Monthly Archives: October 2015

Emergency Rations

I’m going on holi-JUST KIDDING, BRITS! VACATION! Seriously though I’ll be gone for two weeks, and I have decided to leave some more thoughts here to tide over those loyal readers who might miss out. In particular, there is at least one reader whose morning coffee would be reduced to a mundane pit of despair if they had to go so long without a new post. For that reason, the sub-sections of this post can be read one by one each morning, as a form of rationing. Enjoy.

Why Russia/Ukraine discourse won’t improve

My most recent article on Russia! Magazine was a rant against cheerleaders, that is people who just decide to take a particular side in a conflict that has nothing to do with them, and then lecture others on how they must carry on the struggle, dismissing all who dissent from their self-righteous and arbitrary proclamations as heretics working for the other side. The Russian/Ukrainian conflict has brought a lot of these people out of the woodwork, but realistically I’ve been dealing them since the time I first started arguing on the internet about the Yugoslav conflicts of the 90’s. And yes, I was guilty of being a cheerleader myself in those days.

In my article I referred to cheerleading as “the bane of Eastern Europe,” but it is far more widespread than that. There are actually psychological reasons to explain this phenomenon, which is in fact just one example of something much broader. In other words, cheerleaders for Team Russia and Team West aren’t really that different than other internet mobs such as Social Justice Warriors, Men’s Rights fanatics, and video game console partisans.

Cracked.com has produced a number of materials on topics like this, and I encourage the reader to listen to and look them over, and then apply the concepts they talk about to your observations of the discourse about Russia and Ukraine online- Twitter, comments sections, forums, etc. The first and most interesting piece is this podcast:

Next there’s a video about why the internet ruins causes:

The video really resonated with me because a lot of times I’ve seen these discussions where it starts something like this:

1. Person expresses an opinion which may have been influenced by Russian propaganda, perhaps unwittingly.

2. Someone like me comes in with a nuanced response based on facts, experience, research, etc., e.g. “While the far right in Ukraine is a problem per se, it’s important to realize that it is no more influential than that which exists in Russia, if not less so, since the Russian state actively cultivates and funds nationalist and other far-right groups. On the topic of Bandera, which you brought up, it’s important to understand that most Ukrainians don’t know much about Stepan Bandera in the same way many Americans actually know little about George Washington. This of course is a problem because it provides fertile ground for real Bandera-cultists to rewrite history and spread their mythology, but that is a far cry from the allegation that a significant portion of Ukraine’s population actually looks favorably on Bandera and his movement. In fact, most people really don’t care becau-“

3. In comes the cheerleader, a Canadian whose classmate’s great-grandfather was from Ukraine, to set everyone straight: “DON’T LISTEN TO THAT PUTIN-LOVING SOVIET COMMUNIST TROLL WORKING IN THE TROLL FACTORY IN ST. PETERSBURG! BANDERA AND THE OUN NEVER DID ANYTHING WRONG EVER! THEY ARE HEROES OF UKRAINE BECAUSE THEY FOUGHT FOR UKRAINIAN INDEPENDENCE AGAINST THE GERMAN AND SOVIET COMMUNAZIS!!! ANYONE WHO HAS EVER SAID ANYTHING NEGATIVE ABOUT THE OUN, UPA, OR BANDERA IS AN ACTIVE KGB DISINFOMRATION AGENT! I HAVE READ ALL THE BOOKS ON THIS TOPIC! I ASSURE YOU! STEPAN BANDERA WAS A FREEDOM-LOVING LIBERAL DEMOCRAT WHO WANTED TO MAKE UKRAINE JOIN THE EUROPEAN UNION IN 1941! HE BELIEVED IN FEMINISM, EQUAL RIGHTS, AND EVEN LGBT RIGHTS! UNLESS YOU DON’T LIKE THOSE THINGS, IN WHICH CASE HE ACTUALLY BELIEVED IN FAMILY TRADITIONS, RELIGION GOVERNING SOCIETY, OR WHATEVER YOU WANT TO HEAR ME TELL YOU SO YOU’LL JOIN MY SIDE. I KNOW ALL THIS STUFF! I DIDN’T JUST HEAR ABOUT THESE THINGS IN 2014! GET OUT OF HERE, PUTLERIAN SOVIET KGB SCUM! SVOBODA AND PRAVIY SEKTOR ARE JUST UKRAINIAN PATRIOTS DEFENDING UKRAINE’S FREEDOM FROM THE SOVIET UNION, WHICH IS PUTIN! SLAVA UKRAYNY! SLAVA GEROIYIM!! FREE NATASHA SAVACHENKO!

4. I avail myself of Facebook’s block feature, yet die a little inside.

As a veteran debater, I’m really fascinated by this phenomenon, repulsive though it may be, and I devour up whatever I find on this topic. Here’s a great comic which puts forth its own characterization of the problem, for example.

One of the most interesting aspects for me is how people will find themselves taking a certain side for reasons that don’t necessarily make sense. Back in the States for example, I rarely met someone who was passionately opposed to abortion yet very concerned about global climate change and social welfare programs. As Thomas Frank explored in What’s the Matter with Kansas, you get these people who are really emotional and passionate about certain social issues, and if you appeal to those issues they’ll buy the rest of the platform hook, line, and sinker.

You see a lot of this on the Russian side of the debate, for example. Members of Putin’s foreign fan club often espouse views which contradict the Kremlin’s general line. Leftists wouldn’t like to experience Russia’s militarism, enforced patriotism that is reminiscent of early Cold War America, state-enforced religious meddling, and wealth inequality that makes the US look like a Scandinavian country by comparison. The libertarians, White Nationalists, and assorted far rightists wouldn’t like to live in a country that claims to be on an anti-fascist crusade and which glorifies the victory of the Stalin-led Soviet Union over states and movements that some of them greatly admire. In spite of these contradictions, the fan base, fringe though they may be, remains.

What keeps them in Kamp Kremlin? I think it is largely Russia’s posturing as a guarantor of the “multipolar” world, the check on American power, or however each individual phrases it. Many of these people may harbor deep misgivings about Russia for a myriad of reasons, but they fear to voice those reservations because it will look like weakness in the daily battle they wage on the internet. And if Russia “loses,” somehow, this will mean they lose, even if their cause is completely different from the interests of the Kremlin.

To give you an example, I was in countless debates with leftists who had been taken in by “Novorossiya” propaganda that had been tailor-made for that audience. If you’re an American leftist, the position of the Ukrainian government and the Donbas’ status has absolutely zero bearing on the causes you face. Zip, zero. It’s a Kremlin-manufactured war that’s more about Russian domestic issues than social issues, labor rights, etc. Yet plenty of leftists were duped into believing that this was their fight too, to the point that some actually went as far as to compare the struggle for “Novorossiya” to that of the Palestinian rights movement. Where do I even begin to explain what’s wrong with that?

I know I’ve said it before, but here it is again, in more or less the same words: Can anyone imagine some scenario where Obama is about to pass massive legislation banning trade unions and confiscating private firearms, and yet is prevented from doing so because he learns the DNR and LNR still exist? The way things are going now, it looks like Russia has lost interest and both territories will remain, one way or another, in “fascist junta”-ruled Ukraine. How many folks have the US authorities rounded up into FEMA camps since this development in the past month or so, when these developments took place?

Naturally none of those things happened. Many of those leftists were indeed duped by propaganda from Russia, some coming from supposedly independent, neutral sources, including the same that once had an effect on myself in late 2013 and early 2014. But even if they weren’t exposed to any Russian-produced media at all, many of them would have taken the Russian or at least anti-Ukrainian side simply based on what they saw in the US media. The US appeared to be supporting Maidan and the new Ukrainian government, so it had to be bad. Whoever opposed them had to be right. End of story. Well not quite the end. You see, sitting on Facebook stumping for the DNR is a lot easier than trying to organize American workers or learn about your local political system so you can actually work towards some kind of effective change. Fidel and Che sure were lucky the internet didn’t exist when they were alive.

What I’m getting at here, is that people seem to get so passionate and emotional about something that there comes a point where they’re arguing for all kinds of things that have nothing to do with the original reason they got into politics in the first place. And when you try to talk them down and get them to dial it back to their original issue, they lash out and double down because obviously the only reason you’d take issue with one or two points on their “platform” is that you’re a dupe or a paid agent with a hidden agenda. So disagreeing with them on something like Ukraine, which they have never been to and know nothing about, is in fact part of a calculated strategy to further roll back workers’ rights in the US, stop the $15 minimum wage hike, and give law enforcement the right to arrest anyone who reads Jacobin.

