Posted on September 19, 2014 in Countdown

King of the Hill

Election season always brings out the best in our government representatives, right? Old time favorite, Rep. Peter King (NY 2), is up to his old tricks. Rep. King attacked New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio for disbanding a surveillance unit in the NYPD earlier this year. According to The Hill, King “said de Blasio has made it tougher for law enforcement to combat terrorism.” This, coming at the same time as many New York area elected officials’ public insistence that ISIS poses a threat to NYC, is a terrible misunderstanding and conflation of issues on Rep. King’s part. While international terrorism is indeed a real threat, systematic surveillance of American citizens and communities is an entirely different matter. King went on to say that the NYPD’s problematic Demographics Unit “was effective.” He continued, “privacy and rights were being protected and, most importantly, the city was being protected.” King isn’t kind-of-wrong, he is REALLY wrong. The NYPD’s surveillance programs engaged in baseless and categorical profiling of Arab American and American Muslim communities. Oh, and did we mention?  The NYPD surveillance unit has failed to uncover a single terrorist plot. If King’s statement intimates his vision for the future of our national security debate, we are all in trouble.

It Wouldn’t Be Election Season without Islamophobia and Arab-baiting

As you let Rep. Peter King’s statements (above) sink in, we have some more unfortunate candidate and ballot news to add to the list. Oklahoma State Rep. John Bennett (R) took the time last week to warn constituents to, “Be wary of the individuals who claim to be ‘Muslim American’” and declare that American Muslims are a "cancer in our nation that needs to be cut out." This week, he doubled down, saying: “Is there a difference between moderate and radical Islam? I say, ‘No.’” As if the matter were a joke, Bennett also posed: “How can I be racist against Muslims or Islam when the ethnicity is actually Arab? This is kind of confusing.” You may want to take a look at our most recent poll, Mr. Bennett. In the same vein as Bennett’s remarks, we also want to flag a ballot measure in Alabama. Voters will be asked this November whether they want to ban state courts from considering foreign, international or religious law. Republican Sen. Gerald Allen sponsored the amendment, but claims it “is not an effort to demonize any religion, but rather an effort to ensure that the laws on which our great country was founded are never eroded.” Allen in 2011 wanted a ban on the use of Sharia - if you can’t win the first time, try again under a new guise. We agree with the critics of these laws: the measure amounts to nothing more than symbolism, a waste of time, and another instance of Islamophobia. All the more reason to Yalla vote!

Couples Therapy: Are the Clintons Divided on Netanyahu?

Sure, differences in opinion between spouses are common, but when those two individuals are former President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, then the disagreement matters a bit more. On September 14, 2014, Hillary and Bill Clinton attended retiring Democratic Senator Tom Harkin’s Steak Fry in Indianola, Iowa. During the event, our very own Newman Abuissa managed to engage Bill Clinton in a brief dialogue about the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A C-SPAN recording captured one of the activists suggesting that peace between Israel and Palestine would have to be forced upon Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Bill Clinton agreed with the activist’s assertions, and supported the claim that Prime Minister Netanyahu “is not the guy” to broker peace between the two sides. In contrast to her husband’s opinion, Hillary Clinton recently stated that she “saw Netanyahu move from being against the two-state solution to announcing his support for it” and you’ve probably read the interview in which she came to Israel’s defense over the Gaza conflict. While we may not know for sure if Hillary Clinton is running, we are certain of one thing: when the spouse making comments is President Clinton, it will undoubtedly be of consequence and significance for the other potential President Clinton. 

2016 Candidates to DREAMers: “Dream On”

Hillary Clinton’s trip to Iowa was supposed to dispel criticisms that she is far removed from her voters. But after a run-in with DREAMers, it seems Clinton may be going down the same path as other 2016 hopefuls Paul Ryan and Rand Paul. Any positive press from taking the podium and shaking hands with Iowa citizens was quickly overshadowed by her comments on immigration. When a young woman told her she was a DREAMer, Clinton could only let out a “yay!” before vaguely responding to her question about the president’s decision to delay action on immigration. “We have to elect more Democrats!” she said. The tip-toeing comes after Rand Paul ran away from a potential incident with a DREAMer and Paul Ryan refused to answer a DREAMer by saying he was only signing books. Is anyone giving these young men and women an answer? Well, Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent who indicated he may run for president, was also in Iowa and answered the same young woman’s question at a different event. “As somebody who is a strong supporter of the DREAMers, congratulations,” Sanders said. “I believe he should have acted…there’s no particular reason to believe that the Republicans will do anything in the House, but should he do more with executive action? Yes, I think he should.” The other 2016 hopefuls should pull a page from Sanders’ script.

Notes from the Most Moral Army in the World

When your list of things to worry about includes over 2,200 killed in seven weeks, finding edible food or drinkable water, and rebuilding after a devastating war, privacy and surveillance might just be the last thing on your mind. But Palestinians are forced to add another thing to the long list of attacks Israel has launched against them.  A group of reserve soldiers in the IDF’s intelligence unit revealed in a letter that extorting ordinary Palestinians using information about their financial problems, sexual preferences, and family illnesses is a prime goal for Israel’s surveillance activities, and announced uncompromisingly that they would refuse to take part in the surveillance. “It is used for political persecution and to create divisions within Palestinian society by recruiting collaborators and driving parts of Palestinian society against itself,” the letter said. Netanyahu’s reaction has been no less amusing than his bomb chart: not only did he dismiss it as “baseless slander,” he refuted it saying that “the IDF is the most moral army in the world.” Satirical television show hosts, rejoice! Israel’s version of the NSA, Unit 8200, which exploits the privacy of the Palestinians as a general practice, is being dismissed by the nation’s leader. Hmm, we wonder where he learned that technique.

Syria and ISIS Top Congress’ Agenda

Apparently, GOP leaders had a plan for this short time back on the Hill, but President Obama’s request to authorize aid to Syrian rebels has been placed front and center instead. The House passed a bill on the matter earlier this week, in what was called “rare unity” between House Speaker Boehner and minority leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi. The Senate later followed suit and the legislation now heads to President Obama’s desk. The approval does not mean support was unanimous, however. Many Congressional leaders have expressed continued wariness toward President Obama’s plans and skepticism over the ability of aid to have an impact with rebel forces in Syria. The measure gives Obama the authority to train forces and to take in contributions for financing the effort. Provisions were also added to press the administration to show how the initiative relates to a broader strategy against ISIS, and it expires in mid-December, meaning debate will resume in a few months. This week has seen a lot of spirited back-and-forth on ISIS between Congressional leaders and key officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, and General Martin Dempsey. Even though these few weeks were destined to be about pandering to voters ahead of the midterms, it looks like Congress may be getting its act together to pass legislation. Still, we hope the hasty action is about moving forward judiciously against the ISIS threat, and not about trying to end debate quickly to get back to campaigning and election-year posturing.

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