In 1745, Samuel Johnson published a commentary entitled Miscellaneous Observations on the Tragedy of Macbeth:
“Thus the doctrine of witchcraft was very powerfully inculcated; and as the greatest part of mankind have no other reason for their opinions than they are in fashion, it cannot be doubted but this persuasion made a rapid progress, since vanity and credulity cooperate in its favor.
The infection soon reached the Parliament, who, in the first year of King James, made a law, by which it was enacted, Chapter XII:
1. “If any person shall use any invocation or conjuration of any evil or wicked spirit;
2. or shall consult, covenant with, entertain, employ, feed or reward any evil or cursed spirit to or for any intent or purpose;
3. or take up any dead man, woman or child out of the grave, –or the skin, bone, or any part of the dead person, to be employed or used in any manner of witchcraft, sorcery, charm, or enchantment;
4. or shall use, practice, or exercise any sort of witchcraft, sorcery, charm, or enchantment;
5. whereby any person shall be destroyed, killed, wasted, consumed, pined, or lamed in any part of the body;
6. that every such person being convicted shall suffer death.”
Thus, in the time of Shakespeare, was the doctrine of witchcraft at once established by law and by the fashion, and it became not only unpolite, but criminal, to doubt it; and as prodigies are always seen in proportion as they are expected, witches were every day discovered and multiplied so fast in some places Bishop Hall mentions a village in Lancashire where their number was greater than that of the houses.”
In a previous essay, I made a case for the wisdom of being a RussiaGate agnostic. That as soon as we believe we know definitively what happened, in this moment we begin trudging down the path to hysteria. The solution is to focus on the evidence.
Glenn Greenwald encapsulates this position rather well in The Psychology of RussiaGate:
“I don’t really know if that happened. We just have to wait and see.”
What I have said from the very beginning was exactly the same as what I say now, which is of course it’s possible, and even plausible, Russia engaged in disinformation campaigns or hacked with the intention of undermining or destabilizing the US, because this is something the Russians and the US have done to one another (and to everybody else) for many decades.
Nobody would ever say, “Oh, this isn’t something Vladimir Putin would do, he’s too ethical, he’s too cautious.” But we could say his is minor in the scope of what the Russians and the Americans do to one another, and have long done to one another.
Nobody rational would ever say “Oh, I don’t believe this happened.” My argument has been very simple and consistent, which is the lesson I thought we learned from Iraq is we shouldn’t accept inflammatory claims from the US government unless accompanied by convincing evidence those claims are true.
We shouldn’t accept them on faith, especially when they’re being laundered anonymously through media outlets. Even when they’re being issued in terms of government reports in the name of the Department of Homeland Security, that doesn’t have evidence to let us determine whether or not the claims are true. We ought to have high levels of skepticism about the truth of those claims unless evidence is available for us to look at that convinces us those claims are true.
And we just haven’t had that evidence when it comes to the core claim Vladimir Putin ordered Russian government agents to hack the email inboxes of the DNC and John Podesta. Maybe the Mueller investigation will one day reveal it’s true, maybe it will one day reveal that Donald Trump worked with the Russians to make that happen, but thus far, there’s very little evidence to no evidence those things are true.
Therefore, I’m saying, and I’ve always said, not that it didn’t happen, but that we shouldn’t accept the view that we did.
If she floats, she’s a witch! Burn her! If she sinks, she’s not a witch… but she drowns.
In the spirit of David Letterman, here’s a list of The Top Ten Things Which Would Convince Me It’s Not A Witchunt:
1. Evidence. Where’s the beef? Show me the money. We have been presented with no evidence any of this stuff – from pee tapes in dossiers, to DNC email server hacks, to trolls working for the Kremlin, to GRU officers being directly involved:
See for yourself. These documents do not contain evidence. Here’s their disclaimer:
“While the conclusions in the report are all reflected in the classified assessment, the declassified report does not and cannot include the full supporting information, including specific intelligence and sources and methods.”
“Judgements are not meant to imply we have proof that shows something to be a fact.”
In other words, there’s no evidence in these documents, so you’ll just have to take our word for it.
The salient question persons in authority might ask out-loud is how come so many officers of the Intel Community have not been hauled in front of grand juries to answer for their obviously incriminating behavior?
