Monthly Archives: September 2017

The Heights of Hypocrisy

The Russian government loves to throw the word “hypocrisy” around when it is faced with criticism from the West. And if we’re honest, there’s certainly a grain of truth when you say the West, especially the United States, often holds hypocritical positions about issues such as human rights, for example. That being said, the Russian government has zero grounds to accuse anyone of hypocrisy. And today we have a reminder as to why.

Today a Russian court in the annexed Crimean peninsula sentenced Crimean Tatar leader Ilmi Umerov, a man who suffers from diabetes and Parkinson’s disease, to two years in a labor colony for the crime of…get ready for it…separatism! Yes, if special forces from another country take over your local parliament, force a vote on a referendum, and then rush people to vote on a ballot that has no status quo option- this is “self-determination” and “historical justice.” But if you have a problem with any of that and express your dissatisfaction, you’re engaging in extremist separatism, which is not allowed. But if you think the hypocrisy ends there, let’s take a trip down memory lane.

Back in May 2014, Russia quickly passed a new law providing criminal punishment for “calls to public action for the violation of the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation.” Hmmm….May 2014. That date seems significant for some reason. Oh wait, I remember now- this was around the same time that Russia was calling for public action for the violation of the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

You see folks, when a small minority of your citizens, at the instigation of a foreign country and its paid agents, rises up and demands independence (or bullshit “federalization” where their region gets to decide foreign policy, or annexation by a neighboring country), you should respect their right to self-determination and give them whatever they ask, no matter how unreasonable, otherwise you’re a warmonger who doesn’t value human life. But when it comes to Russia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, well that is something so precious and inviolable that even a Russian citizen can be locked up for questioning it via retweeting or sharing a post on social media. And of course a Crimean Tatar like Umerov, who displays justifiable skepticism towards the goodwill of a nation that once deported his people en masse and then lies about it to this day, is fair game.

Indeed, it’s not only okay for Russia to crack down on those within its claimed territory, but they can also violate neighbors airspace with near-constant military drills and threaten other countries with nukes because the Kremlin is afraid of a “color revolution.” That’s not warmongering. They feel “threatened.”

The Kremlin alone gets to determine who has sovereignty and self-determination. Just another reminder that those labeling everyone else as hypocrites are the biggest hypocrites of them all.

 

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Keeping Things in Perspective

Lately there’s been a lot of discussion about the paranoid worldview peddled by a handful of lobbyists and Twitterati that appear to make up a cottage industry of insta-experts in Russian information war tactics. But despite the attention that some of them have received from major media outlets or government officials, it’s important to remember that they are just that- a handful of people. They have little to no direct influence on society. If you want to see real paranoia, you’d do better to look at Russia, where government officials with real authority are notorious for banning or investigating some of the most innocuous things as though they were existential threats to the country.

Take for example this story from Meduza, where state officials are trying to ban a campaign rally by opposition candidate Alexei Navalny, based on claims that the rubber ducky is in fact a symbol of global revolution. The rubber ducky became associated with protests against Dmitry Medvedev, who was found to maintain a rather luxurious shelter for ducks at one of his palatial summer homes.

This story comes long after Russian state TV warned that fidget spinners could be used to “hypnotize” children and make them susceptible to the messages of the political opposition. And of course in that case, fidget spinners were just joining an ever-growing list of seemingly innocuous things that apparently pose a grave threat to the political stability of the Russian Federation, such as Western films and actual WWII history.

Of course as amusing as this is, the point isn’t to say “HA HA! LOOK AT RUSSIA!” Rather it is to show how incompetent and idiotic the power structure is, which belies the idea that Russia is jam-packed with politically savvy information warriors who are experts at polarizing Western political discourse so as to destroy our precious democracy. In reality, the Russian power structure, including the wily ol’ General Gerasimov, are paranoid and scared to death of their own people. They know they have nothing to offer Russia, and thus they need to suppress any and every possible threat. But what’s a threat? What could be an instrument of hybrid warfare, which according to Gerasimov is being waged against Russia by the West? Shoes with different color laces? South Park? Hipster beards?

If we adopted the paranoid worldview of some of the self-proclaimed information warriors that have recently popped up in the West like mushrooms after a rainstorm, we would only become more like Russia, thus fulfilling one of the main planks of Russian state media’s message to the domestic audience- “Sure, maybe it’s bad here, but it’s bad everywhere!”

