Historian Analyzes The Many Problems With The Russiagate Narrative And Democratic Support For Interventionism

Many partisan Democrats have believed Clinton’s claims that she lost as a consequence of Russian interference in the election, as opposed to her own mistakes, despite the lack of evidence for such claims. Many of those viewing the matter more seriously have expressed skepticism, seeing the current hysteria as reminiscent of claims of WMD in Iraq. Jackson Lears, Professor of History at Rutgers University, has an essay on this at the London Review of Books. He looked at subjects including the lack of evidence that Russia was responsible for the DNC hack, along with how this narrative distracts from the evidence of corruption in the DNC which was revealed in their email. He noted, as I also provided examples of recently, that many of the claims in the media have been quickly shown to be incorrect. He also discussed how the Democratic Party’s fixation on Russiagate has led to them ignoring other issues, including the need to take a stand against the military interventionism advocated by Clinton. While I would recommend reading his full article, here are some excerpts:

American politics have rarely presented a more disheartening spectacle. The repellent and dangerous antics of Donald Trump are troubling enough, but so is the Democratic Party leadership’s failure to take in the significance of the 2016 election campaign. Bernie Sanders’s challenge to Hillary Clinton, combined with Trump’s triumph, revealed the breadth of popular anger at politics as usual – the blend of neoliberal domestic policy and interventionist foreign policy that constitutes consensus in Washington…

A story that had circulated during the campaign without much effect resurfaced: it involved the charge that Russian operatives had hacked into the servers of the Democratic National Committee, revealing embarrassing emails that damaged Clinton’s chances. With stunning speed, a new centrist-liberal orthodoxy came into being, enveloping the major media and the bipartisan Washington establishment. This secular religion has attracted hordes of converts in the first year of the Trump presidency. In its capacity to exclude dissent, it is like no other formation of mass opinion in my adult life, though it recalls a few dim childhood memories of anti-communist hysteria during the early 1950s.

The centrepiece of the faith, based on the hacking charge, is the belief that Vladimir Putin orchestrated an attack on American democracy by ordering his minions to interfere in the election on behalf of Trump. The story became gospel with breathtaking suddenness and completeness. Doubters are perceived as heretics and as apologists for Trump and Putin, the evil twins and co-conspirators behind this attack on American democracy. Responsibility for the absence of debate lies in large part with the major media outlets. Their uncritical embrace and endless repetition of the Russian hack story have made it seem a fait accompli in the public mind. It is hard to estimate popular belief in this new orthodoxy, but it does not seem to be merely a creed of Washington insiders. If you question the received narrative in casual conversations, you run the risk of provoking blank stares or overt hostility – even from old friends. This has all been baffling and troubling to me; there have been moments when pop-culture fantasies (body snatchers, Kool-Aid) have come to mind.

Like any orthodoxy worth its salt, the religion of the Russian hack depends not on evidence but on ex cathedra pronouncements on the part of authoritative institutions and their overlords. Its scriptural foundation is a confused and largely fact-free ‘assessment’ produced last January by a small number of ‘hand-picked’ analysts – as James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, described them – from the CIA, the FBI and the NSA. The claims of the last were made with only ‘moderate’ confidence. The label Intelligence Community Assessment creates a misleading impression of unanimity, given that only three of the 16 US intelligence agencies contributed to the report. And indeed the assessment itself contained this crucial admission: ‘Judgments are not intended to imply that we have proof that shows something to be a fact. Assessments are based on collected information, which is often incomplete or fragmentary, as well as logic, argumentation and precedents.’ Yet the assessment has passed into the media imagination as if it were unassailable fact, allowing journalists to assume what has yet to be proved. In doing so they serve as mouthpieces for the intelligence agencies, or at least for those ‘hand-picked’ analysts.

It is not the first time the intelligence agencies have played this role. When I hear the Intelligence Community Assessment cited as a reliable source, I always recall the part played by the New York Times in legitimating CIA reports of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s putative weapons of mass destruction, not to mention the long history of disinformation (a.k.a. ‘fake news’) as a tactic for advancing one administration or another’s political agenda. Once again, the established press is legitimating pronouncements made by the Church Fathers of the national security state. Clapper is among the most vigorous of these. He perjured himself before Congress in 2013, when he denied that the NSA had ‘wittingly’ spied on Americans – a lie for which he has never been held to account. In May 2017, he told NBC’s Chuck Todd that the Russians were highly likely to have colluded with Trump’s campaign because they are ‘almost genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate, gain favour, whatever, which is a typical Russian technique’. The current orthodoxy exempts the Church Fathers from standards imposed on ordinary people, and condemns Russians – above all Putin – as uniquely, ‘almost genetically’ diabolical…

Meanwhile, there has been a blizzard of ancillary accusations, including much broader and vaguer charges of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. It remains possible that Robert Mueller, a former FBI director who has been appointed to investigate these allegations, may turn up some compelling evidence of contacts between Trump’s people and various Russians. It would be surprising if an experienced prosecutor empowered to cast a dragnet came up empty-handed, and the arrests have already begun. But what is striking about them is that the charges have nothing to do with Russian interference in the election. There has been much talk about the possibility that the accused may provide damaging evidence against Trump in exchange for lighter sentences, but this is merely speculation. Paul Manafort, at one point Trump’s campaign manager, has pleaded not guilty to charges of failing to register his public relations firm as a foreign agent for the Ukrainian government and concealing his millions of dollars in fees. But all this occurred before the 2016 campaign. George Papadopolous, a foreign policy adviser, has pleaded guilty to the charge of lying to the FBI about his bungling efforts to arrange a meeting between Trump’s people and the Russian government – an opportunity the Trump campaign declined. Mueller’s most recent arrestee, Michael Flynn, the unhinged Islamophobe who was briefly Trump’s national security adviser, has pleaded guilty to charges of lying to the FBI about meeting the Russian ambassador in December – weeks after the election. This is the sort of backchannel diplomacy that routinely occurs during the interim between one administration and the next. It is not a sign of collusion.

