op, and Gallup recently released a poll that found scant support for intervention in Syria among the American public, with 68% opposed and only 24% in favor. Other members of the Republican Party, including Rand Paul hit out at McCain, and a Cato Institute blog post raised some interesting questions over whether McCain visit provided material support for Syrian terrorists, thus highlighting yet again how support fluid and confusing the situation in Syria is. For now, Sen. McCain will be the only one going to Syria.
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