Monthly Archives: May 2018

Babchenko Voskres! (Babchenko has Risen!)

Well. This has been quite the day. I’d even go so far as to call it a historic moment. The scripture says Jesus died and rose again on the third day. Arkady Babchenko did it in less than 12 hours.

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Shalom, this was a special operation by the SBU!

Yesterday’s post now feels like part of some kind of bizarre psychological experiment- it was written when I and all of my friends (as well as Babchenko’s own immediate family) were certain that he had been murdered. As such, our tweets, our status updates, yesterday’s post- they are now like fossilized remains of a moment in history. A moment when for everyone who was watching, including the Kremlin lackeys who were immediately gearing up for another disinformation campaign about the latest “provocation,” Arkady Babchenko was the latest Russian dissident to be murdered.

For me it began with an alert from RIA Novosti that he was “alive.” I stared in awe and thought “Well this is a bold new direction for Kremlin disinfo.” Then the reports from more reputable outlets started coming in. And a few minutes later the whole Russia/Ukraine watching world lost its collective mind. Below is a short video presentation that serves as the perfect metaphor for the reactions on Twitter:

Of course it’s Twitter so people had to pick fights, even with people nominally “on the same side,” so today’s War of Takes boiled down to a spectrum of opinions between “SBU Did Nothing Wrong” and “Won’t Somebody PLEASE Think of Ukraine’s Credibility?!”

What I found most interesting was watching how many commentators’ position, including my own, evolved over the course of the day in real time as we all began to process the reality of what was happening. Team SBU Did Nothing Wrong was angry at many commentators, including veteran Ukraine correspondents, for being seemingly upset about the SBU’s credibility and wondering whether this would be a major boon to the Kremlin propaganda machine. Personally I was cautious. I acknowledged that there were ethical implications in this issue, but like many of my friends I was just happy to see that Arkady Babchenko was alive. If he had actually been killed, not only would it be another sign that the Putinist regime can kill with impunity beyond its borders, but his death would be accompanied by a flood of propaganda and multiple contradictory “alternative” explanations blaming the killing on anyone and everyone but the most obvious suspect. They were already beginning the whole process with their кому выгодно? (qui bono?) arguments online.

But things didn’t go according to plan. Unlike in the case of Litvinenko or the Skripals, when the perpetrators escaped (and in the latter case aren’t even known), the agent who ordered the hit on Babchenko, and who was allegedly planning several other hits on Russian dissidents in Ukraine, is in custody. I am still extremely skeptical towards the SBU, but this time they seem to have got something right, and what a thing to get right at that!

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“The SBU resurrected Babchenko so they wouldn’t have to investigate his murder.” Sickest burn of the day reminds us that the SBU still has a lot to answer for. 

And as for the “credibility issue” and claims that this will benefit Russian propaganda? Sorry but those arguments don’t hold water. If anything would have helped their propaganda narrative it would have been if they’d murdered yet another dissident abroad, then flooded the information space with more conspiracy theories, all accompanied by “a knowing smirk and wink,” as Mark Galeotti put it.

Knowing what I know about Kremlin propaganda, I’ll ask you to forgive me for being skeptical about any upcoming paradigm shift in Russian propaganda thanks to this stunt. Yeah, I’ve already seen one of these pro-Kremlin dipshits try to claim that this “proves” the White Helmets staged chemical attacks, for example. So what? Claims like this are easily debunked and dismissed by pointing out that the reason we know this particular murder was deliberately staged is because less than 24 hours later all those involved called a press conference where they openly admitted the whole thing and explained how and why they did it. If the White Helmets ever do that in regards to any past or future chemical attacks in Syria, I’ll definitely start taking those conspiracy claims seriously. Only when that happens, and not a second sooner.

