Month: November 2016

Giving Voice To Millions Of Americans – End US Wars Of Intervention

I recently met with President-elect Donald Trump to give voice to the millions of Americans, including my fellow veterans, who desperately want to end our country’s illegal, counterproductive war to overthrow the Syrian government. We had an hour-long, meaningful, back-and-forth discussion about the problems with current US policy in Syria and where to go from here.

I felt it critical to meet with him now, before warmongering neocons convince him to escalate this war that has already taken more than 400,000 lives and left millions of Syrians homeless and in search of safety for themselves and their families.

I conveyed to the president-elect how the post-9/11 neocon agenda of interventionism and regime change has left US foreign policy absurdly disconnected from our actual security interests. Our actions to overthrow secular dictators in Iraq and Libya, and attempts now to do the same in Syria, have resulted in tremendous loss of life, failed nations, and even worse humanitarian crises while strengthening the very terrorist organizations that have declared war on America.

Since 2011, the United States—working with Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, and Turkey—has been providing support to “rebel groups” fighting to overthrow the government and take over Syria. A recent New York Times article reported that these “rebel groups” supported by the United States “have entered into battlefield alliances with the affiliate of Al Qaeda in Syria, formerly known as Al Nusra.” How the United States can work hand-in-hand with the very terrorist organization that is responsible for the killing of 3,000 Americans on 9/11 boggles my mind and curdles my blood.

This absurd alliance has allowed terrorist groups like Al Qaeda to establish strongholds throughout Syria, including in Aleppo, where they are now using the civilian population as human shields and their deaths as propaganda tools.

Additionally, escalating this regime-change war by implementing a “no-fly/safe zone” in Syria would not only be ineffective, it would put the United States in direct military confrontation with nuclear-power Russia, require tens of thousands of ground troops and a massive US air presence, and commit us to yet another endless war in the Middle East that does not serve American or Syrian interests.

In short, even if the US-Saudi alliance were successful in overthrowing the Syrian government, we would be saddled with the responsibility of building a new nation in Syria. Trillions of US taxpayer dollars, and who knows how many American lives, will be lost, and there will be little to show for it. As was true in Iraq and Libya, the United States has no credible government or leader able to bring order, security, and freedom to the people of Syria if Assad is overthrown. To maintain order after Assad’s fall would require at least 500,000 troops in a never-ending occupation.

The most likely outcome of this regime-change war is that it will open the door for ISIS, Al Qaeda, and other terrorist groups who are the most powerful fighting forces on the ground, to take over all of Syria, amass powerful weapons (many of which will have been provided to them by the United States), and pose a far worse threat to the Syrian people, religious minorities, and to the world.

The crux of my advice to President-elect Trump was this: We must end this ill-conceived, counterproductive regime-change war immediately. We must focus our precious resources on investing in and rebuilding our own country and on defeating Al Qaeda, ISIS, and other terrorist groups that pose a threat to the American people.

Dr. Cornel West And Robert George Discuss Liberal Arts Education

While they are on opposite ends of the political spectrum, Princeton Professors Robert George and Cornel West have spent the past several years teaching and lecturing together to accomplish a common goal: the provision of a true liberal arts education to their students. Through their courses and their friendship, they have served as examples of how, when two knowledgeable and principled individuals come together in an honest and non adversarial pursuit of truth, the competition of ideas deepens their own understanding of that truth.


The Fate Of The Earth

Sponsored by The Nation Institute, The New School, and the Tishman Environment and Design Center, environmentalist and author Bill McKibben delivered the first annual Jonathan Schell Memorial Lecture Series on the Fate of the Earth.


4 Possible Reasons The Polls Got It So Wrong This Year

If you followed the presidential polls at all closely, chances are that you expected Hillary Clinton to win last week. So did all of the major prediction models that use polls to game out election outcome probabilities. So perhaps everyone should have expected that in a year when all political norms were broken, the polls that the political world fixates upon would also prove to be flawed.

Pollsters will be digging for months (at least) to figure out how exactly their results may have been off. The American Association for Public Opinion Research is convening a committee to study this year’s polling, but answers will be a long time coming, as the committee won’t wrap up until May 2017. Until then, here are a few ways to think about what was wrong — and right — with the polling in the 2016 election.

1. The national polls weren’t that off — they did predict more people would vote for Clinton. That’s what happened.

Donald Trump did win the most electoral votes. However, at latest count, Clinton is up by a little over half a percentage point over Trump in the popular vote (or about 725,000 votes).

That’s around 2.7 points off of Real Clear Politics’ final polling average estimating Clinton’s lead over Trump.

Is that big? Not compared with 2012. That year, Obama beat Romney by around 3.9 points. RCP’s final estimate was 3.2 points below that (this was in two-way polling; polls including third-party candidates were rare that year). But then, in 2008, the results were remarkably close, only a few tenths of a point away from the final poling average.

So this year’s national polls were off a bit, but not outlandishly so (and, again, they did predict the popular vote winner). However, we have an Electoral College, and so it’s state polls that matter in predicting who will win the presidency.

Many swing-state polls weren’t terribly far off either, as the noted Republican polling firm Public Opinion Strategies pointed out in a memo last week. However, something was still clearly off in those polls.

After all, in those nine swing states Public Opinion Strategies cited, the polls were all wrong in the same direction. All of them predicted a better performance for Clinton than she ended up having. What exactly may have caused systematic problems is what many people are questioning.

2. Some people just don’t answer the phone.

Many pollsters that do phone polling conduct it via random digit dialing. That means they should theoretically get a pretty representative sample — after all, they’re reaching out to people randomly.

It’s possible that some pollsters managed to miss Trump supporters in a big way, explains Claudia Deane, vice president of research at the Pew Research Center.

“The problem is if you get what pollsters call nonresponse bias, people are less likely to take your call or stay on the phone with you,” she explained.

She told NPR this is one of three big ways in which polling may have been off. Some populations, like people with less education, are less likely to answer when pollsters call, Deane said. Less-educated whites heavily supported Trump — far more even than they supported Romney in 2012 or McCain in 2008. And when Trump constantly beat the drum against the media (many of whose organizations conduct polling) and polling (when they showed him losing), then perhaps this nonresponse factor among his supporters isn’t so surprising.

That’s just one example. The point is that if the groups of people who are less likely to answer pollsters’ calls also happen to be the demographic groups that are more likely to support Trump, that may have thrown polls off.

3. Did people lie to pollsters?

The idea of the “secret Trump vote” popped up throughout the election — the theory being that voters didn’t want to tell a stranger on the phone that they were voting for Trump, who said and did so many controversial things on the campaign trail. This is what is called “social desirability bias” — the idea that voters give polling answers that for whatever reason they think will reflect well upon them, and it’s the second reason Deane listed that polls could have been off.

A week ahead of the election, a panel of GOP insiders told Politico that they believed this was happening.

“I personally know many Republicans that won’t admit that they are voting for Trump,” one Virginia Republican told Politico. “I don’t like admitting it myself. It won’t matter if Hillary is up more than 5 points, but we might be in for a surprise if Hillary’s lead is less than 5 points on Election Day.”

Her lead on Election Day was indeed smaller than 5 points, and the nation most definitely was in for a surprise (but presumably not that Politico insider).

Still, there’s reason to be skeptical that this really threw off polls much.

“If that was true, that really should apply in phone versus online polls, and for the most part we didn’t see that,” Deane said, pointing out that Trump should have performed better in online polls than in phone polls, if social desirability bias was a factor, as online polls don’t involve talking to a live person.

4. It’s hard to capture enthusiasm (or lack thereof).

Pollsters talk to a lot of people, and they try to predict which ones will, in fact, turn up at the polling place. That’s harder than it sounds.

“Way too many people tell you they’re going to vote,” Deane said.

What may have happened is that the usual models of predicting simply didn’t work this year, she explained. After all, lots of other things about the election were unusual: high levels of anger and two candidates with high unfavorability ratings, for example. That may have made this year unique in terms of figuring out which of those people were motivated to vote (or were ambivalent enough to stay home).

“We know polls do a poor job with emotion/enthusiasm/commitment,” Evans Witt, head of Princeton Survey Research and president of the National Council on Public Polls, emailed NPR. “And that appears key to Trump support.”

To the extent that pollsters overestimated Clinton supporters’ willingness to vote — or underestimated Trump supporters’ willingness — that could have thrown things off.

To be clear, these are all possibilities — pollsters will have plenty of work to do to figure out what they didn’t capture this year.

“Lots of polls this year and a lot of cutting corners to save money — a reality, but at a cost,” said Witt, who is also on the American Association for Public Opinion Research’s committee that is doing a post-hoc analysis of the accuracy of polling in the presidential election.

“It will be months before this can be sorted out,” Witt added. “Lots of data to be examined, lots of hard questions to ask and answer.”

Come 2018 and 2020, many Americans will likely find themselves taking poll numbers with an extra grain of salt or three.