Toward Global Dialogue: Can We Talk?

DAMASCUS, SYRIA -- "Can I use your first name in an article that I write?" I asked. "Yes, my name is 'S-A-P'" came the reply.

That's how my evening of talking with young "South Park"-watching Syrians ended as I leave this country after a brief stay.

There was obviously no illusion about Syria being a police state -– at least one of those at the table had been in jail -- but these Syrians are hardly asking for help from the U.S. government. Said one: "We will change things here, one step at a time, from the bottom up."

One despised the Asad regime; another didn't care who was president -- "let Asad be president, we will change the society."

They spoke fondly of the courage, though not the intelligence, of Syrians who went to Iraq to take up arms against the U.S. occupation.

But even as someone who works on media issues, I was taken aback by their focusing on the U.S. media. Said one: "We hate the U.S. not so much for your government as much as for your media -– your lying, shitty, racist media. Fix the media and the government will follow."

This is a city where the skyline is brimming with satellite dishes, each receiving a plethora of channels from around the world.

I asked them how they felt about "people-to-people" contact, like setting up sister-city projects between Arab and U.S. cities. Isn't that a way to do an end-run around the governments?

The reply was instantaneous: "We need sister media projects. People-to-people contact might be good, but it takes too long, it's one-at-a-time."

A young woman at the table from the U.S. studying Arabic for a year looked pensive. Her mother had cried when she first found that her daughter was going to stay in Syria for a year, but her mom ended up visiting Syria for a few weeks and enjoyed it.

Part of the dialogue with these Syrians for me was hearing from someone I'm typically not sympathetic with: a factory owner. One of those at the table was a burly fellow who runs a small textile plant and apparently keeps getting shaken down by government officials. "We don't have a government, we have a mafia." His stories almost make Halliburton's crony capitalism seem like an upstanding example of corporate behavior. (I heard him out -– then gave him an earful about what his workers might think of him.)

Even on my short stay in Syria, I got a taste of the state corruption here. On entering the country from the Jordanian boarder, my dad and I were given the run around by the Syrian bureaucracy. Each clerk would stamp our passports then pass us on to another clerk who would stamp it again or send us back to a previous one who allegedly didn't stamp it quite right. Each one demanded an under-the-table payment. Not just a payment, they would ask for "100 dinars" -– not "100 lira" -– the Jordanian dinar is worth much more than the Syrian lira. They were pretending to "unintentionally" ask for the wrong currency in hopes that an ignorant traveler, not familiar with the local currencies, who would give them the far more valuable 100 dinars.

My dad proceeded to pulled off his own form of "dialogue" -- yelling and raising hell at the corrupt apparatchiks. But of course each of the clerks would be lucky to make in a year what I make in a month.

Part of what would be needed to talk to others in a serious fashion is an appreciation of what you have: We in the U.S. -- even most Arab Americans like me -- have basic free speech rights like virtually nowhere else. If we don't use them, that's our fault. No amount of whining about John Ashcroft or Alberto Gonzales snooping around library records should distract from that. That's especially true after you look in the eye people who really do live in a one-party dictatorship.

We need for people in the U.S. to do an end-run around their government -– indeed for everyone to do an end-run around their governments and corporate or government media which are controlled in one way or another -– and find ways to meaningfully communicate with one another.

Doing this will alter our perceptions of the world. The background image on this computer screen that I'm typing on (at this packed internet café at 3 AM) features a globe with the Eastern Hemisphere, something you rarely see in the United States. (Yes, there is internet censorship here, but I had to look to find it -- you can find what pages are censored, try to go to them and get a "forbidden" message.)

Doing this will involved talking to poor people around the world and uncomfortably questioning premises -- like the notion that people in the U.S. have a right to a better standard of living better than that of people from the rest of the planet.

I think I got a taste of what kind of dialogue might be possible in a discussion I had in Jordan with a relative.

We were sitting down to watch a video of a baby cousin of mine's birthday party. My mom noted that that all the mothers shown in the video brought their "Shankias" -– their maids from Sri Lanka -- to the birthday party.

An incredible number of upper-middle class households in Jordan have a maid from Sri Lanka.

So I turned to the relative seated next to me, Faris, a fellow of about 30 and asked why all the maids are from Sri Lanka. Why not hire people from Jordan? -- though perhaps I should have asked why they had maids at all.

He explained that "Even if you could hire a Jordanian from east Amman [the poorer part of town] for the same price -- she has a brother, a father, a husband maybe. They may make trouble." With a wink he added, "If it's a Sri Lankan, you have her passport." Meaning the employer thus had incredible power over the maid and could even kick her out of the country if they wanted. (A female friend later suggested that what he meant was that Sri Lankan maids are regularly raped.)

"Sri Lankans don't speak Arabic. What about language?" I asked. He patiently explained: "Orders are easy to understand -– do this, do that -– there's really no need for dialogue."

I let it sit.

We started flipping around the news channels and he started railing about the U.S. Media: "With Al Jazeera, I don't agree with everything they do, but they give you different sides -- the left, the right, different countries, secular, Islamic, everything -- and then you can make up your own mind. With the U.S. Media, they come from a particular place –- they want you to think a certain way. So they really don't want a dialogue."

There was that word again -– dialogue.

My relative wasn't too interested in a dialogue with the Sri Lankan maids, but he wants the U.S. Media to have a dialogue.

To start a real dialogue of our own, I challenged him on this.

He laughed.

He knew he'd been caught. He varied between being defensive, "I’m not a racist" -- most Sri Lankans have skin color darker than most Jordanians -- to explaining things away: "you don't want a dialogue right away, but if she stays with the family, then you begin to know her." There was probably some legitimacy to these "clarifications," but they didn't change the very different way he came at the two subjects.

