Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Credulity, exceptionalism, and enemies

On June 8, 1967, at 1:54 PM in broad daylight, a United States Navy intelligence gathering ship floating in international waters 25 miles northwest of Arish, Egypt, and visibly flying the American flag, came under a surprise attack for more than half an hour by Israeli fighter jets and torpedo  boats. When the attack was finished, the ship was severely damaged, 171 crew members were wounded, and 34 men were dead.

This happened three days into the pre-emptive strike by the Israelis against Egypt, Jordan, and Syria that led to the State of Israel redrawing the boundaries of the region and establishing military occupations of the Sinai (ceded during the rapprochement between the two states and replaced by US and other UN forces), Gaza, the Golan heights, and Palestine to the West Bank of the Jordan. Israeli planes had been flying around the US intelligence ship for days, frequently circling the ship, and were well aware of its presence, its activities, and its profile.

In 2003 and again in 2007, new revelations about the attack were unveiled based on heretofore classified communication intercepts, that showed Israeli commanders knew it was an American ship and that their purpose was to sink it an leave no survivors. Some of the pilots conducting the attack called in and said they wanted to break off because it was an American ship, and they were told to sustain the attack. The attack was finally called off when distress signals reached other American Naval craft.

The motive for the attack remains unclear, given that all the senior officials in the chain of Israeli command are now dead; but most presume that the Israelis were about to expand their attacks against Egypt against the wishes of the United States, and the Israelis felt they needed to blind the Americans by hitting the ship, sinking the ship, and pleading it as an accident afterward. In any case, they did plead it as an accident, even though President Johnson's National Security staff refused to believe it; and the US, out of a realpolitik strategic decision to retain its ally status with the State of Israel, went along with a cover-up.

Press coverage generally followed the US government line, and in 2003 and 2007, when new evidence emerged to show the attack was intentional and that there was an active cover-up coordinated between the US and Israel, neither the Washington Post nor the New York Times carried the story, even though press services - the UPI and AP - distributed it.

Flash forward.

Subsequent to the coordinated attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, by a suicide- assault group associated with Osama bin Laden's martial network, using hijacked commercial aircraft as tactical missiles, the US mainstream press fell into lockstep with President George W. Bush's government. By the time Bush ordered the full scale invasion of Iraq on March 20, 2003, that same press had - with a very few notable ethical exceptions - parroted the government line. Susan Moeller, in 2004, published an article detailing a study on US and British mainstream journalism between 2001-2003, and she made the understatement that, "caught up in the patriotic fervor, US media failed to adequately question government claims leading up to the war."

The study included the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Christian Science Monitor, Newsweek, US News and World Report, The Economist, and two programs on National Public Radio - All Things Considered and Morning Edition.

The study found that by October 2002, a year after the September 11 terrorist attacks, President Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's repeated linkages of terrorism, WMD, and Iraq had engrained the three as a triple threat in the American media. The US and UK media covered in the study tended to merely reiterate the Bush administration's formulation of the "War on Terror" and its assertions that a core objective of the "War" was to prevent WMD from falling into the hands of terrorist groups. News coverage conflated all forms of terrorism. The media often quoted Rumsfeld's characterization of North Korea as a "terrorist regime" for its export of nuclear technology, but neither explored his meaning of "terrorist regime," nor contrasted it to the terrorism of al-Qaeda or of Saddam Hussein. (Moeller, who herself suggests even in this critique that Saddam Hussein was involved in 'terrorism.')
Flash back now to September 11, 2001.

Those who weren't alive or at least partly grown then do not remember the general state of panic, anti-Muslim outrage, and dangerous hyper-patriotism of the days following the attacks. Polls showed that ninety percent of US citizens favored an immediate invasion of Afghanistan. The other ten percent were effectively silenced.

Let me say here that I am a former leftist and a Christian who is still well-disposed to a great deal of 'leftist' analysis and not a few leftist policy prescriptions. I am, if a label is necessary, a kind of Christian eco-socialist.

