Progressives Need to Think Through Implications of Flynn's Resignation

[A slightly edited version of this was first published by The Progressive.]

Many so-called progressives are stoked that Trump's National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, resigned charges surrounding his discussions with a Russian ambassador while Trump was president-elect.

Congressional Democrats want to use this to go after Trump. Rep. Nancy Pelosi: "After Flynn resignation, FBI must accelerate its investigation of the Trump Administration's Russian connection."

Even before Flynn's resignation, Rep. Maxine Waters did a segment on "Democracy Now:" "Trump Should Be Impeached If He Colluded with Russians Ahead of Election." 

There's certainly reasons to want to see Flynn go -- he recently put Iran "on notice" while the White House tried to gin up the case against Iran

And there are obvious reasons to try to impeach Trump that don't require congress people to qualify them with an "if" -- his violations of the "emoluments clauses."

But it's perhaps easier, more "nationalistic" and ultimately horrifying for "progressives" and others with an alleged interest in peace to be harping on the Russian angle. 

The Clinton campaign repeated that time and again during the campaign -- with disastrous results. Clinton talked about Russia and Trump talked about jobs in the rust belt. Guess who won the presidency?  

Many so-called progressives are in effect making an alliance with the most war-mongering parts of the U.S. establishment. They are in effect buttressing incredibly dubious notions of U.S. victimology and demonizing official enemies that increase U.S. militarism and the likelihood for confrontation with the other nation on the planet that could destroy the planet a hundred times over. 

Trump had just reportedly turned down Elliott Abrams' bid to be number two at the State Department. That was a good thing. Elliott Abrams was part of the Iran-Contra scandal and needed a Christmas Eve pardon from George H.W. Bush. He backed death squads in Central America. He then did a stint in the George W. Bush administration in charge of "democracy promotion" and was almost certainly behind still unaccountable horrors by Israel and in Iraq and elsewhere. 

But he somehow gets depicted as "reasonable" by many. In fact, just as the major media were closing in on Flynn, Elliott Abrams appeared on CNN, saying he thought Steve Bannon was behind him not getting the job. Damn that crazy Bannon for apparently blocking a certifiable war criminal. 

Trump won the presidency in large part because he was a Republican who could with minimal credibility talk about being against the "establishment." I didn't buy it, but lots of people did. He won an election that I doubt many in the vast Republican field could have. Trump talked about non-intervention, he talked about preserving Social Security and Medicare. 

One upshot of the Flynn resignation is that Vice President Mike Pence, a white "Christian" nationalist, who is also is a darling of both Wall Street and the "neo con" interventionists comes out smelling like roses. Trump is a twisted narcissist who is a political opportunist. But Pence is likely what a lot of people claim Trump is. 

Flynn was compelled to resign in large part because what is euphemistically called the "intelligence community" apparently had recording of his dealings with Russian representatives that he allegedly mischaracterized. 

This implies that people will be held accountable for their falsehoods if -- and only if -- their stance upsets the CIA, NSA, et al. 

It's worth keeping in mind that when Trump seem to challenge this part of the permanent government in January, leading Democrat Chuck Schumer said Trump was "really dumb" for attacking the intelligence agencies. Said Schumer: “Let me tell you, you take on the intelligence community, they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you.”

And what else did we just see happening as Flynn was resigning? Steven Mnuchin, from the good folks at Goldman Sachs was confirmed as Treasury Secretary. The case against Mnuchin is so massive and his Wall Street / Goldman Sachs / Soros / foreclosure king / Skull and Bones pedigree is so not "populist" that it's quite remarkable that he was able to get through. 

Virtually all the Democrats in the Senate did vote against Mnuchin. But they all knew that that wouldn't stop him. Schumer got to put out some populist rhetoric, conveniently ignoring his own deep ties to Wall Street. 

Four of Schumer's top funders through his political career are in insurance and finance: Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase & Co, Credit Suisse Group. Heck, he even took money from Mnuchin himself. 

