Concern trolling Medicare for All: NYT begins by saying investors matter, patients and doctors don’t

As it becomes clear that the eventual Democratic nominee will run on Medicare For All, we can expect the policy to be attacked by the concentrated interests who benefit from our current, broken system. The NYT is right there to lend a hand, with a news (not opinion) piece carrying a scary title:

Medicare for All Would Abolish Private Insurance. ‘There’s No Precedent in American History.’

Such a change would shake the entire health care system, which makes up a fifth of the United States economy, as hospitals, doctors, nursing homes and pharmaceutical companies would have to adapt to a new set of rules. Most Americans would have a new insurer — the federal government — and many would find the health insurance stocks in their retirement portfolios much less valuable. […]

While the bills would give relief to insurance industry workers, they would provide no such compensation for investors. —…

The NYT is so unaware of its own biases, they unthinkingly state them upfront. The authors make no bones about the fact that their primary and sole concern is insurer stock prices and investors.

Nowhere do the authors talk about patients, quality of care, or providing health care for everyone. Such things are furthest from their minds. Their only concern is for investors and insurance companies. They quickly dismiss the bills’ provision for workers, after all, they’re only “workers”. Compensation for investors is their primary concern.

Since it’s the NYT, the authors can’t even keep their story straight. They start off by concern trolling about “doing away with an entire industry”, yet two paragraphs later they say the closest analog to the proposed system is Canada, where private health insurers continue to provide supplemental policies, something every M4A proponent has said will be possible. Apparently, we are to be suspicious of M4A because it goes beyond the Canadian system to cover dental-care and prescription drugs.

That would be a good place to discuss how lack of timely dental care leads to enormous health implications, or how exploitative prescription drug makers have become in our current system. Or perhaps say a few words about the impact that worrying about health care has on communities and families.

Nope, all that is immaterial, the only concern worth discussing is that of investors. Tellingly, the authors use the terms “Americans” and “retirement portfolios” when referring to investors. This is done without any qualification, to imply that all Americans have a stake in the stock price of insurers. What they neglect to mention is this. The wealthiest 10% of Americans control 84% of the stock market, as their NYT colleagues explained a few months ago.

A whopping 84 percent of all stocks owned by Americans belong to the wealthiest 10 percent of households. And that includes everyone’s stakes in pension plans, 401(k)’s and individual retirement accounts, as well as trust funds, mutual funds and college savings programs like 529 plans. —…

So all this concern is about the top 10%, and if we’re honest, it’s about the top 1%. Roughly half of Americans own absolutely no stock.

The 99% do require healthcare, but the NYT is too busy carefully analyzing the impact on investor portfolios to care about something as insignificant as the health or bodies or worries of the 99%. 

This hierarchy of concerns is why they provide competing claims about the cost of M4A, but fail to mention the millions of people who will have healthcare for the first time. The discussion is purely “cost”, never benefit.

The best bit is that after concern trolling for several paragraphs, the authors of this “news” article admit that insurers will survive anyways!

The effective takeover of the health insurance industry in the United States would mean a huge hit to the companies’ stocks, although the companies, which have additional lines of business, would most likely survive. […]

“Private plans have been able to evolve and test new models more quickly,” said Caroline Pearson, a senior vice president at NORC, a research organization at the University of Chicago. “The political process slows things down.”—…

So hold on, what was all the panicky nonsense above for? Will this kill insurers or not? Make up your damn mind! And let me get this straight, private plans are good because companies are quick to adapt. But somehow they won’t be able to adapt their way into new markets? This is transparent nonsense.

Even worse is what the authors leave unsaid, why these insurers “evolve and test new models”. Thankfully, there was room for one Bernie quote, and he makes clear what’s going on here.

“There is a reason why the United States is the only major country on earth that allows private insurance companies to profit off of healthcare,” Mr. Sanders said in an interview. “The function of private health insurance is not to provide quality care to all, it is to make as much money as possible for the private insurance companies, working with the drug companies.” —…

That’s buried in the middle, while the last word goes to an insurance industry executive who closes with some more concern trolling about how difficult it will be to replace the “infrastructure” of private health insurers. Medicare and Medicaid already cover over 110 million people ,and M4A envisages a steady ramp up. Most of the health insurance “infrastructure” this executive is talking about was built to deny care and reimbursements, because that’s what their incentives are. 

All the ingenuity and talent held in the health insurance industry is presently committed to extracting profits out of patients and medical care providers. Universal, single-payer coverage will change that “infrastructure”. Rather than finding the best way to maximize premiums and minimize reimbursements to doctors, that talent might be redirected towards improving care.

NYT readers are demolishing the paper’s concern-trolling, sadly their responses will never get as much play as the article itself. Here’s one of the best:

There are plenty of precedents in our history of the a government providing a service that wipes out a private industry. Here is one:

In colonial Philadelphia, there was no fire department. Each fire insurance company had its own private fire department. When you bought insurance, you got a medallion to put on your house. If a fire truck from the Green Tree company came to a burning house that had a Penn Mutual medallion, they would let it burn to the ground. After this happened a few times, a municipal fire department was established, a socialized fire department.

Goodbye, private fire departments. I imagine that the people who lived in brick houses griped about paying for the people who lived in wooden ones. I bet you can think of other examples. —…

There is a staggering amount of hypocrisy required to write and publish articles like this one. Corey Robin does a great job explaining how this duplicity has lead to bad outcomes over and over again:

Pretty much everyone who’s concern trolling about “one-sixth” or “one-fifth” of the economy were unconcerned when we went to war in Iraq or when various trade deals were proposed. Then, the costs were hand-waved away. Of course, those costs were socialized. Workers and soldiers drawn from poorer households paid the price. The Bushes and Cheneys and Trumps of our world got fat on war and globalization.

