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Thursday, July 12, 2018


After Serena Williams powered her way into the Finals at Wimbledon, I spent some time idly watching a pathetic array of Republicans do everything they could to harass FBI Agent Peter Strzok during his testimony before their committee.  They managed to establish three facts:

1.         Strzok was personally extremely opposed to Donald Trump being elected president.
2.         Strzok believed that the FBI had evidence that Trump was conspiring with the Russians to gain an advantage in the election, evidence which if revealed would hurt Trump’s election prospects.
3.         Strrzok did absolutely nothing to reveal this evidence to the public before the election.

If we assume that the Republicans desired that Donald Trump be elected president, why are they not pinning a medal on him?

[The question is a mocking rhetorical question, for those who have trouble identifying irony.]


Jerry Fresia said...

There are several possibilities:

1. Republicans know that the case for collusion, if not a stretch now, was a stretch back then - thus Strzok's commitment to FBI integrity is more of an illusion, much like Comey's.

In a recent interview with Jeremy Scahill, Sy Hersh, when asked about Russiagate, said: "I don’t know how much to say about it. I assure you that there’s no known intelligence that Russia impacted, cut into the DNC, Podesta e-mails. That did not happen. I can say that." So Strzok still comes down on the side of exposing criminal activities of Trump and co-conspirators. He's dangerous.

2. When it is admitted by intel types that the US is involved in covert activities in 76 countries, activities that would be considered acts of war if waged against the US, and when the President's trips abroad amount to a gigantic sales pitch for the selling of advanced weapon systems made in partnership between the US government and private corporations, it becomes rather obvious that the "love of money" (aka profit motive) has displaced any commitment to the common good. In other words, the state has become thoroughly corrupted and is even on the wrong side of scripture. It is not surprising,therefore, that Republicans (and corporate Democrats) want to keep the gravy train moving along. Trump is an embarrassment but now that he's in place, why rock the boat. Decency, sanity, and normalcy don't pay.

Strzok is refusing to turn a blind eye. He's a problem.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Jerry, it has for some time been clear that you and I judge the existence or non-existence of a conspiratorial relationship between Trump and the Russian government differently. Now, this is a disagreement about fact, not principle or theoretical interpretation. So let me ask you a question. What would you take as adequate evidence that (1) Russia took actions to influence the US election for the benefit of Trump, and (2) that Trump and his closest associates knew this, encouraged it, cooperated with it, and agreed to compensate Russia for the effort, if Trump got elected?

Mind you, I am not asking whether America has acted in this fashion with regard to other countries. I believe it has, and I think you do too. So let us not get distracted by the independent question whether America is reprehensible. Furthermore, I am not asking whether you think it was a bad thing for Russia to do, if in fact they did it. I am asking one simple question: What would you take as adequate evidence that Russia acted in the way described above.

LFC said...

Though the question was posed to Jerry, I'll throw in briefly my 2 cents.

What would you take as adequate evidence that (1) Russia took actions to influence the US election for the benefit of Trump, and (2) that Trump and his closest associates knew this, encouraged it, cooperated with it...[etc.]

On (1): I read a quasi-academic blog that had a frequent commenter, actually for some years before the election and then in the run-up to the 2016 election, who I gradually became convinced was being employed by the Putin 'troll factory'. If he wasn't an employee of theirs, he certainly did a v. good imitation, frequently linking to Russia Today, constantly trashing Hillary C., and so on (I won't go further into the details). So on the basis of my own experience I am pretty much convinced that there was a Russian effort in the blogosphere (and prob even more on FB, which I don't use, and twitter, where I also don't have an account), to influence the election.

On (2): Not sure exactly what I would take as "adequate evidence" for this part of the proposition, but, as I said, my own epistemic/evidentiary standards, such as they are, have been met for the first part (i.e., Russian effort to influence election).

s. wallerstein said...

1. seems fairly obvious. 2. makes several affirmations:
a. Trump knew about 1.
b. Trump encouraged 1.
c. Trump cooperated with 1.
d. Trump agreed to compensate Russia for 1.

a. can be true without b, c, and d. being true, although if b or c or d are true then a is obviously true. You all work out the combinations above.

I guess most of the controversy is not about 1. or about 2a. since there was a lot of speculation in the media about 1 and 2a. during the electoral campaign (Trump follows the media and thus, must have known about 1), but about 2b, c and d. On 2b, c and d. is the jury is still out.

LFC said...

Of course I should have added that Mueller has now handed down two major sets of indictments, counting today's, vs. Russian official actors (today's were vs. military intel officers) so yes, I think there seems to be good evidence of (1). And I pretty much agree w/ s.w.'s analysis, above. We know there was one mtg at Trump Tower between people connected w Trump, including Donald Jr., and a Russian claiming to offer dirt on HRC, and we know a few other things, but whether they add up to (b), (c), or (d) remains to be determined.

There is also a conflict between Trump's impulse to play to his base by denouncing the Mueller investigation as a witch hunt and what the politically and legally shrewder strategy might be, i.e. stay silent on it and pretend it doesn't exist and act as if he (Trump) is above the fray. Of course that's not in his character -- he seems to have little impulse control over what he says, as is demonstrated over and over (cf. his disgraceful performance in the UK just now).

Jerry Fresia said...

Thank you for asking. My simplest answer is "evidence - hard, cold, indisputable evidence made public." For example, in the latest indictment of Russians, Mueller has taken a very large step in putting meat on the bones. I find the detailed indictment to be suggestive: Mueller may have something. But we are a long way from being shown the evidence - NSA sourced, for example. And unless the Russians are actually brought to trial, the evidence behind the indictment will remain hidden. (The timing of the release of the indictment suggests that it was politicized, which pleases me. Like you, I would like to see the Mueller probe nail Trump once and forever, and if this latest indictment was intended to undermine Trump's summit with Putin, it shows that Mueller is capable of playing hardball. Good.)

But I don't think your question is the right one. What I think you should have asked is, what will it take for me to trust Mueller and company? Let's skip over the history of the FBI and CIA regarding lies, coverups, and the manipulation of the public mind (although it would be useful to recall Mueller's own involvement in covering up the role of the Saudis in the 9/11 investigation, itself a massive coverup). What we are witnessing is not just the emergence of a new cold war, but a red scare. Virtually every major critic of US institutions or the Democrats or specific policies from the left, who are shut out from corporate media and find their way over to RT (which in my opinion has presented some decent programing) have been smeared as Russian agents (Glenn Greenwald, Jill Stein, Thom Hartmann, the late Ed Schultz, Chris Hedges among others). Even left critics of the Democrats like Austrailian blogger Caitlin Johnstone or left candidates like Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders have been similarly smeared. Google algorithms have succeeded in diminishing access to left and progressive websites. Recently, Malcolm Nance tolled a ball faced lie about Jill Stein's relationship with RT on MSNBC, no correction was made. Nance was not penalized. The left is clearly the target. I support Russiagate, to the degree that it may bring down Trump and/or contribute to the "blue wave" dream. But for a leftist to support Russiagate is to play with fire. I am not at all excited about the prospect of seeing another failed-Dem presidency like Obama's. I don't trust the CIA, the FBI, the Dem leadership, Rachel, Joy and the talking heads at MSNBC to do much of anything except suppress the left. Do you?

s. wallerstein said...

Jerry Fresia,

I don't trust the people whom you don't trust, but I do follow the international political commentary in the Chilean media very closely and none of the political analysts there doubt number 1. above. The Chilean political analysts do not believe that the U.S. has God on its side or that its foreign or domestic policies are especially virtuous.

I assume that all big powers try to influence the domestic politics of everyone else: the U.S. does it, the Russians do it, surely the Chinese do it too, and even the Brasil of Lula DaSilva did it. For example, it is clear that Lula DaSilva's Workers Party funneled money to progressive candidates in Chile through "friendly" construction companies, who would have benefitted if said candidates were elected. Real politics is closer to a John LeCarré novel than to a Howard Fast one.

Jerry Fresia said...

"We’ll Know Our Disinformation Program Is Complete When Everything the American Public Believes Is False.”

William Casey, CIA Director 1981-87

Mueller has been playing a "trust us" game. Sorry. No American ought ever to trust what the security state tells them - not ever. Their job is to pull the wool over the eyes of the public. I love the story about Ralph Nader's father who asked Ralph as a child upon returning from grade school: "So Ralphie, what did you do today? Did you learn to believe or did you learn to think?"