Wall Street and other corporate interests are quite firmly in control of the Democrats in Congress and Trump has put them in power in his cabinet. Part of the twisted dynamic is that the populist / nationalist wing of the Trump administration would disappear were he to disappear as Flynn has. 

Trump is an obvious con artist and is not to be trusted. I'd bet his attempts at a detente with Russia have to do with profiteering -- or worse, with trying to go after China or such. But the crit to date bares more resemblance to the Republican obsession with Benghazi than with an attempt to meaningfully try to change U.S. agressions around the world. 

But any meaningful critique of Trump can't possibly be one that demonizes the other major nuclear power, especially given the litany of U.S. illegal aggression around the world, including it's provocations against Russia -- such as violating promises and expanding NATO to Russia's border. Besides, Putin makes U.S. allies like israel and Saudi Arabia look like idyllic democratic wonderlands. 

If only all these liberals scrutinized presidents when they want to go to war like they do Trump when he wants to make peace with Putin.

Farid Yousef Husseiny, 1932-2017

My dad died this [Thursday] morning in Amman -- as he had been saying he wanted. It was fairly fast. I was with him. I'd gotten up around 9, saw him going back to bed from the bathroom, gave him a rub on the back as he went for more sleep and a few minutes later, I heard gasping. I thought maybe he was having a bad dream, but he was gasping for breath, seemed to pull away his oxygen tube. I put it back, kept rubbing and patting, called my cousin Hind who was coming over and neighbors who called 911. We were supposed to fly to the US tonight for a TAVR heart valve operation. He spent last night talking to pastor neighbor, saying he wanted to be with Jesus, that his sins were cleansed. I took this picture of him yesterday, proudly showing his file of documentation of our family's property around Tiberius, stolen by the Israeli state agencies.

I Correct Schumer Fudging What Medicare Privatization Would Mean and He Pretends He Was Being Honest All Along

The new Democratic Senate Leader Chuck Schumer began his remarks at the recent "Hands Off Medicare" event [video below] by noting that he and Bernie Sanders -- another speaker at the event -- both went to James Madison High School in Brooklyn. Said Schumer: "Bernie was on the track team and they won the city championship. I was on the basketball team. We weren't that good our motto was 'we may be small -- but we're slow.'"

The quip turned out to be rather apt. 

At the event, Schumer went on about about how privatization of Medicare would mean that doctors could charge what they wanted. I call him on this -- he was totally omitting the role of the insurance companies -- and he responded by basically pretending that he was saying that all along. 

In contrast, Sanders in his opening statement railed: "The leadership of the Republican Party in the House, in the Senate and Mr. Trump have got to start listening to the American people not the drug companies not the insurance companies -- not the billionaire class." Similarly, Sandra Falwell of National Nurses United argued the U.S. needed to stop wasting "tax dollars by subsidize profit making health insurance corporations." 

In contrast, that wasn't what Schumer was saying in his opening remarks at all. Like other speakers, he criticized Rep. Tom Price, Trump's HHS nominee, who, like House Speaker Paul Ryan is a longtime nemesis of Medicare, but then he said the following: "Doctor Price seems to say we ought to let doctors run the whole show because he's a doctor. There are some good doctors and there are some not such good doctors. We've all seen both. And too many doctors and other health care providers, without some oversight, will charge every senior as much as they can. That's what privatization means: Let your doctor charge you whatever he or she wants. We don't want that to happen." [at 11:30 in the video.]

So, when question time rolled around [at 26:30], I asked: "You claimed just now that privatization of Medicare would mean your doctor gets to charge you whatever they want. That's not my understanding, privatization of Medicare would mean that they would cut a deal with the insurance companies." I also noted that his comments almost seem to minimize the role that the insurance companies, which he of course, along with other sectors of finance, takes a lot of money from -- including Trump's nominee for Treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs partner. (Indeed, four of Schumer's top funders through his political career are in insurance and finance: Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase & Co, Credit Suisse Group.)

So I asked: "Can you defend that remark?" 

Schumer responded: "Yes absolutely. I can absolutely defend it. First of all of course it lets the insurance companies do what they want. --

Husseini: Right. 

Schumer: But it also lets individual doctors do what they want and they're going to tell the insurance companies together will get together and decide the price. 

Sam: Right -- 

Schumer: Right now Medicare --

Husseini: So why did you -- 

Schumer: -- No no no. I'm going to answer your question now please sir. Medicare right now sets limits on prices because it's government run. Privatization means the private sector, both the insurance companies and the doctors, set the price without regard with what the patients can afford. OK. Yes.

Schumer tried to forestall a follow up with: "Yes, go ahead, next question!" 

I noted, though barely audible on the video: "I trust you'll include the role of insurance companies from now on."

Basically, what Schumer wants to have happen is people to blame their doctors for all the ills -- pretending that the insurance companies are not a huge part of the problem and threat. Only after confronted did Schumer acknowledge the role of insurance companies in threatening to privatize Medicare. His closeness to finance means that he can't speak honestly about problems and threats even when he's taking a reasonable stance of "Hands off Medicare."

Still, it was somewhat satisfying to basically shame Schumer into talking about the role of the insurance companies. It illustrates that asking pointed, timely questions can change to course of a politician's remarks on an issue. 

But this highlights a real problem in the current setup of the Democratic Party. Sanders -- whatever shortcomings he might have -- is in the position of largely of bringing people in with his populist rhetoric as "outreach chair" for the Democrats in the Senate. But ultimate policy is largely determined by Schumer as minority leader, who is very closely tied to big finance and will act as a sophisticated apologist for it on the major issues at any opportunity. 

Video of event:

Navigating the Trump Crisis: Both "Anti-Trump" and "Give Him a Chance" Are Wrong

Two views seem to be dominant among progressives regarding Donald Trump: Either protest all he does, people are holding "anti-Trump" rallies -- or "Give Him a Chance", let's see what he does, maybe it will be okay. 

Both the demonizes and those urging a passive approach are wrong.

"Anti-Trump" is hollow. Trump is a human being who has said a lot of contradictory things. To protest a person is dubious. Too often, "progressives" have simply galvanized against a person -- remember "Anybody But Bush"? That's not a particularly uplifting way of approaching things and doesn't lead to genuinely positive outcomes. 

You can certainly talk about rights for immigrants or women's rights or ensuring anti-Muslim policies do not escalate. But to say "anti-Trump" or to ignore good things that Trump has said is hollow. And, yes, there are good things he's said, for example, during the primaries, he attacked the regime change wars waged by George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton: 

We've spent $4 trillion trying to topple various people that frankly, if they were there and if we could've spent that $4 trillion in the United States to fix our roads, our bridges, and all of the other problems; our airports and all of the other problems we've had, we would've been a lot better off. I can tell you that right now.

But it also doesn't make sense to say "let's see what he does". To stand aside is to allow Trump to be cutting deals with Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who will doubtlessly work to take away what populist, anti-interventionist and pro-working class instincts Trump may potentially otherwise follow.  

Bernie Sanders has in recent days struck a reasonable tone at times. In this interview and in a statement just after the election, he said: “Donald Trump tapped into the anger of a declining middle class that is sick and tired of establishment economics, establishment politics and the establishment media. ... To the degree that Mr. Trump is serious about pursuing policies that improve the lives of working families in this country, I and other progressives are prepared to work with him. To the degree that he pursues racist, sexist, xenophobic and anti-environment policies, we will vigorously oppose him.”

The Threatening Dynamics Behind a Secretary of State Giuliani

Many media are reporting that Rudolph Giuliani is slated to be nominated as Secretary of State [New York Times: "Secretary of State Giuliani? He's the Leading Choice, Trump Aides Say"]. This would likely mean that he is being backed by Mike Pence, VP-elect, now head of the Trump transition. Pence of course is a major figure in the so-called Christian Right. In 2007, many were surprised that Pat Robertson backed Giuliani for president. At that time, I wrote the following piece arguing that it actually made a good deal of sense. 

"Giuliani, Robertson and Israel."

Many from across the political spectrum seemed surprised when Pat Robertson recently endorsed Rudy Giuliani for president, but this was only the most recent manifestation one of the worst aspects of the relationship between Christianity and the state. As Blase Bonpane, whose books include Liberation Theology and the Central American Revolution has written:

“Back in the fourth century when the Emperor Constantine called the Council of Nicaea on the Turkish coast … imperial theology was born. The sword and the cross came together in building empires, in the Crusades, the Inquisition, the conquistadors and most recently among the ‘Christian’ war mongers who are cheerleaders for the war in Iraq.”

Bill Berkowitz has noted the most pertinent statements from Giuliani and Robertson:

"We had a lot of time coming back from Israel to talk about our understanding of how important Israel is to the United States, how important they are in this whole vast effort that we’re involved in this terrorist war against us," Giuliani recently told Radio Iowa. "We realized that we agreed on far many more things than we disagreed on."

For Robertson, Election 2008 is not about the bread and butter social issues that have fueled the conservative Christian movement for more than two decades. Rather, it is about the "defense of our population against the bloodlust of Islamic terrorists," Robertson told the National Press Club audience. "Our world faces deadly peril…and we need a leader with a bold vision who is not afraid to tackle the challenges ahead."

All this is notable, but it only touches on some of the deeper reasons why you see an alliance between the likes of Robertson and Giuliani and what that says about the nature of how religion is used in the political sphere today and for centuries — going back to the oldest books of the Bible.

Election helps bring into view serious issues in polling

I just posted this on the American Association for Public Opinion Research listserve.

While I certainly agree that framing etc huge problem, doesn't seem to me that this gets at critical issues made evident from what happened.

There of course is a spiral of silence with regard to "third party" candidates. Stein and Johnson supporters concluded that voting was futile, as was the framing in media and polling reports throughout.

What I think is happening is the public is lurching for real change and the political system doesn't want to give it to them. Pollsters role in this is that the "prediction" of election has totally outweighed actually understanding the public's views. No poll asked who people WANT or PREFER to be president. Why?

No scientific poll asked the preference question in RCV or Range Voting form. A wealth of information could be gotten this way. A huge part of this is that this is just no on agenda of major media. But if polling is to be anything other than an accessory for media framing of whatever corporate media want to frame, then something very real has to give here.

There's a volatility in the polls because of the hunger for change and the sense that the choice (apparently feasible choices) are probably phony. There could be a plurality for a "third party" and we'd never know it because the right question isn't being asked, much less reported prominently, understood.

Sam Husseini
VotePact.org

Democracy Now's Non-Correction on Nuclear Vote


After I posted my piece on Friday, "Democracy Now" changed the transcript to read

The United Nations on Thursday voted overwhelmingly to start talks aimed at abolishing all nuclear weapons. The landmark resolution will see the U.N. convene a conference next year to negotiate a legally binding instrument for worldwide nuclear prohibition. The vote was 123-38, with 16 countries abstaining. [Not supporting the measure] were all nine known nuclear states: China, Russia, France, the U.K., India, Pakistan, Israel, North Korea and the United States.

But this is also incorrect. As I noted in my piece, North Korea in fact voted for the proposal. There has apparently been no on-air correction or pseudo-correction -- the following program's headlines made no mention of the vote. 

This is no minor matter. What's needed is a basic acknowledgement and understanding of the role the U.S. government and NATO play in ensuring the continuation of the nuclear weapons threat. "Democracy Now" is unwilling to make that acknowledgement. 

