Rumors and Skepticism


I’ve been associated with The North Texas Skeptics for about 28 years, and way back then we dealt a lot with creationists. I was at a symposium hosted by creationists, and a creationist challenged my skepticism. “How come you’re not skeptical of evolution?”

I probably responded with something like, “In what way?” but the proper answer would be, “Every time we look into the science behind evolution we keep running into hard facts. Hard facts tend to kill off a lot of skepticism.”

That came to mind recently while I was engaged in yet another Facebook dialog. It went something like this:

Daniel G. Kuttner I’m still awaiting that Skepticism aimed at Clinton’s misdeeds and contradictions.
Maybe you should call yourself “The Directed Skeptic!”

Like · Reply · September 11 at 6:56pm · Edited

John Blanton Did I not dig into her political intransigence and hide bound religiosity?

Like · Reply · September 11 at 8:14pm

John Blanton Dan asked whether Clinton lied under oath about the “Benghazi” video. Before I can respond I need to know some particulars, because I have no idea what he is referring to.

Like · Reply · September 11 at 9:16pm

Daniel G. Kuttner John: Yes, those “criticisms” were like my answer to the job interview question: “What is your biggest fault?” and I answer “I’m a bit of a perfectionist.”

Like · Reply · Yesterday at 1:42am

John Blanton Dan, overt religiosity is a mark against anybody’s mental state. If you believe otherwise, now is the time to say so.
In the meantime, before I can apply any skepticism, I need to know what you want me to be skeptical about. You have paved the Facebook feed with vague references. What is needed is specifics. Quotes, times, dates, locations would be helpful.

Like · Reply · Yesterday at 4:38am

Daniel G. Kuttner John: I’m amazed you see me “paving” FB, yet don’t see anything worth questioning except the straw man of her alleged religious beliefs. Those beliefs have changed back and forth according to, I’d guess, the vagaries of a chosen focus group, rather than her conscience or “religiosity.”

A list would include such things as the FBI Director’s list of her security misdeeds and special exception given her as to prosecuting them. Would you or I be able to tell a prosecutor, “I didn’t mean to drive while drunk, so you can’t prosecute me?” That was Comey’s only reason for not prosecuting. Well, his only STATED reason.

Oh, and where’s the skepticism over the coincidence of the ILLEGAL meeting between Bill and Comey’s boss? There’s something to be skeptical about!

How ’bout her physical health? There’s another one with a fair amount of video evidence.

As to religiosity itself, I’d have to judge on a case by case basis. I’m not a fan of religions, but many have nuggets of wisdom worth observing.

Mocking from afar isn’t my style. Questioning is.

John Blanton Dan, your impression of skepticism is peculiar. Coming up: a blog post to address these issues.

Like · Reply · 1 · Yesterday at 2:20pm

Daniel G. KuttnerJohn: Yay!

So, here it goes. I copied this from Facebook today (13 September), just to give you a time perspective. It’s necessary to begin with what has been said. Dan never mentions particulars. I’m accustomed to particulars. Particulars would include things like:

  • Exact quotes, who said what
  • Times and dates
  • Locations, what country, what city, what government hearing
  • Links to related documents, official documents at best, but even newspaper clippings

I don’t get a lot of that from some people. A lot can be hidden in vague commentary. To the most part, Dan has left his argument bare, and he wants me to make it for him. Then I will be challenged to refute his argument, but it won’t be his argument I am refuting, it will be mine. If I refute an argument I am required to come up with, then I can be rightly charged with refuting my own argument. So cool. I will do what I can.

Let’s first clear the boards a bit. Dan’s remark “… the straw man of her alleged religious beliefs. Those beliefs have changed back and forth according to, I’d guess, the vagaries of a chosen focus group, rather than her conscience or “religiosity.” Yes, that is not a straw man. Clinton’s buy in to deep religiosity is well documented and not the conclusion of focus groups. Dan has mentioned he read my review of Carl Bernstein’s book A Woman In Charge. He maybe needs to read the book. Bernstein recounts Clinton’s religious upbringing and her involvement in the church (Christian, Methodist) from childhood. And he is harsh in his observations. Some excerpts:

While Bill sought solace in his familiar escapes, she read the Bible of her Methodist childhood and considered anew the explicit message of service in John Wesley’s teaching: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, as long as ever you can.” She dabbled in New Age spiritualism, almost always carried with her an underlined and dog-eared book of celestial axioms, and welcomed into the White House Solarium a pair of feminist oracles who channeled her into Eleanor Roosevelt’s soul. All of this as she found herself— unimaginably to her— with no choice but to remove herself (or be removed) from the White House chain of command before two full years had passed. She then fled Washington for weeks at a stretch as she sought purpose and redemption in solidarity with women of the Third World.

Bernstein, Carl. A Woman in Charge (pp. 9-10). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

After each of Hugh’s children was born, he drove the family back to Scranton for a baptism at Court Street Methodist Church, where he had been baptized in 1911, and his brothers before and after him. Every summer the Rodhams drove across the Alleghenys for a two-week vacation at a cabin he and his father, with their own hands, had built on Lake Winola, near Scranton, in the rolling Pennsylvania hills. The cabin had no heat, bath, or shower. It was a far different environment than the luxurious vacation cottages of many Park Ridge children on the shores of Lake Michigan or the Wisconsin dells.

Hugh meant the vacation to connect his children to a past not as privileged as the one they knew in Park Ridge, as well as to maintain a strong sense of family. On one of their summer vacations, he insisted they visit a coal mine in the anthracite fields nearby. Whatever her discomfort with such gestures at the time, Hillary’s later political identification with working-class values and the struggles of average wage-earners was not something acquired at Wellesley or Yale as part of a 1960s countercultural ethos.

Bernstein, Carl. A Woman in Charge (pp. 19-20). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Hillary had been confirmed at the First United Methodist Church of Park Ridge in the sixth grade. (Hugh Rodham’s parents claimed that John Wesley himself had converted members of the Rodham family to Methodism in the coal-mining district near Newcastle in the north of England.) Dorothy taught Sunday school at United Methodist. Hillary attended Bible classes and was a member of the Altar Guild. “[ My family] talked with God, walked with God, ate, studied and argued with God,” Hillary said.

Bernstein, Carl. A Woman in Charge (p. 34). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Read the book. Read other sources about Clinton’s religiosity. This is no straw man. She is an actual religious nut case. Here is a person who wants to be President of the United States and to command our armed forces, yet she believes there is a “man in the sky” who oversees and controls events on this planets. It is so scary. We can only hope in the years to come that Hillary Clinton does not heed that disembodied voice so as to act on it in dire ways, such as sending American forces on an armed crusade of a foreign country.

Consider another of Dan’s remarks: “A list would include such things as the FBI Director’s list of her security misdeeds and special exception given her as to prosecuting them.” I do not know whether the FBI director has an actual list, but a Google search did not return an FBI list. The closest thing I found was a report by FBI Director James Comey. Here is a pertinent excerpt:

Last, we have done extensive work to understand what indications there might be of compromise by hostile actors in connection with the personal e-mail operation.

That’s what we have done. Now let me tell you what we found:

Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.

For example, seven e-mail chains concern matters that were classified at the Top Secret/Special Access Program level when they were sent and received. These chains involved Secretary Clinton both sending e-mails about those matters and receiving e-mails from others about the same matters. There is evidence to support a conclusion that any reasonable person in Secretary Clinton’s position, or in the position of those government employees with whom she was corresponding about these matters, should have known that an unclassified system was no place for that conversation. In addition to this highly sensitive information, we also found information that was properly classified as Secret by the U.S. Intelligence Community at the time it was discussed on e-mail (that is, excluding the later “up-classified” e-mails).

None of these e-mails should have been on any kind of unclassified system, but their presence is especially concerning because all of these e-mails were housed on unclassified personal servers not even supported by full-time security staff, like those found at Departments and Agencies of the U.S. Government—or even with a commercial service like Gmail.

Dan has made another interesting statement: “Would you or I be able to tell a prosecutor, ‘I didn’t mean to drive while drunk, so you can’t prosecute me?’ That was Comey’s only reason for not prosecuting. Well, his only STATED reason.” It is left to the reader’s imagination what Dan means by that last sentence. The reason for capitalizing the word “stated” is left unclear.

Regarding intent, yes, it does count. I have (as Dan likely has) worked with classified material. You can be prosecuted for careless handling, but this almost never happens. My boss, a cost center manager on a classified defense contract, lost a secret document. He was in deep shit, in danger of losing his clearance. He did not get prosecuted, and I have no recollection the secret document was ever recovered. On another classified project, somebody took a computer disk from a classified computer system and copied information from that disk to an unclassified computer system. All hell was to pay, but nobody was prosecuted.

Yes, Clinton was a bad girl, but a crowd of politicians will go to jail before she does. That might include the person who deliberately outed CIA operative Valerie Plame. This was deliberately done by a high-ranking official in the George W. Bush administration, presumably in retaliation for actions by her husband, Joseph C. Wilson, in opposing the Bush administration’s quest to attribute a nuclear weapons program to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Scooter Libby was convicted of making false statements and obstruction of justice. The President commuted his sentence. He was not charged with revealing classified information.

Clinton’s defense, not the best in the world, is that documents sent did not have classified headers:

In various interviews, Clinton has said that “I did not send classified material, and I did not receive any material that was marked or designated classified.” However, in June and July 2016, a number of news outlets reported that Clinton’s emails did include messages with classification “portion markings”. The FBI investigation found that 110 messages contained information that was classified at the time it was sent. Sixty-five of those emails were found to contain information classified as “Secret”; more than 20 contained “Top-Secret” information. Three emails, out of 30,000, were found to be marked as classified, although they lacked classified headers and were only marked with a small “c” in parentheses, described as “portion markings” by Comey. He also said it was possible Clinton was not “technically sophisticated” enough to understand what the three classified markings meant.

According to the State Department, there were 2,093 email chains on the server that were retroactively marked as classified by the State Department at the “Confidential” confidential level.

For the uninitiated, the classification “confidential” relates to items such as contractor bids and personnel records. Items marked “confidential” do not require a sophisticated safe for security.

Those claiming Clinton escaped prosecution by the skin of her teeth need to get their information from the person who makes these calls:

James Comey’s memo to FBI employees

To all:

Because it is generating a lot of interest, I thought I should update you on where we are with our commitment to transparency in the wake of the Clinton email investigation. As I promised in July, we have leaned very far forward in providing transparency, on a couple fronts:

Congress. In order to afford Congress ample opportunity to discharge its oversight responsibilities, we took the unusual step of sending relevant 302s, our case summary Letter Head Memorandum, and the classified emails we recovered during the investigation to the House and Senate security offices. That permitted them to be reviewed by a number of committees with jurisdiction, instead of requiring that committee staff come to FBI headquarters to review the documents as we would normally require. There have been a variety of complaints because we redacted personal information and, at the request of the originating agency, restricted certain classified portions only to the Intelligence Committees, but our production has been unprecedented. I will be up on Capitol Hill the last week of September to testify before the House Judiciary Committee. This is our regular annual oversight hearing, so I’m hoping to cover many aspects of the Bureau’s great work. Of course, I’m guessing folks will want to ask about the email investigation. Through public statements, testimony (4 hours and 40 minutes without stopping, but who’s counting), and prompt document productions, we have offered unprecedented transparency of the high-quality work your colleagues did in the case. Now I would like to talk about our other work, of which we have plenty.

FOIA. As you might imagine, we have also received many requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and lots of your colleagues have been working very hard to process materials under the statute, get the necessary sign-off from other agencies with interests in the information, and get it out to the public. We finished that process Friday morning with respect to the 302 of Secretary Clinton’s interview and our Letter Head Memorandum summarizing the investigation. I almost ordered the material held until Tuesday because I knew we would take all kinds of grief for releasing it before a holiday weekend, but my judgment was that we had promised transparency and it would be game-playing to withhold it from the public just to avoid folks saying stuff about us. We don’t play games. So we released it Friday. We are continuing to process more material and will release batches of documents as they are ready, no matter the day of the week.

You may be sick of this, but let me leave you with a few words about how I have been describing the email investigation in private to our former employees as I meet them around the country.

I explain to them that there are two aspects to this: (1) our judgment about the facts and prosecutive merit; and (2) how we decided to talk about that judgment. I tell them that the difficult decision was actually the second part, not the first. At the end of the day, the case itself was not a cliff-hanger; despite all the chest-beating by people no longer in government, there really wasn’t a prosecutable case. The hard part was whether to offer unprecedented transparency about our thinking. I explain to our alumni that I struggled with that part, but decided the best way to protect the FBI, the Department of Justice, and the American people’s sense of justice was to announce it in the way we did – with extraordinary transparency and without any kind of coordination. I explain to our alums that I’m okay if folks have a different view of the investigation (although I struggle to see how they actually could, especially when they didn’t do the investigation), or about the wisdom of announcing it as we did (although even with hindsight I think that was the best course), but I have no patience for suggestions that we conducted ourselves as anything but what we are – honest, competent, and independent. Those suggesting that we are “political” or part of some “fix” either don’t know us, or they are full of baloney (and maybe some of both).

I will try not to bother you with this any longer.

Jim Comey

It would almost appear the FBI Director is talking to Dan.

Another comment by Dan: “Oh, and where’s the skepticism over the coincidence of the ILLEGAL meeting between Bill and Comey’s boss?” Again a questionable use of the term “skepticism.” Again a word in all caps with no reason explained. I have to ask just what it is I am supposed to be skeptical about. Dan leaves it for me to guess. Cool move.

First, there is no skepticism the meeting took place. What is left then? The word in all caps reflects some deep rooted desire on Dan’s part. Else the word does not fit the circumstance. And that is what skepticism is all about. An allusion to illegality is made, but an examination of even the roughest sort reveals an illusion, instead.

Regarding Hillary Clinton’s health, where is skepticism called for. Most recently it is revealed she has pneumonia and is going to be off the campaign until at least Thursday. Is there something to be investigated there?

Methinks the Dan doth protest too much. He questions the veracity of one candidate while at times seeming to favor the one most mendacious. I see this a lot. I have for over four weeks been posting daily on candidate Donald Trump, and I figure to have enough material to last right up to the election in November. I go after Trump because that’s where the fun is. For a blogger he is a gift of the ages. We can only hope he does not go away soon.

Back to Dan’s desire for skepticism, he is going to need to come up with some specifics. Here’s how it is done, for example:

  • Propose that Hillary Clinton murdered her friend Vince Foster.
  • Detail possible motives, based on information Foster was about to divulge of Clinton’s criminal activity.
  • Present evidence placing Hillary Clinton at the scene of the crime.
  • Trace the murder weapon back to Hillary Clinton.

Lay all your facts out, and give me something to work with. Dropping vague references punctuated with words in all caps falls considerably short of what I am used to dealing with.


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