Thursday, March 30, 2017

Democrats and the Russia issue

Janet Heer this week made a (much-needed) cautionary warning to the media and implicitly to Democrats to be smart about how they handle the Trump-Russia scandal, Is the Russia Investigation Turning the Left Into Conspiracy Theorists? New Republic 03/27/2017. She writes:

Conspiracy theories about Russia are proliferating because of the strange limbo that America finds itself in: The sitting president is under FBI investigation. Further, the president’s party, which is tasked with holding him in check, seems on occasion to be running interference for him. As The Washington Post reports, Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has withheld key intelligence reports on this matter “from other committee members even while rushing to present it to the White House.” Conspiracy theories about Russia are also proliferating because of the murkiness of the Russian story, the full dimensions of which are hidden because it’s an ongoing investigation and because Republicans are loath to divulge anything that might be politically damaging to their party.

The best way for the media to dispel conspiracy-theorizing about this story would be to take great care with facts and characterizations.
It's worth repeating the old saw, just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not after you. Or, in this context, the fact that there are unsubstantiated conspiracy theories floating around about a topic doesn't mean that the topic doesn't involve misdeeds or conspiracies.

Paying attention to the facts as reported and thinking about them critically

Evan Halper reports on Jerry Brown's opposition to the Trump Family Business Administration's climate change policy in, Gov. Jerry Brown calls Trump energy plan a 'colossal mistake' that will galvanize climate change activists Los Angeles Times 03/28/2017.Jerry's comment is interesting in itself. But I want to highlight the part about foreign officials:

“It defies science itself,” Brown said in a call to The Times shortly after Trump signed an executive order that aims to bring an abrupt halt to the United States' leadership on global warming. “Erasing climate change may take place in Donald Trump‘s mind, but nowhere else.”

“Yes, there is going to be a counter-movement,” Brown vowed, predicting Trump’s actions will mobilize environmentalists in a way President Obama never could. “I have met with many heads of state, ambassadors. This is a growing movement. President Trump’s outrageous move will galvanize the contrary force. Things have been a bit tepid [in climate activism]. But this conflict, this sharpening of the contradiction, will energize those who believe climate change is an existential threat.” [my emphasis]
This is one reason that I worry about Democrats and left-leaning commentators and reporters like Rachel Maddow making any contact with a Russian by anyone connected to the Trump team somehow inherently sinister and suspicious. If someone is doing a legitimate business deal with a Russian company and not breaking any laws in the course of it, that in itself is not an indication that they're working for the FSB as a result. It's generally assumed that doing business between countries is a deterrent to war. I would argue that it may not be universally so. But people who might argue against say, close reliance by Country X on oil and natural gas resources from Country Y, would probably make the argument that such a deal makes Country X too dependent on Country Y to take a tough enough stand against Country Y in an international confrontation of some sort.

Here's another example, which I retweeted myself:

Since I've been critical of the recklessness of support for various US regime-change operations, including that in Syria in support of those ever-hard-to-identify Syrian Moderates. So this doesn't necessarily look like a bad policy in itself. From what I know, that's far more of a realistic posture than gambling on the ephemeral Syrian Moderates. Since incompetence as well as corruption is a defining characteristic of the Trump Family Business Administration, there's no guarantee that a good policy will yield good results.

It's also possible that a good policy that turns out to produce good results could have been done as a result of a corrupt and/or illegal deal. James Henry, who is one of the most important researchers of Trump's business deals, also tweeted this:

Was there anything improper or illegal about that meeting? The Guardian article doesn't allege either. Whether it's a good or bad policy or process is another question.

Heer quotes Masha Gessen Don’t Fight Their Lies With Lies of Your Own New York Times 03/25/2017. He also cautions about speculating too far beyond the facts in the public record. But his argument there comes a little too close to Both Sides Do It for me.

But Rachel Maddow is someone who should pay attention to such cautions. For example, Political Strains In West Serve Vladimir Putin Goals MSNBC 03/29/2017:

She has been strangely flippant and careless about her Russia-Russia-Russia reporting. But until about halfway through this clip, I was thinking she was doing a good job describing Russia's current autocratic rightwing Christianist political strategy in Europe. She does sound like she thinks that the idea of trying to create division among adversaries is something that Russia just came up with that nobody had thought of before.

But then she starts talking about the worrisome trend toward secession in California that those devious Russians are trying to exploit. Say what? She has to know that this is silly. There have been even some state legislators in Northern California for decades that say they would like to have Northern California break off and become its own state. But even that is understood to be a running joke reflecting fond prejudices of northern Californians against Los Angeles. If the super-cyber Rooskies think promoting California nationalism is a smart distinformation strategy, then we probably don't need to worry too much about their ability to create coups via "fake news."

Get back to me when Jerry Brown starts channeling Jefferson Davis and John Calhoun and we can have a conversation about that.

No comments: