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Monday, July 16, 2018


My exchange with Jerry Fresia has now become much more serious than a dispute between two old lefties.  Since I think his latest extended comment must be read, I will reproduce it at the end of these remarks, rather than simply suggest that you hunt it up in the comments section.

Jerry’s statement is a cry from the heart, a cri de coeur, as the French say, and it takes precedence over everything I wrote in my previous posts.  We are, in this life, not disembodied spirits, but real human beings who have been born into a specific moment in time and have lived specific, concrete lives, lives that shape what we experience and believe.  Jerry has earned his deep-rooted skepticism about everything the powers that be proclaim in a way that I have not earned my readiness to credit Robert Mueller’s investigation.  Since I knew McGeorge Bundy and Henry Kissinger personally before they become lying defenders of America’s imperial brutality, I feel a certain confidence in my evaluation of them as lying sacks of shit, but to the larger world, they were no less credible than Robert Mueller.

I hope this investigation leads to Trump’s downfall, or at least to his political emasculation, whatever the underlying truth may be, but as regards the truth, we must simply wait and see.

Here is Jerry’s comment:

“First let me say that I hate being a fly in the ointment and, as well, I hate having to take positions that might even bolster Trump's claims of fake news. I will add that the latter part of your post is perfectly reasonable and I am attempted to say, "Yeah, that makes sense. I can accept that." But there's a big BUT that prevents me from doing so.

You haven't addressed two aspects of the situation that just flat out bug me. One has to do with trust, the other with the smearing of leftists. My guess is that you would probably agree that the CIA and FBI have have lied to the American people so many times on so many important issues (including Mueller re the WMD/Iraq debacle) that refusing to trust what the national security state declares as truth is rational. So for me, the issue has less to do with epistemology than it does with heartfelt trauma.

Your work with African Americans and South Africans seems to have had a searing impact on you and your point of view. We all probably have these kinds of searing, gut wrenching experiences that impact whom and what we trust. I was an intelligence officer with the Air Force during the Vietnam War. I never saw combat but I had a very high top secret clearance and I saw not only the reality of the horror of that war, I saw the orders of various barbaric missions days in advance of those order being carried out. It was painful watching all that unfold. But here's the kicker: as these events unfolded, government spokespeople and the media ALWAYS lied about was going on. There was no doubt about this from where sat. I knew various media military analysts knew almost as much as I did. I even tried to be a whistle blower but was rebuffed.

I had volunteered. But I was duped. I felt betrayed. It became clear to me that my life, not to mention the lives of the Vietnamese didn't count for squat. As time went on, I would learn (thanks to academics such as yourself) that the systems of betrayal had no limits. The US military tested bacterial weapons on unsuspecting Americans in San Francisco (MKULTRA), to cite one example of the contempt gov officials can have toward ordinary people. The CIA lied to JFK about the Bay of Pigs, knowing it would fail while telling him it would help oppressed Cubans overthrow the authoritarian Castro (had JFK, by the way, not shown enormous resolve in refusing US air support, revolutionary Cuba would never have survived). I believe that Malcom X, JFK, MLK, RFK, Fred Hampton and many Black Panthers, along with so many young African Americans today have been either murdered or their murders covered up by the national security state. And so what is behind all this mayhem and mendacity? Well, it begins with a simple fact that you have so eloquently explicated time and again: capitalism requires the exploitation of workers. And so it is not surprising that Martin Niemöller's first targeted population (First they came for the communists....") were leftists challenging fascism.

I once believed it all. I seriously drank the kool-aid. But those days are long gone. Mueller et al may be right. But I won't grant him that validation, not until he is shown to be correct in a court of law or in some process that permits his case to be challenged publicly on the evidence. I'm like the wife, I suppose, who has been cheated on many times. Trust the bastard? Never again.”


RobinM said...