I am often very critical of the left. But on September 21, 2001, a group of 'leftists' inside and outside the academy - including myself, Cathy Lutz, Elin Slavick, Rashmi Varma, Charles Kutzman, Ariel Dorfman, Bill Blum, Rania Masri, and Sarah Shields - were part of a very controversial and well-attended public panel at the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill who were making the case against a military response to September 11th and trying to put the attacks in a larger perspective that included American imperialism and past military aggressions. It even earned us a place on a kind of enemies-list later put out by Lynn Cheney, wife of Vice President Cheney.

For all my criticisms of the left, then and now, I was never more proud to be counted among them, or more proud of the left generally, than I was then; because when the ninety percent whose fury-blinded patriotism was about to silence that more reflective yet understandably intimidated ten percent, the left gave that ten percent its voice.

Flashing forward again now.

In 2016, a remarkable series of events takes place in the United States. The background is summarized well by social critic and author Mike Davis, in a March interview:

The evil (I use this word precisely) of Clintonite neo-liberalism screams back at us from every Trump rally. Jessie Jackson’s exciting Rainbow Coalition campaigns in the 1980s proved that it was entirely possible to ally the rustbelt and the ghetto but his center-right opponents in the Democratic Party – Bill Clinton’s Democratic Leadership Council – blew up all the bridges of progressive economic unity between imperiled white manufacturing-sector workers and the working poor of the barrios and ghettoes. Consistently championing global free trade, information elites, and financialization over manufacturing, the Clinton and then Obama White Houses have presided over the death of the industries and industrial unions that were the backbone of New Deal Democracy. Under Obama, who has continued the teacher-bashing and government-job-slashing policies of Bush, public-sector unions now face a similar decimation.

Perhaps most shocking has been the passivity of the Administration and the Democratic leadership in the face of Koch-financed offensive to destroy unions and slash public budgets in Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio. Less dramatic perhaps, but no less consequential, has been the absence of any initiative to address catastrophic job loss and the disintegration of social fabric in the industrial and mining belts of the piedmont and mountain South, including the once impregnable Democratic stronghold of West Virginia. (If you will, this is the American East Germany). The conservative religious agenda has gained such electoral salience in these areas precisely because the Democrats offer no serious counterbalance in the form of economic policy.
This proved prescient. A surprise challenge had grown up within the Democratic Primaries, when Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, self-proclaimed 'democratic socialist,' and effectively a New Deal Democrat, threw his hat in the ring, and was met with an unprecedented outburst of public support. The very elites in control of the Democratic National Committee, using a combination of dirty tricks, media collusion, and Wall Street supported Superdelegates, managed to shut down the Sanders challenge - which was a direct response to and reflection of the dynamic described by Davis above.

Wikileaks, to which we will return further down in greater detail, released an emailed memo from Democratic strategists dated in April which showed that, even prior to the recognition that Sanders might present a real challenge to Secretary Clinton's coronation, the Democrats wanted to employ what they called a "pied piper" strategy of promoting - via their media allies and others - Republican candidates who they perceived as too weak to present a credible challenge to Clinton in the General Election - those candidates being Carson, Cruz, and Trump. Trump, in particular, received far more free media coverage than any other candidate.

The tried and true triangulation strategy of the Clinton Democrats was to go indecisively left during the primaries, then shift back to the right during the General. Senator Chuck Schumer actually stated in July that Clinton's post-primary right shift would lose some blue collar voters in the rust belt, but that her gains among white suburbanites would not only offset the blue collar losses, it would recapture the Senate for the Democrats. The Democratic National Committee and Clinton's strategists knowingly won the primaries in Red States knowing they would lose these states in the General, cynically - again - mobilizing African American support prior to reaching out to constituencies who are generally hostile to African American interests.

As Trump moved closer to capturing the Republican nomination, polls that showed Sanders made a far stronger showing against Trump than Clinton, who was wildly unpopular for a number of reasons - good and bad. The DNC and Clinton strategists determined that it was more important to shut out Sanders' left wing than it was to put forward the strongest candidate. The hubris of this strategy would only become apparent on the evening of November 8th, when as midnight approached the chagrined and shell-shocked talking heads of CNN and MSNBC came to the realization that - popular vote aside - the electoral college numbers had just handed the Oval Office to Donald Trump.

