The Elephant in the Room: Why are We Afraid to talk about America?

No, it’s not a trick question…

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State of the Union

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back to  STATE OF THE UNION. I’m Jake Tapper in Helsinki, Finland.

And we are live from Allas Sea Pool in Helsinki. You can see the Presidential Palace behind me. That’s where tomorrow’s historic US-Russia summit will take place. The meeting is causing some anxiety among some Republicans; fears Donald Trump might give too much away or not be tough enough.

But Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky says Trump is doing the right thing by meeting with Putin face-to-face.

Senator Paul, thanks so much for joining us, as always.

Just 48 hours ago, the U.S. government – the Trump administration – said top Russian military intelligence officers orchestrated a massive hack to affect the U.S. election. How much do you want Trump to try to hold Putin accountable for that?

SENATOR RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: I think really we mistake our response if we think it’s about accountability from the Russians. They are another country. They are going to spy on us.

They do spy on us. They are going to interfere in our elections. We also do the same.

Doug Levin at Carnegie Mellon studied this over about a 50-year period in the last century, and found 81 times the US interfered in other country’s elections. So we all do it.

TAPPER: It sounds as though you are saying the United States has done the equivalent of what the Russians did in the 2016 election, and it might sound to some viewers you’re offering that statement as an excuse for what the Russians did.

 

PAUL: No, what I would say… It’s not morally equivalent, but I think in their mind, it is. And I think it’s important to know in your adversary’s mind the way they perceive things.

I do think  they react to our interference in both their elections. They were very… one of the reasons they really didn’t like Hillary Clinton is they found her responsible for some of the activity by the US, in their elections under the Obama administration. So I’m not saying it’s morally equivalent —

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: But certainly Senator Paul, the United States has never —

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US and Russian Election Meddling Is Surprisingly Common

Using declassified documents, statements by officials, and journalistic accounts, Levin found evidence of interference by either the United States or the Soviet Union/ Russia in 117 elections around the world between 1946 and 2000. Evidence shows meddling in 11 percent of the 937 competitive national-level elections held during this period. 81 of those interventions were by the US, while 36 were by the USSR/ Russia.

Interventions 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 8 interventions by the U.S. and 4 by the Soviets.

Not all these interventions relied on methods as crude as bags of cash, though many did. Others included training locals of the preferred side in campaign techniques, covertly disseminating damaging information or disinformation about the other side, or providing or withdrawing foreign aid to influence the vote. Interventions on average correlate with an increase in the vote of the preferred side of 3 percent, enough to swing a close race.

The U.S. and Russia aren’t the only countries who do this; however, the U.S. and the Soviet Union/ Russia are the most frequent performers of partisan electoral interventions since World War II. Some covert partisan electoral interventions continue to be done by U.S. government bodies. Obviously, there’s evidence Russia is still trying to tip the electoral scales around the world as well, not only in the US but in several European countries too.

Levin also notes 2016 would be the third case of meddling by Moscow in a U.S. election: The Soviets intervened against Harry Truman in 1948 and Ronald Reagan in 1984, though both of those presidents won re-election anyway.

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Half the World is Laughing

AMY GOODMAN, DEMOCRACY NOW! HOST:  Our guest for the hour, Noam Chomsky, world-renowned political dissident, linguist, author, institute professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His latest book is Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power.

Juan?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Noam Chomsky, I’d like to ask you about something that’s been in the news a lot lately:

Obviously, all the cable channels, that’s all they talk about these days, the whole situation of Russia’s supposed intervention in American elections.

For a country that’s intervened in so many governments and so many elections around the world, it’s kind of a strange topic. But I know you’ve referred to this as a joke.

Could you give us your view on what’s happening, and why there’s so much emphasis on this particular issue?

NOAM CHOMSKY: It’s a pretty remarkable fact… first of all, it is a joke. Half the world is cracking up in laughter.

The United States doesn’t just interfere in elections. It overthrows governments it doesn’t like and institutes military dictatorships.

Simply in the case of Russia alone, the U.S. government, under (Bill) Clinton, intervened quite blatantly and openly, then tried to conceal it, to get their man Yeltsin in, in all sorts of ways.

