Trump As Allegory

So I’m packing to go on a trip to NYC tomorrow and a thought just crossed my mind that I had to write about. This past week has been, in general, one giant shitshow as the sponge-brained old racist uncle-in-chief prostrated and cowered next to Putin. From an almost flat-out refusal to acknowledge interference in the 2016 election to a pathetically weak response to Putin’s suggestion of turning over officials such as former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, Trump has pretty much convinced every rational-minded person in America that he is, at best, subservient to or afraid of Vladimir Putin.

But what if there’s a lesson in all this? What if Trump’s behavior, as despicable and craven as it is, is just exposing the truth about Russia and the West, in the same way Trump totally debunked the idea that America is a “post-racial” society?

If we look at interactions between Putin and other Western leaders who are considered sufficiently “tough” on Putin, we see that while they often talk a big game about standing up to him either outside of his presence or at press conferences, they rarely back their words with action. Macron living it up with Putin at the World Cup is a perfect example of this. Ditto Merkel and Nord Stream II, although to her credit she seems to have put a damper on Putin’s dream of cutting Ukraine out of the gas network. And while Obama did bring several successful rounds of sanctions against Russia since 2014, it wasn’t enough to deter Putin from getting directly involved in Syria, or more importantly- interfering with the US political system itself.

So the along walks Trump, a man who seems to have a special affinity for the dictator in Moscow. Trump hasn’t actually managed to lift sanctions; he’s delayed on implementing some of them but new individuals and companies still get added to the sanctions list nonetheless. He doesn’t recognize Crimea as Russian, but he doesn’t really do anything for Ukraine. He doesn’t really suggest new ways to deter or punish Russian aggression, but he doesn’t uproot those in place.

In a sense, Trump is just openly doing what the US and Western governments did with Russia for years, if not decades. Whether it was under Yeltsin or Putin, the Western leaders expressed “concern” over conditions in Russia or Russian moves abroad, but they never took any action until Putin forced their hand by unleashing another war in Europe. This kind of deference to Moscow seems to be rooted in two factors. The first is the capitalist system that wants Russian investment and investment opportunities in Russia, a large potential market. The second is the very old inability to recognize Moscow-dominated Russia for what it is- the last European colonial empire. We saw plenty of the former during the boom of the mid-2000s, when the West was more than happy to ignore or at most, pay some lip service to the issue of human rights in Russia while billions of petrodollars were skimmed off and pumped into Western luxury items and elite property in London, New York, Miami, or the South of France. In the case of the latter, note how the West has expressed support for former Soviet republics, yet says nothing about non-Russian territories within the inappropriately named Russian Federation (it’s not really a federation).

I’m not excusing Trump’s behavior or saying it’s no cause for real concern, but I can’t help but notice that in a way, all Trump has done is put an end to the empty lip service and openly embraced Putin as opposed to talking a big game in public while making deals with him behind closed doors.

This is something Westerners need to seriously think about after Trump is gone. So many of the people who today tell us that we’ve experienced another Pearl Harbor or, as Morgan Freeman put it, “we are at war,” either support or worked for politicians who in the past had the same knowledge we have about Russia today, yet still accepted key parts of the Kremlin’s narrative and enabled many of its nefarious actions. Maybe the silver lining of Trump’s recent actions is that people will start waking up to that fact.

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The Left and ‘That Russia Stuff’

Yesterday’s reaction to the Helsinki meeting between Trump and Putin was, to put it mildly, a shitshow. And once again, we saw the so-called radical left seemingly spending more time attacking “the libs” than, you know, the actual fascists like the president and his minions. Few seemed to notice the fact that their dismissive rhetoric toward “that Russia stuff” and their hysteria about World War III just happens to mirror not only the line coming straight from Kremlin media, but also from the alt-right and neo-fascists the world over. And looking at this mess, and at the same time being part of the left as well as someone who has a bit of a background in “Russia stuff,” I feel I should interject and remind some comrades about some key facts in this whole scandal.

What makes me so qualified to do so? Well apart from my knowledge and experience in Russia and its media, I’ve also been one of those voices of reason when it comes to Russiagate in the first place. Long time readers will note that when the Clinton campaign started to bring up Russia during the campaign, I warned about going too far down that path. Not only were most American voters utterly unconcerned about Russia at the time, it was obvious that Russia and Trump could use such rhetoric to posture as anti-establishment, and posture they did.

Also, I followed the Galeotti line, saying that Russia did not expect Trump to win and thus the interference was actually aimed at causing problems for an incoming Clinton administration. If I didn’t point it out on this blog, I certainly made the point some time on Twitter that Trump is most likely not a conscious agent of Russia, turned either by some kompromat pee tape or by some winding conspiracy dating back to 1987. Rather I saw and still see Trump as being charmed by Putin, who knows how to manipulate such people. If there is any kompromat on Trump, it has to do with business dealings, conflicts of interest, and that sort of thing. Beyond that, I think the main reason Trump seems afraid to call out Putin, especially about election interference, is that admitting that it happened is tantamount to questioning his own legitimacy, and there is simply no way Trump would ever allow that.

Furthermore, I have routinely dunked on people like Louise Mensch, Eric Garland, and slightly less odious figures like Molly McKew. I’ve been attacked as a “Russian bot” by “Resistance” types, and not too long ago Mensch and Garland even sicced their incoherent army of morons on me.

The point I’m making is- you know me. You know I’m not some ex-intelligence community pundit or “neocon” think tank academic, and I’m certainly not an amateur counter-intelligence agent on the internet posting about how Bernie Sanders secretly works for the GRU and Black Lives Matter is a Russian front. I’m a revolutionary socialist, one who has spent most of his adult life in Russia.

So I’m hoping you’ll take it to hear when I tell you that yes, Russia interfered in our election. Yes, it was with malicious intent and it was largely aimed at helping Trump. For whatever reason, Trump has been largely disinterested in doing anything about that, and you should be concerned. Now before you interject, here are a few things to consider.

First of all, no, I’m not reversing my position about the reasons why Hillary lost or the efficacy of the Russian interference. To date, we have no concrete data on who might have changed their vote or stayed home due to things they may have seen on Facebook, specifically Russian propaganda. I’ve often criticized those who are so confident in the efficacy of that propaganda while being so reluctant to make any attempt to measure what influence it actually had. But having said all that, it really doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if those idiotic memes didn’t change a single vote. The point is Russia put them out there with a certain intention, and that intention was to help Trump. Where they were not supporting Trump, they were encouraging people not to vote for his opponent, which objectively helps Trump.

Think about it this way- suppose there was a Trump supporter in the US, and he tried to support his candidate by writing a blog and maybe making a few Facebook pages with pro-Trump memes. Now let us imagine that they weren’t widely circulated, never got many views, and thus we later determine that they couldn’t have had any significant impact on voting whatsoever. Would we just totally ignore the fact that this person basically campaigned for Trump? Would we pretend he’s not a Trump supporter?

Worse still, the Russian Internet Research Agency, via Facebook, literally tried to hijack leftist causes, all for the purpose of getting people not to vote for Hillary, Trump’s opponent. That should piss most leftists off. I mean every election you see people correctly point out that to claim to stand “on principle” when doing so could hurt millions of disadvantaged or otherwise marginalized groups of people is bad, very bad. It’s almost the very definition of privilege. But operatives encouraged exactly this behavior while posing as leftists. That should piss you off, especially given the well-established connections between the far-right in America and Russia.

Next, let me smack down this objection that says the Russia stuff is going to cause Democrats to lose or that it’s being used as an excuse to ignore things like poor campaigning or historic problems like racism. First of all, as one of my Twitter followers have pointed out, you don’t really see many Democrats literally campaigning on Russia-related stuff. The media’s constantly talking about it, and they often talk to Democrats for commentary in these discussions, but apart from reactive criticism of Trump’s behavior on the Russia matter I haven’t heard of any candidates who are seriously running on a platform of RUSSIA! RUSSIA! RUSSIA!

As for the second issue, that of blaming historic problems on an external cause, yes- this is a valid concern, but let’s not pretend like every liberal does this. When you see the ones that do- just ignore them or dunk on them and move on. We don’t really have many options as to how to actually fight the fascists who dominate our government  at the moment but to work with people who aren’t quite as woke as you on social issues like wealth inequality. The good news is that these people did actually lose to the dumbest candidate in modern history, and thus we have every right to start making demands about how to proceed, but we do need to work with them. If you disagree, by all means run for the hills, kick off your protracted people’s war (I can tell you right now guerrilla foco is going to get you nowhere), and see how far that gets you.

Lastly I want to tackle two of the dumbest left objections to this issue. The first is the claim that “Well, like, we interfered in their election too!” This is largely based on one story in Time magazine which had a cartoon Boris Yeltsin on its cover, accompanied by the headline “Yanks to the Rescue!” It’s cringe-inducing to see so-called leftist Twitter accounts responding to anyone criticizing Russian interference in the 2016 election with a picture of that cover, acting like it’s some kind of awesome dunk. For one thing, the idea that we should let a far-right wing fascist regime interfere in our election on behalf of a local fascist, with the help of local fascists, just because the US allegedly helped Yeltsin get reelected in 1996 is one of the most idiotic pseudo-left arguments I’ve ever seen. The other reason this argument is idiotic is because the story itself is largely bullshit. Yeah, next time you might want to actually look into Russian history a little bit deeper. It’s amazing how people who seem to pride themselves on doubting the “corporate media” will fall for a narrative largely based on the cover of a major corporate news outlet. I don’t give a shit what the US government supposedly did when I was 14- I’m not going to give Russia a free pass to at the very least, attempt to help a fascist get elected in the US, and you shouldn’t either.

The other moronic objection is that talking about Russian interference and suggesting something be done about it will lead to nuclear war. Yeah, I saw people calling it 9/11 or Pearl Harbor. You know what I haven’t seen? Anyone seriously calling for open war with Russia. What is more, the US already has retaliated against Russia in direct connection with the election interference going back to 2016. Are we at war yet? Nope. Did Russia nuke us? Nope. The truth is that while Putin would like to see an end to the sanctions so he and his friends can stash their ill-gotten wealth in Western banks and real estate, they also need the appearance of a conflict with the West. They need that threat of an external enemy to solidify their support at home. As such, anyone who thinks that toning down the rhetoric will lead to better relations between Russia is not only ignoring the horrible imperialistic shit the regime is doing to its own people and others like Syrians and Ukrainians, but they are also simply ignorant about how the system in Russia perpetuates itself.

So please, let’s not let the fact that some people have been grifters or just plain idiots about Russiagate distract from the fact that this is a serious issue for the left. We’re talking about an authoritarian fascist state that is supporting similar movements and governments around the world. We are engaged in an existential struggle right here in the United States, and as one of my followers (albeit one I often disagree with), some liberals are starting to get really radicalized by this issue. Yes, some of them are going about it in stupid ways or making really bad takes, but we have no other allies to work with. The radical left needs to stop denying the Russia story and try to steer the centrists towards a more realistic understanding of it, as well as an understanding of why real progressive politics are crucial for defeating the far right in America.