In the post-mortems that followed, the agendas were sustained. The Democratic establishment blamed Sanders and Jill Stein. Sanders because he had given ammunition to the populist appeals of Trump's surrogates, and Stein because she had siphoned off votes. Neither was credible. Ninety percent of Sanders voters shifted to Clinton, and the other ten percent would never have voted for her anyway. And Stein's actual numbers showed that even had every Stein voter voted Clinton - another faulty assumption - even if she had carried Michigan and Wisconsin, she would still have come up short for electoral votes.

Mike Davis again, in November:

The great surprise of the election was not a huge white working-class shift to Trump but rather his success in retaining the loyalty of Romney voters, and indeed even slightly improving on the latter’s performance amongst evangelicals for whom the election was viewed a last stand. Thus economic populism and nativism potently combined with, but did not displace, the traditional social conservative agenda.
Secretary Hillary Clinton had managed to lose an election against an opponent who is arguably a greater intellectual mediocrity than George W. Bush, a sexual predator who rivaled Bill Clinton, a more obnoxious personality than Dick Cheney, an open racist and xenophobe, a carnival barker surrounded by neo-fascists, a ruthless bully, and a poster boy for financial corruption and backroom political deals.

By the morning of November 9th, the enormity of what had happened was beginning to penetrate the American consciousness. And ever since then, we have found ourselves involuntarily entertaining nightmare fantasies of what Trump may be capable. Alongside those dystopian terrors, we have begun to grasp at every straw that holds out the possibility of stepping back away from the abyss.

Flash back again.

In July 2016, Wikileaks dumped the Democratic National Committee/Clinton strategist emails on the public. These emails exposed the DNC for what it had been disingenuously denying for months - that it had its finger on the scales for Clinton and against Sanders from the start. The Clinton camp was on its heels with these revelations, and it took a twofold strategy to recover: first, it called on DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz to resign, giving the appearance that it was taking corrective action, and second, it floated a diversionary story, repeated in the Democrat-supporting Washington Post, that "The Clinton campaign - and several cybersecurity experts - said the leak was a political ploy carried out by the Russian government to aid in the election of Trump." It was almost a throwaway line that capitalized on Trump's laudatory comments about Putin and built on Clinton's Russophobic campaign chatter about Syria.

Then came October. Clinton's State Department email difficulties with the FBI combined with another Wikileaks dump, this time of lobbyist, Clinton surrogate, and Clinton strategist John Podesta's emails. This included the emails showing the 'pied piper strategy' to promote Trump as an immanently defeatable candidate. Already uncomfortably close to Trump in the narrowing polls, this October double-whammy sent the Clinton camp into a rage. By then, a joint statement from the intelligence services of the Democratic administration of President Barack Obama was prepared to underwrite the earlier claims by Clinton that the Russian government was behind the Wikileaks releases. Again, this explosive accusation was timed to deflect attention from the contents of the emails, which no one denies were authentic.

In fact, to date, no one has ever challenged the veracity of a single Wikileaks release.

Now, there is very little doubt that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange was hostile to Clinton. He has said as much, and even Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept, who assisted whistleblower Edward Snowden in exposing the lies and illegal machinations of the National Security Agency - one of the agencies that came to support Clinton's Russophobic claims - publicly chastised Assange for his obvious timing of these releases in October, and accused Assange of partisanship. So yes, Julian Assange does not like Hillary Clinton. And yes, Wikileaks released the emails at a crucial time prior to the election. And yes, the emails were hacked. But none of this changes two things: first, the emails were damning on their own, and second, the emails were authentic. In other words, the revelations contained in the emails were true, and therefore a true reflection of the thinking and actions of both Podesta and Clinton. And no, no one has proven that the Russians did it.