Since you’ve moved Jerry Fresia’s remarks to here, I’ll, first of all, put my disagreement with David Palmeter’s response to him here too: I can’t speak for anyone else, but when David says,”Generally, though, the lies have been in the service of trying to cover up an earlier mistake,” I think that’s letting the powers that have been—which are for the most part, I think, the powers that still are—off far too easily. It seems to me that they haven’t just lied to try to cover for a “mistake.” It seems to me they lie often enough because they are intent on pursuing policies which they anticipate, were they honest about what they were trying to do, would be repudiated by a great many people.

I’ll offer a non-USA case in point. Britain and France could simply never have gone public before the fact—in fact they tried desperately to conceal for many years after the fact—that they had conspired with Israel to invade Suez in 1956. (And the way matters are now unfolding within Britain, where a certain kind of misrepresentation is now quite widespread, I’m not certain one could now say that there, in the UK, without being accused of anti-semitism; and if you were a member of the Labour Party chances are good that factions would try to drive you out of the Party for saying so.)

But my point was: the lying was deliberately intended to conceal what British, French, and Israeli policy then was. It wasn’t designed to cover up what proved to be a domestic and international political disaster.

There is, incidentally, an interesting essay by Corey Robin—“On Lying and Politics: Michiko Kakutani, Martin Jay, and Hannah Arendt” [the initiating essay by Kakutani is “The death of truth: how we gave up on factes and ended up with Trump”] It’s at *** ***

But on to Jerry Fresia’s remarks. He seems to be suggesting here, and in previous of his comments, that there is far too much “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” sort of thinking going on. I certainly agree with that. One thing that’s troubling about that sort of thinking is that those who dare to say “the enemy of my enemy is still my enemy” often find themselves categorized as enemies by those they are actually for the most part politically aligned with. Even more troubling is that it tends to bring serious exploration of what’s going on to a grinding halt. Maybe it’s a bit of a stretch, but I’d contend that the demonization in certain circles of Ralph Nader is illustrative of these two points—I fear it may be too contentious to suggest so, which sort of makes my point. Nader, it seems to me, quite legitimately took the opportunity of a presidential election, when American interest in politics is usually greater, to try to get across that corporate neoliberalism had to be challenged. Condemned by so many as merely a political spoiler, as merely the enemy of my friend, we lost a political educator. And the exploration of what has been deeply troubling for our societies and our world was held back for too many years.

Guy Tennenbaum said...

I have sometimes wondered why the US government didn’t just plant evidence of WMD in Iraq. They had every incentive to, seeing as how the WMD scandal proved to be a huge embarrassment that greatly undermined support for the war. And surely the cheerleading media would have played along happily.

Perhaps the answer is that we don’t yet live in a completely totalitarian state, and the government’s ability to deceive us — although real and substantial, as history has proved — isn’t absolute. In that regard, things may even have gotten better since the days of the Vietnam War (emphasis on *may have*).

Are Mueller and the FBI fabricating evidence about Russia with the ultimate aim of framing the President of the United States? I don’t think so, and to anyone who does I’d urge them to entertain a few questions, such as the following.

Did the FBI plant stories about the T***p family’s copious and acknowledged business ties to Russia, including what looks an awful lot like money laundering, going back years? Did the FBI coerce Fidelis, FireEye, SecureWorks, Threat Connect (all major cybersecurity firms) into going on record endorsing the conclusion about Russian hacking? Did the FBI plant the Russian operative who, during the campaign, sent an email to Don Jr. explicitly stating that Russia was making an effort to “help his father’s campaign”? Did the FBI orchestrate the infamous T***p Tower meeting and force the people involved to lie about it? Did the FBI coerce T***p’s own loyal CIA director, Mike Pompeo, into confirming Russian interference? Did the FBI plant the Russian operative who told George Papadopoulos that the Russians had “dirt” on Clinton the form of “thousands of emails”? Did the FBI force the T***p campaign to change the GOP platform vis-a-vis Russia? Is the FBI responsible for all of the T***p’s secretive, obsequious, groveling behavior toward Putin?

