Rep. Omar's Choice

As a virtual lynch mob moves to chastise Rep. Ilhan Omar over her recent remarks around Israel, the new congresswoman basically has three options before her: (1) Fold; (2) Continue the back and forth of the last several weeks or (3) Get more specific and expand the public critique. 

Fold: Like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Omar herself can go largely silent on Israel. She can perhaps even offer a bigger apology than she did before or she can find some other way to draw closer to the establishment. This is a convenient path. 

Continue the Current Pattern: Thus far, Rep. Omar has made statements about the Israel lobby and support for Israel that at one level are obviously true: 

* "It's all about the benjamins": The pro-Israel lobby uses money to further its interests in Congress, just as virtually any other well-funded lobby does; 

* "I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is ok for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country. And I want to ask, why is it ok for me to talk about the influence of the NRA, of fossil fuel industries, or Big Pharma, and not talk about a powerful lobby." There are some in the U.S. establishment that have loyalty to Israel rivaling if not exceeding what they have for the United States. 

The issue with these statement is that in addition to being true, is that they are being read by some to play to ugly anti-Jewish refrains if limited to Jews: They use money to control, they love Israel, not the U.S. The problem with the second readings of them is that they require -- at best -- a remarkably a high level of sensitivity regarding Rep. Omar's actual words. This may well be the reason the draft text of the resolution effectively targeting Rep. Omar reportedly doesn't actually mention her -- because they're not actually referencing her words. As Abba Solomon noted to me: "AIPAC allies should stop hiding behind Jews, and Democratic politicians should stop feigning such sensitivity to Jewish feelings when Zionist lobbying is the subject." Indeed, some of the readings are akin to being offended by someone saying the word "gypped" -- it really is an offensive word to Roma, but it is widely used with hardly anyone blinking an eye. 

Questions at Doomsday Clock Event


I asked about Russiagate and Israel's nuclear arsenal at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Doomsday Clock event Thursday at the National Press Club. 

Here's transcript: 

Sam Husseini: I'd like to raise two things that I don’t believe have come up explicitly and I'd like you address them. One, explicitly, is Russiagate. Several people including fellow Nation writer Steve Cohen, a Russia expert, have warned that the focusing and the charges and demonization of Putin have reached such a level that they cause a threat, that they increase the instability and the dangers between the U.S. and Russia. If someone could make an assessment about the dangers of that. I am not talking about Trump’s tweets. I am talking about the Democratic party establishment and allied media. And the other thing that I don’t believe has come up, there's been some discussions about Iran, is Israel's nuclear weapons arsenal. Israel just targeted Iranian forces inside Syria. We have Turkey, a NATO member bound by Article 5, involved in Syria as well. It is my understanding that the U.S. government has refused to even acknowledge the existence of Israel's nuclear weapons arsenal, which was of course exposed years ago by Mordichai Vanunu . Do you recommend a change in that and can you address how that long-standing abnormal can be addressed?

Warren Works Up Economy, Not War

In her New Years Eve announcement forming an exploratory committee for the presidency, Sen. Elizabeth Warren made a great point: "Right now, Washington works great for the wealthy and the well-connected. It's just not working for anyone else."

In case you missed that, she pointedly did not say "the economy isn't working well" or such, as we've all heard numerous politicos say countless times.

She rather said the opposite of that -- repeatedly: "The way I see it right now, Washington works great for giant drug companies, but just not for people who are trying to get a prescription filled. Washington works great for for-profit colleges and student loan outfits, but not for young people who are getting crushed by student loan debt. And you could keep going through the list. The problem we have got right now in Washington is that it works great for those who've got money to buy influence."

And in case anyone at all missed the point, she said it yet again: "We want a government that works not just for the rich and the powerful. We want a government that works for everyone."

It's laudatory that Warren is using her perch and analytical skills to avoid a common rhetorical trap and is articulating the truism that the political establishment largely does the bidding of the wealthy and connected when it comes to the economy.

The problem is that she doesn't articulate that in the same manner when it comes to bloody wars. Quite the contrary. That is, she says that she goes down a list -- drug companies, for-profit colleges and student loan outfits -- but that list doesn't seem to include those who have an interest in continuing horrific wars.