And what the October statement from the intelligence community actually said was, "The kinds of disclosures that we've seen, including at WikiLeaks, of stolen e-mails from people who play an important role in our political process is consistent with Russian-directed efforts."

"consistent with Russian-directed efforts"

This phraseology is not consistent with " a high degree of confidence," and not one single intelligence agency has yet given solid evidence that proves that (1) the emails were hacked by the Russian government or (2) that the Russian government is the entity that supplied them to Wikileaks. When the US government is sure of something, and it wants that something to be known, it will say it without equivocation. It will not say the leaks "suggest Moscow is at least providing the information or is possibly directly responsible for the leaks." (italics added)

Let's shift gears again, and talk about Russia.

First of all, Russia is not the Soviet Union. That union fell apart in 1991, and what became the Russian Federation afterwards was only 60 percent of the USSR. Post-Soviet Russia, subjected to ruthless neoliberal austerity, was a social catastrophe. Hyperinflation and the collapse of industry led to the selloff of state industrial assets at fire sale prices to international speculators and a newly emerging group of native oligarchs. Wages were not paid, jobs disappeared, basic supplies - including food and medicine - dried up. Suicide skyrocketed. Male life expectancy went from 65 years in 1986 to 57 years in 1993. Poverty which claimed 1.5 percent in 1986 went to 49 percent by 1993. A mafia-like oligarchy rose up in the ruins. The 1998 Asian financial crisis - brought on by American retaliatory currency speculation - exacerbated the situation.It was only in 1999, when a spike in oil prices infused Russia with new capital, that a recovery began, darkly backgrounded by a grinding counterinsurgency war against Chechnyan separatists.

Enter Vladimir Putin, son of a Naval enlisted man and a factory worker. He studied International Trade in school and learned fluent German. He eventually joined the Soviet intelligence service as a KGB officer, working under cover as a translator. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Putin renounced communism, calling it a "blind alley," and became a loyal member of the Russian government as a adviser in foreign affairs. In 1994, as a chief officer in the St. Petersburg government, he helped organize the local branch of the nationalist Our Home is Russia party. As  Yeltsin loyalist, he held several positions in government until he was appointed head ofthe Federal Security Service in 1999. Yelstin resigned later that year, and Putin became the interim leader. During elections the following year, Putin was elected President with 53 percent of the vote.

Putin had a rocky first four years, but his popularity increased nonetheless, and he won with 71 percent of the vote - in what were deemed legitimate elections by international observers - in 2004. That was when he began confronting and even taking down some of the oligarchs, which consolidated his popularity. This is an important point for outsiders, especially in the United States, where Putin is routinely portrayed as a dictator. Putin is extremely popular among Russians, more popular than any US President in living memory, as this is written, 89 percent.

That is not to co-sign Putin's actions or policies, but simply stating the fact: Putin is well liked by Russians, in large part, because his tenure, first in two terms as President, then one term as Prime Minister, and now another as President, has - by whatever means - steadily increased the Russian standard of living.

Putin is also very socially conservative, and has pandered to a conservative population with homophobic laws and the like. Putin has - like his American counterparts - steadily increased executive power. Putin has implemented measures at home that restrict civil liberties, and Russia has the second highest per capita incarceration rate in the world. The first position is held by the United States.

Putin has also - like his American counterparts for the US - engaged in ruthless activities abroad to aggrandize Russian power. He is not a devil. He is not an angel. He is a head of state. And it is foreign policy where he has run afoul of American foreign policy, beginning with the US insistence on maintaining NATO - a Cold War military alliance that is strategically positioned to confront Russia. Various former  member states of the Soviet Union are and were in dependent trade relations with Russia, and Putin has endeavored to hold those states within his orbit of influence, whereas the US and NATO have endeavored to pull them away. Complex conflicts in places like Georgia and the Ukraine are heavily inflected by this antagonism. Russia has cemented relations with India and China through various agreements that arguably push back on American influence in Asia. Other nations who have been targeted by the US, for example Venezuela, have sought strategic relations with Russia as a counterbalance to American hostility. Most significantly now, given the US post-Cold War pivot to the Middle East, US hostility to Iran led that governments to seek the cautious friendship of Russia. Russia and the Assad government in Syria have had an alliance that began with and survived the Soviet Union.

