A Serious Message

Folks, a while back I decided to overhaul this blog and leave it as a sort of archive consisting mainly of my satirical and humorous posts. I honestly can’t remember if I ever gave a detailed explanation of why, in late 2019, I decided to stop writing serious analysis, or perhaps more puzzling for some, why I started a Youtube channel about video games and movies.

I don’t intend to write that detailed explanation here, not now at least. Like all of you, I have been demoralized by the pandemic and the lockdown, but on top of that, all I can say is that I am really, truly, deeply- tired. There are many reasons for that tiredness, and I’m sure you can guess just by looking at your Twitter feed (being off Twitter has been a morale boost).

If you want to see one concrete reason why I am so utterly exhausted, I submit to you a post I made on the RWOBS Facebook page earlier today (do like, share, all that please). It was a hastily-written response to a piece published by Carnegie Centre Moscow, which is still a highly-respected think tank despite past accusations of pro-Kremlin bias. When you read that article, and my response in the Facebook post below, you will understand why such allegations of pro-Kremlin apologia appear to have merit.

The article is so filled with weasel-words and both-sidesism, it almost reads like a parody article written in character on this blog.

I will not deny that part of my wish to retreat from this whole field stems from the understanding that despite all my hands-on experience, despite my work in the field, my lack of connections and academic credentials ensure that I will never be a part of the think tank experts’ world. But when I see things like this Carnegie article, I am reminded why that is in fact a blessing.

Anyway, the piece is in the embedded Facebook post below. As it was an FB post I do apologize in advance for any typos. The analysis I was critiquing was so piss poor that at one point I realized I had actually missed a certain sentence containing such disinformation that it was necessary to dedicate a paragraph just to that. That’s how bad this is.

QAnon Denounces Trump, Endorses Biden

WASHINGTON DC– With his poll numbers steadily declining, his campaign running short on cash, a series of fresh scandals, and a case of COVID-19, Donald Trump has been having a rough time. But things took a turn for the worse on Friday when in a startling twist, “Q,” the anonymous poster at the center of the QAnon movement, denounced Trump and endorsed his opponent Joe Biden.

QAnon is an online conspiracy theory that claims Donald Trump is secretly working with the military to bring down a ring of Satan worshipping child sex traffickers who secretly control the United States, if not the world. The origin of the story is an anonymous poster called “Q,” who claimed to be an official in the Trump administration with a high-level security clearance and knowledge of the secret plot against the president’s enemies. Q’s method of communication with followers is via cryptic “drops” of information on 8chan, an image board with a well-established history of associations with child pornography.

One of the common themes of the QAnon conspiracy theory is “The Storm,” the term for mass arrests of prominent Democrats like Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and many others alleged to be part of the “deep state” as well as the child trafficking cabal. Although Q has made dozens of predictions about the Storm that failed to occur, the insistence that it will happen in the future has been a consistent element in QAnon lore. But in his latest drop, Q denounced President Trump and appeared to endorse his opponent, Joe Biden.

“No plan survives first contact with the enemy,” Q wrote.

“Plans change. Patience is limited. The Storm delayed too long. Was 45 a chess player? Did we get played? Maybe it’s time to turn the board around. Switch sides. 45 left us in the cold. Winter is here. Longing for spring. Biden-Harris 2020.”

The latest drop has been met mostly by confusion from dedicated QAnon enthusiasts. Rhonda Waits, 64, is a native of Scranton, Pennsylvania, and has been following QAnon religiously since 2017, and only more regularly since her family members gradually stopped communicating with her over the past three years. She described being “totally baffled” by Q’s latest message.

“The thing with Q is, you’ve got to read between the lines,” Waits said.

“But I’ve been an investigator since the first drops and the message I’m getting is that Trump may have been playing us for suckers the whole time. I can’t believe Donald Trump would ever be involved in any kind of sexual impropriety, but at the same time, I trust Q.”

Thomas Morten, 56, is a auto parts shop owner in Baytown, Texas, got into QAnon in 2019 and calls himself a “digital soldier.” When he’s not posting about the latest Q drops, he spends his time watching popular movies, which he claims contain secret messages left by the “deep state” that reveal their conspiracies. He too, was confused about Q’s latest message.

“I couldn’t believe that a righteous man, and I know he’s a man, like Q would endorse someone like Joe Biden, but when you’ve been as far down the rabbit hole as I have, anything’s possible,” Morten said.

“In a lot of the movies I research, sometimes the villain turns out to be the person you thought was helping the hero the whole time. They call it a twist. Maybe that’s what this all is- Donald was secretly running the Satanic adrenochrome-drinking pedophile cult the whole time, and Q finally found that one piece of the puzzle that put it all together.”

But not all QAnon die-hards are convinced that the President, a man with multiple connections to people involved in sex trafficking and accusations of sexual misconduct by 26 different women, could be the kingpin of the global Satan-worshipping child sex trafficking cabal.

Judith Waterford, 60, is a QAnon follower from Wichita who maintains the latest drop is an example of disinformation.

“Q says trust the plan, and I believe him,” she said.

“Just because it’s almost election day doesn’t mean Trump isn’t going to order the Storm at any point between now and then. The closer to the election the better. Imagine how people will vote when he reveals JFK Jr. as his running mate just before the polls open.”