Here I’ve been sticking to the topic of Ukraine and Russia, but you will see this almost everywhere. People who want saner gun regulations “really” want all guns confiscated, after which they plan to ban all religion and make white middle class Christian families slave laborers on kale plantations. The clueless white hipster woman who doesn’t agree that belly-dancing is “cultural appropriation” secretly looks down on Arabs and wishes America would bring back blackface minstrel shows. You can’t trust what people actually say they believe; there has to be some sinister, ulterior motive. People have been doing this for decades. In America, white supremacists constantly claimed that civil rights for blacks wasn’t about equality- it was a plot to enslave white men. In Russia, liberals or opposition supporters don’t really want a democratic Russia that resembles Germany or Norway. They want to completely humiliate their own country and make it a colony of the United States because…reasons.

Sadly, little is going to change until knowledge of these phenomena is more widespread. Till then, you know the drill- don’t read the comments (except on this blog).

Winter on Fire? Or Burning Pile of Bullshit?

Lately I’ve been seeing ads for a documentary series on Netflix about Maidan called Winter on Fire. Take a look at the poster and tell me what’s wrong with this picture. First of all, I realize this is a poster and it has to be symbolic, but I find the use of a little girl juxtaposed with Berkut to be a bit weaselly. First, it reminds me of this annoying Adbusters poster for the clusterfuck failure known as Occupy Wall Street. Second, and more importantly, it portrays Ukraine as a little helpless child. It’s important to remember that even as agents of oppression, those Berkut riot police were also Ukrainian. So were the college students, the old people, the anarchists, the liberals, the far-rightists…What I’m getting at is that Ukraine shouldn’t be infantilized or made to look like this poor helpless child. Maidan had many people with lofty, positive goals and progressive views, and it also had backward, reactionary people with horrendously terrible ideas. It was, as protest movements tend to be, multifaceted and complex.

This I have learned the hard way, where I had to actually go to Ukraine several times to get an accurate account from participants. Probably the best explanation I got was from Stopfake’s co-founder Yevhen Fedchenko, who succinctly summarized it by explaining that in general, it was about Ukrainians wanting to change the way they were living toward something different. In other words, specifically those of 2pac Shakur, “See the old way wasn’t working so it’s on us to do what we gotta do, to survive.”

This brings me to my second point, which is that I suspect this series will make the same mistake as many other Western media outlets and oversimplify and romanticize the movement rather than inform people about a key historical event. Obviously this can’t be a review as I have not yet seen the material- I’ll see what I can do just as soon as I can find a decent torrent of the series because Yo-ho-ho me hearties! Still there are some warning signs that prompted these concerns.

One is the phrase “Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom.” Ukraine was an independent country at the time of Maidan. It has been since 1991. Sure there was a lot of Russian economic influence on the country, but a lot of this remains today and was only impeded or in some cases severed thanks to Russia’s activity. In short, the Russian and Ukrainian economies were and still are very integrated, ergo to pretend that this equates to Ukraine not being independent and needing to struggle for “freedom” from Russia is inaccurate. Look around the world and you’ll find many other stronger nations influencing poorer neighbors via economic means.

Perhaps “freedom” in this case means freedom from an increasingly authoritarian government? Sure, that makes a lot more sense, but naive outsiders and observers need to realize that Ukraine hasn’t achieved that kind of society just yet. Authoritarian tendencies still lurk in the government and among some of the biggest supporters of Maidan. A number of laws passed in the country are nearly mirror images of laws passed by Putin’s regime, restricting free speech and other basic civil rights. What Ukraine has now is a chance; it’s at a crossroads. It can develop into a real progressive democracy, or it can degenerate into a Little Russia, where each “national value” is only an opposite of its counterpart across the border, and where con men dupe the population with populism, again same as in Russia.

Indeed, when it comes to things like fighting corruption, Ukraine is far from out of the woods yet, as realistic supporters have to remind us all the time. Unfortunately Snyder-esque blather about “European values” and delicious Europe-py European Europe isn’t going to improve the situation. In my opinion, Ukraine has but one thing going for it, and that is the tendency of the population to resist and self-organize. Makhno himself would probably be proud if it weren’t for the far right segment of that crowd, but if we ignore that for a moment, the bottom line is that people in Ukraine, compared to Russians, seem to refuse to sit at home grumbling and patiently enduring non-stop humiliation for the sake of “stability” they never receive. It’s worth remember that America has its share of far right racists, which seems to be rising as of late, but there’s no need to fear a fascist takeover of the US so long as there are legions of people willing to organize and stand up to them whenever they rear their heads.

Lastly, I have one more bone to pick with this documentary series. One thing I’ll never get over is the way the American media will happily cheer on mass protests in other countries, while at home they always tend to demonize them by focusing on fringe elements, looters, or whatever. In other words, the US media does to protest movements, particularly those on the side of the poor, workers, and minorities, what the Russian media did to Maidan. Just replace “Banderite Nazis” with “looters,” “thugs,” etc.

You could almost say the American media something interesting in common with the Russian press- a moral lesson about protests. The Russian moral of every protest story is that protesting only makes things worse and replaces precious stability with chaos. One must obey the “legitimate” government at all costs, and nothing that government does can ever destroy its legitimacy (so long as it is somehow friendly to the Kremlin’s foreign policy interests). The American lesson is a little different. Obey the law unquestioningly at home, but live vicariously through protests abroad.

Yes, Maidan was violent. Yes, that violence was mostly defensive and in many cases, justified, but I can’t help but wonder what might have happened to the Ferguson protesters had they formed their own self-defense companies as the Maidan protesters did. Given the militarized police response to the protests, I would have predicted a bloodbath. Sure, if you’re an old white cattle rancher who stole something like $1 million from the government, you and your militia buddies can point guns at federal agents, patrol the area decked out in military gear and assault rifles, and generally play guerrilla insurgent. Try that shit protesting police brutality in a black community or right-to-work laws and see what happens.

Unfortunately a lot of Westerners, many of them leftists, look at this inconsistency toward foreign protest movements and conclude that tacit government endorsements must mean the protest movement is inauthentic and bad. This isn’t the case. Instead of condemning these movements, Westerners should study them, learn how they work, and think about how they can safely and effectively apply their tactics on their home turf. What is more, they can reject right-wing involvement in Maidan while building solidarity with those who weren’t part of that element. For any leftist who still balk at that idea, keep in mind that Occupy also had its share of far-right participants and was actually publicly endorsed by neo-Nazis like David Duke and the American Nazi Party. Remove the mote from thine eye…

Obviously I’m a bit apprehensive because I highly doubt this documentary series will properly inform outsiders about all the points I’ve outlined above. Instead I’m predicting oversimplification, stripping the agency from Ukrainians, and a lot of Europeans, Americans, and probably Canadians patting themselves on the back.

WHY DON’T YOU WRITE ABOUT AMERICA?!

One of the inspirations for writing a blog comes from Gin & Tacos, whose author Ed recently produced this beautiful piece in response to another “get off my lawn” rant about millennials. He apparently had the stomach to get through that “satirical” article and the follow up the columnist wrote in response to the backlash it caused. I could not. I just can’t. Ed’s response is dead on, but I just want to add a few comments of my own.

First, why are these “fuck those millennials” articles still a thing? They’re never more than a collection of cliches. If I had the time, I’d create a bingo card for them. Since I don’t, here’s some of the key words so you can go make your own:

Selfies, expensive coffee, lazy, participation trophies, soccer/tie games, reference to how much harder it was back in the old days, “entitlement,” Facebook, Instagram, advice based on hindsight, totally oblivious to who raised the millennial generation, FREE SPACE: Bullshit bootstrap story

Second, I’m sick of people producing bullshit and hiding behind the term satire. Yes, sometimes people literally mistake satire for reality. But believe it or not, it is indeed possible for someone to realize you were trying to be satirical, and still decide that A. It’s not really funny, and B. It’s bullshit. The “it’s satire” defense is just incredibly pretentious- “Of course you wouldn’t get it! It’s satire.” No, no, I get it. It’s just not funny. Or it’s stupid. Or it’s totally inaccurate or offensive. No, I’m not saying it should be censored. This is called criticism. You’re not persecuted. Shut up. Sit down.