Robert Paul Wolff said...

I am curious, Jerry. What makes you think that someone named Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won a primary against a Democratic Party old bull? Indeed, for that matter, what makes you think Donald Trump was elected president by the Electoral College and was inaugurated? And why on earth do you think Noam Chomsky is still alive? I knew someone who claimed to have that name sixty years ago and more, and he was older than I, which means he would be almost ninety now. The man I knew was a linguistic theorist, or at least pretended to be. He gave no indication of being interested in politics. By the way, are you really sure Ralph Nader was not a covert agent whose job was to draw votes away from Democrats?

RobinM said...

I appreciate s. wallerstein’s elucidation of the choices and agree with him that 2b, 2c, and 2d remain unproven. I’d add that I’m turned off by much of the Russia discussion which seems to conflate the likelihood that 1 is true with the conclusion that therefore 2a, 2b, 2c, and 2d must be true.

That said, I’m very much inclined to Jerry Fresia’s views and anxieties on this subject. I’d like to add to his admonition about the political restrictions google algorithms impose a complaint I came upon this morning—it’s from Jeffrey Goldfarb of The New School: “Closer to my home as the publisher of Public Seminar, I note that until a few weeks ago, Facebook helped bring our work to our potential readers, but that it is no longer doing so reliably. We are up against its new algorithm, which favors mainstream publications and the exchange of cat videos and the like among small groups of friends and relatives. Apparently our attempt to link our contributors to their interested audience is, according to the Facebook powers, no longer meaningful. As Claire Potter observes in her “Purple Wednesday “column this week, along with like-minded publications offering deeper and less conventional reports, analysis and commentary, we are not reaching our public thanks to the decisions of a private corporation. She therefore suggests that the Senate question Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh about Facebook, observing that digital media are shaping our lives in profound ways, and that he should be probed on this.” [ ]

Guy Tennenbaum said...

Jerry, I think we should distinguish between two claims, (1) the Democratic Party establishment sees an insurgent left as a threat and will work to undermine it, and (2) one of the ways the establishment has sought to undermine its critics on the left is by fomenting a new “red scare.” Now I think (1) is obviously true, and to be expected. The Dem Party establishment views the left as a threat in roughly the way the GOP initially saw the current occupant to the White House as a threat, and worked to undermine him. We can only hope that if the Sanders/Ocasio-Cortez wing of the Democratic Party ever takes power the establishment will fall in line behind them, just as the GOP has done, astonishingly, with T***p.

However, I don’t see any real evidence for (2). Instead what we’ve seen is, on the one hand, a group of commentators and journalists who’ve been willing to follow the evidence and acknowledge the real scandal of Russiagate, and, on the other hand, a separate group — putatlitvely on the left — unjustifiably denouncing the first group as wild-eyed conspiracy theorists. Greenwald is a prime example. The man is astoundingly intellectually dishonest (and seems only lately to have discovered his identity as a leftist). For instance, he denounced Seth Abramson as a “deranged” “conspiracy theorist” and a “charlatan and con-artist”, when Abramson is none of those things. Abramson’s reporting is serious, well-sourced, and has been borne out over time. And in fact as Abramson pointed out, Greenwald’s own Intercept website has come around to acknowledging the soundness of the case he’s been laying out for the better part of two years. Did Greenwald apologize to Abramson for the smear? Of course not.

It’s also laughably false to say that Greenwald has been “shut out of corporate media” when Fox News can’t have him on enough to bolster T***p’s claim that the Mueller probe is a “deep-state” witch hunt concocted by sore-loser Clintonistas.

It also seems inaccurate to say that Mueller has been “playing a ‘trust us’ game.” He hasn’t been playing any game that we can discern. In fact, he has said exceedingly little, which is laudable given the fire-hose of propoganda aimed at him from the White House and its media subsidiaries. Mueller is no longer head of the FBI. He is a prosecutor who has executed his duties by presenting his findings to a grand-jury and issuing indictments on their recommendation.

Anonymous said...

Although the questions were meant for Jerry Fresia, I'll allow myself a comment.

This is not the first time Prof. Wolff comments along similar lines. That has given me time to consider answers with due care. I think I get his point: one needs to get one's information from somewhere and the first choice must be the sources generally acknowledged as trustworthy.