So far, after months of ‘bombshells’ that turn out to be duds, there is still no actual evidence for the claim that the Kremlin ordered interference in the American election. Meanwhile serious doubts have surfaced about the technical basis for the hacking claims. Independent observers have argued it is more likely that the emails were leaked from inside, not hacked from outside. On this front, the most persuasive case was made by a group called Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, former employees of the US intelligence agencies who distinguished themselves in 2003 by debunking Colin Powell’s claim that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, hours after Powell had presented his pseudo-evidence at the UN. (There are members of VIPS who dissent from the VIPS report’s conclusions, but their arguments are in turn contested by the authors of the report.) The VIPS findings received no attention in major media outlets, except Fox News – which from the centre-left perspective is worse than no attention at all. Mainstream media have dismissed the VIPS report as a conspiracy theory (apparently the Russian hacking story does not count as one). The crucial issue here and elsewhere is the exclusion from public discussion of any critical perspectives on the orthodox narrative, even the perspectives of people with professional credentials and a solid track record.

Both the DNC hacking story and the one involving the emails of John Podesta, a Clinton campaign operative, involve a shadowy bunch of putatively Russian hackers called Fancy Bear – also known among the technically inclined as APT28. The name Fancy Bear was introduced by Dimitri Alperovitch, the chief technology officer of Crowdstrike, a cybersecurity firm hired by the DNC to investigate the theft of their emails. Alperovitch is also a fellow at the Atlantic Council, an anti-Russian Washington think tank. In its report Crowdstrike puts forward close to zero evidence for its claim that those responsible were Russian, let alone for its assertion that they were affiliated with Russian military intelligence. And yet, from this point on, the assumption that this was a Russian cyber operation was unquestioned. When the FBI arrived on the scene, the Bureau either did not request or was refused access to the DNC servers; instead it depended entirely on the Crowdstrike analysis. Crowdstrike, meanwhile, was being forced to retract another claim, that the Russians had successfully hacked the guidance systems of the Ukrainian artillery. The Ukrainian military and the British International Institute for Strategic Studies both contradicted this claim, and Crowdstrike backed down. But its DNC analysis was allowed to stand and even become the basis for the January Intelligence Community Assessment…

Sceptical voices, such as those of the VIPS, have been drowned out by a din of disinformation. Flagrantly false stories, like the Washington Post report that the Russians had hacked into the Vermont electrical grid, are published, then retracted 24 hours later. Sometimes – like the stories about Russian interference in the French and German elections – they are not retracted even after they have been discredited. These stories have been thoroughly debunked by French and German intelligence services but continue to hover, poisoning the atmosphere, confusing debate. The claim that the Russians hacked local and state voting systems in the US was refuted by California and Wisconsin election officials, but their comments generated a mere whisper compared with the uproar created by the original story. The rush to publish without sufficient attention to accuracy has become the new normal in journalism. Retraction or correction is almost beside the point: the false accusation has done its work.

The most immediate consequence is that, by finding foreign demons who can be blamed for Trump’s ascendancy, the Democratic leadership have shifted the blame for their defeat away from their own policies without questioning any of their core assumptions. Amid the general recoil from Trump, they can even style themselves dissenters – ‘#the resistance’ was the label Clintonites appropriated within a few days of the election. Mainstream Democrats have begun to use the word ‘progressive’ to apply to a platform that amounts to little more than preserving Obamacare, gesturing towards greater income equality and protecting minorities. This agenda is timid. It has nothing to say about challenging the influence of concentrated capital on policy, reducing the inflated defence budget or withdrawing from overextended foreign commitments; yet without those initiatives, even the mildest egalitarian policies face insuperable obstacles. More genuine insurgencies are in the making, which confront corporate power and connect domestic with foreign policy, but they face an uphill battle against the entrenched money and power of the Democratic leadership – the likes of Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, the Clintons and the DNC. Russiagate offers Democratic elites a way to promote party unity against Trump-Putin, while the DNC purges Sanders’s supporters.

For the DNC, the great value of the Russian hack story is that it focuses attention away from what was actually in their emails. The documents revealed a deeply corrupt organisation, whose pose of impartiality was a sham. Even the reliably pro-Clinton Washington Post has admitted that ‘many of the most damaging emails suggest the committee was actively trying to undermine Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign.’ Further evidence of collusion between the Clinton machine and the DNC surfaced recently in a memoir by Donna Brazile, who became interim chair of the DNC after Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned in the wake of the email revelations. Brazile describes discovering an agreement dated 26 August 2015, which specified (she writes)

that in exchange for raising money and investing in the DNC, Hillary would control the party’s finances, strategy, and all the money raised. Her campaign had the right of refusal of who would be the party communications director, and it would make final decisions on all the other staff. The DNC also was required to consult with the campaign about all other staffing, budgeting, data, analytics and mailings.

Before the primaries had even begun, the supposedly neutral DNC – which had been close to insolvency – had been bought by the Clinton campaign…

Francis Shen of the University of Minnesota and Douglas Kriner of Boston University analysed election results in three key states – Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan – and found that ‘even controlling in a statistical model for many other alternative explanations, we find that there is a significant and meaningful relationship between a community’s rate of military sacrifice and its support for Trump.’ Clinton’s record of uncritical commitment to military intervention allowed Trump to have it both ways, playing to jingoist resentment while posing as an opponent of protracted and pointless war. Kriner and Shen conclude that Democrats may want to ‘re-examine their foreign policy posture if they hope to erase Trump’s electoral gains among constituencies exhausted and alienated by 15 years of war’. If the insurgent movements within the Democratic Party begin to formulate an intelligent foreign policy critique, a re-examination may finally occur. And the world may come into sharper focus as a place where American power, like American virtue, is limited. For this Democrat, that is an outcome devoutly to be wished. It’s a long shot, but there is something happening out there.