Lastly, the thing that drives me up the wall about the millennial bullshit is that people keep playing fast and loose with the definition. A few years ago, I was secure in the knowledge that I just made the cutoff for Generation X. Then one day I looked again and found that I had been lumped into Generation Y, the millennials, along with people who were in high school and who had just graduated college.

I’m sorry but I don’t really have much in common with those people. I still find myself failing to connect on certain topics with people who are only a few years younger than me from time to time. If we talk about Metal Gear Solid, we’re fine. If I talk about Splatterhouse, Shinobi (arcade), NES Ninja Gaiden, etc. I’m often faced with blank stares. Ditto with 80’s cartoons. Occasionally I feel like some kind of out-of-place time traveler trying to find someone who appreciates what it was like the first time they put a quarter into an arcade Double Dragon machine. Please!

You remember this? Right? TELL ME YOU REMEMBER THIS! THIS REALLY EXISTED!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not pulling one of these idiotic “I’M SO OLD” routines. It’s not that I’m old, it’s that I live in a country which had a very different experience in the 80’s and 90’s, and when it comes to people near my age or older, many weren’t into those games because video games in general were far less mainstream than they have been since the 2000’s.

The point I’m making is that the whole “fuck millennials” lobby not only applies to millennials ideas, beliefs, and behaviors that are not entirely accurate, but that they also lump together groups of people who have very different upbringings, experiences, and mentalities. To be sure my time abroad plays a major factor, but even if we set that aside I can’t see myself connecting very well with today’s college-age kids. I’m probably already lame as hell in their eyes.

I guess there are several conclusions we can draw from this. The first is that millennials, of any age, are not lazy. The hack writers who regurgitate shit like: “Maybe you should stop taking selfies with your participation trophy and get a job instead of acting all entitled all the time,” are lazy. Lazy, unfunny and fucking stupid.

And for you younger millennials, those just graduating with a chunk of student debt and the high school seniors who are even more screwed for the foreseeable future, I leave you with the following message: First, remember that even if those boomer detractors are occasionally right, it was they who raised you and built the society you grew up in. If you really turned out so poorly, that’s on them. Second, and more importantly, these hacks and the dipshits who read these rants and chuckle at the youth will depend on you to care for them when they can no longer care for yourselves. When they need your help, feel free to remind them that just like you, they aren’t entitled to anything, and they really ought to take personal responsibility for things like feeding themselves or getting around.

And if they really piss you off, you could always try a more radical solution.*

*This is satire, which means you’re not allowed to criticize it for any reason whatsoever. If you attempt to do so I’ll accuse you of having no sense of humor, not getting it, and wanting the government to step in and censor me! SATIRE!

Russia’s own goal in Syria

I think it’s pretty clear by now that I dissent from some people on the topic of Russia in Syria. According to a rather misguided idea, everyone who has a beef with the Russian government should take a decidedly contrary position to what ever is perceived to be the Kremlin’s position in any and every dispute around the globe. I’m terribly sorry but this idea is bullshit, and it actually plays right into the hands of Putin and his mythmakers. The fantasy they are constructing to dupe their own exploited people is one in which Russia is again a world superpower, and it commands a league of friendly nations and regimes around the world in a struggle against the Anglo-American-Atlanticist hegemony, or whatever the hell they’re calling it now. People who subscribe to the “every enemy of Russia everywhere is my friend” mode of thought are merely feeding this very fantasy, essentially completing the work of Moscow’s propagandists.

Let me make this absolutely clear. I do not “support” Russia’s intervention in Syria. It’s nothing but another absurd “reality show” to distract from the failed, problematic sideshow in Ukraine, which in turn was intended to distract from the fact that Russia is controlled by a dictator who is running his country aground. The Russian people are paying for this war, as well as substantial costs of the Donbas Debacle. Together with the tumbling Russian economy, the results aren’t pretty. That being said, American and Western policy on the matter of Syria hasn’t exactly been stellar since 2011, and the West has thus far utterly failed to come up with any better alternatives. My position on Syria is very clear- unlike the establishments Graham Phillips frequents, there are no happy endings. Prop up Assad and more barrel bombs will fall. Let him fall, and heads will continue to roll. Count on it.

Having got that out of the way, I liked the sober analysis on the topic delivered by the venerable “War Nerd” of eXile fame. Like the recent work of Mark Adomanis and more recently Fareed Zakaria (mentioned in the previous post), War Nerd Gary Brecher gives his take on some of the hysterical reactions to Russia’s Syrian involvement. I have to say though, that there was one point I had to take issue with and it demonstrates another absurdity of the Kremlin establishment’s thinking.

War Nerd takes issue with the US Secretary of Defense’s claim that Russia’s campaign is “doomed to fail.” On the contrary, he explains:

“Actually, Russia’s campaign is much more simple and logical than the USAF’s messed-up mission in Syria. Russia is using its air force to try to blast out a viable territory for an Alawite/Shia state along the Syrian coastal hills. Assad’s people are longtime Russian clients and allies, and the Russian air force is helping them maintain their key turf against a much more numerous enemy. It may fail, but at least that’s a reasonable plan.”

He then goes on in more detail, and indeed, from a strategic point of view this is all rather reasonable. There’s just one problem with this- when it comes to the Kremlin’s plans in Syria, they never said it was to “blast out a viable territory for an Alawite/Shia state.” No, folks, they were very clear- this was all about destroying ISIS. Russia was going to save the world from ISIS, and numerous Russian outlets and even idiotic American social media sites were claiming that Russia had devastated ISIS in the first 24 hours of bombing, with 24 ground attack aircraft, no less. Of course this wasn’t true. Russia’s activities in Syria have been pretty much what everyone expected them to be, and War Nerd’s calculations are most likely right.

Here’s the maddening part though- if Russia had just admitted this from the very beginning, i.e. that they were trying to shore up Assad so as to force a settlement, something they have all but admitted only a couple weeks in, no rational person could accuse them of failure right off the bat. There are many ways they can spin this and come off looking much better, at least more honest for once. Instead, they claimed they were going to fight ISIS, then they directed nearly all of their small force against everybody but ISIS, save for a few token strikes. Ergo their anti-ISIS crusade was indeed, “doomed to fail,” largely because it was never intended in the first place.

While the Kremlin mantra about how “moderate rebels don’t exist” isn’t exactly true, it’s not bullshit either. “Moderate rebels,” outside of certain areas, are few and far between, and we do not know how “moderates” might act after the collapse of the regime and the conquest of its territories. The end of a bloody sectarian conflict and the thrill of victory as well as the memory of losses and pain may erupt in an orgy of violence against the conquered people, “moderate” views notwithstanding. And even if secular rebel forces could somehow rally and defeat the regime, what’s to stop them from getting knocked over by Al Nusra and other Al Qaeda-affiliated groups, ISIS, or both? These are all valid points the Russian foreign ministry could have made, had they not decided to lie instead, starting with trying to conceal involvement, then declaring a jihad against ISIS that wasn’t to be.

So you have to wonder why they lied when they actually could have had truth on their side (albeit with a standard helping of spin). I’ll admit I have no more than a hunch here, but I have a feeling that the top brass and the political technologists actually did this on purpose, because they think it’s somehow clever. A logical tactician would capitalize on the fortune of having a valid case, but this is Russia, dominated by experts in geopolitics and hybrid warfare! The proper hybrid warfare technique would be to say you’re going in for one reason, then do the opposite without regard for the fact that everyone can easily see what you are really doing. Elementary geopolitical expertise tells us that executing a plan with this hybrid deception element woven in means that the acting country receives a bonus of +10 prestige for pulling it off. Add that to the +50 resource points Russia gets for controlling Syrian coastal territory, and the whole gambit makes sense according to the brilliant science of geopolitics!

It kind of reminds me of those bullshitters who actually have fairly interesting life stories or accomplishments, and yet still feel the need to inflate their records by making up things that never happened. For fuck’s sake, man, quit while you’re ahead. So here we have yet another example, albeit a minor one where Russia could have scored some points yet didn’t because the geniuses in charge had to lie. It’s akin to the way Putin’s regime made real accomplishments that could be attributed to globalization and foreign investment, but Putin was unable to openly “claim” these benefits in front of his base because his own system constantly marinated them in xenophobic, jingoistic propaganda. Imagine how differently things would be today if in 2005 Putin went on TV and said something like: “Hey guys, America’s dumping a lot of money into this country, along with Europe, and we’re benefiting from this, we’re on our way to being a part of Europe and the leading industrial nations in the world! Personally I hope it happens before 2008 too, because of course that’s the end of my term and I plan to retire from politics.”

In the end it’s just one of dozens of irreconcilable internal contradictions that make it impossible for the Russian regime to truly succeed. This is why as I’ve said before, this “New Cold War” isn’t going to last long. If Putin had gone into Syria with the honest motive of propping up a small Alawite enclave to force a settlement to the process, he might have been able to achieve that goal and appear victorious in front of his base as was the plan. Even if that enclave were overrun later, Russia’s forces could be long gone, and the Kremlin media could already be talking about the next Russian crusade against Masons or reptiloids or whatever. Instead they said they were going to wipe out ISIS, and ISIS is just fine. And if they fail to prop up Assad, the campaign will look like even more of a failure. Putin’s probably not going to commit any sizable number of troops to fight Assad’s war, so it will appear like the crusaders arrived to fight ISIS and then left with their tails between their legs while Assad’s government collapsed. Smooth. Real smooth.

Mission Creep AKA Neocons in the Kremlin

As I am preparing for a two-week long journey (no, not Ukraine again) I’ve been scrambling to come up with some big post that would tide everyone over until my return. It began with an article someone sent me from the horrid Russia Insider, wherein a supposedly left-leaning American Kremlin cheerleader tries to make the case that “Russia is actually ahead of the United States on many issues championed by the American Left.”

At first I thought it was utterly hilarious, largely because it was obvious the person has probably never spent any time in Russia, and I had planned to highlight some of the more amusing parts, but then I decided against it. I’m fully confident that my audience can read it and spot the problems without fail, particularly those who have first-hand knowledge of Russia. Most of it consists of typical whataboutery arguments so simplistic that they could serve as a primer on the subject. To the author’s credit, however, she actually admits her ignorance on some of the points she brings forth, such as the thing about state-run healthcare in Russia. Granted, that begs the question as to why she would attempt to inform her “liberal friends” on a topic she isn’t really more knowledgeable on, but I’ll leave that alone.

Shortly after seeing that, I saw this disturbing article about how far right-wing oligarch Konstantin Malofeev is creating a new Russian channel inspired by America’s Fox News. How inspired? Well they actually have one of Fox News’ founding producers, a man named Jack Hanick. This worked out perfectly because this article basically trumps the points in the Russia Insider article, reminding us yet again how the Kremlin’s propagandists will extend feelers towards the left when in fact the state is reactionary and right wing.

This just created another dilemma though. If I used the points in the second article to debunk those in the first, I realize that somewhere there are right-wing Russia supporters who could use the very same article to “prove” to right-wingers in the West that Russia is a bastion of morals and traditional values. Thinking of this brought me to a sort of realization that dealing with situations like this is like some kind of real-life Phillip K. Dick story, where the thing you use to debunk one thing is used as proof for another myth. Depressed by this realization and that article, I decided to scrap that idea as well.

Yet where a door closes, another one opens, and in this whole mess I noticed a very good lesson to share about “neocons,” the Kremlin media’s favorite bogeymen. You see, to hear Russia Insider or RT tell it, we should assume that hardcore neocons and “pro-Russia” ideologues are mortal enemies. Yet when we actually look at real, live, veteran neocons, that’s not what we see. The story of Jack Hanick in the FT article is a good example of this.

Hanick, apparently, was raised Catholic. Yet he and his wife are now supposedly willing to convert to Russian Orthodoxy. Why? Read his own words:

“It was February and miserably snowing and every church was packed,” he says. “People were standing outside in the snow and listening on speakers. And I was thinking, you’d never see this in America.”

This experience happened on one of Hanick’s earlier trips to Russia. One wishes he had spent time exploring other aspects of Putin’s Russia. Perhaps he should have looked at the orphanages, the strip clubs and brothels, the mansions of the rich compared to the flats of Russians living outside the capital. And speaking of his specific experience at that church in February, I’m surprised he never saw this in  America, a ridiculously religious country. Hell, I once went to a Christmas service at a Polish church in my city and it was basically the same thing- people crowding outside and listening on speakers. That Hanick would so readily discard his faith after such a mundane display that, according to Malofeev’s own candid admission, isn’t representative of Russian society, speaks volumes about which God he serves (HINT: It’s money).

To some it might seem surprising that someone behind the scenes of an actual neocon mouthpiece, Fox News, no less, would happily aid a pro-Putin oligarch build a network that peddles even more anti-American propaganda than the regular state-run channels. I see no reason to be shocked. On the contrary, it’s perfectly logical. For one thing, Fox News and Malofeev’s new network are basically the same thing- one convinces middle and working class Americans that all their woes are the fault of liberals, illegal immigrants, and Muslims, while the other convinces Russians that all their problems are the fault of the West and the Rothschilds.  The results are roughly the same- the Fox audience goes out and votes for policies which objectively hurt them even more economically, while those behind Fox and its affiliated think tanks reap the profits. Russians on the other hand, will stay home and continue to tolerate the looting of their nation by parasitic capitalist exploiters like Malofeev while impotently shaking their fist at the Western bogeyman. The difference is but a matter of nuance.

There are other similarities as well. For all their flag-waving and grandstanding as “patriots,” Fox news conservatives hate America. Hell, they’ve been claiming that “liberals” ruined America decades ago. Obviously they have always been flexible as to whether or not America is already a ruined, degenerate cesspool or whether it was teetering on  the edge of becoming so, but the bottom line is that you can’t reasonably claim to love a country when you spew hate and vitriol at at least half the population on a daily basis.

With this sort of mentality, and fat stacks of dirty oligarch money, it’s very easy for these super-patriots to turn traitor. This can be easy to forget in an era of Democratic control of the White House, when conservatives suddenly decided on 20 January 2009 that dissent is once again patriotic and “government” is bad. For those with a slightly better memory, the picture is very different.

To “disrespect the president during a time of war” was a grievous offense. Luckily, American conservatives weren’t really able to use the state security apparatus to do something about these “traitors.” Sure, the propaganda machine could go after you, and working under a conservative boss could be a serious problem for some people, but apart from a few cases that’s as much as they can do. I don’t think for a second, however, that many neocons during the Bush era certainly wish they could unleash the state on dissidents. I suspect that from afar, many neocons revile Russia because they see it as a rival to what they believe is a justified American-led hegemony, but when they see it from the inside they fall in love, especially if they can make money off of it. Things like market-based solutions and constitutional rights fly right out the window.

Of course the neocon admiration for Putin doesn’t stop at domestic policy. In one of Mark Adomanis’ recent articles, he points out how none other than Neocon of the Neocons Charles Krauthammer has been fawning over Putin’s supposed leadership in the Middle East. Still other neocons have been feigning outrage, as if they aren’t so admiring of Putin as they are angry at Obama’s alleged weakness. At times, however, it seems they can’t help but swoon for anyone who is willing to bomb Muslims.

This is quite appropriate, because these days the Kremlin has taken up the neocon mantle. Critics might claim their mission in the Middle East is fundamentally different from that of Bush in Iraq, but this is only a matter of details. Both Bush and Putin claimed to be fighting “terrorists” in simple, black and white terms. Both nations are biting off more than they can chew. America failed to achieve the neocons’ naive predictions in Iraq, and Russia will fail to achieve what it seeks in Syria, that is unless it increases its commitment to a point that would be far more harmful for Russia.

As for neocons in the US, both those who feign outrage over Obama’s weakness and those who show open admiration for Putin, they’re quite misguided, as Fareed Zakaria so eloquently explains. For those of us principled people that say a pox on both neocon houses, I say sit this one out. Last Saturday there was an anti-war protest in Moscow. While it involved slogans and banners opposing the war in Ukraine, this one was dedicated to the Syrian intervention. I’ve said so once before and I’ll say it again, I’m not getting involved in this. Yes, Assad is a butcher. There are plenty of butchers on all sides of that conflict. There is no happy end to this story. So let Putin pretend he’s George W. Bush and embark on his little adventure. Every round they send there is one that won’t end up in Ukraine. Since nobody, hawkish neocons included, has a real solution to this problem, why stop Putin from stumbling into the mess head first?

American society has suffered deep scars thanks to the ideas of neocon “patriots.” I have long suspected that Putin and his crew watched the Bush administration with envy and longed for the day when they would be able to strut around the world as he did, all the while being unaware of apathetic as to the consequences. Now they’ve decided to try their hand at the neocon game. Let them learn the hard way.

UPDATE: Here’s another recently published piece on the topic which also highlights the similarities between the Kremlin’s rulers and the American neocons. I love the style.

A Tale of Two Incidents

I’m quite certain all my readers have already heard plenty about the Dutch Safety Board’s investigation into the downing of MH17. If you haven’t read it yet, here’s a summary, and if you want to slog through the whole thing, look here. As if on cue, as tends to be the case every time some new evidence from the investigation leaked out in the past, Russia turned the bullshit up to 11 and pre-empted the release of the DBS report with another press conference held by Buk Surface-to-Air missile manufacturer Almaz-Antey. Once again, previous Russian stories were contradicted, but the fun didn’t stop yesterday. Shortly before I began writing this, the head of Russia’s aviation service was throwing out all kinds of accusations and claims, including some that contradicted yesterday’s Almaz-Antey claims. This wasn’t the first time. In other words, this satirical story is pretty close to the truth.

Some Western journalists act perplexed at this incredibly guilty behavior, particularly in light of the fact that the DSB report didn’t even attribute blame for firing the Buk and it also said that Ukraine should have closed the air space in the region (Gee, guess what part of the report Team Russia will deem reliable!). Some of us aren’t surprised at all. Personally speaking, I liken this to the recent behavior of the conservative propaganda machine back in the US when they float rumors or mock scandals about illegal immigrants committing voter fraud or Obama not being a natural born citizen. Nobody who puts these theories out there actually plans to act on them. Sure, some politicians will promote voter ID laws, but this is just about disenfranchising poor people. The real reason for these conspiracy theories is that it reassures Republicans that when they lose elections, it’s only because the other side cheated, and therefore the winning party is illegitimate.

Same thing is going on here. Russia’s foreign ministry claims that the Dutch board didn’t consider facts from “Russian experts,” without naming the experts or talking about which facts they are referring to, no doubt because the folks at the MFA can’t be bothered to keep up on the latest alternative scenario. These public statements and the media coverage they get in Russia’s domestic press is enough to reassure Putin’s base that the whole thing was unfair, and the whole world is part of a massive conspiracy against Russia.

It’s a shame though, because what Russia is doing is spitting on the graves of the victims. Then again, this is a government that spits on the graves of 25 million Soviet citizens, many of them Russian, so I guess I shouldn’t expect more sympathy for foreigners flying out of “Gayropa.” But I digress, I wanted to compare the MH17 to another recent incident, one which will suddenly have all of Team Russia nodding their heads along with my text. I’m talking of course about the airstrike on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan.

Now as an aside, while I post links about this, I’d just like to remind you how “the mainstream media” like CNN would never report something like this.  Okay maybe they would, but they wouldn’t air allegations that it was a war crime. Okay, maybe CNN would do that, but I bet Fox news wouldn’t! Oh…wait…no. But I keep hearing from the pro-Kremlin side that state-run outlets like RT are no different from CNN and Fox. I guess this means that we should soon expect CNN and Fox to start personally attacking journalists and airing “experts” who will insist that the Taliban, Doctors Without Borders, or literally anybody but the US forces were responsible for the deadly airstrike. I mean it’s all the same, right?

Okay enough of that. The fact is that I am as disgusted by this Kunduz attack as I was about MH17. I could start pointing out how in the case of the former, the gunner on the AC-130 could at least see what he was shooting at, whereas a Buk operator is looking at blips on a screen. I’m not going to get into detail there, however, because I don’t want some Team Russia fanatic to get overexcited, whip his dick out, and start beating it right there in his office. Part of my anger is due to the fact that it’s 2015 and we’re still involved in Afghanistan, as though we’re going to somehow get some kind of victory out of this. Another part of me is angry at the lying that took place afterward. When this story broke, I have no doubt that there were people all across America who wanted to see justice be done, because this incident is a stain on the country’s flag (some Team Russia folks might need to change their pants now). In Russia, by contrast, 3% of people believe the version of MH17 that the Western world does.

With the myriad of alternative, contradictory stories that have circulated, sometimes within 24 hours of each other, it’s no wonder that these people can’t really tell you what they think actually happened. They only know it wasn’t the rebels, and it wasn’t Russia’s fault. In other words they know exactly what the Kremlin wants them to know. When the White House and Pentagon change their story or squirm in front of cameras, Americans sense bullshit and get angrier. Russians just throw up their hands and say: “Who knows what’s true? Everyone lies! We lie, they lie!” That’s the Russia Putin’s regime has built.

Before anyone balks about the comparison of MH17 to Kunduz let me point something out. Even in spite of the Pentagon’s failed attempts to spin the events, and in spite of the White House’s reluctance to support an international, independent tribunal, the administration has accepted the blame for these deaths on behalf of the United States. And of course, they admit the presence of US forces rather than pretend that only the Afghan national army is doing the fighting. They are not crying information war and claiming that the Taliban did it, or that the hospital patients and staff did it as a “provocation.” If there is an independent investigation, don’t expect its progress to be met with periodic White House press conferences featuring new experts that will “prove” alternative theories absolving the US military of blame.

Just another example of how when it comes to political regimes, the slightest difference can have a big impact on behavior. Whatever happens, however, I think it’s clear that the victims of Kunduz will get justice long before the families of the victims of MH17 ever will.

Beware of Bad Samaritans*

In the war against Ukraine there is one weapon more frightening than anything in the entire Russian arsenal. Sneakier than “hybrid warfare,” it is a weapon which is designed to be wielded by the Ukrainian people against themselves, and it helps the Putin regime both maintain influence in Ukraine while sustaining itself at home. That weapon is neo-liberal economic theory, and as Sean Guillory points out in this superb article, Ukrainians ought to think twice about heeding the advice of neo-liberal bad Samaritans, in this case Arthur Laffer.

There is an idea among some Ukrainians and Ukraine supporters that Russia is the biggest threat to Ukraine and the be-all, end-all when it comes to survival or defeat of Ukraine as a country. This is woefully incorrect. For one thing, Russia has managed to keep its thumb on Ukraine for so long largely due to the poverty and other effects of the collapse of the Soviet Union. When Russia’s economy soared in the mid-2000’s, plenty of Ukrainian citizens, mainly from the east, could look to Russia and see higher salaries and pensions, so that as one refugee from Donetsk told me, some locals thought annexation by Russia would bring “paradise.” It matters not whether they were wrong because the Russian system wasn’t sustainable, or if those economic benefits came at the cost of losing political freedoms. Poor people with few prospects are likely to embrace any system or regime that appears to be able to reliably put food on the table, and in the case of Russia, put iPhones in pockets.

Hanging out in Kyiv, and particularly in the center, it was always easy to miss the economic reality that faces Ukraine, especially now. It’s obvious when you go out to some place like Donetsk oblast, but in the capital it’s far more subtle. One clue is the increased presence of homeless people and people asking for money in and around Maidan Nezalezhnosti. In my most recent trip this was impossible to ignore. But there were other signs as well.

I don’t mean to sound like Thomas Friedman here, but on my last trip I had a long discussion about the local economy with a cab driver who drove me into the city from the Boryspil airport. The story is the same- lack of work, low wages, etc. I met another expat who explained to me how his friends in Odessa were now living on or below the poverty line. Now I don’t mean to level any accusations against any specific people, but this kind of poverty and desperation is vital for Russia to maintain control over Ukraine by other means. Just as how the Russian government can easily stifle dissent by paying people to support the government in public or harass dissidents, desperate people in Ukraine are a pool of cheap, willing agents for sabotaging progress. If one thinks that some sense of patriotism will keep these people from carrying out the work of the Kremlin, think again. For one, the Kremlin’s motives are not always obvious, nor do they always seem logical from the outside. The origins of the money used to pay these “agents” may be murky, if not totally obscure. Putin’s designs might be carried out by men claiming to be Ukrainian patriots. In fact, bet on it. Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, after all.