I challenged him on something while agreeing with him on something else. This happens too rarely. Perhaps it was easier here because there was no power dynamics between us -– I didn't want a thing from him and he didn't seem to want a thing from me except to talk.

The only limitation on the conversation was to maintain a level of civility which was all to the good I suppose.

Most conversations are so cluttered with negative dynamics that they can't really be called conversations. One or more parties frequently want a pre-determined outcome, meaning they have already made up their minds and are not really open to "dialogue" worthy of the word. There are countless obstacles to real dialogue: There are power relationships, often unstated; there's fright of "burning a bridge," the need to "maintain access."

Many "dialogues" are actually based more on deal-making, or turning a blind eye to each others' shenanigans at some third party's expense, than actually trying to determine what's truly for the greater good.

That's perhaps clearest when corrupt governments talk. Witness the recent meeting between Saudi Crowned Prince Abduallah and President Bush. The Bush administration claims it is pressuring Saudi Arabia to democratized; the Saudis claim they are pressing the U.S. To help achieve a bit of justice for the Palestinians. But neither are really doing what they claim. They are working to maximize their own illegitimate power and cutting their deals behind closed doors for those ends.

And they will succeed in that -– unless. Unless we find other ways to relate to each other, to communicate with each other as inhabitants of this planet who are willing to question not just our governments but each other and ourselves in brutally honest ways.

[originally published at on May 7, 2005]

Religion and Politics: The Media's One-Dimensional View

[From the July/August 1994 issue of Extra!, the magazine of the media watch group FAIR.]

In a recent keynote address to the Religion Newswriters Association, Bill Moyers noted, "For broadcast executives, news of the soul is no news at all." Such dissatisfaction with religion coverage seems to be shared by many Americans. Stewart Hoover has found that newspaper readers rated religion as an important topic for papers to cover (above sports, below education), but rated religion coverage as the one with which they were least satisfied (Nieman Reports, Summer/93).

In years past, religion coverage, or the "church page," has largely been the domain of cub reporters. The New York Times, according to Gay Talese's The Kingdom and the Power, used to assign clerks and copy boys who aspired to be reporters to cover sermons, with editors on alert "for any signs of irreverence that the church coverage might reveal."

Increasingly, however, religion has been given more importance as a beat. Religion stories are gaining more prominence, and ABC has hired the first network religion correspondent. An examination of this coverage, however, shows a clear pattern: Religion is covered almost exclusively as an argument for conservative political policies.

Religious Left Left Out

A widely covered report by the right-wing Media Research Center claimed that television news coverage "showed a pattern of anti-religious bias." One finding of the report, however, got virtually no coverage: In 1993, "with a handful of exceptions, the religious left went unnoticed and uncovered by the networks." The MRC found only two stories in all of 1993 that dealt with the religious left. By contrast, the religious right was covered in 15 evening stories, eight morning news segments and three TV magazine stories.

A two-part segment on World News Tonight (3/22-24/94) by Peggy Wehmeyer, ABC's religion reporter, on Bill Clinton and religion presented a good illustration of the media's religious blind spot. The first segment dealt with religious critics of Clinton -- all from the right.

Clinton's "outspoken support for homosexual and abortion rights alarmed evangelicals," Wehmeyer reported. The segment featured religious right leaders like Pat Robertson: "When Bill Clinton talks about family values, I don't believe he's talking about either families or values."

The second segment (3/23/94) featured Clinton talking about his own personal faith. "The God I believe in is a God of second chances," he says, referring to his own shortcomings. If progressive religious figures had been included in the discussion, they might have point out the irony of Clinton citing the Christian virtue of "forgiveness," when his crime bill vastly expands the federal death penalty, and has a three-strikes-you're-out provision that will send many young offenders to jail for life.

The media's prevailing definition of "religious issues" seems to center on gay rights, abortion and school prayer -- the issues focused on by the Christian right (though never mentioned by Jesus in the Bible). Other questions, like economic justice or anti-militarism, are rarely mentioned in a religious context.

"A scripturally based by progressive perspective is just not known in the mainstream," said Karen Lattea of Sojourners, a progressive Christian monthly. "The message of scripture is terribly radical -- non-violence, equality among people, abolishing injustice. If taken seriously, it's revolutionary."

Though mainstream media gave them little coverage, churches in the '80s played key roles in such issues as Central America and the nuclear freeze -- so much so that Democratic Socialists of America's Michael Harrington remarked (Z, 1/94) that the "religious left is the only left in America." When Nelson Mandela visited the U.S. in 1990, he declared that American churches have "been in the first line of the struggle ever since I can remember." (National Catholic Reporter, 4/22/94) Church-based activism continues around such issues as health care, human rights, Haiti, ending the blockade against Cuba and cutting the military budget, but still receives scant attention.

"Since the religious right bought up the airwaves, they've convinced the mainstream that there's a Republican God," said Tom Roberts of the progressive National Catholic Reporter. Today, Christian broadcasters, overwhelmingly right-wing, control more than 10 percent of U.S. broadcast licenses. Religious broadcasting used to be done largely by the mainline Protestant denominations, but starting in the 1970s, the FCC began allowing stations to fulfill public interest requirements by selling time to fundraising-oriented televangelists -- who typically have a right-wing political agenda.

Strange Analysis

The invisibility of the religious left lead to some strange political analysis. "In spite of efforts by some candidates to make religion, or issues of morality, factors in their selection of a candidate, there are some indications that voters are not buying it," the New York Times wrote during the 1992 election (10/31/92). The proof? Clinton was leading in polls among Catholics. The idea that some Catholics -- whose church hierarchy condemns the death penalty and nuclear weapons proliferation -- might be motivated by their religion to choose a more liberal candidate was not considered. While some religions leaders were backing Bush, according to the Times, "the other side of the religious spectrum" was calling for a separation of religion and politics

Black churches, which are of profound political significance in the African-American community, receive little prominent coverage. Black clerics are mostly visible when they talk about themes promoted by white media pundits, like "black-on-black" violence or the dangers of rap. Otherwise, they make news when a (white) politician addresses them, as when Clinton spoke to a convention of black ministers in Memphis in November 1993.