Donald Trump Seeks Confrontation With Eurasia and Eastasia

Donald Trump spoke on his national security strategy today, remaining incoherent on foreign policy. While probably less hawkish, and less likely to get us into further wars, than the policies of Hillary Clinton, the speech was more reminiscent of a Cold War atmosphere than any attempt to improve relations with Russia as he has (inconsistently) advocated in the past. In Orwellian terms, Trump’s previous talk of peace is down the memory hole. We have always been at war with Eurasia and Eastasia.

Trump’s classification of “revisionist powers, such as China and Russia” is also reminiscent of George W. Bush’s axis of evil.

The strategy paper proposes to “preserve peace through strength by rebuilding our military so that it remains preeminent, deters our adversaries, and if necessary, is able to fight and win.” It is rather absurd to speak of preserving peace when the United States is in a state of apparent perpetual warfare around the world, and outright Orwellian to speak of rebuilding our military when it is already so massive.

Daniel Larison responded to Trump’s speech:

If the administration is rethinking the wisdom of engagement with Russia and China and inclusion of them in international institutions and commerce, that seems to imply a desire to reverse course. If that’s right, this implies that the administration wants to emphasize confrontation and exclusion in its dealings with the other major powers, and it is hard to see how that leads to anything except a stronger partnership between Moscow and Beijing opposed to the U.S. The danger of this “strategy” is twofold: it likely increases tensions with both major powers in Eurasia at the same time, and it gives them added incentive for them to work together against the U.S.

Trump will probably refer to this “strategy” as the product of “principled realism,” but that won’t make it so. An administration conducting a realist foreign policy would not gratuitously call out the other major powers in the world when the U.S. needs their assistance on a number of international issues, and it would not pit them both against the U.S. at the same time. We didn’t really need more proof that Trump isn’t a realist, but this statement of the administration’s “strategy” gives us exactly that.

While Trump sees dangers around the world, he is intentionally ignoring a real one–altering from established policy in no longer seeing climate change as a threat. From Vox:

The Trump administration is backing away from calling climate change a national security threat, a move that contradicts nearly three decades of military planning.

Conspicuously absent from the National Security Strategy report released Monday is any mention of climate issues critical to national security, like how extreme weather drives conflict or how rising sea levels are a looming danger for coastal military facilities.

Compare this to President Obama’s 2015 National Security Strategy, which mentioned “climate change” 13 times across 35 pages and had “Confront Climate Change” listed as a security priority…

The softening on climate change as a national security threat is part of an ongoing effort to dismantle climate change efforts across all government agencies. But it is at odds with the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, which Trump signed into law earlier this month. The $700 billion law describes climate change as a “direct threat” to US national security.

The military has long considered climate change a “threat multiplier,” with assessments dating back to 1990. In 2014, the US Department of Defense published a climate change adaptation road map, oblivious to the political wrangling on the issue and writing that “[r]ising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, climbing sea levels, and more extreme weather events will intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict.”

PolitiFact Awards Trump Lie of The Year Award Regarding Russia But Unfortunately Ignores Lies Which Promote Anti-Russia Hysteria

PolitiFact has awarded Donald Trump the lie of the year for calling interference in the Russian election a “made-up story.” They are correct that Trump has been lying in saying Russia is a “made-up story.” What they miss is that Clinton and many Democrats have also been lying in going far beyond the evidence to use this to excuse Clinton’s loss and to spread anti-Russia hysteria. Their summary of the issue does make many good points, but also leaves out important additional information to place this in context. As a result, while there is no question that Russia attempted to interfere, and they do note that the interference was unlikely to have changed the result of the election, readers of their article do not get the full picture.

There is no question that Russia interfered in the election. Both Russia and the United States have intervened in foreign elections for decades, so it was absurd for Trump to deny any interference. According to a paper on election meddling reviewed by Slate:

Using declassified documents, statements by officials, and journalistic accounts, Levin has found evidence of interference by either the United States or the Soviet Union/Russia in 117 elections around the world between 1946 and 2000, or 11.3 percent of the 937 competitive national-level elections held during this period. Eighty-one of those interventions were by the U.S. while 36 were by the USSR/Russia. They happened in every region of the world, though most commonly in Europe and Latin America. The two powers tended to focus on different countries, though Italy was a favorite of both, receiving eight interventions by the U.S. and four by the Soviets.

What PolitiFact gets wrong is in their interpretation of the information released in the Congressional testimony, leading to them exaggerating the importance of Russia’s interference in 2016 compared to previous years.  PolitiFact notes that, “Facebook estimated that 126 million people were served Russia-influenced content during the two-year period before the election.” This number means far less when put in perspective, with this representing a minuscule portion of Facebook traffic despite sounding like a large number.

When looking at a number like 126 million it is also important to note that Russian-purchased Facebook ads accounted for “less than 0.004 percent of all content — or about 1 in 23,000 news feed items” on Facebook. While PolitiFact is correct that, “Some ads were overtly anti-Clinton,” it leaves out the fact that many of the ads were not anti-Clinton, and many had nothing to do with the election. Many seemed more designed to receive hits than to affect the election result.  Over half the ads were not even seen until after the election. The biggest success attributed to Russia on Facebook has been to get 5000 to 10,000 people to turn out for a rally–a rally protesting against Donald Trump after the election. The impact on Twitter was not any more significant. The largest of the alleged Russian troll pages had 25,045 followers at its peak, and the others had far fewer.

Similarly there has been a tremendous amount of false or misleading news reports, which were later retracted regarding Russia, which could have influenced readers of PolitFact to rank this lie from Trump as more important than it actually was. It is notable that this was chosen as lie of the year based upon the votes of readers, not any objective measure.

It is significant that Russia did have reason to oppose Clinton in the election. They noted, but played down, how Clinton has also meddled in the Russian election in opposing Putin. With Clinton having a long history of belligerency towards Russia, and with her aligned with neocons who have promoted regime change in Russia, Putin had additional reason to take a side. A recent story in The Atlantic notes:

Putin had always been suspicious of democracy promotion, but two moments convinced him that America was coming for him under its guise. The first was the 2011 nato intervention in Libya, which led, ultimately, to the ousting and gruesome lynching of the Libyan dictator, Muammar Qaddafi. Afterward, many people who interacted with Putin noticed how deeply Qaddafi’s death troubled him. He is said to have watched the video of the killing over and over. “The way Qaddafi died made a profound impact on him,” says Jake Sullivan, a former senior State Department official who met repeatedly with senior Russian officials around that time. Another former senior Obama-administration official describes Putin as “obsessed” with Qaddafi’s death. (The official concedes, “I think we did overreach” in Libya.)