We spend more than any other nation on health-care, and our outcomes are worse. The system we have simply does not work for most of us. It leads to lower life expectancy at higher costs, as illustrated below.

Universal, single-payer healthcare would have an enormous positive impact on the material and physical well-being of the vast majority of Americans. In stark contrast, a change in the stock prices of health insurers would not impact any except a small sliver of relatively wealthy Americans.

Given those facts, we should expect bad faith attacks on Medicare For All to accelerate. Whenever you hear these attacks, a rule of thumb is to think about what’s in the 99%’s best interest.

Do we want a system that works for all of us, or only for a few?

— @subirgrewal

GOTV Texting campaigns: How they work, how to get involved.

When I started volunteering for campaigns, way back in 2000 and 2004, the only options were in-person canvassing or phone banking. I drove 200 miles to a battleground state in 2004 to campaign for Kerry.  Sometime between 2014 and 2016, I switched over entirely to texting and this now the only kind of campaign volunteering I do.

I’m going to explain how texting campaigns work, and how you can get involved in one for 2020.

But I don’t have a cell phone.

That’s okay, you won’t need one. If you’re reading and commenting on Daily Kos, you can text using the same tools/setup. I generally work on a laptop.

Every texting campaign I’ve worked on has used one of three web-sites to text, Hustle, Relay or Spoke. If you volunteer, you’ll be given some training on the application they’re using. Then you’ll be assigned a shift. Depending on the campaign, this can be anything from 100 to 800 initial texts to send. Names, Numbers and initial texts are pre-loaded on the web-site. Your part is to send each text by pressing enter. This bit needs to be done by a human being, robo-texts aren’t permitted. 

Once you’ve sent all your initial texts, you wait for replies. Depending on the campaign, 5-20% of people you contact will write back. Since all text communication happens through a web-site, your phone number is never visible to the person your texting. You won’t be able to see their number either, campaigns generally hide everything but the first name from text volunteers.

When a reply comes in, you’ll fill out a survey for each reply, and if a response is required, send it (usually using a canned reply). Filling out the survey is nothing more than clicking a few check-boxes in the app. This piece is extremely important because the data gets fed back into the voter file the state/national party maintains.

What if I have questions while I’m texting?

Most texting efforts co-ordinate with volunteers via instant-messaging. You’ll almost certainly be asked to join the campaign’s Slack. This is where staff and volunteer organizers share updates, answer questions, provide technical help and hand out assignments. Slack will be your lifeline to the campaign. 

At different stages of a cycle, campaigns send texts for different reasons.

The most common objective is to ID voters. Here, we are trying to figure out whether we will want to contact them on or before election day to make sure they vote.

Most of our initial lists come from public voter registration records, but you’ll be surprised at how out of date it can be. People who haven’t voted for a Democrat in several cycles, may still be registered as Democrats. Accurate information gathered directly from voters is critical to eventual GOTV efforts and campaigns. I volunteered for campaigns in TX, MS and AL partly because I knew the voter files there were in bad shape. An effective text campaign can improve a voter file very quickly, gathering accurate data on hundreds of thousands of voters. This pays off in future campaigns, up and down the ballot.

Why do Democratic campaigns want to text?

Texting compliments other canvassing efforts because it can reach a younger, less reliable voter pool who may not be canvassed or respond to phone calls. And it scales. On election day, state wide races will send out well over 1M+ texts. A national campaign might do that every single day for months on end.

Remember the senate seat won by Doug Jones in AL? Behind that victory was a top-notch texting campaign with experienced volunteers from across the country turning out voters. We turned out tens of thousands of voters who wouldn’t otherwise have known about the special election. We turned out tens of thousands of Democrats who vote in presidential cycles, but don’t in other years, through gentle encouragement and one-on-one contact.

On election day, the only goal is to get voters to the polls. We’ll work to get polling location information to voters, and help voters who have trouble at the polls or need a ride.

How do I become a good texter?

As with any campaign activity, we need to remember this isn’t about us, it’s about voters and the campaigns’ goals. To be a good texter, you’ll have to understand the goal of the campaign and make that your focus. You’ll have to remember that you’re representing the candidate. On the Bernie campaign, we will often say “Be Like Bernie”, always respectful, always focused on making the world a better place for the many, not the few.

  • Use the canned replies: The pre-loaded responses are produced by volunteers and staff who’ve given it a lot of thought. They are constantly being tested and improved. Wherever possible, use those. It will also save you lots of typing. If you can think of a better response, share it on Slack, and if it’s really good, it’ll be uploaded into the software.
  • Don’t waste a lot of time trying to persuade: Campaigns are almost never looking to persuade. Most veteran texters will tell you it’s virtually impossible to change someone’s mind via text. The best we can do is provide some information to undecided voters. Arguing with contacts is  discouraged.
  • Do not feed the trolls: Most contacts are busy with their own lives and their questions will be to the point. What is the candidate’s position on X? Where do I go to check whether I’m registered to vote? You’ll quickly recognize trolls. Disengage gently and quickly. 
  • Never, ever get into arguments with voters: A small percentage of contacts will try to get you angry, you’ll get #MAGA responses. That comes with the territory. Use the canned responses and move on to the next contact. Do not take any of it personally. If a contact is abusive/rude, most campaigns will instruct you to opt them out.
  • Ask for help when you need it: Well-run text campaigns will have volunteer organizers dedicated to mentoring texters. Most campaigns will also have a dedicated team of volunteers reviewing all conversations with contacts, to provide feedback to texters and prevent problems.
  • Stay on top of your replies: Engagement drops off if contacts don’t hear back on a text within a few minutes. Try to respond promptly. If you’re going to be unavailable for a while, tell the organizers on Slack. 
  • Join Early: If you decide to volunteer a day before election day, you won’t have time to learn the tool, and no one will be in a position to train you. Prominent campaigns will often limit assignments to experienced texters close to election day. 