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So, this, as I say, it’s considere… it’s turning the United States, again, into a laughingstock in the world.

So why are the Democrats focusing on this? In fact, why are they focusing so much attention on the one element of Trump’s programs which is fairly reasonable, the one ray of light in this gloom: trying to reduce tensions with Russia?

That’s… the tensions on the Russian border are extremely serious. They could escalate to a major terminal war. Efforts to try to reduce them should be welcomed.

Just a couple of days ago, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia, Jack Matlock, came out and said he just can’t believe so much attention is being paid to apparent efforts by the incoming administration to establish connections with Russia. He said, “Sure, that’s just what they ought to be doing.”

So, this one topic is the primary locus of concern and critique. Meanwhile, the policies are proceeding step by step, which are extremely destructive and harmful.

So, you know, yeah, maybe the Russians tried to interfere in the election. That’s not a major issue. Maybe the people in the Trump campaign were talking to the Russians. Well, OK, not a major point, certainly less than is being done constantly.

And it is a kind of a paradox, I think, the one issue that seems to inflame the Democratic opposition is the one thing that has some justification and reasonable aspects to it.

Partisan Electoral Interventions by the Great Powers

Conflict Management & Peace Science:  By not studying partisan electoral interventions, scholars miss an important, common form of intervention:

Between 1946 and 2000, the US and the Soviet Union/ Russia intervened in about one of every nine competitive national-level executive elections. Partisan electoral interventions have significant effects on election results, frequently determining the identity of the winner.

Overt interventions of this kind also have significant effects on the views of the
target public toward the intervener. Scholars who have studied particular cases of electoral interventions, at times, credit (or blame) the intervener with playing an important role in the subsequent nature of the regime in the target country, and influencing the direction of its domestic and foreign policies.

With the growing realization of the importance of regime type and, more recently, the nature of the leader in power for their countries’ foreign and domestic policies, electoral interventions are a factor that cannot be ignored.

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When Great Power Gets a Vote

Partisan electoral interventions are usually effective: the great power intervention increases the electoral chances of the aided candidate or party.

Would-be interveners tend to avoid supporting electoral ‘lost causes,’ usually preferring to avoid the costs involved in such a futile intervention. The various medium and longer term costs such assistance may impose on the recipient, for example,  overt electoral interventions, can erode a party’s  domestic appeal in subsequent elections, with voters increasingly preferring parties perceived as less ‘beholden’ to a particular foreign power.

Accordingly, the resources provided through electoral intervention to the preferred candidate (or party) usually will be given only in situations where they have a good chance of benefiting the assisted.

THAILAND-10033,, Elephant and Man Reading, Chiang Mai, Thailand, 2010

The U.S. Needs to Face Up to Its Long History of Election Meddling

The danger of this moment: Donald Trump’s refusal in Helsinki to credit his intelligence agencies’ findings about Russian electoral interference unleashed a nationalist fury in Washington unseen since September 11.

In this moment—thick with accusations of “treason” and references to Pearl Harbor—discussing America’s own penchant for election meddling is like discussing America’s misdeeds in the Middle East in the wake of 9/11.

It’s apt to get you labeled a traitor.

That’s a problem. Discussing America’s history of electoral interference is never more necessary. It’s necessary, not so Americans can downplay the severity of Russia’s election attack. It’s necessary, so Americans can determine how—and how not—to respond.

The less Americans know about America’s history of electoral interference, the more likely they are to acquiesce to—or even cheer—its return. That’s dangerous because, historically, American meddling has done far more to harm democracy than promote it.

Why does this history matter now? Because acknowledging it begs a question few American pundits and politicians have answered yet:

Is the problem with Russia’s behavior in 2016 that it violated principles of non-interference in other countries’ elections that America should respect as well? Or is the problem simply that America’s ox was gored?

Washington’s current burst of nationalist indignation, like the one that followed 9/11, is both vital and dangerous if not tempered by an awareness of America’s own capacity for misdeeds.

When liberals start calling people “traitors” for acknowledging that capacity, they’ve gone badly astray.

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Russia’s War on US is Nothing Compared to America’s War on Democracy

The noted North Korean political commentator Kim Jong Un got it right last year: Donald Trump is a “mentally deranged dotard.”