Oh the Places You’ll Go…to Die!

Recently Russia lost a high-ranking general in Syria. Lt. General Valery Asapov (nope, not Valery Gerasimov in disguise) was killed along with two colonels in a mortar attack near the town of Deir-ez-Zor. Apart from the high rank of the deceased, this wouldn’t be particularly remarkable were it not for the fact that Asapov commanded the “1st Army Corps” of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic in a conflict that Russia calls a “civil war” and swears it has no part in.

Isn’t it amazing how despite being a “civil war” and an “internal matter” of Ukraine, so many Russian military personnel have taken part with zero reprimand from the Russian government? Here we have a general who decided to go on vacation to fight in a conflict for a “country” his government does not recognize, and then he returned to the Russian army with zero consequences (possibly with a promotion) and got deployed to Syria.

Given Russia’s constant denials (against overwhelming evidence to the contrary) of any significant involvement in this “civil war,” you think they’d want to come down hard on all these “volunteers,” especially the military personnel who supposedly “went on leave” to fight for Ukraine. I guarantee you that if US military personnel took leave and then joined the YPG in Syria, or any other military force for that matter, there would be hell to pay. For starters that’s desertion, plain and simple. Yet the only deserters the Kremlin sees happen to be those who left the army because they say they were being pressured to sign contracts and fight in Ukraine. Curioser and curiouser.

But It Says DON’T Do Drugs!

Anyone remember this famous anti-drug ad from the 1980’s?

It was supposed to be simple and straightforward- drugs are frying oil; your brain is an egg. If your skull (the shell) gets cracked open, your brains slide out and fall on some drugs, your brains will fry on the sidewalk or something. At least that’s how I interpreted it as a five or six year old.

Seriously though, the message was supposed to be incredibly simple- drugs fry your brain. Do they though? There are, after all, all kinds of drugs that are perfectly legal and don’t cause any sort of brain damage. And I have to wonder what the makers of that ad would think if we could go back and tell them that decades later, doctors would be prescribing opioids as daily pain medication. Is it accurate to say that cannabis fries your brain?

Today we might look back at those 80’s anti-drug PSAs and laugh at how serious they were. I mean how could you not laugh at this?

Surely by the 2000’s, our nation’s anti-drug policy experts had wised up and started giving kids the cold hard facts about the effects of drugs, right? Wrong.

Needless to say, the actual effectiveness of these ads is highly disputed, to say the least. I can’t pretend to know what went on during the pitch meetings for any of these ads, but I have a feeling I can guess the general mentality. “We’re making anti-drug ads! How can anything anti-drug be bad when we have a drug problem in this country!”

This seems to be the attitude of the new crop of “Anti-Deza” fighters, like the geniuses behind the Committee to Investigate Russia (which doesn’t seem to be doing any investigation at the moment). After their Morgan Freeman video got savaged all around, they have labeled any and all criticism to be “pro-Russian” and insist that negative reactions to their schlock proves that their message is effective. Kind of sounds familiar.

We’ve all heard proverbs like “there’s always more flak over the target,” but some of us have heard that proverbs are often bullshit in the real world, and there’s also a logical fallacy based on the idea that getting lots of negative reactions means you must be onto something. Of course their video drew attacks from the Russian state media and the gaggle of nutjob dupes who think Russia’s on their side- how could it not? But it also drew criticism from people who actually know what they’re talking about, mainly because it contains some blatant factual errors and also ridiculously oversimplifies and distorts the subject. But in the bizarro world of the committee and their fans, their video was anti-Kremlin, ergo you couldn’t possibly take any issue with it unless you are pro-Kremlin. They’re that dense.

If their density sounds strange to you, just keep in mind that several of the people on the committee work for think tanks which helped craft policies that made American audiences vulnerable to Russian propaganda in the first place. That should tell you all you need to know about whether or not they have a viable solution to the Russia threat (HINT: they don’t).

This is an ongoing problem because I feel the real response to Russian interference and propaganda needs to be a grassroots one, spurred by a movement that is also working hard to reform our shattered domestic system. But for millions of ordinary people to take up that mantle, they need to be reliably informed about Russia, the Kremlin regime, its tactics, motives, etc. A new committee headed by a guy who was literally an architect of the Iraq War isn’t going to fulfill that role.

But of course this humble old blog will no doubt be ignored by the media, and pretty soon the Committee to Investigate Russia will probably be launching a campaign to require all video games to display a WINNERS DON’T WATCH RT message before the title screen.

What About Iraq Indeed

Recently I saw another reminder of an issue that I haven’t devoted a lot of time to in the past, but which deserves attention. Russia’s involvement in Iraqi Kurdistan (aka the Kurdish Regional Government) is a story often overshadowed by the campaign in Syria and the occupation of Ukraine, but it’s a good idea to keep it in mind.

What involvement are we talking about? As usual it’s a matter of oil and gas, Russia’s bread and butter. Russia has become one of the biggest investors in Iraqi Kurdistan’s energy industry, apparently. I knew that Gazprom was there several years ago, but apparently so is Rosneft. In fact, according to the article Russia is moving in to fill a gap that was left by the US as it got out of Iraq.

That is quite interesting because we all know that the Putinophile’s favorite answer to any criticism of Russia’s aggressive foreign policy is “WHAT ABOUT IRAQ?!” Realistically, they already pissed away their right to use that when they decided to invade and occupy another country under false pretexts, just as Bush had done in Iraq. But the story about Kurdistan is just a reminder that Putin’s criticism of US actions in Iraq were always bullshit. Putin’s economic boom in the 2000’s was largely due to high oil prices. Putin had a win-win situation; criticize the war for political capital, reap the benefits of the war. But even if you say Putin had no control over oil markets (fair enough), he has certainly benefited from the toppling of the Baathist regime, which opened Iraqi Kurdistan up for investment.

Of course this doesn’t make Russia share responsibility for what the US did in Iraq, but the truth is that Putin never really cared. In his eyes, the invasion must have confirmed what he already believed- that a rules-based world guided by concepts like human rights and democracy was nothing but a sham, a velvet glove over an iron fist. In Putin’s 19th century worldview, invading Iraq was just realpolitik. Thus he saw him self justified in invading and occupying Ukraine.

The lesson here is one I learned long ago, even before I was totally wise to the Kremlin’s propaganda tactics. I’d see RT hosting some guest who would talk about the evils of US foreign policy, but you’d never see any criticism of Russia’s own foreign adventures (though they were far more modest at the time). That felt disturbing, and made me shy away from voicing my own criticisms of the West when in the company of Russians, because I didn’t feel any reciprocity. As one friend described conversations with a Russian mutual acquaintance- “When I talk about all the problems in America, her eyes light up, but when it’s her turn, she doesn’t have much to say.”

It’s different in many other countries. In Ukraine, I hate my government, they hate their government, I hate their government too, and we both hate the Russian government as well. There’s a kind of solidarity there. With pro-Kremlin Russians though, you’re a hero when you’re condemning the aggression of the United States, but you’re a neocon Banderite Nazi the second you start applying the same logic and criticism to the Kremlin. Some folks like to bask in the attention they get from pro-Kremlin Russians for voicing the former criticism, but the fact is that those giving the attention see them as traitors, as defectives who for some reason don’t know they’re supposed to cheer for their team. There is zero respect for such people in Russia. In fact, even Russians who aren’t pro-regime tend to see such enthusiastic Putinophiles as somewhat insane.

So just keep all this in mind when they say play the “what about Iraq” card. We who have been consistent on this issue have the right to criticize the American and British governments for that aggression. Putin’s fanboys don’t. They’re defending his aggression in Ukraine, either explicitly or implicitly. The truth is that as one Twitter follower pointed out- Russia actually won the Iraq War. America did the fighting, and they reaped the benefits.

Escape from Shawshank (of Stupid)

It’s been a couple days and I’m still overwhelmed by the stupidity that flows from the new think tank called “Investigate Russia.” As is the case with all charlatans in this internet age, the best its defenders can come up with is “LOL THEY MAD!”

Incidentally, that’s basically the same selling point RT uses– they show quotes of American and other Western politicians ranting about RT or Sputnik, and say “Look! We must be accomplishing something!” Then at some point they show Putin or someone from his administration and RT and Sputnik get another massive infusion of cash (much of which no doubt disappears into the pockets of the people at the top).

I don’t know where to begin or end with this idiocy, so I’m going to put forth some of my main points in no particular order.

