Posted on June 25, 2014 in Countdown

2014 Primaries: We Don’t Even Know Anymore

We’re bringing you six topics this week because we can’t neglect talking about the 2014 roller-coaster primary season. “Countdown” is a countdown to elections after all. This week’s takeaways? First the Tea Party was dead, then it wasn’t (but immigration reform apparently was), now it seems to be, again. Dave Brat may have pulled off a stunning “Tea Party” victory a few weeks ago, but establishment GOP candidates fared well yesterday. In upstate New York, Arab American Congressman Richard Hanna (R) defeated a Tea Party challenger that garnered some national endorsements from brand names on the right. Much was made of the mainstream Republican’s views, but voters ultimately rejected criticism of Hanna. In Mississippi, six-term incumbent Thad Cochran got through a close primary against Tea Party (and now bitter) challenger Chris McDaniel, apparently with a little help from African-American and Democratic friends, by manipulating an unenforced statute that is usually only seen in tough, partisan races. Talk about GOP “outreach.” On another note, the media apparently took a major course correction after failing to even think about Eric Cantor’s potential loss and decided to err on the side of caution by questioning whether or not 22-term incumbent, Rep. Charles Rangel, would win his race in Harlem. Some are still saying it’s “too close to call,” but it seems Rangel has squeaked through. While most of the attention across the country has been focused on the GOP primaries, the implications these races have on Democratic chances for securing more Congressional seats is becoming increasingly important. Are we the only ones who want to get off this roller coaster ride?

No-Fly List Tantamount to “Deprivation of Liberty”

In a long awaited victory mired by setbacks and challenges, a federal judge in Oregon ruled yesterday that the U.S. government’s process of placing people on the notorious no-fly list violates constitutional rights, since there is no way to adequately challenge their designation. U.S. District Judge Anna J. Brown said that the process of contesting one’s placement on the list is “wholly ineffective.” Further, Judge Brown concluded the “plaintiffs’ inclusion on the no-fly list constitutes a significant deprivation of their liberty interest in international travel.”  Who are we talking about in this case? Well, the 13 plaintiffs included veterans of the U.S. military and Arab Americans and American Muslims who have lost their jobs and business and have been separated from their families – all because they couldn’t get on a plane. This week’s seminal decision has been four years in the making – due process was definitely overdue. Even though the U.S. government is likely to appeal, the ramifications of the ruling are far-reaching. There is now renewed hope for change to the no-fly list procedures, which should pave the way to new cases from the 20,000 some people (500 U.S. citizens) deemed as having some sort of link to terrorism. And given that the ruling deemed international travel as a “necessary aspect of liberties sacred to members of a free society,” this opens new doors thousands of additional people not on the official no-fly list but who are regularly confronted with selective screenings and issues at border entries. 

Islamophobia…Are We Making Progress?

While “unanswered questions” surrounding the 2012 attacks in Benghazi may have brought panelists together at the Heritage Foundation on June 16th, audiences left with some very clear answers about the pervasive presence of Islamophobia in the United States. During the Q&A, American University law student Saba Ahmed urged panelists to consider the dynamic voices of 1.8 billion Muslims worldwide—voices that are obscured when “we portray Islam and all Muslims as bad.” Controversy began (and didn’t end) when panelist Brigitte Gabriel cast peaceful Muslims as “irrelevant” in a four minute diatribe, propagating the incendiary rhetoric that fans the flames of Islamophobia. Gabriel may have rallied some to “throw [political correctness] in the garbage,” but at least she helped spur a debate that ranged from newspaper editorials to cable news. The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank, who attended the panel to cover Benghazi, ended up writing on the “ugly Benghazi panel,” only to be quickly shot down by Dylan Byers in Politico, who argued that Milbank gave a gross misrepresentation of the panel. The fact that many, like Byers, would act so quickly to defend clear-as-day bigotry is unsettling. Still, if it we are going to get great debates that elevate the conversation on Islamophobia to the national level – like this one on CNN between Gabriel and Arab American Champion of Change Linda Sarsour – then maybe there’s hope. In the interview, Gabriel asked, “why aren’t [moderate Muslims] speaking out?” Well, the answer is right in front of you, Gabriel: in the voices of Saba Ahmed and Linda Sarsour. All you have to do is listen.