Consider the U.S. president’s bizarre performance next to Russian strongman Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on Monday.

Asked about Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, President Trump said this: “I have President Putin, he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this. I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

He continued: “So I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”

Talk about walking into your enemy’s wheelhouse. Trump looked, acted and sounded like a big floppy and supine plaything of his smirking Russian master. It was surreal.

I’m no fan of “Russiagate” and never have been. But it was as if Trump had let Russia-mad MSNBC and CNN craft the Helsinki news conference and write his lines for him.

The response from the U.S. corporate media minus Fox News was swift, harsh and unremitting. Cable news went wild. Its talking heads (except for Trump State Television/Fox) were unanimous: A “treasonous” Trump had “thrown his own country”—with “country” understood to mean the U.S. “intelligence” (spying and subversion) apparatus—“under the bus” and “sided with the enemy instead.”

A sour POTUS had to reluctantly walk his comments back the next day, awkwardly claiming that he’d really meant to say, “I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be.”

Right. I lied more convincingly than that in second grade.

Does Putin have the dirty photos after all? Does Trump have a late-life schoolboy crush on “strong and powerful” Vlad? Or on the related binding powers of head-of-state authoritarianism and senior white maleness? Political power envy? Bicep envy? Trump’s knee-jerk revulsion at any suggestion that his “great victory” in the 2016 Electoral College was tainted? All or some of the above?

We can only guess about the real source(s) of Trump’s peculiar Putin jones at this point.

By contrast, I can say with full confidence that nothing Trump said Monday or Tuesday was as ridiculous as something I heard leading Democrat and U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., tell CNN the night of Trump’s Helsinki debacle.

“It is the role of the U.S. intelligence community,” Warner said to Anderson Cooper, “to speak truth to power.”

Read that again: “It is the role of the U.S. intelligence community to speak truth to power.”

Never mind that the FBI has long surveilled, hounded, harassed, oppressed, slandered, maimed and even murdered U.S. labor, civil rights, peace, social justice and environmental activists and leaders—people fighting concentrated wealth, privilege and power. The FBI’s long record of domestic police-state repression has continued to the present day, up through Occupy, the Fight for $15, Black Lives Matter and Standing Rock.

Never mind the CIA’s longstanding central role in the crushing and subversion of national independence and social justice movements, popular revolutions and democratically elected governments the world over. Or the CIA and FBI’s central role (current Russiagate investigator Robert Mueller’shaving been a top player) in the creation of false intelligence pretexts for George W. Bush’s monumentally criminal, mass-murderous invasion of Iraq.

There was nothing close to the hint of a pushback against Warner’s idiotic statement from Cooper (a former CIA intern) or anyone else in the “mainstream media.” It doesn’t enter cable news’ talking heads’ minds to see the nation’s spying, surveillance and police state for what it is at its core: an instrument of class, racial and imperial oppression.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper could be heard on CNN using the same phrase—“speaking truth to power”—to describe the mission of “the intelligence community.”

Clapper was just one among dozens of former U.S. military and intelligence officials and experts—all proud agents and defenders of the American global empire and so-called capitalist democracy—paraded across the CNN and MSNBC sets to express horror at Trump and Russia.

The more Russia- and Trump-obsessed cable news I watched last week, the crazier it got. Things went really off the rails Wednesday night. That’s when MSNBC’s Russia-mad talk-show host Rachel Maddow leaped from reporting a ridiculous Sarah Huckabee Sanders comment on how the Trump White House was discussing whether to honor Putin’s request to hand over a former U.S. diplomat (Barack Obama’s Russian ambassador, Michael McFaul) for questioning in Russia (which would be a bizarre and astonishing development and was obviously never going to happen) to telling ordinary individual Americans that they could soon be at risk of being picked up by the White House and handed over to Russia to be killed by Putin (or “other foreign dictators”). Who was more wacky—White House press secretary Huckabee Sanders, for saying the White House was considering handing over a former U.S. ambassador to Russian authorities (something that was never going to occur), or Maddow, for telling everyday Americans that Trump may one day mark them for rendition to Russia at the behest of the Kremlin (also never going to occur)?