Jerry Fresia has indicated that he’s impressed by the fact that, historically, the national security community has sometimes operated independently of, and contrary to, the president. That may be true. But we should keep in mind the following facts. The Republicans now control all branches of government. They have shown every indication of serf-like devotion to the would-be authoritarian in the White House. They have made it clear that they don’t like the Russia investigation; they wish it would just go away. Even the idea of appointing a special counsel was initially met with resistance. And even the top Democrats (in contrast to MSNBC) have seem ill-inclined to play up the scandal.

Given all this, how would it be possible for the so-called “deep state” to maintain any kind of conspiracy to frame the POTUS? Wouldn’t such a conspiracy be exposed instantly? Why would Mueller or anyone else become involved when the price of being caught is, literally, execution for treason?

For all these reasons I think the obvious conclusion is that there is no deep state plot to frame the president.

s. wallerstein said...

Jerry Fresia,

We've all had the experience of realizing that people who matter to us, partners, close family members, lie systematically. I had the same experience with the U.S. government, although in a less dramatic situation than you did.

The second step, if the liar is going to continue to be part of your life (and there is no getting away from the U.S. government and its power, not even in Italy or in Chile), is to try to figure out in which situations and for what reasons the liar lies because with the exception of mythomaniacs (who are not common) liars lie for reasons, to manipulate you, to cover up misdeeds crimes, etc, and just because someone lies in situation X, that does not necessarily imply that they will lie in situation Y.

So I suggest that we examine the concrete situation of Russiagate to see why Mueller would lie, if he is lying.

To go back to your metaphor: let's suppose that we all are the deceived wife (or husband) but divorce is not viable for one reason or another. Then it seems that we
should try to figure out when our spouse lies and they don't. Will he trust them as we once did? No, but we will at least not have to face the situation blindly in the future. The unexamined marriage is not worth living, to quote Socrates.

M.S. said...

I am going to enter the gentlemanly debate between Prof. Wolff and Jerry Fresia with some measure of trepidation, but here it goes. (Because of the blog’s space limitations, I am submitting my comment in two parts.)

One can be a skeptic about many things in life. You can doubt the existence of other sentient minds, and be a solipsist; you can doubt the independent existence of material objects and be a philosophical idealist, like Bishop Berkeley; and you can doubt the truth of everything in print, whatever the source, and deem it all “fake news.”

To doubt everything to this degree may be epistemologically valid, but it effectively reduces one to a state of paralysis. Can I vote for this candidate for this office over his/her opponent, when I don’t know if the “facts” in his/her curriculum vitae/campaign literature are accurate – did she really graduate from Harvard; did she really even graduate from any college; did she really do volunteer work at her local soup kitchen; did she really vote in support of the same policy I support when she served on the local school board? Has the US government – have all governments –lied to its citizens on occasion, perhaps on numerous occasions? Yes, of course they have, and will continue to do so. The Pentagon papers demonstrated that Presidents Johnson and Nixon lied to us about the Vietnam War – or did they? How do I know that the contents of the Pentagon Papers are accurate? But as with many things in life, it is a matter of degree. I suspect President Obama was not always truthful about everything he told us, but I believe he was generally more truthful than his predecessor, and a lot more truthful than his successor.

M.S. said...