Of course the regime change in Libya was orchestrated by Hillary Clinton, based upon lies. Many of our current problems stem from the irresponsible actions of neocons like Clinton and Bush. Besides affecting US relations with Russia, Clinton’s actions in Libya are directly responsible for the problems we now face in North Korea.

Clinton and many Democrats have been spreading their own lies about Russia to shift the blame for Clinton losing an election against an opponent as terrible as Donald Trump. As was revealed in Shattered, Hillary Clinton devised a strategy of blaming others, including Russia, for her loss within twenty-four hours of losing. The claim that Russia affected the election result was largely based upon the Steele Dossier. Clinton and the DNC had covered up their role in paying for this report for months, casting doubt on its reliability.

While Trump has been lying about Russia, the more important aspects of this story involve financial crimes such as money laundering, and obstruction of justice. Trump has certainly lied in denying that Russia has meddled in our election, but the Democrats have also been lying about the situation, which can lead to catastrophic consequences when applied to a nuclear power, along with encouraging McCarthyism at home by many Democrats.

Retraction Of False Russiagate Bombshell From CNN Yesterday Was Just One In A Long List Of Retracted Claims By Media

Yesterday we had yet another example of a story being promoted as a bombshell revelation about Trump and Russiagate, only to be retracted soon afterwards. CNN ran a story claiming that Donald Trump received a web address leading to Wikileaks documents on September 4, 2016 and later corrected the date to September 14. This is quite significant as the information was made public by Wikileaks by the time of this email on the fourteenth. Instead of showing collusion with the Trump campaign receiving secret information from Wikileaks as CNN’s story suggested, all they received was a web address to information which had already been released to the public. CBS and MSNBC were making the same claims of this being evidence of collusion until the story was retracted.

What is remarkable about this is that this is just one in a long string of similar events which have fueled this story. Three CNN reporters had already resigned in June over an incorrect Russiagate story.  Last week I noted that ABC News had retracted a story claiming that Michael Flynn had made contact with Russia during the campaign when it actually occurred after Trump had elected. (This, along Jared Kushner’s reported attempt to achieve a secret backdoor channel to Russia in December, also contradict claims of collusion during the election as there would be no need for such backdoor communications by either Flynn or Kushner if they had been colluding during the campaign.)

In November there was the bombshell that Russia had sent money to its embassies marked, “to finance election campaign of 2016.” Rather than evidence of rigging the US election, it turned out that this money was to fund voting in the Russian election by Russian citizens living abroad.

The claim that seventeen intelligence agreed that Russia was responsible for hacking the DNC continues to be cited by Democratic partisans long after it was withdrawn, and despite the lack of any evidence being presented by those in the intelligence community who believe this. Pro-Clinton conspiracy theories are increasingly basing their arguments on claims of secret intelligence which nobody can verify.

Other questionable stories include the Russian web site which, instead of trying to influence the election, contained pictures of puppies. The Congressional testimony showed how ridiculous the entire argument was that Russia influenced the election by using Facebook and Twitter.  It was revealed that Russian-purchased Facebook ads accounted for “less than 0.004 percent of all content — or about 1 in 23,000 news feed items” on Facebook. Over half the ads were not even seen until after the election, and many had nothing to do with promoting Trump over Clinton. The biggest success attributed to Russia on Facebook has been to get 5000 to 10,000 people to turn out for a rally–a rally protesting against Donald Trump after the election. The impact on Twitter was not any more significant. The largest of the alleged Russian troll pages had 25,045 followers at its peak, and the others had far fewer.

There have been many other false claims which have been retracted, including the hacking of the US electrical grid and even of our election systems. The Intercept has provided just a small sample:

  • Russia hacked into the U.S. electric grid to deprive Americans of heat during winter (Wash Post)
  • An anonymous group (PropOrNot) documented how major U.S. political sites are Kremlin agents (Wash Post)
  • WikiLeaks has a long, documented relationship with Putin (Guardian)
  • A secret server between Trump and a Russian bank has been discovered (Slate)
  • RT hacked C-SPAN and caused disruption in its broadcast (Fortune)
  • Crowdstrike finds Russians hacked into a Ukrainian artillery app (Crowdstrike)
  • Russians attempted to hack elections systems in 21 states (multiple news outlets, echoing Homeland Security)
  • Links have been found between Trump ally Anthony Scaramucci and a Russian investment fund under investigation (CNN)

Many of the Russiagate claims are are looking no more valid than the claims of WMD in Iraq which precipitated that war, or the lies which the United States has used to become in wars elsewhere. This is very risky when applied to a nuclear power–where neoconservatives have also desire to seek regime change.

While Donald Trump very likely has had illegal financial dealings with Russia, and the campaign did seek to obtain information on Clinton from Russia, there is no evidence either of actions by Russia which altered the election result, or of active collusion during the campaign. Even if such evidence should arise in the future, it is clear that Democrats were making such claims without evidence at the time. As was revealed in Shattered, Hillary Clinton devised a strategy of blaming others, including Russia, for her loss within twenty-four hours of losing. The claim that Russia affected the election result was largely based upon the Steele Dossier. Clinton and the DNC had covered up their role in paying for this report for months, casting doubt on its reliability.

I suspect that Clinton’s claims that Russia was responsible for her loss continue to receive credibility from much of the media because many are unwilling to believe that Donald Trump could have beaten Hillary Clinton, despite all the evidence that Clinton was an extraordinarily weak and unpopular candidate long before the election. Their personal biases might have led to these repeated examples of journalistic carelessness in which they ran with stories which seemed to confirm their suspicions without doing sufficient fact checking. Retracted stories with false information continue to be cited by Democratic partisans.