The truth is that the “Russia stuff” is a socialist concern. At its root this is a story of wealth inequality, of the shadowy world of money laundering and neoliberal financial systems. It is a story of a global reactionary movement and an archaic, reactionary dream about returning to a 19th century world of imperialistic great powers which divide up the world into spheres on influence which they can exploit at will. Like it or not, this is our fight, and if you repeat the same apologia used by Trump and his defenders both in the US and Russia, you might as well be one of them.

 

Just What the Hell I’m Doing

My triumphant return to posting may seem like a dead cat bounce, but at the moment I have other priorities- some of which include working on articles for money, because after all, I need money. But there is another project I’m trying to launch which will be even more important. Can’t share the details now, but it involves providing help for Ukraine (BIG SURPRISE!) Help to defend against imperialist aggression as well as help to defend and advance progressive values in that country. After all, Ukraine cannot be truly free if it is reduced to smaller version of Russia with the same mentality painted blue and yellow.

Unfortunately getting this project off the ground will be slow going because it involves the world of fundraising and running an NGO. The former I haven’t been so successful at and the latter I have zero experience with. If you do, by all means leave a comment. I could really use the advice right now.

On the up side, I’ve got offers to do guest appearances on some regular podcasts so that front is finally sorted.

So stay tuned.

 

What Is to Be Done About the Left?

In case you haven’t picked up on it yet, the Western right is basically one big grift. One way or another you dupe middle class white boomers or frustrated 20-something NEETs into giving you money while ultra-rich individuals, think tanks, and corporations give you a platform with which to do it. There are many different forms of this grift, often rehashed with little variations here and there over the years. One such grift is the “I used to be a leftist!”

This is where the person claims (or in some cases they actually were) they used to be on “the left” until they were “driven away” by something, most often “political correctness” or some other vague bullshit. Now I’m not about to disparage anyone’s so-called lived experience here; I’m sure in some cases these people were actually truly believing leftists of some sort. It’s cultish to the extreme to dismiss this phenomenon by saying “they never truly believed” or that they never fully understood the politics. But these conversion stories always seem to me as highly dubious. After all, I can totally understand being fed up with a certain community on the left, but if you really held basic progressive core beliefs why would you go and join, or aid those who represent diametrically opposed values? Why not migrate to those among the left who you feel better represent those basic values?

But these days I find myself confronting a very unusual situation. What happens when you find yourself pushed away from the left, mainly because you want to avoid the far-right and with each passing year you see the former increasingly tailing the latterWhat about avoiding the mainstream radical left to avoid looking like an Infowars-level conspiracy crank at best, and associating with literal fascists at worst? This is quite a conundrum, but recently I’ve discovered on Twitter that I’m not the only person to notice this phenomenon.

One individual has taken a very harsh stance on the matter. Rather than specifically call out “tankies” or “red-browns” they have flat out accused “leftists” of being fascists, albeit with plenty of good evidence and logical arguments. I voiced my disagreement with this wording, because I believe that no matter how difficult it can be to communicate with some radical leftists from time to time, it is our responsibility to try to set people on the right path whenever and wherever we can. As sayeth Jesus in the scripture, it is not the healthy who need a physician but the ill.

That being said, I must concede this individual had one compelling argument for being so harsh on the radical left as a whole. Paraphrasing their words as best I can, they pointed out how next-to-impossible it is to convince leftists that they are engaging in fascist, racist, or anti-Semitic thinking simply because they identify as left. In other words, they are convinced that by virtue of being leftists, Communists, socialists, or whatever, their core beliefs could not possibly be contaminated by reactionary ideas. While I still disagree that this is justification for writing off the whole radical left there’s a compelling argument here, so much so that it bears devoting some time to developing a solution.

Since 2014 the danger of red-brown,or as one comrade eloquently put it, “bloody shit,” organizing has been rising exponentially. A lot of this, incidentally, has been thanks to Russian propaganda organs such as RT and Sputnik, along with lesser known websites like Fort Russ or Vinyard of the Saker. It is through these vectors that propaganda largely inspired by the fascist Alexander Dugin is diffused and distributed to different ends of the political spectrum. To the leftists is an anti-corporate, anti-globalization message, and the far-right receives a message promising “self-determination” in the form of national separation. The main purpose of all of this, of course, is to push the Kremlin’s foreign policy goals. It matters little whether the recipients think Ukraine is controlled by a neo-Nazi junta or a cabal of conspiring Jews- and Russian propaganda regularly insists both simultaneously- all that matters is that the recipient believes that Kyiv is the ally of their enemies and Russia has a right to intervene in Ukraine as it sees fit.

I do not plan to get into more details of current red-brown activity in this post. I have already done that some time ago, but for those who want to look into the matter further I recommend starting with this link. My focus in this post, which may become part of a much longer series, is to try to determine why the left continues to be vulnerable to far-right entryism and what can be done about it.

Acceptance

The sad fact is that a lot of the left is in denial about the red-brown problem. Some call it guilt by association. Others dismiss it as “horseshoe theory.” Some insist that if they happen to take the same position as fascists, they have completely different reasons. Others are still inexcusably ignorant about the problem entirely.

They say the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. In this case we need to identify the problem of red-brown activity and far-right entryism. Many veterans of the left may look at the attitudes of millennials toward socialism or the rise in popularity for movements like Democratic Socialists of America and decide this is a very positive trend. What they may be missing, however, is the fact that many of these young people have no idea what socialism is and they are merely reacting to the vagaries of so-called “late capitalism.” As such, their theoretical foundation is quite weak. Older leftists should welcome them, but also educate them. At the same time, we need to reevaluate our own values and rhetoric and ask ourselves if we are being consistent in our opposition to racism, imperialism, and so forth.