Getting back to the economy, this is yet another reason why people should be more up in arms about the decommunization law. Proponents of this law essentially preach a sort of voodoo politics, whereby removing symbols and in some cases rewriting history will suddenly make all Ukrainians into patriotic citizens. Patriotic citizens, who, for example, will be less likely to resist in the face of coming austerity. You see, if trade unions and workers band together to protest austerity for them while the rich continue to live in luxury, the oligarch-controlled media can just tar them as Communists or Communist-like. They’ll be accused of wanting a return to the Soviet Union and Moscow rule. A good Ukrainian patriot endures the inequality and poverty, and in return gets flags, slogans, and fairy tales about “national ideas.” Same as the Russian patriot, incidentally.

Does that sound far-fetched? Well it’s already happened in America of all places. Nearly a quarter of a century after the fall of the USSR, America’s Republicans and conservatives have been screaming about Communism, socialism, and Marxism more loudly than ever, lobbing this accusation against a neutered Democratic party which long ago went full-on neo-liberal. Even during the Cold War they were less shrill than they have been since the election of Barack Obama. Take a look at this GOP poster from 1956, for example. That’s a Republican pro-labor union poster. These days the GOP portrays unions as at best, shiftless and lazy, and at worst, “thugs.” If, in America, the idea of requiring private citizens to buy health insurance from private providers can be repeatedly labeled “socialist” or “Communist,” it stands to reason that any significant push back against austerity in Ukraine will inevitably be similarly tarred with the same labels. I guarantee it.

To the people of Ukraine I will make this as blunt as possible. Not everyone in Ukraine is “Ukrainian”, which is to say you are not on the same side. It is not only the top oligarchs you have to suspect either. This has nothing to do with their nationality, their religion, what language they speak, or their sexual orientation, but rather their relation to the means of production and their ownership of capital. These people’s interests are irreconcilable to those of the vast majority of Ukrainian citizens, and they are very reconcilable to those interests of their business counterparts in Russia. Some of them are having a spat at the moment, and their are some minor differences concerning Russia’s neo-feudal incarnation of capitalism, but capitalists are capitalists.

As these people continue to squeeze you more and more, they will crow more and more loudly about the horrors of “Communism,” and shed mighty rivers of tears for people who died decades ago. They will do this because mourning the dead costs them nothing, whereas actually caring about the Ukrainian people today, and those yet unborn, does cost them. Make no mistake- Ukraine is not a poor country. It possesses the land and resources to provide for the basic needs of every citizen and ensure a positive birth rate as well. Russia is even more endowed with such resources. But what Ukraine cannot do is provide that lifestyle for its citizens while simultaneously providing a life of opulent luxury for a small minority who are unwilling to earn by their own labor, and who use the political system and its monopoly on violence to maintain a system that denies people the means to obtain the necessities of life save for at the mercy of a capitalist.

Those in Ukraine who exploit their fellow Ukrainians have an incentive to keep people’s minds focused on the past and not present, and the effects of this distraction are extremely useful to the Kremlin as well. More equality means a stronger, more inclusive community, and that means a much smaller pool of potential agents for the Kremlin. By contrast, post-Maidan Ukraine’s circus of populism, far-right politics, and patriotic circle-jerks give Putin’s political technologists and intelligence operatives little reason to worry about losing influence in Ukraine.

Finally, it is high time to chuck the politics of opposites, whereby people in Ukraine and other Eastern European countries enthusiastically embrace anything that appears to be the opposite of what they think their enemies represent. Bad Samaritans like Arthur Laffer may seem like the polar opposite of the Kremlin, which presides over a much more restricted capitalist system. Do not be fooled, however. The Kremlin system is capitalist through and through, and what is more it is a system that thrived off of the 90’s and 2000’s amoral neo-liberal, let-the-market-decide mentality. The crisis of 2008 showed much of the West that the capitalist system is inherently flawed and cannot be fixed. Today, there are even progressive capitalists who envision an alternative system, that some are referring to as post-capitalism. There are many flaws in their vision, but they are onto something. With the rest of the modern world waking up to this reality, there is no good reason for Ukraine to listen to outdated dinosaurs like Arthur Laffer and the rest of the neo-liberal cultists.

Alright, I’m stepping down from my soapbox. As a related note though, I think Ukraine can take inspiration from another country that emerged in the 20th century after centuries of domination. I leave you with a key passage from Ireland’s Democratic Programme of the First Dail and a simple question:

“…we declare that the Nation’s sovereignty extends not only to all men and women of the Nation, but to all its material possessions, the Nation’s soil and all its resources, all the wealth and all the wealth-producing processes within the Nation, and with him we reaffirm that all right to private property must be subordinated to the public right and welfare.”

So, people of Ukraine, to whom do your nation’s soil, resources, and wealth producing processes belong to?

*The title of this post is inspired by one of the books of South Korean economist Ha Joon Chang, which can be found here.

A grain of salt

Russia’s independent TV channel Dozhd (Rain) has recently reported on a rumor that ex- Russian railway chief and amateur political philosopher Vladimir Yakunin was forced to leave his position because his son, who has lived in the UK for five years, sought citizenship there. Personally I doubt this, because it suggests that there is some concept of shame about this hypocrisy at the top levels of power in Russia, which I find really hard to believe.

You see, one thing about the Russian elite is that they have this profound arrogance which almost seems deliberate. Whether it’s presidential spokesman Peskov’s watch, valued at over $600,000, or Duma deputy Mizulina’s son living and owning a business in morally bankrupt Belgium, the Russian elite have hitherto done very little to hide their excess from the people. For one they know the people are suppressed, divided, and confused. Second, it’s a show of power. I really think these leaders have true contempt for their fellow Russians and imagine themselves as a class apart from them. Not fully European, as they wish to be, but definitely not Russian.

See earlier this year Yakunin himself was lecturing students on his own personal world conspiracy theory, preaching about the evils of consumerism and globalization. Later in the lecture someone asked him about his son living in London, and Yakunin’s response was that “it happens.” Most likely Yakunin never expected one of the “cattle” to ask such a question. In Russian society the social betters lecture you and you don’t question them. Of course there was no big uproar over his son living in London then. One could argue that his son hadn’t applied for UK citizenship at that point, but I don’t think that matters. People in Yakunin’s circle believe they have this right to preach the evils of the West to the cattle while they enjoy all the West’s evil fruits. This is a display of power, the right to say do as I say and not as I do.

Now there is another allegation that was floated, which says that Yakunin was told to cut back on siphoning money out of the railways and he did not obey this instruction. This I can somewhat believe. The idea of a top member of the Russian elite being physically incapable of not stealing is entirely believable. What is more, notice that he merely steps down and changes position, whereas in a country with rule of law, he’d be publicly indicted in what would be a major scandal for months. This is what happens in Russia. You may not get actually punished for stealing, but you can be removed from a privileged position.  So I can believe that someone at the top told him to cut back a little bit, no doubt because of the crashing economy, and he failed to heed the instruction.

Members of Russia’s elite may face sanctions from the top for stepping out of line, but blatant hypocrisy is no problem. Remember that these are the same people who have been attacking the West for years now, all the while taking the money they stole from their own people and shoveling it into Western banks, real estate, corporations, and universities.

UPDATE: Apparently Yakunin himself denies that his son’s UK citizenship was a factor in his leaving. For one thing, he claims his son already had the UK citizenship prior to the time he supposedly applied for it. The rest of his denial is simply hilarious and perfectly demonstrates the way Russia’s elite relates to the people they rule:

“There is no relation. Just look at how many Russian officials have a green card [permanent residency in the U.S.] or dual citizenship. Their wives and children reside abroad and no one cares about that a tiny bit.”

Op-Edge is getting dull

Apparently RT is devoting a lot of time to its own self-defense, and it doesn’t seem to be working too well because it seems their budget is being cut yet again in 2016. Thanks to Stopfake’s Yevhen Fedchenko, I was introduced to this gem on the “Op-Edge” section of RT. First a few preliminaries.

The article is primarily aimed at Michael Weiss, who appears to run in actual neoconservative circles and is the editor of The Interpreter’s blog. It focuses on a recent article that Weiss had published in The Daily Beast, which I had read prior to seeing this RT story. Having got all that out of the way, I must say that I am highly skeptical of Weiss and The Interpreter. While the latter does produce some good work, they seem to give a lot of leeway to people with very strange personalities, behavior, and ideologies. Their site is laden with dozens of articles by Paul Goble, who basically just takes down the rantings of various obscure Russian intellectuals and reprints them without balance or criticism. Some of the individuals there are into personal attacks and paranoid conspiracy theories about other journalists who fail to rigidly follow the line that they have arbitrarily decided to be “right.” In this way, some of these individuals area almost mirror images of the pro-Kremlin pundits who accuse everyone of being neocons or State Department operatives.