Cable news commentators also expressed concern for another “American” sought for questioning (and torture and murder, purportedly) by Putin: financial mogul Bill Browder, who happens, hilariously enough, to be the grandson of the former Soviet-captive U.S. Communist Party head Earl Browder. Putin’s interest has to do with tax disputes related to Browder’s onetime investments and “human rights” activism in Russia. Here’s a fun little fact about Bill Browder that wasn’t highlighted by MSNBC and CNN: The multimillionaire “American” renounced his U.S. citizenship and “re-domiciled” to England in 1998 to avoid paying U.S. taxes on foreign investments. It’s hard to imagine the Boston patriots of 1773 forming a Tea Party in defense of the “great American” Bill Browder.

Speaking on behalf of power—imperial power in this case—nothing Trump said Monday and Tuesday was quite as absurd as the undisputed condemnation U.S. corporate news talking heads and pundits heaped on Trump for saying in Helsinki that he held “both countries responsible” for the decline in U.S.-Russia relations. “I think we’re all to blame,” Trump said.

Outraged U.S. media authorities fell over themselves to express shock and horror at this “Orwellian” statement of “false equivalency.” CNN and MSDNC (I mean MSNBC) likened it to the white-supremacist Trump’s deservedly infamous comments likening so-called “alt-left” civil rights protesters to neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Va., last August.

In historical reality, as the “mainstream” U.S. media would never acknowledge, Trump’s “both countries responsible” comment understated Washington’s primary culpability in the rise of the “new,” that is, post-Soviet, U.S.-Russia Cold War. The record of imperial U.S. aggression and provocation is clear to anyone who pays remotely serious attention to the record of the recent past:

● President Bill Clinton’s decision to annul a 1990 agreement with Moscow not to push the North Atlantic Treaty Organization farther east after the reunification of Germany and not to recruit Eastern European states that had been part of the Soviet-ruled Warsaw Pact.

● Widespread U.S. interference in Russian electoral politics and civil society—including brazen U.S. intervention in Russia’s pivotal 1996 presidential election—before, during and ever since the collapse of Soviet socialism.

● U.S.-led NATO’s decisions to renege on its 1997 pledge not to install “permanent” and “significant” military forces in former Soviet bloc nations and to place four battalions on and near the Russian border.

● The 1999 U.S.-NATO military intervention in the Yugoslav civil war, leading to the dismemberment of Serbia and the building of a giant U.S. military base in the NATO- and U.S.-created state of Kosovo. (That recent history has hardly prevented Washington from shaming Russia for “forcibly redrawing borders in Europe” by annexing Crimea.)

● President George W. Bush’s unilateral withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

● President Obama’s decision to deploy anti-missile systems (supposedly aimed at Iran’s nonexistent nuclear weapons and really meant to intercept Russian missiles) in Romania and Poland.

● Obama’s decision to invest more than $1 trillion on an upgrade of the U.S, nuclear weapons arsenal, which was already well enough stocked to blow up the world 50 times over. The upgrade continues under Trump. It involves “strategic” bombs with smaller yields, something that dangerously blurs the lines between conventional and nuclear weapons. It has helped spark a new nuclear arms race with Russia and, perhaps, China.

● Longstanding U.S. efforts “to move Ukraine out of Moscow’s orbit and integrate it into the West” (to quote U.S. foreign relations scholar John Mearsheimer).

● U.S. provocation and endorsement of a right-wing 2014 coup against the pro-Russian government in Ukraine, on Russia’s repeatedly invaded western border—a development that constituted a severe national security threat to Russia and predictably created war in eastern Ukraine and a crisis that led to numerous dangerous incidents between NATO and Russian forces.

● Washington’s constant self-righteous denunciation of Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, a thoroughly predictable Russian response to the United States’ installation of a right-wing and heavily neo-Nazi-affiliated, pro-NATO and anti-Russian government in Kiev, Ukraine.

“NATO leaders,” American political writer Diana Johnstone stated in June 2014, “feign surprise at events they planned months in advance. Events that they deliberately triggered are being misrepresented as sudden, astonishing, unjustified ‘Russian aggression.’ The United States and the European Union undertook an aggressive provocation in Ukraine that they knew would force Russia to react defensively, one way or another.”

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