The Biggest Lie Was from Lester Holt. It's Killing Our Democracy. Here's How to Solve It.

Before the faceoff between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, many were pleading that Lester Holt, the NBC anchor and moderator Monday night, be a "fact checker." 

Any delusions in that regard should have been dashed right away as he perpetrated a root falsehood at the very start of the event. 

Holt claimed that the event was "sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization. The commission drafted tonight’s format, and the rules have been agreed to by the campaigns."

While the CPD certainly controls much of the event, it's not a "nonpartisan" organization at all. It's about as far from nonpartisan as you can get. It's totally bipartisan. It's a creation of the Democratic and Republican parties designed to solidify their dominance over the public. 

Its origins are in an agreement "Memorandum of Agreement on Presidential Candidate Joint Appearances" from 1985 signed by Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr., then Chairman of the Republican National Committee, and Paul G. Kirk Jr., then Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. The two would go on to head the CPD. 

But that original agreement didn't even have the word "debates" in it. This Commission is the mechanism by which the Democratic and Republican parties came together to push aside the League of Women Voters, which had organized presidential debates before 1988. It was to make sure that the campaigns, not some independent entity, would decide on moderators, on formats -- and to critically exclude other participants unless both sides agreed. They simply wanted to ensure "televised joint appearances" -- which became emblematic of a pretense of democratic discourse.

Holt's fabrication -- he can't possibly be ignorant of this -- is really a root problem of our politics. All the lies and spin from Clinton and Trump largely manifest themselves because each side excuses them because "the other" is worse. That isthe very "bipartisan" structure of our elections is in large part responsible for the dynamics we're seeing. 

Normally decent people ignore all of Clinton's deceptions because they loathe Trump and normally decent people excuse Trump's fabrications because they detest Clinton. That's why candidates with incredibly high unfavorability ratings -- as Clinton and Trump famously have-- may still have millions voting for them, like two crumbling buildings help up by each other.

And the voters have "no where else to go" because they are in effect held prisoners by fear. Millions of people who might agree with other candidates -- Jill Stein of the Green Party or Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson or the Constitution party or socialist parties -- do not actually coalesce around those candidates because they fear helping Trump or Clinton. This mindset probably prevents stronger challengers to the duopoly from ever coming forward in the first place. 

There are two ways out of this that I see: 

* Pollsters: Pollsters can find ways of finding out what the public actually wants. That is, every tracking poll today has the same format -- some minor variation of "if the next election for president were held today, with Donald Trump as the Republican candidate, Hillary Clinton as the Democratic candidate, Gary Johnson the Libertarian candidate, and Jill Stein the Green Party candidate, for whom would you vote?" (NBC / Wall Street Journal

What pollsters are not doing is asking people who they actually want to be president. That is, there are lots of people who want Johnson or Stein, but feel like they have to vote for Clinton or Trump to stop the other. So while media outlets claim that Gary Johnson is at 8 percent in "the polls" and Jill Stein is at 3 percent in the "opinion polls" -- that's not accurate. They are not opinion polls. Polls are not gauging the actual views and beliefs of the public. They are ostensibly predicting a future event. But they are molding that reality as we go along. Most brazenly because the CPD has set 15 percent in these polls as the criteria for exclusion.

USA Today, 
in a refreshing departure from usual polling, recently found that 76 percent of the public want Stein and Johnson in the debates. And here's the kicker: When reformers suggested that someone should be included in the debates if a majority wanted them in, the heads of the Commission rejected the effort. Paul Kirk, now co-chairman emeritus of the CPD, said: "It's a matter of entertainment vs. the serious question of who would you prefer to be president of the United States." But that's the problem: The polls the CPD is relying on don't actually ask the public who they prefer to be president. We could have a "third party" candidate with plurality support and we wouldn't know it because the question to gauge that isn't asked of the public. 

Obvious recommendation: Pollsters should actually have an interest in the opinions of the public and ask them who they prefer to be president. 

* Voters Can Unite: The other way out of this seemingly perpetual duopoly bind is that voters come together. That's what I outline at VotePact.org: People who feel compelled to vote for Clinton because they detest Trump can team up with their opposite number. This requires real work. Instead of stopping Trump by voting for Clinton, a progressive can stop Trump by taking a vote away from him. 