The Most Strategic Midterm Race: Elder Challenges Hoyer

[Portrait of House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer by Sarah Darley made up of logos of his largest funders.]

Especially with Brett Kavanaugh's accession to the Supreme Court, many are understandably absorbed with the importance of trying to end the Republican majorities in Congress for the midterm elections.

But simply always backing Democrats will likely propel the party further toward the establishment corporate right. If voters are just going to get behind a Democratic candidate no matter what, there's no incentive for them to be progressive in any sense.

Some may point to some new left-leaning candidates coming out of the Democratic Party. But even the most optimistic assessment of these candidates much acknowledge they are far outnumbered by establishment Democratic Party incumbents.

And there's a reason for that: Establishment apparatchiks in the Democratic Party go around the country kneecapping candidates who might, maybe, have some actual progressive tendencies.

Exhibit A is Steny Hoyer, the Democratic Whip in the House of Representatives who was caught on a secret audio recording doing exactly that earlier this year.

Now, noted activist and author Pat Elder is challenging Hoyer. If people of whatever stripe -- Democratic, Green, independent, whatever -- want to challenge the Democratic Party establishment, then strongly backing Elder's campaign is perhaps the shrewdest move they can make right now.

Earlier this year, Lee Fang of The Intercept reported, based on secretly taped audio, how Hoyer works "to crush competitive primaries and steer political resources, money, and other support to hand-picked candidates in key races across the country." 

Young and Professional Kavanaugh: "It's All Part of the Same Scummy Guy"

I don't often think fondly of Christopher Hitchens, but an insight of my ex-friend did brighten my eyes the last week.  

Specifically, after I sent out a series of news releases effectively arguing that then-president Bill Clinton should be impeached "for the right reasons" -- specifically, illegal bombings, Hitchens objected. He argued that the distinction between Clinton's personal and professional actions was a false one, that "it's all part of the same scummy guy."

As some argue that Kavanaugh shouldn't be judged on actions he committed when he was 17, are they pretending they are ignorant of his professional record, of his pattern of lying under oath even before Ford came forward?

Are we to act as though Kavanaugh's apparent attempted rape of Christine Blasey Ford has no relation to his backing torture?

Are we supposed to pretend that there's no connection between being a privileged hoodlum and flacking for corrupt presidents and corporations?

Are we supposed to just go along as though there's no relationship between putting misogynistic crap on your high school yearbook and expecting to get away with it and brazenly lying about it under oath decades later?  

Should we really pretend that having a high school cabal who clearly seem to use their sense of privilege (Kavanaugh's mother was a judge) to get away with whatever they want to do doesn't relate to cliquish associations like the Federalist Society, using the law to further the interests of elites?

The problem is that the power of privilege is used to cause silence among those who are not part of it.

Where are those "values voters" I hear about? 

I've heard feminists say to the point of cliché that rape "isn't about sex, it's about power". I've seen a few articles pointing out the "power of sexual violence" exposed by Ford's testimony, but virtually no utterance connecting that violence and will to power to Kavanaugh's professional work.

Kavanaugh didn't just apparently try to rape Ford years ago, he shamelessly lied about it now, openly falsifying what terms he used meant -- as he lied under oath about other things regarding is professional work to the Senate Judiciary Committee. With Barely. Anyone. Raising. Their. Voice. At. Him

Kavanaugh -- like Oliver North and Clarence Thomas before him -- was able to use a faux anger to bully punching bag Democrats who seemed more concerned about appearing judicious than winning. Many ask if Kavanaugh has the temperament to be a judge, almost to preclude more substantial arguments against him. The unasked question is if the Democrats have the temperament to be effective. 

Who showed fire in their belly and articulated Kavanaugh's lying under oath? Who went for the jugular? Sen. Dick Durbin came close to doing so about Kavanaugh failing to call for an FBI investigation -- and then a (pathetic) FBI investigation happened. That should be a lesson. 

Kavanaugh, when he was working for Ken Starr, suggested that Clinton be asked “If Monica Lewinsky says you inserted a cigar into her vagina while you were in the Oval Office area, would she be lying?”

