Photo: Alex Edelman/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Whatever you think of Ilhan Omar, you have to admit she’s fearless. In an interview with Politico’s Tim Alberta, the freshman Democratic representative from Minnesota criticized the insufficiencies of Barack Obama’s “hope and change,” pointing to the former president’s “caging of kids” at the border and his “droning of countries around the world” as proof. “We can’t be only upset with Trump,” she said. “His policies are bad, but many of the people who came before him also had really bad policies. They just were more polished than he was. And that’s not what we should be looking for anymore. We don’t want anybody to get away with murder because they are polished. We want to recognize the actual policies that are behind the pretty face and the smile.”
It’s one of the bolder criticisms a Democrat has leveled at Obama, and it’s even more remarkable considering the source. The Minnesota representative has just staved off censure from her own party, the latest development in a saga that began last week when she decried “political influence in this country that says it is okay to push for allegiance to a foreign country” Some interpreted this as a remark aimed at Jews, while others felt she was referring to pro-Israel lobbyists. Last month Omar, a Muslim and the first person in Congress to wear a hijab, deleted a tweet characterizing the decidedly pro-Israel posture of U.S. lawmakers as being “all about the Benjamins.” She later apologized, though she remained critical of the “problematic role of lobbyists in our politics,” including AIPAC.
The outrage over Omar’s tweet was as swift as it was loud. Much of it came from within the Democratic Party, and it often proved her point; on Twitter, Representative Juan Vargas declared that “questioning support for the U.S.-Israel relationship is unacceptable.” After progressive backlash, the party amended a planned resolution condemning anti-Semitism to address other forms of hatred, too. Omar voted for it, which should have ended the controversy.
Omar’s remarks to Politico won’t revive the anti-Semitism debate. But they’ve already earned her more criticism, and could provoke more comparisons likening Omar, and the other members of her left-wing, freshman “squad,” to a sort of progressive Tea Party. Alberta raises this possibility in his piece and says Omar herself “embraces” the comparison, though there are, as he notes, major philosophical differences between Omar, or Rashida Tlaib or Ayanna Pressley, and the right-wing Republicans who upended the GOP establishment when they were elected to Congress in the 2010 midterms. A Democrat who wants Medicare for All has little in common, ideologically, with a Republican who wants government so small he can drown it in a bathtub. Tea Party Republicans wanted to take their party’s professed abhorrence of big government to its most extreme conclusions, by slashing the federal food stamp budget down to its bones and implementing impossibly deep spending cuts. The Democratic Party’s unfiltered newcomers, by contrast, are deeply concerned by the gap between the party’s legacy, and its moral obligations to its base. But it is true that both groups share a purifying instinct.
A critical re-examination of Obama’s record is inevitable; in fact, it’s probably overdue. Omar’s latest point, about the darker aspects of his presidency, should be uncontroversial. The congresswoman taped her own interview with Politico, and though the recording she released after the publication of the piece doesn’t substantively change her quotes, it does capture her saying “that what is happening now is very different,” a clear distinction between the Obama and Trump presidencies. Nor did she conflate the Democratic Party, categorically, with the GOP. (Though she’s a new face on the national stage, Omar has been involved with her state Democratic Party for years.) Instead, she accurately pointed out that Obama authorized drone strikes overseas and detained unaccompanied minors at the border in chain-link cages, and that these policies that did not provoke a proportional amount of outrage from Democrats because of Obama’s personal charisma. If Omar truly believes that the Democratic Party has “perpetrated the status quo,” as Alberta put it, it’s not difficult to understand how she’d reached that conclusion. Obama inherited that droning campaign from his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush. Despite promises to the contrary, Obama didn’t close the Guantanamo Bay prison and he, like Bush, kept troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Omar is a Somali-American and a former refugee; the most recent Democratic president’s Middle East and immigration policies are probably of more immediate and personal interest to her than they are to many of her colleagues. Despite professing to be the party more sympathetic to her concerns, the Democratic Party has failed individuals like her in certain specific ways. And she has this in common with other members of the new congressional class. Tlaib, a Palestinian-American Muslim, has endorsed the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions movement targeting Israeli goods; so has Omar, which puts them both firmly on one side of a widening intra-party divide over the American relationship with Israel.
