And the Hits Keep Coming

It looks like the fallout from The Washington Post’s horrible fake news story isn’t over yet. Adrian Chen, who’s done some real journalism when it comes to Russian trolling, wrote an excellent piece on the moral panic over Russian propaganda in The New Yorker. If you prefer a bit more edge, Matt Taibbi jumped in the ring to whack WaPo over the head with a folding chair. Sic semper bad journalism.

And it’s really good that this is happening too. Basically what WaPo did by citing PropOrNot as a legitimate source is akin to what Russian propaganda outlets like RT and Sputnik do all the time, although they at least tend to give you their sources’ names. But unlike RT and Sputnik, there’s actually diversity in the Western media, and so there’s been a backlash. While it still has many problems, free media is somewhat self-correcting, and it’s certainly been correcting WaPo lately.

The biggest failure in the story, of course, revolved around the shadowy group called “PropOrNot.” One thing even critics of the story seem to be unwilling to doubt is the idea that this is some kind of group, as the anonymous source himself claims. I highly doubt this. I am almost certain this is one guy, at most maybe him and a friend.

The idea that he must maintain anonymity for fear of Russian hackers is absolute bullshit. While I admittedly use a different surname, my face has been on TV, Youtube, and in publications which have published my work. Alexei “Noodle Remover” Kovalev makes no attempt at anonymity and he’s actually given public lectures in Moscow. The people behind StopFake don’t hide in the shadows. Bellingcat’s people have faced actual state-sponsored hacking attempts (this is based on notifications from Google about the attempts), but they are still using their own names and photos.

Put simply, PropOrNot has something to hide. Most likely it is the fact that it is one guy and not a group of 30 or so volunteers or whatever his ridiculous claim is. Once someone finds out it’s just one guy, they might quickly notice that he is utterly unqualified to speak about Russian propaganda or Russia in general. Then again, they might also find out that he’s actually a pro-Russian blogger deliberately attempting to embarrass the Western media. It wouldn’t be the first time they’ve run ops involving ostensibly anti-Kremlin groups or individuals.

Whatever the case, the guy’s Twitter behavior should have been a major red flag for WaPo author Craig Timberg. To be fair, I write some rather over the top stuff on Twitter too, but if you check my profile it specifically says “humorist” in it. I’m also not claiming to be a group of 30-40 volunteers who scientifically analyze Russian propaganda. To sum up this point, PropOrNot is utter bullshit, and I’m sure writing that will get me added to the list in spite of the fact that this blog clearly does not fit his own stated criteria. I’ve heard he already added the Intersection Project, if that tells you anything.

So how bad is Russian propaganda, exactly? Should you be worried about it? Well I’ve designed a special test you can take to determine if you should be seriously worried about Russian propaganda. Here it goes:

STEP 1: Determine your location

Are you in Ukraine?

If the answer is “yes,” you have a good reason to be concerned about Russian propaganda.

If the answer is “no,” you probably don’t have a good reason to be overly concerned with Russian propaganda. You probably have plenty of dipshits spreading fake news in your country who have no connection with Russia whatsoever.

STEP 2: There are no other steps. You’re done.

At the end of the day, all this hysteria over Russian propaganda is essentially projection, and as others have pointed out this is very Putinist. Hillary and her supporters in the establishment expected her to win, and now that they lost they’re looking for anything and anyone they can blame. The white working class. Vote suppression (there’s some truth to this but it could have been overcome). Millennials. Putin. This is precisely what the Kremlin regime does. It tells Russians they live in a great country with strong traditional mores, but then when it becomes clear that this isn’t the case, the inconvenient phenomena or trends are blamed on the West.

It does not matter one whit that those who push these narratives claim to oppose Putin and regimes like his. If you spread the same kind of thinking, in the end you end up with more net authoritarianism, binary thinking, paranoia, distrust, cynicism, corruption, and so forth. Just look at Poland’s current government to see how “anti-Putin” and democratic are by no means synonymous.

The only way to do something about the spread of authoritarianism and “post-truth” is to turn inward and address the roots of the problem. The fault, dear readers, is not in Putin but in ourselves, that we are besieged by morons posting fake news.

Fake News? You Don’t Say!

So America just elected an incompetent, possibly insane billionaire president, and now it seems the media’s got a new coping strategy to adjust to the inevitability of a Trump administration. Oh wait, hang on, what I really meant is that they have totally flipped out and started a new moral panic about “fake news.” Naturally we have to pretend that fake news is a new phenomenon, because anything less might suggest we have some serious problems with our society- from corporate consolidation of media and the relentless profit-driven scramble for ratings and views, to the lack of critical thinking in education and the ridiculous idea that all opinions are equally valid. Just to be sure, some folks in the media would have us believe this is an external threat, specifically one coming from Russia. Put simply, this is bullshit, but I’ve got a lot to say about fake news so please strap yourself in.

lies

American liberal, 2016

I guess the logical place to begin is by saying that fake news is nothing new. Liberals did virtually nothing to oppose the corporate takeover of AM radio in the 80’s and 90’s, which, along with the revocation of the “Fairness Doctrine,” essentially turned America’s talk radio medium into a non-stop sewage pipe belching out right-wing propaganda. Even big names like Rush Limbaugh weren’t averse to spreading conspiracy theories about Bill and Hillary Clinton. If you want to know the roots of some of the wackier Hillary-related conspiracies today, you really have to start with something called The Clinton Chronicles. For those of you too young to remember or not from the US, American politics during the 90’s basically consisted of outrageous scandal after outrageous scandal, and many conservatives were acting as if the US had been taken over by a radical socialist junta. The lexicon included terms like jack-booted government thugs, black helicopters, and New World Order. And then…in 1996…it wasn’t just radio anymore.