Where was the senator asking "If someone says 'boofing' means anal sex and not flatulence as you claim and 'Devil's Triangle isn't a drinking game as you claim under oath, but a reference to sex between two males and a female, would they be lying?" or "Amnesty International has recommended that your nomination be slowed since you could be involved in violations of international law. So, are you a war criminal?"

Such a senator was not to be found. Some senators laid the basis for showing Kavanaugh lied under oath. And perhaps they expect that he will be impeached once they get a majority. But who knows what happens between now and then. 

In terms of making the case to the public in a way that could not be ignored, they at best fell short. The best a few senators could bring themselves to do was mumble something about perjury when what was needed was to do down the litany. 

By contrast, it would appear Kavanaugh, who was charged with getting right-wing judges through congress during the Bush administration, rolled out his own nomination by inoculating himself against the weakness he knew he had: Stressing his credentials as a girl's basketball coaching, loving dad to his daughters and mentor to females in the legal profession. 

And then he and Republican senators put on their act of moral outrage that should have come from the critics of Kavanaugh. Perhaps there was some of the genuine anger in the streets in protests against Kavanaugh -- that seem to have come too little too late -- but at best rarely from the committee hearing room. 

And those optics largely prevailed -- all part of the same scummy system. 

Craig Newmark on Open Source Social Media Platform: "Don't know if there is a need for that" @craignewmark

Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist spoke at the National Press Club yesterday, largely about spending $20 million to back The Markup. 

Only one of my several questions got in without getting mangled: 

Question: "Do you think there should be an open source social media platform?"

Craig Newmark: "Boy, I don't know if there is a need for that. Just reflexively almost, I supports open source almost automatically. The idea is that some people have tried to do that -- I think one of them recently shut down because of lack of interest. I do think as more and more of the ethics of our social media platforms, as more and more of that is explored, I think things are going to get better for all of us. One of the big problems for example is the lack of informed consent. A social media platform should clearly tell you what it is collecting, who they will share it with and so on. And those things are happening. I am involved with the Center for Humane Technology which is doing that kind of thing, and for that matter, there is the European GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation], which goes ways in that direction, requiring platforms to tell you, hey, here is what we are going to tell about you and here is what we are going to show about you. Different countries have different flavors. Some opt in, some opt out. And that's a controversial topic because implementing that is going to be hard for some people but I can see all of those areas improving. And I am committed."

Here's the video, that question is at about 45 min.

(Other questions I submitted included if Russiagate possibly threatens humanity (totally garbled so the point was unclear) and couple of questions on possible nationalization or democratic control over internet corporations (dumbed down to "do you favor regulation"). Newmark  repeatedly said he doesn't think any good regulation will come from DC, kept mentioning Sacramento, was kind of a running gag in his talk.)

McCain as Confederate

The day after John McCain died, I happened to visit a memorial to Confederate prisoners of war at Point Lookout, Maryland. Flying a Confederate flag overhead, the monument seemly ironically features a quote at the base from Maya Angelou. 

I realized there the way I felt about the soldiers commemorated there was decidedly similar how I felt about John McCain the POW in Vietnam: They both fought for a cause that was unjust and ended up enduring real suffering.

We can feel some measure of compassion for human agony regardless of the morality of the person living it. Celebrations of anguish, whether of John McCain's death or Usamah Bin Ladin's killing leave me simply sad. 

Of course, celebrations over the assassination of Bin Ladin were commonplace in the U.S. and McCain's death has prompted a virtual media and political deification of a serial war criminal. In a sense, he represents the latest example of Trumpwashing -- that is, the laudatory echo chamber around McCain is fueled in large part by an at least implicit put down of the current psudo isolationist president who, for better or worse, got multiple military draft deferments.  

Of course, the greatest discrepancy, rarely hinted at, is how humanized someone like McCain is and how rarely victims of the wars he pushed are. Does the average American know the name of a single civilian Vietnamese or Iraqi victim of the U.S. military? 

Elizabeth Warren's Anti Corruption Specificity Evaporates When Foreign Policy is Raised

On Tuesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren addressed the National Press Club, outlining with great specificity a host of proposals on issues including eliminating financial conflicts, close the revolving door between business and government and, perhaps most notably, reforming corporate structures.

Warren gave a blistering attack on corporate power run amok, giving example after example, like Congressman Billy Tauzin doing the pharmaceutical lobby's bidding by preventing a bill for expanded Medicare coverage from allowing the program to negotiate lower drug prices. Noted Warren: "In December of 2003, the very same month the bill was signed into law, PhRMA -- the drug companies’ biggest lobbying group -- dangled the possibility that Billy could be their next CEO.

"In February of 2004, Congressman Tauzin announced that he wouldn’t seek re-election. Ten months later, he became CEO of PhRMA -- at an annual salary of $2 million. Big Pharma certainly knows how to say 'thank you for your service.'"

But I found that Warren's tenacity when ripping things like corporate lobbyists' "pre-bribes"  suddenly evaporated when dealing with issues like the enormous military budget and Israeli assaults on Palestinian children.

The Press Club moderator, Angela Greiling Keane, early in the news conference asked about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's keeping press out of town hall meetings, pairing that with Trump's outright attacks on media

Husseini: Sam Husseini with The Nation and the Institute for Public Accuracy. Cortez, who was mentioned earlier, and other likely incoming congressional members next year propose slashing the military budget to help pay for human and environmental needs. Do you agree? And if I could, a second question: would you consider introducing and sponsoring [a version of] Betty McCollum's bill on Palestinians children's rights in the Senate?

Warren: I now sit on Armed Services and I have been in the middle of the sausage making factory on that one. And that has pushed me even more strongly in the direction of systemic reforms. I want to be able to have those debates. I want to be able to get them out in the open and talk about these poor issues that affect our government, affect our people. I want to be able to debate them on the floor of the senate. I want to be able to do amendments on them. Right now the whole of big money over our government stops much of that. It chokes off much of the debate we should have. So I am going to give you a system-wide answer because I think that's what matters here. This is not about one particular proposal, this is all the way across. How is it that we get the voices of the people heard in government instead of over and over the voices of the wealthy and the well connected. The voices of those with higher armies of lobbyists. So for me that's what this is about.

But part of the power that the wealthy and well connected have is getting direct responses to their specific concerns. Political funders are unlikely impressed with broad "system-wide answers". 

In a sense, her non-response to very direct questions rather highlighted the problem she is presumably addressing. 

And we've been here before. 

Bernie Sanders, in his 2016 presidential run, was remarkably vague or even outright repressive regarding foreign policy, especially early on. This reach almost comical proportions when during a debate on CBS just after the November 2015 bombing in Paris, he tried to avoid substantially addressing the issue, wanting instead to fall back on income inequality. Certainly, Sanders was arguably treated very unfairly by the Democratic Party and media establishment, but he was greatly diminished by not having serious foreign policy answers. 

Warren and other "progressive" candidates may be set to repeat that. Sanders did address foreign policy more at the end of the campaign and since, but his answers are still problematic at times and at best it was all too little too late. 

One question is, realistically, what are Warren's goals here? It could well be a good faith effort by someone committed to changing the world for the better. But then, why the selectivity?

If it was enactment of these policies, then the strongest way to do that might have been to find a rogue Republican to pair up with on at least some aspects of her proposals so as to avoid charges being purely politically motivated. When questioned by a New York Post reporter at the news conference, Warren couldn't name a Republican whom she might work with. This would especially be the case since Trump -- like Obama before him -- ran against the establishment

Is it to make her a leading contender for the Democratic nomination? If so, the hope would be that she's not simply playing the role of what Bruce Dixon of Black Agenda Report calls "sheepdogging" -- that is, the presidential run or promise of a run by a Sanders or Warren as simply a tool the Democratic Party establishment uses to keep enough of the public "on the reservation". 

Said Warren of her own financial reform proposals: "Inside Washington, some of these proposals will be very unpopular, even with some of my friends. Outside Washington, I expect that most people will see these ideas as no-brainers and be shocked they’re not already the law.

Why doesn't the same principle apply to funding perpetual wars and massive human rights abuses against children? 

The Trump-Media Logrolling

Today, hundreds of newspapers, at the initiative of the Boston Globe, are purporting to stand up for a free press against Trump's rhetoric.

Today also marks exactly one month since I was dragged out of the July 16 Trump-Putin news conference in Helsinki and locked up until the middle of the night. 

As laid in my cell, I chuckled at the notion that the city was full of billboards proclaiming Finland was the "land of free press".

So, I've grown an especially high sensitivity to both goonish behavior toward journalists trying to ask tough questions -- and to those professing they are defending a free press when they are actually engaging in a marketing campaign. 

As some have noted, the editorials today will likely help Trump whip up support among his base against a monolithic media. But, just as clearly, the establishment media can draw attention away from their own failures, corruptions and falsehoods simply by focusing on some of Trump's.

Big media outlets need not actually report news that affects your life and point to serious solutions for social ills. They can just bad mouth Trump. And Trump need not deliver on campaign promises that tapped into populist and isolationist tendencies in the U.S. public that have grown in reaction to years of elite rule. He need only deride the major media.

They are at worst frenemies. More likely, at times, Trump and the establishment media log roll with each other. The major media built up Trump. Trump's attacks effectively elevate a select few media celebrities. 

My case is a small but telling one. Major media outlets were more likely to disinform about the manhandling I received in my attempt to ask about U.S., Russian and Israeli nuclear threats to humanity -- I'll soon give a detailed rebuttal to the torrent of falsehoods, some of which I've already noted on social media -- than to crusade against it. 

Other obvious cases: None of the newspaper editorials I've seen published today mention the likely prosecution of Wikileaks. If there were solidarity among media, the prospect of Julian Assange being imprisoned for publishing U.S. government documents should be front and center today. 

Neither did I see a mention of RT or, as of this week, Al Jazeera, being compelled to register as foreign agents. State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert has openly refused to take questions from reporters working for Russian outlets. Virtual silence -- in part because Russia is widely depicted as the great enemy, letting U.S. government policy around the world off the hook.  

The above are actual policies that the Trump administration has pursued targeting media -- not rhetoric that dominates so much establishment coverage of Trump. 

Then there's the threat of social media. 

My day job is with the Institute for Public Accuracy. Yesterday, I put out a news release titled "Following Assassination Attempt, Facebook Pulled Venezuela Content." Tech giants can decide -- possibly in coordination with the U.S. government -- to pull the plug on content at a time and manner of their choosing. 

You would think newspaper people might be keen to highlight the threat that such massive corporations thus pose, not least of all because they have eaten up their ad revenue (the Boston Globe page on the effort is actually behind a paywall.) 

The sad truth is that this is what much of the media have long done: Counter to the lofty rhetoric of many of today's editorials, the promise of an independent and truth-seeking press has frequently been subservient to propaganda, pushing for war or narrow economic and other interests. 

The other major story of the day -- quite related to this -- is that of Trump pulling former CIA Director John Brennan's security clearance. NPR tells me this is an attempt to "silence a critic". But Brennan has an op-ed in today's New York Times and is frequently on major media. He oversaw criminal policies during the Obama administration, including drone assassinations. If anything, this has elevated Brennan's major media status. 

Those who have been truly silenced in the "Trump era" are those who were critical of the seemingly perpetual U.S. government war machine since the invasion of Iraq. 

Trump attacks on the establishment media -- like many media attacks on him -- are frequently devoid of substance. But recently one of his rhetorically tweets stated that media "cause wars". I would say "push for war", but that's quibbling. 

Trump is technically right on that point, but it's totally disingenuous coming from him. He's actually been the beneficiary of the media compulsion he claims to deride. When he exalts U.S. bombing strikes in Yemen, Syria and elsewhere, CNN calls him "presidential". 

Many consider "Russiagate" critical to scrutinizing the Trump administration, but the two reporters, apparently picked by the White House, during the Helsinki news conference focused on "Russiagate" -- which eventually led to Brennan and others attacking Trump as "treasonous". Meanwhile, much more meaningful collusion that can be termed Israelgate is being ignored as the U.S. and Israeli governments attempt to further mold the Mideast. 

The need for genuinely free sources of information is greater than ever. It is unclear to me if traditional newspapers can be part of the equation. Quite likely, the institutions desperately needed to carry out that critical mission are yet to be born. 


Sam Husseini is an independent journalist who contributes to The Nation, CounterPunch, Truthdig, Consortium News, CommonDreams and other outlets. He is also senior analyst at the Institute for Public Accuracy and founder of VotePact.org