Cleaning Up The Democratic Party Requires Removing More Than Franken and Conyers

Several female Democratic Senators have called on Al Franken to step down today. This comes shortly after John Conyers resigned from the House under pressure. Removing those who have engaged in sexual harassment makes sense. However, sexual harassment should not be the only sin which goes punished. After we clear out the perpetrators of sexual harassment I hope that this cleansing of the Democratic Party can continue:

Let’s get rid of those have been willing to put up with the graft and corruption of Bill and Hillary Clinton. Plus there should be a special circle of Hell for anyone who uses the “but her emails” line. To excuse Hillary Clinton over the email scandal means that you 1) support her total refusal to abide by rules put in place by Barack Obama to increase government transparency, 2) are willing to ignore repeated lies from her regarding the matter for months, ultimately being a major reason she lost the presidential election to Donald Trump, and 3) you don’t care that she destroyed potential evidence of her influence peddling at the State Department.

Let’s get rid of Democrats who have embraced neoconservative interventionism, including those who excuse Clinton’s views and policies on Iraq, Libya, and Syria, along with those backing the new Cold War type hysteria regarding Russia.

Let’s get rid of Democrats who are now engaging in McCarthyism, accusing those who question their unfounded claims about Russia of being pro-Putin. (Never mind that they are the ones who are really acting to undermine the liberal opposition to Putin in Russia).

Let’s get rid of Democrats who support a totally undemocratic nomination system for the presidency. This includes those who want to preserve measures in place since McGovern’s loss including superdelegates and front-loading of southern states. Even more so, get rid of those who backed the increased actions to rig the nomination in 2016 including restrictions on debates, changing of fund raising rules to help Clinton, voting restrictions, giving Clinton unprecedented control over the party during the primary campaign, changing how the results in Iowa were announced to help Clinton, and Harry Reid’s games in Nevada to help Clinton. Plus get rid of those backing a purge of the left in the DNC and making lobbyists superdelegates.

Newly Declassified Documents Showing US Plan To Provoke War With Soviet Union Provides Further Reason To Be Cautious About Unproven “Russia-gate” Allegations

The United States government has a long history of lying the country into wars, including Vietnam, Iraq under George W. Bush, and the regime change in Libya orchestrated by Hillary Clinton. This has led some, but far too few, to be skeptical of some of the recent claims about Russia which have been made without evidence, and which often make no sense when analyzed critically. For example, we learned during the recent Congressional testimony that Russian-purchased Facebook ads accounted for “less than 0.004 percent of all content — or about 1 in 23,000 news feed items” on Facebook. Over half the ads were not even seen until after the election, and many had nothing to do with promoting Trump over Clinton.  We have seen sensational media reports of attempted Russian hacks, only to see Homeland Security later retract the claims (with far less publicity).

Some of the claims are based upon a false and subsequently retracted claim that seventeen intelligence agencies agreed that Russia hacked the DNC. In reality only a small number of people in the intelligence community have claimed this and they have not provided any evidence to support the claim. It would not be difficult to select anti-Russia hard-liners in the intelligence community to come to such a conclusion despite the lack of good evidence–similar to how the Bush administration was able to obtain intelligence reports backing its claims of WMD in Iraq to justify going to war.

Despite all the historical evidence of dishonesty on the part of the government to promote pro-war policies, partisan Democrats continue to promote unproven claims because it fits in with their political goals. This week we have yet another example of how the Unites States government had considered falsifying information to justify war with Russia in the papers recently released regarding investigations into the assassination of John F. Kennedy. From Newsweek:

In a three-page memo, members of the National Security Council wrote, “There is a possibility that such aircraft could be used in a deception operation designed to confuse enemy planes in the air, to launch a surprise attack against enemy installations or in a provocation operation in which Soviet aircraft would appear to attack US or friendly installations to provide an excuse for U.S. intervention.”

The memo shows that the department, along with the CIA, considered buying Soviet aircraft to stage the attacks, even getting estimates from the Air Force on how long it would take and how much it would cost to produce the planes domestically and covertly. Costs ranged from $3.5 million to $44 million per plane, depending on the model, most taking several months to build.
The document also outlined the possibility of purchasing such aircraft from non-Soviet Bloc countries that had received planes from the USSR, or from pilots that had defected, instead of building them domestically. The CIA deemed those plans too risky, writing, “The fact that the United States was actively engaged in attempts to defect pilots of supposedly friendly countries might be revealed.”

The memo also conceded that the plan would require employing a “maximum-security area.” Otherwise, it would be “most difficult to conceal the existence of such aircraft from the prying eyes of the American press and public.”

False flag attacks are covert operations that make it look like an attack was carried out by another group than the group that actually carried them out.

It is unclear when the memo was written or circulated. The NSC staff mention a meeting on March 22, 1962, when a “Special Group” discussed the attorney general’s questions about acquiring Soviet aircraft. The document was last reviewed by the CIA in February 1998, and a stamp shows it was declassified in March 2016. But, strangely, the document’s cover letter shows a date of “00/00/00.”

The revelations are part of a trove of thousands of documents released by the National Archives, surrounding investigations into the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and related events. The documents come from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency and other agencies. The release has been scheduled since 1992.

We do not know for certain what the final results of the various investigations will be, but at present there is evidence that much of Russia-gate was fabricated by Clinton and her supporters, both to provide an excuse for losing an election to Donald Trump which any competent Democratic candidate should have won, and to promote the goals of Clinton’s neocon allies who foolishly support regime change in Russia.  As was revealed by in Shattered, Hillary Clinton devised a strategy of blaming others, including Russia, for her loss within twenty-four hours of losing. The claim that Russia affected the election result was largely based upon the Steele Dossier. Clinton and the DNC had covered up their role in paying for this report for months, casting doubt on its reliability. More recently we learned that Christopher Steele is saying he believes the report is 70% to 90% accurate. In other words, he admits that thirty percent could be inaccurate.

