“Yes, he’s a son of a bitch but, he’s our son of a bitch.”
— Attributed to, FDR.
Kyle Kulinski has a podcast. It’s called Secular Talk. It’s apparently part of The Young Turks’ network. Kulinski is on the left, as it’s understood and defined in contemporary America and he’s more or less what we would loosely and provisionally define as, one of the good guys*. That is, he knows that Trump is a malignant troll, that Bernie Sanders is better than the available alternative, and that the rhetorical tactics of Fox and the right wing cadres (from the Koch brothers to Breitbart) are an amalgam of corporate fascism and gutter stupidity.
All well and good except for a strange tic, that is a hangover from the old Left’s almost always justified contempt for the intelligence agencies.
“Almost always” of course contains an entire universe.
Among the huate leftists who populate the pages of The Nation and The London Review of Books, it is taken as an article of faith that the intelligence agencies not only never tell the truth, but that even when they are honest it is in the service of a greater lie*.
This of course goes back into the mists of things like The Palmer Raids, moves through the brutal realities of Hoover’s blunt assault on civil liberties from the 30s until the end of the Nixon regime and takes in the right wings greatest hits (including but not limited to) – mass murdering death squads in Vietnam, mass murder in Indonesia, assassinations, coups, counter coups, the Shah, Pinochet, Franco, MK Ultra, radiation experiments, and so on up until now with mass surveillance.
It is an impressive run, having left a mountain of skulls and fields of unmarked graves on every continent.
Thus one can understand the impulse, the reflex at best, and the Tourette’s Syndrome at worst response, in which anything the spooks say is treated with the same answer one would give a band of visigoths or bankers asking to spend the night.
But the truth is that they don’t always lie, and along side all the utterly heinous things they have done there are an equally impressive number of things that have saved lives, and shored up the creaky, sclerotic support systems of the nearly dead republic.
One does not excuse the other but it provides balance and context.
Consider Noam Chomsky saying in an interview that talking about Russian interference in America’s elections is hysteria, and a diversion, because we have been doing the same to them and others for years. Therefore he concludes, Russian interference is negligible if it happened at all.
Of course that is a fantastic display of pretzel logic because if a – the Russians interfered, then b – it’s unimportant because of c – America has done worse and more including to the Russians, therefore d – Russia has no motivation to interfere and if they did it was negligible so let’s talk about the Military Industrial Complex.
If she floats, she’ a witch.
The truth is, Chomsky has scored on his own goal. Precisely because America has, as he correctly says, done more and worse, the Russians have retaliated.
While the Russians fucked themselves bigly in 1989, the wider truth is the collapse of the Soviet Union was part of a decades long strategy employed by the U.S. which included sabotage (inside the Soviet Union), proxy wars, election tampering, coups, murder, extortion, drug selling, mass murder and genocide.
Thus, while it is undeniably true that America has done more and worse or as bad, that proves that the Russians have every reason, including bogus ones (under the Joseph Heller rule: just because you’re paranoid it doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you), to retaliate. Or as they say in police procedurals – means, motive, opportunity.
In other words this Manichean war of all against all doesn’t preclude Russian assistance to and for Trump, but instead makes it a question of not why would they, but how could they not.
And so to Rachel Maddow.
For over a year she had primarily focused on Trump and Russia. She has done this almost to the exclusion of anything else. It has reached a point where she is doing commercials where she admits her obsessions, and that other stories that deserve focus and attention are receiving neither.
And of course she also acknowledges she has as a result, become the subject of both jokes and criticism.
Among those who have criticized her is Kyle Kulinski. His main point being “most people don’t care about Russia” and specifically it is because the story is ultimately a diversion from the gulag economy, the perilous state of the environment and all the related issues like health care, housing, racism, police brutality, and the general sense that we are living inside a pressure cooker that keeps exploding.
And he’s not wrong, exactly.
There is of course an entire universe contained in that.
What is of importance in this is that both the “left” and the right have for years bemoaned the narrow and short attention spans of the average person – the tech heroin that sucks you in and spits you out again in about 200 twitter words or less; the 24 hour echo chamber that dulls your sences and agitates you at the same time.