That is, instead of a husband and wife who are actually unhappy with both Clinton and Trump casting votes that in effect cancel out each other -- one voting for Trump and the other for Clinton -- they can both vote for candidates they actually prefer. Each would be free to vote their preference -- Johnson, Stein, whoever. 

The progressive would undermine Trump not by voting for a candidate they don't trust -- Clinton -- but more skillfully: By taking a vote away from Trump. The conservative would not feel they have to suffer the indignity of voting for a candidate that's distasteful -- Trump -- they would instead succeed in depriving Clinton of a vote. 

It's that kind of outside the box thinking that's going to get us out of the binds that the ever duplicitous duopoly attempt to impose on the citizenry. 

Sam Husseini is the founder of VotePact.org.

"Memorandum of Agreement on Presidential Candidate Joint Appearances"

This is the text of the original "Memorandum of Agreement on Presidential Candidate Joint Appearances" -- from November 26, 1985. It would eventually lead to the creation of the so-called "Commission on Presidential Debates." 

Many are now wondering why moderators are not "fact checkers" at the "debates". It's partly because of this. These were never envisioned as "debates" -- they were "televised joint appearances" designed to take control of the debates away from the League of Women Voters or any somewhat independent entity. Notice the word "debate" does not appear in this document. The were designed especially to prevent inclusion of other candidates -- unless both sides wanted it. 
Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr., Chairman of the Republican National Committee, and Paul G. Kirk Jr., Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, acknowledge and recognize that nationally televised joint appearances by the presidential nominees of both parties have often played an important and constructive role in recent presidential campaigns. We hope that they will play a similar role in future presidential campaigns, and we hereby commit ourselves toward achieving that goal. We recognize, of course, that the ultimate decision regarding participation in joint appearances will necessarily be made by the nominees themselves. Nonetheless, this memorandum of agreement is intended to express our strong belief that joint appearances deserve to be made a permanent and integral part of the presidential election process and our determination to bring this about.

It is our bipartisan view that a primary responsibility of each major political party is to educate and inform the American electorate o its fundamental philosophy and policies as well as its candidates’ positions on critical issues. One of the most effective means of fulfilling that responsibility is through nationally televised joint appearances conducted between the presidential and vice presidential nominees of the two major political parties during general election campaigns. Therefore, to better fulfill our parties’ responsibilities for education and informing the American public and to strengthen the role of political parties in the electoral process, it is our conclusion that future joint appearances should be principally and jointly sponsored and conducted by the Republican and Democratic National Committees.

We believe that the format and most other details of joint appearances for each general election campaign should be determined through negotiations between the chairmen and the nominees of the two political parties (or their designees) following the nominating conventions of each presidential election year.

We thank the League of Women Voters for having effectively laid the groundwork on which we are building today. We hope that the League will continue to offer it experience advice and resources to the joint appearance process.

[signed by Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr., Chairman of the Republican National Committee, and Paul G. Kirk Jr., Chairman of the Democratic National Committee.]

For critical context and background, see "'Debates' -- or 'Televised Joint Appearances'?"

Document via George Farah, author of No Debate: How the Republican and Democratic Parties Secretly Control the Presidential Debates. For later Memorandum of Understanding between campaigns, see: opendebates.org/key-documents

Trump Going to Mexico is not the Real Irony. NAFTA Is.

Many are shocked that Donald Trump announced he is going to Mexico today. That misses the real ironies here: NAFTA -- and how this should be a boon to the Green Party. 

First the obvious stuff: Donald Trump is playing to xenophobic sentiments. His "solutions" are in large part twisted or beside the point, for example, U.S. government has largely already built the wall.  

One real irony is that Trump is appealing for votes based on trade issues. His criticism of NAFTA rightly resonates with many in the U.S. Lots of workers have lost out because of NAFTA and other so-called "trade deals." These deals are actually largely investment protection agreements that help the huge corporations and the wealthy in the U.S., Mexico and other countries. That's people like Trump and people and corporations like those who fund Hillary Clinton. Meanwhile, these secretive deals often rook regular folks wherever they live. 