Jeremy Cartwright is a former U.S. Marine special operations sniper (UPDATED, see editor’s note below) from Spokane, Washington who got into QAnon when the pandemic hit. He too says he believes “the Storm” is still coming for Biden and other Democrats rather than Trump.

“When I was a sniper doing black ops in Afghanistan, I saw a lot of classified intel,” he said.

“I know what to look for and what has to be there to say if a drop is authentic. I didn’t see any of that. The Storm’s still coming, and it’s coming for the libcucks.”

It is difficult to predict the outcome of the latest Q drop. Like many of Q’s failed predictions, followers may choose to ignore it and continue with the original theory. On the other hand, there is a chance the controversy could lead to a “civil war” between different factions in the movement.

“I won’t say for sure what’s going to happen,” Cartwright said.

“All I can do is trust the plan and wait for the next drop.”

UPDATED: 2 Nov, 2020

Editor’s note: Shortly after this article was published, it was found that Jeremy Cartwright had never been in the U.S. Marine Corps, nor did he ever serve in the military in any capacity.

UPDATED: 2 Nov, 2020

Editor’s note: Shortly after determining that Jeremy Cartwright had never been in the military, it was reported that he had been arrested for alleged possession of explosive materials and child pornography.

Choose Your Own Hunter Biden Conspiracy!

Why let Rudy Giuliani and Glenn Greenwald have all the fun when you too can make your very own Hunter Biden criminal conspiracy theory! Just follow the instructions below and pretty soon you may find yourself a guest on the Tucker Carlson show or, worst case scenario- some shitty podcast with an ‘ironic’ name like “The Russian Bot Disinfo Hour.”

START

One day you were sitting in your computer repair shop reading the Bible when a man came in to drop off:

A: A laptop

B: Several laptops

C: A laptop and smartphone

D: ALIENWARE AURORA RYZEN™ EDITION R10 GAMING DESKTOP

Although you could not visually ID the man for medical reasons you cannot explain to anyone, you later discovered that he was Hunter Biden because:

A: The property he left had Hunter Biden’s name scrawled on it in magic marker.

B: There was a sticker that said “Definitely not Hunter Biden’s property,” but you figured that had to be a psychological ploy and thus assumed the opposite.

C: You instantly recognized Hunter Biden’s unique pheromone scent on the keyboard/keypad

As you worked on the electronic devices, you suddenly noticed a folder containing:

A: A file named HunterBidenPersonalCrimeJournal.docx

B: Video files with names like Doingsomecrimes.mp4 and Buttstuff.avi

C: A folder with all four seasons of Small Wonder, downloaded from a Russian torrent site

D: Bitcrack, digital cryptocrack that can be transferred via the internet.

You have seen clear evidence of wrongdoing by Hunter Biden on these electronic devices, but you cannot share them with the media because:

A: You turned them over to the FBI

B: Hunter Biden will track you down and kill you- his name is literally Hunter!

C: You made a blood pact with the dark gods to never divulge these secrets

Now the media are starting to ask uncomfortable questions about your story. What string of random words and phrases are you going to use to assure people that you definitely have evidence that Hunter Biden is a criminal?

A: SHOKIN! BURISMA! ZLOCHEVSKY! LUTSENKO! SERDUCHKA! BANDERA! HORILKA! VYSHYVANKA! CHERKASSY! KYIVSTAR! OBOLON!

B: MOSCOW MAYOR! CHINA! BENGHAZI!

C: A rant about child trafficking with lurid details that you definitely just ‘heard about’ during your many hours of ‘researching’ child trafficking on the dark web. Again, all for ‘research’ purposes because you want to ‘save the children.’

Uh oh! It seems your little stunt may be getting you in hot water with law enforcement! How will you explain why you’re suddenly backing away from your previous statements and refusing further interviews?

A: Say the deep state is trying to kill you but keep on living and working in the same place like everything’s normal

B: You received a message from Q telling you not to give anymore interviews because it will delay “The Storm”

C: There’s some series on Netflix you need to get caught up on

D: Explain that you have to go now because your own planet needs you

THE END

Average American Man Passionate About Sports, BBQ, and Russian Foreign Ministry Tweets

@JohnBanks09988231 is just your average, middle-aged American man on Twitter, and like most of his peers, his passions in life are professional sports, grilling, and “having a beer with the guys.” He is also shares many of the same concerns as the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs– a lot.

“Just a simple American man who loves football, freedom, and GRILLIN’!,” his Twitter bio reads, ending with the hashtag #FreeAssange.

Browsing his timeline, you can find messages cheering his favorite professional and college football teams, or secrets for grilling the best steak, BBQ chicken, and brats. But these gems must be found hidden among dozens, if not hundreds of retweets from Russian Foreign Ministry accounts, on topics ranging from the 2014 MH17 disaster to the recent poisoning of dissident Alexey Navalny.

“Why would the Kremlin benefit from poisoning Navalny when he only polls at 2%,” John wrote as commentary accompanying a retweet of Russian UN Representative Dmitry Polyanskiy.

Despite claiming to “despise politics,” because “both parties are the same,” John shows considerable knowledge of Russian foreign policy, possibly more than his knowledge of American sports or outdoor cooking.