Why would I ever do this?

If you want to see real political change in this country, this is a great way to make a difference. You can do this kind of volunteer/organizing work from anywhere. You can help campaigns across the country, even from a deep blue state. 

It is more productive than arguing with people on Daily Kos or god forbid Facebook/Twitter.

It’s also fun to text with friends, grab a couple of your closest friends and host a texting party!

How do I get started?

I’m so glad you asked. The only campaigns actively texting at this point in the cycle are for presidential candidates. Go to the campaign website and sign up to volunteer. They’ll have a texting option. Here are a few links: 

Outside of campaigns, there are various groups organizing activists around issues. Here are the organizations I find interesting or have volunteered with at one time or another:

If you want to do work with the Mississippi, Alabama or Florida Democratic party, send me a note. They aren’t actively texting at the moment but there is other work they’re doing in the background and the distributed team organizers are always looking for volunteers.

Hope you found this useful, and maybe we’ll work together on a campaign this cycle.

— @subirgrewal

Connect the dots: Oklahoma City, Charleston, Quebec City, Pittsburgh, Christchurch.

On April 19, 1995, a man drove a truck full of explosives into Oklahoma City. He parked the truck at the Alfred F. Murrah Federal building. At 9:02am, the truck-bomb exploded.

Among the 168 dead were 19 children, including 15 who had been in a day-care center housed in the building. The truck had been parked directly below the center.

The attack was perpetrated by a domestic terrorist. I think most of us know that, but perhaps we don’t fully appreciate, just how domestic, just how American, this strain of terrorism was. And is.

It was later revealed that the perpetrator was carrying with him portions of a deeply racist, xenophobic and anti-semitic novel named The Turner Diaries. The novel describes white supremacists embarking on a campaign of terrorism which includes blowing up the FBI headquarters in the morning using a truck bomb. These attacks are depicted as starting a civil war and a global race war. This book is believed to have inspired numerous terrorist attacks across the US.

A meme posted on Facebook by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) asking whether red states or blue states would win a new U.S. civil war has been deleted.

The meme depicting human figures composed of “red” and “blue” states, with King’s state included among the blue ones, was posted on King’s facebook page on Saturday evening.

“Wonder who would win….,” King added to the meme, followed by a smirking emoji.

“Folks keep talking about another civil war; one side has about 8 trillion bullets while the other side doesn’t know which bathroom to use,” the meme reads. —…

The perpetrator of the Oklahoma City bombing wore a T-shirt emblazoned with Thomas Jefferson’s statement that “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants”. Jefferson was, of course a slave-labor camp operator and the third president of the US. The same t-shirt also bore the Latin motto of Virginia, Sic semper tyrannis (the words yelled by the man who assassinated Lincoln).

Perhaps not coincidentally, the Murrah building had been targeted previously, in October 1983 by another white supremacist group. That group had plotted to park “a van or trailer in front of the Federal Building and blow it up with rockets detonated by a timer. 

Jamelle Bouie happened to find himself in Oklahoma City and visited the memorial to the victims of the terrorist attack. 

That understanding of McVeigh and Nichols as part of a movement with well-defined goals and a theory of action — which itself fits into a history of ideologically driven hate networks — is important if the mission of the Oklahoma City memorial is education as much as remembrance. And in visiting the site and museum, I was troubled by shallow treatment of that context. Are visitors making the connections between past and present? Do they see the relationship between the violence in Oklahoma City and the shooting of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., in 2015 or the murder of 11 Jewish worshipers at a synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018? Do they see McVeigh as a singular threat or as an important antecedent to our present-day white power killers?

In the manifesto he released, the accused Christchurch shooter made frequent references to “white genocide,” the idea that nonwhite immigration and mixed-race relationships constitute a genocidal threat to “white” people. He recites the “14 words” — a white supremacist mantra — and elsewhere posted images of a gun with the number 14 written on it. As Jane Coaston noted in Vox, the term “white genocide” was coined by David Lane, a white supremacist responsible for the murder of a Jewish radio host in 1984. He, like McVeigh, was also inspired by William Pierce. Again, the museum devotes some space to this movement and those ideas — copies of Pierce’s books “Hunter” and “The Turner Diaries” are on display — but they are overshadowed by exhibits that focus on the experience of the bombing and its aftermath. —…

This is as it should be, the memorial is to the victims, not to the perpetrator’s ideology. But Jamelle Bouie has a point. For too long, most of us have failed to grapple with the implications of the hateful ideology that has driven these people. With how much a part of this country’s history it is.

That failure is why so much American and Western media seems oblivious to the latent racism baked into their coverage:

That failure to deal honestly and forthrightly with the origins of this hate allows it to rear itself over and over again. It is why so many Americans don’t even bat an eyelid when a religious leader tells an entire auditorium that he wished more of them had guns to “end those Muslims before they’d walked in […]”.

That failure to deal honestly and forthrightly with the origins of this hate allows it to rear itself over and over again.