But Trump -- and many other critics in the U.S. -- only talk about how NAFTA has hurt U.S. workers. Largely unacknowledged in the U.S. is how it has devastated Mexican family farms and small industry -- which leads to desperate migration from Mexico to the U.S. (along with the drug war). 

So, redoing NAFTA would actually help stem desperate migration that is the source of much of Trump's support. 

The Anti-Muslim Origins of "The Star-Spangled Banner"

As several writers have noted -- before and after the furor surrounding quarterback Colin Kaepernick's refusing to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner" -- the national anthem is racist. Specifically, the third stanza: 

No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.


Even less well know, the song originates in slaveowner Francis Scott Key's "When the Warrior Returns" -- which was set to the same tune. 

As Alex Cockburn, the deceased and much missed co-editor of CounterPunch, noted following President Obama's much celebrated 2009 address in Cairo:

An early version of the “Star Spangled Banner” by Francis Scott Key, written in 1805 amid the routing of the Barbary states, offered a view of Islam markedly different from Obama’s uplifting sentiments in Cairo:

Selling a Lifetime Subscription to the Politics of Fear

The Washington Post -- and much of the establishment -- wants you to buy a lifetime subscription to the politics of fear.

Dana Milbank, a columnist for the paper, popped up at Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein's news conference that focused on climate change. After Stein noted that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have gotten billions in free media, he chimed in: "Dana Milbank with the Washington Post segment of the corporate media. I have a conundrum I want to present to you. I could write about today and others could report here about what an important issue climate change is. And we would publish it or broadcast it. The fact is very few people will read it. They will go read or view stories about Trump's staff machinations or Clinton's e-mails. I'm not sure the issue is necessarily a corporate media but what people are demanding. Why is that? What is the way around that if there is one?"

Milbank is pretending to be so concerned about what it is people want. What came to mind for me was John Milton's aphorism: "They who have put out the people's eyes reproach them of their blindness."

Jill Stein: On Debates and "the Politics of Fear"


I may write more about this later, but here's a transcript (based on the C-Span transcript) of my questioning Green Party candidate Jill Stein at a news conference today at the National Press Club that largely addressed climate change and the election. Recommend people see the full video -- there were several interesting exchanges. I tried and failed to get another question in later in the news conference. 

How Presidential "Non-Opinion" Polls Drive Down Third Party Numbers and Facilitate Debate Exclusion

This week, the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates announced what polls it will utilize in excluding candidates from its debates. 

The CPD says candidates like the Libertarian Party's Gary Johnson and the Green Party's Jill Stein must get 15 percent in polls conducted by "five national public opinion polling organizations" -- ABC/Washington Post, CBS/New York Times, CNN/Opinion Research Corporation, Fox News, and NBC/Wall Street Journal.

Not only -- as several have correctly argued -- is the 15 percent threshold arbitrary and exclusionary, but these polls don't actually ask voter preferences at all. 

They all ask "If the presidential election were being held today for whom would you vote?" or some minor variation of that.

Who you want or prefer and what you would do in the voting booth may be very different things. These "public opinion polls" don't actually measure opinion -- they are a non-opinion polls. They ask a false hypothetical regarding a future action. 

A better public opinion question would be: "Who do you want to be president" or "Who do you prefer to be president?" or "Who is your first choice to be president?" 

By contrast, the question that the CPD relies on from these media organizations -- if held today, who would you vote for -- is a tactical question. As has become increasingly clear, there are many people who would like Gary Johnson or Jill Stein to be president. However, many who fear Trump or Clinton are currently planning on voting for Clinton or Trump. 

Each of the dominant candidates is using fear of the other to prevent public opinion from manifesting itself. 

Our voting system puts voters in a bind, making it difficult for them to vote their true preference. 

But public opinion polling should be a relief from that. Such polling should find out what the public thinks and wants -- especially if the electoral system doesn't allow for those choices. But that's not what's happening. The "tracking" poll question that's being used over and over and obsessed over by all these organizations is actually disguising public opinion. And then the CPD, acting on behalf of the two major parties, is using that to exclude third party candidates from the debates, further marginalizing any public thinking that questions the establishment parties. 

This is more egregious since the CPD has basically asked for the "who do you want/prefer to be president" question to be used. 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."