Fake news reached new heights with an actual fake news cable TV network, known as Fox News. While the claim that Russia influenced this most recent election is highly dubious, Fox News certainly swayed a US election within four years of its existence. An outside observer might think that American liberals rallied against a foreigner-owned TV network that engaged in all manner of dishonest tactics, but that’s not necessarily true. The documentary Outfoxed spoke of something called the “Fox effect,” whereby other TV networks moved to the right in order to get a piece of Fox’s action. This had disastrous effects during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, as one might expect, but hey- capitalists gonna cap.

 

It’s also worth noting that around this time, Alex Jones was building his media empire. In addition to Jones’ non-stop conspiracy mongering from 1996 onward, you also had sites like World Net Daily, founded in 1997. And in case you think I’m picking on right-wingers too much (as if that’s bad), remember Oliver Stone? JFK was a boring, conspiracy theory laden production which came out a few week after the Soviet Union broke up. These aren’t just pre-Russia Today; they’re pre-Putin. The simple but inconvenient (for some) fact is this: Virtually all Russian propaganda for foreign audiences is nothing but rehashed conspiracy theories, largely from the United States.

So why is the media and all of liberaldom panicking about fake news now? Well one thing is that for years, they dismissed it and made fun of it. Now, in a way, it seems to be upsetting their precious liberal order, and so they’ve suddenly decided it’s a problem. But as I alluded to in the beginning, admitting too much would require choices they don’t want to make such as free higher education or more critical thinking classes in school (I suspect liberals are too cowardly to face the inevitable conservative backlash over this). Thus, the threat needs to come from somewhere else, as this recent Washington Post article claims. 

Yet there’s something rather amusing about that article. It relies on an anonymous source (the reason they have given for their anonymity doesn’t hold water) based in the US. In other words- exactly the same tactic that actual Russian fake news uses all the time, i.e. misrepresenting a dubious source. And just like any other fake news story, WaPo‘s article got cited by other publications, such as Gizmodo. Way to fight fake news, guys!

There’s also a far more serious issue at stake when we allow charlatans to pin all their woes on Russian propaganda- they are in fact helping Russia’s propaganda war. Recently we’ve seen a perfect example of this with the EU resolution against Russian propaganda.

First of all, the resolution was proposed by Anna Fotyga, a member of Poland’s Law and Justice Party. In case you hadn’t heard, that’s the same party that wants to criminalize women for having abortions and recently dug up the remains of Poland’s ex-president to prove that Russia somehow caused his plane crash. Why is her proposal so hypocritical? Well as it turns out, the Law and Justice Party’s propaganda in many ways mirrors Russian propaganda about the European Union, i.e. Europe is nothing but gender-bending degenerates rapidly being overrun by Muslim migrants. What is more, the party’s politics in Poland are eerily similar to those in Russia. The media and courts come under attack for their independence. History is rewritten as “patriotic” and those who dissent by insisting on staying factual are punished. So to sum up this point, though it is a minor one, the resolution was proposed by the least qualified person to speak out against propaganda.

But far more important was the fallout of the resolution. If you read RT or Sputnik’s reaction, you’d think they’re totally pissed about this resolution, but I assure you they are not. Shortly afterward Putin actually congratulated Russia’s “journalists” in response to the news. Do you know what that means? It means no funding cuts for a while.

See the only performance metric RT and Sputnik have is basically “Look! The West is afraid of us! See how angry they are?” They almost literally say exactly that in their own material meant for Russian consumption. Every panicky op-ed demanding that the EU do something about this Russian propaganda is liable to be snatched up by the propagandists themselves so as to justify their already inflated budgets in this time of crisis. So you can imagine how the Kremlin reacts when they find serious public figures in the West actually claiming that Russia swayed the election in favor of Trump. As immature and childish as the RT/Sputnik performance metric is, the widespread panic over Russian propaganda says “This is working. We’re winning. Let’s keep going and see what else we can do.”

What then, is the right way to respond to the threat of fake news? First of all- it’s domestic. Deal with it. Second, fake news and echo chambers are a symptom of our capitalist society. If this last election taught us anything, it’s that the ruling class on both sides of the political spectrum is extremely out of touch with much of the country, including their own constituents. If someone doesn’t start addressing the social causes of this, then Americans will continue checking out of real politics and tumbling down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories and fringe politics. So what is to be done?

In counter-insurgency warfare they have this term called the “population-centric” strategy. While it’s hard to find historical examples of purely population-centric strategies and not every population-centric strategy resulted in victory, in general this strategy tends to work much better than its opposite, known as “enemy-centric” strategy. The current Western approach to Russian propaganda could be termed as an enemy-centric strategy. Every proposal comes down to responding to the Russians, which is problematic because as we have seen, the West can’t control Russia’s actions (though I suspect they don’t want to).

What I propose is a sort of population-centric strategy, meaning that the focus is put on American and Western societies. It means opening up more dialog, addressing controversial issues, and actually resolving those problems that alienate people and perpetuate cynicism. This isn’t going to be easy. It means we’re going to have to start talking to people with bizarre politics, many of whom may display traits of cult-like brainwashing. But there is ample research to suggest that attacking someone’s beliefs, however absurd they may be, only causes them to double down and retreat further into a bubble. Meanwhile if Western institutions do more to address people’s needs, provide more tangible, visible stability and prospects for advancement, and also show accountability for their past actions, many people will open up and be willing to talk.

Do I believe that Western governments will adopt such a strategy? Personally I’m skeptical, because doing so threatens the status quo even more than Russia ever could, but at least we could say we warned them.

 

Russia’s World Cup

Bob: Wow! What an amazing match that was! If you’re just joining us, you’ve missed history in the making. For the first time ever, the Russian national team has won the World Cup, and in their homeland, no less!

Jerry: Yes, Bob, I certainly feel sorry for those viewers who…Hold on a second. Maybe it’s just all the excitement that’s in the air right now, but did I just hear you say that Russia won the match?