Clinton's speech was widely lauded by journalists: "The president spoke in prophetic tones about youth violence in the black community," the Washington Post later recalled (3/10/94). Eleanor Clift commented (Crossfire, 12/31/93) that Clinton "didn't really set a moral agenda until that speech in Memphis, when he discussed black-on-black crime."

But Clinton's much-praised comments on Martin Luther King, Jr. show how poorly the views of King, and other progressive black church leaders, are understood by politics and the press alike. Clinton claimed that King would be pleased at how the military was "elevating people of color into the ranks" and that "we won the Cold War." He said King would be ashamed of inner-city violence, and imagined him saying, "I did not fight for the right of black people to murder other black people with reckless abandonment."

The words Clinton put in King's mouth would ring hollow if mainstream reporters had checked what King -- a critic of U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War who encouraged conscientious objection to military service -- had said on the matter. The Nation did so (12/6/93), quoting King's 1967 speech at New York City's Riverside Church: "I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today -- my own government."

Fitting the Mold

Sometimes religious groups receive coverage for social and political concerns that fit in with the media stereotypes, while they are ignored on issues that don'[t fit the mold. When the Catholic Bishops Conference drafted a letter on health care that called for universal coverage, spoke out against a two-tier system (such as the Clinton plan), and opposed funding for abortion, the press focused only on the abortion issues. "Many media outlets focus quickly on abortion," said John Carr of the U.S. Catholic Conference. "There's a tendency to reduce the Church's advocacy to a one-issue approach."

While Catholics are often pigeon-holed on abortion, Jews get the same treatment with Israel. Despite a long tradition of Jewish activism on civil rights and other progressive causes, reporters use the term "Jewish lobby" when they [seem to] mean "pro-Israeli lobby." Meanwhile, Islam, with its emphasis on social justice and racial equality, has been caricatured as violent, irrational and bigoted.

Occasionally media take note of the progressive politics of mainstream inter-denominational groups like the National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches -- only to use it as an opportunity for old-fashioned red-baiting. A Readers Digest article (2/93) "The Gospel According to Marx," attacked the WCDC for sending humanitarian aid to official enemies like Vietnam. The piece rehashed material presented in the Digest in 1982 ("Karl Marx or Jesus Christ?," 8/82), the basis of a strident 60 Minutes attack on the National Council of Churches (1/23/83).

In and exceptional segment of ABC's World News Tonight (8/10/93), Forrest Sawyer noted, "Whenever we hear about Catholic religious leaders getting involved in a major political issue, its is usually to back a conservative cause, such as the battle against abortion.... [But] the church is far more often in the corner of the liberals." The unusual report noted the Bishops Conference position on such issues as the Gulf War, child labor, and family and medical leave. Such reports, which give a richer sense of the relationship between religion and politics, are few and far between.

[originally published at on Dec. 2, 2004]

Suicide Bomber for the Empire

I had speculated last month that Bush might be "a virtual suicide bomber for the empire -- he will have sacrificed his political career to help perpetuate an unjust system." That may yet come to pass, but it looks as though Kerry is now the suicide bomber for the Empire.

See my "How Many People Will Die Because of This 'Mistake', Senator Kerry?" of last January:

How can you be "electable" when you have many of the same skeletons in your closet as Bush? Do you really think the Republican machine won't cite your speech over and over again -- "Kerry claims that Bush lied when Kerry said many of the same things!" Fox will blare. Or, after you get the Democratic nomination, will you be quiet about Iraq, other than to talk about narrow issues like Halliburton -- searching for something, anything, that Bush is guilty of that you are not? You will come off as petty. Bush will come off as the visionary.
[originally published at on Nov. 3, 2004]

A Response to the "Kerry in Swing State" Petition Signers

Many of the individuals who gave a blanket endorsement to Nader in the 2000 election have signed a petition urging "support for Kerry/Edwards in all swing states, even while we strongly disagree with Kerry's policies on Iraq and other issues." (See:

Many warned at the time that some sort of "strategic voting" would be needed in 2000. (See my piece "A New Way To Vote -- As A Duet"

Clearly, in states which Bush or Kerry have basically stated they will lose -- so-called "non-swing states" -- voting for whoever you want is a no-brainer.

Most of the signers seem to want Nader to be president but prefer Kerry to Bush. There is a possible solution to this, which I outlined in my piece of four years ago: Team up with someone who wants a third party candidate but prefers Bush to Kerry. I doubt it is beyond the capability and imagination of the signers of the petition to find a someone who is basically a disenchanted Republican, would never vote for Kerry, but would like to vote for the Libertarians or some other third party rather than Bush.

Finding a relative, a co-worker, a neighbor, a debating partner or simply someone you've communicated with in your state and talking about what you really want can allow you to vote your conscience. Tim Robbins can team up with some rightwing Hollywood notable who wants the Constitution Party. Noam Chomsky can hook up with a leading libertarian thinker. They can even co-write articles and form a more meaningful dialogue, something that's desperately needed in this country. [See:]

I think such a dialogue could even lead to both the would-be Kerry voter and the would-be Bush voter casting their ballot for Nader. This could infact become the centerpiece of the Nader campaign. There is something of a "radical center" where a substantial portion of the U.S. public is at odds with both Bush and Kerry: Against the U.S. as empire, in defense of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. If Nader were to stress these issues, the entire "spoiler" argument could dwindle as he appeals to people from both parties.