The far-right terrorist who killed 77 in Norway in 2011 (many of them children), frequented hate forums that prominently feature The Turner Diaries. Aspects of his public statements allude to that work, which was published in the 1970s. We have been exporting this form of hate a lot longer than Donald Trump has been around. We can go back further:

[Madison] Grant’s purportedly scientific argument that the exalted “Nordic” race that had founded America was in peril, and all of modern society’s accomplishments along with it, helped catalyze nativist legislators in Congress to pass comprehensive restrictionist immigration policies in the early 1920s. His book went on to become Adolf Hitler’s “bible,” as the führer wrote to tell him. Grant’s doctrine has since been rejuvenated and rebranded by his ideological descendants as “white genocide” (the term genocide hadn’t yet been coined in Grant’s day). In an introduction to the 2013 edition of another of Grant’s works, the white nationalist Richard Spencer warns that “one possible outcome of the ongoing demographic transformation is a thoroughly miscegenated, and thus homogeneous and ‘assimilated,’ nation, which would have little resemblance to the White America that came before it.” This language is vintage Grant. —…

The terrorist who struck the mosques in Christchurch said he wanted to spark a conflict in the US over guns. The Turner Diaries contains just such a plot. This dangerous rhetoric over guns has been fanned by Republicans for years. It’s vividly present in Steve King’s post above, in the form of “8 trillion bullets”. It’s why Trump talked about what “2nd amendment people” might do.

It is why so many Americans don’t even bat an eyelid when a religious leader tells an entire auditorium that he wished more of them had guns to “end those Muslims before they’d walked in […]”.

That isn’t even the worst of it. The man Jerry Falwell Jr. endorsed for president uses the same rhetoric from the White House. Rhetoric that fits in neatly with the febrile “race war” rantings which inspired the terrorist who carried out the Oklahoma City bombing. Rhetoric laced with threats.

 “I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of Bikers for Trump,” Trump told Breitbart in the interview, which he later tweeted. “I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad.” […]

The president later deleted his tweet as news began to trickle in of a mass shooting in New Zealand that left at least 49 worshiping Muslims dead on Friday. While there are no signs that the suspect was a close follower of Trump, he did mention the U.S. president once in his rambling manifesto, calling Trump “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.” Trump has previously banned those from majority-Muslim countries from coming into the U.S., keeping families apart under a racist policy. —…

And this rhetoric carries with it a clear message for white supremacists.

— @subirgrewal

Who we think about when we think about foreign policy

It may not always seem this way, but foreign policy should be about people. Which people it’s about, determines what our foreign policy is.

When our foreign policy revolves around powerful people representing enormous business interests, it takes on a particular form. When it’s focused on relatively powerless everyday people across the world, it takes on a different form.

When I think about foreign policy, I try to focus on people without much power. I work to identify with those who find themselves buffeted by enormous forces outside of their control. Perhaps it is a bit easier for me because I am a first-generation immigrant. When I see pictures of people in the Middle East killed by bombs or bullets made in the US, I think of my own family. It is inescapable, because they look like me and my kids.

So when one of those kids grows up to become an American legislator, when she begins to exercise some influence over US foreign policy, I am both proud of my country, and grow more confident that we will be centering the right people when it comes to our foreign policy. 

This is one of the reasons having Rep. Ilhan Omar in Congress is so remarkable. She is one of these people, a child whose life was buffeted by war, and now she is in a position to influence US foreign policy. Rep. Omar wrote an Op-Ed in the Washington Post today that expresses my sentiment perfectly: 

Ilhan Omar: We must apply our universal values to all nations. Only then will we achieve peace.

[…] I believe in an inclusive foreign policy — one that centers on human rights, justice and peace as the pillars of America’s engagement in the world, one that brings our troops home and truly makes military action a last resort. This is a vision that centers on the experiences of the people directly affected by conflict, that takes into account the long-term effects of U.S. engagement in war and that is sincere about our values regardless of short-term political convenience.

This means reorienting our foreign affairs to focus on diplomacy and economic and cultural engagement. At a time when we spend more on our military than the next seven countries combined, our global armed presence is often the most immediate contact people in the developing world have with the United States. National security experts across the political spectrum agree that we don’t need nearly 800 military bases outside the United States to keep our country safe. —…

In her Op-Ed, Rep. Omar goes on to highlight the disastrous regimes we are presently supporting, including the Saudis and the UAE who are waging a terrible war on the Yemeni people.

It has historically been difficult to get Americans to concern themselves with foreign policy. We are a large, continental power with enormous considerations within our borders. We also have a strong isolationist streak, most years a majority of Americans say we should pay less attention to problems overseas. Sadly, this public disengagement often means that unelected interests exercise greater control over our actual foreign policy, resulting in even more military adventures.

For others among us, foreign policy is secondary. We’ve all run across people who believe foreign affairs are a distraction from “other priorities”, like “winning”. If questioning the actions of our military overseas becomes a hinderance to “winning”, the implication is that we should accommodate militarism and little wars. This is a narrow vision, where concern for people ends at our borders, or when it might complicate our short-term political ends. It fails to offer solidarity to the rest of the world.

The sad fact is that this sort of near-sightedness is both misguided and dangerous.

Every dollar we spend on destruction overseas is a dollar stolen from progressive initiatives at home.

Every time our military might is flaunted or deployed to protect the interests of oil interests, we harm the climate.

Every time the agenda of the Military Industrial Complex gets a pass because it only impacts people “over there”, our military families face greater risk and gun control at home becomes more distant.

Every time a corrupt plutocrat like Erik Prince, Dick Cheney or Jared Kushner uses American power to serve a foreign despot, the interests of ordinary people suffer. The plutocrat receives favors, the price is paid by people like us across the world.

We are the pre-eminent super-power in the world. We have military bases across the world. In 2017, US special operations troops deployed in over 130 countries. Every day, our military runs a global aerial bombardment that has cost tens of thousands of lives directly and hundreds of thousands by extension. This is not an exaggeration. Investigative journalists have confirmed almost 7,000 drone strikes.