The key conflict now, and during the US General Election campaign season, was Syria.

This is where things get more complex by orders of magnitude, because the American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, followed by American military operations in five other countries, destabilized the region, threw the old balances of power into question, and combined with the Arab Spring phenomenon, to create a near perfect storm of unpredictability. One accidental outcome of the US invasions has been the rise of ISIS. The other accidental outcome was to vastly increase the influence of Iran in the region, to the horror of two other US allies, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

With this in the background, we can return to Syria in 2009, but it begins with a drought that started in 2006. So, yeah, climate change.

This protracted and severe drought led more than a million farmers to abandon their fields and head to the cities to seek a new living. This placed incredible strain on physical and social infrastructure, which raised the general level of dissatisfaction and anger. Assad's acceptance of neoliberal policies, especially outsourcing shelter provision to private contractors, only served to increase that dissatisfaction.

Meanwhile, starting in December 2010, a series of massive protests broke out in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Algeria, Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, and Sudan. These protests escalated in some cases to the overthrow of governments, and they were dubbed Arab Spring.

In February 2011, Syrian police beat up a shopkeeper in the al-Hamidiya market, sparking an unprecedented street uprising. No sooner had that died down than children who sprayed anti-Assad graffiti were rounded up in the city of Daraa and tortured. That's when the protests went nationwide, and the government crackdown was brutal. What is important to recognize about this early stage of opposition to Assad is that it was largely peaceful and had democratic aspirations. But the variable interests of the Assad regime and many outside actors caused this to metastasize into a wretched and horrifying civil war.

Russia, Iran, Belarus, China, and the putative government of Iraq are now supporting Assad's government. The United States, Libya, Qatar, France, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia are directly supporting various anti-Assad forces, with non-lethal support from UK, Canada, UAE, Netherlands, Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and Italy; and several of these anti-Assad forces are fighting each other as well. Additionally, ISIS is opposing Assad, while being targeted by the US as well as Russia. Twenty splinter militias are affiliates of the so-called al Qaeda network. Kurdish units are strategically advancing independence in Kurdish held areas, even as they are involved in similar efforts in neighboring states and have been heavily targeted by Turkey. As I said, it gets extremely complicated, except for the hundreds of thousands of causalities and displaced persons for whom this has been a simple matter of unanswered pain and unending misery. The good guys are mostly among this group, and the rest with the guns have crossed so many lines that moral comparisons seem impossibly superfluous.

Right now, there are militias funded by the Pentagon who are fighting militias funded by the CIA.

(As an important aside, I absolutely reject the apologetics among certain 'anti-imperialists' on behalf of Assad's regime. Assad's regime started this war with its thuggish response to its own policy failures, and it is guilty - along with Russia - of horrendous war crimes. That does not mean I want the US to be involved. We are not the world's cops; and our interference is never done from humanitarian motives.)

Long story short, the US has toyed with the idea of a no-fly zone, whereas the Russians have been using air strikes in support of Assad. During the campaign, this no-fly zone was a Clinton saber-rattle to reassure everyone she was still down with the national martial masculinity no matter her sex. She has been consistently hawkish on military matters and foreign US military entanglements. When she floated this no-fly thing, her left flank responded with reasonable alarm and asked the question: Does this mean that you'll establish this no-fly zone and shoot down Russian aircraft when they violate it? While she was never keen to give a direct answer, any more that Generalissimo Trump was to explain how he was going to 'defeat ISIS,' this probably did not endear her to the Russian government.

So yes, there are real antagonisms between the US and Russia, and yes, Trumps refusal to rattle his saber against Russia might endear this fool to President Putin. Putin, as an experienced politico, however, is well aware of the difference between public campaign pronouncements and actions taken in office; and I expect he also sees Trump as the volatile nitwit that he is. The US press parroted claims (from Trump, no less) that Putin thought Trump was "brilliant," which Putin denied, and for which no one has ever found an actual instance, because it was made up by Trump.