It's notable that the same day the petition came out, the Capital Times in Madison, probably the most progressive newspaper in the U.S., published an editorial "Taking a Cue from Nader" urging Kerry to adopt some of Nader's positions. Why should Kerry do so if progressives are doing the work of gutting the Nader campaign rather than working towards creative ways of using his candidacy?

Many of the signers were I think surprised at what the Bush administration has done in the last four years. I have not been. The seeds were planted by the Clinton administration and before. And a Kerry administration will I think clearly set upon the task of consolidating empire. [The occupation of] Iraq is not an "issue" [as it's referred to in the petition] -- it is emblematic of the U.S. as empire. Kerry's main goal will likely be to preserve the mechanisms of empire -- as Clinton did after the 50-year pretext for empire disappeared.

The hypocrisies and corruptions of the Republican Party are the main thing pushing people to the Democratic Party. Similarly, the hypocrisies and corruptions of the Democratic Party are the main thing pushing people to the Republican Party. I am proposing a method whereby people -- as people -- can break out of this trap by reaching out to someone they profoundly disagree with. If they trust them, they can make a pact together to vote for the third party candidate of their choice. If not, they can both get absentee ballots and fill them out and walk them down to a mail box together.

Finding creative solutions like this I think are far more productive than searching for ways of undercutting a candidate who has not changed on the issues since four years ago when he was unequivocally backed by the signers of this petition.

Please visit VotePact.

I understand the impulse to ensure Kerry becomes president. I don't want four more years of Bush as president, but that goal has led many to have a fundamental blindness about what opportunities and crucial issues there are beyond expelling Bush from the White House. Worst of all, it has led to a fundamental breakdown of communication. Some people have been blinded by their anger at Bush, or Kerry, or Nader.

The short piece above was written September 15, 2004 and sent to the editor of the web page Common Dreams who declined to publish it. Yesterday, Common Dreams posted an essay by David Korten responding to Nader's reply to the petition. Common Dreams also did not post Nader's reply, which has an analysis of Iraq which is sharper than any I've heard Nader state verbally:

Korten, contrasting Kerry with Bush, refers to his "intelligence, honesty, emotional and moral maturity." Korten says that his own judgment during the 2000 election was "more wrong than I ever imagined possible." Similarly, Medea Benjamin recently wrote that: "I had no idea that George Bush would be such a disastrous president." Winona LaDuke recently informed us that "I'm voting my conscience on Nov. 2; I'm voting for John Kerry." She tells us "I've spoken with his staff and received some encouraging answers." Others tell us to hold our noses and vote for Kerry.

We need clarity. People should state who they want as president among the candidates as well as who they plan to vote for and how. Is LaDuke saying that she actually prefers a President Kerry to a President Nader or a President Cobb? How could she defend that? Do the faults of Nader really exceed those of Kerry? Or is this a tactical decision of hers to vote for Kerry -- and not really reflecting "conscience."

Doubtlessly, there are a variety of views among the petition signers. I fear that, just as they seem to have taken some statements by Bush at face value -- are they taking statements by Kerry at face value? Or worse, do they think they've heard Kerry make promises he in fact has not made? Should admission of past mistake cause one to be all the more sure of their current position? Why were many people blind to the dangers that Bush posed? Were they not mindful of global dynamics? Have they corrected that or are the making a variation of the same mistake now?

We are to believe that Kerry is honest when he lied about WMDs, lied when he said that he would object to a Bush move to invade Iraq short of an international coalition and lied when he said he would uphold the Constitution: He acted as an enabler for aggressive war and his policies are perfectly consistent with the next stage of the imperial enterprise, making the perpetual "war on terrorism" an officially bi-partisan affair that will likely more than fulfill the goals of the Project for a New American Century for, well, a century. Following Bush's defining deviancy downward, Kerry will work to consolidate empire. This will be done in conjunction with the traditional colonial powers and their proxies in the poorer countries.

This is not to say there is no difference between Bush and Kerry. There is, and that's the point. They are different parts of the same system. The Bush stomach acidifies, the Kerry intestine absorb. It's quite clear that what the handlers around Kerry intend -- another pass through the guillotine pendulum of the two party system. Various reforms Kerry will institute will likely be used to maintain a fundamentally corrupt system. If Kerry is sworn in as president, I will work to bring down the U.S. empire. I hope others will. The virtual self-dissolution and delusion of the "peace movement" over the last two years is strong evidence that if Kerry becomes president many "progressives" in the U.S. will further sink back in a state of contentment, perhaps because they don't care to think too deeply about their own privilege stemming from living in the U.S. If that happens, Bush will be a virtual suicide bomber for the empire -- he will have sacrificed his political career to help perpetuate an unjust system. It was all his fault will echo as the mantra. It will be the people and not the president who have "plausible deniability."

Some are angry at Nader for running, I have been angry at him for not running. He has not run an effective campaign, he has declined opportunities to lay out even a vague strategy by which he becomes president. But maybe that was our job. Nader is certainly not pure and noble and I've never thought he was. Others were seemingly infatuated with him in 2000 and that has apparently turned to a sour rage, both equally blind. I didn't share that infatuation, I don't share that rage. Nader is the minimally sane center of the demented U.S. political system. He offers us an opportunity to "de-triangulate" ourselves out of the partisan boxes the political system keeps trying to force us into.

But if you vote for Kerry -- and bypass Vote Pact as well as "safe state" strategies -- then please don't "hold your nose." Have the simple decency to breath it in. Breath it all in. Kerry's lies, his nauseating hypocrisies. Breath in the reeking Iraqi blood, inhale the rotting corpses; suck in the stench of lies, the posturing; the sickness of the symbiotic relationship he has with Bush. Only then can one possibly discern a sliver of truth or exercise a measure of freedom.

