Mueller Report.

OK, this is a first-twitch response.  Probably have to eat it–and my hat–soon.

So far, and we’ll have to wait a while to b sure, Robert Mueller has not objected to Attorney General William Barr’s summary of his findings. The BBC’s Anthony Zurcher opines that the one sentence quote from the Mueller report on “conspiracy” is as close as lawyer-speak allows to a complete exoneration. Without an underlying crime, it is difficult to distinguish between simply defending oneself against a loose-cannon investigator and obstruction of justice.

Mueller reports that the Russians tried to “collude,” but the Trump campaign wouldn’t cooperate. This was clear a year ago in the testimony of Papodopoulos.  Also, there’s plenty of evidence that the Russkies tried to help Trump. Just no evidence that a) the Trump campaign cooperated or–so far as I know–b) it made any difference. Jane Mayer will disagree with that latter remark.

I think that we’re still waiting on a Department of Justice Inspector-General’s report on how the Trump investigation began. The same IG evaluated the work of James Comey on the HRC investigation, and then evaluated the behavior of Peter Strozk. So, we’ll know more then.

Bear in mind that the Russians could have identified Christopher Steele as an American government agent during 2015-2016.  At the behest of the Department of Justice, Steele took a pass at Oleg Deripaska.  Deripaska probably grassed to Putin.  I don’t recall seeing Steele’s expenses for things like massive payments to Russians in exchange for state secrets.  (I’m assuming that revealing state secrets when Vladimir Putin tends to kill–in gruesome fashion–anyone who  leaks information required monetary compensation.  But what do I know?  Perhaps there are many Russian government officials so deeply concerned that Donald Trump might become president that they were willing to get Putinium added to their tea.  Or perhaps Steele got his “dossier” under the Old Pals Act.)  Failing those alternative possibilities, anything Steele got from the Russians after that may have been a Russkie plant intended to mess with the 2016 election. Mueller did not investigate that possibility. I wish he had.

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“Bug Eyed with Fear and Vengeance.”

In the opening scene of The Hamlet[1], Ab Snopes strides across his future landlord’s barnyard, then tracks manure into the front hall.  His behavior, and that of the whole scabby Snopes clan, deteriorates from there on across a trilogy of novels.  When David Mikkelson needed a user name for a group, he picked “snopes.”  Soon, impressed by the amount of sheer nonsense he encountered on the internet, he and his wife started a fact-checking site called Snopes.  To this day, the site tracks manure into the front hall of many internet fantasies.

Recently, the editor at the Snopes site reportedly told The Atlantic[2] that the majority of political false reports and rumors now come from or are aimed at liberals.  To follow one example ripped from the pages of Snopes, in February 2017 a story circulated that Donald Trump had met Vladimir Putin at an exclusive Swiss Alpine resort in June 2016. The story originated with three newly-created “fake news” sites.  “Redirects subsequently put in place for these fake news sites demonstrate that they were established as a promotional effort for the psychological thriller film ‘A Cure for Wellness’.”[3]

In similar fashion, surveys of Democrats conducted in July and November 2016 revealed an increase in a disposition to believe conspiracy theories from 27 percent to 32 percent.[4]  Political psychologists suggest that a belief in conspiracies is a coping mechanism on the part of people who have lost power or status in some fashion.  Thus the same survey that found an increase in Democrats’ conspiracy belief also found a decline in Republican conspiracy belief from 28 percent to 19 percent.[5]  As one academic expert on George Orwell put it, “people are hungry for frames of reference to understand this new reality.”[6]

Perhaps one sign of the post-election state of mind among Democrats is to be found in the surge of sales for “dystopian classics.”  George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984 topped the sales charts at Amazon.com.[7]  Sinclair Lewis, It Can’t Happen Here[8] and Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, came close behind.  Sales of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1984) jumped 30 percent in 2016 and 100,000 copies were printed in the three months following the election.

It has been suggested that alarmed Democrats are turning to works of fiction because non-fiction journalism can’t keep up with reality.  It isn’t for want of trying.  To take one example, one “The Interpreter” column in the New York Times offered “scholars of authoritarianism” a platform from which to compare Donald Trump to Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Vladimir Putin, and Rodrigo Duterte.[9]  Will all this turn out to be incitement to some rash act?

[1] William Faulkner, The Hamlet (1940).

[2] Which was read by a reporter at the New York Times, who quoted the Snopes editor in a story which I read and am now trying to write about for the blog which you are reading.  Just laying out the provenance here.

