Monthly Archives: July 2016

Kincora And British Intelligence – Part Two

Apologies for taking so long to reproduce the second part of the Kincora hearings dealing with British intelligence involvement, or not, and knowledge, or not, of abuse at the notorious boys home in Belfast in the 1970’s. The reason is simple: the pdf version used by the hearing is almost impossible to copy in bulk and so reproduction is a tedious and lengthy business. However I hope to get on top of the problem and reproduce all the sections dealing with MI5, MI6, the British military and RUC Special Branch.

This section deals with the part played by MI6, the Secret Intelligence Service, in their dealings with Brian Gemmell, the British Army officer who is on record as saying that in 1975 he was warned off Kincora by the resident MI5 liaison officer at British Army headquarters. At this time MI6 and MI5 shared intelligence responsibilities in Northern Ireland in a unit called the Irish Joint Section.

Along with two other key witnesses, Roy Garland, a former member of Tara, the Loyalist paramilitary group founded by Kincora housefather William McGrath, and Colin Wallace, a former British Army information officer who has also alleged intelligence knowledge of Kincora, Brian Gemmell has declined to give evidence in person at the inquiry.

The Kincora scandal is being examined as part of the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry (HIAI) which has limited powers to call witnesses. Campaigners for the truth attempted, without success, to have Kincora included in the Goddard inquiry into child abuse which does have the power to compel witnesses. Evidence from MI5 and MI6 largely takes the form of documents provided by the spy agencies themselves.

June 29, 2016

MR AIKEN: Chairman, Members of the Panel, if possible, if we took a short break and we could resume and carry on for a period of time looking at the material.

CHAIRMAN: Yes. We will rise for a few minutes.
(3.45 pm)
(Short break)
(3.55 pm)
Material relating to intelligence agencies dealt with by COUNSEL TO THE INQUIRY (cont.)

CHAIRMAN: I think we are reduced to a few faithful attenders.

MR AIKEN: Yes. There is additional Brownie points for Mr McGuinness today! The next — we’d looked at a document from 13th February 1976. I shouldn’t leave out Mr Murray, who is also present.

CHAIRMAN: I did say in the plural.


CHAIRMAN: I could see Mr Murray, even if you couldn’t.

MR AIKEN: The next document we are going to look at is of 15th October 1976, and this begins a sequence of documents that are likely to be highly relevant to your consideration, Members of the Panel. These are 9 documents that arise from Brian Gemmell, who was, as you know, a captain in the Army, meeting two SIS officers in London.

Now it appears he believed them to be MI5 officers, and it shows the difficulty with the Irish Joint Section, but he provided them with the material that’s summarised in a Secret Intelligence Service record. If we can bring up 3508, please, of 19th October 1976. Now we will be able to go to better quality copies of these documents shortly, but what I want to do is just immediately identify the significance of this, because you will recall it’s in 1975 in March, April, May and June that there’s engagement between Brian Gemmell and Ian Cameron in respect of Roy Garland and also someone else.

There’s an issue, as you know, about conflation between different individuals occurring, but that being said, on 19th October 1976 you have got this record, which is the first of a sequence, and what it is saying is: “We spoke about the above. I attach a copy of a letter written by HQ 3 Infantry Brigade, Lurgan about that above.”

Now just to be clear, what that is, is the Halford-MacLeod letter of 28th January 1976. The SIS officer is saying, “Here you are. I have got this” and he is sending it to MI5. “As our copy of this letter was obtained unofficially, please ensure that neither — you guys don’t take any action on this without reference to us.” Now if we just scroll down on to the next page, please, we then have a further document of 19th October and this is an internal document within The Secret Intelligence Service and it is saying: “Tara. We attach copies of papers handed to the SIS individual by Gemmell on 15th October, which he obtained from his Army files. He made the following comments on these papers.” Then you can see what’s referred: “(a) Tara — note to file.” It is given “3350/18 Volume II”. That’s an Army reference:

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“This paper was written by Gemmell and is based on the contents of his file on Tara.”

Then the second document: “(b) Notes on interview with Roy Garland. These were made by Gemmell and his NCO after a ‘one-off’ debrief sanctioned by Ian Cameron.”

Now you can immediately see if that’s accurate, then some of the subsequent statements about the sequence of events may be being conflated and misremembered, because as opposed to being told not to speak to, you can see that this is notes of an interview that have taken place after permission was given to speak to, and then the third document is a Tara proclamation.

Now I want us to look at the two key documents that were handed over by Brian Gemmell to The Secret Intelligence Service officers he met. It is irrelevant for Inquiry purposes whether Brian Gemmell — it may be irrelevant for Inquiry purposes whether Brian Gemmell was entitled to or should have as an Army officer handed over the documents to The Secret Intelligence Service. The fact is according to the record made by The Secret Intelligence Service officer that is what he did. The note to file that’s referred to here is dated 14th October 1976. So it is a document that is dated one day before the meeting that is recorded in these records, which is said to have taken place, as you can see in the second line of paragraph 1, on 15th October. Now there is a better copy of it. There’s a copy at 3509, but there’s a better copy at 105030, please. Just if we scroll down, please, it allows you to — it is easier for you to read that document. So you can see exactly what was being recorded in the note.

We can now look at the note to file. You will find a copy at 3532, 3533 and 3534, but there’s better copy I want to show you at 105027. Now I want just to — you can see the reference in the top left, the note to file. So it’s matching the reference in the memo that we looked at indicating the note to file, and you can see in the top right it’s dated 14th October 1976. You have the SIS officer telling his colleague in the SIS, “Brian Gemmell told us he wrote this and we met him on 15th October 1976”. So you can see then there is a record of Tara first coming to notice and the development of it you can see. In paragraph 2 the organisation and its roots, its recent coming to public notice with the issue to the press of an unsigned proclamation of intent in January 1972. You can see: “It was about this time that William McGrath formed Tara on its present day lines.”

You can see he is noting the strangeness of the name in the context of the organisation, but then you can see the section that begins “Members of Tara”: “Sources indicate that the Tara membership is small, possibly 300 Province-wide and about 70 activists in Belfast.”

Now, as I said to you, it is not about whether it’s accurate or not. It’s about the information that he has and he’s then recording in a report and providing. “There is evidence that a number of the members are sexually deviant.” Just pause. It is going to be difficult, but this is not written in 2016. This is written in 1976.

Therefore what that phrase might mean today is perhaps different from it would have been intended to mean in 1976. You can see he goes on to describe what he means:”William McGrath, the past OC, almost certainly is bisexual and there are homosexuals in his immediate circle of Tara associates.” Then you can see he goes on to explain about the nature of the organisation, and then in paragraph 5 he is recording an individual as reporting that the numbers are falling and they had gone public to create a myth about their size. “A senior member of Tara recently claimed that, although not a large operation, it was able to operate through pulling strings. This is believed to be factual.”

Then you can see: “In 1975 it was reported that many of the older members of the UDA were anxious to join Tara. Some had been in Tara.” So intelligence around Tara. Then you can see the “Conditions of entry”, paragraph 7, the qualifications that allowed you to join Tara. If we scroll down a little further, please, you can then see “Role and aims”, and you can see it sets out the different references to what Tara intended to do and its contrast with other organisations, and it was described as: “… the hard core of Protestant resistance, defence and planning organisation for use only in a Doomsday situation. Its current active role is that of intelligence gathering. They are known to operate contacts in the Loyalist political parties.” Then you have got reference to “Weapons” and then “Structures”. You can see the reference in paragraph 15 to the platoons and then you can see “Major personalities”:

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“OC — William McGrath,.” So again you’ve got the same reference to 5, which is incorrect:
“May be stood down due to ill health.”

You have got the other individuals whose names you know in any event ascribed to those positions. Now he then summarises the raison d’etre. If we just scroll down, you can see there is no other information on the page. So that’s the note for file, 3 of 3 pages. Now what will be immediately apparent, Members of the Panel, is that this document written on 14th October 1976 is said to be a summary of what is known about Tara and it principal members, and if we go back up, please, to the first page, paragraph 4, you can see what is said about William McGrath, that: “… [he] is almost certainly bisexual and there are homosexuals in his immediate circle of Tara associates.” There is no reference to Kincora.

