They Came, They Saw, They Tweeted

Photo by Ryan J. Reilly | CC BY 2.0

My sense of anticipation was hyped. Robert Mueller had just indicted the Russian troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency, along with several of the trolls who had slaved tirelessly from their cyber-cubicles in St. Petersburg in a plot to despoil American democracy. Having recently survived a hit-and-run collision with a suspected Russian troll, who had recklessly driven the internet highways using a false ID (Alice Donovan), I was eager to see what the former FBI man had uncovered.

My appetite was further whetted by an NBC News producer who proclaimed the Mueller indictment “one of the most important political documents in US history.” Right up there with the Monroe Doctrine, the majority opinion in Plessy v. Ferguson, and the Starr Report, I suppose.

I greedily downloaded a pdf of the 33-page filing, expecting to finally get answers to questions that had been nagging me for months, such as: How could the Russians have been so sloppy as to get caught with their hands in Trump’s pockets? Did they believe Trump was smart enough to effectively collude with them? Did they really think Hillary needed any help blowing a sure thing? And, most importantly, what was Alice Donovan’s real name?

I was quickly disappointed. The Mueller indictment doesn’t charge any collusion between Trump and the Russians. In fact, it doesn’t even mention the word. Mueller also doesn’t draw any direct links between the troll farm in St. Petersburg and the Putin government in Moscow. And, most significantly, Mueller doesn’t allege that any of the nefarious trolling had the slightest “Butterfly effect” on the outcome of the 2016 elections. If there’s a conspiracy here, it’s looking more and more likely to be a conspiracy of dunces. Since there are many, many dunces in the White House, it’s still too early to rule out future charges against Team Trump. Thankfully, lack of evidence for collusion isn’t lack of evidence for criminal stupidity.

As reading material, the Mueller indictment failed to offer any of the narrative thrills contained in the Steele Dossier. This is not a “dirty indictment.” In fact, it was hard to detect where the slapstick ended and the crimes began. The document can be neatly summarized as: they came, they saw, they tweeted–tweeting out mostly links to stories in the New York Times, Washington Post and, deliciously, 267 retweets of posts by Joy Ann Reid, one of MSDNC’s apex Russian witch-hunters. But to what end? The Russian infiltrators seem to have gotten their degrees in espionage from a mail-order school, perhaps Trump University. Disoriented by the complexities of the electoral college system, they had to be advised by an American contact that they should concentrate their meddlesome activities on the “purple states.”

In one episode, the Russian trolls hired a group of Americans to stand in front of the White House with signs that read: “Happy Birthday … Dear Boss!” The special prosecutor infers seditious intent from this photo-op, but c’mon, Mueller, since when is it a crime to pay tribute to Springsteen? Consult Chris Christie.

In another caper, the Russian interlopers employed an actress to portray HRC in a prison uniform. In other words, it seems like the Russians were instituting the first real jobs program America has seen since the Johnson administration. What if the Russians meddled and unemployment went down and wages rose? Will Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren engage in a bidding war to hire “Putin’s chef” as their campaign manager in 2020?

Let’s try to put the troll offensive in context. The 2016 presidential elections were the most expensive in history, with both parties spending a combined $2.4 billion. Of this, the Clinton and Trump campaigns bought $81 million worth of advertising on Facebook. Contrast this with the $100,000 the Russians spent on Facebook ad buys. In the battleground states, Russian Facebook ad buys totaled $300 in Pennsylvania, $832 in Michigan, and $1979 in Wisconsin, all but $54 of that before the primary. If this amounted to subversion, it was definitely subversion on the cheap.

In the wake of the Mueller indictment, the normally restrained David Axelrod joined the attack on Jill Stein as a Trojan Horse for the Trump/Putin ticket, suggesting that her 50,000 votes in Michigan helped turn the election. He fails to note that this was a fairly dismal showing for the Greens there. In 2000, Nader garnered 84,000 votes in Michigan with no help from Russian trolls, elves or orcs.

It’s instructive to compare the 2000 and 2016 campaigns. Both came after 8 years of a Democratic administration, which promised peace but delivered new wars (Kosovo, Libya). Both also featured two historically unpopular major party candidates. Both were decided by the Electoral College overriding the popular vote. The battleground states in both elections remained largely the same: the industrial Midwest and Florida.

What role did the third-party candidates play in the two elections? In Michigan, Nader garnered 84,165 votes and the Libertarian Harry Browne garnished 16,711 votes. Sixteen years later, Stein only won 51,463 votes, while Libertarian Gary Johnson received 172,163 votes. In total, the Greens lost 33,000 votes (most to HRC) and the Libertarians gained 155,000 votes (largely from Trump). The total swing was 188,000 votes favoring HRC and she still lost.

In formerly progressive Wisconsin, Nader got 94,070 votes and Browne received only 6,640 votes. In 2016, Stein could only amass 30,980 votes in the state of LaFollette, while Gary Johnson grabbed 106,444 votes. The total swing of votes favoring Hillary from 2000 was 163,000 and she still ended up losing by 27,000 votes.

In Pennsylvania, Nader managed 103,392 votes, while Harry Browne scrambled up 11,248. In 2016, Stein received 48,920 votes, while Gary Johnson pulled in 142,653, for a total swing in HRC’s favor of 185,000 votes. She still lost by 68,000 votes.

In the decisive state of Florida, Nader famously captured 97,488
votes, while Harry Browne made one of his better showings with 16,415 votes. In 2016, Stein got 64,000 votes, while Johnson piled up 206,000. The total swing in Florida favored HRC by 223,000 votes. Yet, Hillary lost by 113,000 votes.

In the four battleground states (WI, FL, PN, MI) lost by HRC, the swing of Green and Libertarian voters from 2000 to 2016 in HRC’s favor totaled more than 760,000 votes. What does it mean? Johnson was the best third party candidate since Nader, Stein was a non-factor, Trump was an awful candidate and HRC was the worst candidate in modern history. Hillary had all of the advantages and still lost, with no help from Jill Stein or the Russians. In fact, if she hadn’t been running against Trump, Hillary would have been routed in all of these states. Blame her loss on Obama. His voters took a close look at all the candidates and prudently decided to stay home.

Why did the Greens underperform? Part of it has to do with the limitations of Jill Stein as political candidate. Mostly, though, it was the result of Bernie Sanders, who lured hundreds of thousands of potential Green voters to his insurgent campaign and then convinced most of them to cast a painful vote for Hillary.

Now as Sanders plots his 2020 run, the senator is swiftly moving to Hillary’s right on the matter of Russia. (Who knew there was any space left to occupy on that wing?)  Appearing on the Sunday talk shows, Sanders lashed out at Trump for not taking the Russian threat seriously. “Russia interfered in ‘16 and they’re going to interfere in 2018,” Sanders fumed. “This is a huge deal and that we don’t have a president speaking out on this issue is a horror show.”

Then Sanders, the resurgent Cold Warrior, turned on Clinton, blaming her campaign for not making Russian meddling more of an issue during the election. “The real question to be asked is what was the Clinton campaign [doing about Russian interference]?” Sanders said. “They had more information about this than we did.”

This is the way infant revolutions succumb to crib death.

Roaming Charges

+ Trump plans late-term abortion of the Korean Olympic reconciliation…

+ Rex Tillerson said this week that the US will not contribute any money toward the reconstruction of Iraq in the wake of the war on ISIS. So much for that Pottery Barn Rule; it’s back to the Tacitus Rule: “We made a wasteland and called it peace.”

+ Trump: “A gun-free school is a magnet for bad actors.” Read that again. And again.

+ Trump says he’s “thinking about” pulling ICE out of California in retaliation to the state’s sanctuary cities policies. Don’t think about it, Donald, just do it!

+ South Carolina is moving swiftly to combat the real threat to public schools … baggy pants.

+ Reacting to the slaughter in Parkland, Florida, GOP Rep. Claudia Tenney sighed that “so many” mass murderers turn out to be Democrats. She didn’t name any names, but I will: Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, LBJ, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

+ The corpse of the anti-semite and Minister of War Billy Graham will be offered up for public veneration in the Rotunda of the US Capitol building as a symbol of the final obliteration of the wall separating church and state.

+ Will Billy Graham’s buddy Bono “sing” his poem for Billy at the funeral?

+ The Song Remains the Same: why people listen to the same songs over and over again.

+ Will Theresa May please step down, now?

+ ESPN and the White House tried to gag her, but Jemele Hill still isn’t backing down…

+ Nice Work, If You Can Get It: Darius Adamczyk, the new CEO of Honeywell, made $16.7 million last year in bonuses, stock options and base salary, which is 333-times the median pay for Honeywell employees, which is a little over $50,000 a year.

+ On his trip to hawk new Trump luxury condos in India, Lil’ Don took a moment to issue an anthropological assessment of the Indian poor. “There is something about the Indian people that is unique here to other parts of the emerging world. You go through a town, and I don’t mean to be glib about it, but you can see the poorest of the poor, and there is still a smile on a face … It’s a different spirit that you don’t see in other parts of the world where people walk around so solemn.”

Drive-By Donnie somehow missed the hundreds of destitute Indian farmers committing suicide every few weeks by drinking pesticides. As Sainath has reported, more than 60,000 farmers have killed themselves in Maharashtra state alone.

+ Make America Mean Again…Trump administration moves to cut off food and water aid to Maria-ravaged Puerto Rico.

+ Only 13% of those business tax cuts are trickling down to workers. Where’d you think they were going to go?

+ Only the most hardened Assadite could look at the carnage in eastern Ghouta from merciless Russian and Syrian airstrikes and not be appalled. I take it as a basic rule that any aerial bombing campaign against cities is a war crime, even if all those hospitals are being hit by “accident.”

+ When Obama’s CIA & AID used bots and false personas to try to instigate a Cuban “spring”, an operation that flopped worse than Bay of Pigs.

+ The city of San Francisco spends $30 million a year just to clean its streets of human feces and hypodermic needles. So a little bit of the city survives, though these days the street junkies are pulling two shifts at Google & still can’t afford a place to live…

+ Evan McMullin: “My role in the CIA was to go out & convince Al Qaeda operatives to instead work with us.” Pin that quote to fridge. Rarely has a man so shamelessly indicted himself.

+ No wonder Hollywood hated Robert Altman:

Happy endings are absolutely ludicrous, they’re not true at all. We see the guy carry the girl across the threshold and everybody lives happily ever after -that’s bullshit. Three weeks later he’s beating her up and she’s suing for divorce and he’s got cancer.

+ Alexander Cockburn and I bought a bag of fruit from Mr. Okra, the singing vegetable vender, in New Orleans down in the French Quarter outside of one of the world’s largest vinyl stores. He died this week.

+ Arm teachers? The NYPD statistic for cops hitting their targets in a gun fight: 18%.

+ The armed guard at Parkland High School refused to confront the killer, but now French teachers are expected to take down deranged men blasting AR-15s in their classrooms?

+ Trump wants to end heating assistance to low-income people. Apparently, even his buddies in the coal industry couldn’t persuade Trump that the subsidies would help keep them afloat for the next few years…

+ Drought conditions now afflict 92% of California…

+ Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace consultant with the Teal Group: “Diplomacy is out; airstrikes are in.”

+ Lockheed-Martin pulled in $35.2 billion in government contracts last year, more than most federal agencies.

+ How do you like your FBI now, liberals?

+ Iris Murdoch is one of my favorite novelists. I had no idea she and her husband John Bayley were such glorious slobs. Martin Amis, a frequent guest, describes their house in his new book, The Rub of Time:

At their place, even the soap is filthy. Single shoes and single socks lie about the house as if deposited by a flash flood. Dried-out capless pens crunch underfoot. Everywhere they go, they have to hurdle great heaps of books, unwashed clothes, old newspapers, dusty wine bottles. The plates are stained, the glasses smeary. The bath, so seldom used, is now unusable. The mattress is soggy. The sheets are never changed. And we shall draw a veil over their underwear. On one occasion a large, recently purchased meat pie disappeared in their kitchen. It was never found. The kitchen ate it.

+ Finally, a good day for James Buchanan. He was dethroned by Trump as the worst president in US history. Somehow new liberal icon George W. Bush escaped the basement.

+ Clarence Thomas porn freak?

+ Did Mrs. Pence approve this one-on-one interview?

+ The US really, really seems determined to provoke a war against Russia.

+ Meet Gut Terk: the Coolest of the Cool.

+ Ted Cruz insults Lisa Simpson

+ Charles Barkley: “Who’s Laura Ingraham? If she was in this crowd right now we wouldn’t know her. If LeBron James walks around, these people be mobbing him, but Fox News do what they do. I laugh. Sometimes, when I want humor, I turn on Fox News.”

+ George Speaks: the only Clinton I’d ever consider voting for

When You’ve Begun to Think Like a Gun…

Booked Up

What I’m reading this week….

Loaded: a Disarming History of the Second Amendment by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

Stormtroopers: a New History of Hitler’s Brownshirts by Daniel Siemens

Why Write? Collected Nonfiction, 1960-2013 by Philip Roth

Sound Grammar

What I’m listening to this week…

Tantabara by Tal National

Silver Dollar Moment by The Orielles

Descansado: Songs for Films by Norma Winstone

Life Ain’t That Long by Rich Krueger

Aromanticism by Moses Sumney

Back in the US/USSR….

Philip Reiff: “The United States and the post-Stalinist Soviet Union share the same cultural aims. Both issue from the assumption that wealth is a superior and adequate substitute for symbolic impoverishment. Both American and Soviet cultures are essentially variants of the same belief in wealth as the functional equivalent of a high civilization. In both cultures, the controlling symbolism has been stripped down to belief in the efficacy of wealth. Quantity has become quality. The answer to all questions of “what for?” is “more.”” (The Triumph of the Therapeutic.)

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents (with Alexander Cockburn). He can be reached at: or on Twitter @JeffreyStClair3