Clinton’s vision of returning to Cold War relations with Russia at best, and possibly attempting regime change in a nuclear power, is far too dangerous to our national security to accept unproven claims from politicians without looking at them very critically in light of our past history.

Democrats Struggle With Putting Principle Over Party

The accusations of sexual harassment being made against Democrats such as Al Franken, as well as Republicans, is causing conflict in the minds of many Democrats. Some are even reexamining the legacy of Bill Clinton. The usual mode of thought of many partisan Democrats is that bad things are only bad if done by Republicans, as they find ways to rationalize comparable behavior by Democrats. We have finally found an issue where many Democrats are breaking from strict party loyalty.

As I discussed in a post earlier this month, most voters consider party over ideology. In 2016 most Republicans stuck with party and voted for Donald Trump despite his differences from conservative Republican orthodoxy. Similarly most Democrats stuck with party over principle and voted for Hillary Clinton, mostly oblivious to the fact that she backed essentially the same agenda which they protested when George W. Bush was implementing it.

It is good to see that some Democrats are now questioning party loyalty in response to reports of sexual harassment. I wish more Democrats had questioned party loyalty when it came to backing a war monger, accepting Clinton’s far right wing record on First Amendment issues (which now extends to her calls for censorship post-election), and in ignoring the influence peddling by Bill and Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump probably would not be president today if more Democrats had stood for principle and refused to accept Hillary Clinton as their nominee.

Democracy Under Attack–From Both Major Political Parties

The fundamental principles of democracy have been under attack for several months, unfortunately by both major political parties. The lack of respect for democratic norms by Donald Trump and his Republican supporters has been well documented. Rather than presenting a clear alternative, the last nominee for the Democratic nomination has also been attacking Democratic norms, including acceptance of election results and freedom of speech. Hillary Clinton repeated her attacks on the legitimacy of the 2016 election in an interview with Ari Berman of Mother Jones.

During the election, when there was a question of Donald Trump not accepting the results of the election, Hillary Clinton said that Donald Trump “threatens democracy” by not accepting the election results. She also said, “We know, in our country, the difference between leadership and dictatorship. And the peaceful transition of power is something that sets us apart.”

Since then, Hillary Clinton lost the election after running a terrible campaign. It was a huge mistake for the Democrats to essentially rig the nomination for a weak candidate as opposed to allowing a stronger candidate capable of winning a national campaign to be its nominee. Democrats made a terrible mistake, but once the election results were in, in a democracy there was no choice but to accept the results and look forward to the next election. Instead, as was revealed by in Shattered, Hillary Clinton devised a strategy of blaming others, including Russia, for her loss within twenty-four hours of losing.

The claim that Russia affected the election result was largely based upon the Steele Dossier. Clinton and the DNC had covered up their role in paying for this report for months, casting doubt on its reliability. More recently we learned that Christopher Steele is saying he believes the report is 70% to 90% accurate. In other words, he admits that thirty percent could be inaccurate.

Over the last several month, as information has come out on the Congressional and Mueller investigations, the evidence has cast further doubt on Clinton’s claims. We have seen substantial evidence of improper business dealings between Trump, members of his family, and key people in his campaign having improper business relations with Russia. We have seen evidence of Trump conspiring to cover this up. The indictments to date have related to financial dealings, and it appears that this is what Mueller is concentrating on.

On the other hand, evidence released through the Congressional hearings have shown that Russia’s advertising on Facebook and use of Twitter was too inconsequential to have had an impact. We learned during the recent Congressional testimony that material including ads from Russian Facebook pages accounted for “less than 0.004 percent of all content — or about 1 in 23,000 news feed items” on Facebook. Over half the ads were not even seen until after the election, and many had nothing to do with promoting Trump over Clinton. We also learned that the Russian Twitter accounts were not very large and that, of the tweets attributed to troll accounts Russia’s Internet Research Agency, only  “9 percent of the tweets were election-related .” Even former Clinton adviser Mark Penn has argued that the Facebook ads were not the reason Clinton lost.

It has been commonplace to see sensational headlines of a smoking gun of Russian tampering with the election results, only to have them quickly shot down. One supposedly Russian site consisted of pictures of puppies. Just this week we had the revelation that Russia had designated money “to finance election campaign of 2016.” Rather being a smoking gun, this appears to have been money spent on the Russian Parliamentary elections. Yes, Russia has been caught meddling in their own election.

With report after report falling apart, we have no evidence of any more Russian meddling in the 2016 election than has been occurring for decades–with the United States similarly meddling in other elections. There is no evidence of a vast and successful conspiracy to change the results of the 2016 election. The biggest success attributed to Russia on Facebook has been to get 5000 to 10,000 people to turn out for a rally–a rally protesting against Donald Trump after the election.

In the interview Clinton claimed, “This is the first time we’ve ever been attacked by a foreign adversary and then they suffer no real consequences.” This is an especially chilling statement from a politician who has already participated in lying the country into wars, and is aligned with neoconservatives who wish to attempt regime change in Russia.

Just as chilling has been how this contrived scandal has been used to restrict political discourse. With the new McCarthyism which has overtaken many Democrats, to question this march towards conflict with Russia, no matter how reminiscent it is of the march towards war with Iraq over fake WMD, is countered with attacks of being pro-Russia. To oppose conflict with Russia over fake claims from the Clinton camp and other neocons no more means one is pro-Russia than opposing the rush to war with Iraq over false claims of WMD meant one was pro-Saddam.

One consequence of this hysteria has been to censor Americans on social media as I and others have been pointing out. Clinton, who has a long history of lack of respect for First Amendment rights, has used the bogus claim that her loss was illegitimate to call for government censorship of information critical of her as she labels it “fake news.” She also claims this is not protected by the First Amendment.

Nobody likes to lose an election, but we have never encountered a situation such as this in which the loser questions the legitimacy of the election, endangers our national security in promoting unnecessary conflicts, and attacks First Amendment rights. Of course we have also never encountered much of what we have seen by the winner of the election either, but this provides no justification for Clinton’s actions.