This generational insurgency isn’t limited to foreign policy. When the 29-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez assails her party for the pace of its proposed climate change solutions, she speaks as a member of a generation for whom the issue is of pressing urgency. According to one Gallup poll, 75 percent of Americans ages 18 to 34 said they worried either a great deal or a fair amount about climate change; that figure dropped to 56 percent among Americans aged 55 or older. Young Americans just entering public office have grown up with a Democratic Party that admitted the reality of climate change, but largely failed to advance ambitious solutions during its moments in power. The political commitments that hampered the party’s response to climate change undermined its stated commitment to working people, too. The leftward economic bent of Omar’s “squad” is hardly universal within the party’s freshman class, but it’s not an anomaly. Its origins are legible, and trace back to real, substantive issues.
The Democratic Party has indeed changed. Medicare for All is no longer such a fringe cause. Support for a $15 minimum wage is more widespread, and leading Democrats like Elizabeth Warren are becoming ever more critical of corporate monopolies that help drive inequality. But these are relatively recent developments. The Democratic Party thus ought to brace itself for future Omars: Members shaped by an illegal war in Iraq and a grievous recession. Members who embraced Obama’s message of hope and change, and who then built political identities out of the wreckage of their disappointments. Democrats like Omar aren’t nihilists. They have taken a great chance on the party and its capacity for self-reflection. Time will tell us if they were right to do so.
The Democratic Party Needs Ilhan Omar
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Florida woman who owned spa where Robert Craft was arrested for soliciting Prostitution marketed Trump access to Chinese businessmen
Cindy Yang, the founder of the Florida spa where Bob Kraft was busted for soliciting prostitution, wasn’t just posing for selfies with members of Trumpworld. She’s been selling Chinese business executives access to Trump and his family at Mar-a-Lago
Yang’s company is promoting an upcoming event at Mar-a-Lago featuring Trump’s sister, Elizabeth Trump Grau. The co. bills it as “a once-in-a-lifetime publicity opportunity” where “Chinese elites” will have the chance to mingle with Trump Grau and members of Congress
[Here is a photo of Eric Trump and] Huachu Tang, owner of a Chinese electric car co., who flew 17 hours to attend the New Year’s celebration at Mar-a-Lago in hopes of promoting his company.
Executives like Tang have every reason to believe that spending big money to attend events at Mar-a-Lago—money that is flowing into the president’s pockets—could improve their business prospects. After all, as Pro Publica reported this week, [sometimes U.S. agency heads end up getting forwarded policy proposals made by guests] after encounters with Trump at Mar-a-Lago
Why a Lot of 2020 Democrats Are Nervous About the Mueller Report
By Gabriel Debenedetti
The campaigns have no idea how to write post-Mueller playbooks. It’s slowing some of them down.
Ilhan Omar Tests the Democratic Party. Will It Pass?
By Sarah Jones
Democrats like Omar aren’t nihilists. They have taken a great chance on the party and its capacity for self-reflection.
Erik Prince Is Really Bad at Lying
By Matt Stieb
Prince’s excuse for failing to mention a relevant Trump Tower meeting during his House Testimony: ““I don’t know if they got the transcript wrong.”
Trump was signing the cover of Bibles earlier today
drain the swamp
Trump Owns the Swamp Now, and It’s Awash in Lobbyists
By Ed Kilgore
The administration seems to be filling, not draining, the swamp of special interest influence in Washington.
The long half-life of an app
Ask someone about Foursquare and they’ll probably think of the once-hyped social media company, known for gamifying mobile check-ins and giving recommendations. But the Foursquare of today is a location-data giant. During an interview with NBC in November, the company’s CEO, Jeff Glueck, said that only Facebook and Google rival Foursquare in terms of location-data precision.
You might think you don’t use Foursquare, but chances are you do. Foursquare’s technology powers the geofilters in Snapchat, tagged tweets on Twitter; it’s in Uber, Apple Maps, Airbnb, WeChat, and Samsung phones, to name a few. (Condé Nast Traveler, owned by the same parent company as WIRED, relies on Foursquare data.)
In 2014, Foursquare launched Pilgrim, a piece of code that passively tracks where your phone goes using Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GPS, and GSM to identify the coffee shop or park or Thai restaurant you’re visiting, then feeds that data to its partner apps to send you, say, an offer for a 10 percent off coupon if you leave a review for the restaurant. Today, Pilgrim and the company’s Places API are an integral part of tens of thousands of apps, sites, and interfaces. As Foursquare’s website says, “If it tells you where, it’s probably built on Foursquare.”
Good News for Democrats: Judge Roy Moore Mulling Another Senate Race in Alabama
By Ed Kilgore
Moore may want a rematch with Doug Jones because he thinks he was robbed, and a rematch would be a best-case scenario for the red-state Democrat.
the national interest
the national interest
The Most Unrealistic Promise Democrats Are Making Is to Restore Bipartisanship
By Jonathan Chait
Nothing the left has said is as hopelessly impossible as getting Mitch McConnell to work together with Democrats.
Things have gotten much worse for Jussie Smolett
A Chicago grand jury on Friday indicted Empire actor Jussie Smollett on 16 felony counts for allegedly lying to police about a supposed hate crime attack, according to multiple reports.
Smollett was charged last month with felony disorderly conduct and released on $100,000 bail.
The actor reported in late January he had been viciously attacked by two men who yelled pro-Donald Trump remarks mixed with racist and homophobic language.
Chicago detectives later determined that the Empire actor allegedly set up the highly publicized attack to further his career.
House Democrats Pass Landmark Voting Rights Bill on a Party-Line Vote
By Ed Kilgore
Back when the original Voting Rights Act passed, support and opposition were bipartisan. Now the parties have polarized on this issue too.
the national interest
the national interest
Instead of a New Press Chief, Trump Could Try Committing Fewer Crimes
By Jonathan Chait
Bill Shine is out as Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher–slash–White House communications director.
Tornado relief followed by some light sacrilege
Apparently, Democratic Voters Don’t Want an Anti-Trump
By Zak Cheney-Rice
Joe Biden continues to lead in most 2020 polls — even though he is arguably the Democrats’ most Trump-like option.
Adnan Syed hits a legal wall
BREAKING: Maryland’s highest court denies a new trial for a man whose murder conviction was chronicled in the hit podcast Serial.
What’s the rush, it’s just the future of democracy at stake
Demanding the president’s tax returns “is one of the first things we’d do” when Democrats control the House of Representatives, now-Speaker Nancy Pelosi told her hometown San Francisco Chronicle less than a month before the November 2018 midterm elections swept her party back into power. “[T]hat’s the easiest thing in the world,” she added. Congress is a “co-equal body of government,” and “[w]e have to have the truth.”
But more than two months after Pelosi took the speaker’s gavel, President Trump’s tax returns are still sitting in an IRS file cabinet, and no member of the “co-equal” Congress has had a look. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J) sayshis party will issue a formal demand for Trump’s returns in mid- to late March, but the one House Democrat who has the statutory authority to obtain the documents—Ways and Means Chair Richard Neal (D-Mass.)—insists he still doesn’t “have a timeline” for moving forward on the matter.
Voters who took Pelosi at her word last fall are right to feel frustrated. Obtaining the president’s tax returns was never going to be “the easiest thing in the world,” and it will likely require a legal battle that could go all the way to the Supreme Court. For that reason, it was important for House Democrats to think strategically about how to build the best case. But as weeks turn into months, the Democrats’ plodding progress starts to look less like strategizing and more like foot-dragging.
As if Venezuelans weren’t suffering enough, now there’s this
One of the most severe power outages in recent Venezuelan history stretched into a second day Friday, with hospital patients languishing in the dark, most supermarkets closed and phone service largely out in the oil-rich but economically collapsing country.
President Nicolás Maduro blamed the outage on sabotage by the U.S. government, which has backed an opposition effort to force out the authoritarian leader. He offered no evidence for the claim. He ordered schools and offices closed Friday because of the blackout.
The power outage affected most of the country, bringing the already fragile economy grinding to a virtual halt. Most stores and restaurants were closed, and streets in the crowded capital were virtually empty.
Some students at Sidwell Friends – where several presidents have sent their children – found a terrible way to get involved in the national discussion of anti-Semitism
High school students at the elite Sidwell Friends School displayed swastikas during an afternoon assembly Wednesday, the head of the D.C. private academy informed families in a letter.
The incident happened during an interactive portion of a presentation about a student-run nonprofit that uses soccer to build community among refugee children in the Washington region, according to the letter. The presenter had students use Kahoot, an online game that allows people to build their own quizzes, to answer questions.
Students responded by using their cellphones, and their answers were projected on large screens. But the projections were quickly turned off when an administrator saw that two of the students’ usernames included swastikas. Several other usernames expressed racist views of Asians and Native Americans, according to the letter.
“I am disappointed, dismayed, and deeply sorry that such an incident could take place at our School,” Bryan Garman, the head of the school, wrote in the letter to Sidwell families. “Racism and anti-Semitism will not be tolerated in this community.”
Trump’s Claim That Democrats Are an ‘Anti-Jewish Party’ Is Absurd
By Ed Kilgore
His reaction to the Ilhan Omar controversy ignores a century of strongly pro-Democratic Jewish sentiment, which continues today.
This is what happens when your boss insists on controlling his own message
Worth noting: Shine was the FIFTH White House communications director in two years. The search for a sixth begins.
Chelsea Manning is heading back to jail
Former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning will be held in jail until she testifies before a grand jury or that grand jury is no longer operating, a federal judge in Alexandria ruled Friday.
Most of the hearing at which prosecutors argued for Manning to held in contempt was sealed, but the court was open to the public for Judge Claude M. Hilton’s ruling.
“I’ve found you in contempt,” Hilton said. He ordered her to custody immediately, “either until you purge yourself or the end of the life of the grand jury.”
Manning was called to testify in an investigation into WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy website she shared classified documents with back in 2010. Manning served seven years of a 35 year prison sentence for her leak before receiving a commutation from then-President Barack Obama.
Apple Augmented-Reality Glasses Said to Be Coming in 2020
By Jake Swearingen
When Tim Cook promised shareholders a product that would “blow you away,” was this what he meant?
Some background on Bill Shine’s departure
Elizabeth Warren’s Plan to Break Up Big Tech Is Extremely Aggressive. Good.
By Brian Feldman and Max Read
Intelligencer tech writers Max Read and Brian Feldman react to Elizabeth Warren’s aggressive proposal to break up Silicon Valley megaplatforms
And now a big White House exit: Bill Shine is out
Bill Shine RESIGNS from White House job as deputy chief of staff for communications after 9 months. Statement from him says “I’m looking forward to working on President Trump’s reelection campaign and spending more time with my family.”
How Should We Talk About the Israel Lobby’s Power?
By Andrew Sullivan
Representative Ilhan Omar failed to address it effectively. But it’s a legitimately difficult thing to do.
Another Trump administration departure
WASHINGTON (AP) — US officials: Heather Wilson, top civilian leader of the Air Force, has resigned.
Elizabeth Warren lays out an ambitious plan to dismantle tech giants
Today’s big tech companies have too much power — too much power over our economy, our society, and our democracy. They’ve bulldozed competition, used our private information for profit, and tilted the playing field against everyone else. And in the process, they have hurt small businesses and stifled innovation.
I want a government that makes sure everybody — even the biggest and most powerful companies in America — plays by the rules. And I want to make sure that the next generation of great American tech companies can flourish. To do that, we need to stop this generation of big tech companies from throwing around their political power to shape the rules in their favor and throwing around their economic power to snuff out or buy up every potential competitor.
That’s why my Administration will make big, structural changes to the tech sector to promote more competition — including breaking up Amazon, Facebook, and Google.