Strange as it might seem to some Americans, @JohnBanks09988231 is not alone. Russian Foreign Ministry-linked Twitter accounts often serve as a rallying point for self-described apolitical Americans who are into a wide variety of subjects such as baking or health and wellness, but who also share a passionate concern for Russia’s foreign policy interests.

The Twitter bio for @MissouriGrandma55 says she’s interested in “baking cakes, gardening, and spoiling the grandkids.” But while one may have trouble finding cake recipes on her timeline, it’s never difficult to find tweets about how MH17 could have been shot down by a Ukrainian military plane or a Ukrainian Buk surface-to-air missile system, but definitely not a Russian one. The 65 year-old is adamant about proclaiming Russia’s innocence in the disaster that claimed 298 lives six years ago, and her posts on this topic often coincide with the anniversary of the event as well as new developments in the Joint Investigative Team’s investigation or the ongoing criminal case against three Russian nationals and one Ukrainian being tried in absentia in The Hague.

“This whole investigation is nothing but a fake,” @MissouriGrandma55 writes in response to the Russian Embassy in Pakistan’s tweet on the same topic.

“The Russians weren’t allowed to participate and the investigators didn’t provide and proofs that Russia was responsible.”

Despite claiming to have lived her whole life “in a small town in Missouri,” and never going to college, @MissouriGrandma55 has repeatedly told her followers about “the report from Almaz-Antey, manufacturer of the Buk M1 TELAR SAM.”

Both @JohnBanks09988231 and @MissouriGrandma55 can often be seen posting in response to the same tweets by various Russian officials. Sometimes they can be seen in the replies discussing the “US/NATO coup in Ukraine” or more recently, the “color revolution in Belarus.” It’s not clear how such kindred spirits found each other on the micro-blogging platform, but the #FreeAssange hashtags in their user bios might explain how ordinary, ostensibly apolitical Americans who also take a deep interest in Russian politics always seem to converge on the same topics.

Some Twitter users have accused John of being a Russian “paid troll,” an allegation he staunchly denies.

“I am simply a concerned American citizen who is just asking questions,” he writes in response to one such accusation of being a fake account.

“This Navalny situation looks suspicious to me, just like the claims about WMDs in Iraq. My son was a soldier in the marine core (sic) over there and he died because of the neocon war for oil. I don’t want war with Russia.”

Next came a reply from @MissouriGrandma55, agreeing with John’s sentiment.

“There’s NO WAY NATO can win a war with Russia,” she wrote.

“The S400 SAM system can easily take down the F35, which is a waste of money that makes pilots sick. Also Russia has the T-72B3 and soon the T-14 Armata will be ready. WE WANT PEACE! #NowarwithRussia”

Her message was later retweeted by dozens of other accounts operated by “real,” “average,” or “ordinary” Americans, many of whom had avatars depicting Julian Assange with an American flag superimposed over his mouth.

Belarus’ Future is Too Important to Leave to Belarusians – Why Dialog With Russia is Critical by Richard Versteher

As the West watches the dramatic events in Belarus unfold, it is clear this former Soviet Republic is on the precipice of a historic change, one which will set the tone of regional politics for decades to come. The Belarusian people seem to have lost patience with President Alexandr Lukashenko, long known as “Europe’s last dictator.” At this critical juncture, the United States and its European allies must show their support for the people of Belarus and their future. Logically, this can only mean opening a dialog with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

These days there is much talk of the conflict between the foreign policy establishment sometimes referred to as “The Blob,” and the mavericks, the dissenters, the realists. What we don’t hear are those commonalities where both sides more or less agree. Resolving the looming Belarusian crisis via direct negotiations with Moscow could serve as fertile ground on which to unite the Blob and realists.

To some observers, it might seem odd to propose negotiating the fate of Belarus with Russia without the involvement of Belarusians themselves. The response is twofold. First, this is why we have foreign policy experts- to formulate policies and proposals which may seem counter-intuitive, even bad, to laymen’s ears, and which may seem to have failed disastrously and repeatedly to laymen’s eyes, but which are in fact good and correct policies. Secondly, and more importantly, by showing willingness to engage with Putin over the future of Belarus without needless third party meddling by Belarusians, the West would be sending a message to Moscow that it comes to engage in good faith while taking Russia’s security and economic interests into account.

Indeed, the desire to open talks with Russia and achieve yet another reset is already popular in the IR community. Recently, Politico published an open letter signed by 103 foreign policy experts urging decision makers to rethink American policy toward Russia in favor of something more flexible, particularly on the matter of sanctions. In the spirit of that letter, the following recommendations on the resolution of the Belarus question should be seriously considered, and hopefully the signatories of that letter would endorse and promote them as well.

-The US and its allies must take a stand for democracy and human rights, but in a way that isn’t too threatening to Vladimir Putin. This is one reason why Russia should be allowed to take a leading role in the negotiations, possibly by directly providing aid to Lukashenko so as to stabilize the situation and “keep the peace” while the long-term future is being hammered out by US, European, and Russian diplomats. Ideals like self-determination and human rights must take a back seat to the most important value in international relations- stability.

-Western negotiators must resist the urge to involve Belarusians, especially the opposition. With all due respect to the alleged “winner” of the recent election, Svetlana Tikhonovsaya, her alma mater is Mozyr State Pedagogical University, not Georgetown. How could she possibly understand what’s best for Belarus’ short-term, let alone long-term future? We need Russia’s input, and in the extremely unlikely chance that it proves absolutely necessary to include representatives from Belarus, Russia’s interest in the region means they can competently select the voices worth listening to.