First of all, I find it funny when some of these people scoff at their apparent lack of Russia expertise. After all, was it not the centrist types who bemoaned the lack of respect for expertise when it comes to issues like Brexit or Trump? Was not the failing of the American people in 2016 a failure to know and acknowledge the facts about politics, the economy, and so on? But of course when it comes to waging information war against a resurgent Russia that is supposedly using an innovative new hybrid war doctrine- who needs experts?

Another thing I find annoying is the willful blindness towards the state of American politics that these people seem to encourage. There is nothing I hate more than someone pretending not to know about events that happened in recent memory for the sake of making a partisan political point. We all know Republican voters, for example, who voted for George W. Bush twice, but called Hillary a “warmonger” in the last election. Many of those same people also pretended that the American economy was doing just wonderfully until Obama got in office (they forget that the crash happened in 2008, whereas Obama wouldn’t be president until January of 2009, and thus inherited all that).

Now what we’re seeing is Democrats or their sympathizers talking about how Russia has sowed discord and polarization into our political discourse starting in the last election. Did these people all just forget that even before Obama was elected president, right-wing media was calling him a Muslim extremist, a foreign-born citizens ineligible for the presidency, a Marxist, and a fascist? Did they forget that back in the early 2000’s, questioning the wisdom of invading Iraq was enough to get you labeled a traitor and, by some people, an “enemy of the state?” Please, centrists- tell me when you think American political discourse wasn’t incredibly polarized.

I’m sure some people with an academic background in American politics could show that it has ever been thus (our polarization today pales in comparison to the period running up to the election of Lincoln in 1860, for example). But if I’m trying to be practical and keep it relevant I’d say that what we see today is an outgrowth of 9/11. If 9/12 was the day we all came together, it seems like 9/13 is the day we decided that half the country was either going to nuke the world (Republicans) or surrender vast swathes of territory to Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda (Democrats). It all went downhill from there. Back in the 90’s, talk about black helicopters and invading UN troops was fringe theory you would only hear at gun shows. By Obama’s election it had become mainstream.

And yet Team Anti-Deza and its legion of fans (who seem to be die-hard Hillary supporters still hoping there’s a magical way to overturn last year’s election) seem to be sincerely acting like they don’t know about any of this. They act as if none of this stuff was a big deal until last year, when they heard about RT and Sputnik for the first time in their lives. They actually seem to think that a significant amount of Americans might have switched their political views based on $100,000 worth of Facebook ads. I guarantee you that anyone who saw those ads reacted with “Yep! That’s old Crooked Hillary alright!” or “This is Republican bullshit!” and moved on. That’s where we were at that point, and that’s where we’ve been for a long time.

I’m starting to get tired of writing about this topic so I’ll sum up with something I alluded to in a thread on twitter the other day. Yes, Russia is waging an information war against the West, though not for the reason most people think it is. Defending against information war isn’t like defending against a conventional war. It’s more like counter-insurgency, perhaps even more complex. Imagine a war in which shooting the enemy actually makes them stronger unless you manage to shoot them precisely in the back of the kneecap or their right elbow. In such a scenario, it makes no sense to line up machine guns and pour into the enemy with a hail of lead. Information war requires nuance, deliberate strategy, and indirect approaches (OMG GERASIMOV DOCTRINE!!!). But what it requires most of all is something I’m afraid US leaders don’t want to countenance, and it might explain why they’re always going to be more amenable to listening to the likes of McKew or Max Boot.

Speaking for America, our politics have devolved to where they are now because for decades, both parties have shown almost open contempt for their constituencies. The Republicans openly praise policies which fork over more public resources to the super-rich and leave Americans destitute, while the Democrats assure us they’re very upset about all that but any attempt to change the system would be essentially demanding a multi-colored flying pony. In the 1990’s, the GOP decided to go full culture war, making anyone who disagreed a degenerate traitor. In the same election the Democratic party, under the leadership of Bill and Hillary, happily threw the working class under the bus and embraced all manner of neo-liberal policies as well as “compromise” with the Republicans. In 2016 we could see the disaffection on both sides. Trump’s victory in the primary was a revolt against slavishly pro-business policies; GOP voters wanted a politician who spoke like the talk radio pundits they listen to on the radio, the people who get them fired up. Democrats also rebelled by voting for Sanders, but the Clinton machine won and, contrary to the abject lies of some of her supporters, the overwhelming majority of Sanders supporters held their nose and voted for Hillary (much more than Hillary supporters who voted for Obama in 2008). And though Trump won, I get the feeling that nobody in America at this point is really satisfied with the result.

I look around at my old city, and while I see improvements, I also see ominous signs. A centrally-located shopping mall that used to be the mecca of my youth is now dying. On one street I see block after block of stripmalls with just a few businesses open- the rest are just vacant, their tenants long gone. We’re far from Rust Belt level degeneration here, but when I left this was one of the fastest growing cities in the US. These conditions, especially when paired with a political system that seems openly disdainful of the population, build anger, resentment, and cynicism. Here we have fertile soil for Russian propaganda to take root. Or if you prefer another analogy I’ve made in the past- our immune system has been compromised, allowing the virus to spread.

Our media is also contributing to the rot. It pretends to care about the issues I raised above, but instead they blamed poor working whites for Trump when in reality it was largely middle to upper-class whites who supported him. This message just tells rural and working class whites that they are to blame, that they’re too stupid to know what’s good for them, and that they’re basically beyond hope because their cities and towns are dying with no solution in sight (Hey! Just learn to code!). And after the media moved on from the poverty porn, they went into full Russia! Russia! Russia! mode. Do you have any idea how infuriating it is for a working class American who’s concerned about the state of the country to turn on the TV and see endless babble about Russia? You might as well be talking about Uzbekistan or Zimbabwe. Yes, Russia did interfere with the US election, and yes there are serious improprieties in the relations certain members of Trump’s campaign had with Russians, but this is one story. I’d also argue it’s one part of a much larger story about the influence of money in politics and the way capitalism puts profit above things like ethics.

Now this might seem like a digression, but everything in those three preceding paragraphs goes to explain why our governments prefer to listen to people like McKew and not people who actually know what they’re talking about. The McKews, the Schindlers, the Mensches- they don’t tell the government they have to change. It’s basically perfect the way it is. Russia is just a foreign policy issue- and American foreign policy can never actually be wrong, only misguided. According to their narrative, America has every right to cry to the world about Russia interfering in its election without ever acknowledging that the US has a long history of doing this same thing, often more egregiously and with fatal results, without apologizing for this behavior, and without voicing a commitment to ending this kind of foreign policy all around.

And what about the polarization of American politics? It’s certainly not the fault of the Republican party’s long history of courting extremist groups and conspiracy narratives. It’s certainly not the fault of the Democrats continually throwing their constituency under the bus, breaking promises, and lecturing their voters about how real change isn’t possible so they should be satisfied with means-tested unpaid internships in New York City-based startups. No- American political discourse was totally rational and refined until RT showed up. This is what our leaders want to hear; it absolves them of both guilt and any responsibility. The Russia grifters are basically selling miracle diet pills to people who don’t want to get up off the couch and stop eating junk food all day.

Whatever these grifters peddle as solutions, you can bet they’ll have nothing to do with improving American education, healthcare, or living standards. If anything we’ll probably see some Silicon Valley-sourced bullshit like an AI algorithm designed to “fight Russian fake news on social media,” but which inevitably ends up weeding out countless stories which are factual, yet critical of US foreign or domestic policy. Beyond that, we’ll probably see a whole plethora of fact-checking sites which will basically be copy-pasting stories from already existing fact-checking sites, as if anyone who believes Soros is funding antifa to start a civil war in order to justify a UN military invasion is going to be swayed when a government-funded website tells him that story is confirmed “FALSE.” This is the kind of idiocy our politicians will happily piss away our tax dollars on. That and salaries for grifters, of course.

And naturally, the grifters are easily spurred to anger when someone endangers their grift by questioning their expertise or their claims. So expect to be labeled pro-Russian or worse, a Kremlin agent, if you question any of these people. Meanwhile the real Kremlin agents will continue having a field day making fun of these grifters, picking that low-hanging fruit, and using their idiotic output as material from which to weave their narrative about “Western Russophobes and their paranoid hysteria!” This is largely why the entire Russian state press is apparently laughing their asses off about the Morgan Freeman video.  This is also why I suggest Team Anti-Deza ought to be labeled for what they actually are- unpaid Kremlin PR.