I’m very sorry to shatter some people’s hopes, but I don’t believe the Kremlin was about to come clean on the Skripal case, Nemtsov’s murder, or MH17 until the SBU dicked everything up and handed the Kremlin media machine a new argument. I am quite confident you will only get an admission on all that when the Putin regime is finally overthrown and the archives are once again opened much like they were after the collapse of the Soviet Union. So yeah, I’m sure you’ll hear Putin’s peanut gallery bring up Babchenko from time to time, but they’ll sound just as idiotic as they always do. And as past research has shown, most Kremlin propaganda does not convert people. It tends to appeal only to those already inclined toward it. If it does influence anyone not already on board, I suspect it just makes them apathetic and ambivalent to “both sides.”

I’d say the worst take on the whole credibility issue comes from Reporters Without Borders, who condemned the operation saying that “Nothing” could justify such deception. Yes, nothing. Not even saving a life, or several lives. I suppose if a journalist in German-occupied Poland had the opportunity to avoid identifying a source as Jewish they should have told the truth because nothing could ever justify breaking the rules of journalistic ethics. Goddammit these people betrayed the news! The neeeeews! 

Seriously though, they seem to forget that Babchenko wasn’t participating in this as a journalist, but as someone whose life had been threatened. Babchenko had received death threats for years until a particularly vitriolic wave of threats initiated by a state-sponsored hate campaign against him in late 2016 finally drove him from his home country. There are ethical concerns and then there are priorities.

Lastly, the reader might wonder if this new development changes anything I wrote yesterday, when I justifiably lashed out at fake, self-proclaimed “infowarriors” and “patriots” who act like tweeting rambling nonsense punctuated by words like “dezinformatsiya” and “kompromat” puts you on the front line of the New Cold War. Nope. Not a chance. Non, je ne regrette rien! Okay maybe I regret that I discarded nearly all the jokes I wanted to put in the post before hearing about Babchenko’s then apparent murder, but apart from that, why change a thing? This episode just drives home the point I was trying to make even further.

Yesterday I used Babchenko’s apparent murder as an example of the most extreme consequence for truly opposing the Kremlin regime, not on Twitter or a blog, but in real life. By the same token, finding out someone you and many of your friends personally knew got murdered for their real world dissent is par for the course for those who live this life in Russia or Ukraine. Obviously finding out he wasn’t dead is ultimately a huge relief, but the trauma, depression, and rage many of us experienced for a barely a day was totally real. Worse still is that after the initial shock, my first thoughts turned to who among my friends would be next- several immediately come to mind as prime targets. I’m absolutely certain I wasn’t the only one thinking that either. And those rapidly evolving positions I alluded to earlier? That’s people who have been on an emotional roller coaster reeling from the shock and struggling to adjust to the new reality. In a way it’s like mock execution by proxy- indisputably better than actual mock execution but still a shock to the system nonetheless.

Everything that has happened in the past 24 hours reaffirms what I wrote yesterday about what this part of the world does to people who’ve lived it. There’s the darkness, the pain, the fear, the hopelessness, the paranoia, the depression, the fury, and then…there’s the sheer thrill of it. You hate it with every fiber of your being until you’re out of it and you’d do anything just to get back over there like a moth drawn to the flame.

As for the past 48 hours, it was messy, it may raise ethical questions, and the SBU’s still got a lot to answer for, but for now Arkady Babchenko’s alive, and the man who tried to arrange his murder (and possibly many others) is behind bars. The good guys won today.

Catch your breath and get ready. The week’s not over yet.

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Keyboard Commandos vs. Real Life

 

I have to warn you ahead of time that this is going to be a very serious post. I initially planned it to be somewhat serious with some jokes thrown in to lighten the mood a bit. That was all before this afternoon, when I first saw the news that Russian dissident journalist Arkady Babchenko had been murdered outside his apartment in Kyiv. So the jokes are out, but because this tragic event only reinforces the original point I wanted to make, I have to write this piece.

Just for full disclosure, Babchenko and I were never close friends; we were acquaintances at most. I met him once in Moscow, possibly twice but I don’t remember as it was always with a group of people. I do have a number of friends who were closer, however. I’m just getting this all out of the way because the significance of this will be made clear a bit later. Thus let’s move on to what would have been the beginning of this post.

As some of my Twitter followers already know that last night I came under attack by the Dipshit Duo of Eric Garland (or someone reasonably claiming to be him) and Louise Mensch, as well as a number of their moronic wine mom fans. Because these people possess the communication skills of a third-grader drunk on Robitussin, it took me a while to figure out what had suddenly drawn their attention to me. After all, both Garland and Mensch have blocked me almost from the very get-go back in 2017.

From what I was able to piece together using Google Translate for Dumbass-to-English, it seems they were upset by this tweet.

Apparently one of the cretins took this as a personal threat or challenge, because these are essentially delusional people who think they’re the protagonist in their own blockbuster spy thriller, so of course it had to be about them. In reality, while this tweet was indeed inspired by some of these people, it is simply a prediction about something that will inevitably happen if this kind of behavior continues to spread. In fact it really doesn’t apply so much to people like Garland or Mensch because neither seem to exist outside of Twitter. They have largely been shut out of the natsec and Russia/Eurasia sphere because nobody takes them seriously. Even the major media networks figured out their grift fairly quickly, which is why you no longer hear them mentioned despite all this 24/7 Russiagate coverage.

No, those two simply aren’t in the tier of jackasses who are most likely to get popped in the face at a networking event because they called the wrong person a Russian agent. If someone like Garland even managed to find and get to such an event, he’d probably be rapidly escorted out by security when they notice him nervously stuffing his pockets with sugar packets.

But there are people who both engage in this behavior and do actually leave their house and mingle in the same circles, and I was merely predicting that some of these people may one day face a real life backlash for their online attacks. It’s not a threat, it’s not posturing, it’s a statement of fact that is often forgotten these days, when so much of life is lived online and not in reality.

Now having said all that, I do have a burning-hot hatred for all of these people, including Garland, Mensch, and their fan club, and there is very good reason for this. Whether it’s someone with at least some credentials like John Schindler or someone who has no idea what they’re talking about like the aforementioned Twitter stars, all of these people routinely give an air of immeasurable unwarranted self-importance. They style themselves “patriots” and defenders of the republic, and their fans go even further. The way their fans tweet, you’d think that they’re sitting in a foxhole manning the last line of defense between American liberal democracy and Putinist tyranny. If they’re not labeling other people as Russian trolls, bots, and agents, they’re calling them “keyboard commandos,” which is rich because that’s precisely what these people are.

I think few Westerners, in particular Americans, have any idea of what it’s like living under Putin’s regime or having to cover it as a journalist. It’s hard to describe, but there’s a very noticeable difference between when I talk to someone who’s “been there” and someone who hasn’t. With the former we have a shared language, with the latter there is a clear disconnect, sometimes so much so that I might as well be explaining Russia in Japanese.

Sure, it’s never all bad. I can talk about good times- the discoveries, the parties, the friendships. But I’ve noticed even as far back as 2008 that every conversation inevitably turns dark. The topic of corruption is brought up. Then there’s the stories of journalists murdered with impunity. Rigged elections. Veterans of the Second World War freezing to death in their flats. Side-stepping a corpse on a metro platform. You don’t consciously want to talk about these things; they just come up.

Then you add more years. You get into journalism and suddenly it is now your job to know about all those horrible things. The worse it is, the more important it is for you to find it. And you’ll have no trouble finding it because it turns out the same year you get into the business is the same year the regime loses its mind and starts the largest war in Europe since Yugoslavia in the 1990’s. I remember well how many of my first stories all included body counts. I remember having to slowly and diplomatically explain to an editor how the reason why the body count in a mortar attack in Donetsk had to be updated with one more killed is because wounded people sometimes succumb to their wounds, thus moving them into the killed category.

Seeing the war in the Donbas up close was just like pouring gasoline on a fire. It begins simple enough- you see towns in formerly Russian-controlled territory like Kostantynivka or Slovyansk, you see how dilapidated and impoverished they are, and you understand that this is very much the fault of all previous governments of Ukraine going back to 1991. You very quickly learn to distinguish battle damage from decay that took decades, and your thoughts turn to how the Kremlin saw these people as a prop to justify a war of naked aggression for the sake of imperialism and neocolonialism.