-Another danger of holding talks with Belarusians, especially the opposition, is Moscow might see it as official Western recognition, akin to the way Ukraine sees Moscow’s demand that they directly negotiate with the pro-Russian separatists in that country’s civil war. On that note, one way for the West to signal its willingness to meet Russia halfway in Belarus would be to pressure the obstinate, nationalist government in Kiev to finally open talks with the rebels directly, thus possibly resolving that conflict while heading off another potential civil war in Belarus.

-Putin drives a hard bargain and isn’t likely to offer many concessions, if any. That shouldn’t rule out negotiation, however. The West has plenty of carrots to offer Moscow in order to entice the Russians into possibly considering thinking about seriously suggesting something resembling a concession. The most obvious enticement would be a relaxation of the sanctions regime against Russia. Of course there has to be room for the stick as well, and thus it must be made absolutely clear to Putin that there will be consequences should he make a formal declaration of war against Belarus and openly invade and occupy the country militarily, which is the only conceivable justification for taking any harsh measures against Russia in response. In that worst-case scenario, the West should respond by leaving the current sanctions in place, albeit while reminding the Kremlin that these sanctions can still be removed should they cease their aggressive military action. Or if they significantly reduce said military action. Or if they deny military involvement in Belarus. Flexibility is key.

-Although Ukraine isn’t Belarus, it is necessary to include the mutually neighboring country in the negotiations with Russia. “Include” in this case means the West can use Ukraine as a bargaining chip in dealing with Russia. For example, in exchange for a formal agreement promising not to overtly militarily invade Belarus, the US and Europe could recognize Russia’s reunification with Crimea, as well as removal of all related sanctions. This might sound unthinkable to some of the New Cold Warriors, but is this truly too high a price to pay for peace in Belarus? Surely a multilateral agreement, co-signed by Russia, guaranteeing the borders and territorial integrity of a neighboring country is more than valuable enough to justify such an exchange. Would any rational, educated person suggest that such an agreement with Russia is worthless? What evidence is there for such assertions other than everything that’s happened between Russia and Ukraine since 2014? Apart from that, there simply is none.

-From the start it should be made clear to Russia that Belarus will not be allowed to join the European Union or NATO. It’s time to finally admit that the Helsinki Final Act is in fact an obsolete dinosaur of a bygone age that needs to be laid to rest. By insisting that Belarus remain staunchly neutral (continuing to belong to Russia’s Collective Security Treaty Organization and Eurasian Economic Union is fine), Moscow will be forced to admit there is no conceivable reason to use military force against Belarus. Russia doesn’t invade countries that aren’t in NATO; it has only invaded countries it thinks might join NATO at some undetermined point in the future. Non-bloc status is a surefire deterrent to Russian military aggression.

-We must resist the New Cold War narratives that call such bargaining policies ‘appeasement.’ They are at best, terribly misguided, at worse, motivated by vicious Russophobia. Those who lack a strong connection to Russia and the mysterious Russian soul (i.e. unlike the author) simply do not understand that Russia’s mentality is shaped by the despotic rule of the very same Mongol rulers they share much of their bloodlines with. As such, it is foolish for us to project Western values onto these people and insist that they not invade their neighbors militarily when it’s literally in their DNA. We must deal with Russia not as we’d like it to be, but as it is, i.e. a backward country of half-Mongol Slavs who have an inherent need to live under a strong leader like Vladimir Putin. It would be Russophobic to measure those people by our lofty standards, which they could never hope to live up to.

-The United States should seriously consider, as a show of good faith, opening talks with Russia for joint ownership of the state of Alaska, a former Russian imperial territory whose loss is still lamented by some Russians today. Not only could this alleviate some of the federal government’s deficit, but it could potentially secure some kind of Russian cooperation in Syria.

-Once again it is important to stress flexibility in terms of sanctions. For example, the US and its allies could remove some of the more detrimental sanctions on a temporary, trial basis, to become permanent if Russia can go a certain period of time, say three months, without openly engaging in any behavior deemed too egregious, such as engaging in genocide on an industrial scale.

1860-russian-america

Renegotiating the Alaska Purchase would be a great way to signal to Putin that the U.S. is serious about meeting Russia halfway. Or most of the way. Or all of it. What price is too high for peace? Or a vague promise of peace?

There is no doubt these recommendations may seem controversial to some, but as any expert knows, controversial ideas are always the right ones. Contrary to the skeptics’ narrow-minded, holdover Cold War mentality, the West now has a wide variety of options when working with Russia to decide the fate of Belarus. These range from acquiescing to some of Russia’s perfectly reasonable demands, to acquiescing to nearly all of them. The United States and its allies hold all the cards and can easily achieve a diplomatic victory if only their leaders are willing to meet Moscow half, or ideally, 80 percent of the way.

And to those who say another reset is not possible, they should remember that the term comes from reset button, not reset thing that can only be done one time, as in reset bottle rocket or reset Keurig pod. The West must push that reset button again. And again. And perhaps one more time. For the sake of Belarus and its people, we must come together with Russia and decide their fate bilaterally.