There is no reference to allegations of abuse taking place in Kincora on anyone in his care. The allegation is he is bisexual and there are others around him in Tara who are homosexual. Now the Army wasn’t in a position or is not yet in a position to produce this document to the Inquiry. That is because it has not yet been possible to find the Army HQNI Tara file, which definitely did exist, or the 39 Brigade Tara file, which may be the one that Brian Gemmell had and which this document may well have been found on.

Those files, according to Mr Rucker, who you are aware did the report examining much wider issues, but including looking at matters relating to Kincora and the Army, according to Mr Rucker, they appear to have last been with The Security Service in that he sent them to The Security Service for them to reconsider matters in them that he was looking at, but The Security Service hasn’t as yet been able to trace them in order to know do they still have them, did they send them back to the Army or have they been destroyed? Getting to the bottom of that is going to be difficult, but it’s the case that Mr Rucker reviewed those two files in 1989/’90 when writing his report, and we will be able to look at what he says about that.

Then it is also the case that Major Saunders had access to them in 1982 and produced some of their contents to Detective Chief Superintendent Caskey during the secret part of the RUC Phase Two investigation or Phase Three, as I have called it, the investigation into military intelligence. We know from Major Saunders’ witness statement that he had access to those files and from them he carved a number of documents that he considered relevant, and this was not one of them, if it was to be found on either of the files. Going back to the note, the second document that’s referred to in the memo from the SIS officer of 19th October 1976 which was also said to have been handed over on the same date by Brian Gemmell was his interview notes that he and/or his NCO had with Brian — with Roy Garland. Now those are exhibited to the — the interview notes are exhibited to the SIS statement at 3532 through to 3534. If we just look at 3532, please. Sorry. If we just scroll down on to the next page in case I’ve got the reference wrong. Yes. Sorry. 3533 and 3534. So you can see someone has written along the top: “Notes of an interview with Roy Garland, ex-Tara member, left 1972.” I don’t know whether you can read into the — on the left-hand side beneath “Notes” whether that is a start of a 9 that has been cut of and then a 7 and a 5, indicating we are missing a 1 on the left-hand side and the side — the left-hand side of the 9 or whether it is something else, but you can see: “Garland introduced to McGrath when he was 15 (20 years ago). McGrath at the time

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Christian/evangelical crusader. Held meetings at McGrath’s, attended also by REDACTED”, REDACTED “and REDACTED. McGrath proposed they should form a group as these youngsters all had makings of becoming Prime Ministers, etc. They first formed a group called Cell. However, McGrath thought this sounded rather red and they decided on Tara (this was about 1965-’66). They held meetings between themselves and McGrath would single them out after meetings. McGrath attempted to seduce them by claiming to show them emotional freedom.

To this end he made them feel guilty by admitting to masturbation, therefore showing up their guilt complex. This is important to emphasise, as it is the very beginning of McGrath’s hold on them.” Then the information goes on to look at various individuals associated with Tara. I am not going to spend time going through that now, because it doesn’t contain any more information of the type the Inquiry is interested in other than you can see Roy Garland never saw any weapons. “Many [something] became disillusioned after joining either with McGrath’s unsavoury reputation or with all the talk and no action. The Christian overtones did not go down well with a percentage of recruits.” So if we just scroll a little further down, please, you can see then various individuals are discussed. You have got REDACTED, REDACTED. You can see this allegation is recorded: “Roy Garland claims that McGrath was responsible for spreading rumours of KIN63’s homosexual activities, having posters posted around Belfast ‘Nice boy KIN63′.” You will find that in documents we come back to look at: “According to Roy Garland, KIN63 knows that McGrath was responsible for this.” You can see: “Roy Garland believes although Ian Paisley knows of McGrath’s nefarious activities, he would be better to take action, because the exposé would also affect  REDACTED, REDACTED therefore doing DUP no good.”

I think that sentence is missing a word.

CHAIRMAN: One might logically think there should be a “not” after “better”.

MR AIKEN: Yes. If we scroll down on to the next page, please, there’s a short paragraph to finish it off. Now what you will immediately note, perhaps consistent with Brian Gemmell’s interest, and, in fact, when we come to look at a note, a direction that this one-off debrief with Roy Garland was to be what he could tell us about Tara, there is nothing in it, as you can
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see, about Kincora or McGrath committing homosexual offences on boys living in Kincora. So it is a record of perhaps where the Army officers’ interests lay on one view, and you will recall that Brian Gemmell told Detective Chief Superintendent Caskey in 1982 — the reference — I am not going to bring up, but it is at 30146 in the middle of the page — of having written a four-page MISOR, a military intelligence source report, following — it is on the screen. We will see the reference to the MISOR if we scroll down just a little. He — you will want to look very closely at whether, in fact, he had a second meeting with Roy Garland, and/or if he did, or was involved in the writing up of his Corporal — Corporal Q we are going to call him for now — Corporal Q’s meeting with Roy Garland, whether the record we are now looking at is more likely to be the record Brian Gemmell is referring to. So either — there’s the notes for interview and whether or not that has been conflated with a MISOR, or whether by the time he’s speaking in 1982 he is remembering his 14th October ’76 document, which albeit was a year after he met Roy Garland, that he says he wrote, or when we look at the sequence of events, unfortunately the complexity is in understanding his belief that it was after he met Roy Garland that he wrote this MISOR and was told then to break off contact with him, when, in fact, the sequence of events in the document seems to suggest that he had interviewed Jim McCormick and then before meeting Roy Garland was given the instruction that getting into matters of homosexuality was not the interest of the Army but there could be a one-off debrief about Roy Garland’s knowledge of Tara.

So what exactly was said to be on the MISOR and the correct sequence of events may be conflated and confused in this document, but in any event no-one has been able to find a MISOR that arose on foot of the Roy Garland meeting that Brian Gemmell had.

What we do have are the interview notes that Brian Gemmell provided to The Secret Intelligence Service along with his note to file on Tara and you may ask in reflecting on these matters if there had been a MISOR on Tara or on William McGrath or anything to do with Kincora, when he is handing these documents over to the Secret Intelligence Service, given they are not — shouldn’t be receiving any of them, why not include the MISOR, a copy of which would presumably be on the same file that he’s gone to to get the document that he has produced? Now on 19th October, as we saw, if we go back to 3508, please, the Secret Intelligence Service write to

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MI5 and provide the Halford-MacLeod letter, and the clean copy of that is at 30297 to 30302, and the author is explaining, as you saw, that the communication — in this communication to MI5 that the Halford-MacLeod letter was obtained unofficially. We looked at the index card earlier. If we just go back to 105009, please, and if we look at the entry of 19th October 1976, you will see: “See reference for write-up on subject and the Tara Brigade, 19th October 1976.” So whether this is the note that is referred to there based on the documents that are attached to the 19th October ’76 memo that we have seen, or if there was some other report, it hasn’t been possible as yet for The Secret Intelligence Service to find that. So it may be that that, the document we have just been looking at of 19th October ’76, is what this entry refers to. Then on an MI5 telegram of 21st January 1977, if we look, please, at 105202 — so these documents have been sent across to MI5. If we scroll down, please, you can see the date, 21st January 1977. Titled: “William McGrath and Tara. Reference …”, and you can see to the document of 19th October 1976 that we have just looked at.

“The attachment to your above-referenced letter has raised several questions. As the source was said to be retaskable, please would you enquire whether further information can be sought. For your own information only … has been identified, who has had a contact in London and is probably identical in 19… The questions are as follows.” So what’s being read here is the Halford-MacLeod letter. You will remember it contains all sorts of names and information, and questions are then being asked about the contacts that are identified in the Halford-MacLeod letter and being set out as questions that MI5 would like consideration to be given to getting answers.