Many young leftists, and far too many old ones, seem utterly oblivious to the the idea that far-right organizations often seek out alliances with them for their own ends. This is by no means a new phenomenon. Alexander Reid Ross has written a comprehensive book on the subject (though it fails hard on Ukraine, ironically because at least one of the cited sources on that topic was himself a member of a red-brown Russia-affiliated front). The basic summary is that almost from the very dawn of modern socialism, there have always been attempts to appropriate some aspects of that movement and meld them with reactionary, right-wing values. And there’s an interesting thread running throughout this long history to the present day- it seems wherever red-brown activity has taken place, it is always the right that gets the most benefit, while the left is typically weakened. It doesn’t matter if we’re speaking of Germany in the Weimar days or today, where parts of the left and far-right sound almost identical on topics like Syria or Russia, yet it is the far-right that is in power and ascendant while the left still flounders ineffectually. There’s a powerful lesson in this- red-brown activity is poison for the left and a boon to fascists. 

Once we acknowledge how serious the threat is, we need to do something about it.

 

Educate

The most important thing is for leftists to understand that this is a serious phenomenon and it is not some centrist liberal horseshoe theory. This has a very long, well documented history and new activists need to be made aware of it.

Also, while teaching good theory can sometimes lead to disagreements and sectarianism, it can also sometimes act as a vaccination against typical red-brown tactics. A person who has a more robust understanding of capitalism and socialism is less likely to fall for the “anti-establishment,” “anti-globalization” rhetoric so often used by the far right entryists. But far more important than theory is a solid system of ethics. History has shown that by divorcing socialism from its moral imperative, all manner of atrocities and unprincipled compromises are possible.

Our moribund concept of “anti-imperialism” is a perfect example of this. So many leftists get so bound up in “opposing imperialism,” which is in their eyes solely Western if not American, that they willfully embrace outright reactionary if not fascist regimes (the Assad regime for example, is arguably fascist by definition). We must never lose sight of the fact that we must oppose all forms of imperialism, but never to such extent that we end up defending far right regimes and regurgitating their propaganda. This is precisely what much of the left is doing now, particularly when it comes to Syria, and in doing so they have literally joined the chorus of far right Assad backers such as the alt-right and old Nazis like David Duke.

Summing up this point, what is far more important than political labels are the values that motivate us to adopt them. Edgy teenagers and college students readily become “Marxists,” “anarchists,” or whatever because this often provides a necessary sense of solidarity and belonging.  But when organizations become nothing but a social circle or a club, cult-like thinking begins and there is pressure to go along with the group in spite of moral conflicts. One should adopt an ideology stemming from basic values. In my humble opinion, one should be a socialist based on values of true liberty and equality, not for social or aesthetic reasons. When you are guided by these basic values, you are less likely to make unprincipled compromises based on purely tactical reasoning such as the enemy of my enemy is my friend (probably the worst concept in political history).

Another thing we need to be educating leftists about is something I’ve seen some Twitter folks refer to as unreality. Unreality is a somewhat novel concept that it is a bit more nuanced than propaganda. Unreality is a state where one bends reality to fit their political worldview. It goes beyond typical conspiratorial thinking in the sense that conspiracy theories become mandatory as a way to process events. For example, in order to maintain the fiction that Assad is the “least worst” option in Syria, one must not only ignore the indisputable fact that his regime and its backers have caused the vast majority of deaths in that civil war, but every particularly egregious atrocity, especially chemical attacks, are nothing but “false flags” designed to provoke a Western regime-change invasion that never comes. Once you can accept some of these claims, there’s no reasonable argument to refrain from going full on Infowars. Remember- when we give up a belief in objective truth we give up the core of our revolutionary theory.

Lastly, it’s time for leftists, especially Americans, to stop living in the Iraq War era where every negative comment by the presidential administration is treated like the run-up to a massive military invasion. One of the most idiotic things I see are claims that criticism of the Kremlin could lead to World War III. Turkey shot down a Russian military jet, one of whose pilots was killed as a result, and in a matter of months the their two dictators had kissed and made up. More recently, the United States wiped out dozens of Russian mercenaries and the Kremlin has been curiously quiet on the matter. If Russia is so volatile that it will launch a nuclear holocaust in response to criticism, that really says more about Russia than it does about the West. In any case, the militaristic rhetoric that has been a staple of Russian media for many years is far more confrontational than anything we see in the US media even in the midst of “Russiagate.”

No Platform

This one is pretty simple- do not accept a platform from the far right or any outlet the routinely gives them a platform. That means no RT, no Sputnik, and certainly no Tucker Carlson (he’s basically a full on blood and soil nationalist now). Do some research to find out whose behind the outlet offering you a spot for commentary or a job.  It is far better to keep your message pure and independent than to get a larger audience via a compromised platform. After all, a large portion of that audience is most likely diametrically opposed to your values anyway.

To be Continued…

I’d like to say there’s a conclusion to all of this, but the truth is that I am merely scratching the surface with this post. It is one thing to study historical phenomena and draw conclusions based on it; it’s another matter entirely when we are actually watching things evolve in real time. We may very well be living in an era of American proto-fascism, and I’m convinced that one of the ways we got to this point has to do with the far right doing a comprehensive overhaul of their strategy and tactics in the past few years. That process is ongoing as well. Among the main changes include things that were traditionally associated with the left, from pro-Palestine activism to opposition to Reagan-Thatcher neoliberalism and embracing Russia despite the regime’s overt display of Soviet imagery.