Mueller is perhaps too busy chasing Russian phantoms to draw up a bill of particulars against characters such as former CIA chief (now CNN talking head) John Brennan, who apparently orchestrated the early chapters of the Russian meddling ruse; Bruce and Nellie Ohr, who ushered the DNC’s Steele Dossier into the FBI’s warrant machinery; fired FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who managed the Steele Dossier and its spinoff mischief as an “insurance policy” against Mr. Trump; Peter Strzok, who executed the “insurance policy;” and, of course, Ms. Page, his paramour, who decided testifying before Congress was beneath her dignity.
These and probably many others.
2. Someone trustworthy to speak for the government to the public who won’t continuously insult our intelligence. Yes, an honest government official is going to be hard to find. RussiaGate or IntelGate? Mueller lied about the weapons of mass destruction. No one is sure Donald Trump can differentiate the true from the false. Therefore, neither side has credibility.
How ’bout Elizabeth Montgomery? I’d trust her over the abilities of Congress, the Supreme Court, the Executive Branch, or the Intelligence Community to act in a way which is not condescending, nor biased by their political team memberships. Maybe she could make them all disappear while she’s at it…
3. Skeptics. There has been no public debate in the mainstream media about any of this. Guilt was presumed from day 1. It is understandable folks want to get rid of Trump. He’s crayon eating, batshit bonkers.
Thing is, what sets democracy aside from say… a monarchy is the peaceful transition of power. We can’t mess with that. There could indeed have been a second civil war had Obama refused to leave office.
What we can do is throw some skeptics into the mix. Folks who know what they are doing and how to evaluate this intelligence. I nominate Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. VIPS publicly called the weapons of mass destruction fraud as it happened.
If we are going to listen to Sean Hannity and Rachel Maddow and Anderson Cooper babble about this subject endlessly, at least give us someone such as VIPS in the media too, thus explaining the technical stuff as well as debunking the parts of the RussiaGate narrative which cannot be true.
As it is now, anyone who publicly questions any of this is called a “Putin lover Communist traitor unpatriot. And stupid.” I have been called this and more from the beginning. For asking questions, such as why does everyone say 17 intelligence agencies signed off on this? The ICA says 3. Can we please have someone who is immune to groupthink?
4. Collusion. Some damned collusion to rig the election between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin is what we were promised. Where is it? I don’t care about anyone lying to the FBI obstructing justice or any of that now. No more bait and switch.
This fishing expedition for people who aren’t cooperating with the fishing expedition is a waste of our time and money. Collusion. That’s what this always has supposed to be about. Not perjury. Not parking tickets. Trump and Putin rigging the election together.
5. Some indication this Russian meddling was significantly effective in doing anything. We know the US and Russia interfere with elections around the world. Did Putin do something in excess of what we expect the CIA and GRU to do? It’s their job to meddle. Let’s not pretend. Please. They’d get fired if they weren’t up to something.
It isn’t just Russia and the US meddling either. It’s anyone with access to computers.
The Explosion of Fake Social Media Posts Worldwide
Russia’s use of social media to influence the 2016 U.S. election was part of a global “phenomenon,” in which a broad spectrum of governments and political parties used Internet platforms to spread junk news and disinformation in at least 48 countries last year.
Including U.S. government programs, about $500 million has been spent worldwide on research, development, or implementation of social media “psychological operations” since 2010.
The manipulation of public opinion over social media platforms emerged as a critical threat to public life. At a time when news consumption is increasingly over the Internet, this trend threatens to undermine trust in the media, public institutions, and science.
Disinformation during elections is the new normal. In democracies around the world, more and more political parties use social media to spread junk information and propaganda to voters.
This is the disclaimer from our US intelligence community:
Ummm… fake news is drowning the world, as is propaganda, psy-ops, and election interference.
If Russian meddling little to no impact on the outcome of the 2016 election, then RussiaGate is all much ado about absolutely nothing. There needs to be some evidence a significant number of votes were changed because of Russian meddling, else this seems like an exercise in mental masturbation.
6. No World War III. This is not a game of World of Warcraft. Even without the nukes, the US + Russia can basically destroy the world. Russia has enough ballistic missiles to end the USA.
Trying to punish Trump for his man crush on Putin, thus firing up the military/ industrial/ security complex again for more killing and profit is not what American citizens want. It is desired by war pig profiteers, just as Iraq was. They’ll get their way.