[3] See: http://www.snopes.com/trump-putin-switzerland/  The film was produced for Regency Films, owned by Amon Milchan.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arnon_Milchan

[4] Brendan Nyhan, “More Democrats Turn to Conspiracy Theories,” NYT, 16 February 2017.

[5] It is curious (to me anyway) that in July 2016, essentially equal percentages of Democrats (27) and Republicans (28) were disposed to believe in conspiracy theories.  I wonder if that is just a result of an election campaign and that the numbers are lower between elections?

[6] Alexandra Alter, “Fears for the Future Prompt A Boon (sic) for Dystopian Classics,” NYT, 28 January 2017.

[7] Understandably, sales of his Homage to Catalonia (which details the murderous behavior of the Communists to their fellow-leftists during the Spanish Civil War) and The Road to Wigan Pier (which lambast middle-class contempt for the values and behavior of working people) failed to budge.

[8] The novel commonly is taken as an attack on Huey Long, the Louisiana demagogue and rival to Franklin D. Roosevelt until Long’s assassination.

[9] Amanda Taub, “The Travel Ban and an Authoritarian ‘Ladder of Violence’,” NYT, 2 February 2017.

Saudi Arabia and 9/11.

In the 9/11 attacks, 15 of the 19 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia.[1]  Osama bin Laden was a Saudi who had begun his career in “jihad” by raising money and recruiting men for the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.  This came to be called the “Golden Chain.”  It is now a commonplace to note that Saudi Arabia has promoted the Puritanical form of Islam known as Wahhabism and that there is a striking similarity between Wahhabism and the ideology of ISIS.  Immediately after 9/11, the Saudi Arabian government flew 160+ Saudi Arabians out of the US on chartered jets, while the rest of America was grounded.[2]  So, inquiring minds want to know, did Saudi Arabia have anything to do with the 9/11 attacks?

Conspiracy theorists aren’t the only ones to ask the question.[3]  In 2002, a Joint Congressional Inquiry investigated intelligence failures on the road to 9/11.  President George W. Bush felt it necessary to bar release of 28 pages of the report which dealt with Saudi Arabian involvement.  (The Congress People[4] are allowed to read the pages under supervision, but they are barred from talking about what they have read.)

Did ObL’s “Golden Chain” continue to operate after the war in Afghanistan?  Did Saudi donors finance the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon?  Did Saudi government officials facilitate the work of the terrorists?  In response to these questions, equivocation is rife.  The Saudi government emphatically denies having anything to do with 9/11.  The 9/11 Commission declared that there was “no evidence” of Saudi government involvement at the upper levels.  What about at the lower levels?  What about rich guys not in government?

People who are privy to the various investigations dissent from the qualified answers offered by the government.  John Lehman, a member of the 9/11 Commission, said that “there was an awful lot of participation by Saudi individuals in supporting the hijackers, and some of these people worked in the Saudi government.”  Bob Graham, a co-chair of the group investigating intelligence failures, said that the question of financing of 9/11 “points a very strong finger at Saudi Arabia.”

At what do people look specifically?  First, at Omar al-Bayoumi, who is suspected of being a Saudi intelligence officer posted in Southern California with a watching brief on Saudi dissidents living in America.  In January 2000, two of the future hijackers (who had slipped through the many cracks in American intelligence before 9/11) arrived in Los Angeles.  Neither spoke any English, yet they managed to disappear for two weeks.  Then they met Bayoumi.  He drove them down I-5 to San Diego, found them an apartment (co-signing the lease) and fronted them the rent, and put them in touch with a local imam, Anwar al Awlaki.  (See “Just like Imam used to make.”)  Second, at Fahad al-Thumairy, a Saudi consul and imam in Southern California.[5]  He had contact with Bayoumi; he was deported in 2003; and he was interviewed by the EffaBeeEye several times in 2004.  Thumairy denies everything.

On the one hand, one of the implicated Saudi officials says “Saudi Arabia has nothing to hide.”  On the other hand, Saudi Arabia recently said that it will sell $750 billion of its American assets (mostly US Treasury bonds) if the secret 28 pages are de-classified.  That seems likely a testy response if there’s “nothing to hide.”  Still, American officials cringe before the threat.

[1] “Noted,” The Week, 15 July 2005, p. 18.

[2] There were 84,436 Saudis in the United States that year.   Why fly out only 160 or so of them?

[3] “Saudi Arabia and 9/11,” The Week, 24 June 2016, p. 13.

[4] See their hit song “White-House-C-A.”

[5] Mark Mazetti and Scott Shane, “28 Pages May Not Unlock Mystery of Saudis and 9/11,” NYT, 18 June 2016.