So there is some background, maybe more than you want.

Now I can return to my actual thesis in the post title: "credulity, exceptionalism, and enemies."

How do Vladimir Putin and Russia come to be quasi-official enemies of the United States? Given that neither pose the least threat to actual Americans living in the actual United States (unless someone has been watching Red Dawn through a hit of ketamine), what is it that makes Russia bad . . . for "us"?

Here is where we have to wrap back about again and get our heads around another concept: American exceptionalism.

This concept has an immensely long Wikipedia entry, which I won't regurgitate here, because it is the attitude with its unexamined assumptions upon which we want to focus for the purpose of this discussion.

When the right-wing Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal pulled President Obama's tail last year, he did so by saying, "There’s a greater problem here. This is a president who won’t proudly proclaim American exceptionalism, maybe the first president ever who truly doesn’t believe in that. Look at his foreign policy. Doesn’t believe America as a force for good, it doesn’t seem. Seems like instead, he believes in multilateralism as a goal, not a tactic. He allows foreign capitals to have veto power over our foreign policy."

To which Obama replied, during an address to West Point cadets, "“I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism."

Even more strangely, in an otherwise incoherent monologue earlier this year, Donald Trump said,

"I don't like the term. I'll be honest with you. People say, 'Oh he's not patriotic.' Look, if I'm a Russian, or I'm a German, or I'm a person we do business with, why, you know, I don't think it's a very nice term. We're exceptional; you're not. First of all, Germany is eating our lunch. So they say, 'Why are you exceptional. We're doing a lot better than you.' I never liked the term. And perhaps that's because I don't have a very big ego and I don't need terms like that. Honestly. When you're doing business—I watch Obama every once in a while saying 'American exceptionalism,' it's . . . I don't like the term. Because we're dealing—First of all, I want to take everything back from the world that we've given them. We've given them so much. On top of taking it back, I don't want to say, 'We're exceptional. We're more exceptional.' Because essentially we're saying we're more outstanding than you. 'By the way, you've been eating our lunch for the last 20 years, but we're more exceptional than you.' I don't like the term. I never liked it. When I see these politicians get up. . . 'the American exceptionalism' - we're dying. We owe 18 trillion in debt. I'd like to make us exceptional. And I'd like to talk later instead of now. Does that make any sense? Because I think you're insulting the world. And you, know, Jim, if you're German, or you're from Japan, or you're from China, you don't want to have people saying that. I never liked the expression. And I see a lot of good patriots get up and talk about Amer—you can think it, but I don't think we should say it. We may have a chance to say it in the not-too-distant future. But even the, I wouldn't say it because when I take back the jobs, and when I take back all that money and we get all our stuff, I'm not going to rub it in. Let's not rub it in. Let's not rub it in. But I never liked that term."

Hookay, Donald . . . but in a weird way, he is doing what Obama did, which is to deny American exceptionalism as an American exceptionalist.

What I mean by the term is simply an unexamined double standard. That the United States, as a political-military-economic actor, is entitled to do things for which we would not grant a similar entitlement for others.

The best example I know of was when President Rafael Correa of Ecuador refused to renew the lease in Ecuador for the US Air Force base in Manta. The US claimed it was for drug interdiction, which may have been partly true - that was the lie I was told to tell every time I advised South American militaries on counter-insurgency, that we were doing drug interdiction training. The US was enraged, and the US press began referring to him not as "the President of Ecuador," but as "the left-wing President of Ecuador." The temerity of the man! To refuse a US military base in his country! In response to criticisms from the US, Correa went on to say, "We'll renew the base on one condition: that they let us put a base in Miami - an Ecuadorean base. If there's no problem having foreign soldiers on a country's soil, surely they'll let us have an Ecuadorean base in the United States."

He was calling out American exceptionalism. And there is still no Ecuadoran military installation in Miami.