Another problem with people like Weiss and Goble is that their fanaticism drives them to engage in behaviors and lines of rhetoric which make them perfect targets for pro-Kremlin propagandists, which is why you see the latter constantly jumping on their work and holding it up as “the mainstream media,” as if they are are the Kremlin’s main critics. The Russian propaganda machine, very similar to the right-wing media machine in the US, acts sort of like a hunting party of lions on the savanna- they pick off the sick and weak. That’s exactly what happened to Weiss here, and while I can find some hilarious flaws in RT’s reasoning and claims in their response, there are a lot of criticisms about Weiss which are indeed valid.

On that note, let me give my quick thoughts on the Daily Beast article in question. To be honest I flat out hated it. In fact I had intended to do a post dedicated to it, but as I was in Kyiv at the time I read it, I had to put it on the back burner. Yesterday’s post on Syria actually encapsulates a significant part of what would have been my response to Weiss.

So what’s wrong with Weiss? He’s all over the place, he rewrites basic history in one part, and he apparently thinks he’s clever by using the phrase “Upper Volga with sanctions.” Weiss, here’s a tip- it’s “Upper Volta with X,” from the quote “Upper Volta with missiles.” Your own buddy Paul Goble can set you straight. In general, after reading it I thought that the pro-Kremlin fan club would be all over Weiss, and wouldn’t you know, they were. Their offensive would have been far more scathing were it not for the bizarre logic Kremlin fans are so known for. That being said, let’s get on with RT’s rebuttal.

It’s worth pointing out here that the Op-Edge has no byline, which is strange. It was my understanding that all these Op-Edge pieces on RT were supposed to have the author’s name on them. Back in the day before they went 100% bullshit, having authors put their names on opinion pieces was a good way to distance themselves from some of the wackier opinions. As for who wrote this piece, I have two good guesses, but that’s unimportant.

Now on to the title: “Hysterical beast: The problem with The Daily Beast’s Russia analysis.” Note the use of the term “hysterical.” This is a classic Russian tactic, and the Westerners at RT seem to have picked up on it well. The idea is that criticism is “hysterics.” Of course all their conspiracy theories and screaming about “Kiev Nazis” or “NATO encirclement” while America was actually reducing its military presence in Europe apparently doesn’t count as “hysterical.” Okay.

But to be fair, Weiss did use the term “propaganda blitzkrieg” in the title of his article, which was a bit much. All the Russian media was doing at the time was switching focus away from the Donbas, which has become a source of major embarrassment and economic woes, to Syria, where the Kremlin stupidly believes they will get back into the West’s good graces by pretending to carry out a war against ISIS. Other authors such as Galeotti and Adomanis showed a far more rational response to all this than Weiss, who used the occasion to run down a laundry list of grievances about Russia.

So shall I get to the funny tidbits? Very well. Let’s start with this:

“In the article, he accuses the Russian media of doing exactly what CNN and other US news networks do in times of war. That is, giving a lot of attention to the story, embedding reporters with the military and delivering news from the perspective of ‘our side.”

First of all, check off “CNN” on your RT bingo card. There are multiple problems with this claim. First of all, American news agencies don’t claim to deliver news from the perspective of the American side, whereas RT’s writers and bosses have openly admitted that they deliver news from the “Russian point of view.” By contrast, other media outlets do attempt to get the other side of the story. For example, CNN became famous for broadcasting from Baghdad as it was getting bombed during Operation Desert Storm. Was that the perspective of “our side?”

Now the bias of these media outlets is indeed a real thing, and during the Iraq War of 2003 the US media behaved in a way that can only be described as despicable. But before you RT fans start stuffing your hands down your pants, hold up a second. The author of this very article, as well as other RT defenders, just claimed that RT was no different from CNN and other US outlets. Okay then- if those are biased propaganda networks, what does that make RT? If RT is claiming to be a biased propaganda network, what leg have they got to stand on when they criticize others’ “journalism?”

One last note on this. A typical Russian response on this topic after they paint themselves into a corner is to claim that there is no such thing as objective reporting and all news is propaganda. To that my only response is: Just because you say something doesn’t make it so. You can tell yourself that all news organizations are just as biased as RT, but then you are first, supporting biased propaganda as though it’s a good thing, and second, deluding yourself.

Also interesting that they only mention US news outlets, because there are plenty of foreign publications that also call the Kremlin out on its bullshit. Of course when that happens, we’re supposed to believe that all these foreign outlets are somehow in cahoots with the US State Department in a worldwide conspiracy to make Russia look bad.

Anyway, a few more fun tidbits:

“Weiss mangles quotes. He claims that “the collapse of the Soviet Union, as (Vladimir) Putin notoriously said, was the 20th century’s greatest tragedy.” Putin never said this. The Russian President said “the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geo-political catastrophe of the century.” This is an entirely different matter.” 

As a friend pointed out, they’re both wrong. Here’s what Putin actually said:

“Above all, we should acknowledge that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster of the century.”

Yes, it is an entirely different matter, because “major” and a superlative “greatest” are pretty different. In fact, RT’s mangled quote is actually more open to sinister interpretation by the dreaded neocons like Weiss. So much for the hard-hitting “old school journalism” of RT.

And speaking of fuck ups:

“Many news sites have abandoned the practice of sub-editing copy before it’s published. It appears that Weiss is not cut out for this “brave new world.” He mentions somebody called ‘Gatov.’ There’s no first name and no indication of who ‘Gatov’ is. An elementary school teacher would reprimand a child for that.”

The “Gatov” in question is Vasili Gatov. This is how he’s identified for the first time in Weiss’ article:

“On the domestic side, Russian state television, “just repeats the same trick as it did in Ukraine,” according to Vasily Gatov, a former employee of Russia’s now-disbanded RIA Novosti news agency and an expert on propaganda.”

I’ve never heard of journalism being taught in elementary schools, but I’m pretty sure elementary school teachers would reprimand a pupil for such sloppy reading skills. (UPDATE: I’ve received a screenshot showing that the quoted passage above was in fact missing from Weiss’ article, and it was supposedly added after this RT article was published. My own personal opinion is that the paragraph was left out by mistake, possibly a technical reason, because otherwise there is a really strange shift of topics between the preceding and following paragraphs. The reader may check the article and decide. I should also point out that the DB didn’t print any correction regarding the missing paragraph.)

Next comes one of my favorite gems, where RT shoots itself in the foot:

Another bizarre quote is from “nationalist” Dmitry Bobrov: “Now we’ll see if the national-betrayer, Putin, is ready to flush down the toilet all (the) Russians in Novorossiya.” For real Russia experts, this individual wouldn’t be a credible source. Bobrov was imprisoned for organizing a neo-Nazi group called Shulz-88 in St. Petersburg in the early 2000’s. Shulz-88 members brutally assaulted foreigners – including students from African countries and Vietnam. Yet, it appears that for Weiss, anybody willing to criticize Putin is kosher. That’s pretty rich for someone who in the same piece is attacking RT about commentators that appear on the channel.

It’s really indicative of how oblivious these people are when they just demonstrated how this violent neo-Nazi is apparently a fanatical Novorossiya supporter. No surprise since the project has always been associated with the far right inside and outside of Russia. Strange that this racist chose to support Russia and, conditionally, Putin, rather than join the Nazi-Banderite army of the Kyiv junta.

The question about his credibility is rather hilarious considering that he wasn’t really making a claim, nor was Weiss using him as some kind of source. Here’s the passage that the anonymous RT author obviously skimmed:

“Indeed, when he was photographed clinking rose glasses with Obama during an awkward UN dinner last week, the impression given to many Russians was that of a deal in the offing. To ultranationalists, wary that Putin isn’t quite the imperialist he plays at by Anschlussing his way through Europe, this scene of forced comity constituted “a moment of truth,” as Dmitry Bobrov wrote on his blog. “Now we’ll see if the national-betrayer, Putin, is ready to flush down the toilet all Russians in Novorossiya,” referring to the aspirational blood-and-soil Russian imperium that was to have started in the Donbas and fanned out from there.”