If we scroll down on to the next page, you can see at paragraph 4(c), for instance, they are saying MI5 did not have any information on the revolutionaries conference that McGrath was said to have attended in the 1960s. Further questions were asked about that to see can they find out any other information about it. Now if we scroll down a little further, please, on 31st January, so ten days later, if we go to 105032, please, the SIS have produced a copy of this as well. It is easier to read here. You can see “Dated:

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31st January, Received: 1st February”. This is a UK-based Secret Intelligence Service officer sending a telegram to intelligence staff in Northern Ireland, and copying it to MI5 in London and to SIS, and it refers to having given a copy of the Halford-MacLeod letter to MI5, and they are asking if the source can re… — can be retasked. So they are referring back to the document we have just looked at, saying, “This is what has been asked”. If we scroll down on to the next page, I think we will see: “We have spoken to Gemmell, who has confirmed that
there would be no objection to one of the MI5 or SIS officers discussing this letter with the Army.” On 2nd February, the next day, if we look at 105204, please, MI5 in Belfast reply expressing their reluctance to ask about the Halford-MacLeod letter, given that they had received it when they should not have, and Belfast asks to see the letter, including because they did not know the source for it.

Then on 4th February, so two days later, at 105205 a note attached a report investigating the potential involvement of you will see RIS, the Russian Intelligence Service, with Protestant extremists in Northern Ireland. In the report if we scroll down, please, to 105206, you can see that paragraph 2(b) does contain a reference to William McGrath. So it’s looking at a whole list of individuals who are not relevant to the Inquiry, but if we scroll down to 2(b), please, you can see:

“Reverend William McGrath …” So we have moved from an MBE to a minister of religion: “… leader of Tara, attended a conference of revolutionaries in the mid-1960s.” Some other representatives were also present: “McGrath is said to have some hold over Paisley.”

Then on 11th February 1977, if we can look at 3570, please, MI5 and SIS in London receive a telegram from intelligence staff in Northern Ireland providing information about Tara. You can see that William McGrath features in paragraph 3. If we scroll down a little bit, you can see: “Talking about arms, the commander said that William McGrath, another prominent figure in Tara, had promised the East Belfast group a consignment of Thompson machine guns as long ago as 1969.” So you can see the reference back to — there were said to be 500 of them: “This consignment had never materialised. He added

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that he knew that McGrath still owed £2,000 for the purchase of weapons now in the possession of the commander.”

You can see: “In the past there have been few indications of the Tara quote orbat unquote semicolon the existence of a commander in East Belfast is, in itself, of interest.”

On 15th February 1977, if we can look, please, at 3511, an SIS officer in London sent a telegram to intelligence staff in Belfast and also to MI5. There is an MI5 copy, which might be easier to read, if we look at 105208, please. If we just scroll down, please. Yes. So one officer is giving the other officer
congratulations for having — flushing out information on Tara via his source, and then: “We look forward to learning more about the orbat and finances of this organisation. When we have such information we may be able to put Tara in its proper perspective.

Two points raised immediately by your telegram.” Then they are looking to discover various pieces of information. You can see in (B):
“Would the Tara recruiting campaign”, that’s postulated, “offer a loophole to penetrate Tara if considered — if we considered it a worthwhile target?”

You may consider, Members of the Panel, whether this is a rather strange document if Tara was a construct of or controlled by the intelligence services and the leader was one of their agents. This is February 1977. McGrath has been working in Kincora since June 1971 and has already sexually abused most of the boys who would make allegations against him, including all of the boys who claimed he engaged in homosexual sex with them.

On 16th February 1977, if we look at 105209, please, MI5 in London confirmed, if we scroll down, please, that Tara was a worthwhile target and supported recruitment to penetrate. Now you can obviously — the implication of supporting an attempt to recruit to penetrate the organisation carries an implication as to the position at the point in time when consideration is being given to recruit to penetrate.

The following day, 17th February 1977, if we look at 3512, please, this is an SIS record. It’s article 6. Intelligence staff in Northern Ireland respond to the suggested penetration. You can see it is on the screen at article 5, but if we scroll down, it is said: “Beyond knowing that there is a recruiting campaign in Tara, we know little about it. So we are not sure whether we are yet in a position to discover a loophole that could be exploited by the Irish Joint Section. We

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do not know, for instance, where Tara seek its recruits apart from quote other organisations unquote. Certainly considers Tara to be a worthwhile target. Both the two individuals have been briefed to find traces of this elusive organisation.”

On 30th May, if we look at 3513, please, MI5 wrote to The Secret Intelligence Service requesting details of the subscriber to an international telephone number who was believed to be a contact of William McGrath but of whom they had no trace. Now MI5 have then produced to the Inquiry the internal direction, if we look at 105158, please, that we have looked at already, to produce a file in the name of William McGrath, and you can see the reason given for the opening of a file. You may consider the date of this occurrence to be of considerable significance to your work, Members of the Panel. On 15th June 1977, if we can look at 105210, please, an MI5 report of a discussion with a source did include a section on Tara and you can see that it is recording historical information that the individual provided as to the nature of the organisation. A record of 6th August 1979, if we can look, please, at 105211, and we look at the bottom of the page and then on to the next page, this records a conversation

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between MI5 officers on 31st July 1979 about what’s described as “minor Protestants”. You can see that Tara gets a mention and you can see what’s said about it. Then on the next page you can see that it’s described as “microscopic”: “Eventually most Tara members left or joined the more defensively minded UVF and Tara withered to its present ‘microscopic’ size.” You can see: “It’s a group of thinkers rather than doers.”

On the — you can see they are said to have a friend close to the centre of the Southern Government. On 27th October 1979, if we look at 105213, please, MI5 received an extract from an RUC intelligence report which recorded someone other than William McGrath then being the OC of Tara and confirming that very little had been heard of Tara in recent years. Now then if we look at 3520, please, so right up to this point the Kincora scandal has not appeared in the news, in the documents that we have been looking at up to this point, and this document is dated 13th February 1980. So it’s after the Kincora scandal has broken, and intelligence staff in Northern Ireland are writing to the Secret Intelligence Service in London. You may consider it’s not surprising that the

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intelligence officers got out their material they have on William McGrath. You can see: “The above report named first name unknown McGrath as leader of Tara and alleged to be involved in the alleged scandal of homosexual activity in a Belfast boys’ home. A number of demands are being made for a public inquiry and you may be interested in the following details. McGrath is William McGrath.”

Gives his date of birth: “In 1976 he was reported to be warden of the Kincora Boys’ Hostel,  where he still lives.” That’s not accurate, as you know: “He is (or was) leader of Tara. Our records suggest he is or may have been known to an agency based here or in London. McGrath is reported to be a very active homosexual.”

You can see his conquests are said to include a particular individual and a number of differen individuals named as having been involved with him. You can see then: “Some contact … said to have been responsible for posters reading ‘Nice boy KIN63’ which appeared all over Belfast.”

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If we scroll down, please, you can say — this is recorded: “[For] London only. In view of the possibility of a public inquiry possibly lifting the curtain on this fascinating scene you may like to consider whether any of this needs to be passed to …” a particular section within the organisation.

So it only took us thirty-six years, but there we are. The curtain on the fascinating scene is being lifted.

So the phrase that’s up above about being known to the — if we scroll up, please: “Our records suggest he is or may have been known to an agency based here or in London”, it is not clear what that is a reference to. Obviously the person is drawing on information in Northern Ireland. So we saw in the 1989 document that was internal between MI5 officers that they had access to the card, and it may be the same or a different card than the one that was held centrally by MI5. But we’ve gone through the material based on the Inquiry examinating — examining a vast swathe of intelligence records, and what we have — what I have endeavoured to set out for you publicly are those

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documents that disclose what intelligence officers in either MI5 or the Secret Intelligence Service were on notice of in respect of William McGrath. As you know, there’s much further post-1980 analysis material that has been made available to the Inquiry by the intelligence agencies where they are looking back at what they knew, and we will touch on that material in due course.

CHAIRMAN: Well, I think we have reached a natural break in the proceedings. We will adjourn now and resume hopefully as close to 9.30 tomorrow as possible.