Over the weekend, CNN actually said the indictments proved Russia had committed a “terrorist attack” against the United States. This is in line with many pundits who are comparing this indictment, that will most likely never produce any evidence, to 9/11 and Pearl Harbor. The danger inherent in that thinking is clear.
Thing is, we really need to sit down and have a think about whether or not this junior high school level trolling Trump and Putin necessitate a big guns response.
7. Sanity. Do you remember not long ago, half our population who would say, “It’s Obama’s fault. Obama’s wrong. etc” Obama literally couldn’t do anything right. You’d think he’d get something right, even if by accident. What they were getting at is the definition of “wrong” became “Obama.”
Well… hate to break it to everybody, but now the situation is exactly the same, but the name “Trump” goes where “Obama” used to be. And now it is the other half of the country saying, ‘Trump always lies. It’s Trump’s fault.”
This is insane. For the same reason.
8. Instead of whining “RUSSIA, RUSSIA, RUSSIA!!!” we actually do some things to fix the election problems. You know, to keep it from happening again. We hear a hella lot of “Trump did this and Trump did that.” Do you hear anything about people addressing the problems in our “democratic” process which were exploited in 2016?
This tells me beyond a reasonable doubt the RussiaGate narrative doesn’t really have much to do with being anally virtually violated by a Russian cyber-bear. We’re not really enthusiastic about preventing this sort of pillaging, are we? We’re really enthusiastic about blaming it on Trump. The real goal is to get Trump, by any means necessary. The obligatory “sanctity of democracy” speeches are ludicrous and tired.
Common Ground: Secure Elections : We must reach common ground to safeguard common interests—taking steps to protect the nation’s elections and to prevent war between the world’s two nuclear superpowers.
Diplomacy has given way to hostility and reciprocal consular expulsions, along with dozens of near-miss military encounters in Syria and in skies above Europe. Both sides are plunging ahead with major new weapons-development programs.
No political advantage, real or imagined, could possibly compensate for the consequences if even a fraction of US and Russian arsenals were to be utilized in a thermonuclear exchange.
The tacit pretense the worsening of US-Russian relations does not worsen the odds of survival for the next generations is profoundly false. Concrete steps can and must be taken to ease tensions between the nuclear superpowers.
Maybe then we could all sleep at night…
Back home in America, Hillary defrauded the voters in the Democratic primary. The outcome was determined long before a vote was cast. Has anyone fixed this?
Both Dubya and Trump lost the popular vote, yet became el presidente in spite of being losers. The Electoral College. Has anyone fixed this?
The Republican party ratfucked America’s democracy through gerrymandering. The Supreme Court ruled Republican voter suppression laws are too racist, even by GOP standards. Anybody want to focus on how Americans sabotage our own democracy with these kind of shit tactics?
Lemme reiterate: Americans don’t really care all that much about the rigging of elections. We know they’re rigged. RussiaGate is political theater. Reality TV – Bringing White Back to the White House .
On the one hand, demands for action — we must defend our democracy! — are issued at a rapid clip. On the other hand, nobody ever seems to explain what exactly ought to be done. Sometimes the demand is simply for Trump to stop “appeasing” Putin.
Since the media appeasement-mongers seem unable to tell us what we should actually do about Russian meddling, I’ll go ahead and make a practical suggestion of my own:
The Strengthening State and Local Cyber Crime Fighting Act, introduced by Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX), calls for the creation of a National Computer Forensics Institute within the Secret Service that would train and equip state and local governments, prosecutors, and courts — which often lack their own technical expertise — to investigate cyber crimes like the hacking of the Democratic National Committee emails or Russian intrusions into voter registration lists.
It’s a smart and practical step that could actually prevent future Russian meddling. There’s only one problem: Trump already signed the bill into law last November.
My point in bringing up the bill is not to say Trump has been unfairly denied credit for it; I doubt he was more than dimly aware of what he was signing. My point is those in the media who are currently rending their garments over the threat of Russian interference, themselves are only dimly aware of the existence of such practical measures — they almost never talk about them — and appear totally disinterested in the subject except insofar as it can be used to get Trump politically.
Release the flying monkeys! Fly my pretties, fly!
9. Prove the intent of Russian efforts was to get Trump elected.
Defendants and their co-conspirators also used the accounts to receive money from real U.S. persons in exchange for posting promotions and advertisements on the ORGANIZATION-controlled social media pages. Defendants and their co-conspirators typically charged certain U.S. merchants and U.S. social media sites between 25 and 50 U.S. dollars per post for promotional content on their popular false U.S. persona accounts, including Being Patriotic, Defend the 2nd, and Blacktivist.
There you have it. There was no political point to what the Russian company did. Whatever political slogans one of the company’s sock-puppets posted had only one aim: to increase the number of followers for that sock-puppet. The sole point of creating a diverse army of sock-puppets with large following crowds was to sell the ‘eyeballs’ of the followers to the paying customers of the marketing company.
There were, according to the indictment, eighty people working on the “translator project”. These controlled “hundreds” of sock-puppets online accounts each with a distinct “political” personality. Each of these sock-puppets had a large number of followers – in total several hundred-thousands. Now let’s assume that one to five promotional posts can be sold per day on each of the sock-puppets content stream. The scheme generates several thousand dollars per day ($25 per promo, hundreds of sock-puppets, 1-5 promos per day per sock-puppet). The costs for this were limited to the wages of up to eighty persons in Moscow, many of them temps, of which the highest paid received some $1,000 per month. While the upfront multiyear investment to create and establish the virtual personas was probably significant, this likely was, over all, a profitable business.
The paid ads Facebook has disclosed were hardly on the scale one would expect for an all out effort ($100,000). A more serious problem for strong claims is timing, since the buys were scattered through 2015, 2016 and 2017 and across states, and appear to have focused often on states that had no chance of ever tipping in favor of Clinton.
Subsequent revelations by Facebook underscore the importance of this issue, since more than half of its ads are admitted to have run after the election.
The Senate Intelligence Committee hearings produced truly microscopic numbers for putative Russian efforts directed at the key battleground states of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan:
For Wisconsin, $1,979, with all but $54 dollars of this spent during the primary. Russian Facebook spending in the other two was even more minuscule: Pennsylvania absorbed $823 and Michigan $300.
Unless Facebook discloses some vast new trove, the conclusion has to be this was no full court press.
The paid ads on Facebook did not mention Trump or Clinton in the vast majority of cases. Only about 100 of the ads overtly mentioned support for Donald Trump or opposition to Hillary Clinton. Instead, of the roughly 3,500 ads, more than half — about 1,950 — made expressed references to race.
At least 25% of the ads centered on issues involving crime and policing, often with a racial connotation. Separate ads, launched simultaneously, would stoke suspicion about how police treat black people in one ad, while another encouraged support for pro-police groups.
10. People entertain the concept there is more than one explanation for Trump’s behavior. How many people say their reason for “knowing Trump did it” amounts to his behavior regarding Russia? They say, “Trump loves Putin. Trump never says anything bad about Putin. Trump is scared of Putin. Trump is being blackmailed by Putin. Trump protests too much about RussiaGate; therefore, he did it.”
There are three general explanations of Trump’s behavior toward Russia (and other hard-right broadly autocratic regimes), and for unknown reasons the two most likely ones are almost entirely absent from our electronic media. The three explanations, in ascending order of likelihood, are:
- The Manchurian Candidate: He’s being blackmailed or has been a Russian asset for years.
- The Wannabe Dictator: He believes countries should be run like companies—essentially autocracies.
- The Deadbeat: He’s not only not rich, but he’s badly in debt, and Russian billionaires are among his main creditors.
The Manchurian Candidate was largely the one Democrats implied during the election, and most have implicitly embraced since then, along with many commentators on MSNBC and CNN. It’s the least likely, although if it’s true, Robert Mueller will probably be letting us all know soon.
There’s little in Trump’s past that would suggest this is the case other than his embrace of Russia over the Obama administration’s reactions to the annexation of Crimea and activity in Ukraine.
But it’s far more likely his support of Russia during the Obama administration had everything to do with hating anything our nation’s first Black president had done (impose sanctions on Russia and expel diplomats, etc.) as well as wanting to trash the presumed 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Even his dislike of NATO is the sort of standard-variety right-wing stuff that’s been promoted within the Republican Party from the days of the John Birch Society to Steve Bannon’s recent reign, and reflects an isolationist fear of alliances rather than an affection for non-NATO actors like Russia.