Many of these strikes have been in Somalia, where Rep. Omar was born. The US has engaged in military operations in Somalia since the early 1990s, after the overthrow of Mohammed Siad Barre which precipitated the Somali Civil War. Rep. Omar’s family is among those uprooted by that war. This makes her a powerful and credible spokesperson for all the people directly and indirectly impacted by our militarist foreign policies and her journey all the more significant. 

This question of how the United States engages in conflict abroad is deeply personal to me. I fled my home country of Somalia when I was 8 years old from a conflict that the United States later engaged in. I spent the next four years in a refugee camp in Kenya, where I experienced and witnessed unspeakable suffering from those who, like me, had lost everything because of war. —…

When we think of foreign policy, we must keep the interests of people like the 8-year old Ilhan Omar foremost. We must think of her well-being, and her future. We must think of what she can become, and what she can do for her community and the world.

We must not allow ourselves to be beguiled by those seeking to prop up illegitimate regimes, or stoke war for selfish ends. If we allow our foreign policy to be driven by the Dick Cheneys, Erik Princes and Jared Kushners of the world, we will have done this world and generations to come a great wrong.

If we allow these interests to govern how we interact with the world, eventually our own democracy will atrophy and we too will succumb to the same predatory forces that have brought harm and ruin upon large swaths of the world. To avoid such an outcome, we as citizens need to consciously consider who we think about when we think about foreign policy. Think about 8-year old Ilhan Omar.

— @subirgrewal

AOC is heckled, makes it a teaching moment on how funding cuts are designed to divide us.

AOC was hosting a town hall in her district and was talking about public schools. She talked about her dad getting into Brooklyn Tech (one of the selective NYC high schools). AOC then asks why every school can’t be like Brooklyn Tech, why NYC only has a handful of such selective high schools. She was heckled by some attendees who oppose changes to the testing program for these schools.

And this is the special moment, she points out that in many, many areas of public services, we have created an environment of scarcity. This ends up pitting communities against each other for resources. Instead, she suggests we should make the fight for more resources across the board, rather than fighting over scraps because funding has been slashed, and we’re letting plutocrats get away with rampant tax evasion aided by corrupt politicians. That’s not hyperbole, both the former NY Assembly Speaker and the NY Senate leader are in prison for corruption. 

It’s worth watching how AOC turns this conversation around, arguing that we bake a bigger and better public services pie rather than fight over small pieces of it.

As background, there is an enormous controversy around the schools at the moment. The chancellor and mayor wants to modify the way admissions are handled. Students currently take a standardized test (the SHSAT) to enter 8 of the 9 schools. The ninth school is Fiorello H. Laguardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts. Laguardia admits incoming high-school students based on an audition or a review of their work. 

To improve diversity among the student body at the eight other schools, various proposals have been floated for alternate arrangements. Here’s one pitched by the mayor which is being challenged by a conservative, anti-affirmative action group:

Currently, specialized schools enroll tiny percentages of black and Hispanic students, even though those students make up about 70 percent of the school system. This past year, only 10 black students were offered seats at Stuyvesant High School, the most competitive of the eight test-in specialized schools.

Discovery allows mostly low-income students who just miss the cutoff for entry to enroll in summer classes aimed at preparing them for the schools’ academic rigor.

The current version of Discovery sets aside 6 percent of seats at specialized high schools for students who come from low-income families. Mr. de Blasio’s plan would expand that to 20 percent of seats at each specialized school, and require schools to reserve seats for more vulnerable students who not only come from low-income families but also attend high-poverty schools. —…

The parents of some kids at these schools have opposed such moves. The Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), a conservative outfit founded by former Reagan staffers has filed a challenge to the plans. PLF has previously challenged affirmative action and de-segregation policies in other states. 

Some aren’t pleased with the idea. Their view is that it would kill off a straightforward assessment of merit that applies across schools—the test is an objective measure, they say, and can’t be gamed the way interviews or grades can be, which can reward kids who are richer and/or white.

More specifically, de Blasio’s proposal has upset many Asian parents in particular and a great number of (though certainly not all) alumni and current students. Asian parents’ opposition to scrapping the test probably has something to do with the fact that, as data provided to us by the city’s Department of Education shows, 30 percent of Asian applicants in 2018 received offers to a specialized school, accounting for more than half of all offers. (And Asians are the minority group with the highest poverty rate in the city.) And there are plenty of elite public high schools across the country, but none are test-only, and none have the reputation nationally or internationally that New York’s specialized high schools do; many of the opponents of getting rid of the test believe—probably not incorrectly—that these schools’ reputation is in part a function of the formidable test. —…

— @subirgrewal

Activists who confronted Chelsea Clinton at vigil give their story

Full disclosure, I was an undergraduate student at NYU, where I very occasionally wrote for the student newspaper. In so many ways, this particular kerfuffle is happening in my backyard.

On Friday, a vigil for the Christchurch victims was held at New York University.

Rose Asaf is a senior at NYU. She is an Israeli-American Jewish woman, and she co-founded the Jewish Voice for Peace chapter at NYU.

Rose’s best friend is Leen Dweik, also a senior at NYU. She is a Muslim Palestinian woman whose main organizing centers on Palestine solidarity efforts.

When Chelsea Clinton arrived, Rose tweeted the video below, which shows Leen confronting Chelsea Clinton for her remarks about Ilhan Omar earlier this month. Leen said Clinton’s remarks had stoked Islamophobia. She went on to say the vigil was being held for “a massacre stoked by people like you and the words that you… put out into the world”.

My best friend @vivafalastin told @ChelseaClintonthat itâÂ?Â?s a disgrace that she came to the vigil, calling out ChelseaâÂ?Â?s Islamophobia and hypocrisy.

— Esor (@itme_esor) March 15, 2019

That video went viral and quickly led to intemperate responses from other celebrities rushing to Chelsea Clinton’s defense. 

Donald Trump Jr. jumped in, coming to Chelsea Clinton’s virtual aid. Several people then pointed out Cheslea Clinton’s long friendship with Ivanka Trump. Neera Tanden offered a competing explanation, suggesting Jr. might be trying to stoke division among Democrats (as if!). 

Mayor Bill DeBlasio came to Chelsea Clinton’s defense as well

Other celebrities and people with platforms decided to take it further. Kathy Griffin called Leen a “fucking pussy”. Robert Palmer, a political analyst called Leen a “fanatic”

A Hill journalist mocked Rose for her pro-Palestinian, pro-gay activism and later deleted that tweet after people highlighted its implicit racism and Islamophobia. 

The same journalist did leave up a tweet about other aspects of Rose’s pro-Palestinian activism. That bothered the acclaimed Jewish illustrator and comic book creator Eli Valley enough that he felt he had to jump in to defend the two young activists.

The executive editor of the Washington Examiner claimed Leen was advocating genocide. Within the space of a few hours, it felt as if most of “blue check twitter” seemed intent on putting the two young activists in their place.

And there was the usual Twitter mob who decided to dig up tweets from when they were 15 years old. To which Leen had this to say:

Finally, to add yet more flavor to the pot, a whole host of people noted that Leen was wearing a Bernie 2020 t-shirt. 

Let us all take a big step back.

Of course, the New Zealand incident was bound to touch the Israel-Palestine fault-line in American politics, if only for this: 

Then there is the fact that Leen Dweik is Palestinian, her best friend Rose Asaf is Israeli-American and they both advocate for Palestinian rights. Back in December, NYU’s student government voted for a resolution asking NYU to divest from Israeli companies. That effort was led, in part, by Rose Asaf and Leen Dweik as reported by the NYU student newspaper:

The students came to see the result of the “Resolution on the Human Rights of Palestinians,” presented by Senators at-Large Rose Asaf and Bayan Abubakr and Alternate Senator at-Large Leen Dweik. […]

“This resolution is for the human rights of all.” Dweik said. “We want to know that our tuition money is not being spent to kill brown people across the world.” […]

Political Action Chair for the Black Student Union Dylan Brown spoke second for the resolution. Brown mentioned that the struggles of black people in the United States cannot be separated from those of the Palestinian people.

“This body has a duty to all marginalized students on this campus to not be invested in systems of oppression,” Brown said. —…

Given the nature of their political activism, it’s safe to assume that both young women are earnest in their concern for Rep. Omar. Campus activists for Palestinian causes often face charges of anti-semitism. Major pro-Israel organizations have funded an effort to create a blacklist of pro-Palestinian college activists:

For three years, a website called Canary Mission has spread fear among undergraduate activists, posting more than a thousand political dossiers on student supporters of Palestinian rights. The dossiers are meant to harm students’ job prospects, and have been used in interrogations by Israeli security officials. —…

So they can be forgiven to seeing the bad-faith attacks on Rep. Omar as a higher profile example of the kind of things they have likely faced.

A number of people on the left believe Rep. Ilhan Omar was unfairly attacked by those with large platforms who have a pro-Israel view. Many also believe these attacks put Rep. Omar at great risk of physical harm, and that legitimizing such bad-faith attacks leads to a vicious cycle, which can trigger violence. This is the context within which we have to understand the video and Leen’s remarks. 

Leen and Rose were interview by the Washington Post and had this to say about that dynamic:

“She [Chelsea Clinton] was the one who made this a story,” Asaf said, especially by using “as an American,” which Asaf saw as an “anti-immigrant trope.” “To me, when speaking of someone who is a refugee, it’s a dog whistle, it’s signaling this is a patriotic issue and that nationalism excludes people like Ilhan Omar,” she said.

“I wanted to convey my grief,” Dweik added. “It wasn’t this planned attack. I very specifically waited until after the vigil. I wanted this person to know they’ve caused harm. You’ve done things that have hurt this community, and the grief people feel today you’re not separate from.” […]

Asaf said if she could do anything differently, it would be to frame the encounter to focus more on the grieving Muslim community and not on Clinton.
“I think one of the most important things we can do going forward is to listen to the people being targeted, to respect and center their narratives,” Dweik said. “When all of these people are grieving and when we’re thinking about how this person is feeling … we’re not centering the right voices.”


The Chelsea Clinton tweet Rose referred to was this:

Leen and Rose have also written an article at Buzzfeed, providing their perspective on the encounter they had with Chelsea Clinton, it is worth a read.

We did a double take when we first noticed Chelsea Clinton was at the vigil. Just weeks before this tragedy, we bore witness to a bigoted, anti-Muslim mob coming after Rep. Ilhan Omar for speaking the truth about the massive influence of the Israel lobby in this country. As people in unwavering solidarity with Palestinians in their struggle for freedom and human rights, we were profoundly disappointed when Chelsea Clinton used her platform to fan those flames. We believe that Ilhan Omar did nothing wrong except challenge the status quo, but the way many people chose to criticize Omar made her vulnerable to anti-Muslim hatred and death threats. […]

The reality is that many people aren’t doing enough to fight anti-Muslim bigotry. We need people to understand that you cannot be racist against Palestinians, and vilify people who promote their cause, while also being in solidarity with Muslims. You cannot contribute to the anti-Muslim, anti-Black, and misogynistic abuse of Rep. Omar while also being in solidarity with Muslims.

To Chelsea Clinton: We hope that our intentions in confronting you are now clear. We believe that you still owe an apology: not only to Rep. Omar, but also to Palestinians for using your platform to defame their cause. As an Israeli national and a Palestinian, we want you to know that it is dangerous to label valid criticisms of Israel and its lobby as anti-semitic. We know that this is a tactic to silence us and deny us our free speech.