Since the far right is not bound by the kind of moral values which ought to guide the left, they can rapidly evolve and molt much faster than their opponents can respond to their tactics. As such we are playing catch up and there is precious little time. It is my hope that in the near future every prominent left organization will start taking the red-brown menace seriously. Otherwise we may not have an organized left at all.

So You Live in a Dictatorship Part III: Impunity

So recent domestic news has compelled me to write another entry in a series I dubbed “So You Live in a Dictatorship” (see the category list on the side bar for previous entries). Since it’s been a long time since the last entry in the series, let me recap it’s purpose. Since the election of Donald Trump, many Americans seem to be reeling from the new normal of politics. Well what seems novel for you isn’t for those of us who have lived under real dictatorships. Therefore using my experience from living under the Putin regime, I decided to help my fellow Americans understand what to expect as the tactics of foreign authoritarian kleptocratic dictators become commonplace in American politics. You’re welcome for my service.

Given the nature of the news cycle these days and the sheer amount of idiocy it brings on a daily basis, you might have either missed this particular item or perhaps you heard about it, rolled your eyes, and braced yourself for the next scandal, still bracing yourself for the very real possibility that the nation will one day be faced with photographs of Trump’s dick.

footballman

Yes, this manufactured scandal was also in the news again this week.

Yet as eye-explodingly bad as that apocalypse will be, and rest assured it is almost certainly going to happen, you should not ignore the story about Trump’s pardon of whackjob conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza.

Some of my friends consider Trump’s pardon of Arizona ex-Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio to be worse, but comparisons are irrelevant. What matters is a pattern here. Even if Trump cannot pardon himself, he can certainly pardon numerous passengers in the clown car he brought to Washington. This includes those would already pleaded guilty, like Michael Flynn, those under investigation like Paul Manafort, and those who are likely to get indicted like Michael Cohen.

The basis for Trump’s pardoning, regardless of whether the person was rightfully convicted or in D’Souza’s case, pleaded guilty, is that the courts were being “unfair.” Trump constantly uses this word “unfair,” like a little child whining on the playground. Yes, these days conservatives are extremely concerned about fairness, except when it comes to things like poverty or racial equality.

What does unfair really mean to these people? Well if they lose, in anything at all, then it was unfair. Someone cheated. It’s rigged. Moreover, it seems that the new permutation of conservative, particularly of the Boomer Tea Party variety, is that everyone they don’t like needs to go to jail, best exemplified with the campaign chant “Lock her up!” By the same token, if one of their conservative heroes is convicted of a crime or even if they plead guilty- it was “unfair.” If Hillary Clinton is still free, it’s because the courts and Justice System, including those officials appointed by Trump, are corrupt, as are those who prosecute or investigate Trump and other conservative figures. Yes, there’s a vast conspiracy against conservatives in America, and yet they somehow manage to control all three branches of government despite regularly getting fewer votes. Those poor souls.

Now obviously giving the president such powers to pardon was one of the Framers’ dumbest ideas, and certainly Democratic presidents have had their share of questionable pardons. But like previous Republican presidents, pardons usually came as they were leaving office, and they were not announced in such a way as to signal to supporters the way Trump has done by pardoning people like Arpaio or worse- D’Souza. Yes, I said D’Souza was worse because not only did he plead guilty to a crime, but he also had virtually no interaction with Trump until recently. In other words, Trump decided he likes D’Souza, so D’Souza was “treated unfairly” and deserves a pardon. What this will quickly lead to if it continues is a serious breakdown in the rule of law.

I guarantee you that if this kind of thing does not get nipped in the bud, any Republican president will use it almost constantly. I’d say the same of hypothetical Democrat presidents, except that in such a scenario I don’t really see one getting elected anytime soon. Once you are basically ready to abuse the justice system in this way, there’s virtually nothing to stop your minions from employing every dirty trick in the book to ensure your perpetual victory at the polls.

Of course abusing pardons would only be a first step towards a dictatorial system like that of Putin’s Russia or Erdogan’s Turkey. Things tend to get really bad when prosecutors, judges, and law enforcement come under the control of a particular party. We can see how we are certainly moving in that direction with Trump, particularly in the judiciary and with law enforcement as well.

What all this leads to is more corruption and repression due to impunity. Impunity for those who engage in corruption or who support the regime against its opponents, and arbitrary harassment and suppression of dissidents. As one Russian friend of mine put it in a conversation about how this impunity works in Russia, the leadership sends signals to certain people that they can act against designated opponents of the regime and act in their own self-interests without any negative consequences. As a corollary, if anyone should push back against them, the system with its organs of legal violence will have their back. This kind of set up is why you never hear of something like Alexei Navalny decking some pro-Putin activist for trying to throw green dye on him. Navalny knows very well that in that case he’d be locked up for sure. In fact his whole organization might be rolled up and declared “extremist.”

Things don’t look too good right now, but there is a slight glimmer of hope. So far Trump’s only starting to complete one half of the equation- letting cronies get away with criminal activity. And even here he’s not entirely in control. For some reason he has not yet sacked Mueller, even though to the dismay of pussy hat-wearing wine moms everywhere, he almost certainly could without endangering his presidency. No, the shit hits the fan only when the dictator is able to direct the security services against enemies, either to convict them on dubious charges or simply harass and intimidate them. That’s the signal for open season on dissidents. Loyal self-anointed “patriots” will start doing the regime’s dirty work knowing that not only will they probably go unpunished or at most receive a slap on the wrist, but also that if their targets fight back, they will be the ones facing the full force of the law.