"Democracy Now" Gets Nuclear Ban Vote Totally Wrong

"Democracy Now" sadly continues its descent, which I've alluded to occasionally on twitter. To fully tell this story would require a very long and detailed piece, but the latest chapter of this is worth noting in more than a tweet as it happens. On this morning's headlines, Amy Goodman claimed: 

The United Nations on Thursday voted overwhelmingly to start talks aimed at abolishing all nuclear weapons. The landmark resolution will see the U.N. convene a conference next year to negotiate a legally binding instrument for worldwide nuclear prohibition. The vote was 123-38, with 16 countries abstaining. Voting against were all nine known nuclear states: China, Russia, France, Britain, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea as well as the United States. [Note, this is wording as broadcast, the transcript is minorly different.] 

In fact, China, India and Pakistan abstained. North Korea actually voted for the resolution. As even the AP correctly reported: "The United States, Russia, Israel, France and the United Kingdom were among the countries voting against the measure." See country by country breakdown results from International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. See excellent map from ILPI. If you're still skeptical, see actual pic of vote board

The Huge Problem with Polls: My Letter to Frank Newport

This letter was sent on Sept. 24 -- via an intermediary who knows him well -- to Frank Newport of Gallup, the pollster adviser to the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates. I've received no response. Ironically, Newport is author of Polling Matters: Why Leaders Must Listen to the Wisdom of the People. I think a close reading of the letter shows that Newport has hardly taken his own advice. 
-- Sam Husseini


Dear Frank Newport --

I believe I have found a significant blind spot in the exclusion criteria used by the CPD. When some suggested alternative criteria for inclusion in presidential debates, like if a majority wanted another candidate to be in the debates, the heads of the CPD rejected the effort. Then-CPD Director and former Republican Senator Alan Simpson said: “The issue is who do you want to be president. It’s not who do you want to do a dress rehearsal and see who can be the cutest at the debate.” Similarly, Paul Kirk, the then-co-chair of the CPD (now co-chairman emeritus) and former head of the Democratic National Committee, said: “It’s a matter of entertainment vs. the serious question of who would you prefer to be president of the United States.” (Citation in google books, "No Debate" by George Farah.) 

But none of the polls the CPD is relying on for its exclusion criteria actually ask the "serious question of who you would prefer to be president of the United State" -- nor do they ask "who do you want to be president."

They all ask some minor variation of "if the election were held today which of the following would you vote for". I hope that it's apparent to you that for many people who they "want" to be president among the choices given (Clinton, Trump, Johnson and Stein) is different than who they would vote for. Voting is a tactical choice based largely (especially in this election) on wanting to ensure the candidate you least like does not become president. Thus, millions intend to vote for Trump because they don't want Clinton and millions more will vote the opposite. But many of those people prefer or actually want Johnson or Stein. Those who "want" or "prefer" Johnson or Stein could even constitute a plurality and we'd never know it because the question that would gauge that is never asked. 

[This wording, "if the election were held today] -- which David Moore has described as starting as a "gimmick" may well ironically now be a serious impediment to understanding the affirmative preference of the public, since it has displaced other measurements of public opinion and preference in this critical regard. 

As the pollster adviser to the CPD, it's my view that it's incumbent upon you to ensure that the polls the CPD relies upon actually gauge the "serious" question the CPD officials publicly claim the CPD is concerned with: Who do you prefer/want to be president. 

I hope you will concur, but in either case, I would most welcome your thoughts on this important matter. As I've talked to pollsters since submitting a legal brief on this matter in June, it's become apparent that many pollsters are not free to ask the questions they want to ask, they are frequently at the mercy of the media outlets they work for. I hope that your intellectual honesty will compel you to address this potentially fatal blind spot immediately. (See "How Presidential 'Non-Opinion' Polls Drive Down Third Party Numbers and Facilitate Debate Exclusion")

Look forward to your positive and enlightened response.

best regards, 

Sam Husseini