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

Netanyahu: We transfer cash to Hamas because it divides Palestinians, prevents statehood.

With the Israeli elections around the corner, the hits just keep on coming. In today’s edition:

The prime minister also said that, “whoever is against a Palestinian state should be for” transferring the funds to Gaza, because maintaining a separation between the PA in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza helps prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state. […]

The Blue and White Party’s platform calls to stop allowing the transfer of funds to Hamas, calling it mafia-style “protection” payments.

Sort of undercuts the Israeli propaganda that they “do not have a partner for peace” doesn’t it? To be clear, the funds being discussed here are tax/customs duties collected by Israel on behalf of the PA and aid from third countries primarily Qatar.

None of this comes as a surprise to long-time Israel watchers. It is merely another example of someone in Trump’s orbit saying the quiet part out loud. Fomenting division has always been a primary goal of Israeli policy towards Palestinians. That is part of the reason Israeli intelligence agencies helped Hamas in its early stages:

The PLO was known for being a Socialist organization whose sole purpose was the elimination of the state of Israel along with the establishment of a socialist state of Palestine where the constitution would be run by secular Marxism rather than Islam

Due to the short sidedness of the Rabin administration and later Begin there was an idea to bring about a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood into Gaza and the Palestinian territories to counter balance the strength and popularity of the PLO. […]

According to The Interceptor, ” Brig. Gen. Yitzhak Segev, who was the Israeli military governor in Gaza in the early 1980s. Segev later told a New York Times reporter that he had helped finance the Palestinian Islamist movement as a “counterweight” to the secularists and leftists of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Fatah party, led by Yasser Arafat (who himself referred to Hamas as “a creature of Israel.”).” —…

There is of course, a political purpose to Netanyahu’s statement. He wants to fend off criticism from politicians on both the left and right that sending funds to Hamas supports terrorism. Of course, the folks making those critiques are merely putting on a show. They know all too well how useful Hamas is to limiting sympathy towards Palestinians and muddying the waters around Israeli human rights violations. Netanyahu didn’t say the quiet part aloud for them, he said it for voters who need to be reminded by they should vote for Likud.

Voters who need reminding that Likud will go to every length possible to prevent Palestinian self-determination and facilitate the annexation of the West Bank. Annexation has been Likud’s goal since the moment it was founded. That is why, for instance Likud’s co-founder Menachem Begin allied with the Christian Zionist movement:

Of all the Israeli prime ministers since 1948, Begin stands out as the first to openly endorse Christian Zionist support and to seek to harness it in defence of the Jewish state. Others before him may have had connections to individual Christian figures, but the story of the Israel-Evangelical partnership as we know it today starts with Begin. […]

First, Begin realised that he shared a certain biblical worldview with Evangelicals. Dr. Gordis noted that Begin looked on the Bible as Israel’s title deed to the land and saw the Jewish return as fulfilment of the vision of the Hebrew prophets, just as many Christians did.

Second, Begin was surrounded by several close advisors who shared his friendly disposition towards pro-Israel Christians. This included Harry Hurwitz, who had been exposed to genuine Christian supporters of Israel in his native South Africa and was the key official within Begin’s inner circle who convinced him to approve the founding of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem in 1980. —…

For more inside the Israeli elections, read this on the election commission’s decision to ban an Arab party ahead of this election. Meanwhile, they’ve approved the extremist right-wing “Jewish Power” party, which has allied with Netanyahu.

As he bans his opponents from competing in the elections, Netanyahu and his supporters keep insisting Israel is a democracy. 

“The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.” — George Orwell, 1984

— @subirgrewal

Rep. Eliot Engel maintains silence on Netanyahu’s Kahanist alliance and supremacist comments.

Rep. Eliot Engel (NY-16) is the Democratic chair of the Foreign Relations Committee. As such, he is the Democrat with the most power over foreign policy since the Senate and White House are controlled by Republicans.

Just a week ago, he spent significant chunks of his time working to pass another resolution aimed squarely at Rep. Ilhan Omar. Right wing media and Trump claimed Rep. Omar’s remark at the DC coffeehouse was anti-semitic or a “dual loyalty” allegation. Their hypocrisy on this issue was staggering, and misinformed, but Rep. Engel decided he would jump right into it without review, and condemned Rep. Omar’s remarks.

Which should lead us to ask where Rep. Engel’s loquaciousness is today. He’s previous waxed eloquent about Israel being a “true democracy”, blatantly ignoring the fact that for over 50 years it has ruled over millions of Palestinians who do not get a say in the oppressions visited upon them by the military occupation:

Now that PM Benjamin Netanyahu has clarified that Israel is a democracy, but really only for its Jewish citizens, Rep. Engel seems to have nothing to say. 

On Sunday morning, Netanyahu responded to Sela on his own Instagram. He uploaded a picture of himself against the backdrop of an Israeli flag, and wrote, “Dear Rotem, an important correction: Israel is not a state of all its citizens. According to the Nation-State Law that we passed, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish People – and them alone. As you wrote, there’s no problem with the Arab citizens of Israel – they have the same rights as us all and the Likud government has invested in the Arab sector more than any other government.”