— @subirgrewal

Let Us Remember.

One of my most vivid memories as a child is of my grandmother meeting a friend of hers. They had met again after years, perhaps decades. My grandmother said to her friend “come let us remember”, and then they talked about the people in their past and those who were no longer among us. As a child, I was allowed to sit at their feet and listen.

That moment had a profound impact on me, perhaps because that act of remembering made me see my grandmother, for the first time, as a friend, a woman who had once been young, a woman who had loved and not just loved children like me. For the first time, I think, I saw her as a person and not merely as my grandmother. The recitation of those memories made her real to me, they made the people they spoke of real to me. Now I remembered them too, and the memory remains alive, though my grandmother died long ago.

I did not know any of the people killed in Christchurch on Friday in that way.

But I can learn, and we too can keep the memory of their lives alive.

So let us remember.

And may their memory be a blessing.

They don’t want you to ask where he was radicalized.

We all know. But it is remarkable that every right-wing provocateur has come out today to demand that we ignore where this man got his hateful ideas from. And of course, their gaslighting is wrapped up in virtue signaling, “starve them of attention” they say, just as they peddle the hate that fuels these attacks.

All the right-wing hate peddlers are on the same page:

Of course, they don’t want you asking questions. They didn’t want you to ask after Norway, or Charleston, or Charlottesville, or Quebec, or Pittsburgh. And now, they don’t want any questions after Christchurch either. And it’s worth asking why?

They don’t want you asking these questions, but they will demand that “Ceasar’s wife be above reproach” when a brown woman says something they can misrepresent. 

Of course, Donald Trump chose to say the quiet part out loud. Moments after news of the massacre broke, he tweeted out a link to Breitbart, almost exulting at the massacre.

As for the rest, their hypocrisy is blatant and staggering, out in the open for all to see.

And we should let one of our most prominent Muslim leaders have the last word.

— @subirgrewal

Wilbur Ross and Mark Meadows are deer in headlights during hearing with Cummings and AOC

Wilbur Ross arrived for his Oversight committee hearing with all the false confidence of a billionaire who’s operated with impunity for decades. During the hearing, Ross claimed that his attempt to insert a citizenship question into the 2020 census was:

  • Not influenced by Steve Bannon and Kris Kobach, both of whom urged him multiple times to include such a question to suppress immigrant response rates to the census
  • That the question was included to comply with the voting rights act, and not to reduce the representation of states/areas with immigrant populations
  • That in any case, he was merely reinstating a question from the 1950 census.
  • The fact that it was reinstated rather than a new question, meant that he did not need to inform Congress he was doing it.

There were several other fabrications and likely outright lies. 

And then AOC began her questioning (which you can watch below). Using both news reports and court records, she made clear he was lying about his contact with Bannon, Kobach and his reasons for including the citizenship question.

Then, she pulled out the 1950 citizenship question and noted that it was very different from the question proposed by Ross, therefore not a reinstatement.

Finally, the knife, AOC asks why Ross has failed to file a report required by law before changes are made.

At this point, Ross’s billionaire entitlement kicks in and he says she’s out of time, so he won’t answer. Which is pretty amazing behavior for a witness. Cummings steps in and says he will ask the question for AOC. Then Mark Meadows, who’s fumbling around, tries to raise a point of order because “we don’t know what she’s talking about”. Meanwhile Ross’ attorneys are furiously whispering to him. All gets shot down by Cummings, who demands Ross answer and also provide a written statement. All of it is worth watching, but the action starts at 5:30 or so in the clip below.

Goal Thermometer
Donate to AOC, Omar, Pressley and Tlaib

I’ve got to agree that AOC’s team demonstrates a level of preparation that you rarely see, even from very experienced members’ questioning. This is commendable and really underscores how much energy and dedication AOC, Rep. Ilhan Omar, Rep. Ayanna Pressley and Rep. Rashida Tlaib are bringing to Congress. You can donate to them using the link here.

In this case, AOC is doing a remarkable job protecting the interests of the many immigrant families in her community. People who would be materially harmed if Ross got his way with this census question. The Trump administration’s anti-immigrant rhetoric would scare many immigrants away from the census, especially if a citizenship question were on it. That would mean fewer funds for those communities and a larger district with more people in it because the immigrant population would be undercounted.

AOC and her team know what is at stake and aren’t going to let a plutocrat like Ross harm the people of her district.

It’s great to watch how Cummings has her back, and fantastic to watch mediocre hacks like Ross and Meadows squirm under the pointed questioning.

— @subirgrewal

India takes voting rights seriously, wish we did too.

India is a poor country. Its per capita income ($2,000/yr) is just 3% that of the US ($60,000/yr).  Yet, despite its relative poverty, India takes the voting rights of its citizens far more seriously than our vastly wealthier country does. 

In April and May of this year, India will go to the polls to elect a new central government. That means almost 900 million eligible voters across its length and breadth will have a chance to cast their vote. And Indian officials will move heaven and earth to ensure every last soul has a reasonable chance to vote. 

Voters are electing lawmakers for the 543-member lower house of parliament, or Lok Sabha. In 2014, the Election Commission of India deployed 3.7 million polling staff, 550,000 security personnel, 56 helicopters and 570 special trains to conduct a five-week-long exercise in close to a million polling stations. —…

In 2014, the electorate was 830 million strong, voter turnout was 66.4%. 553 million Indians eventually voted. By comparison, in our own 2016 general election, a mere 138 million Americans cast a ballot and turnout was a comparatively low 55.7%.

Political rally in Hyderabad

The scale of this election is almost incomprehensible. The picture on the right is an election rally in Hyderabad. I can say with some certainty that none of our Presidential candidates will attract a crowd close to that size to any rally this cycle.

The logistics and scale are so challenging that the polls simply cannot be conducted on a single day. Instead, the country will vote in phases over a five-week period.

And everyone will indeed be able to vote because the Election Commission of India runs the process. It is an independent entity vested with almost absolute constitutional authority over election mechanics. Removing the Chief Election Commissioner from his or her office is as arduous as removing a justice of the Indian Supreme Court. It takes its responsibility to guard the voting rights of Indian citizens seriously.

The EC will ensure that every single eligible voter has a polling station within 2 kilometers of their home. No matter how remote that home may be. This is done so that even the poorest, even someone who may not be able to ride a cart to the polling station, can walk or be carried if needed. This means poll workers carry polling machines high into the mountains, and deep into forests, often so a handful of fellow Indians can exercise their franchise.

Millions of poll workers, police and security personnel are deployed in cities, towns, villages and hamlets. They use planes, boats, trains, helicopters, elephants, and camels and travel by foot to reach far flung voters, from the snow-capped Himalayan mountains in the north to tiny islands in the Arabian Sea to the south, the desert in the west and the deep forests in the east.

This time, the commission will mobilize 11 million officials to conduct the election at 1.04 million polling stations which will use over 2 million electronic voting machines. —…

That is not a typo, literally millions of civil servants will be entrusted with portable polling machines and they’ll take helicopters, trains, cars, bullock carts, camels, horses, donkeys and sometimes walk to get to some of the most remote places on earth. It’s going to be relatively expensive to run for a poor country. But there are unusual expenses to cover, like elephant rental.

Some of that may be used for elephants to carry electronic voting machines to relatively inaccessible regions, and boats to ferry men and materials across the mighty Brahmaputra river in the northeast.  —…

Yarlung/Tsango weaving its way around Namcha Barwa

As an aside, “mighty” is not hyperbole. The Brahmaputra carves a route across Tibet and then cuts through the Himalayas. There it has created the longest and deepest canyon in the world, the Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon. Its walls are 5,000 meters (16,000 feet) high. The river runs East across Tibet till it can slide past the Easternmost 25,000 foot peak in the Himalayas, Namcha Barwa. There it bends around this remote behemoth, which has been summited only once by humans, and enters India to become the Brahmaputra. Here, as it winds through the hills and valleys of Assam, one of the rainiest places on Earth, the river swells to a width of 5 miles at times. Then the river enters Bangladesh and splits in two. Its western branch joins with the Ganga. The Eastern joins the Meghna, and there it ends, having carried the snowmelt of the Himalayas 1,800 miles through three countries, to deliver it into the Bay of bengal.

Back to elections. Election spending is expected to exceed $7 Billion, which if realized would make it more expensive that the 2016 US election.

The highest polling station is in Hikkim, Himachal Pradesh, 4,400 meters or 14,400 feet above sea level. That’s high as Mt. Elbert, the highest peak in the Rockies, and about 100 feet lower than Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48. Hikkim is relatively accessible, other mountainous villages are even more remote.

The midday sun was blazing when Biswajit Roy, a middle-aged Indian high-school teacher, gingerly pulled himself, and two voting machines, into a modified dugout canoe.

His mission: Traverse crocodile-infested mangrove swamps, cross a stretch of open sea and then hike through a jungle to the remote village of Hanspuri so its 261 voters could cast ballots in India’s national elections. —…

Despite all its many flaws, when it comes to election mechanics, India gets a lot right.

Oh yeah, one more thing, Indians will vote on modern voting machines. No differing and complicated ballots. Since many older Indians are illiterate, each party picks a symbol which is represented on the machines. And every voter has biometric voter ID as well, it’s issued at no cost and the system is controlled by the election commission to prevent political parties from interfering.

during the last general election, air force helicopters carrying polling officials were unable to land in a remote region tucked in the high Himalayas in Ladakh. Undeterred, a polling team trekked for 45 kilometers through knee-deep snow in the high mountains to reach 35 voters.  […]

Deputy Election Commissioner R. Balakrishnan told VOA that traversing this last kilometer is not always easy. He cited the example of a polling station with just one voter in the western Gujarat state.

“This polling station is located 20 miles deep into the Gir forest jungle. To secure this one vote, we will send a team of officials. Even one voter we try and reach out, and then for reaching out that one voter we do what it takes. And it involves sometimes using all modes of transport, from helicopters and elephants and camels and what not and sometimes involves days of trekking,” said Balakrishnan. —…

Every single vote matters.

This is not to say the elections will be flawless, there will be fraud. Political parties in some places still make a habit of literally distributing cash to voters ahead of the election. Though gerrymandering is futile since an independent Boundary Commissiondraws the electoral map, past governments have delayed when new boundaries go into force for partisan advantage. That is still quite a lot better than the extreme partisan gerrymandering we in the USA have been subjected to. 

Reading about the extreme lengths Indian officials go to extend the franchise to each of their fellow citizens is both uplifting and inspiring. It reinforces your faith in democracy. In contrast it’s dejecting and depressing to consider the lengths to which American politicians and officials will go to to obtain partisan advantage by suppressing the vote or frighten their fellow Americans away from the polls. It makes us, as ordinary voters feel powerless.

In India, hanks to an independent, powerful election commission, most attempts to sap the power of the people in this way go nowhere. There are a lot of things that we do better, but on this one, we might want to take a leaf from India’s book.

PS. At some point I may do a diary about the parties and candidates in this election. That will be a lot more depressing than this I’m going to put it off.

— @subirgrewal