And if this doesn’t happen under Trump, rest assured that even Democrat administrations could pave the way for this kind of scenario in the future. In the past Democrats have often supported increased powers for domestic spying and crackdowns on whistle blowers and leakers, often for the most short-sighted reasons. In fact they have even done so under Trump, demonstrating how they are fully capable of moving the ball forward in that direction.

Thus, be on guard not only for actions in this vein coming from the Republicans and Trump, but also from their useful idiots in the Democratic party. Yes, we have these institutions that are supposed to prevent the scenario I have described here, but only a fool would put so much faith in institutions. Institutions are, after all, made up of people, and oftentimes those people care far more about their own power within those institutions than fulfilling the task for which the institution was originally intended.

 

Babchenko Voskres! (Babchenko has Risen!)

Well. This has been quite the day. I’d even go so far as to call it a historic moment. The scripture says Jesus died and rose again on the third day. Arkady Babchenko did it in less than 12 hours.

sbuop

Shalom, this was a special operation by the SBU!

Yesterday’s post now feels like part of some kind of bizarre psychological experiment- it was written when I and all of my friends (as well as Babchenko’s own immediate family) were certain that he had been murdered. As such, our tweets, our status updates, yesterday’s post- they are now like fossilized remains of a moment in history. A moment when for everyone who was watching, including the Kremlin lackeys who were immediately gearing up for another disinformation campaign about the latest “provocation,” Arkady Babchenko was the latest Russian dissident to be murdered.

For me it began with an alert from RIA Novosti that he was “alive.” I stared in awe and thought “Well this is a bold new direction for Kremlin disinfo.” Then the reports from more reputable outlets started coming in. And a few minutes later the whole Russia/Ukraine watching world lost its collective mind. Below is a short video presentation that serves as the perfect metaphor for the reactions on Twitter:

Of course it’s Twitter so people had to pick fights, even with people nominally “on the same side,” so today’s War of Takes boiled down to a spectrum of opinions between “SBU Did Nothing Wrong” and “Won’t Somebody PLEASE Think of Ukraine’s Credibility?!”

What I found most interesting was watching how many commentators’ position, including my own, evolved over the course of the day in real time as we all began to process the reality of what was happening. Team SBU Did Nothing Wrong was angry at many commentators, including veteran Ukraine correspondents, for being seemingly upset about the SBU’s credibility and wondering whether this would be a major boon to the Kremlin propaganda machine. Personally I was cautious. I acknowledged that there were ethical implications in this issue, but like many of my friends I was just happy to see that Arkady Babchenko was alive. If he had actually been killed, not only would it be another sign that the Putinist regime can kill with impunity beyond its borders, but his death would be accompanied by a flood of propaganda and multiple contradictory “alternative” explanations blaming the killing on anyone and everyone but the most obvious suspect. They were already beginning the whole process with their кому выгодно? (qui bono?) arguments online.

But things didn’t go according to plan. Unlike in the case of Litvinenko or the Skripals, when the perpetrators escaped (and in the latter case aren’t even known), the agent who ordered the hit on Babchenko, and who was allegedly planning several other hits on Russian dissidents in Ukraine, is in custody. I am still extremely skeptical towards the SBU, but this time they seem to have got something right, and what a thing to get right at that!

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“The SBU resurrected Babchenko so they wouldn’t have to investigate his murder.” Sickest burn of the day reminds us that the SBU still has a lot to answer for. 

And as for the “credibility issue” and claims that this will benefit Russian propaganda? Sorry but those arguments don’t hold water. If anything would have helped their propaganda narrative it would have been if they’d murdered yet another dissident abroad, then flooded the information space with more conspiracy theories, all accompanied by “a knowing smirk and wink,” as Mark Galeotti put it.

Knowing what I know about Kremlin propaganda, I’ll ask you to forgive me for being skeptical about any upcoming paradigm shift in Russian propaganda thanks to this stunt. Yeah, I’ve already seen one of these pro-Kremlin dipshits try to claim that this “proves” the White Helmets staged chemical attacks, for example. So what? Claims like this are easily debunked and dismissed by pointing out that the reason we know this particular murder was deliberately staged is because less than 24 hours later all those involved called a press conference where they openly admitted the whole thing and explained how and why they did it. If the White Helmets ever do that in regards to any past or future chemical attacks in Syria, I’ll definitely start taking those conspiracy claims seriously. Only when that happens, and not a second sooner.

I’m very sorry to shatter some people’s hopes, but I don’t believe the Kremlin was about to come clean on the Skripal case, Nemtsov’s murder, or MH17 until the SBU dicked everything up and handed the Kremlin media machine a new argument. I am quite confident you will only get an admission on all that when the Putin regime is finally overthrown and the archives are once again opened much like they were after the collapse of the Soviet Union. So yeah, I’m sure you’ll hear Putin’s peanut gallery bring up Babchenko from time to time, but they’ll sound just as idiotic as they always do. And as past research has shown, most Kremlin propaganda does not convert people. It tends to appeal only to those already inclined toward it. If it does influence anyone not already on board, I suspect it just makes them apathetic and ambivalent to “both sides.”

I’d say the worst take on the whole credibility issue comes from Reporters Without Borders, who condemned the operation saying that “Nothing” could justify such deception. Yes, nothing. Not even saving a life, or several lives. I suppose if a journalist in German-occupied Poland had the opportunity to avoid identifying a source as Jewish they should have told the truth because nothing could ever justify breaking the rules of journalistic ethics. Goddammit these people betrayed the news! The neeeeews! 