(M.S. comment, continued)

With regard to the Mueller investigation and last week’s indictment, is it possible that there is little evidentiary support for its allegations, and that Robert Mueller has some ulterior motive for the accusations contained therein? Yes, it is possible. But from what I have read – and I have not independently confirmed this – Mr. Mueller is regarded as a genuinely honorable person, with exceptional legal skills, and no particular political axe to grind. But this is not the only basis for evaluating the reliability of the accusations in the indictment. There are numerous other data points that enter into this calculus. They include the relative lack of credibility of Mueller’s detractors, the principal one of whom being President Trump. Applying pragmatic measures of evaluating truthfulness, it is evident that Trump lies on a regular basis – the size of the inaugural crowd; the motive for his immigration ban being unrelated to his campaign speeches denouncing Muslims; the tax cuts in the legislation he signed were the biggest in American history; members of MS-13 are flooding into our country and taking over our cities; etc., etc. According to a report in the Washington Post, during his first 1298 days in office, Trump uttered 1,628 false or misleading assertions, averaging about 6 per day. Trump also denounces credible new reports as “fake news,” declares that with regard to claims of collusion with Russia that there is nothing there, and labels the Mueller investigation as “a witch hunt.” It is Trump’s general lack of credibility that enhances the credibility of the Mueller indictment.

And then there is Trump’s mystifying praise of Putin and Russia. According to the news reports, Russia invaded and annexed the Crimea. I have not been to the Crimea and do not know, from personal observation, that any country, Russia or otherwise, invaded it. But, again, applying pragmatic measures of evaluating accuracy, I believe the news reports. Likewise with the reports of Russia aiding the Assad regime in its fight against the rebels. And reports that Russian agents were involved in the attack on a former Soviet spy and his daughter, using a lethal nerve toxin (which has since killed another British citizen). I do not know with any degree of certainty sufficient to satisfy a solipsist, but from a practical standpoint, I believe these news reports. In light of these events, how to explain Trump’s praise of Putin and Russia? Is it because Trump, given his eminent understanding of historical events, is seeking to reverse the American paranoia of the McCarthy era? Or is Trump beholden to Putin for something? Putin, like Trump, denies there was any collusion between his government and the Trump campaign. He also denied that Russia had invaded the Crimea. It is Putin’s lack of credibility that, likewise, enhances the credibility of the allegations in the Mueller/DOJ indictment.

I am not a solipsist. I believe in the existence of material objects. Comparing the relative credibility of Muelller vs. Trump/Putin, based on what I’ve read in the news, I believe there is evidentiary support for the allegations in the indictment.

Dean said...

Goldsmith on the context in which the indictment emerged:

Goldsmith inverts the hyper-skeptical position: Mueller's assertions are likely accurate, or nearly so, because *of course* global powers engage in this sort of "not particularly sophisticated" stuff. The question becomes, What should the U.S. have done or do now, inasmuch as it has been complicit in the establishment of norms of investigative behavior?

Keith said...

I'll call this comment a "side topic" to the main point of the discussion; though, perhaps not.

You wrote "some while ago one of Google’s internal police force decided the article on me was unsourced and with a keystroke wiped out all of it but the very first sentence".

Google has nothing to do with Wikpedia - at least that's the truth as far as I know it. Your Wikipedia article went through a number of tweaks on 2 October 2017 by an editor named "Czar" before being rather brutally truncated by same Czar.

Curiously Czar's talk page declares "vitam impendere vero".

This brings us back to the core topic: Wikipedia demands citations for its content. Now, sometimes that seems excessive ("the sun rises in the east" [citation needed]) but for Wikipedia to be of any value at all there must be references. So, sadly, I'd say the deletions were (sadly) appropriate. Again, deletions made by a volunteer editor, not Google.

Without reference to reliable, authoritative sources, you get, well, we're there.


The article was flagged back in 2013 for lack of citations with a standard template declaring "This biography of a living person needs additional citations for verification. Please help by adding reliable sources. Contentious material about living persons that is unsourced or poorly sourced must be removed immediately, especially if potentially libelous or harmful."

It looks as if Czar was working on adding citations, in the Bibliography section and then gave up on the body of the article.

Finally, to muse further on "truth", Wikipedia keeps a history of every change for all to see

Keith said...

(Sadly I should proofread more thoroughly)

Jerry Fresia said...

A more clear eyed and sober view of the indictment that has been filtered out of corporate media accounts, by
Scott Ritter: