Monthly Archives: February 2018

Moving On

Some time ago I promised to write about why I’m dialing down my operations, including this blog (it’s not going away though). That day has come. As I alluded to around the same time, part of the reason has to do with changing employment and focus on other activities such as martial arts and trying to learn screenwriting. In other words, I’m “getting out” of the Russia watching business mainly due to very positive changes in my life. And that is a big relief, because to be honest this business is ugly and I’ve been trying to break out of it almost since the very beginning.

I suppose the main reason for hanging up my spurs is that to be honest, the blog accomplished what it was meant to. I never managed to make a living directly from it, but it got me plenty of work and jobs thanks to the people it reached. Nowadays it seems kind of redundant because while Russia does still come up with the occasional curve ball, it tends to follow the same pattern for long periods of time. When it comes to commentary, there’s very little I can say that I haven’t said before. Yes, my views on these subjects do evolve as more facts become available, but in general things don’t change. And when it comes to breaking news about Russia, I could never hold a candle to a site like Meduza or The Moscow Times. 

Another issue is the tribalism surrounding Russia and especially Ukraine, the latter being “my side,” so to speak. This tribalism is what leads to the phenomenon of taking fire from your own side, because you fail to fully conform to what the tribe demands. This, more than anything else, is the most demoralizing aspect of this business.

In the tribal discourse, you are attacked by your own side for failing to say the right slogans, or questioning certain claims, strategies, tactics, etc. I put special emphasis on the word say here, because for tribalists, whom I have in the past dubbed as cheerleaders or football nationalists for their resemblance to sports fans, all that matters is that you say the right things in public. Actions to back your words are rarely a concern. Whether the slogans or talking points are conducive to a winning strategy is also irrelevant to the tribe. To put it simply, this is magical thinking, whereby engaging in rituals and saying the correct invocations equates to positive results in the real world. And yet while these empty gestures continually fail to achieve real results, the tribe insists that you do not question them, otherwise you are disloyal and working for the other side.

This magical thinking seems to pervade nearly all politics these days. If Trump tweets that the economy is good, then it’s good. If you question that you must be a libcuck who wants to hand out green cards to ISIS fighters. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the 2016 election must have been “stolen” by the Russians, even though nobody has bothered to actually look at the impact of its interference in terms of changing voters’ opinions.* Question that, even if you overtly acknowledge the facts of Russian interference, and you’re an apologist for the Kremlin.

I have little tolerance for such childlike behavior among adults. I do not confuse obstinacy with integrity or moral consistency, just as I do not confuse the world of politics for the world of team sports. If there’s one consistent thread in the positive feedback to this blog over the years, it’s for balance and honesty. Not balance for the sake of balance, mind you, but balance based on evidence and context. This is probably the reason why I’ve managed to attract so many loyal readers whose political worldview differs so greatly from my own. In a world where people increasingly choose their own realities, I have tried to maintain an appreciation for what can be asserted as objectively true.

I’ll continue to post here from time to time, though the content might be very different from what I normally wrote about. Also, I will be looking to write for various publications as well as finally get around to writing my book, something I wasn’t able to do during the roller-coaster years of 2014-2017. The struggle does not end here- I’m merely writing another chapter.

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On the Homefront

Long time readers are well aware that when this whole “Russian information warfare” panic kicked off in 2014, I steadfastly insisted that the best remedy to this and other hostile state propaganda was for governments to focus on their own behavior and engage with their own citizens to address grievances and correct past wrongs. The reason for this is very simple. The US government, for example, cannot control what the Kremlin or its proxies such as the “Internet Research Agency” (better known as “the Troll Factory”) do. RT, Sputnik, and dozens of other pro-Kremlin propaganda sites are going to keep spinning their yarns and exporting them abroad. Sure, they can be made to register as foreign agents so they have to disclose their funding and Facebook or Twitter can try to crack down on fake pages and bots, respectively, but ultimately the only person who can stop this activity is Vladimir Putin or someone designated to do so by him, and I see no evidence to suggest this will happen anytime soon. Thus the only thing in the equation that the US government can actually control is its own behavior.

Extrapolating from this, we must admit that the interest in bullshit “alternative news,” whether it is produced in Russia or at home (and to be sure a lot of Russian propaganda is just rehashed, regurgitated American bullshit) is largely driven by actions carried out by the US government in recent decades. Actually it would be better to say it is a result of actions and inactions- actions like invading Iraq and inaction when it comes to helping ordinary Americans struggling with foreclosure, student loans, unemployment and underemployment, healthcare, etc. By addressing both of these issues, the US government could rebuild its credibility after so many foreign policy disasters and rebuild its trust with voters by addressing their needs as opposed to those of the top richest people in the country. But you already see the problem with this, right?

Put simply, it is not in the financial interest of the people who run this country to adopt this view when it comes to countering hostile propaganda. And it is their financial interest that matters above all. It is far easier to just throw a couple bucks at Molly McKew types, whose whole approach centers on loudly screaming about Russian influence and propaganda and producing no actual solutions apart from maybe censorship of certain internet platforms or useless symbolic actions that do nothing to stop the flow of propaganda or reduce its audience. Is there anything that could wake these decision makers up?

Well maybe this will.

It’s a story about a man who was enthusiastically willing to spy for the Russians and was caught by an undercover FBI agent posing as a Russian handler after turning over vital technical data about satellite technology. According to the report, suspect Gregory Allen Justice “was assigned to a team working to build and test U.S. military satellites, including projects for the Air Force, Navy, and NASA that involved satellites with communication, navigational, and observational technology. The trade secrets and other technical data he had access to as part of his job related to areas such as satellite operations testing, firmware installed on satellites, and anti-jamming technology.”

Gee that kind of looks like the thing you wouldn’t want a hostile state to get their hands on! Why would Mr. Justice do such a thing?!

Justice explained to his “handler” that his motivation for his activities was to pay his wife’s medical bills (and indeed, our investigation revealed that his wife was suffering from a variety of medical issues and he had told her she had to cancel some of her appointments). But our investigation also revealed that the $3,500 Justice received—plus approximately $20,000 of his own money—went toward gifts of cash and merchandise for an online girlfriend he had never met in person.

As we see here, Mr. Justice’s claim about paying for his wife’s medical bills was just a lie. But something like this could just as easily be true for many Americans. As I wrote in yesterday’s post, people do not simply give up and die most of the time. Desperation leads to desperate measures, and the next contractor who’s being crushed by medical bills, mortgage debt, or student loans might be inclined to do some work for a hostile foreign power in exchange for relief. In this case, the FBI was doubly lucky- that their undercover agent reached him first, and that the guy was apparently in love with some kind of cam girl or email scammer.

So if we’re looking at ways the US government can engage with citizens and prevent them from selling their services to hostile foreign powers in order to keep their heads above water, what could they possibly do to prevent a real case of espionage driven by medical bills. Yes…What is to be done? What could we possibly do about that?

 

Problem solved.

Letting the Chips Fall

In debates over healthcare it is not uncommon to hear both mainstream conservatives and “libertarians” insist that healthcare is not right, and therefore those who cannot afford it are shit out of luck.

Some of these folks don’t even shy away from coming out and saying “let them die.”

 

Of course this is an immoral worldview, but conservatives have a wide variety of excuses for peddling it. In general, they will defend their claims with vague references to “freedom” and “personal responsibility,” often rationalizing letting fellow Americans die by essentially writing mental fan fiction whereby those poor Americans become undeserving. They’re lazy, they have too many kids, etc. Hey whatever helps you sleep at night, right?

But there’s another problem with the whole “let ’em die” attitude, and it extends beyond the realm of healthcare into the broader question of the welfare state itself. As it turns out, we do have historical experience with societies that lacked any sort of significant welfare state. Sadly, there are few Americans alive today who can personally remember that era, and Americans in general have next to no understanding of the Gilded Era. And Victorian Britain? Forget about it.

The important lesson we can get from the history of such times and places is that the sink-or-swim, let ’em die attitude simply does not work, because as it turns out, people really prefer living to dying. To see what I’m getting at, we must first envision how the conservative attitude plays out in their own heads.

In the conservative worldview, the government doesn’t waste money on helping unemployed people or those who need healthcare and can’t afford private insurance (or the prices hospitals arbitrarily set in collaboration with said insurance companies).

 

This, of course, is supposed to lead to lower taxes, making the government run more efficiently! More Americans get to keep more of their paychecks, and businessmen feel so generous that they create more jobs and raise wages. People who are poor, knowing there is no safety net, have an incentive to work hard and be extra productive, and if they do not- they’re screwed and it’s all their own fault. There’s an element of social Darwinism to it, because the lazy and inept get culled from the herd.

The only problem with this, however, is that in real life people aren’t poor due to their personal decisions or qualities but rather due to the fluctuations of the labor market, commodity prices, injuries or illnesses, generational poverty, sudden divorces, etc. More importantly, nobody who suddenly comes down with an illness or whose relative does simply throws up their hands and says: “Well I guess I should have worked harder so I could have afforded healthcare!” Same thing when it comes to food and shelter. People fight, unsuccessfully perhaps, but they fight nonetheless to survive.

Have you ever noticed how developing countries often tend to have problems with crime of all sorts in their major urban centers? When society orients itself to serve the super-rich and upper-middle class with no significant concern for the poor population, the latter doesn’t just go off into the forest or desert to die. They eke out a living in slums or favelas and they survive. That being said, these areas tend to be rife with crime, crime which can often claim victims among the middle and upper classes. So it was with urban centers in the United States for decades. Ditto Victorian Britain. Same with Moscow in the “Wild 90’s” or some parts of Ukraine these days.

The main takeaway here is that the cost of a laissez faire, “let ’em die” society far outweighs almost any form of bureaucratic welfare state. Most Americans don’t know shit about how their own welfare system works (or doesn’t) anyway, but what’s worse is that they have no idea what happens if you got rid of what’s left of the system. In their mind they put away that extra money they save in taxes and start their own business. In reality, whole areas of cities if not cities themselves turn into dens of crime and murder, the very thing that conservatives are constantly in fear of. If you deny people the ability to survive and get ahead via legal means, a certain portion of them will inevitably take what they need by any means necessary.

This is why the whole debate about healthcare and welfare needs to change. It’s not about “caring for the poor” or being compassionate. To be sure it is about those things on a certain level, but that doesn’t do enough to drive home the imperative. These things must be properly portrayed as an investment in America and its society, an investment in the American people. And this investment is necessary because without it, there is an alternative too terrible to consider and there is precedent to back that up (for this I highly recommend getting this book). Even if someone wants to stick by their immoral position that the poor or those who can’t otherwise afford healthcare should be left to their own devices, this degenerate person should be reminded that their ideal scenario would not play out in the real world the way it does in their head, and for that reason alone their proposal must be dismissed as utterly unworkable.

It matters not what you think these healthcare or welfare recipients are like or whether you think their decisions in life are the right ones. For one thing, you don’t actually know their situation, and what is far more important is that this person or their relatives aren’t driven to carjack you one day because they lack access to the basic necessities of life. If you value wagging your finger at hypothetical “unworthy” poor people you imagined in your head (and a lot of Americans tend to picture that person incorrectly) more than you value living in a developed country with a healthy society, well then perhaps you’re the one whose expendable.