Richard Versteher has worked as a Senior Fellow at ‘all the think tanks,’ and is author of Munich and Molotov-Ribbentrop: Mistakes or Misunderstood Genius? He enjoys yachting and golf between appearances on Russian state news programs and lecturing at the Moscow-based Russian Institute of Strategic Studies.

European Leaders- Man Who Starts War and Denies Involvement Is Reliable Partner in Ending War

PARIS– French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel see Russian President Vladimir Putin as a legitimate and reliable negotiating partner in resolving the conflict he started in Ukraine at Monday’s Normandy format meeting in Paris. Despite denying any involvement in the war initiated by Kremlin-backed mercenaries, many of whom were Russian citizens, Putin insists on being a party to the negotiations to end a conflict which he also insists his country has nothing to do with.

“I’m confident that Mr. Putin, who still claims his country is not a party to this conflict, is beyond a shadow of a doubt a legitimate, good-faith negotiator who can play an essential role in bringing peace,” a spokesman for Macron said.

“Even though we know he’s actually responsible for starting the war, any student of foreign relations knows that indulging delusional revanchist dictators in their version of events is the first stepping stone toward a lasting peace,” said a spokeswoman from the German Foreign Ministry.

800px-Vladimir_Putin_-_2006

Russian President Vladimir Putin denies any involvement in the Donbas conflict, yet insists on being party to the talks to end them. For some reason legitimate Western leaders and intellectuals accept this as normal. 

The talks were dubbed the “Normandy” format after leaders from Ukraine, France, Germany, and Russia met on the sidelines of the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings during World War II. Some historians have sought to compare and contrast that monumental conflict with the current situation.

“What we see happening in Ukraine’s Donbas is very different from the Second World War,” said Georgetown International Relations Professor Arnold Sickert.

“Hitler began the war by staging a false flag attack on German targets that he blamed on the Polish. Britain and France didn’t buy this pathetic ruse, and thus they declared war on 3 September 1939. But if they had been like today’s European leaders, they might have tacitly acknowledged Hitler’s claims and demanded that both sides of the conflict come to the negotiating table and hammer out a peace deal, with most of the onus being on Poland. It’s only good modern diplomacy.”

When asked about whether Putin should be allowed to be a party to the negotiations while simultaneously denying any involvement in the war, Sickert emphasized that “the only way you stop a war is by endlessly catering to the regime that started in until it hopefully gets bored and leaves whatever country it invaded.”

Still, there are few hopes that this most recent Normandy meeting will present any major steps toward ending the conflict that has killed over 13,000 people since 2014. Just days before the scheduled talks, pro-Russian separatist forces launched a number of attacks on Ukrainian military positions, showing that they have no shortage of arms or ammunition despite claims they are not controlled by Moscow.

A few commentators have suggested that the practice of acquiescing to Putin’s narratives on the conflict and treating him as a reliable negotiator might actually be the cause of the ongoing conflict. Western leaders, highly-educated diplomats, and think tank academics have dismissed such opinions as  “not serious,” however.

The Russia Without BS Guide to Disinformation

Are you tired of being angry about things that aren’t actually happening? Are you tired of losing friends on social media because you keep posting bullshit stories from shady news sites based in some Balkan country? Well today you’re in luck, because after years of working in the field of counter-disinformation I’m finally presenting you with my list of tips for being less of a gullible rube online, or the guide to disinfo for short. 

I shouldn’t have to tell readers this, but these are general rules of thumb and if one or even a few of these points apply to a certain news item it doesn’t necessarily mean it is fake or misleading. Everything must be weighed on the merit of its evidence. There is no magic formula that makes it possible to determine fact from fiction or disinformation. Likewise, there is no source of news that is 100% reliable and accurate every time. 

The TRUTH!

Tip number one- if you see a news source, article, or video  that prominently features the word “truth” in its title, you should be suspicious. This is doubly so if you see it written in all-caps. One real-life example comes from an RT program called Truthseeker, which became the basis for one of the Russian broadcasters’ many sanctions by the British regulator Ofcom after they repeated the infamous “crucified boy” story from the war in Ukraine. Also, Russia’s propagandist and sex tourist Graham Phillips also ran a now-defunct personal blog called The Truthspeaker, which if you’re familiar with even a fraction of his work, tells you everything you need to know. Exercise similar caution with headlines or video titles that contain something like “The TRUTH about…” 

The reason this is suspicious is because if someone has done actual investigative work and they stand behind it, there’s already an automatic implication that the information is true. To understand the problem with overuse or inappropriate use of the term truth, just consider the following scenario: 

A person was supposed to deliver something to your office at a certain time and they are both late and the delivery is wrong. The person has a long explanation as to why this happened, and while they are giving it they pepper their speech with phrases like “believe me,” “trust me,” and “I’m telling you the God’s-honest truth.” Would you believe that person? Most rational people would say no or at least say that behavior is a major red flag. 

The corollary to this is if the story uses the word “lie” to refer to whatever narrative it is attacking. If a narrative is a lie, the article or video should be able to explain, in detail, why it is false or otherwise misleading. 

People Are Doing X…

One particularly annoying recipe for often unreliable clickbait stories is outrage fuel that is about “people” supposedly expressing their own outrage at something else, usually something innocuous. This is typically aimed at conservative audiences and will most often be about “college students” or “social justice warriors” supposedly getting “offended” by something seemingly trivial. These stories play to conservative identity politics about how they are thick-skinned, common sense-having, tough people while their opponents are limp-wristed, oversensitive, whiny snowflakes (yet they’re also somehow antifa super-soldiers about to launch a new civil war any day now). The Russian propaganda outlets RT and Sputnik are also fond of such tactics, usually aimed at right-wing audiences in the West.

The problem with such stories is that, assuming they’re not entirely fabricated, they are typically based on a handful of social media posts, often on Twitter. Is there any proof these tweets are representative of any significant demographic? How many followers do those Twitter users actually have? Do their tweets even match the sentiments found in the story’s headline or copy? A really good example of how a tiny number of tweets can turn into “The SJWs are TRIGGERED by X” was tackled by the Youtuber Shaun, who debunked a fake outrage story about leftists supposedly being up in arms about a trailer for the game Doom: Eternal

A similar theme in this genre is “those college kids,” whereby we hear that spoiled, entitled, over-sensitive college kids are supposedly screeching with rage about something happening on campus. Right-wing grifters have made a killing off of this theme, which appeals equally to boomers as well as white millennial males who say dumb shit like “I was born in the wrong era.” It’s also been a boon to Never-Trump conservative columnists who find few outlets for their right-wing politics now that the field is dominated by defending Trump in scandal after scandal. 

In reality, most of “those college kids” stories are in fact bullshit. Trigger warnings and safe spaces? Just another moral panic. No-platforming speakers? An actual detailed examination of the phenomenon finds that conservative student organizations often protest or request to disinvite speakers on political grounds, something you never hear about in “campus free speech” pieces. Moreover, the fact that students, right or left, protested a speaker or tried to have them disinvited often doesn’t mean they were successful. More often than not, “PC Campus Crybabies Protest Speaker Who Offends Them” stories could be more accurately distilled as “Some Customers of an Institution Voice Their Objection to a Speaker They Disagree With.” Of course if they were worded that way, people would quickly see how non-newsworthy they are. 

For more examples of campus free-speech grifting, check out Robert Evans’ Behind the Bastards podcast, which did a special episode on this subject. Or for a good video on the related term “cancel culture,” check out Cody Johnston’s Some News. 

The Mainstream Media Won’t Show This! 

Grifters love to hook rubes by convincing them they’re offering them esoteric, forbidden knowledge “they” don’t want you to know about. This comes in a lot of different forms, but the general idea is that this person or outlet is offering you a look behind the curtain and if you want to be a “free-thinker” unlike all those “sheeple” out there, you’ll listen to them. 

First of all, the term “mainstream media” is ill-defined. What exactly is “mainstream” anyway? Sure, it could be large media outlets, but is the BBC mainstream in the United States, for example? Russia’s RT loves to bash the “mainstream media,” but it is yet another state-owned media enterprise in a country where the state controls most major media outlets (and heavily restricts independent ones). 

When confronted with “mainstream media isn’t covering X,” the first thing to do is run to Google and type whatever “X” is in the search bar. If the story is actually accurate and newsworthy, chances are major outlets have reported on it, and they have probably done a better job than the people who claimed they weren’t covering it. If the only results that come up are tabloids, government media outlets from authoritarian states, or sites with names like “The TRUTH Defender,” it’s probably bullshit. 

Sure, sometimes there might be important stories that aren’t on the network evening news or they are just blurbs in the paper, but the fact that a particular story isn’t front page news or the news anchor doesn’t give you an in-depth rundown of the ideological variations between the major Syrian opposition groups each evening doesn’t mean the mainstream media is trying to cover something up. There’s a difference between headline news and investigative stories. Yeah, as it turns out if you want to be informed about something you’ll actually have to read, a lot. Someone on TV or running a blog (yeah, including this one) can’t just spoonfeed you an understanding of complex events. Plus, there might be a logical reason why an outlet focuses more on one event in a certain place and not a similar event in a different place.

In any case if you were really serious about understanding some complex issue like a war or the politics of a foreign country you’re not going to be looking at your newsfeed or cable news; you should be reading books by recognized experts in the field. 

Sources

As a corollary to the above, grifters who overuse the term mainstream media derisively often try to cultivate the idea that certain sources can be automatically trusted on anything, while others can be dismissed out of hand, specifically any source they designate as “mainstream.” Russian media often uses a variant of this whereby bad media that’s unfair to Russia labeled “Western media,” and of course you can’t trust Western media to report the truth! This labeling seems to convince some people because the West is portrayed as this US-led hegemony and Russia’s posited as opposing it. But consider that there are also plenty of non-Western media outlets which report on things like Russia’s role in MH17 or the Skripal poisoning. Are Al Jazeera or Daily Sabah “Western” now? In reality, “Western media” in the Russian press typically means “media reporting things that contradict the narratives of the Kremlin, foreign ministry, defense ministry, etc.” Same goes for “mainstream media,” “corporate media,” etc. These labels say nothing about the quality of the outlet’s reporting or the veracity of any individual story. 

The idea that there are sources you can consistently trust on everything and those you should dismiss all the time is, to say the least, naive. You have to look at the outlet’s reputation, how they’ve responded when they got something wrong, and how thorough their reporting on a topic is. And even then, that’s just one source of news. It’s not necessarily going to make you informed on certain topics. 