Please visit, think about and talk to someone you disagree with about:

Sam Husseini 
October 22, 2004

[originally published at on Oct. 22, 2004]

Why Public Opinion Polls Aren't

With all the discussion of polls and the presidential race it may be hard to believe, but I have yet to see a single poll asking whom people want to be president.

Virtually every poll has a structure like this: "If the 2004 presidential election were being held today, and the candidates were John Kerry, the Democrat, George W. Bush, the Republican, and Ralph Nader, would you vote for John Kerry, George W. Bush, or Ralph Nader?"

Of course a lot of people will respond "Kerry" simply because they don't want Bush, or "Bush" because they don't want Kerry. They don't necessarily want Bush or Kerry -- it's the same bind people are in when they enter the voting both with our system; they disregard other candidates, whether it's Nader or anyone else, and go for "the lesser evil." But polls can offer a way out -- they can ask people who they actually want.

Instead of really focusing on people's opinions, polls focus on the action of voting in a context that is a false hypothetical -- if the "election were being held today," when we know it isn't. Pollsters do that, they tell me, because they assume should be predicting how the election will turn out, rather than giving a clear picture of the thinking of the U.S. public.

A real "public opinion" poll would begin by asking a question something like this: "Who do you want to be president?" Or better yet: "Regardless of their chances of winning, which of the following candidates do you most want to be president?" This would get at what people actually want given the current field. It's not that the "who would you vote for" question is unimportant; we just shouldn't be confined to that.

Another way of approaching it would be to use Instant Runoff Voting: "Please rank the following in order of who you would personally want to be president." There could be a wealth of information discovered with such questioning.

And to better determine the policies favored by the U.S. public and minimize the personal animosities, pollsters could ask: "Which of the following do you agree with most on the issues?"

By asking the questions they do -- and by not asking questions like those listed above -- pollsters are in effect limiting the choices of the public. Polls -- which should be a method by which the public, rather than the parties or the pundits, articulates its desires -- are crafted in such a way as to solidify the status of the "major candidates." Then those polls are reported on over and over again, further canonizing the position of those candidates in the name of public opinion.

Citizens who might want to support an independent effort then hold back. A self-fulfilling prophesy comes to pass as the "major party" candidates tighten their grip on people who are often drawn to them by little more than their fear of the other "major party." Breaking into the system is virtually impossible largely because pollsters have -- consciously or not -- incorporated the "greater evil" fear into the polls. A significant number of people may want an independent or "third party" candidate and we wouldn't know it because the public isn't asked.

All this seems to stem from a remarkably dismissive attitude toward the public that some pollsters seem to display. When I raised some of these concerns with Susan Pinkus, polling director of the LA Times, she replied: "Who cares what they want? This is who they're going to vote for." That's a very strange attitude for a pollster -- someone who is supposed to care a lot what the public thinks -- to have. What matters she insisted is "push comes to shove -- who's going to win the election?"

This fixation on the polls helps mold the context of the election, as well as provides the threshold for inclusion in the debates. "Historically third parties don't get a lot of votes" Pinkus noted. On the one hand, that's a self-fulfilling prophesy; on the other it's just false. Perot got 19 percent of the vote in 1992; at one point (prior to his withdrawal and re-entry) he led with some 37 of voters saying they would vote from him in major polls. Finally, Pinkus acknowledged the value of asking the public who they want to be president, but said she didn't plan to do a poll herself: "Why don't you do a poll -- you can get a grant and do a poll" she told me.

I did actually manage to do that in 2000, in the closing days of the election. A funder put up the money for a poll with the Rasmussen polling firm which basically found that third party candidates Buchanan's and Nader's numbers doubled once the question was asked who they preferred to be president regardless of their chances of winning. But money for independent-minded folks is scarce and, in any case, that should be the job of the polling organizations and media outlets.

These issues are all the more important because of the roles that polls play in our presidential election. For example, the Commission on Presidential Debates, which is run by the former heads of the Republican and Democratic parties, states that it will only allow candidates who achieve 15 percent in "national public opinion polls" into the debates. But, once again, these polls don't actually measure the opinion of the public. They attempt to predict how the public will vote given the bind that it's in. That bind is made more egregious as candidates are kept out of the debates by the Commission on Presidential Debates using polls which are advertised as reflecting public opinion; but are being used to mold it.

Moreover, the heads of the Commission on Presidential Debates have basically asked for the "who do you want to be president question" to be asked. When some suggested that one criterion for inclusion in presidential debates should be whether a majority of people in the U.S. wanted them to be in the debates, the heads of the CPD rejected the effort.

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 co-chair of the CPD 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. Otherwise you get into 'Wouldn't it be fun to have X, Y, Z?'" So for the Commission on Presidential Debates to fulfill the very criteria it has set for itself, the question "Who do you want to be president" needs to be asked as the basis for inclusion in any debates that group sponsors.

Moreover, polling must be done in a more open fashion and until they are, all the chatter of "public opinion polls" and the "choice" that the U.S. public is making in their "preference" about who they are "for" in the presidential race will be is rather hollow rhetoric manipulating the public rather than reporting on it.

A shorter version was published by the Dallas Morning News on September 27, 2004.

[originally published at on Sept. 27, 2004]

Christ in 100 Words

A man searches for truth, works for justice, teaches love and peace. His flesh is cut up, killed on a tree by empire, religious establishment and mob.

His message is twisted and tortured to provide pretext for further empire, patriarchy, crusade, slavery and genocide.

His teachings are deformed to preach hatred against the group from which he came.

As Christianity as cloak for imperialism recedes; European genocidal attack on Jews becomes a masquerade for new resurgent colonialism.

Bigoted spewing inoculates this Israel from criticism over its cruelty in lands occupied once again, as when Jesus struggled.

He rose, some say.

Sam Husseini has helped create the web pages and
[This was written at the peak of discussion about the movie "The Passion of the Christ."]