That's a point well taken and I won't dispute it. However, I don't think one can leave things at that or that Prof. Wolff's point closes the discussion.

In other words, in matter of news one doesn't have to take in the bait, the hook, and sinker in one go. And one must be very skeptical about news in our present circumstances.

So, for what it is worth, let me answer Prof. Wolff's questions. It may help clarify my meaning.

What makes you think that someone named Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won a primary against a Democratic Party old bull?

Why would anyone fake that? Who stands to gain from lying? Maybe it's lack of imagination, but I can't think of anyone.

Indeed, for that matter, what makes you think Donald Trump was elected president by the Electoral College and was inaugurated?

If anything, that one seems even harder to fake, although that doesn't make faking it impossible. Let's assume it didn't happen. Who's the person currently in charge, then? Wouldn't one need to answer that question if one refuses to believe Trump is the prez?

And why on earth do you think Noam Chomsky is still alive?

I don't know he is alive. I think it's quite likely he is though: I haven't seen any indication to the contrary. Here I return to something frequent in situations like these: I can't imagine a reason anyone would lie about that.

Ultimately, beyond all the moral considerations human life deserves, what makes Chomsky's life or death fake-worthy? Is his life fundamentally important in the same way as Russian meddling in American politics is?

By the way, are you really sure Ralph Nader was not a covert agent whose job was to draw votes away from Democrats?

Maybe he was.

Let me put an example of my own:

Every now and again there are reports of emergency services staff (say, firemen or cops or paramedics) saving, say, a pup from a hole or from a house fire, maybe a kitten that can't climb down a tree, a horse stuck on a hole.

How do I know that really happened? Coulnd't that have been staged?

Sure it could have been staged. Maybe it was. What are the terrible consequences of my believing those news are true if they were false?

I'm talking about two kinds of errors studied in statistics: Types I and II

s. wallerstein said...

In line with the whole discussion about which sources you can trust, here is an article from today's Guardian about the relation between cell phones and cancer. Maybe this information has appeared in other media, but certainly not with sufficient coverage.

RobinM said...

Wrt s, wallerstin's citation of a Guardian piece:

The Guardian actually presents an interesting case when one is searching for reliable information and for, for want of a better word, reasonable discussion, because it is from a certain point of view--which is to say my point of view--politically and ideologically a bit schizophrenic.

It may be relied upon to purvey ugly 'truths' from the left (roughly speaking) about Trump, more generally, ugly 'truths' about the USA. But should one read it with any other knowledge about what's going on in Britain (and I suppose one has to click on the UK edition for this), one is certain to encounter almost unrelenting hostility to Jeremy Corbyn and equally unrelenting hostility to Brexit. (If any of its reporters and commentators have read, e.g., John Gillingham's book, "The EU: an autopsy," it certainly doesn't show.) If it comes across as vaguely left and somewhat even-handed, it is irrelevant wrt wrt things American, it is hardly that wrt things British. In short, the Guardian has a line on each of these matters, and so must be read with suspicion.

Of course--I hope I don't distress anyone by pointing it out--the NY Times has its lines too. E.g., rather like the Guardian the NYT's pieces on Brexit almost invariably strike me in two ways: the political causes of the Brexit vote were deplorable (one would never know from either of these two sources that there was, besides the xenophobic component, a left, pro-democratic one, among others); the economic consequences--it's always the economic consequences, that there will be political ones too hardly ever gets a mention (but then we do live in a world where consumerism is the be all and end all). The NYT's pieces on Brexit also, as I read them, are almost entirely part and parcel of its line on Trump; deplorable Brexit is just another stick to beat him with, it is irrelevant wrt British predicaments and concerns. The NYT also has to be read with suspicion.

I regret that I may come across as pro-Trump by pointing these things out. That is very far from the truth. But I have to admit I detest being fed an all too obvious line on anything, whatever the line may be. And I fear one of the awful aspects of the times we live in is that we are being fed more and more blatant lines. Everything and everyone seems to be out to convert us to their "truth."

I apologize for my dyspeptic tone.

RobinM said...

" it is irrelevant wrt wrt things American," should just read "wrt things American,"

s. wallerstein said...


Are we really "being fed more and more blatant lines"?

I grew up in the U.S. in the 1950's, and all the media exhibited a monolithic anti-communism that seems comic today. It seems to me that there is much more diversity in the media these days, and even The Guardian has articles by people like Tariq Ali from time to time.

When was the golden age of the U.S. press with such a diversity of opinions? I don't know about the U.K. press because I only started to read it when I got internet.

TheDudeDiogenes said...

Sarah Kendzior and Andrea Chalupa have a new podcast, "Gaslit Nation", the first episode of which deals significantly with Russia. ("2016, A Gaslit Year, Part One—Manafort, Wikileaks, and Trump's Long Bromance with Putin").

I have no opinion on Jonathan Chair, in terms of whether he's generally reliable (or not), but this fairly recent piece sure is an interesting read!

RobinM said...

dear s. wallerstein:

I certainly don’t want to be taken as complaining that there was a media golden age that we've lost. I remember all too well the photograph—a bearded, long-haired, sandal-wearing young man lounging at the back of the hall—the NY Times chose to illustrate the Vietnam Teach-In at Columbia in 1965. I’m old enough to have been there, so I know just how misrepresentational that was of the night-long discussions. I also recall that the British intelligence services had someone in place at the BBC just to make sure . . .

Still, it does seem to me that there has been a widespread coarsening of discourse these last several decades. In the British case, it’s harder to tell, sometimes, the so-called quality press from the tabloids. And part of that coarsening, I think, though it may simply be my age talking, is that even the media which pretend to some sort of objectivity are less and less making even a small effort to present the several sides of a political argument. Part of that is the rampant “two-sidedness,” as if two were enough. But often enough we don’t even get a good representation of at least two sides. Then there’s the editorialising that goes on in what are purportedly objective news reports. NPR is a major abuser in this regard. It didn't used to be quite so bad.

But I’ve taxed you all enough on this. So to sum up and conclude: yes, there never was a golden age; but aren’t things getting worse where the media are concerned?

yrs, r

s. wallerstein said...

Robin M.

Were you at Columbia in the 60's? I was there, and I recall going to a teach-in, although I'm not sure which year it was.

Many have pointed out that the distinction between high and pop culture is no longer with us, and that is true in the media too. As a child, I confused the NY Times with the Old Testament, but was it ever really serious in the sense that, say, Edward Said or Hannah Arendt are serious or was it just solemn, sanctimonious and pompous? I'd say the latter.

I recall the NY Times columnist, James Reston, who was considered to be the High Priest of serious journalism when I was a child and yet, although he was never pop as current op ed columnists can be, he was, to use your word, as ethically and spiritually "coarse" as Thomas Friedman and his ilk are.

Jerry Fresia said...

Ed Barreras:

Good point Ed; I should have been more precise. I should have said that Glenn Greenwald, after once having been a regular on MSNBC during the "W" era, has been shutout from corporate Dem/liberal/mainstream networks. Forced to give his analysis on RT and Fox makes him an easy target. Reminds me of when revolutionaries from Cuba, Vietnam, or Nicaragua, denied military support from the US, were forced to turn to the USSR for survival - and thus easily condemned as communist partners with the USSR. It's a blacklisting just the same. Ditto Chomsky and other leftists.

RobinM said...

No, s. wallerstein, I wasn't myself at Columbia, but my wife got her B.A. from Columbia's School of General Studies (as I think it was called) in 1965, which explains why I was in the vicinity.

Wikipedia informs that the Columbia teach-in on Vietnam took place on 26 March 1965.

For me, the most telling moment at that event was when an anthropologist, whose name I don't recall, asked the hundreds of us present, and who probably felt as if we were at the cutting edge, (to paraphrase) 'I've been trying to get people interested in what's been happening in Vietnam since 1956. Where have you all been?" (Perhaps this brief anecdote bears some connection to the subject of socio-political knowledge?) Another anecdote--since it refers to someone once known to Professor Wolff: I also attended the National Teach-In on Vietnam in May 1965 where, after a State Dept. official defended US policy, claiming that his arguments were true to what he'd been taught at U Chicago by Professor Morgenthau; at which point, as I recall, the gentleman sitting next to me stood up and pronounced "I obviously didn't teach you too well." For some odd reason, it seems to me this too might have something to do with the transmission of knowledge.
Best wishes, r