Likud only asks,” the post continued, “to sharpen the central point of these elections: it’s either a strong right-wing government led by me, or Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz’s left-wing government with the support of the Arab parties. Lapid and Gantz have no other way to form a government, and a government like this will undermine the security of the state and citizens. The decision – another month at the ballot box. Have a nice day.” —…

Most of the commentary following these remarks has focused on Netanyahu’s statements that “Israel is not a state of all its citizens”. That will not come as news to non-Jewish citizens of Israel, they’ve lived under a supremacist system and policies all their lives. The explicit inclusion of such a statement in Israel’s supposedly democratic constitution, merely acknowledges what all observers have long known.

But the real political meat of Netanyahu’s statement is in the second paragraph.

In it, Netanyahu presents the mere prospect of a Blue-White/Labor coalition forming a government with the Joint list (consisting of Arab parties like Balad, Ta’al and the radical left-wing Hadash) as an apocalyptic outcome to be prevented at all costs. And it seems to be working. Netanyahu’s comments seem to have spurred his right-wing coalition into the lead, despite the fact that Netanyahu is likely to be indicted for corruption by July 10.

What Netanyahu is actually doing here is following his buddy Trump’s strategy of openly demonizing minorities and making an argument for supremacy. Supremacy of one group is antithetical to democracy, but that is exactly what Netanyahu says here is the sole acceptable outcome.

Of course, this is nothing new. Though Arab/non-Jewish persons make up over 20% of Israel’s citizens, not a single one has held any cabinet position in the 70 years of Israel’s existence. There have been several deputy ministers and a Labor MK who held the Science, Culture and Sports portfolio. Throughout the 70+ years of Israel’s existence, Arab/non-Jewish citizens have been shut out of wielding any actual power. This is one of the many reasons it is fair to say that Israel proper is a de-facto Jim Crow regime, and not, as Rep. Engel claims, a “true democracy”.

Worse yet, the specter of sharing power with their Arab/non-Jewish fellow-citizens is routinely presented as a dire, frightening prospect by Israeli governments. This is the context in which Benjamin Netanyahu said “Arab voters are heading to the polling stations in droves” before the last election. That is why no single Israeli government has ever accepted an Arab/non-Jewish party as a coalition partner.

Of course, all this side-steps the fact that 4.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank/Gaza and 150,000 in East Jerusalem do not get a say in these elections to choose a government that holds sway over every aspect of their lives.

So how in what world does Rep. Engel get away with saying Israel is the “one true Democracy” in the Middle-East unchallenged?

In fact, like the United States, Israel is at best a flawed democracy, and even that is only credible if you ignore the apartheid it practices in the West Bank (where settlers can vote and have their own roads), and ignore completely the Israeli government’s pervasive human rights violations in Gaza.

Other senior Democrats, even those without Foreign Affairs assignments, have spoken about Netanyahu’s comments:

Rep. Engel, in contrast, has maintained a studious silence, despite being the most important Democrat holding a foreign policy role right now.

Rep. Engel didn’t even have anything to say about Netanyahu’s open alliance with a Kahanist party. Compare that with his colleague, Rep. Jerry Nadler:

Rep. Engel frequently has positive things to say about Israel and applaud Netanyahu. He rarely misses an opportunity to smack down any criticism of Israel (for eg. here and here). His website says Israel is a “close strategic ally” that shares an “unbreakable bond” with the US. Rep. Engel is ready to lead the charge against statements made by junior members of congress when they criticize the US’s Israel policy. A few weeks ago, Rep. Engel jumped to criticize Rep. Omar for suggesting AIPAC driven contributions played a role in lawmakers’ views on Israel/Palestine. The Guardian has done an analysis that seems to bear out her contention. But he has nothing at all to say when this close strategic ally’s government openly allies with a racist party founded by terrorists.

To be fair, Rep. Engel has occasionally criticized the Israeli government and petitioned Netanyahu. He’s taken the time to do this publicly when the Israeli government disallowed non-orthodox led prayers at the Western wall, when it stopped accepting Jewish-status letters from an orthodox rabbi and after its decision to deport tens of thousands of African refugees. But Rep. Engel has never, to my knowledge, had the time or seen fit to criticize any of Israel’s policies that impact Palestinians. He consistently sees every discussion about Palestinians through the lens of a “security threat” to Israel. He consistently blames Palestinians and other nations in the region for Israel’s current discriminatory, oppressive policies towards Palestinians. His silence on the most recent issues simply adds to that deeply one-sided pattern of priorities.

In contrast, Rep. Engel seems to periodically offer unsolicited advice on Israel policy via his official Twitter account to Palestinians and even to the tiny nation of Grenada/St. Kitts.

Perhaps Rep. Eliot can spare a brief moment to give some advice to Benjamin Netanyahu, whom he has met several times?

Let’s reiterate, Rep. Eliot Engel, in his position as chair of the Foreign Relations committee, is the Democrat with the most power on foreign affairs. When it comes to foreign affairs, he effectively controls the actual policy of the Democratic party. On Israel-Palestine, Rep. Engel simply does not have the record to be considered an honest broker.

As we approach 2020, Democrats should consider whether Rep. Engel is the right person to steer our policy towards Israel/Palestine. I believe the time has come for him to either:

  1. Credibly follow a more even handed approach championing equal rights of all people in Israel/Palestine. Or,
  2. Step aside and leave this important House committee chair to someone who can credibly present such an approach.

Lastly, I’m going to share a Palestinian perspective on this fracas:

— @subirgrewal | Cross-posted to