The Wannabe Dictator has a lot more credibility, and explains much of why Trump gravitates to strongman types like Putin, Turkey’s Erdogan, the Philippines’ Duterte, Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman, and China’s Xi.
Trump knows very little about the history behind democratic republics (it would be shocking if he could even identify Thomas Hobbes or John Locke, or define the Enlightenment) and virtually nothing (based on public pronouncements) about the fundamental reasons why “Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
Businesses are basically serfdoms. The CEO is the king, the board and senior executives are the courtiers and landed gentry, and the workers are the serfs. This has been Trump’s experience ever since he inherited his daddy’s business, and he’s never in his life been accountable to any principle (like “democracy”) or to any persons.
So, much like George W. Bush’s “joke” that, “If this were a dictatorship it would be a heck of a lot easier… as long as I’m the dictator,” Trump not only may think it would be easier, but, even more ominous, may think it’s desirable for the country.
Republicans have long used false analogies of “government as business or home” (particularly with regard to the economy and debt) that completely distort the real reasons for the existence and functions of government. So it wouldn’t be at all surprising if Trump were to believe this nonsense, out of both ignorance and temperament.
The Deadbeat is the most likely, although it doesn’t preclude either or both of the explanations above.
There’s one huge, simple, straightforward explanation for Donald Trump’s perpetual unwillingness to even hint at a direct criticism of Putin. And it’s not the pee-pee tapes.
Here’s how and why:
We all know Trump is both a terrible negotiator and a terrible businessman. Dozens of his companies have gone down in flames, thousands of small businesses and workers have been screwed out of money he owed them, and his bankruptcies are legendary.
If the American people didn’t seem to think this was a big deal, the American banks sure did. After Trump’s last bankruptcy, so far as press reports indicate, he could no longer borrow money at reasonable rates here in the U.S., and a real estate developer who can’t borrow money is rapidly out of business.
So Trump, as his son Eric tells it, turned away from U.S. banks and went to a number of Russian billionaires for his money. In 2014, when asked directly how he could have acquired $100 million in cash for new golf course acquisitions, Eric Trump famously said, “Well, we don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia.”
So, if Putin were to order his own billionaires to get their money back out of Trump’s properties and refuse to give him any more, Trump could well end up broke.
As in, losing all his properties, from Mar-a-Lago to Trump Tower.
It could wipe out all of his remaining businesses.
His kids would have to get real jobs, and no more big-game safaris.
His wife might leave him, and take their son.
He could end up living in a cardboard box on skid row.
Trump isn’t afraid of being exposed as a lout or a racist; he’s afraid of being financially wiped out if Russian oligarchs pull out of Trump properties.
If he’s seeing that collection of pictures in his head when he looks at Vladimir Putin, it would go a long way to explain his prayerful body posture and cringeworthy sycophancy.
This also would explain why Trump has been so unwilling to release his tax returns, even after he won the election.
Trump is almost certainly nowhere near as rich as he brags he is, and has a long history of connections with shady/mafia characters to get the money he needs.
But this is not about just being embarrassed by being caught inflating his net worth—Trump’s a man who has little ability to feel shame, as we have seen over and over again. Similarly, it’s not about pee-pee tapes.
After bragging he can grab women by the crotch—and having dozens come forward and accuse him of variations on just that—he must know that if he’d paid a couple of white Russian hookers to urinate on the bed our nation’s first Black president and his wife had slept in, it may well actually help him with his base. It surely wouldn’t hurt him politically, and he knows that as well as anybody.
My take is this RussiaGate thing is highly probable to be a red herring. America doesn’t need foreign aid to rig our own elections.
This does not mean there is nothing there. Trump is corrupt. Trump is a grifter.
My take is Mueller knew long ago the Russia thing wasn’t going to work out, so he switched his tack to something he can get Trump on. Mueller can follow the money, sort through the shell corporations, find a paper trail, and connect it to Trump. My guess always has been the nail in Trump’s coffin will be money laundering.
“The same species of wickedness that has brought one man to the gallows, has exalted another to a throne.”
(header image: Witches Going to Their Sabbath ~ Luis Ricardo Falero)