Seriously though, they seem to forget that Babchenko wasn’t participating in this as a journalist, but as someone whose life had been threatened. Babchenko had received death threats for years until a particularly vitriolic wave of threats initiated by a state-sponsored hate campaign against him in late 2016 finally drove him from his home country. There are ethical concerns and then there are priorities.

Lastly, the reader might wonder if this new development changes anything I wrote yesterday, when I justifiably lashed out at fake, self-proclaimed “infowarriors” and “patriots” who act like tweeting rambling nonsense punctuated by words like “dezinformatsiya” and “kompromat” puts you on the front line of the New Cold War. Nope. Not a chance. Non, je ne regrette rien! Okay maybe I regret that I discarded nearly all the jokes I wanted to put in the post before hearing about Babchenko’s then apparent murder, but apart from that, why change a thing? This episode just drives home the point I was trying to make even further.

Yesterday I used Babchenko’s apparent murder as an example of the most extreme consequence for truly opposing the Kremlin regime, not on Twitter or a blog, but in real life. By the same token, finding out someone you and many of your friends personally knew got murdered for their real world dissent is par for the course for those who live this life in Russia or Ukraine. Obviously finding out he wasn’t dead is ultimately a huge relief, but the trauma, depression, and rage many of us experienced for a barely a day was totally real. Worse still is that after the initial shock, my first thoughts turned to who among my friends would be next- several immediately come to mind as prime targets. I’m absolutely certain I wasn’t the only one thinking that either. And those rapidly evolving positions I alluded to earlier? That’s people who have been on an emotional roller coaster reeling from the shock and struggling to adjust to the new reality. In a way it’s like mock execution by proxy- indisputably better than actual mock execution but still a shock to the system nonetheless.

Everything that has happened in the past 24 hours reaffirms what I wrote yesterday about what this part of the world does to people who’ve lived it. There’s the darkness, the pain, the fear, the hopelessness, the paranoia, the depression, the fury, and then…there’s the sheer thrill of it. You hate it with every fiber of your being until you’re out of it and you’d do anything just to get back over there like a moth drawn to the flame.

As for the past 48 hours, it was messy, it may raise ethical questions, and the SBU’s still got a lot to answer for, but for now Arkady Babchenko’s alive, and the man who tried to arrange his murder (and possibly many others) is behind bars. The good guys won today.

Catch your breath and get ready. The week’s not over yet.

Keyboard Commandos vs. Real Life

 

I have to warn you ahead of time that this is going to be a very serious post. I initially planned it to be somewhat serious with some jokes thrown in to lighten the mood a bit. That was all before this afternoon, when I first saw the news that Russian dissident journalist Arkady Babchenko had been murdered outside his apartment in Kyiv. So the jokes are out, but because this tragic event only reinforces the original point I wanted to make, I have to write this piece.

Just for full disclosure, Babchenko and I were never close friends; we were acquaintances at most. I met him once in Moscow, possibly twice but I don’t remember as it was always with a group of people. I do have a number of friends who were closer, however. I’m just getting this all out of the way because the significance of this will be made clear a bit later. Thus let’s move on to what would have been the beginning of this post.

As some of my Twitter followers already know that last night I came under attack by the Dipshit Duo of Eric Garland (or someone reasonably claiming to be him) and Louise Mensch, as well as a number of their moronic wine mom fans. Because these people possess the communication skills of a third-grader drunk on Robitussin, it took me a while to figure out what had suddenly drawn their attention to me. After all, both Garland and Mensch have blocked me almost from the very get-go back in 2017.

From what I was able to piece together using Google Translate for Dumbass-to-English, it seems they were upset by this tweet.

Apparently one of the cretins took this as a personal threat or challenge, because these are essentially delusional people who think they’re the protagonist in their own blockbuster spy thriller, so of course it had to be about them. In reality, while this tweet was indeed inspired by some of these people, it is simply a prediction about something that will inevitably happen if this kind of behavior continues to spread. In fact it really doesn’t apply so much to people like Garland or Mensch because neither seem to exist outside of Twitter. They have largely been shut out of the natsec and Russia/Eurasia sphere because nobody takes them seriously. Even the major media networks figured out their grift fairly quickly, which is why you no longer hear them mentioned despite all this 24/7 Russiagate coverage.

No, those two simply aren’t in the tier of jackasses who are most likely to get popped in the face at a networking event because they called the wrong person a Russian agent. If someone like Garland even managed to find and get to such an event, he’d probably be rapidly escorted out by security when they notice him nervously stuffing his pockets with sugar packets.

But there are people who both engage in this behavior and do actually leave their house and mingle in the same circles, and I was merely predicting that some of these people may one day face a real life backlash for their online attacks. It’s not a threat, it’s not posturing, it’s a statement of fact that is often forgotten these days, when so much of life is lived online and not in reality.

Now having said all that, I do have a burning-hot hatred for all of these people, including Garland, Mensch, and their fan club, and there is very good reason for this. Whether it’s someone with at least some credentials like John Schindler or someone who has no idea what they’re talking about like the aforementioned Twitter stars, all of these people routinely give an air of immeasurable unwarranted self-importance. They style themselves “patriots” and defenders of the republic, and their fans go even further. The way their fans tweet, you’d think that they’re sitting in a foxhole manning the last line of defense between American liberal democracy and Putinist tyranny. If they’re not labeling other people as Russian trolls, bots, and agents, they’re calling them “keyboard commandos,” which is rich because that’s precisely what these people are.