[originally published at on Feb. 25, 2004]

How Many People Will Die Because of This "Mistake", Senator Kerry?

Truth is the only safe ground to stand upon.

-- Elizabeth Cady Stanton

At the debate last night, John Kerry, asked to give examples of the administration's deceptiveness on the "war on terrorism," said the following:

"Well, 45 minutes deployment of weapons of mass destruction, number one. Aerial vehicles to be able to deliver materials of mass destruction, number two. I mean, I -- nuclear weapons, number three. I could run a long list of clear misleading, clear exaggeration...."

On Oct. 9, 2002 John Kerry participated in "a long list of clear misleading, clear exaggerations," to put it mildly. In his speech on the floor of the Senate just before voting to authorize Bush to invade Iraq, Kerry said:

"Why is Saddam Hussein attempting to develop nuclear weapons when most nations don't even try? ... According to intelligence, Iraq has chemical and biological weapons ... Iraq is developing unmanned aerial vehicles capable of delivering chemical and biological warfare agents..."

Kerry became famous by asking senators "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" Kerry is now himself a senator.

Mr. Kerry: How do you ask someone to die for your support of the invasion of Iraq? How do you ask someone to die for this mistake? More than a "mistake," how do you ask someone to die because you voted for an illegal , unconstitutional invasion? How do you ask Iraqis and Americans and others to die because you backed Bush?

How can you tell us that Bush was deceitful when you uttered many of the same falsehoods? How can you hold him accountable when you refuse to be held accountable yourself?

How can you be "electable" when you have many of the same skeletons in your closet as Bush? Do you really think the Republican machine won't cite your speech over and over again -- "Kerry claims that Bush lied when Kerry said many of the same things!" Fox will blare. Or, after you get the Democratic nomination, will you be quiet about Iraq, other than to talk about narrow issues like Halliburton -- searching for something, anything, that Bush is guilty of that you are not? You will come off as petty. Bush will come off as the visionary.

How could you have been deceived by the administration on Iraq? You tout your leadership and foreign policy experience. How could the idea of a government lying systematically about a war not been considered seriously by you, given your experience in Vietnam? How could you not know that Bush was lying even before the invasion?

How do you explain your speech -- lies in your speech that were known lies at the time.

You said:

The threat of Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction is real, but it is not new. It has been with us since the end of the Persian Gulf War. It has been with us for the last four years -- since Saddam Hussein kicked out U.N. weapons inspectors at the end of 1998. And frankly, after Operation Desert Fox failed to force Iraq to readmit inspectors, the United States - and the international community -- erred in failing to find effective ways to compel Iraqi compliance, thus giving Saddam Hussein a free hand for four years to reconstitute his weapons of mass destruction programs and allowing the world to lose focus on the threat of proliferation.

Can you count the lies here? If anything, Hussein's weapons of mass destruction capability ended with the Gulf War, the exact opposite of what it claimed. Hussein did not "kick out U.N. weapons inspectors at the end of 1998." They were withdrawn by UNSCOM head Richard Butler at the behest of the Clinton administration so it could launch the "Desert Fox" bombing campaign on the eve of Clinton's scheduled impeachment vote. And "Desert Fox" did not "fail" to achieve Iraqi compliance, it succeeded in destroying UNSCOM. The U.S. government, well before Bush, clearly did not want a successful weapons inspection program. If Saddam could continue verifying his compliance, there would be more pressure to lift the draconian economic sanctions.

How can you talk of the administration rushing to war when you said:

But the Administration missed an opportunity two years ago and particularly a year ago after September 11th to address this issue. They regrettably, even clumsily, complicated their own case. The events of September 11 created a new understanding of the terrorist threat and the degree to which every nation is vulnerable. That understanding enabled the Administration to forge a broad and impressive coalition against terrorism. Had the Administration tried then to capitalize on this unity of spirit to build a coalition to disarm Iraq, we would not be debating this question now, just a few weeks before Congressional elections. The Administration's decision to engage on this issue now, rather than a year ago or earlier, and the manner in which it engaged has politicized and complicated the national debate and raised questions about the credibility of its case.

So that's what raises questions about the credibility of the administration -- the fact that they leveraged the Iraq invasion for the mid-term elections, not their pattern of lies. Mr. Kerry, you actually fault the administration for not being hawkish enough, for not immediately "capitalizing on" 9-11. It is clear that you merely offer a different flavor of U.S. corporate global control than the Bush administration.

For over a decade, no politician ever lost political ground by attacking Saddam. But you could be the first.

[originally published at on Jan. 30, 2004]

Follow the Policy

“It’s been 12 years. Why hasn’t Saddam Hussein complied?” So many ask.

“Follow the money” it’s been said is the way to get at the truth. It’s a good adage, but in this case: Follow the policy.

In his report Friday, UNMOVIC head Hans Blix claimed that “If Iraq had provided the necessary cooperation in 1991, the phase of disarmament — under resolution 687 — could have been short and a decade of sanctions could have been avoided.”

Blix also indicated that Iraq only complies because of the threat of use of force. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw went to town with this particular notion to the applause of some in the Security Council chamber.

One problem with such thinking is that it violates the U.N. Charter, which prohibits “the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.

Another problem is that it ignores U.S. policy over the last dozen years, which has discouraged compliance with the arms inspectors. Ignoring the realities of U.S. policy is something the head of UNMOVIC should not do. Consider:

The original post-Gulf War U.N. Security Council resolution 687, passed in April of 1991, made lots of demands on Iraq — but, as Blix indicated, specified that once Iraq complies with the weapons inspection regime, the economic sanctions “shall have no further force or effect.

