Posted on May 20, 2014 in Countdown

Justin Amash Plans to Squash NSA Funding

Arab American House Representative Justin Amash is making a big move to try to squash funding for the NSA’s intrusive intelligence programs. In a preemptive measure to ensure the government surveillance reform bill, the USA Freedom Act, gets its due consideration, Amash filed two amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) yesterday which include critical sections of the USA Freedom Act. As you know – because we keep telling you about it – the USA Freedom Act aims to end the invasive collection of American phone records and effectively curb the sweeping surveillance powers of the NSA. Amash’s anti-spying amendment would strip the funding of intelligence programs currently sanctioned under the Patriot Act. As the Rules Committee panel prepares to examine the NDAA on Wednesday, their inquiry will now include a decision to either include or cast aside Amash’s proposed amendment. Amash has cunningly forced the Congressional hand on NSA surveillance by securing deliberation over the bill and creating a “backstop” in case more comprehensive NSA reform does not make it to the House floor this week. Amash has garnered quite a reputation in recent years for this kind of unyielding effort to defend the constitutionally enshrined right to privacy and we applaud this recent effort with the Freedom Act. It’s the kind of action Congress must continue to take if members are serious about protecting privacy.

ENLIST Act: Killed In Action?

Speaking of the National Defense Authorization Act, House Representative Eric Cantor said this week that he will not allow the ENLIST Act to be included in this year’s defense budget legislation. The ENLIST Act, sponsored by fellow Republican Jeff Denham, would provide young undocumented immigrants with a path to citizenship if they first serve in, and are honorably discharged, from the military. Though this provision has been widely considered the least controversial of proposed immigration reforms, some choice Congressional members have come out in strong opposition. Somehow, the willingness to fight and die for America is not enough to ensure loyalty to the United States and some Congressional members would even go so far to vote down the NDAA if the ENLIST Act was included. Meanwhile, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) chaired a hearing in Chicago on the role immigrants and DREAMers play in the military. While calling on House Republicans to bring legislation on immigration reform to the House, Durbin sent a strong message that immigrants have and continue to fight loyally in the military and that many DREAMers want nothing more than the “chance to prove themselves in the service of the only country they’ve ever called home.” We couldn’t agree more, and this is yet another reason why comprehensive immigration reform is urgently needed.

One Time Only Event: AIPAC & AAI Co-Host Party for Senator Bob Corker

In an unexpected twist, AAI is joining AIPAC to congratulate Senator Bob Corker on news of his proposed amendment to the U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act (S 462). Disclaimer: we’re joking. AIPAC may be pleased that Corker has taken a bold stand against the White House’s diplomacy with Iran through his amendment, but we are happy that his move essentially torpedoed a bill that would allow Israel’s entry into the U.S. Visa Waiver Program. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ) called off this afternoon’s mark-up of the bill after the news surfaced last night, arguing that the addition of the Corker amendment would have put Senate Democrats in the difficult position of either voting to undermine the Obama administration’s diplomacy efforts with Iran or voting against a bill that strengthened U.S. ties with Israel (gasp!). Faced with those two options, Menendez pulled the bill off the Senate schedule and we likely won’t hear about it again until after the mid-terms. With the bill shelved, Israel’s entrance into the Visa Waiver Program eludes Congressional intervention on Israel’s behalf. Last week we heard Senator Barbara Boxer was planning to introduce new (and better) language that eliminated the loophole that allowed for Israel’s entrance in the program. In that light, could this all be a brilliant, Frank Underwood-esque move by AIPAC and Corker? Surely AIPAC would be embarrassed to have the bill pass with new language that would actually hold Israel accountable for discriminating against U.S. citizens. Was this a victory in defeat? Sounds as far-fetched as our “party” with AIPAC, right? Either way, we can’t help but celebrate that the bill has been abandoned altogether, at least for the time being.

Syria: To Arm or Not to Arm?

Now that Syrian opposition leaders have left DC, let the fallout begin. U.S. government officials remain hesitant on providing surface-to-air missiles requested by the Syrian opposition last week for fear of losing track of the weapons and the historically obvious “consequences of missile sharing” in the region. While the Obama administration has been supplying vetted fighter groups with TOW antitank missiles, this hasn’t stopped some from trying to do more. The Wall Street Journal reported on the return of a “Bonnie and Clyde” partnership between Blackwater and former Department of Defense officials to provide 70,000 Russian-made assault rifles and 21 million rounds of ammunition to the Free Syrian Army. As we well know, Blackwater is no stranger to complete disasters in the Middle East. Even members of the Syrian opposition are rightly concerned about tying themselves to Blackwater arms deals. And when given the choice, Syrian Opposition Council leader Ahmad Jarba said he would prefer a no-fly zone to anti-aircraft missiles. This shows how far removed some attempts at “helping” those in Syria have become – here the U.S. government is, spending time fighting shady arms dealings and figuring out messaging on potential chemical weapons attacks and fallout from the prolonged conflict. As AAI President Jim Zogby notes, Syrian opposition leaders would be better off having a clear vision for their country and region from the United States, Middle East leaders and the international community.

“Serving Communities, Connecting People”: 10th Annual Arab American Service Day

This year, the Arab American Institute was proud to host a service day project for the 10th Annual Arab American Service Day sponsored by the National Network of Arab American Communities (NAACC). NAACC coordinated over 20 service projects nationwide for this year’s Arab American Service Day. Since its inception, Service Day has fostered a culture of leadership and community engagement across the country through volunteerism and AAI is proud to be a part of this legacy. This past weekend, AAI and members of the DC community volunteered at the Neighborhood Farm Initiative, an inspiring local community garden that harvests food for DC metro residents and homeless shelters in the area. Our group of volunteers helped weed, plant and mulch the community farm to prepare for the summer harvest. Learn more about the Neighborhood Farm Initiative and see pictures of AAI in action on our blog.

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