Not many US citizens even question whether the US has a right to militarily invade foreign countries that present no threat, or to conduct targeted drone assassinations (with plenty of civilian casualties) on someone else's soil. But few American citizens would stand by if a foreign country, for example, flew troops secretly into the United States to capture a criminal; or targeted someone inside the US with death from above in the form of a UMAD. Because not many US citizens question whether or not the US should be the boss among nations; and fewer still would believe that this boss status has been anything except a net positive. We were quick to condemn the fictional "weapons of mass destruction," and even shift that bullshit parlance into our everyday speech and episteme, without ever pointing out that the US is in possession of by far the most WMDs (see how I did that) of any nation on earth, and we are the only nation to have ever incinerated whole cities with atomic bombs.

Concurrent with this belief system is how we construct the world in our minds as a world of allies and enemies, and how the double-standard of American exceptionalism is extended into that definition.

And this is why the level of outrage can be quickly ratcheted up by press reports that imply, while carefully avoiding any full-bodied commitment, that the Russian government hacked the emails of John Podesta and others in order to "interfere" in US elections, knowing full well that they are trying to create the impression that is is an established fact. Because they are our elections! Because Russia is already outside our national Meet the Fokkers "circle of trust" as quasi-official enemies!

It is true that most Americans do not know that the US State Department maintains an alphabet soup of agencies whose sole purpose in the world is to interfere in other countries' elections. But when when presented with that fact, we will refuse to dampen out outrage, because we are exceptionalists.

And it is true, that pointing out this hypocrisy does not disprove that the Russians did it; but then again this the kind of negative that can never be proven. The reason this comparison is important is not as an item of proof or disproof, but to point out how our exceptionalism has predisposed us (and our media) to believe a thing that is unproven.

By pointing out how the only sources in this story are US Intelligence Agencies, who are an arm of the Executive Branch now bossed by a Democrat who has the power to hire and fire at will, have serially lied to the public in the past, we cannot prove the story is NOT true. But we can state that the history of these agencies, even their recent history, does not support the presumption of honesty that they still enjoy from the public and the media.

When so-called journalists, who claim to be the watchdogs of democracy and whatnot, give as evidence "unnamed sources" from the CIA (that bastion of prescience, accuracy, and honesty), who tell the journalists that they have concluded in a "secret assessment" that "identified individuals with connections (still unnamed)" have information on the hacks, and that even though there are "disagreements among intelligence officials about the agency’s assessment, in part because some questions remain unanswered," are skepticism meter ought to jumping like a salamander in a skillet.

When “intelligence agencies do not have specific intelligence showing officials in the Kremlin ‘directing’ the identified individuals to pass the Democratic emails to WikiLeaks,” (quoted from the Washington Post), we should do a little exercise:

Remove the word "specific" (if it's not specific, it's not intelligence) and the scare quotes on "directing" and see what this says - then you learn the power of innuendo. Here is what is says without the little editorial insertions:

"Intelligence agencies do not have intelligence showing officials in the Kremlin directing the identified individuals to pass the Democratic emails to WikiLeaks." This is the substance of the headliner that has everyone in an uproar, buried inside a mountain of odiferous innuendo. What the weasel wording does is provide an escape hatch if the story goes bad.

Now remove the "identifiable individuals" who won't be named, and for whom you have no secondary sources to verify, and you have precisely nada.

Those who claim they would make comparable outcries of outrage about the shenanigans of the US as they are about the presumptive and unproven allegations that Russia threw an American election will not find a receptive audience to their pleas here. I've watched the coups in Haiti go almost unnoticed, the attempted coup in Venezuela unnoticed, the 2009 Obama-Clinton era coup in Honduras, consolidated with Clinton-Obama's able assistance go unnoticed, while the US press colluded at every step of the way to pass it off as "a constitutional crisis." Not a peep from the same people who are swallowing this latest faux-revelation hook, line, and sinker.

American exceptionalism!