That they say, is no way to run a democratic republic.
And they’re not wrong.
But what is also true is that ironically, it is Kulinski via his Maddow criticism that is feeding the dominant propaganda that says, no one is paying attention. He is repeating received wisdom and spreading a half-truth from which the people he (rightly) despises – the corprotists – profit.
The truth is of course that if one is so inclined, and finds Maddow’s focus irritating, then one can, change the fucking channel or – shock – go read a fucking book. Or listen to someone else and read a book and then come back to Maddow or rotate from blog to magazine to Sam Seder, to The Young Turks, to Kulinski, to the networks, to NPR, and then to still more information platforms and aggregate and then process and engage.
Freedom is funny like that.
Even the weak freedom one finds in a banana republic.
As to statements about how no one cares about x but do care about y we say – for fuck’s sake, be serious.
Geniuses with intuitive abilities like entire intelligence agencies operating at peak efficiency, can barely glimpse what people are thinking about.
Someone asks me what I think about the latest screed by Maureen Dowd at The New York Times and I say if, I want to know what she thinks about anything, I’ll reread Dubliners.
The left is, like every other group, guilty of group-think. The Young Turks are not that different from Sam Seder and Kulinski is not that different from either of them and together they all sound pretty much the same. That they are (sometimes) more honest and passionate and less buttoned down then the corporatists is also true, but that doesn’t mean Putin isn’t a world class gangster and anyone who thinks his foot soldiers aren’t capable and determined to skull fuck their opponents is whistling passed the graveyard. At the same time anyone who thinks the goons at Langley aren’t the mirror image of the FSB is an idiot. They can claim to be the knights of the Round Table in comparison, as much as they like, but we know better.
However, things are rarely only binary. No less an authority than John Le Carre has described conversations with retired KGB thugs, who detailed their efforts at the height of the Cold War, to protect dissidents from the regime. They were, it turns out, especially fond of poets.
In other words, once you place Oskar Schindler into the historical matrix then, intellectual and moral rigor require you to posit his existence anywhere and everywhere.
History is funny that way.
Consider that in the late 1930s, after the French government had thwarted the indigenous fascists from staging a coup, and sent the bulk of them to prison – then in 1940 they granted them amnesty, and sent them to fight the Germans.
We all know how that turned out but what goes missing in the Disney-fied narrative, is that many of them joined de Gaulle as part of the French government and army in exile and, just to make things even more complicated, after the war, to rebuild the Foreign Legion, the French government recruited ex Wehrmacht soldiers including former SS troopers, and then sent them off to explain the finer points of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity to the Vietnamese.
But the alternative media is no more inclined to consult Graham Greene’s ghost then the establishment media is inclined to talk about Howard Beale.
And so once again, we find that more than one thing can be true at the same time, including things that contradict each other.
The diminutive genius John Keats, arguing with Aristotle, famously said that the mark of a sound mind is the ability to hold two mutually exclusive ideas in your head at the same, time while continuing to function.
Does the CIA lie?
Is the Pope Catholic?
Does the CIA’s history of getting into bed with Nazis and assorted psychopaths mean the Russians aren’t fucking with people they don’t like?
No, it does not.
All of the above, and things we aren’t aware of, can all be true. Even at the same time
As Spock said to a reluctant Kirk – there is an old Vulcan proverb: Only Nixon can go to China.
Or if you prefer, consider that in an epic tale, that reflects both the specific anxieties of an era confronting a rolling tide of fascism and chaos, as well as the never ending struggle for freedom and dignity in a world seemingly committed to being violent and degrading every effort at decency, it is the tortured, pathetic victim, Gollum, who saves everyone because, the hero, the ring bearer, at the precipice of doom, loses his nerve and fails.
Reality is funny, like that.
*We must modify our description as Kulinski appears to be increasingly strident and illogical offering up mile wide and inch deep faux analysis, outrage, and vitriol that is sprayed at random, and a general tone that suggests a mini-me version of Howard Beale. That this is fairly typical of some on the “left” is both humorous and distressing. For details see the note below regarding Kulinski’s narrative about John Brennen.
Addendum: A cursory look at Youtube shows that while as Maddow admits, she has been a bit of a zealot regarding Trump and Putin Inc. one could make the case that Kulinski has been a zealot in his focus on Maddow. To his point that the establishment focus creates a narrative that ignores things like America’s support for Saudi Arabia, and its war crimes and assorted atrocities in Yemen, he’s not wrong – it should be looked at, questions should be asked and answers demanded. But of course one could say the same thing about a hundred other stories that deserve attention. None of which changes the fact that in addition to the corrupt symbiosis between the U.S. and decadent and depraved oil barons, it is also true that Russia, for a wide variety of reasons, is working on either controlling vital branches of the U.S. government, or subverting it. If one can construct a narrative that allows for the collapse of the Soviet Union, then by definition one can envision a narrative that includes the collapse of the American Union.
*For a look at the specific case of The London Review of Books, see the following:
For an example of Kulinski chewing more than he’s bitten off and following the Chomsky method of pretzel logic in which contradiction, paradox and anomalies are all eliminated, and leave in their wake certainty, outrage and shallow snark, see the following:
In another podcast, Kulinski explains why he can’t get worked up over Trump’s revoking John Brennan’s security clearance. The reason he gives is that Brennan was involved in the CIA torture program and what he correctly identifies as the Obama regime’s use of targeted executions via drone. He adds that he understands the threat posed by Trump’s actions as they are the impulses of a would-be dictator. He then adds that Brennan’s lost clearance is not the ideal hill on which to die as one defends the Constitution.
To be clear, Brennan’s involvement should have been properly investigated and that in turn would require an investigation into the rest of the intelligence agencies, the military, the House, the Senate, the Bush Cheney junta, and the Obama regime.
How that is supposed to happen Kulinski does not explain.*
He then makes the claim that Brennan is “under the authority of the president.”
Kulinski then claims that because Brennan is a war criminal he should be locked up in a cage.
And while he sees that it’s a “huge problem” that Trump has dictatorial impulses – is jackboot curious – Brennan is a goon and therefore Kulinski can’t get too worked up about it but, should Trump fire Mueller or “cross the line into becoming a genuine dictator” (we paraphrase) then Kulinski will start screaming fire!
First, Brennan is a private citizen and Trump has no authority over him though he can revoke Brennan’s security clearance.
Second, even John Brennan is entitled to the assumption of innocence in the legal, if not the moral sense and therefore he is entitled to the full protection of the law. That of course means, he’s innocent until proven guilty and is entitled to a trial (a point of law not afforded to Anwar Al Awlaki by the Obama regime).
Third, making a list full of people Kyle Kulinski says are war criminals and should be thrown in prison, is not any different than what Trump wants to do and when he says that’s what he wants to do, Kulinski (correctly) call him out as a would-be tyrant and neo-fascist goon.
Fourth, Kulinski has the typical narrow parameters of many people operating in a too strident and narrowly focused manner, who can’t imagine a world with shades of grey for the people they don’t like but can imagine it for themselves. Thus, Brennan is presumed guilty, Trump gets more opportunities to use the constitution for rhetorical target practice, and Kulinski can declare himself the most righteous man in America.
Fifth, we have Kulinski’s shambolic reasoning – with its contradictions and illogic, in which he is certain Brennan is a hitman for tyranny, Trump is vile but hasn’t yet crossed the line (in Kulinski’s head) we must protect the rule of law, except for Brennan & Co, and if Trump really does something egregious, like fire Mueller then it will be time to get upset about Germany eating Czechoslovakia, but even then Kulinski is not happy about some of Mueller’s investigation because, as we’ve outlined above, he’s certain the whole Russia thing is a diversion.
Jesus fucking Christ – with friends like these…
For a look at our previous examination of the moral failures of Obama, see the following:
Below is a link to a recent podcast by Kulinski. It contains a clip from a report by CNN about how U.S. supplied weapons are being used by Saudi Arabia to commit what are by almost any definition, war crimes.
Kulinksi makes two points: First that CNN should be congratulated for covering the story which otherwise receives almost no coverage.
His second point is that American foreign policy is essentially hypocritical. The government talks about morality and sells weapons to tyrants.
He’s not wrong on either point. Support for brutal, sadistic tyrants is immoral.
But then things get complicated and instead of engaging in a nuanced discussion of the byzantine labyrinth of contemporary international politics, he offers outrage and righteous indignation.
We’re going to focus on two of his examples.
Appealing to the alleged moral and intellectual authority of Noam Chomsky, Kulinksi paraphrases Chomsky and says the solution to these problems is to stop selling weapons to tyrannical and violent regimes.
This argument has the appeal of all simplistic ideas and offers the intellectual equivalent of a sugar rush to the amygdala. It feels good to be indignant and morally certain.
But let’s imagine that America stops supplying the Al Sisi regime in Egypt per Kulinksi’s suggestion.
The regime is brutal, dictatorial and violent. It oppresses Egyptians and is a corrupt gangsterocracy.
Cut off from U.S. aid one assumes the regime would turn to Russia and China and if successful would, as Sadat did previously, welcome Russian and/or Chinese money and advisors and weapons. The Russians would, one assumes, welcome a return to having access to another port in the Mediterranean, as well as air bases, a new weapons market, and access to the billions of dollars worth of U.S. equipment that had been supplied previously.
Or, the regime could collapse. And there could be a civil war in which secularists and assorted Islamic groups could wage a Manichean conflict that, given Egypt’s population, would dwarf the moral sink hole that is Syria in terms of deaths, suffering and assorted atrocities.
And the Suez Canal could be closed resulting in the collapse of both the European economies and of course via contagion, the world economy. Which would require for both humanitarian and economic reasons, the dispatching of a “UN” (i.e., American) force to reopen the canal, safeguard refugees, and engage in propping up some alternative regime.
And none of that includes the likelihood of an Egyptian meltdown crossing into the Sinai and involving Iranian backed forces in Gaza against, Israel.
And then there’s the tens of thousands of people who would try and make it across the sea to Europe inflaming the already fraught refugee crisis and giving more rhetorical ammunition to the nationalistic and atavistic resurgent right wing parties trying to destabilize the shaky European Union.
Which brings us to Kulinski’s other target: Saudi Arabia.
While it is undeniably true that the Saudi’s are a collection of decadent and depraved war lords living psychologically in a high-tech gold plated version of the 7th century AD, the other undeniably true things are that they hold about a trillion dollars worth of U.S. Treasury bonds and were they to dump them the U.S. and world economies would collapse. That it would take the Saudi’s down as well is only an issue until you remember that decadent and depraved war lords with minds cast in the shadow of the era when the Roman Empire was still a thing, don’t give a flying fuck in a camel’s ass if tens of thousands of their fellow Saudi’s have to eat sand.
And it is also true that Saudi Arabia sells oil to all sorts of people like the Japanese who, in this scenario, would be forced into any number of extreme actions to avoid collapse and, we all remember how well it turned out for the world the last time they had to do that.
And then of course there’s the possibility that the Saudis could tell the American’s to go fuck themselves and offer the Russians access to the American supplied AWACS and other high-tech goodies in exchange for playing geo-political sugar daddy. Granted the Russians aren’t that wealthy but any port in a storm, not to mention the Saudis could inflict a few trillion dollars in damage by offloading crucial investments around the world precipitating economic nervous breakdowns, coups, counter coups and enough instability to convince a Christian Scientist to dial 911.
One could go on but what really matters is the consistent inability of so-called leftists to actually think their way through a wet paper bag of contradictions. A refusal to see the military and the spooks and the pols as anything other than Strangelovian and Frank Burns-esque fools and monsters leads them into logical cul de sacs of irrelevancy and strident irritation. This narrative leaves the spooks and pols as either idiot savants or feckless psychopaths. Which is not to say the world is not full of both but that is not and never has been the totality of the narrative.
While Strangelovian types do exist, and the world is often an awful place, self-righteous certainties are not the answer. Of course having to work your way through complex scenarios that risk the lives of millions of people isn’t as much fun as firing snark from the relative comfort of a podcast.
See Kulinski’s rant below: