Banter M Issue 77: The Conspiracy Theory Edition

In this week’s edition of Banter M: 

Conspiracy Theorizing About Trump/Russia and the Firing of James Comey – Bob Cesca puts his conspiracy theory hat on and contemplates what could be the real story behind Trump’s firing of James Comey. While unproven as yet, these ideas could actually have some real merit to them. 

The War on Reality Must Be Fought Tooth and Nail – Ben Cohen has had enough of Right Wing conspiracies that have no evidence attached to them. Reality is at stake, and the Left has been doing an awful job of defending it thus far. 

Raising a Girl in Trump’s America – How do you raise a strong woman in a country led by a juvenile ragemonster, asks Justin Rosario?

Conspiracy Theorizing About Trump/Russia and the Firing of James Comey

by Bob Cesca

During the previous administration, I dedicated a considerable amount of my writing and podcasting to relentlessly ridiculing conspiracy theorists — specifically, Alex Jones and his various minion. 

The theories themselves were usually just springboards to reveal Jones’ harrowing degree of influence and, naturally, I love pointing out his cartoonish personal behavior. As for the theories themselves, it was never about legitimate conspiracies (and there are many), it was always about the mindblowingly screwy theories. You know the ones. Gay-inducing juice boxes, chemtrails, shapeshifting lizard people, weather weapons and, of course, the various “false flag” theories like Sandy Hook, the Boston Marathon, and so forth.

Any rational human being will tell you there’s a vast difference between suggesting Sandy Hook was a hoax involving crisis actors, and, on the other hand, suggesting Russia in conjunction with the Trump campaign influenced the 2016 election using disinformation and malicious hacking. 

While progressives like Cenk Uygur and Glenn Greenwald might classify both items in the came category, we know the latter, “Trump/Russia” as it’s being called, carries the weight of legitimacy based on the fact that numerous federal probes have been launched and nearly every reputable press outlet has published extensive reporting leading to the obvious conclusion. 

Consequently, there’s a galaxy of differences between that and a Jones fever-dream in which he claims Obama used a super-tornado, guided by tiny helicopters and airplanes, to destroy an Oklahoma town in order to distract from Benghazi (Jones really said that). If you can’t tell the difference between that and Trump/Russia, you’re part of the problem. Likewise, the usual deniers tend to confuse speculation for conspiracy theorizing. There’s a difference — duh! — just as there are differences between hypotheses and conclusions.

All of that said, allow me to engage in some Trump/Russia theorizing as it relates to this week’s firing of FBI Director James Comey. To be clear: I’m neither married to these ideas, nor would I consider them to be factual until they’re proven.

1) What if the rush to fire Comey on Tuesday was due to a Russia-imposed deadline to fire him in advance of the Sergey Lavrov meeting?

The timing of the announcement that Comey had been fired seemed to have been rushed. Comey was in Los Angeles to attend a recruitment event when the news broke. It also turns out that both the Russian Foreign Minister, Lavrov, and the Russian ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, were scheduled to meet with Trump in the Oval Office on Wednesday, the very next day. And so they did. 

Weirdly, the Russia state media outlet, TASS, was allowed into the Oval to photograph the (cough) three-way, but American press outlets were suspiciously barred from attending. Why? Yet more proof that Trump’s allegiance is to Putin and not the American people. Not even Fox News or Breitbart were allowed in. This speaks volumes. Was it that Trump wanted to discuss the plot with his Russian pals? Or is it just a matter of Trump preferring Russian media over American media? Maybe it’s both.

Furthermore, are we to believe this was coincidental that Trump would be meeting with, especially, Kislyak on the day after he fired James Comey for too-intensively pursuing the Trump/Russia investigation? Take a guess.

Kislyak is a character who’s at the center of Trump/Russia collusion, having met with Carter Page and Paul Manafort in July to talk about, among other things, a deal to ameliorate U.S.-Russia sanctions. Kislyak is also the guy with whom Mike Flynn was chatting during the transition — the chats about which Flynn lied to the FBI. What was the content of those calls? Perhaps we’ll learn soon since it’s likely the NSA has audio recordings, as do the U.S. intelligence-gathering agency’s counterparts among the “Five Eyes” nations. 