Another reason the dismiss “mainstream media” approach is bullshit is because virtually every individual or outlet who does this inevitably ends up citing the same mainstream media they regularly dismiss in their stories or basing entire stories around the idea that “even the mainstream media is acknowledging this!” Either they are acknowledging what the truth-to-power writer is claiming, which thus contradicts their claims about media coverups on that topic, or they are misrepresenting what the outlet they’re citing actually said. Even in the latter case, they’re still attempting to cite a source they would otherwise dismiss were it not for the idea that a major outlet reporting on something gives them credibility. And that’s just it- they do this because they know that no matter what you say about not trusting “mainstream media,” a part of you still trusts that enough to give more credence to them as a source. 

Russian state media does this all the time with their term “Western media.” They know that their domestic audience doesn’t trust them, so while they’ll dismiss any Western media outlet’s negative reporting on the Kremlin regime, they’ll often enthusiastically cite “Western media” whenever it appears to go along with what their messaging. Of course this often means turning some obscure blogger into “Western media.” In fact, in one case they took something of mine that had been reported in The Guardian and twisted the meaning considerably before presenting it as a “Western journalist” attacking other “Western journalists” on their Russia reporting.

Identity Politics

A tell-tale sign of bullshit is when you get the feeling that the article is trying to say something about  your personal identity depending on whether you agree or disagree. Does the outlet or the author of one of their pieces imply that you’re a truthseeking free thinker if you believe their version of an event, as opposed to a mindless member of the “sheeple” if you don’t? Perhaps you’re not “patriotic” if you take the wrong side in the article, or maybe you too are a censorious, fragile snowflake if you think maybe those college students had a point when they protested against something? 

If the answer is yes to any of that- it’s most likely a manipulation tactic. Obviously if it’s an opinion piece that sort of thing is more appropriate, but not in a news story. 

Politically Correct/Incorrect

If you see these words invoked unironically, increase the skepticism. These terms don’t mean anything. For example, in the manufactured outrage over Colin Kaepernik, nobody attacked Kaepernik’s critics for being PC snowflakes. Nor did the people who typically proclaim themselves politically incorrect praise him for also being politically incorrect. Opponents of same-sex marriage didn’t get labeled as politically correct when in fact their position was basically the definition of that until relatively recently. 

In short, this is just a snarl phrase where PC = bad and un-PC = good, cold hard truth (often not true at all). 

When In Rome – Leave

This one may seem oddly specific, but bear with me. Any time you see some American commentator saying our country is about to “fall like the Roman Empire,” that’s a fairly good sign you shouldn’t pay attention to them. Doubly so if they attribute that fall to “decadence.” Most likely that person’s sum total of knowledge on Rome amounts to having seen Gladiator once or twice. The decline of the Roman Empire was a long and extremely complex process that was due to many factors, and typically the “collapse” they’re thinking of is only the fall of the Western Empire, while the Eastern one continued on for nearly another thousand years. 

In short, “aMeRiCa iS lIkE rOmE” is an example of stuff that sounds smart to stupid people, much like “we’re a republic, not a democracy!”or “the Nazis were socialists!” 

Constant Complaining About ‘Bias’

This one is pretty straightforward- if an outlet is constantly complaining about other outlets being “biased,” it is probably biased itself in favor of a particular point of view. American conservative media is a major offender here. Anything not reporting their version of a story, no matter how idiotic or fabricated it is, is “biased.” This is a nice way of actually avoiding the need to provide evidence for your claims and explain why the other claims are false. 


Terribly sorry, but reality tends to have a certain bias. The Earth is round. Vaccines save lives. Trump is objectively a moron. Russia shot down MH-17 and poisoned the Skripals. Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons multiple times. To take just one of those examples, that of MH17, it is a matter of comparing what has basically been one, more or less unchanging narrative of events (Russia shot it down), to numerous, changing, often impossible or mutually exclusive alternative explanations. Perhaps if the Russian side had decided to carefully craft one alternative narrative and present evidence only for that explanation, they might have produced something worthy of serious consideration. But alas, they deliberately decided on a strategy of simultaneously promoting dozens of easily-debunked fake stories even as the debris was still smoldering. Nobody made them do that; nobody put a gun to their heads and told them to put out a stream of bullshit via multiple channels. Therefore there’s no bias in saying they have zero credibility on that topic and people aren’t unfairly biased against them for not trusting what they say about it.

Eric Garland: Time For Some Descent Into Madness!

So yeah- Eric Garland is still a thing, apparently. He calls himself a “Strategic Intelligence Analyst” these days, and turns out he has some strong opinions on Bernie Sanders.

garlandmay

Yeah. There’s a lot to unpack there, but it’s probably better to just chuck the whole suitcase into an incinerator instead. I have no idea how to respond to that other than to point out that Bernie Sanders did in fact release 10 years of tax returns, and while I’m haven’t browsed them all myself, I’m fairly confident there’s nothing about receiving massive payments from the GRU in them.

Naturally Garland’s bizarre statements provoked some negative feedback, which of course he’s convinced is coming from the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency. That’s when things got even weirder.

garlandmay2

Let’s just get this out of the way- Vladimir Putin has never had any sisters. He was his parents’ third son, the two brothers that preceded him both died in childhood in the 30’s. Garland’s bizarre, frankly sick scenario here sounds like descriptions of what goes on in Bashar al-Assad’s prisons.

I’ve got to be honest, I’m now starting to wonder at this point whether Garland is still funny or whether he’s actually going to pose a danger to himself or others. What does it say when a man can go on Twitter and write like Dril without actually being Dril, i.e. just a type of performance artist? Are we supposed to laugh or be horrified? I’m not sure anymore.

 

Special thanks to a reader for producing the cover image for today’s piece  -J.K. 

Admiral Kuznetsov Converted to Submarine

SEVEROMORSK– Russia’s Ministry of Defense announced that the Admiral Kuznetsov, Russia’s only aircraft carrier, will be converted to an “advanced, high-tech submarine.” This announcement contradicted earlier reports that the carrier would be scrapped after suffering damage during an incident involving a floating dry-dock.

“Western media has always laughed at our aircraft carrier, but we are the ones who laugh last,” said Captain Igor Kostyakov, a spokesman with the Russian Northern Fleet.

“All this time the Kuznetsov was undergoing trials to become the first working submarine aircraft carrier since the Second World War.”

According to Kostyakov, two incidents in 2016 when aircraft crashed into the Mediterranean Sea, thought to be due to technical problems aboard the carrier, were actually “special landing trials.”

“Obviously aircraft based on a submersible carrier must be able to land in conditions when the deck is awash. That’s what they were training.”

The Admiral Kuznetsov was the target of much ridicule online when it left Russia for the eastern Mediterranean in 2016 in order to take part in Russia’s assistance to the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. Most of the criticism centered around its long cloud of smoke that could often be seen for miles around. The carrier was also implicated in several more serious incidents besides the aforementioned aircraft losses.

In January 2017, the carrier was implicated in the crushing of four endangered pandas in Madrid. Ten days later, it was suspected in a supermarket robbery in Malaga. The Russian Ministry of Defense has denied all charges.

Kremlin Admits Past Five Years Was Elaborate April Fools’ Day Joke

MOSCOW– In what may be called one of the most elaborate pranks in history, Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov revealed that the past five years of Russian foreign policy had been a “massive April Fools’ joke” at a briefing on Monday.

“Andy Kaufman has got nothing on us,” Peskov said, tears streaming down his face as he clearly struggled to contain his laugher.

“The look on your faces this whole time- priceless! Absolutely priceless!”

Over the next two hours, Peskov revealed how Putin and other members of his government and security apparatus plotted to play what they called “the greatest prank of all time” on the West. Summarizing the plan, Peskov explained that it would begin first with the annexation of the Crimea, then a war in Ukraine, and finally a host of various international scandals and incidents over the following five years. The events themselves, however, were not the most important part of the plan.

“Of course starting wars and poisoning people in other countries, in and of themselves, are really just acts of aggression and assassination,” Peskov explained.

“The real prank, the thing that made the whole five-year affair so hilarious, was that we planned to just stupidly deny everything despite overwhelming evidence that we were guilty. To that end, we harnessed the entire state media apparatus.”

Peskov then broke down laughing as he recounted the ways in which some independent media outlets and commentators in the West actually took Russia’s denials seriously, even as the Kremlin knew its deliberate lies were “totally idiotic.”

“Can you believe there were- there are people in the West who after all these years seriously believe we didn’t shoot down MH17?” Peskov asked reporters.

“There are. There really are. The Ukrainian military had zero reason to fire at a single plane flying at that altitude, from east to west, while they were fighting a war against an enemy with no air force whatsoever. And yet despite that, and despite the fact that we must have put out no fewer than two dozen different stories, many of which blatantly contradicted each other, some of your citizens still bought it! And they thought they were the clever skeptics who don’t fall for government lies!”

Peskov again broke down laughing after that point and needed to take a few minutes to regain his composure before moving onto the topic of Syria.

“Syria was another one where your gullible audiences totally fell for the flimsiest lies. Remember how many times in 2018 our Ministry of Defense said it knew that the White Helmets and possibly Western special forces were about to stage a fake chemical attack? Did you ever get suspicious when that never happened? What kind of idiot would you have to be to believe something that stupid?  Sure, the false flag to bring Western intervention could have made sense that one time in 2013, but after that, two, three times? Come on? You’d have to be the dumbest imbecile in the world to believe that!”

According to Peskov, “only a total, utter moron” could believe the claims and denials of the Russian government.

“Bellingcat had us dead to rights on the identity of the Salisbury poisoning culprits,” he said.

“If we had been telling the truth about these two men, we had the perfect opportunity to totally discredit those Bellingcat nerds forever. And yet despite the fact that we never even attempted this and instead kept spinning more and more unbelievable alternative theories about the poisoning, so many of your self-proclaimed media skeptics totally believed our side! Hilarious. Absolutely hilarious!”

Putin’s spokesman also told reporters that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with the encouragement of Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, even treated the prank like a type of competition, whereby different Russian embassies around the world would compete for whose official Twitter account could “tweet the dumbest thing” and still have followers believing them.

“The competition was fierce, but our embassy in the U.K. won ever year, hands down,” Peskov said.

When asked if the revelation of this five-year prank meant that Russia would pull its forces out of Ukraine and apologize for incidents such as the downing of MH17 and the Salisbury poisonings, Peskov said it would not.