Weiss is merely referring to a well known fact that Putin has, throughout his career, often played both sides- a globalist peacemaker and a nationalist empire builder. Since Russians, even of the nationalist variety, are not as stupid as the Kremlin and RT thinks they are, it naturally causes discontent when they see their leader on TV, apparently “betraying” them.

Nowhere in this passage does Weiss refer to Bobrov in a positive way. He was just another far right-winger caught up in the Novorossiya propaganda, going through a moment of disillusionment. But it obviously struck a nerve with RT because that topic ends with: “That’s pretty rich for someone who in the same piece is attacking RT about commentators that appear on the channel.” Weiss doesn’t call Bobrov a “political analyst,” conceal his real politics, and present him as some kind of democratic opposition figure. By contrast, RT has put multiple far right wing people on the air, given them titles, and often failed to point out these ties. Here’s an example of one from Germany, and another from the US. RT has on more than one occasion misrepresented members of far right parties as “election observers” as well.

So Bobrov isn’t “Weiss'” source, nor is he even making a claim; he was expressing an opinion. That elementary school teacher ought to send a letter home with this pupil.

And then this happened:

Incidentally, some copy and paste anti-Russia websites reproduced the article verbatim, without correcting Weiss’ mistakes. Including Ukraine’s hilarious stopfake.org.

You done fucked up, son. I will say this though, they were kind enough to link to Stopfake.org, so that visitors can check out many fine examples of phony, often poorly-fabricated stories from the Russian media, including RT. Yes, Stopfake is hilarious, when you read about the Russian media’s bumbling attempts to pass off photos from other wars as coming from the Donbas, or example.

Interestingly, the latter’s mission statement reads: “The main purpose of this community is to check facts, verify information, and refute distorted information and propaganda about events in Ukraine covered in the media.” If it’s not about Ukraine, it seems facts don’t matter. How very Kafka-esque.

Actually, genius, articles like Weiss’ are published with a disclaimer attributing all opinions to the author, unlike your response. Weiss’ article doesn’t really contain any glaring factual errors save for one which is not really relevant (and it was stupid of Weiss to shoehorn it into this article). Moreover, in case you were wondering, Stopfake does in fact expose fake stories from Ukrainian media outlets.

And I think I’ll end this train wreck with this beauty:

“The Daily Beast can’t seem to live with or without RT. Its hysterical propaganda is amusing in many ways, but it also exposes a worrying truth: there are some segments of the American media that cannot tolerate the idea of a genuinely free press when it’s not promoting their own agenda.”

This is essentially the media equivalent of “LOL U MAD BRO?” That’s literally all they can muster up at the green and black. I’ll tell you what’s amusing- “a genuinely free press.” Sure. See the thing about the West is that all the failures of the big corporate giants led to a vibrant independent media, which was in turn helped by concepts like the constitutional freedoms that make it possible for virtually anyone to print and publish things. Contrast that to Russia, where media restrictions seem to increase on a yearly basis, and all the while Roskomnadzor is ready to smack down independent media sources over the most ridiculous infractions.

I’ve seen some RT fanatics scream about how they don’t face censorship at RT. Incidentally these are the same people who never criticize the Russian system and basically express exactly the same line on foreign policy that the Kremlin does. Please, if you want to show how independent RT is, maybe produce a documentary where you actually talk to a broad spectrum of people involved at Maidan and challenge the bullshit conspiracy theories you spread about it. There’s still plenty of opportunity to smut up the Western media in the process, since they too misrepresented Maidan. Why not challenge the Kremin’s claims about the Crimean annexation, as other independent journalists have? Why not run a good investigative documentary about Putin and his inner circle, showing how they live and what wealth they have. Maybe you could contrast that with the lives of most Russian citizens from across the country. Go ahead and pitch something like that at your next editorial meeting.

The point I’m making here, and I’ve made it plenty of times, is that when you look at the “mainstream media,” if you actually pay attention you will find all kinds of different opinions and critical looks at things like Euromaidan, Ukraine, or Syria. Just yesterday I linked to a Daily Beast article that raised serious questions about the wisdom of trying to support “moderate” rebels in Syria. I have a virtual collection of articles from a broad spectrum of “Western” sources which are highly critical of the Ukrainian government’s failure to deal with the far right, and fanning the flames with bone-headed laws aimed at garnering their support. I saw a lot of different opinions about dealing with Putin, some of them quite sympathetic to Russia, and almost every pundit I saw who weighed in on arming Ukraine was against the idea.  What I don’t see is this kind of variety in RT or the Russian state-owned press. Of course the latter is far worse, but if RT is such an example of a “free press,” let it demonstrate it by putting out more varied content and having more debate on its air. Because they can say its just like some biased Western network, but at the end of the day they’re admitting that they’re biased and not attempting to be objective.

As for worrying, it’s clear from all the attacks coming out of RT and its head Margarita Simonyan that they are the ones who are worried, and with good reason. Propaganda and military were the two budget items which saw major increases in spending in 2014. Unlike the military, the propaganda arm wasn’t spared from the budget cuts in the wake of the economic crisis, but it is still extremely valuable to the regime. Better said, the domestic media is extremely valuable to the regime. RT is more expensive and promises far lower returns. Now that RT’s efficacy has been publicly called into question, they could end up on the chopping block.

As hilariously bad as it is, the article makes one good point about Weiss- he apparently doesn’t speak Russian and has no experience in Russia. I’m sorry but I really have a problem with that. You can surround yourself with the right experts and come to proper conclusions if you’re well informed, but you have no frame of reference to determine which sources are more valuable than others, and which are worthless. This is why Weiss’ interpreter includes dead on work at times, which is offset by loads of crap from someone like Goble. This isn’t just about Russia critics. There are many Kremlin fans who also have virtually no significant experience in Russia, don’t speak the language, and yet are convinced they have an idea of what is going on over here.

To me, Weiss has a sketchy political agenda which drives him to become a crusader in conflicts he knows little about. If he repeats the words of someone who knows what they’re talking about, he’s right. If he regurgitates something stupid, he’s wrong. I don’t really see him as a serious source. More of an aggregator of sorts.

While we’re on the topic of credentials, check out the final passage of the article, which is about how Weiss disrespects Stephen Cohen.

According to his Wikipedia entry, “Cohen is well known in both Russian and American circles. He is a close personal friend of former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, advised former US President George H.W. Bush in the late 1980s, helped Nikolai Bukharin’s widow, Anna Larina, rehabilitate her name during the Soviet era, and met Joseph Stalin’s daughter, Svetlana.” This is akin to a regional soccer correspondent throwing mud at Michael Jordan.

Cohen is a genuine Russia expert, with the credentials to prove it. He has forgotten more about the country than Michael Weiss will ever know. The fact that the latter gets far more attention right now, tells you all you need to know about the tragic state of the contemporary American media when it comes to coverage of Russia.

Remember folks, real journalism means quoting Wikipedia on a guy who is a published author. You really couldn’t read the author bio off one of his books? Just say what the guy is, and people can Google him if they’re not sure.

Also, I find this reference to academic credentials rather hilarious, because in the very same article Weiss quotes Timothy Snyder, who also has serious academic credentials in this topic under his belt. Academic credentials deserve respect, but nobody should cower under the weight of some academic’s diploma. It should be remembered that Cohen is old, and studied a state that hasn’t existed in quite some time. Cohen clearly has sentimental affection for a country which is nothing more than an illusion in his memory. Don’t believe me? Look what happens when emotions overwhelm facts.

Honestly though, if RT wants to help out Stephen Cohen, maybe they could start by not handing out “political analyst” titles to anyone who can regurgitate the bullshit on any one of dozens of “geopolitics” blogs. Maybe stop giving air time to 9/11 truthers and other conspiracy nuts for a change.

Meh…Fuck it. If the Kremlin wants to keep flushing money into this toilet, who am I to stop them? And I actually think a lot of folks in high places at RT have got a sweet deal for themselves. Milk it for everything you can, Mr. Anonymous RT Op-Edge writer!

Alright, enough of this bullshit. Let me cap this one off with this gem I found in the comments section:

No please, tell us why you're not surprised.

No please, tell us why you’re not surprised.

UPDATE: An English translation of the article on budget cuts in the Russian media is now available.