Meanwhile, you might’ve noticed that both Trump’s letter firing Comey, as well as the recommendations for the firing signed by both Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, and Jeff Sessions were dated the same day, May 9. In other words, the Justice Department’s recommendations for removing Comey were dated the same day Trump fired him. The appearance of both documents with the same dates suggests a rushed process, seemingly without any internal discussions. Coupled with the fact that Comey wasn’t even in town and learned about his own firing on the televisions placed behind his speaking podium, this screams out: rushed to meet a deadline

Could it be that the deadline was based on the arrival of Lavrov at the White House, so Trump could deliver the news about Comey and any other updates in person? At this point, we can’t rule out anything.

Oh, one last thing. By now we all know that Sessions violated his recusal from the Russia probe and the Hillary Clinton email matter by being party to the firing of Comey. This seems like a rather huge blunder for the White House, even knowing rank incompetence of the administration. Is the blunder on recusal also an indication of rush-job in advance of the Russia meeting? Hopefully we’ll find out.

2) What if Russia is also helping to take Trump down, too?

This is a broader question, but one I’ve been considering lately. While no one’s been convicted yet, it should be obvious that Trump/Russia is pretty much what we think it is: a plot to elect Donald Trump as wanton display of Russian technological strength, underscoring the fragility and vulnerability of a constitutional democracy. We also have a sense of why it was Trump — the Russians had more than enough kompromat on Trump to manipulate him into participating. The kompromat surely includes much of the content of the notorious “pee pee tape” dossier, as well as Trump’s shady business dealings with Russian oligarchs. 

During his testimony this week to the Senate Judiciary Committee, former Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, confirmed that anyone who deals in under-the-table business arrangements with Russian elites will be open to blackmail. While under oath, Clapper described this scenario as “classic kompromat.”

In a February, 2016 speech, Russian envoy Andrey Krutskikh told a conference of tech security professionals that the Russian government was about to reveal an accomplishment on the same scale as the first nuclear test by the Soviets in 1949. Experts have speculated that the miraculous victory Krutskikh foretold was the development of the capability to hack elections on a massive scale. 

Now, what if this display of Putin’s technological might includes not just installing a favorable president in the White House but then, in reverse, to remove the same figure from office? It seems like coitus interruptus to win such an historic victory and then stop there. Importantly, we also know that both Clapper and Comey have said that Russia’s cyber-war endeavors continue today, after the election. Therefore, we can’t help but to wonder whether Putin might flex his muscle by also stripping Trump of power.

I know. It seems like a long-shot. But, again, I’m not ruling out anything. The very fact that Russia was able to pull off a coup like this — put another way, imagine if a time traveler arrived in 2015 and told you that Russia would install Donald Trump as our next president. You’d laugh — I’d laugh — it’d be news well beyond the scope of believability. Yet here we are.

The best thing we can do now is to keep an open mind and to keep fighting back. One major caveat, though: the closer Trump/Russia gets to Trump himself, the crazier and more erratic he’ll become, mandating that the Resistance be prepared to deliver overwhelming force in order to, as George Will suggested recently, quarantine Trump. More importantly, we have to send a message to Putin that his plot has failed and that American democracy will endure despite his best efforts to the contrary.

Next: Raising a Girl in Trump’s America – by Justin Rosario


Raising a Girl in Trump’s America

Last week, Anastasia, my 7-year-old daughter, asked me an odd question out of the blue:

“Was I born while we were at war?”

She couldn’t tell me why she thought to ask but I told her “Yes” because the United States has been in one declared war since 2001 and another since 2003. She asked why and I showed her the video of a plane hitting the World Trade Center followed by both buildings burning and collapsing. I explained that she just had watched almost 3000 people die.

I wasn’t entirely sure up until that moment how I was going to explain the uglier aspects of life to my loving, friendly, trusting, innocent child but now I know: Honestly. No sugarcoating it. Especially in Trump’s America. The stakes are simply too high to try and shield her from the way the world is. I want her to grow up happy and carefree but keeping her ignorant isn’t helping, it’s holding her back. I won’t spoil Santa and the Tooth Fairy for her but when it comes to the real world, she gets the full story.

I had actually started teaching her about how the world really is two years previously by explaining to her what racism is because all of her friends are Latino, black, Arabic, etc. Anastasia is white with blue eyes and didn’t even ask why her friends were different colors until she was five. Still, my wife and I felt it was important that she understand at an early age that some people thought the color of their skin made them better. Naturally, she thought the idea was absurd because racism is a learned behavior. It doesn’t take much to teach children to appreciate diversity, they’re already inclined towards acceptance, but I imagine it must take a lot of effort to overcome that tendency to teach hate.

As Anastasia gets older and her thinking become more sophisticated, I’m finding that I can explain more and more of the complexities of the world to her in ways she can understand. After watching the video, she wanted to know why someone blew up the Twin Towers and I gave her a summary of how terrorism makes us do stupid things like take away freedoms and go to war and that’s why they did it. I also explained that by constantly screwing around in the Middle East, we were creating more angry people and that helps the bad guys, too. But she now also understands that we made such a mess over there that just packing up and leaving won’t work, either. I couldn’t give her a simple solution and she accepted that there isn’t one.

Sadly, that puts her light years ahead of the average America voter that demands bumper sticker slogans as policy. I’ll be damned if I let her grow up to be one of those.

While she (currently) finds Rachel Maddow intolerably boring compared to My Little Pony, I’ve taken to telling her about Donald Trump and how he and the people that vote for him hate people like her Aunt Jenny and Aunt Maria, her baby half-brother Kyle’s mommies. She’s always understood that some boys like boys and some girls like girls and she finds being offended by this incomprehensible. At the same time, she understands that there are people who in the world who are and she doesn’t want to be one of them. Again, it doesn’t take much to build on the natural instincts of children to be kind. Hate takes a lot of effort to instill.

I was already prepared to teach her to not accept being belittled because she’s a girl but now, in Trump’s America, this has taken on a new urgency. I don’t expect Trump to be in office for much longer and certainly not the full eight of Anastasia’s most formative years but his election unleashed an ugliness that will persist long after he’s forced to resign.

Open sexism was already experiencing a resurgence as Republicans ratcheted up their anti-woman rhetoric. Their efforts to outlaw abortion and contraceptives has reached a fever pitch. At the same time, they constantly downplay the blindingly obvious inequality women live with on a daily basis. Republicans dismiss the pay gap and rape culture as nonexistent or, laughably, as the fault of women themselves. 

While all of this is going on, the Men’s Rights movement has exploded, giving “men” license to be full blown misogynists. It’s not enough that they whine about women not making them sandwiches, they feel as if they are owed sex whenever they want. Some of them going so far as to suggest legalizing rape because, hey, men are horny, and why should women be able to refuse? No, really, that’s a thing in the Men’s Rights movement.

This trend towards hatred of women will only accelerate under President “Grab’em by the Pussy.” Anastasia, already assertive, will have to learn to stand up not just for herself, but for any other woman being treated as less than. This won’t be easy because she’s only a few years away from that age where she’ll be exposed to a nonstop barrage of images telling her that she’s too fat or not pretty enough. By 12 (or earlier), she’ll start developing body image issues and her self-esteem will plummet. She’ll begin to feel like she should be treated poorly and in Trump’s America, that feeling of worthlessness will be magnified by men who already feel threatened by the growing power of women.

I’m hoping that a constant counter-barrage of positive affirmation and community work will keep her from losing that fire that some people call “Being bossy” but we call “Having executive authority.” I can’t think of a worse fate for Anastasia than to lose that confidence in who she is.

Before Trump, we already faced an uphill battle to teach Anastasia to defend herself from a world that wants to grind her down because of her gender. Now? It will be even harder as Trump’s moral rot spreads throughout the nation. Fortunately, she’ll be spoiled for choice for her role models. No matter how much hate is thrown at her, Anastasia will always be able to look at women like Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, and all the others that came before and after them and she’ll be able to say, “They persisted and I can, too.”

Next: The War on Reality Must Be Fought Tooth and Nail – by Ben Cohen 


The War on Reality Must Be Fought Tooth and Nail

by Ben Cohen

Right now, I am in the middle of a seemingly never-ending debate with a Trump voting friend of mine. It has raged for over two days now and contains probably thousands of words sent via text of quite detailed arguments, rebuttals, insults and friendly attempts to lighten the mood. Mostly though, it is a fairly ill-tempered battle of insults that has seen both of us talk over each other rather than trying to see things from the other’s point of view. 

Normally, I would feel bad about this and likely spend some time trying to understand why I couldn’t keep the conversation civil. I’ve had serious intellectual disagreements with many friends over the years, but I almost always respect their point of view and (often several days later) concede to some of their points. But not this time. While I do not hate Trump supporters or believe in going after them, when it comes to debating what is happening to America — and objective reality — I will not concede ground. Not now, and not ever. 

My friend believes the Washington Post and CNN produce fake news stories. He cannot provide any evidence of this, so I reject it forcefully and unequivocally. My friend believes Hillary Clinton is corrupt and should be in jail. He cannot provide legitimate sources detailing her supposed corruption, so I ridicule the stories he sends me from right wing hack sites and poke at him for believing them. My friend believes no one cares about Trump’s supposed ties to Russia and thinks it is a giant conspiracy concocted by whining liberals. Again, this is provably false — as witnessed by the ongoing media coverage and F.B.I investigation — and I will not yield on the subject. He laughs at the sources I provide, but I will not concede to him that they are “Fake News”, as the president likes to say. Instead, I maintain my ground and call them what they are: the actual news.

My friend believes the term “Fake News” was coined by the left in an attempt to deny reality. He sends me links from The Washington Times with multiple errors in the stories, so I reject them and point out that the term fake news was created in response to the nonsense he is sending me. Donald Trump adopted the term to slander the real news. My friend attempted at one point during the debate to offer an olive branch by saying both the Republicans and the Democrats have “some good ideas and some bad ideas”. I did not concede the point — there is no equivalence between the right and left in America. One side is a dysfunctional political party that still believes in the role of government and evidence based policy. The other is a coalition of carnival barkers who believe that a disproven economic ideology is the solution to all of the country’s problems, and are lining up behind the most incompetent, corrupt and foolish president in the history of the nation.

There is no equivalence. None.

While the conversation has gotten quite nasty, I cannot apologize for it and will continue to forcefully stand my ground — the stakes are too high and the left cannot afford to make any concessions going forward. There is a war on reality right now, and it is one the left has been losing. For too long the media has given in to right wing screeching, covering both sides as if they were equal. For too long the Democrats have been pulled rightwards by GOP extremists. A moderate Republican is now someone who believe climate change might exist, and government may have some role to play in organizing society. Bernie Sanders, who would be considered a standard liberal in every other industrialized nation on earth, is now regarded as a communist. Hillary Clinton, who would be considered a center left (and possibly conservative) candidate anywhere outside of America, is regarded as a socialist. The left lost an election because of this, and we are now stuck with a dangerously incompetent madman threatening to bring down democracy in record time. This is madness, and the left can no longer allow the lunatic right to define them any more. 

This means that the left cannot play defense and continue debating what constitutes objective reality. It must go on the offense and continuously call out those who are at war with reality and call them what they are: liars. The Right has gone insane, Paul Ryan is an extremist, Donald Trump is a liar and is fake news. This is not an extreme position to take — it is the truth. And it must now be defended at all costs