Russian Facebook Ads And Tweets Turning Out To Represent A Minuscule Percent Of Their Traffic

It increasingly looks like a journalist can simply put out a headline with Russia and either Facebook or Twitter in it and create hysteria. Despite all the hype, we learned during the recent Congressional testimony that material from Russian pages accounted for “less than 0.004 percent of all content — or about 1 in 23,000 news feed items” on Facebook. Over half the ads were not even seen until after the election, and many had nothing to do with promoting Trump over Clinton.

It also looks like the biggest success attributed to Russia on Facebook has been to get 5000 to 10,000 people to turn out for a rally–a rally protesting against Donald Trump after the election.

Today’s hysterical headline is about Twitter, but looks far less scary when looking at the details. Apparently there were trolls on Twitter supporting Donald Trump. There is an enormous number of tweets going out every minute on Twitter, and a tweet does nothing if someone is not following the person tweeting. According to this article, the largest of these Russian troll pages had 25,045 followers at its peak, and the others had far fewer. These are far from widely viewed tweets. It also seems a safe bet that if these accounts were tweeting pro-Trump material, they were primarily followed by pro-Trump individuals and it is questionable whether they could actually change votes, especially considering the far larger number of people tweeting in favor of both Trump and Clinton.

The likelihood of them impacting the election appears even less after noting that of the tweets attributed to troll accounts from Russia’s Internet Research Agency, only “9 percent of the tweets were election-related .”

Most likely we are seeing a combination of things going on. There were probably Tweets and Facebook ads designed to disrupt American politics in general without supporting a particular candidate. There were many which had nothing to do with the election, very likely posts from Russian troll farms designed to obtain page hits, sometimes by making controversial comments. There very well could have also been some intentionally posted to try to help Donald Trump–but considering how small a percentage of overall Facebook and Twitter traffic they represented, it is absurd to say they were more important than Hillary Clinton’s war chest of over one billion dollars, and many others helping her (including paid trolls for Clinton). Even former Clinton adviser Mark Penn has written that this is not what cost Clinton the election.

Russia very likely has been misbehaving–as they have for decades, and as the United States government has. According to a paper of election meddling reviewed by Slate:

Using declassified documents, statements by officials, and journalistic accounts, Levin has found evidence of interference by either the United States or the Soviet Union/Russia in 117 elections around the world between 1946 and 2000, or 11.3 percent of the 937 competitive national-level elections held during this period. Eighty-one of those interventions were by the U.S. while 36 were by the USSR/Russia. They happened in every region of the world, though most commonly in Europe and Latin America. The two powers tended to focus on different countries, though Italy was a favorite of both, receiving eight interventions by the U.S. and four by the Soviets.

We should certainly work towards making Facebook and Twitter more transparent so people know when they are reading ads purchased by Russians. We should not be so naive as to think that we can control what appears on line in the internet age. We should also not take this to mean that there was some sort of unique conspiracy to push Clinton over Trump on social media in 2016. As was revealed in Shattered, Clinton came up with the excuse that Russia cost her the election within twenty-four hours of losing to distract from her own mistakes which cost her the election.

While there are legitimate responses to this issue, this should not be used as an excuse to restrict freedom of speech. The dangers from restricting free communication on Facebook and Twitter are far greater than the actual risk of Russia using social media to alter election results. The consequence of this hysteria has been to censor Americans on social media as I and others have been pointing out. This is what we must concentrate on avoiding. We also must be cautious about playing into neocon propaganda, with many of those now making the same noise attacking Russia are the same people who got this country into a war based upon false claims about Iraq and WMD.

Bernie Sanders Speaks Out Against Interventionism And The War On Terror At Westminster College

On of my disappointments about the 2016 election (besides the nominees and the winner) was that there was relatively little talk of foreign policy. The general election had Hillary Clinton, one of the most hawkish candidates in history, running against Donald Trump, who was (and remains) totally incoherent on the topic. Bernie Sanders had a far better record, but preferred to run on economic policy as opposed to foreign policy. While he did criticize Clinton’s vote for the Iraq war and her support for regime change in Libya, these were not the main topics of the campaign. This week Sanders did deliver a foreign policy speech in Westminster College, in Fulton, Missouri.

The Intercept says, This Is What  A Radical Foreign Policy Looks Like, and had the opportunity to interview him prior to the speech:

I ask him how such rhetoric differs from past statements in defense of the U.N. and of international cooperation offered by leading Democrats, such as Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Kerry.

“Excuse me.” Sanders doesn’t like to be interrupted. “Let me just talk a little bit about where I want to go.”

The senator makes clear that “unilateralism, the belief that we can simply overthrow governments that we don’t want, that has got to be re-examined.” After referencing the Iraq War — “one of the great foreign policy blunders in the history of this country” — the senator touches on another historic blunder which, to his credit, few of his fellow senators would be willing to discuss, let alone critique. “In 1953, the United States, with the British, overthrew [Mohammed] Mossadegh, the prime minister of Iran – and this was to benefit British oil interests,” he reminds me. “The result was the shah came into power, who was a very ruthless man, and the result of that was that we had the Iranian Revolution, which takes us to where we are right now.”

Does he regret not speaking with such passion, bluntness, and insight on international affairs during his failed primary campaign against Clinton? He shakes his head. “No, I think we ran the kind of campaign that we wanted to run.” There’s a pause. “But I think that foreign policy is clearly very, very important.”

Video above and the full text of the speech can be found here. After thanking Westminster College, Sanders began:

One of the reasons I accepted the invitation to speak here is that I strongly believe that not only do we need to begin a more vigorous debate about foreign policy, we also need to broaden our understanding of what foreign policy is.

So let me be clear: Foreign policy is directly related to military policy and has everything to do with almost seven thousand young Americans being killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and tens of thousands coming home wounded in body and spirit from a war we should never have started. That’s foreign policy. And foreign policy is about hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq and Afghanistan dying in that same war.

Foreign policy is about U.S. government budget priorities. At a time when we already spend more on defense than the next 12 nations combined, foreign policy is about authorizing a defense budget of some $700 billion, including a $50 billion increase passed just last week.

Meanwhile, at the exact same time as the President and many of my Republican colleagues want to substantially increase military spending, they want to throw 32 million Americans off of the health insurance they currently have because, supposedly, they are worried about the budget deficit. While greatly increasing military spending they also want to cut education, environmental protection and the needs of children and seniors.

Sanders tied foreign policy to his economic views, and to climate change:

Foreign policy is not just tied into military affairs, it is directly connected to economics. Foreign policy must take into account the outrageous income and wealth inequality that exists globally and in our own country. This planet will not be secure or peaceful when so few have so much, and so many have so little – and when we advance day after day into an oligarchic form of society where a small number of extraordinarily powerful special interests exert enormous influence over the economic and political life of the world.

There is no moral or economic justification for the six wealthiest people in the world having as much wealth as the bottom half of the world’s population – 3.7 billion people. There is no justification for the incredible power and dominance that Wall Street, giant multi-national corporations and international financial institutions have over the affairs of sovereign countries throughout the world.

At a time when climate change is causing devastating problems here in America and around the world, foreign policy is about whether we work with the international community – with China, Russia, India and countries around the world – to transform our energy systems away from fossil fuel to energy efficiency and sustainable energy. Sensible foreign policy understands that climate change is a real threat to every country on earth, that it is not a hoax, and that no country alone can effectively combat it. It is an issue for the entire international community, and an issue that the United States should be leading in, not ignoring or denying.

Sanders expressed views which were far from isolationist, but which recognized the damage done by recent interventionism:

Some in Washington continue to argue that “benevolent global hegemony” should be the goal of our foreign policy, that the US, by virtue of its extraordinary military power, should stand astride the world and reshape it to its liking. I would argue that the events of the past two decades — particularly the disastrous Iraq war and the instability and destruction it has brought to the region — have utterly discredited that vision.

The goal is not for the United States to dominate the world. Nor, on the other hand, is our goal to withdraw from the international community and shirk our responsibilities under the banner of “America First.” Our goal should be global engagement based on partnership, rather than dominance. This is better for our security, better for global stability, and better for facilitating the international cooperation necessary to meet shared challenges.

Here’s a truth that you don’t often hear about too often in the newspapers, on the television, or in the halls of Congress. But it’s a truth we must face. Far too often, American intervention and the use of American military power has produced unintended consequences which have caused incalculable harm. Yes, it is reasonably easy to engineer the overthrow of a government. It is far harder, however, to know the long term impact that that action will have. Let me give you some examples:

In 1953 the United States, on behalf of Western oil interests, supported the overthrow of Iran’s elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh, and the re-installation of the Shah of Iran, who led a corrupt, brutal and unpopular government. In 1979, the Shah was overthrown by revolutionaries led by Ayatollah Khomeini, and the Islamic Republic of Iran was created. What would Iran look like today if their democratic government had not been overthrown? What impact did that American-led coup have on the entire region? What consequences are we still living with today?

In 1973, the United States supported the coup against the democratically elected president of Chile Salvador Allende which was led by General Augusto Pinochet. The result was almost 20 years of authoritarian military rule and the disappearance and torture of thousands of Chileans – and the intensification of anti-Americanism in Latin America.

Elsewhere in Latin America, the logic of the Cold War led the United States to support murderous regimes in El Salvador and Guatemala, which resulted in brutal and long-lasting civil wars that killed hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children.

In Vietnam, based on a discredited “domino theory,” the United States replaced the French in intervening in a civil war, which resulted in the deaths of millions of Vietnamese in support of a corrupt, repressive South Vietnamese government. We must never forget that over 58,000 thousand Americans also died in that war.

More recently, in Iraq, based on a similarly mistaken analysis of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s regime, the United States invaded and occupied a country in the heart of the Middle East. In doing so, we upended the regional order of the Middle East and unleashed forces across the region and the world that we’ll be dealing with for decades to come.

He later described the global war on terror as a disaster:

But, I also want to be clear about something else: As an organizing framework, the Global War on Terror has been a disaster for the American people and for American leadership. Orienting US national security strategy around terrorism essentially allowed a few thousand violent extremists to dictate policy for the most powerful nation on earth. It responds to terrorists by giving them exactly what they want.

In addition to draining our resources and distorting our vision, the war on terror has caused us to undermine our own moral standards regarding torture, indefinite detention, and the use of force around the world, using drone strikes and other airstrikes that often result in high civilian casualties.

A heavy-handed military approach, with little transparency or accountability, doesn’t enhance our security. It makes the problem worse.

While highly critical of the policies of the Democratic Party establishment, as well as the policies of Donald Trump, the speech received very favorable coverage at The Nation. John Nichols wrote, Bernie Sanders Just Gave One of the Finest Speeches of His Career: Outlining a vision of an America on the side of peace and justice, the senator shredded Trump’s brutish foreign policies. Stephen Miles wrote, Bernie Sanders Just Gave the Progressive Foreign-Policy Speech We’ve Been Waiting For: The senator powerfully linked domestic and foreign policy in the context of massive global inequality.

Contrast this with what we are hearing from Hillary Clinton. As I recently wrote, reading Hillary Clinton’s memoirWhat Happened, is like reading a memoir from Jesse James which makes no admission that he ever robbed a bank. There was no mention of the wars she supported, her influence peddling, or her frequent support for policies which violate our First Amendment rights. Glenn Greenwald similarly wrote, The Clinton Book Tour Is Largely Ignoring the Vital Role of Endless War in the 2016 Election Result. Greenwald also noted “the broader Democratic Party desire to pretend that the foreign wars it has repeatedly prosecuted, and the endless killing of innocent people for which it is responsible, do not exist.” Both Greenwald and I have noted the recent study suggesting that this support for endless war has cost Democrats the support of many voters, contributing to their loss in 2016.

Reversing their support for perpetual warfare, as Sanders also advocates, is both the right thing to do, and would be a more sensible path towards reversing the serious losses faced by the Democratic Party over the past decade.