(4.40 pm)

(Inquiry adjourned until 9.30 tomorrow morning)

Trump And Putin – A Rational View

There are two fallacies abroad at the moment that seem to have taken stubborn root in the minds of even the most normal, sensible people. So obstinately fixed have they become and resistant to rational challenge that it seems only the passage of time will wear them away.

One is the notion that the cross-community ‘Remain’ vote in Northern Ireland during the recent Brexit poll heralds a united Ireland (the logic of which is that all those hundreds of Catholics slaughtered by the UDA and UVF over the last four decades really died in the cause of agricultural subsidies and access to the Single Market).

The other is that Donald Trump is a tool of the Russian warlord, Vladimir Putin.

In this refreshing piece in the current edition of The New York Review of Books, Masha Gessen takes a closer look at ‘The Donald’ and debunks the notion that he is a creature of the Russian leader, or that he is, as some journalists have dubbed him: ‘The Manchurian candidate’ or ‘The Siberian candidate” in the 2016 presidential election:

Imagine that your teenage child has built a bomb and has just set it off in your house. The house is falling down all around you—and you are blaming the neighbor’s kid, who threw a pebble at your window. That’s what the recent Putin fixation is like—a way to evade the fact that Trump is a thoroughly American creation that poses an existential threat to American democracy.

The Trump-Putin Fallacy

Donald Trump, Fresno, California, May 27, 2016

Donald Trump, Fresno, California, May 27, 2016

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

In the earlier months of the Donald Trump campaign, many people I knew asked me to comment on the similarities between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Recently I have been asked to comment on direct connections between Trump and Putin. And now, with the release of nearly 20,000 emails apparently stolen from the Democratic National Committee’s email server by Russian hackers, has come the suggestion that Putin may actually be interfering in the US election to help get Trump elected. These ideas—that Trump is like Putin and that he is Putin’s agent—are deeply flawed.

Imagine that your teenage child has built a bomb and has just set it off in your house. The house is falling down all around you—and you are blaming the neighbor’s kid, who threw a pebble at your window. That’s what the recent Putin fixation is like—a way to evade the fact that Trump is a thoroughly American creation that poses an existential threat to American democracy.

Though no direct connection to Putin, let alone Trump, has yet been shown, the hacked DNC emails have played into a growing theory in the American media that Trump is an instrument of Putin. In recent days and weeks there has been a series of articles that seek to link Trump to the Russian leader. In Slate, Franklin Foer described Trump as Putin’s “plan for destroying the West” and listed all available evidence of Trump’s ties to Russia: he has pursued a series of aborted construction projects there; he has attracted dirty Russian money; and two of his operatives, campaign manager Paul Manafort and adviser Carter Page, have connections to Russia (Page has business interests there and Manafort has worked for the ousted pro-Moscow Ukrainian president). Foer did not claim to show that Putin actually has a hand in Trump’s campaign: he was merely listing the connections that align with Putin’s evident interest in seeing Trump become president. But if one looks at these connections within the overall activities of Trump and his advisers, activities that would include all of Trump’s other unsavory partners and Manafort’s other unsavory clients, it would look like a mere subsection of a tycoon’s checkered international business career.

In The Washington Post, first Josh Rogin and then Anne Applebaum wrote about the Manafort and Page connections and noted that Trump’s people have apparently been indifferent to the party platform but focused on exactly one point: blocking an amendment that would pledge weapons to Ukraine. Arguing that the issue was of supreme importance to the Kremlin, Applebaum called Trump a “Manchurian candidate.” But this theory ignores the fact that the same passage in the platform contains the following sentence: “We support maintaining and, if warranted, increasing sanctions, together with our allies, against Russia unless and until Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity are fully restored.” That just happens to be the plank that Russians had hoped to see gone. In fact, earlier this month Page was in Moscow giving a lecture that was publicized by Putin’s press secretary and attended by journalists who asked Page to promise to advise Trump to lift sanctions; in what was clearly a rehearsed performance, Page in response pulled out a Putin quote and read it in broken Russian: it said that countries should not interfere in one another’s affairs. With this in mind, the incident with the blocked amendment begins to look like Page’s attempt to curry favor with his business partners in Moscow by giving them what he can, which isn’t what they asked for.

In The New York Times, Paul Krugman called Trump the “Siberian candidate” and, rehearsing all the known connections, wondered if Trump was more than just a sincere admirer of Putin: if there is “some specific channel of influence.” Finally, Josh Marshall, editor of Talking Points Memo, weighed in with a piece called “Trump & Putin. Yes, It’s Really a Thing.” To the usual list, Marshall added that Trump’s

most conspicuous foreign policy statements track not only with Putin’s positions but those in which Putin is most intensely interested. Aside from Ukraine, Trump’s suggestion that the US and thus NATO might not come to the defense of NATO member states in the Baltics in the case of a Russian invasion is a case in point.

This is precisely what makes the Trump-as-Putin’s-agent line of reasoning so unhelpful. Trump’s foreign policy statements are perfectly consistent with his character and thinking. The man is uninterested in anything he doesn’t understand. He is incapable of strategic planning, and he has a particular distaste for paying debts. Of course he doesn’t see any reason for the United States to fulfill its obligations to other countries and organizations—just as Trump personally wouldn’t fulfill his obligations to other people, or to organizations. Yes, that happens to be exactly what Putin would want him to say. But the idea that Putin is somehow making or even encouraging him to say these things is a work-around for the inability to imagine that the Republican Party’s nominee is saying them of his own accord.

Trump is not a foreign agent. This gets me to the second common trope: that Trump is like Putin. Yes, he is. As Timothy Snyder has pointed out, Trump seems to want to be Putin: “Putin is the real world version of the person Trump pretends to be on television.” That may well flatter Putin. More to the point, Putin is on record as hating Hillary Clinton and blaming her for much of what ails Russia, so there is little reason to doubt that he would prefer to see Trump win the election. But that tells us nothing about his actual ability to influence the election or Trump himself. Trump is also like Mussolini and Hitler. All of them are fascist demagogues who emerged from their own cultures and catered to them. In fact, Trump is less like Putin, whose charisma is largely a function of the post to which he was accidentally appointed, than he is Mussolini or Hitler.

In the middle of the last century, a number of thinkers whose imaginations had been trained in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany tried to tell Americans that it can happen here. In such different books as Erich Fromm’s Escape from Freedom, Theodor Adorno and his group’s The Authoritarian Personality, and Herbert Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man, the great European exiles warned that modern capitalist society creates the preconditions for the rise of fascism. America doesn’t need Putin for that.

Not that there are no lessons to be learned from Putin’s reign: there are, and these lessons concern the imagination. I have spent a good third of my professional life working to convince the readers—and often editors—of both Russian and American publications that Vladimir Putin is a threat to the world as we know it. I was not alone in this, of course: the task was taken up first by a few journalists and academics, then by a few more. Making the case was easy: in his speeches, decrees, and, most of all, in his actions, Putin provided ample and easily obtained evidence. And yet for years—while Putin started two wars, took over the media, canceled elections, seized and appropriated assets, amassed a fortune, sent his most prominent critic to jail, and had at least one person killed (and this was just the uncontested evidence against him)—many readers found this case unconvincing. To get from evidence to conclusion and understanding, one needs more than logic: one needs imagination. Both Russians and Westerners simply could not imagine that Putin was as bad as all that. He had to prove it over and over again.

Lack of imagination is one of our greatest handicaps as humans and as citizens. Mikhail Khodorkovsky, one of the richest men in the world, could not imagine that Putin would put him in jail, and this was one of the reasons he ignored repeated warnings and stayed in Russia. Then he spent ten years in a Russian prison. David Cameron could not imagine that his fellow citizens would vote to secede from the European Union, so he called for a referendum. Soon after the vote last month, pundits in both the UK and the US regrouped and started reassuring themselves and their audiences that the UK will not really leave the EU—because they can’t imagine it. I have spent much of this year arguing with my American friends about Donald Trump. Even after Trump had won enough delegates to lock up the Republican nomination, reasonable, well-informed people insisted that some Republican savior would swoop in and reclaim that party. There was little, if any, evidence in favor of that kind of outcome, but for a brief moment many Americans seemed to believe in the unlikely rather than the obvious. Why?

“I just can’t imagine Trump becoming the nominee,” many said at the time. But a lack of imagination is not an argument: it’s a limitation. It is essential to recognize this limitation and try to overcome it. That is a difficult and often painful thing to do.

Now that Trump has become the Republican nominee—and has pulled even or even slightly ahead of Clinton in the most recent polls—it is time to force ourselves to imagine the unimaginable. Forget Putin. Let us try to imagine Donald Trump being elected president of the United States.

The day after the election, the stock market will crash. Then, there will be a lull. For one thing, Trump will not have taken office yet. But life will seem conspicuously unchanged. The stock market will recover some. On inauguration day, there will be large anti-Trump protests in some American cities. But in some others, including Washington, there will be large celebrations that will make your skin crawl. On the other hand, they will not be wearing black shirts, and that will make what has happened seem a little less real. In some cities, there will be clashes. The police will do their jobs, and this will be reassuring.

After all, you will think, the American presidency is a strangely limited institution. It doesn’t give Trump that many ways to radically alter the everyday lives of Americans. But that is exactly the problem. President Trump will have to begin destroying the institutions of American democracy—not because they get in the way of anything specific he wants to do, like build the wall (though he will probably have moved on to something else by that point), but because they are an obstacle to the way he wants to do them. A fascist leader needs mobilization. The slow and deliberative passage of even the most heinous legislation is unlikely to supply that. Wars do, and there will be wars. These wars will occur both abroad and at home. They will make us wish that Trump really were Putin’s agent: at least then there would be no threat of nuclear war.

There is no way to tell who will be targeted by the wars at home. Muslims and immigrants are, of course, prime candidates, but any group of people will do—including a group that is not currently constituted as a group. Notwithstanding the awkward outreach in Trump’s convention speech last week, my money is actually on the LGBT community because its acceptance is the most clear and drastic social change in America of the last decade, so an antigay campaign would capture the desire to return to a time in which Trump’s constituency felt comfortable. But there are also Jews, bicyclists, people who studied a foreign language in college—the possibilities are limitless.

Trump will pose an impossible dilemma for the institutions of democracy: because they are too slow and complicated for him, he will seek to bypass them. Still, there are many limits the American system imposes on executive power: Congress, regulatory agencies, the Supreme Court. And don’t forget the national news media. But imagine what will happen to it. First, Trump will ban The Washington Post from the White House pool. That will be ridiculous and even invigorating at first, but in a little while, once he has kicked out every media outlet that he perceives as critical, we will learn that there is no good way to cover a presidency that is a black box.

Still, it is unlikely (or I simply cannot imagine) that Trump will do enough damage to democracy in the course of four years to secure a second term. After he is defeated, institutions will begin to recover. Culture, however, will sustain much more lasting damage. Our failure to understand this—and our effort to find foreign explanations for Trump’s rise—may be blinding us to the real threat he poses.

July 26, 2016, 3:59 pm

Hill The Shill

No matter how well choreographed the show, or how immaculate the delivery, or well-rehearsed and scripted the words, I just find it impossible to watch Hillary Clinton, as I did at the DNC finale last night, and think for one moment she actually believes anything she says. Slick Willie begets Slick Hilly. God help us all.

Dems Morph Into Republicans As Sanders Is Humiliated

Watching the display of unashamed jingoism at the DNC in Philadelphia tonight – the crowd chanting ‘USA!’ for instance, like hard-line Republicans – it is hard to avoid the conclusion that having neutralised Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton now plans to win the election by filling the ground on the right vacated by Donald Trump. Sanders now looks foolish, to say the least. Although it is entirely appropriate for a Clinton. Time to think about New Zealand?

The Democratic National Convention As It Really Happened

This piece by Jeffrey St Clair of Counterpunch is easily the most incisive, revealing, informative, politically honest and hilarious article on the Democratic National Convention I have yet read. Enjoy:

Night of the Hollow Men: Notes From the Democratic Convention


+ Since my co-editor Joshua Frank prefers to go surfing rather than do his reportorial duty and watch the DNC Convention from gavel-to-gavel, he’s telling me that I have to write another account of tonight’s proceedings. I’m not sure I’m up to it ‘frankly.’ What would Hunter Thompson do? Oh, yes, he would get his body and mind in fighting form by having breakfast. I guess I’ll follow the good Doctor’s example: “Four Bloody Marys, two grapefruits, a pot of coffee, Rangoon crêpes, a half-pound of either sausage, bacon, or corned-beef hash with diced chilies, a Spanish omelette or eggs Benedict, a quart of milk, a chopped lemon for random seasoning, and something like a slice of key lime pie, two margaritas and six lines of the best cocaine for dessert.” All to be consumed while naked. Snarf! Sniff! Belch! ALRIGHT! I’m primed. Bring on Biden!

+ Margie Kidder was one of Hunter Thompson’s best friends. I asked her if this menu remotely resembled his real appetites. Margie told me that she and Hunter were together during the 1984 Democratic Convention in San Francisco, where his main obsession was in scoring some cocaine to get him juiced for covering the tedium of the convention.

“Here’s what Hunter would do,” Margie told me. “He believed firmly in getting your cocaine first, which at that convention involved spending a lot of time with a gay friend of mine he referred to in his writing as “the bowl of fruit”. Then you got your drinks lined up and we would sit and watch the TV in the press room. I kept insisting in going out onto the floor to interview what often turned out to be ex-lovers of mine, who I couldn’t really quote for obvious reasons. He was disgusted with me. At one point, back at the St Francis hotel, Hunter screamed down the hall at me “You are a political neophyte! You are a dangerous woman!” Then he went off to a party at Ann Getty’s house or apartment and called her a fascist dyke and punched a hole in her living room wall and Pat Caddell (the Democratiic pollster) and I had to race over with my trans driver Greta and our 1960s Cadillac convertible loaned to me by the gay community and rescue Hunter from the well-dressed and horrified Democrats. Sen Patrick Leahy thought he was funny. Few other Democrats did. But then Leahy often rode around with us in that Cadillac.”

+ Terry McAuliffe, the Clinton’s former BFF (second now to Elizabeth Warren), mentor to Tim Kaine in the art of political grifting and current governor of Virginia, has an ego the size of Trump Tower. McAuliffe knows all of the Clintons secrets. He knows what they think and how they deal. McAuliffe gave an early morning interview to Politico, where he confided to the reporter that Hillary was only pretending to oppose the TPP to neuter one of Bernie Sanders’s main campaign themes. The governor assured the reporter that after the election Hillary would once again support the job-killing trade pact with a few cosmetic adjustments. The McAuliffe Leak exposed the worst kept secret in Washington.

+ Bill O’Reilly did his best last night to calm a perplexed nation, still reeling from Michelle Obama’s allegation, which had not been vetted by the Texas School Book Commission, that slaves had built the White House. Yes, it’s true, O’Reilly told his anxious viewers, but relax the slave construction workers were, in fact, “well-fed and had decent lodgings provided by the government.” With these ameliorating words from a professional historian, Fox Nation slept soundly.

* A few days ago, Michael Moore hauled himself like a stranded walrus onto the set of the Bill Maher Show, where he predicted that Trump was going to win in the fall. Those of us who know Michael Moore knew that this was a con, a scare tactic to drive potential Greens, Libertarians or stay-at-home anarchists to vote for HRC. Michael Moore does this every general election. Flirts with a Third Party candidate, then folds. He has previously confessed his obsession with Hillary, an obsession that borders on the sexual.

In his book, Downsize This!, Moore confessed his “forbidden love” for Hillary. He described her as “one hot shitkickin’ feminist babe.”

Now into my inbox lands a message from Moore under the subject heading: “Add Your Name?” How quaint, I thought, I didn’t think we’d been on speaking terms since his deplorable betrayal of Nader in 2004. I was crushed to discover that this was actually a fundraising letter for, imploring me to join with Moore and Lena “friggin‘” Dunham to “do everything we can to stop Trump.” Sicko, indeed.