Now let's flash back to the story of the USS Liberty we recounted at the very beginning. How did this story disappear? How did it disappear when we worship the military, sing songs of our sacrificial heroes, and demand revenge when the symbolic "we" in uniform are attacked? How? Because the State of Israel is "our" ally, inside the circle of trust without question. And I don't want this to mobilize the usual rants about Zioinism (Zionism is bad, there is my ritual denunciation - no there is no world Jewish conspiracy - yes, most anti-Semites are anti-Zionist, but most anti-Zionists are not anti-Semites - no, Israel does not run American politics - yes, Israel is a brutal racist settler state).

My point with the story of the USS Liberty is the way an ally is within the symbolic boundary of our exceptionalism. And how the government and the media collude, which they do, a lot.

In El Salvador years ago (1985), I met a woman who reported for the Chicago Tribune. I asked her why they didn't report on the human rights violations (by Salvadoran government allies, trained and equipped by the US) up north. I knew they didn't get far from their favorite hotel those days (it was a dangerous place!). But still, everyone there knew. C'mon! She told me that if anyone reported that, they'd lose access to their official sources at the Embassy. Think on that.

So we have this exceptionalism in place before this story, a story that has been parodied in a spoof headline: "CIA claims to uncover conspiracy to install right-wing government."

But what has fueled this on, over and above our nation-centric myopia, is that fear we described earlier with regard to Trump. There is a certain consequentialism that takes over when the fear is great enough. I don't care if its a harmless or beneficial spider, I just stomp on it.

We do not care that Clinton engineered her own defeat. We are not into that kind of reflection right now, because there's a fucking spider on me!!! We are terrified! This story might - this is how desperate people think - it might become the basis for electoral college members to cast their votes away from Trump on December 19th.

This is the ultimate electoral Hail Mary play. Politico reported yesterday, that some electors (mostly Democrats) are asking for an intelligence briefing before the votes are cast. This would require convincing 37 Republican electors to switch their votes, so like I said, desperate. But . . . spider!!!

My objection to this story has nothing to do with whether or not the Russian government hacked some emails. I don't know. My issue is with the danger of letting this kind of fake journalism continue to mobilize the masses, because it might be good (in the fantasy of ridding ourselves of Trump) this time; but the record is one that can be summed up in three letters: WMD. Or three other letters: War.

But the only way to hold the media accountable is to learn to use our skeptics muscles and exercise them frequently. These are not arguments:

(1) The Russians had means, motive, opportunity. (Are we in a Law & Order rerun?) This is not evidence. No problem, if that fails, move on to (2).

(2) Hackers keep their identities secret, so that is why we don't have the evidence to prove what we know is true - The Russians did it. Really? That's not evidence, that is a fallacy called petitio principii. But if this fails, refer back to (1).

(3) The WaPo and NYT would not say it if it weren't true. Uh, yeah . . . they would, because they have. But if this bogus argument fails, refer back to (2) and (1).

(4) Putin is bad. He's not above this. Trump is bad. He's not above this. Hookay . . . let's paint by the numbers. Powerful people are bad for the most part (probably including the ones you approve of), because that is how they became powerful. This does not mean, however, that because Al Capone was bad (and powerful) that he kidnapped the Lindberg baby. Fallacy: non sequitur. However, if this bogus argument fails, try (1), (2), or (3), because premise shifting works the same way an eel does when it is trying to get off a hook.

(5) The articles say "a preponderance of evidence." Yes, and they also said "weapons of mass destruction." Saying the words, "preponderance of evidence" is not synonymous with an actual preponderance of evidence. Argumentum ad verecundiam (look it up). If this bullshit argument also fails, try the tactic at the end of (4), which employs (1), (2), and (3).

The reason I and others are staking out a minority position on this story is that (whether we are leftists or Christians or just folks that think the truth is more important in the long run that an outcome), there may only be ten percent who aren't going there, but that ten percent deserves a voice..

Read the following links for some nuance on this story.






There is not one shred of solid evidence to prove that Wikileaks received those emails from Russian government operatives.


  1. I really appreciated this Stan, thank you very much.

    All good medicine,


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