I think few Westerners, in particular Americans, have any idea of what it’s like living under Putin’s regime or having to cover it as a journalist. It’s hard to describe, but there’s a very noticeable difference between when I talk to someone who’s “been there” and someone who hasn’t. With the former we have a shared language, with the latter there is a clear disconnect, sometimes so much so that I might as well be explaining Russia in Japanese.

Sure, it’s never all bad. I can talk about good times- the discoveries, the parties, the friendships. But I’ve noticed even as far back as 2008 that every conversation inevitably turns dark. The topic of corruption is brought up. Then there’s the stories of journalists murdered with impunity. Rigged elections. Veterans of the Second World War freezing to death in their flats. Side-stepping a corpse on a metro platform. You don’t consciously want to talk about these things; they just come up.

Then you add more years. You get into journalism and suddenly it is now your job to know about all those horrible things. The worse it is, the more important it is for you to find it. And you’ll have no trouble finding it because it turns out the same year you get into the business is the same year the regime loses its mind and starts the largest war in Europe since Yugoslavia in the 1990’s. I remember well how many of my first stories all included body counts. I remember having to slowly and diplomatically explain to an editor how the reason why the body count in a mortar attack in Donetsk had to be updated with one more killed is because wounded people sometimes succumb to their wounds, thus moving them into the killed category.

Seeing the war in the Donbas up close was just like pouring gasoline on a fire. It begins simple enough- you see towns in formerly Russian-controlled territory like Kostantynivka or Slovyansk, you see how dilapidated and impoverished they are, and you understand that this is very much the fault of all previous governments of Ukraine going back to 1991. You very quickly learn to distinguish battle damage from decay that took decades, and your thoughts turn to how the Kremlin saw these people as a prop to justify a war of naked aggression for the sake of imperialism and neocolonialism.

In order to “save Russian speakers” who were never under threat from anything but rampant corruption and organized crime, the paranoid delusional regime forced those same “Russian speakers” to shelter all night in basements in cities like Avdiivka. You walk through residential areas of the city and see sagging stairwells and a steel door bowed outward from a shell that exploded inside the flat. You eat dinner at a restaurant that lost three of its staff when a Russian shell hit its outdoor grill. You meet a woman who now lives in the hospital she works at because her flat was destroyed in the shelling. Putin saved that Russian-speaker from home ownership, apparently. In the morning you see the people coming into the city hall to get free plastic sheeting to seal up the windows that got blown out in the night. They’re almost all elderly. One old man stares, mouth agape. He looks like he could have survived the Second World War, and if so he almost certainly would have felt self-assured that in spite of the harrowing sacrifices that victory in that conflict demanded, his generation secured lasting peace, if not prosperity. Putin’s artillery ended that peace.

I could go on, but some readers might have already noted I’m mostly recalling things I personally witnessed back in 2015. My experiences are in many ways just the tip of the iceberg. I have plenty of friends and acquaintances who have spent far more time at the front, both as journalists and veterans. Some of them risked their freedom or even their lives investigating events in Russia. Among the former are many who have spent more time with internally displaced people and refugees. Just as my job was once to monitor the worst of Russia, theirs was to do the same in Ukraine, and they can easily match any story about injustice in Russia with one in Ukraine. Pre- or post-Maidan, your choice.

Of course I know plenty of people who aren’t soldiers or journalists, but ordinary people living in Russia or Ukraine. Apart from one unpleasant encounter I’ve been fortunate enough to avoid the wrath of the FSB. A friend of mine who had nothing to do with journalism or activism of any kind was far less fortunate, and ended up getting threatened and tortured for nearly 12 hours by FSB who he believes were involved in some kind of criminal activity. I have other friends who were forced out of Russia because they fell afoul of the regime which robs and persecutes its own people so that a tiny minority can enjoy the most lavish luxury the West has to offer.  Collectively we have all witnessed the humiliation and brutalization of both the peoples of Russia and Ukraine by this sociopathic, kleptocratic regime.

And this one guy I knew…he just got shot today.

So that’s how we come back to Babchenko in all of this. Arkady Babchenko was, by any definition, the real deal. One friend of mine who knew him better than I said that Babchenko probably received more death threats than any Russian journalist he knew. Eventually someone made good on their threat, in Kyiv, no less.

By now I hope the reader is beginning to grasp why I have such a white-hot hatred for these self-appointed defenders of the republic. These people sit behind their Twitter accounts and lecture people on Russia issues with zero grounds to do so, and when they get called on their bullshit, their legions of gullible, unhinged morons defend their heroes by labeling the critics as agents of Russia or, most stupidly of all from a technical standpoint, bots. These people are essentially playing an online role-playing game in order to escape the boredom and utter pointlessness of their insignificant lives.

Gaming is the perfect analogy because essentially, what these people are doing is the equivalent of teenage Call of Duty gamers lecturing and ridiculing actual combat veterans. “I’ve got top kills on this map dozens of times, bro. I defend this country! What do you know about war, coward?” That’s basically it right there. Now imagine that gamer kid is 18 or 19, and he mouths off like that to the veteran in a bar. What do you think is going to happen? Who would you blame?

The grifters, both the total failures like Garland and Mensch and those who achieved modest success like Schindler and McKew, are portraying themselves as warriors defending democracy from the machinations of Putin, and yet they have never had to experience what that regime actually has to offer. They live lives of comfort in the West. At most, they’ll get trolled online, maybe by an actual paid employee of the Internet Research Agency if they’re really lucky. They won’t get that knock on the door late at night. They won’t get their heads bashed in by “cossacks” or have chemicals thrown in their face. They won’t be interrogated for hours on end by security services or charged with “extremism” because they liked a social media post or wrote online about finding a Pokemon in a church.

They won’t answer their door one evening and get shot.