The problem, and it’s a big problem, is that this declaration was rendered ineffective. President George Bush in May of 1991 stated: “At this juncture, my view is we don’t want to lift these sanctions as long as Saddam Hussein is in power.” This was no slip of the tongue. The same day, then-Secretary of State James Baker sent the same message: “We are not interested in seeing a relaxation of sanctions as long as Saddam Hussein is in power.” So regardless of what Hussein did, comply or not, the sanctions would stay in place. He played games with the inspectors as it suited him. [See a timeline.]

And what would Clinton’s policy be? Just before getting into office, in an interview with Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, Clinton said: “I am a Baptist. I believe in death-bed conversions. If he [Hussein] wants a different relationship with the United States and the United Nations, all he has to do is change his behavior.” The following day, faced with attacks for articulating such politically incorrect notions, Clinton backtracked: “There is no difference between my policy and the policy of the present administration.” This meant that the crushing economic sanctions would stay in place on Iraq for eight more years, dooming hundreds of thousands of Iraqi people to premature deaths.

It’s notable that Friedman has falsified this subject, writing from Qatar in February of 2001: “Saddam totally outfoxed Washington in the propaganda war. All you hear and read in the media here is that the sanctions are starving the Iraqi people — which is true. But the U.S. counter-arguments that by complying with U.N. resolutions Saddam could get those sanctions lifted at any time are never heard. Preoccupied with the peace process, no senior U.S. officials have made their case in any sustained way here, and it shows.”

So Friedman, from his media perch, actually helped ensure that Clinton would continue the policy of keeping the sanctions in place no matter what Hussein did; resulting, by Friedman’s own admission, in “starving the Iraqi people.” And then he pretends that the policy does not exist, mocking Arabs for believing such a thing.

Just to be clear about it, in March of 1997 Madeleine Albright, in her first major foreign policy address as Secretary of State, proclaimed: “We do not agree with the nations who argue that if Iraq complies with its obligations concerning weapons of mass destruction, sanctions should be lifted.” I was there, at Georgetown University when she said that. This was on par with Albright’s infamous remark on CBS’s “60 Minutes” the previous year that the sanctions, after already killing half a million children, were “worth it.”

Through out the late 1990s, there were a series of standoffs between the Iraqi and the U.S. governments around weapons inspectors. In December of 1998, UNSCOM head Richard Butler issued a report (which the Washington Post would later reveal was shaped by the U.S. government) claiming Iraq wasn’t cooperating with the inspectors and withdrew them just before the U.S. launched the Desert Fox bombing campaign. Some might remember this was on the eve of Clinton’s scheduled impeachment vote.

In January of 1999 — after UNSCOM was destroyed by its own hand — the U.S. media reported that, contrary to U.S. denials, UNSCOM was in fact used for espionage as the Iraqis had been alleging, in part to track Hussein. (We’d do well to keep this in mind as those U2 flights go over Iraq.)

So Iraq kept the weapons inspectors out for four years. Why did the U.S. use the inspectors as spies? Why did it say that the sanctions would stay put regardless of what Iraq did? These would hardly seem to be the policies anyone would adopt if they really wanted disarmament.

There are other recent examples of the U.S. government adopting policies that betray an actual desire for Iraqi non-compliance. On October 1, 2002, just as Iraq was deciding whether or not to let inspectors have total access to presidential palaces, Ari Fleischer talked of “the cost of one bullet” being less than the cost of invasion. Was that supposed to help convince Saddam to say yes to letting inspectors into his palaces?

And now, just as Iraq begun destroying Al-Samoud missiles, the U.S. government is escalating its bombing of the “no-fly” zones — an ongoing, increasing years-long attack without legal justification.

So the U.S. policy of maintaining the sanctions in place no matter what Hussein did gave him incentive for non-compliance with the inspectors. Now, the U.S. policy seems to be invasion no matter what Hussein does. It’s hard to believe that this will ensure anything other than more massive violence from many quarters.

Or we could choose a different path. If the Bush administration were to state that it would respect resolution 687 and ensure the lifting of the economic sanctions on Iraq when it is verifiably disarmed, then that ostensible goal could well be reached without invasion, killing and slaughter. But that would mean that the stated goals have some relation to actual goals. The way to cut through illusions and rhetoric is to follow the policy.

SAM HUSSEINI is communications director for the Institute for Public Accuracy. He also recently launched the web page Compass Roses. He can be reached at:

[originally published on CounterPunch on March 8, 2003; posted on posthaven Dec. 15, 2015]

Compass Roses: From the Seeds of Antiwar to the Flowering of Global Democracy

As Bush plunges us into war, he forces our hands.

He forces our hands to reach out to our neighbors to talk to them about war, to share information not polluted with propaganda. He forces our hands to join with others around this world and the vast majority who do not want war.

He forces our hands to act, to organize, to draw lines of our own in the sand.

As an unprecedented day of protest takes place globally today, we have the opportunity to go from the seeds of antiwar to the flowering of Global Democracy. We are not just against Bush. People attuned to conscience and vision must be for something and must show it.

The world should be one. For that not to be means continued needless suffering on a massive scale. From war, from exploitation. Nation and civilizations pitted against each other for the illusionary benefit of a few.

We must make our mark. We must claim the Earth for peace and justice. We must make it visible. We must make our conscience and our consciousness of one world visible. While we protest today and thereafter.

One world. Everwhere is Holy. No place should rule over any other. In New York this day, friends and I will draw compass roses on the sidewalks and the streets.

Compass roses -- -- like on old maps. East, West, South, North. Get a compass out. Look to the East -- think of what is there, what people, places things. To the West and all that lies there. To the South, all that has been and might be. To the North, think. Think of the reality of all that is around you. Of the people around this globe that sustains us.