Hallelujah! Presbyterian Church Divests

Following the collapse of recent U.S.-led peace talks with the Palestinians and the recent escalation of excessive operations by Israeli Defense Forces in the West Bank following the kidnapping of three Jewish teens, we bring to you the doings of—wait for it—Presbyterian Church USA. In a historic and very close vote, PCUSA decided to divest its holdings from three U.S. companies that profit from Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories by selling bulldozers and surveillance technology – we wonder what those are used for. So what pushed the vote over? Maybe it was that last-ditch effort from Rabbi Rick Jacobs, leader of Union for Reform Judaism, who – no joke – proposed a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu if the measure was defeated. After all, who wouldn’t want a good sit-down with the man known for really listening and making progress on peace and ending the occupation? PCUSA unsurprisingly had to tiptoe all over the resolution’s terminology, firmly denying any association with the broader “boycott, divestment and sanctions” movement (BDS) against Israel and emphasizing that the decision was not against Israel, but rather the occupation. Still, the move shows that action can be taken by big institutions without them being derided and delegitimized. We are proud of the Presbyterian Church’s step in the right direction, and we must now ask what others can do to bring about concrete change and support for the Palestinians.

Is Rand Paul Paving a New Path for the GOP?

Not blaming Obama on Iraq? Increasing voting rights? Pressing for immigration reform? Must be a Democrat, right? Nope…it’s Rand Paul, potential 2016 GOP candidate, who has made some fascinating statements in the past week that deserve our attention. Sen. Paul is introducing a bill that restores voting rights to non-violent criminals and is also apparently considering drug sentencing reform and easing nonviolent criminals back into the job market. That’s not all: Sen. Paul also expressed concern over the GOP’s incessant focus on “amnesty” that will ultimately not fix our broken immigration system. The Senator isn’t shy about his intentions: while he says justice is a primary concern, he noted these are the important issues that can help get the GOP some votes. It’s definitely no surprise that the Republican Party has found it increasingly difficult to appeal to minority voters, but it is surprising that Sen. Paul would take some serious steps to help potentially gain a larger chunk of the minority vote as 2016 draws closer. And domestic issues aren’t his only concern. Over the weekend, Sen. Paul even defended President Obama’s position on Iraq, saying he “does not blame” Obama for not redeploying American troops because he claims there might not even be a good solution. The big question is whether or not other Republicans will fall in line with Sen. Paul’s unabashed outreach efforts.

Egypt’s Sisi Demands More Sacrifices

We know we’ve been covering Egypt a lot lately, but that’s because there’s just so much to say. After President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi declared that there should be “real sacrifices from every Egyptian man and woman” on Tuesday, the Egyptian courts apparently agree. In an abandonment of any semblance of a free and fair judicial system for the sake of stifling criticism against the regime, three Al Jazeera journalists and fifteen others are now faced with “draconian sentences” in Egyptian jails, as Secretary of State John Kerry described it. All this – despite the obvious lack of evidence against them. And lo, the cup of “sacrifices” runneth over – the courts also doled out death sentences to 183 Egyptians. If by “sacrifice” Sisi is asking the Egyptian people to give up things as valuable as their freedom of speech – and their very lives – then we definitely aren’t on board. However, don’t think that Sisi isn’t making sacrifices himself. He has apparently given up half of his salary “for the sake of the country.” What a guy! Speaking of giving back to Egypt, the US wants to fully restore the $650 million dollars of military aid for Egypt. At the same time, Kerry emphasized “our strong support for upholding the universal rights and freedoms of all Egyptians, including freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.” How this all makes sense, we’re still unsure. But at least we aren’t the only ones questioning things.

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