Bob: Indeed you did, Jerry! They certainly outplayed their Brazilian opponents and delivered one of the biggest upsets in football history!

Jerry: Wait…Russia lost the match. Brazil devastated them. It was 7-1!

Bob: Jerry, my man, didn’t you hear about the special rule change? It was proposed by Putin and approved by FIFA just before the start of the championship. You’ve got to be pulling my leg.

Jerry: Errr…Of course. But maybe for the sake of the viewers who have just joined us, you could humor me a bit? How did Russia win when they scored only one goal, and Brazil scored seven?

Bob: Well Jerry, it’s really simple. See Brazil scored goals, true. But Russia also scored goals. So in reality both teams are winners. But Russia is the real winner.

Jerry: Uh..That doesn’t make sense. I mean even in the first half Brazil had scored what? Four goals?

Bob: Maybe that’s true, but Brazil has lost World Cup matches before. Why is it everyone talks about Russia’s losses when Brazil has lost plenty of times?

Jerry: I’m not sure that’s relevant, particularly since Brazil didn’t lose this match.

Bob: But both teams scored goals.

Jerry: Russia scored one goal! Brazil scored seven.

Bob: Exactly. They’re the same. They both scored goals. Who is Brazil to judge Russia as a loser? They both scored goals, they’ve both lost in the past. But Russia won this match.

Jerry: Let’s move on for a moment. As I wanted to say earlier, I think the main problem for the Russians is that they had so many penalties, and that quickly removed some of their best players from the match.

Bob: But Jerry, I think you forget that the other side had penalties too.

Jerry: Well yes, Brazil got two yellow cards within the first six minutes of the match, but I don’t think that’s relevant seeing as how…

Bob: Both sides got penalties.

Jerry: Yes, but Russia had more and actually lost some of their players because of it…

Bob: But you admit that they both had penalties.

Jerry: One side had several red cards and…

Bob: Brazil also got penalties.

Jerry: Yes…Brazil got penalties.

Bob: Then the refs had no right to judge Russia as being any worse than Brazil. But Russia is better and it won the match.

Jerry: Well I suppose so, under these wonderful new Putin rules.

Bob: Also the Brazilian team’s coach is a neo-Nazi.

Jerry: WHAT ON GOD’S GREEN EARTH ARE YOU ON ABOUT? 

Bob: He’s a neo-Nazi who tried to rig the match so Russia would lose, but luckily Russia didn’t lose so the match was completely fair.

Jerry: RUSSIA DID LOSE! BRAZIL SCORED MORE GOALS THAN RUSSIA! THAT MEANS BRAZIL WON! 

Bob: So you support the team whose coach is a known neo-Nazi Islamic fundamentalist?

Jerry: I don’t support any team- the Brazilians objectively scored more goals and…wait! Now he’s a Nazi and an Islamic fundamentalist? He is neither of those things!

Bob: Sure, if you listen to the mainstream media.

Jerry: What mainstream media? You just accused a well-known public figure of being a Nazi and an Islamic fundamentalist without any proof whatsoever.

Bob: The mainstream media is withholding the truth. Remind me later and I can send you this article from The Guardian that tells you how the mainstream media does that from time to time.

Jerry: Does what?

Bob: Covers up the truth.

Jerry: So you want to use an article from the mainstream media to prove that the mainstream media covers up certain facts?

Bob: Yes. You should trust this source because it’s from the mainstream media, not some conspiracy website.

Jerry: You still haven’t offered any proof that the coach is a Nazi terrorist!

Bob: Prove that he isn’t.

Jerry: GODDAMMIT, BOB! BRAZIL WON THIS MATCH! BRAZIL SCORED MORE GOALS! BRAZIL IS THE WORLD CHAMPION! 

Bob: But Russia scored goals too. They’re the same. But Russia is the winner.

Jerry: WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU, BOB?! 

Bob: I have the mental reasoning abilities of a small child, so this logic makes perfect sense to me.

Jerry: Well I…Wait. What?

Bob: You heard me. My reasoning skills are on par with those of a six-year-old, eight-year-old, tops. You’d have to be this way to think those new rules make any sense at all.

Jerry: Geez, Bob, that sounds terrible. I had no idea. Now this is all starting to make sense.

Bob: I’m glad you see it that way. I’m also glad that this is just a satirical piece, which in no way bears any resemblance to real life.

Jerry: None at all. I can’t imagine anyone thinking this way in real life.

Bob: Neither can I. That would be ridiculous. Only a moron would act like this in real life.

Jerry: A complete, total, window-licking moron. You said it, Bob!

 

The Donald Trump of Russia Articles

If the Kremlin’s propagandists get views and publicity by screaming about NATO expansion and color revolutions, the Western think tankies seem to build their careers on predictions about Russia invading the Baltic states. Curiously, they never seem to be able to articulate exactly why Russia would do such a thing. Specifically, they can’t explain what Russia gets out of this invasion that would offset the costs they’d inevitably incur. Costs which, incidentally, would inevitably and ultimately entail the destruction of Russia as a state. No, nobody’s going to use nukes. There’s no need. Just the economic warfare the West could wage against Russia pretty much guarantees a swift return to 1991, only worse. But think tankies need to earn their pay, so we end up getting crap like this.

It’s been a long time since I’ve done a thorough dressing down, so if you’re new here, make yourself a bowl of popcorn and strap yourself in for a real treat. Here we go!

Four years ago, I predicted Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Here’s my next prediction, which by now will strike many people as obvious: The Baltics are next, and will pose one of President-elect Donald Trump’s first and greatest tests. It probably won’t take the form of an overt invasion.

Right off the bat it’s nonsense. The author expects us to lend credibility to his new prediction because he supposedly predicted the war in Ukraine four years ago. While he includes a link to an article making that claim (I haven’t been able to read it), it’s not the same as linking to the original prediction. When you write about a prediction after the fact, you can easily weed out those parts of the prediction you made that don’t fit the actual events. What is more, do we know he literally predicted this as a likely scenario, or was it simply a hypothesis about how a conflict might possibly unfold?

For the moment let’s ignore that question, however. The truth is a lot of people “predicted” a war between Russia and Ukraine. Probably in late 2008, 2009 and the latest, I was predicting a revolution in Ukraine at some point. I also predicted this would lead to war with Russia. Of course if I told all the details about those predictions I wouldn’t seem so prescient at all.

What is more, plenty of other sources “predicted” the war in Ukraine. Back in the late 90’s I used to play a turn-based wargame called Steel Panthers II. It included one scenario about a Russian invasion of Ukraine. I did a little research and found that there’s a posthumously-published Tom Clancy novel that not only predicts a Russian war against Ukraine, but one that begins with pro-Russian nationalist protests in Ukraine. The novel was released in early December 2013, and of course Maidan had just started the previous month. Since Clancy actually died in October that year, it stands to reason that he’d started writing it earlier. Gee I sure hope Clancy left a manuscript detailing Russia’s plans for the Baltic states!

 

But let’s go ahead and ignore all of these facts and just imagine that somehow, the author Paul D. Miller got virtually every salient detail of the crisis in Ukraine right, from Maidan, to the annexation of the Crimea (which had been an issue since the 1990’s), to the Donbas (which had been an issue since the mid-2000’s). Even if he got all of this right, we still have no reason to take his prediction about Latvia seriously for the simple reason that attacking Ukraine and attacking a NATO member are two vastly different things. Remember, just last year Turkey, a NATO member, shot down a Russian military jet under extremely questionable pretenses. One of the pilots was murdered after ejecting. What was the result? Passive-aggression toward Turkish citizens and companies, some useless sanctions, hilariously hypocritical accusations that Turkey was supporting ISIS, and in about six months’ time the two dictators kissed and made up. World War III would have to wait yet again.

Putin wages war on countries like Ukraine and Georgia simply because he can. They aren’t NATO members and no NATO member seems willing to seriously go to bat for them. You can insinuate that Trump won’t uphold NATO’s obligations but the Obama administration hasn’t done much better in restraining Russian aggression against its neighbors. (Pssst! It’s because the West is capitalist and there’s money to be made working with Russia!)

So much for predictions.

So why does Miller believe Putin will attempt to invade and conquer the Baltics. Check this out, bro! Turns out he’ll do it because he wants to, because of his beliefs.

Putin believes hegemony over Russia’s near-abroad is necessary for Russian security because of his beliefs about Russian nationhood and historical destiny. Putin (and, perhaps more so, his inner circle) isn’t merely nationalist. The Kremlin appears to be driven by peculiar form of Russian nationalism infused with religion, destiny, and messianism. In this narrative, Russia is the guardian of Orthodox Christianity and has a mission to protect and expand the faith.

No. Just…no. Where to begin? First of all, Putin doesn’t seriously believe in anything beyond political survival. He knows that when he’s out of power, truly out of control, he’ll most likely be thrown to the dogs. If he’s lucky, there’ll be a sort of palace coup where he’s forced into early retirement, preferably with some kind of legal immunity. More likely he’ll be delivered up as a scapegoat and charged with all sorts of crimes real and imagined (when the archives are in someone else’s control, not much will need to be imagined). Worst case scenario for Putin- political upheaval and revolution. Either he makes it to the airport and there’s a friendly country willing to grant him asylum, or he ends up like Gaddafi. In short, a man in Putin’s position simply cannot afford to seriously harbor fantasies about Russia’s “destiny.” Sure, he can daydream or use ideology as a method of rationalizing his actions to himself and close confidants, but Putin is no ideologically-driven fanatic. His cronies even less so.

The absolute worst thing any Russia watcher can do is believe that Putin takes ideology seriously. Ideology in Russian politics is just about manipulating various groups of people. Putin can be spun as a nationalist, a revolutionary, even a liberal reformer- all that matter is you either support him or at least don’t oppose him. Your own political motivations are irrelevant.

Putin, as the author points out, is not rational, but he’s also not stupid. He’s fully aware of the fact that he cannot win a war with NATO. By the end of 2014, he no longer had the capability of winning a full-scale war on Ukraine, and he hasn’t regained it so far.

Now back to the bad analysis.

A truly rational Russia would not see NATO and European Union expansion as a threat, because the liberal order is open and inclusive and would actually augment Russia’s security and prosperity. But, for Putin and other Russians who see the world through the lens of Russian religious nationalism, the West is inherently a threat because of its degeneracy and globalism.

In a sense Putin’s fear is somewhat rational. It’s just not a fear of a military invasion, per se. What Putin fears the most as he is forced to resort to more conventional dictatorial measures against a background of a failing economy is Russians being exposed to the rest of the world, and seeing that it works better than his system. That’s one of the biggest threats to Putin’s regime, which is an empire founded on a propaganda narrative. The more Russians go abroad and experience the differences in lifestyles, the more obvious his failure becomes. His media relentlessly portrays the West as a land of filthy degeneracy, but this is one cat Putin can’t stuff back into the bag.

It’s bad enough that Russians in Baltic countries enjoy better living standards in many respects than their brethren across the border, but if Ukraine managed to throw off a potential Putin-like figure and carry out sufficient reforms to join the EU? That would be an utter disaster for the narrative. Ukrainians, whom the Russian media says are just Russians, successfully hold their leaders accountable, then build a successful democratic country without a “strong leader” and an authoritarian state to guide them. That’s the kind of thing that would make Russians in Rostov, Kursk, and Voronezh start questioning the Russophobic official line that says that Russians are inherently corrupt and lazy and therefore require a “strong hand” to rule them. Plus, if Ukraine did join NATO at some later date (it would have to be much later considering how unpopular that idea was in Ukraine until very recently), Putin would not be able to sabotage its neighbor’s growth and development.

Keeping former Soviet neighbors poor makes Russia look better by default. It supplies cheap labor. It helps the Russian government make its claims that “all countries are corrupt.” It also helps strengthen the narrative that these countries all suffered because they foolishly rejected Moscow’s rule.

Put simply, Putin’s already lost the Baltic countries for all intents and purposes. Apart from monetary rewards for a few Baltic politicians or businessmen, Russia has nothing to offer the non-Russian titular nationalities in the Baltic states. Since nobody, not even the Russian community, believes they would be better off under Moscow’s rule, any and all cooperation will have to be bought, in some cases at steep prices. And remember this is going to take place during what is essentially a state of war between Russia and NATO.

Oh wait…Miller anticipated that!

Putin’s next step is more dangerous than the previous ones, because he is likely to move into the Baltics, which are NATO members. He will not send large formations of uniformed Russian soldiers over the international border — even the most cautious NATO members will not ignore an overt conventional invasion.

Instead, Putin will instigate an ambiguous militarized crisis using deniable proxies, probably in the next two years. Perhaps Russian-speaking Latvians or Estonians (a quarter of Latvians and Estonians are ethnically Russian) will begin rioting, protesting for their rights, claiming to be persecuted, asking for “international protection.” A suspiciously well armed and well trained “Popular Front for the Liberation of the Russian Baltics” will appear. A few high-profile assassinations and bombings bring the Baltics to the edge of civil war. A low-grade insurgency may emerge.

Oh right! I forgot- Putin is the master of hybrid warfare. He used these hybrid forces for the sake of plausible deniability in Ukraine, and it worked perfectly. The NATO nations and their allies were totally fooled by Putin’s clever ruse and, believing that the war was in fact a local uprising, they declined to implement any kind of sanctions against Russia whatsoever, thus giving Putin a free hand. Oh…Wait…No. None of that happened. No country of any significance bought Putin’s laughable denials virtually from the very beginning. Having “local self-defense forces” outfitted in the latest Russian uniforms and gear might have had something to do with that. Even the International Criminal Court has now officially declared that there has been and still is an international military conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Turns out disguising your invasion requires a little more trickery than having your soldiers remove their insignia. In short, nobody’s going to buy a “local insurrection.”

What is more, the whole world including the Baltic Russians know that this is the case. They know that Russia is experiencing sanctions for what they did in Crimea and the Donbas, even if they think their cause is just. And as I mentioned earlier there is little reason for Baltic Russians to participate in a Russian-organized insurgency beyond personal rewards, and Russia’s capacity to provide such rewards not only shrinks today, but it would fall sharply after attempting to wage warfare against a NATO member.

Linguistic, cultural, and ethnic conditions in Ukraine made Russia’s pseudo-insurrection possible, but even in that case local proxies had to be quickly reigned in or purged so that Moscow could control things more directly. It’s also worth noting that in the Donbas, many Ukrainians, some of whom work or have worked in Russia, believed that their territory would be quickly annexed into Russia as the Crimea had been. If you take a look at the Donbas some time, you can understand why some of these people naively thought they’d be better off in Russia. This simply isn’t the case in the Baltic countries.

Expect Russia to use their proxies in the Baltic states as nuisances to keep NATO off balance, but they’re not stupid enough to risk an invasion and World War III with NATO.

Still not convinced, let’s look at a few facts:

-Since the fall of Debaltseve in early 2015, Russia has made no serious attempt to retake any territory in Ukraine. If they aren’t willing to support an all-out offensive on Mariupol, they’re not going to invade a NATO country and initiate WWIII.

-Take a look at how Russian leaders react any time someone brings up the prospect of cutting Russia off from SWIFT. Basically they act like it’s a naval blockade and an act of war. If you’re afraid of being cut off from SWIFT, you’re not going to initiate WWIII.

-Look at how much time Russian leaders and the state press devote to the removal of sanctions. The most pathetic attempt occurred recently, when Putin tore up an agreement with the US on plutonium control, angrily demanding that all sanctions be removed. If they’re that flustered over relatively weak sanctions, how calmly would they receive new, sweeping sanctions all across the boards? Russia’s leadership is delusional but not necessarily stupid (okay some of them are stupid); they know that apart from military consequences of a war with NATO there will also be far more in the way of sanctions.

-The ability to travel, live, own property, and horde money in the West is one of the carrots the regime has to buy loyalty. Russia’s collaborators in the Crimea and Donbas were cut off from these benefits by Western sanctions. Anyone collaborating with a Russian campaign in the Baltics would face the same fate. More importantly, being sanctioned by the West is now no longer the worst thing that can happen to a collaborator. Just ask Alexei Mozgovoi, Pavel Dremov, Alexander Bednov, or Arsen Pavlov. Oh wait- you can’t ask them because they’re all dead, all killed well behind the lines, almost certainly by their own side.

 

These facts are too simply too salient to ignore. Claiming that Putin will ignore all of them because he’s an ideological fanatic is arguing against well-established facts. After all we’re talking about a leader who’s not only too afraid to make a move on Kharkiv or Sumy, but who won’t even risk a push toward Mariupol or even Kostantynivka. Mariupol would open the possibility of a land bridge to Crimea, and the latter would at least be a much-needed propaganda victory and a chance to instill more panic and doubt in Ukraine. But apparently Mr. Miller would have us believe that a leader who is too craven to attempt that, too cowardly to even admit his involvement in the war, would actually go ahead and initiate World War III with NATO in Latvia. Sure.

So what can be done to mitigate this World War III panic-mongering, especially in the wake of America’s Orange Revolution AKA Trump win?

One possible treatment involves listening to recordings of Mark Galeotti, the voice of reason,  over a background of soothing New Age music. This will surely lower your heart rate and remind you that no, Putin is not going to restore the Soviet Union because his country has an economy on par with Italy and his military is a black hole in the budget that fell far short of its modernization goals.

Or you could read this article. The author might be a bit more qualified to speak on Baltic affairs. He was only the former president of Estonia, after all.

keep-calm-and-stop-worrying-about-a-baltic-invasion-that-won-t-happen-because-putin-s-not-going-to-invade-nato-members-if-he-s-too-afraid-to-seriously-attempt-even-a-minor-offensive-in-ukraine

Probably need a bigger poster. 

Not With a Bang But a Stupid Whimper

There’s been a new development in the autopsy of the last presidential election. Apparently, viral fake news stories managed to outperform actual news stories on Facebook, leading to a public scandal for owner Mark Zuckerberg while also stimulating a discussion about social networks turning into echo chambers of misinformation. Years ago it had already been hypothesized that the internet, in spite of providing unprecedented access to information, won’t necessarily lead to a more informed public because it also gives people the ability to filter out any news that contradicts their preconceived worldview. Incidentally, that phenomenon seems to explain how I get most of my detractors. Social media, however, has added another component, because it utilizes algorithms to automatically show a user certain links based on past engagement.

No doubt many of my readers have repeatedly seen Facebook suggest pages, stories, or groups which do not interest them in the slightest. On Youtube, woe be unto the user who, possibly by accident, clicks on a conspiracy theory video or anything with the word “feminist” in the title. In the former case, your recommendations will suddenly consist of Infowars and other assorted pseudo-intellectual bullshit, and in the latter you’ll be treated to young men who have figured out the secrets of civilization by the age of 23 and have determined feminism and “political correctness” to be the bane of mankind.

The effect of all this is that even people who might not be ideologically inclined to this crap can eventually become influenced by it if it keeps coming up in their news feed day after day. This is especially true because let’s face it- most Americans and in fact most people don’t really hold coherent political beliefs. They tend to lean one way or another, but with the right message and the right delivery you can get self-described conservatives to endorse government intervention in the private sector or leftists to endorse a nationalist right wing regime. The recent presidential election is proof of the former and the common radical leftist position on Russia is evidence for the latter.

This being the case, the reader can imagine how people who don’t normally think about politics or who might be thinking about them for the first time (think teenagers, college freshmen) can be influenced over time if they are continually exposed to fake news, regardless of the political slant. A left-leaning person may reject claims about an impending crackdown on American Christians, but they might totally buy into a story about nefarious Monsanto corporation. Then come more group suggestions and story suggestions about how “Big Pharma” is poisoning us, and at some point they start seeing the inevitable memes about the Rothschilds. Another mind is lost.

guyfawkes

A pic found on Facebook- it’s the root problem encapsulated in one picture. 

It seems that America truly is becoming more like Russia, where the regime doesn’t try to convince you that it speaks the truth, but rather that you can’t know truth at all because there is no objective truth. While some have been tempted to blame the impact of fake news on Russia and their foreign-language propaganda outlets such as Sputnik or RT, the truth is that this was entirely homegrown. If anything, the Russians learned from us.

Don’t give up hope just yet. As disastrous as this election has been, it has produced some positive side effects. Igniting a discussion about fake news and how people get their information is definitely one of those silver linings. MTV may have stopped playing music videos a long time ago, but just this morning I ran across this spot-on article. Long-time Russia watchers will find some of its points very familiar. Have a look at this excerpt:

“One of the conditions of democratic resistance is having an accurate picture of what to resist. Confusion is an authoritarian tool; life under a strongman means not simply being lied to but being beset by contradiction and uncertainty until the line between truth and falsehood blurs and a kind of exhaustion settles over questions of fact. Politically speaking, precision is freedom. It’s telling, in that regard, that Trump supporters, the voters most furiously suspicious of journalism, also proved to be the most receptive audience for fictions that looked journalism-like. Authoritarianism doesn’t really want to convince its supporters that their fantasies are true, because truth claims are subject to verification, and thus to the possible discrediting of authority. Authoritarianism wants to convince its supporters that nothing is true, that the whole machinery of truth is an intolerable imposition on their psyches, and thus that they might as well give free rein to their fantasies.”

That looks like something you’d read about Putin’s propaganda machine (or any other authoritarian regime’s media apparatus), yet I can’t find any evidence that the author, Brian Phillips, has any background in Russia or Russian politics. If that is indeed the case, it tells us that Brian understands what’s happening to America. He gets it. The more people understand what’s going on, the faster we can start working on a strategy to fight back.

Those who prefer to laugh off the phenomenon of fake viral news and “tin foil hat” conspiracy sites do so at their country’s peril. While America has no Putin-like figure who can consolidate most of the media under his control, Donald Trump has given us a taste of what an authoritarian reactionary figure can do when he’s supported by media outlets who aren’t terribly concerned about facts. What is more, Trump and his media backers are liable to introduce a form of lying common to dictatorships, with all that entails.

When we look at Hillary Clinton, Obama, or even the last Bush administration, we see politicians who told lies to varying degrees, but who also cared about the concept of credibility. Even if we take the Bush administration and its lies on the matter of Iraq, we see that those responsible for selling the war carefully limited and qualified their claims for the sake of believability. In fact, I’m quite confident that many of those who opposed the war, if they could somehow be transported into a room with Colin Powell in late 2002-early 2003, would be unable to refute many of his claims about Iraqi WMDs or ties to Al Qaeda. That is because the case for both was purposely designed to be difficult to debunk with certainty. Yet debunked the claims were, and we know this because eventually the administration was forced to admit they were incorrect.

Imagine if the Bush administration, till George’s last day in office, claimed that they’d found all kinds of chemical and nuclear weapons in Iraq. Imagine they said they had concrete evidence that Bin Laden was at one point hiding in Iraq and being sheltered by Saddam Hussein. What kind of precedent would this set for future administrations? Credibility doesn’t just limit what leaders can say, it also limits what they can do. If they know that they can make up stories out of thin air, what’s to stop them from engaging in all kinds of authoritarian behavior?

Within days, Trump and his supporters have already made claims about paid protesters- every dictator’s favorite explanation for popular anti-government demonstrations. This is one of the most egregious political insults I can imagine, and I’m sure many Maidan participants know the feeling. Essentially what this claim says is that you do not actually have any beliefs or values. You don’t really care. It’s just that someone promised you twenty bucks to stand around shouting and possibly getting pepper-sprayed or even beaten by police. I realize that some of my readers are conservative types who may be propagating these claims themselves. Here’s a tip- don’t. If you can make that claim about others, they’ll eventually make that claim about you.

Last week’s election was by no means the end of the Republic. If anything it’s the beginning of a new era. Though there are obviously major challenges ahead, there are opportunities for an outcome better than anything we might be able to imagine now. If we’re going to reach that goal, we need to launch an offensive against fake news. We can no longer pretend it’s only a problem for people living under authoritarian regimes or in countries threatened by them. Americans must start taking fake news and conspiracy theories as seriously as the Ukrainians have learned to take them.

Phony news and conspiracy sites promise readers esoteric knowledge and insight. They are comforting by simplifying complex issues. They stroke the ego by allowing the believing reader to think they are more enlightened than the “sheeple.” In reality, however, these people are not only less informed, but their ability to take part in rational discussion is severely impaired. In short- fake viral news is literally making people dumber on a certain level.

When we think of technology bringing about the downfall of mankind, we typically think of nuclear weapons. Now it seems it might not be nukes, but viral memes that will be our undoing.

UPDATE: Here’s a list someone’s compiled of fake or otherwise questionable news sources. It’s supposed to be updated in the future.

As a general rule of thumb, if the news source or story features a Guy Fawkes mask, you can probably dismiss it.

 

Dealing With a Trump Presidency

As scientists of many stripes have pointed out, it’s best not to rely on gut instincts. Our brains are wired a certain way thanks to evolutionary processes, thus, while our instincts were good for avoiding dangerous animals and eating poisonous plants, they are often ill-suited to understanding our modern world. That is why I’m not terribly upset that I trusted polls and logical explanations from people with established credentials when they predicted Hillary would win the election. My instincts told me Hillary would lose, and Michael Moore made a compelling argument as to why she would lose, but what would have sounded better- I trusted data and experts and they were wrong, or I trusted a hunch and Michael Moore and was wrong?

Of course I wasn’t alone in being wrong about the results of this election- it certainly turned out to be an upset. But I have to say it doesn’t impact me the same way. That’s the beauty of subscribing to a political philosophy that essentially wants to see the destruction of the entire existing world order (to replace it with something better; I’m not the Joker). A Hillary administration would have just meant more of the status quo. The dark reactionary side of America would continue to fester and grow and they’d get another shot at the White House in four years. If they didn’t win yesterday, they probably would have won then. And while I realize that this is going to impact certain groups of Americans far more than it would myself, even if I were living there, the simple fact is what’s done is done, and it’s time to start thinking about how to react. Without having much to go on now, here are a few observations.

In Defense of Putin

Already the Anne Applebaum-types are screaming about how this is a victory for Vladimir Putin. Do you know what happens when a Western liberal pundit does that? A Russian media source picks up on it and then they publicize it in Russia- “Look! The liberals are in hysterics! Putin does it again! We’re a great power!”  In short, when you do this, you are essentially indirectly creating Kremlin propaganda.

What is more, perhaps if the Hillary campaign and their partisan pundits had learned to shut the fuck up about Putin a few months ago they might have won this election. Trump, for all his terrible non-solutions, focused on domestic issues. Americans don’t give a crap about Putin or Russia. Droning on about how Russia is now a threat and Trump is a Russian agent makes most Americans think “Huh? What? Why are they talking about the Russians?” 

The thing about the Putin issue was that it was something like a sliding scale. There was a right way to talk about it and a wrong way. There were also limits to how much one should have talked about it. The Democratic Party went way into the red on both counts. Look what happened.

To all those lamenting the collapse of your precious liberal order and laying it at Vladimir Putin’s tiny feet, please shut up. Your liberal order collapsed because it was a rotten structure. Putin, and a whole host of other dictators and corrupt figures are by-products of your system.

You didn’t lose because of Putin, trolls in St. Petersburg, Sputnik or RT. You lost because you are defending a bankrupt system that needed change, and because you barred the way to positive change, you opened the door to reaction. This is a result of your Munich betrayal. Own it.

Taking Stock

After 2012 it was said that the GOP needed to do some serious soul-searching. While the GOP establishment might have been displaced in this campaign, it’s clear that the Democrats are the ones who ought to start asking question. Now would be a good time to start re-thinking the strategy of abandoning the white working class and rural whites which began in the 90’s, ironically under a Clinton administration.

What I really love now is that us radicals, including the Bernie supporters who constantly suffered condescending lectures from “reasonable” people with fancy degrees, now get to dictate terms to the Democratic party. Anyone would be stupid not to. These dipshits insisted that both Trump and Sanders were unelectable. Yeah, that turned out pretty well, didn’t it? Those polls that showed Bernie crushing Trump? They’re looking a lot better than expert projections just a few days ago. The Republicans ran an anti-establishment candidate against an unlikable, entitled candidate who shamelessly promotes the status quo. That means no more lectures from DNC people or their pundits. You keep your mouths shut, listen, and take notes.

Sowing and Reaping

Since the days of the Tea Party I’ve had a growing feeling that one problem with American right-wing populism is that these people never get what they are demanding. They want “small government” and “fiscal responsibility,” but they still end up with Medicare, the Affordable Care Act, farm subsidies, federal contracts, federal emergency relief, and massive military spending.

Trump won the primaries because in the past, the aforementioned people didn’t get what they wanted from their own candidates either. They listened to enraged carnival barkers but got mild, moderate conservatives peddling the same tired old rhetoric. Now they got what they wanted.

Personally I wouldn’t be surprised if Trump not only totally jettisons all his supposed “policies,” but actively denies he ever made them. I think that’s just fine. Let his supporters chew on that, since many of them won’t be able to afford as much food anyway. But even if he does attempt to follow through on some of his promises, the economic fallout would probably be even more devastating. Either way, his supporters lose.

Perhaps it sounds cruel, but sometimes these people need to learn the hard way. It certainly worked for me. What can you do when you tell a child the stove is hot dozens of times and they keep reaching for that red, glowing burner? Stop badgering people and let them have a life-enriching experience.

Some people will learn from this and be receptive to better ideas, others won’t do quite so well. Welcome those who repent with open arms.

Para Bellum

I’ll come right out and say it- America’s left is weak. It’s divided and dominated by idiotic identity politics theories cooked up in academia with very little application in the real world. While these theories aren’t entirely useless, yesterday showed us how truly incapable they are of transforming America for the better. Results are all that matters, and Trumpism got results.

Now the left has a golden opportunity before it. It can go on an all-out attack and the Democrats can’t say shit about it. If they say something is too radical, remind them of 8 November 2016. Lead, follow, or get out of the way.

At the same time, much of the American left needs to toughen up. I don’t want to sound like one of those millennial-bashing clickbait columnists, but yes, I’m sorry- the American left is too weak. I don’t mean weak in terms of numbers, but rather mentally, emotionally, and physically weak. There are simply too many leftists, even in radical circles, who fit the 4chan stereotype about “Social Justice Warriors.” I can tell you from experience that right-wing thugs and militia types aren’t going to give you any trigger warnings beyond the sound of a safety coming off.

If you just read that and you’re thinking: “OMG! Here he goes with cis-hetero-normative toxic masculinity crap!” you are part of the problem. This isn’t about masculinity. A Ukrainian woman, Ludmila Pavlichenko, killed roughly 309 men with a sniper rifle. I don’t care about your sexuality or your gender identity- you may very well need courage, discipline, mental fortitude, and emotional control to survive. Most fascists are basically bullies who prefer easy targets. Knowing that there’s a large, militant leftist movement that is also armed and trained will keep these people in check. The standard liberal toolbox surely didn’t. What you learned in college doesn’t work. Your intersectionality, call-out culture, and “solidarity” didn’t do shit.

On that note, it’s really time to start re-engaging rural and working class whites. Contrary to what the liberal elite will claim for the next few years, Trump’s victory wasn’t their fault. But he couldn’t have won without their support. Writing them off as racist and backward doesn’t help. You have to get to the root of that racism. Yes, you have to listen to them. No, you don’t have to accept everything or in some cases anything they say as true or correct, but a dialog needs to take place. For more on why this is the case, I suggest listening to David Wong on this Cracked podcast.

The bottom line is you can’t claim you’re for an inclusive equal society while writing off such a massive demographic.

Conclusion

The way I see it, you can either whine about this election or go out and do something about it. It’s no loss for me- I hated Hillary and this election has proven that instinct to be absolutely correct. Part of me is glad I won’t have to feel any responsibility for whatever bullshit she might have got up to had she won.

I’ve resigned myself to 2016 being utter shit worldwide. Bring on 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

The End of the Beginning

What seems like one of the worst elections in American history (yes, even worse than that one) is finally coming to an end. In case you’re wondering, I don’t intend to stay up through the night to see the results. I’m going to act like it’s Christmas and I’m waking up to presents under the tree. Of course there’s a slim chance those presents might turn out to be rotting animal corpses, but either way I prefer a surprise.

As some readers might have imagined, yes, I held my nose and voted for the status quo candidate- Hillary. Had anyone but Trump been her opponent, I wouldn’t have bothered voting at all. If it had been Rubio or Cruz running against her, my state probably wouldn’t be anywhere near a toss-up anyway.

I know that many of my radical leftist readers have probably had to swallow the bitter medicine as well. It’s not pleasant being mistaken for a Hillary supporter. But to those of you who made the adult choice this election in spite of all your qualms, take consolation in the fact that you can do something I can’t do after Tuesday.

You can get to know your congressmen at the state and federal level. You can organize groups to advocate for the issues that matter to you. You can volunteer, or even consider running for office yourself. If you were disappointed that Bernie didn’t win the primaries, you can spend the next four years advocating for those policies you believe in, instead of imagining that some presidential candidate will appear one election and make everything alright.

As a certain Cracked.com article I read today remarked, voting is the least you can do to participate in democracy. And while there are certain structures in place which make politics less accessible for the majority of people, you in America have far more opportunities to make a difference than most of the world’s population. Sure, when we think of the so-called 1% dominating politics, this is a feature of the system. But that’s only part of the explanation. Look at voter turnout alone, especially in midterm elections. As powerful as lobby groups are, there aren’t really that many other groups actively competing for politicians’ attention. They may have more resources, but why let them win unopposed?

Don’t take this as my “get out the vote” rant. This is my “get out and do something after 8 November” rant. Do it because you can. There’s not too much I can do from here; I may not be in Russia much longer but I have no idea when I’ll return to the States. I regret that I didn’t realize what I could do many years ago. Radical solutions seemed so much more appealing, and yet those who insisted they were the only way didn’t really do anything radical at all. In fact, they were less politically active than the “mainstream normies” or whatever you want to call them.

Tuesday is not the end. It is the beginning of a new struggle. Remember, in defeat the dark forces Trump’s movement has conjured up will not simply vanish back to their anime porn image boards. Sure, many of them will, but others will be organizing, plotting for the next run in four years. What are you going to be doing during that time?