Compass roses -- drawn on the sidewalk in front of the White House and in front of a storefront mosque in DC; on Wall Street near where the World Trade Center stood and on 125th Street in Harlem; by the Grand Canyon and by the river Jordan; in front of the US mission to the UN and in front of the Iraqi mission. Each compass rose is different, yet they all point in the same directions. They will fade away, but they will still be true. Compass roses -- in subways and elevators -- where people are not cognizant that they are on "land" or part of the "Earth." All places are holy. We are inter-connected. The compass rose is an immediate symbol of the fact that we are all on the same planet; simultaneously global and local.

Draw your own compass roses copy designs you have seen -- of compass roses, or patterns that are like compass roses. Or could be. Or make up your own. Draw them outside. Draw them where people can see them. Draw them where no one can see them. Draw them here, draw them there. Think of the East, the West, the South the North. Think of what is in each direction. Think of where you are and what you can do to connect with people around our globe. Draw compass roses. Note the web page -- -- on the side if you like, so people who see it can find more. Draw compass roses with chalk, with pastels, with paint, with lined-up stones, with sand, in the sand, in the snow -- anyway, anyhow, draw them. Open your heart to the World, make a mark alone or with a friend and claim the Earth.

Compass roses in front of embassies and missions. All diplomats must begin to understand that we are all one. Compass roses in front of schools, teaching the next generation better than we have been taught. Compass roses where rich dwell and where poor struggle. Compass roses as a constant reminder of what we all know:

As Studs Terkel has written: "Four hundred years ago, Galileo challenged the doctrine of the announced idea. On seeing the heavens through his telescope, he discovered that Copernicus was right. The earth was not the center of the universe, but merely one part of a greater whole. A respected part, but no more than a part. And what is the great discovery of our age? It is that no one race, no one people, no one land ... is the center of the earth. Rather, all races, all lands, all societies are individual centers, all respected parts of a greater whole -- the Earth."

Martin Luther King, Jr.: "In Christ there is no East nor West. In Him there's no North and South, but one great Fellowship of Love throughout the whole wide world."

Joseph Campbell: "The only myth that is going to be worth thinking about in the immediate future is one that is talking about the planet ... and everybody on it."

But the reality of one world is no myth. It's the clear reality. Nations are hallucinations. People are real. Nature is real. Peace is real. Justice is real. One World is real. It must be One -- and it must be won.

Sam Husseini has helped launch the web page which goes up today.

[originally published at on Feb. 15, 2003]

A New Way To Vote -- As A Duet

Come election day, millions may vote for George W. Bush and Al Gore while not believing in them. Doubtlessly, some will vote for one of these two enthusiastically, but sometimes it seems neither of these candidates has inspired many beyond their immediate family and those on their campaign payroll. Many unimpassioned voters would consider backing a third party candidate, like consumer advocate Ralph Nader - or Pat Buchanan or the Libertarian or Natural Law candidates. But voters are scared.

Many are frightened that Gore will win - so they plan to vote for Bush; many others are afraid that Bush will win - so they're looking at voting for Gore. Are we becoming a nation that votes its fears rather than its hopes and convictions? A vote should be a statement of what someone believes - and indeed millions will do that come November 7. However, many feel sidelined, their heart tells them to vote for a third party candidate, but their head tells them to go for the "lesser of two evils."

Even with these shackles there are solutions - if people really do think it through. One answer is suggested by the group Citizens for Strategic Voting, which is taking out ads in newspapers urging people in states in which Gore or Bush does not have a chance of winning to vote for Ralph Nader. People could thus vote for Green Party candidate Nader without feeling they are helping whichever of the major party candidates they want to keep out of the White House. This is of course because the president is elected by winning a majority of the electoral college and the candidate who wins a given state gets all the electoral votes from that state. And if Nader gets 5 percent of the popular vote, as Ross Perot did in 1996, the Green Party gets federal money in 2004.

Good enough. But what if you live in one of those "swing states," (like Florida, Louisiana, Missouri, New Mexico, Ohio, Tennessee, Michigan, Oregon, Washington) or if you don't believe the polls?

Here's a sure-fire solution - if you are close to (and trust) someone who is on the other side of the two party divide in your state.

Say a husband plans to vote for Gore since he thinks Bush is dim. His wife plans to vote for Bush because she thinks Gore is deceitful. If they both - in the their hearts would like to vote for some third party candidate - they can do so, by trusting each other and both voting for the third party candidate.

If they had just gone along with the husband voting for Gore and the wife voting for Bush, in effect they would cancel out each other's vote. But if they both vote for a third party candidate, they can magnify their votes. For example, if instead of one for Gore and the other for Bush they both voted for Nader, they would not change the balance between Gore and Bush, but they would give Nader two votes. Instead of "wasting" their votes (by canceling out each other), they would double their vote by giving both to the candidate they truly want. They would vote their conviction without helping whichever politician they least want. Of course, people can do this with any third party candidate, and indeed, with any two third party candidates (a husband can vote for one third party candidate, the wife for a different one). This would send a strong signal that people are not satisfied with the major parties.

A would-be Republican voting for Nader is not as unlikely as it might seem to some. Nader's attraction comes largely from his intelligence and integrity. In his address at the Green Party convention, he welcomed "authentic conservatives" - as opposed to "corporatists." He stands for community, for family, for accountability - as well as for social justice, the environment and peace. He stands against abusive power, whether by corporations - or the government.

This "vote swap" option is exercised by politicians all the time. One congressman votes for another's dam project in return for a vote for his military base. Maybe it's about time that the public used such tactics.

So there are solutions. People don't need to feel bound by the "lesser of two evil argument." Step one: vote your convictions; Step two: figure out what's happening in your state and vote with your head; Step three: find a friend, relative or co-worker who was planning on voting for the other "less of two evils," make a pact and double your heart instead of canceling out each other on election day.

[originally published on Common Dreams on Oct. 29, 2000; posted on posthaven Dec. 17, 2015]