+ Trump is a carnival barker of bullshit. This morning at his press conference in Scranton he tweaked Clinton by calling on the Russian hackers to release her emails. The reaction was seismic. Trump is inviting a foreign nation to spy on the US! Trump is calling for an enemy of the US to interfere in the American election! Lions, tigers and bears, oh my!

+ The Democrats reacted with predictable hysterics, calling Trump’s remarks “treasonous,” which is ridiculous. What Trump actually said was that “if” Russia did in fact hack into Hillary’s email account then they should release the emails, especially the 30,000 emails that her lawyers deleted AFTER they were subpoenaed.

+ Shortly after offending all of the foreign policy elites in both parties with his remarks on Russia, Trump broke with Republican orthodoxy again by announcing that he would support a $10 an hour minimum wage. Mike Pence, who opposing any minimum wage, must be having a hard time keeping up with the new talking points. The liberals, of course, reflexively denounced Trump’s plan as “incoherent.” But it is one more sign that Trump is trying to outflank Hilary on a range of issues. Fortunately for him, he doesn’t have to veer his Rolls that far to get to the left of Clinton.

+ The US is shocked! Shocked, I tell you!! That any government might want to interfere in US elections. It is morally wrong. It violates international law. It’s the kind of action that violates every sacred principle of Democratic governments. (See Bill Blum, see Zoltan Grossman.)

+ In their quest to ensure a fully-informed American electorate, the Russian hackers should also release Trump’s tax returns and the text of Hillary’s Goldman Sach speeches.

+ The neoliberal ticket is now consecrated. The nomination of the unapologetically pro-fast track, pro-TPP Tim Kaine approved without objection. Change (of positions) you can believe in. “At least he’s not Putin,” Jelle Versieren told me. “Nominating Putin would definitely be worse.”

+ Hillary’s new BFF, Elizabeth Warren, refused to say whether Tim Kaine was the “right pick” for the Democratic Party. Instead Warren mumbled that Kaine “is a good man, he has a good heart, and he has a lot of experiences. I think he is going to be a valuable member of the team for Secretary Clinton and a valuable member of the team when she is president of the United States.”

+ New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio is now on stage. Wonder if he’ll do a reprise of his “Colored Person Time” routine as a way to win back some of those Trump voters in western Pennsylvania?

+ Bernie Sanders hasn’t left the building with the Sandernistas. He gave a speech this morning to the Texas delegation, where he called Trump the “worst candidate in modern history.” If that’s true, what are they scared of? The election should be a cakewalk.

+ Almost every speaker on stage today has repeated the phrase “scary Donald Trump.” They are working overtime to scrub away the image of Madeleine Albright from last night, which caused so many Democratic children to have a sleepless night.

+ Jesse Jackson is a hollow shell of his former self. Once one of the most electrifying speakers of our time, he now is thoroughly pacified and house trained. He can’t really believe what he is saying about the woman who called black teenagers “super-predators”? What does he really mean when he says that you can “trust” the woman who pushed for the destruction of welfare that further impoverished the lives of poor black mothers and their children? “Hillary Time? Hope Time?” Jackson couldn’t even look at the camera when he wrenched out those tortured phrases. If Jackson wasn’t embarrassed for that speech, I was on his behalf. Once he was a rebel against the System. Now he is a hired gun for the elites.

+ Who is up for a drinking game during Tim Kaine’s speech!? One shot of mezcal for every formerly long-held position that Kaine’s reverses himself on tonight. If you don’t pass out, then congratulations, you are probably one of Hunter Thompson’s illegitimate children…

+ The Clinton campaign is saturating the airwaves with a commercial featuring a montage of some of Trump’s most offensive remarks with shocked children looking on. In fact, most children probably watched few if any of Trump’s heresies before they saw all of them at once in Hillary’s commercial. Is it really about protecting the kids, Hillary?

+ Harry Reid and his wife just shuffled on stage wearing sunglasses they must have picked up at the House of Blues in Vegas. This is probably the last time we’ll see Harry Reid at one of these things. I like Harry Reid. I don’t know why. If I thought hard about it, I probably wouldn’t. But I do. He’s a former boxer and is still a fighter, even if he is so often punching the wrong targets. Alex and I interviewed him about 10 years ago. He was totally unpolished and unvarnished. We could have been talking to somebody in a bar. In fact, we were talking to somebody in a bar. Reid stood up to the nuclear lobby and won. He single-handedly kept nuclear waste out of Yucca mountain. You won’t see his kind in the future Democratic Party of pre-packaged Westworld-like clones.

+ The ambitious Lt. Gov. of California Gavin Newsom just praised the “sunny optimism” of Ronald Reagan, specifically referencing the Gipper’s “tear down that Wall” speech, one of the most rabid rants of the Cold War era.

+ The Boho Gov. of California Jerry Brown, proponent of fracking and oil drilling, is who the DNC picks to speak about climate change? Is Bill McKibben committing seppuku? One fracker endorsing the environmental bona fides of a ticket of two frackers. Give them points for consistency. Is Brown auditioning for Secretary of Interior or the board of Exxon. Is there a difference?

Why did the Democrats feel as if they could send out Jerry Brown to talk about global warming? Because Gang Green is already “all in” for Hillary and the DNC thought they could stick it right in their face with impunity (they’d be right).

+ This gun violence sequence is unfolding like a flashback to Death Night at the Republican convention.

+ There’s Chief Charles Ramsey, the former police commission for Washington, DC., talking about gun violence and the “war on cops.” You remember Ramsey don’t you? He’s the man who instituted traffic checkpoints in largely black sections of DC where information on detained motorists who were committing crimes was entered into a mass police database. Ramsey also ordered the illegal mass arrests of more than 400 protesters (perhaps even one of you) in Pershing Park during the World Bank and IMF protests in 2002. The city of DC was ordered to pay nearly $2 million in fines as compensation for this trampling of civil rights. So much for the Constitution. Perhaps Hillary is auditioning Ramsey for the next Secretary of Homeland Security. Do you feel more secure?

+ Cpt. Mark Kelly, Space Cowboy, just praised the “awesome extent of American power and capability” that engineered the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. The Democrats are doubling down on the Iraq War.

+ Naturally, Commander Kelly’s homily to the Iraq War is followed by a group sing of ‘What the World Needs Now’ as a statement against gun violence! Maybe Yoko denied them the rights to ‘Give Peace a Chance?’ No matter which way you turn people are living in an Alt Reality.

+ In a strange cinematic interlude, the big screen behind the stage just aired a surreal film warning that Trump couldn’t be trusted with the “nuclear button”, which was partially narrated by … the nuclear bomber himself, Harry Truman!

+ Leon Panetta, the CIA’s master of drones, is being shouted down with “No war, No drone” chants, most of them coming from the Oregon and Washington state delegations. Play on, Sandernistas!

+ Leon Panetta sniveling about Russian hacking is the best laugh of the night. Didn’t his own hackers, working with their cohorts in Mossad, unleash the malicious Stuxnet worm on Iran?

+ The floor managers are in crisis mode. They have given all of the delegates on the floor “Stronger America” placards which they are waving with patriotic vigor and have them shouting “USA! USA!” to drown out the anti-war protesters. Did they import these people from the Trump rally in Scranton? They cut the lights to the anti-war protesters section and they responded with their Flashlight apps on their cellphones. Be prepared people!

+ Are they arresting and waterboarding the protesters in the Oregon and Washington delegations now before Biden and Obama speak? Please text home!

+ Right on cue, Rachel Maddow denounced what another MS-DNC hack called the Lunatic Left for heckling Leon Panetta, director of the CIA’s remote control killing program. “It made no sense,” she said. Which means it must have been impeccably timed.

+ And now an important message on decency, justice and morality by Joe Biden, the man who betrayed Anita Hill and wrote the Clinton Crime Bill.

+ Did they run the Biden speech through the plagiarism software? They should make sure to use the UK edition.

+ For the Democrats the only man on Earth scarier than Donald Trump is Vladimir Putin, who Biden seems to believe is the Dr. Moriarty of Moscow.

+ Introducing Michael Bloomberg to present the Bililionaire Seal of Approval to Ms. Hillary Clinton!

+ Bloomberg: “We don’t need a bomb thrower as president.” Apparently, we need another drone launcher, instead!

+ Leave it to Bloomberg to give the most coherent indictment of Trump. There’s no hate quite as pure as that between rival billionaires.

+ Re: Lenny Kravatz: They seem to be alternating the Love Songs with the War Speeches.

+ Get the mezcal out, here comes Citizen Kaine. Will he embrace his inner neoliberal? Or make a false confession about his sudden epiphanies on trade, bank regulation, the death penalty, abortion, and collective bargaining rights?

+ Tim Kaine is off to a halting start. Perhaps they should have had Kaine on at 3 pm? He has a goofy quality that would be endearing in a TV weather personality.

+ If Hillary and Kaine are elected, will Toni Morrison dub Kaine the first Hispanic VP because he spoke some snatches of Spanish tonight?

+ Tim Kaine, the Jesuit Missionary, talked about witnessing the horrors of the Honduran dictatorship without mentioning that it and its death squads were entirely supported by the US government and that the same generals were put back into power in a coup supported by Hillary Clinton!

+ Tim Kaine looks like he honed his rhetorical chops by watching home videos of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. Did the Clintons ever see him give a speech or did they just take Terry McAuliffe’s word for it? Nothing against the great Fred Rogers, of course.

+ Kaine, the Wall Street bag man, quoting John McCain’s economic advisor for the 2008 campaign as an expert witness is probably not the most compelling testimonial against Trump.

+ Obama enters to the banal mewling of Bono! How apt. At least he didn’t profane James Brown or Smokey Robinson.

+ Obama may have been impotent to stop the killing of the kids at Newtown or the church members in Charleston. But he had complete authority to stop the killing of children, doctors, nurses, and wedding parties in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan killed by his drone strikes.

+ Optimism is the word from the O Man, which means things must be much worse than we think.

+ With a smile on his face, Obama claims “gay marriage” as a victory on his resume, even though he opposed it.

+ Obama: “There are pockets of the country that never recovered from factory closings.” Pockets? Those pockets are big enough to shoplift the Great Lakes.

+ Now Obama is quoting Reagan. Truman and Reagan have been quoted more frequently than any other figures at this convention. In fact, Obama’s speech is played in the key of Reagan. He has said that he sees himself as a “transitional figure” like, yes, Reagan. He has exceeded beyond his expectations.

+ Obama just said Hillary has been caricatured by some on the Left. I assume he’s referring to the jacket cover of Doug Henwood’s deliciously vicious book, My Turn.

+ Obama could sell Trump Steaks to a vegan.

+ Obama swears that Hillary is the “most qualified person ever to run for president.” Perhaps. But she’s qualified in all the wrong directions.

+ Exit to Stevie Wonder. When Hillary surprised Obama on stage, she had the look of love in her eyes, as if she had just jilted Bill for Barack. But then wouldn’t you after Bubba’s creepy stalker speech last night?

This was a night dominated by the hollow men of the Democratic Party: Panetta, Kaine, Biden and Obama. Men who knew better, but did worse. The theme was liberal virility, strength, and managerial efficiency. Missing was any empathy for the homeless and the hungry, the poor and the downtrodden. It was a frontal embrace of the neoliberal order, a demonstration that the Democrats have the competency and toughness to manage the imperial order in a time of severe internal and external stress.

The last three hours weren’t a full-throated repudiation of Sanderism, so much as a casual dismissal, as if the core concerns Bernie’s movement gave voice to regarding the ravages of economic inequality didn’t even merit their attention. And Bernie sat passively in the imperial box seats with Jane squirming at his side, watching it all unfold.

Barack Obama possesses so many scintillating skills, perhaps more skills than any other political figure of the modern era. Yet he put those magical gifts to such meagre, timid and often brutal uses. What a waste.

His is the tragedy of a squandered presidency.

Clinton-Sanders Bow To Israel Lobby

It remains to be seen how much Bernie Sanders has given away in his deal-making with Hillary but it doesn’t look good for single-payer health care nor the anti-TPP lobby.

Despite the fine words uttered by the party’s leadership, there are worrying signs that Sanders has given his one-time opponent enough wriggle room to escape his grip on those issues.

One area which seemingly was utterly immovable for the Clinton camp was the question of Israel, or to put it crudely sucking up, as the Democrats have been doing for decades now, to the Israel lobby to stop Jewish money syphoning off to the Republicans. The Clintons have a track record in this regard going back a long way.

Mondoweiss, a brave and independent blog founded by young, anti-Zionist Jews, mostly from New York, has this revealing article demonstrating the power of the Israel lobby – in this case in the shape of multi-billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adleson – to influence and even dictate Democratic Party policy in the Middle East – and US government policy should Hillary win.

Here it is:

Neocons Cluster Around Hillary As Putin Blamed For DNC Email Dump….

This from The Intercept today, as DNC sources blame Putin’s Russia for the hacking of 20,000 party emails, some of which revealed an anti-Sanders favouritism:

As Hillary Clinton puts together what she hopes will be a winning coalition in November, many progressives remain wary — but she has the war-hawks firmly behind her.

“I would say all Republican foreign policy professionals are anti-Trump,” leading neoconservative Robert Kagan told a group gathered around him, groupie-style, at a “foreign policy professionals for Hillary” fundraiser I attended last week. “I would say that a majority of people in my circle will vote for Hillary.”

As the co-founder of the neoconservative think tank Project for the New American Century, Kagan played a leading role in pushing for America’s unilateral invasion of Iraq, and insisted for years afterwards that it had turned out great.

Despite the catastrophic effects of that war, Kagan insisted at last week’s fundraiser that U.S. foreign policy over the last 25 years has been “an extraordinary success.”

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s know-nothing isolationism has led many neocons to flee the Republican ticket. And some, like Kagan, are actively helping Clinton, whose hawkishness in many ways resembles their own.

The event raised $25,000 for Clinton. Two rising stars in the Democratic foreign policy establishment, Amanda Sloat and Julianne Smith, also spoke.

The way they described Clinton’s foreign policy vision suggested that if elected president in November, she will escalate tensions with Russia, double down on military belligerence in the Middle East and generally ignore the American public’s growing hostility to intervention.

Sloat, the former deputy assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of European and Eurasian affairs, boasted that Clinton will be “more interventionist and forward-leaning than Obama’s been” in Syria. She also applauded Clinton for doing intervention the right way, through coalitions instead of the unilateral aggression that defined the Bush years.

“Nothing that [Clinton] did was more clear than the NATO coalition that she built to defend civilians in Libya,” said Sloat, referencing the Obama administration’s overthrow of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. That policy, spearheaded by Clinton, has transformed a once stable state into a lawless haven for extremist groups from across the region, including ISIS.

Kagan has advocated for muscular American intervention in Syria; Clinton’s likely pick for Pentagon chief, Michelle Flourney, has similarly agitated for redirecting U.S. airstrikes in Syria toward ousting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Smith told the audience that unlike Trump, Clinton “understands the importance of deterring Russian aggression,” which is why “I’ll sleep better with her in the chair.” She is a former deputy national security advisor to Vice President Joe Biden.

Smith left the government to become senior vice president of Beacon Global Strategies, a high-powered bipartisan consulting group founded by former high-ranking national security officials.

When Robbie Martin, a filmmaker who recently produced a three-part documentary on the neoconservative movement, asked how Clinton plans to deal with Ukraine, Kagan responded enthusiastically.

“I know Hillary cares more about Ukraine than the current president does,” Kagan replied. “[Obama] said to me [that he wouldn’t arm Ukraine because] he doesn’t want a nuclear war with Russia,” he added, rolling his eyes dismissively. “I don’t think Obama cares about Putin anymore at all. I think he’s hopeless.”

Kagan is married to Victoria Nuland, the Obama administration’s hardline assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs. Nuland, who would likely serve in a senior position in a Clinton administration, supports shipping weapons to Ukraine despite major opposition from European countries and concerns about the neo-Nazi elements those weapons would empower.

Another thing neoconservatives and liberal hawks have in common is confidence that the foreign policy establishment is right, and the growing populist hostility to military intervention is naïve and uninformed.

Kagan complained that Americans are “so focused on the things that have gone wrong in recent years, they miss the sort of basic underlying, unusual quality of the international order that we’ve been living in.

“It’s not just Donald Trump,” Kagan said. “I think you can find in both parties a very strong sense that we don’t need to be out there anymore.”

“If, as I hope, Hillary Clinton is elected, she is going to immediately be confronting a country that is not where she is,” he said. “She is a believer in this world order. But a great section of the country is not and is going to require persuasion and education.”

Sloat agreed, arguing that “it’s dangerous” for people to draw anti-interventionist lessons from Libya and Iraq.

The Clinton-neocon partnership was solidified by Trump becoming the Republican nominee. But their affinity for each other has grown steadily over time.

The neoconservative Weekly Standard celebrated Clinton’s 2008 appointment as Secretary of State as a victory for the right, hailing her transformation from “First Feminist” to “Warrior Queen, more Margaret Thatcher than Gloria Steinem.”

But the fundraiser was perhaps the most outward manifestation yet of the convergence between the Democratic foreign policy establishment and the neoconservative movement.

Hannah Morris of the liberal pro-Israel lobbying group J Street celebrated this bipartisanship as a “momentous occasion.”

“We could not be more proud to have [Kagan] here today,” she said.

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Is Hillary’s Putin Claim A New Zinoviev Letter, Or The Real Thing?

I have no idea whether or not Putin-inspired hackers were behind the release of some 20,000 Democratic National Committee emails to Wikileaks which have revealed a disturbing, but not surprising level of anti-Sanders’ bias amongst the party’s leading bureaucrats.

But I am suspicious of the claims, not least because we have not been given any independent and convincing evidence. Instead reporters are quoting anonymous ‘researchers’ or ‘cyberspecialists’ as their authorities for the alleged Russian government plot. It has the look of a story which depends for its legs on the gullibility of the media.

Until someone with a name and face, and a reputation for honesty, comes forward to explain the what’s and why’s in language that the non-techy world can understand, then I shall reserve judgement while bearing in mind that a) Hillary distaste for Putin’s Russia and her neoconservative sympathies are well known and b) this is a convenient stick both to hit Donald Trump with while distracting attention from the core issue, the Democratic Party’s pro-Clinton partisanship and the antics of the truly repugnant Debbie Wasserman-Schultz.

(The affair also conveniently links Wikileaks to Putin, who is also harbouring Edward Snowden.)

In that regard, bear in mind this story below, from The Guardian of February 1999. Plus ca change? We shall see…..

Zinoviev letter was dirty trick by MI6

The intelligence community was a ‘very, very incestuous circle, an elite network’

The Zinoviev letter – one of the greatest British political scandals of this century – was forged by a MI6 agent’s source and almost certainly leaked by MI6 or MI5 officers to the Conservative Party, according to an official report published today.New light on the scandal which triggered the fall of the first Labour government in 1924 is shed in a study by Gill Bennett, chief historian at the Foreign Office, commissioned by Robin Cook.

It points the finger at Desmond Morton, an MI6 officer and close friend of Churchill who appointed him personal assistant during the second world war, and at Major Joseph Ball, an MI5 officer who joined Conservative Central Office in 1926.

The exact route of the forged letter to the Daily Mail will never be known, Ms Bennett said yesterday. There were other possible conduits, including Stewart Menzies, a future head of MI6 who, according to MI6 files, admitted sending a copy to the Mail.

The letter, purported to be from Grigori Zinoviev, president of the Comintern, the internal communist organisation, called on British communists to mobilise “sympathetic forces” in the Labour Party to support an Anglo-Soviet treaty (including a loan to the Bolshevik government) and to encourage “agitation-propaganda” in the armed forces.

On October 25, 1924, four days before the election, the Mail splashed headlines across its front page claiming: Civil War Plot by Socialists’ Masters: Moscow Orders To Our Reds; Great Plot Disclosed. Labour lost by a landslide.

Ms Bennett said the letter “probably was leaked from SIS [the Secret Intelligence Service, commonly known as MI6] by somebody to the Conservative Party Central Office”. She named Major Ball and Mr Morton, who was responsible for assessing agents’ reports.

“I have my doubts as to whether he thought it was genuine but [Morton] treated it as if it was,” she said. She described MI6 as being at the centre of the scandal, although it was impossible to say whether the head of MI6, Admiral Hugh Sinclair, was involved.

She said there was no evidence of a conspiracy in what she called “the institutional sense”. The security and intelligence community at the time consisted of a “very, very incestuous circle, an elite network” who went to school together. Their allegiances, she says in her report, “lay firmly in the Conservative camp”.

Ms Bennett had full access to secret files held by MI6 (some have been destroyed) and MI5. She also saw Soviet archives in Moscow before writing her 128-page study. The files show the forged Zinoviev letter was widely circulated, including to senior army officers, to inflict maximum damage on the Labour government.

She found no evidence to identify the name of the forger. She said the letter – sent to MI6 from one of its agents in the Latvian capital, Riga – was written as a result of a campaign orchestrated by White Russians who had good contacts in London who were strongly opposed to the Anglo-Soviet treaty.

The report says there is no hard evidence that MI6 agents in Riga were directly responsible – though it is known they had close contacts with White Russians – or that the letter was commissioned in response to British intelligence services’ “uneasiness about its prospects under a re-elected Labour government”.

However, if Ms Bennett is right in her suggestion that MI6 chiefs did not set up the forgery, her report makes clear that MI6 deceived the Foreign Office by asserting it did know who the source was – a deception it used to insist, wrongly, that the Zinoviev letter was genuine.

Ms Bennett says it is wrong to conclude the scandal brought down Ramsay Macdonald’s government which had already lost a confidence vote and Liberal support on which it depended was disappearing. The Labour vote in the election actually increased by a million.

“In electoral terms”, she says, “the impact of the Zinoviev letter on Labour was more psychological than measurable”.

The Zinoviev letter was not the only attempt by the security and intelligence services to destabilised a Labour government. Peter Wright, a former MI5 officer, showed in Spycatcher how elements in his agency worked against the Wilson government in the 1970s.

The U.S. Media And Hillary Clinton

It is really quite extraordinary and not a bit alarming how the mainstream media on either side of the Atlantic mirror each other, gravitating almost without any encouragement to the consensual center ground.

In electoral politics that means almost unashamed plugging of Hillary Clinton in the U.S. and ‘anyone but Corbyn’ in the UK; unfortunately it also results in uncritical cheerleading for wars like the disastrous adventure in Iraq, which the entire world is now paying for.

Careerism and class explain a lot of this but at the end of the day it really does come down to the absence of backbone. After all these people are not stupid. They know when they are peddling bullshit.

Hillary cartoon

Donald Trump And Hillary Clinton

Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words. Below you can see Hillary & Bill Clinton attending Donald Trump’s third wedding, to a Slovenian-born plagiarist, at his estate – the strangely named Mar-a-Lago – in Florida in 2005.

Hillary attended both the wedding ceremony and the reception afterwards, Bill just the reception. Asked later why she had gone Hillary replied, according to this Daily Beast report:

I happened to be in Florida, and I thought it was going to be fun to go to this wedding, because it’s always entertaining. I didn’t know him that well, I mean, I knew him.

As the Daily Beast put it: ‘Pure Hillary’.

Donald explained:

Hillary Clinton, I said, ‘Be at my wedding,’ and she came to my wedding. She had no choice because I gave to [the Clinton] foundation.

The Daily Beast: ‘Pure Trump’.

Reports have put Trump’s contributions to the Clinton Foundation as high as $110,000.

So, who do you believe, dear reader? And what does this all say about the nature of politics in the US of A? Maybe Tweedledee and Tweedledum is an appropriate thought? And so, how seriously should we take the jousting between them that will fill our TV screens for the best part of the next three-and-a-half months?


Trump really does have stubby fingers or at least a stubby forefinger!