In order to “save Russian speakers” who were never under threat from anything but rampant corruption and organized crime, the paranoid delusional regime forced those same “Russian speakers” to shelter all night in basements in cities like Avdiivka. You walk through residential areas of the city and see sagging stairwells and a steel door bowed outward from a shell that exploded inside the flat. You eat dinner at a restaurant that lost three of its staff when a Russian shell hit its outdoor grill. You meet a woman who now lives in the hospital she works at because her flat was destroyed in the shelling. Putin saved that Russian-speaker from home ownership, apparently. In the morning you see the people coming into the city hall to get free plastic sheeting to seal up the windows that got blown out in the night. They’re almost all elderly. One old man stares, mouth agape. He looks like he could have survived the Second World War, and if so he almost certainly would have felt self-assured that in spite of the harrowing sacrifices that victory in that conflict demanded, his generation secured lasting peace, if not prosperity. Putin’s artillery ended that peace.

I could go on, but some readers might have already noted I’m mostly recalling things I personally witnessed back in 2015. My experiences are in many ways just the tip of the iceberg. I have plenty of friends and acquaintances who have spent far more time at the front, both as journalists and veterans. Some of them risked their freedom or even their lives investigating events in Russia. Among the former are many who have spent more time with internally displaced people and refugees. Just as my job was once to monitor the worst of Russia, theirs was to do the same in Ukraine, and they can easily match any story about injustice in Russia with one in Ukraine. Pre- or post-Maidan, your choice.

Of course I know plenty of people who aren’t soldiers or journalists, but ordinary people living in Russia or Ukraine. Apart from one unpleasant encounter I’ve been fortunate enough to avoid the wrath of the FSB. A friend of mine who had nothing to do with journalism or activism of any kind was far less fortunate, and ended up getting threatened and tortured for nearly 12 hours by FSB who he believes were involved in some kind of criminal activity. I have other friends who were forced out of Russia because they fell afoul of the regime which robs and persecutes its own people so that a tiny minority can enjoy the most lavish luxury the West has to offer.  Collectively we have all witnessed the humiliation and brutalization of both the peoples of Russia and Ukraine by this sociopathic, kleptocratic regime.

And this one guy I knew…he just got shot today.

So that’s how we come back to Babchenko in all of this. Arkady Babchenko was, by any definition, the real deal. One friend of mine who knew him better than I said that Babchenko probably received more death threats than any Russian journalist he knew. Eventually someone made good on their threat, in Kyiv, no less.

By now I hope the reader is beginning to grasp why I have such a white-hot hatred for these self-appointed defenders of the republic. These people sit behind their Twitter accounts and lecture people on Russia issues with zero grounds to do so, and when they get called on their bullshit, their legions of gullible, unhinged morons defend their heroes by labeling the critics as agents of Russia or, most stupidly of all from a technical standpoint, bots. These people are essentially playing an online role-playing game in order to escape the boredom and utter pointlessness of their insignificant lives.

Gaming is the perfect analogy because essentially, what these people are doing is the equivalent of teenage Call of Duty gamers lecturing and ridiculing actual combat veterans. “I’ve got top kills on this map dozens of times, bro. I defend this country! What do you know about war, coward?” That’s basically it right there. Now imagine that gamer kid is 18 or 19, and he mouths off like that to the veteran in a bar. What do you think is going to happen? Who would you blame?

The grifters, both the total failures like Garland and Mensch and those who achieved modest success like Schindler and McKew, are portraying themselves as warriors defending democracy from the machinations of Putin, and yet they have never had to experience what that regime actually has to offer. They live lives of comfort in the West. At most, they’ll get trolled online, maybe by an actual paid employee of the Internet Research Agency if they’re really lucky. They won’t get that knock on the door late at night. They won’t get their heads bashed in by “cossacks” or have chemicals thrown in their face. They won’t be interrogated for hours on end by security services or charged with “extremism” because they liked a social media post or wrote online about finding a Pokemon in a church.

They won’t answer their door one evening and get shot.

 

 

 

 

Guest Op-Ed: Ukraine Should Open a Hell Portal in Russia

By Very Serious Journalism Man 

First I’d like to thank the owner of this blog for allowing me to guest post my thoughts about what Ukraine definitely needs to do before this year’s World Cup Championship in Russia. As some of you might have already read, Russia recently opened up a road bridge to the illegally occupied Crimean peninsula. The gauntlet has been thrown down, and if Ukraine wants to prove that it’s a real country and not a cucktry, it needs to respond in kind.

How should a country respond to a foreign aggressor building an illegal bridge? Simple. You escalate. They build a bridge in your country, so you use advanced wormhole-creating technology to open a literal gate to hell in their country. As Sean Connery said with his horrible impression of an Irish accent in The Untouchables, “That’s the Chicago way!”

I’m pretty sure Ukraine has scientists. They had the Chernobyl disaster and they managed to fix that somehow. You don’t do that without scientists. A lot of them. With US backing, and perhaps the help of genius entrepreneurs like Elon Musk, it’s not at all unrealistic for Ukraine to create some kind of device which will be able to open a portal to the dark underworld somewhere on the other side of the Russian border.

Let’s see Putin smirk about not having any troops in Ukraine when literal demons are slaughtering people in the streets of Moscow! Hybrid warfare? How do you like interdimensional warfare, Ivan?!

Ukraine needs to do this before the opening of the World Cup, otherwise it’s a little chicken country and has no friends. But if it mans up and pulls it off, the US should support Ukraine wholeheartedly in this endeavor. The current US administration is wholly capable of handling any consequences from such an operation, but it won’t have to because there won’t be any.

I am a serious journalism man.

 

 

Schindler Jumps the Shark (Safe for Work Edition)

Christmas came early this year, folks. For quite some time, John Schindler was riding high as the King of the Russia Grifters. This is because unlike McKew, Mensch, Dworkin, or Garland, Schindler actually has a background in intelligence. Sure, someone like Eric Garland can tweet about “This is America” being a Russian propaganda video with subliminal coded messages in the background and there will be no consequences because everyone outside his personal audience of #Resistance wine moms knows that he’s always been a batshit buffoon with zero background knowledge. But a guy like Schindler, who’s taken seriously by other ex-spooks and mainstream media outlets? He’s got a reputation to maintain, right?

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Wrong.

Let me tell you, dear readers. When it rains, it pours, and today was a goddamned Biblical flood.

Of course griftshark Molly McKew smelled the blood in the water and had to chime in.

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Yes, the idea of a plane crashing at a poorly-equipped airfield in bad weather that had already diverted one plane that day in Russia, a country with a notoriously bad air safety record at the time, seemed “impossible.” This woman has testified to Congress.

So what actual evidence does veteran intelligence operative Schindler come up with? Well not much, as it would turn out. I’m not going to go through this line-by-line but I’ll provide the highlights.

“From the outset, right-wing allies of the fallen president smelled a rat—a Russian rat, that is. Poles know their neighbor well, and Kaczyński had no illusions about Vladimir Putin’s thuggish regime. It seemed beyond suspicious that Poland’s government died in a disaster on Russian soil—particularly when the Kremlin is led by a man who came of age in the KGB, the very same people who executed and covered up the Katyń massacre.”

In case you’re not familiar with Schindler, he’s very much inclined to the right. In fact a lot of the stuff he writes sounds like the kind of stuff you hear from American paleoconservatives who tend to love Putin. I get the feeling that Schindler’s only beef with Trump is the Russia ties. But as for the people he’s talking about in Poland, keep in mind these are the same people who claim that Lech Walesa worked with the secret police.

Also, like any good conspiracy theorist, Schindler misrepresents the “official story.”

“However, investigators determined that the crash occurred due to a chain of human errors and could be explained without nefarious mystery. Russian and Polish official inquiries into the disaster, both published in 2011, were not in complete agreement, yet they broadly concurred that pilot error was to blame. Both reports asserted that Smolensk, a military airfield lacking modern civil navigation aids, was shrouded in dense fog that fateful morning and, on the approach, the pilot (who was overtaxed by managing the landing and radio contact with the Smolensk tower simultaneously) misjudged the glide slope and flew the Tu-154 into a forest a half-mile short of the runway. After hitting a birch tree with its left wing, the aircraft spun and flipped on its back, hitting the ground with sufficient force to kill all passengers on impact.”

Here there is an important detail Schindler is leaving out, one which is substantiated by audio longs from the cockpit recorder. It seems that the possibility of diverting to another airport due to the low visibility may have been discussed in the cockpit. The crew decided not to, presumably out of fear of angering the president after a similar incident in 2008. Now I suppose you can doubt that was a factor, but you shouldn’t leave it out because it is significant.

Next Schindler talks about the handling of the investigation on the Russian side:

“Even more embarrassingly, the Kremlin was remarkably slipshod in its handling of the dead. Sent home in sealed coffins, many of the bodies had been swapped or misidentified. In 24 cases of reexamination in 2016, half of the coffins opened contained the wrong remains. Even the coffin of President Kaczyński included the remains of two other victims. Such carelessness inevitably led to questions about what else the Russians had mishandled—or worse.”

First of all, a lot of this can be explained in two words- It’s Russia. They don’t have a great record on handling accidents and disasters like this. It’s amazing Schindler doesn’t take this into account. I mean he seems to realize that Putin is a dictator presiding over an extremely corrupt authoritarian society, right? That kind of society naturally leads to things like bodies being mishandled and investigations getting botched.

Do I think Russian authorities may have deliberately held back some things? Of course. Even though relations were better back then, Putin, his inner circle, and his security agencies still had a paranoid mindset. No doubt they saw this as a source of potential embarrassment and probably suspected that if they turned over certain evidence the evil Americans would use it to concoct some kind of “provokatsiya,” as they like to call everything. So by holding things back they may have risked looking guilty of hiding something, but in their minds they denied their enemies some major propaganda material.

Also, it’s very important to note that when the Russians are behind something, their standard tactic is to start putting out dozens of alternative explanations in order to muddy the waters. We saw it with MH17, with the Salisbury poisoning, and now with the Douma chemical attack. The fact that Russia’s actually stuck to the same story in this case suggests they might actually be innocent in this case (apart from having a dismal air safety record).

And speaking of stories, Schindler only tells us one version of Law and Justice’s assassination story, the one that involves bombs being on the plane. Now to be fair, his reasoning is that a veteran air crash investigator claims to have found evidence of an explosion inside the plane prior to the crash. However, that’s not the only theory that’s been floated. For example, one version seriously alleges that the Russians may have used “artificial fog” near the airport.

Throughout the article Schindler puts the term conspiracy theory in quotes. For you newbies out there, if someone is continually complaining about the hypothesis they advance being dismissed as a conspiracy theory, it’s quite possibly a conspiracy theory. And before we take this conspiracy theory apart, let me remind you that this particular theory alleges not only a conspiracy involving Russia, but also with the Polish government at the time. So yeah, it’s a conspiracy theory.

First let’s start with the problem of motive. I typically hate these qui bono arguments because they are as weak as they are incredibly easy to twist and manipulate. That being said, Russia had absolutely no reason to assassinate the president of a NATO country in 2010. Sure there was the Georgian War in 2008, but 2010 was well within Obama’s “reset,” rising American investment in Russia, and pre-Magnitsky Act. Putin had officially stepped down to become prime minister, making him look far less dictator-y than he would in 2011 when he announced his plan to return to the presidency after changing the constitution. This is also the era when visa-free travel to the EU for Russian citizens was being seriously discussed. The South Stream pipeline as in the works, Viktor Yanukovych was in power in Ukraine. The West was still happily accepting boatloads of dirty money from Putin’s cronies. Why screw all that up?

As I already pointed out, however, motive arguments are often weak, either way, so let’s look at the concrete facts. Dismissing the idiotic artificial fog machine claims let’s look directly at the bomb-on-plane version Schindler goes with. Schindler’s best evidence is that the guy saying he found evidence of an explosion prior to the crash is a well-known air crash investigator. That’s great but people with credentials get things wrong all the time. One of my personal role models, James Randi, has spent the better part of his life duping scientists or watching scientists get duped. According to Randi, there are several reasons why this happens, one of which is that people with expertise and a lot of experience often have trouble admitting when they made a mistake. For example, you could be a veteran member of some US intelligence agency, and then, possibly because it helps your career, start endorsing the idiotic conspiracy theory of an authoritarian, far right party led and supported by delusional idiots. It could happen.

Here’s a video of Schindler’s expert telling Polish authorities his opinion. It appears he’s giving his opinion based on what he was shown by them, and it’s not clear what exactly he was shown or how it was presented to him:

 

Whatever he saw, there are huge problems with the bomb theory. First of all, I’d imagine security for the Polish president is more or less as tight as it would be for any number of world leaders. Would the Russians seriously think they could get a bomb on the plane, undetected, in Warsaw?

More importantly, the weather around Smolensk was very crucial- you can’t have the president’s plane just exploding in mid-air on approach. Someone could catch that on a phone camera. Some eyewitness would talk. So how could the Russians be sure the visibility would be so poor at that airport at that time? Russia is known for having very unpredictable weather. Also, how did they know the pilot would not divert? How would they have activated the bomb then? If you claim it was on a special timer, how could they be sure the plane wouldn’t be delayed in Warsaw? Or that it wouldn’t divert to Moscow, or that it wouldn’t land quickly on its first attempt in Smolensk and then blow up on the ground in front of media cameras? The plane exploding in air, on the ground, or pretty much anywhere else except where it actually crashed would blow the whole thing wide open.

Also, we know very well that Russia has a much subtler way of eliminating opponents- poison. Wouldn’t President Kaczynski probably eat at some point in Smolensk? Poisoning would be a far safer bet. Oh what’s that you say? Poisoning would have led to suspicion? Well his fucking plane crashing in the fog led to a bunch of conspiracy theories so what’s the difference in that case?

A lot of Poles joined in that Twitter thread to drag Schindler for his antics, but being a veteran intelligence operative, he was able to fend them off using the finest tradecraft:

And of course there’s the time-honored rhetorical tactic that is definitely not used by conspiracy theorists:

Kremlin POV, “just asking questions.” Classic.

If I seem harsh on these people you need only to look at these two responses. See I spent some time living in a dictatorship where people who question the authorities are often accused of working for foreign intelligence agencies, where everything that goes wrong is a vast Western conspiracy, and where you’re told you can never really know what happened. In other words, I lived in a place run by John Schindlers, and it kind of sucks. It’s literally destroying that country and to be honest I don’t see too much hope for it.

Schindler, McKew, and all these other authoritarian grifters are basically building an American version of the paranoid Putinist mentality. And what’s worse is that decision makers just eat all this up because it’s exactly what they want to hear. Democrats losing all over the country? It’s the Russians! No need to change your weak-ass platform or campaign strategy! People upset about a pipeline or police brutality against black Americans? It’s just the Russians getting them riled up through Facebook! No need to actually engage with the American people and actually solve anything.

I cannot overestimate the danger of allowing this kind of paranoid, conspiratorial attitude to spread further than it already has in this country. Once you’ve lowered yourself to the Kremlin’s level, they’ve got you. That’s when they can tell everyone: “You see? They’re no better than us.”

That’s how they win.

Jacobin Strikes Out Again

I’ve written at length in the past about how Jacobin, like much of its Western leftist audience, just can’t get Ukraine. It seems the only time they get a voice that has actually been in the country, they choose one that tells them a story which confirms their personal prejudices- that Ukraine is overrun by right-wing fascists. It’s tempting to attribute all this to Russian propaganda, and it certainly played a large role, but the Russian propaganda machine didn’t need to expend much effort to cement their talking points into a large swathe of the Western left. All you need to do is show McCain on Maidan, talk about how the US is overthrowing a government to expand NATO, and many leftists’ brains turn to putty in your hands.

The over all thrust of today’s offending piece isn’t necessarily a bad one. It talks about how so-called decommunization in Eastern Europe has been used to justify authoritarian regimes both past and present. It also correctly points out how these laws are often hypocritical- claiming on one hand to criminalize both Communist and fascist symbols but with the ban on the later often poorly enforced. More on that later.

The piece starts off by describing the situation in Poland and Hungary. This is quite appropriate because Poland is currently ruled by an extremely nationalist, right-wing government that is so batshit insane they exhumed the body of their former president to “prove” Russia somehow engineered the plane crash that killed him. With its tireless vigilance against Muslim refugees who aren’t coming to Poland anyway, the country has in recent years become so associated with racist nationalism that it now rivals Russia as a…pole…if you will…for far right adherents worldwide.

Hungary just recently concluded an election in which the far-right Fidesz party and Viktor Orban won in a massive landslide. The past few years of his rule has been associated with a Putin-like crackdown on the free press and its conversion into a propaganda machine pumping out Islamophobic hysteria and conspiracy theories about George Soros.

And yet while those countries’ governments are currently in the solid grasp of their respective far right factions, guess which country Jacobin’s going to wail on in this piece?

Yep. Ukraine. The country where the far right does laughably poor in every election since Maidan. As soon as the writer starts in things go awry.

“In 2015, riding a wave of nationalist sentiment in the wake of conflict in the country’s east, Ukraine began an intensive process of decommunization.”

Oh what’s this? There’s a “conflict” in Ukraine’s east? Well where did that come from? Here we see one of the most infuriating sins of the Western left, the inability to acknowledge when a country that is not the United States or one of its allies or clients engages in an act of imperialist aggression. These are often the same types who are totally on the ball when the New York Times tweets something like: “Dozens of Palestinians have died in protests as the U.S. prepares to open its Jerusalem Embassy.” (To their credit they did change the headline of the actual story.)

But if it’s Russia engaging in aggression, well, a “conflict” just erupts somewhere. One in which an unusually large quantity of Russian citizens fight on one side, serve as military commanders, receive all manner of logistical support from Russia, and so forth.

The funny thing about that sentence is that it almost answers the readers’ own question about how this nationalism, specifically some of the more extreme forms they discuss further down, became so influential in Ukrainian civil societies if not in the upper echelons of state power. Put simply, they capitalized on the war that the Russians started.

But before moving past this point I need to point out that while some forms of nationalism have increased their visibility and influence thanks to the war, it is inaccurate to speak about a rise of nationalism in Ukraine as though it is inherently right wing. Since Maidan Ukraine has seen a kind of cultural revolution where its national identity is beginning to develop more freely. This is not in any way limited to ethnic Ukrainians either. The Crimean Tatars have been experiencing a cultural revival, and due to the annexation of Crimea Ukrainian society has been forced to confront the fact that in the past it failed to fully appreciate the Crimean Tatar plight, something it is now rectifying. Russian-speaking Ukrainians, Jews, and even nationalities not native to Ukraine or even the former Soviet Union are embracing what some people call a civic national identity (based on citizenship rather than ethnicity). The government, in its ever ham-fisted and inefficient way, has also been promoting this trend.

The reason I’m bringing all this up is because if you are a person who’s actually familiar with Ukrainian politics and Russian propaganda, you will understand that Ukrainian “nationalism,” in this vernacular, often has nothing to do with actual nationalism and certainly not right-wing beliefs, but rather everything to do with acknowledging Ukrainian culture as distinct and supporting Ukraine’s right to self-determination against Russian imperialism. I’ve often had pro-Russian commentators label me a Ukrainian nationalist and fascist despite the fact that this is an obviously radical leftist blog where I have routinely criticized right-wing Ukrainian nationalism, Ukraine’s memory politics, aspects of decommunization, and so forth. The point is that words don’t mean anything to these people. If you oppose their designs in Ukraine you are a Banderite and a neo-Nazi. If you oppose them in Syria, you’re a Wahhabist terrorist or at least a sympathizer. The point is, the Kremlin would very much like people to see that people wearing vyshivankas and speaking Ukrainian are “nationalists,” as though Ukraine has no legitimate culture save for what Moscow deems acceptable. For some reason I get the feeling that Western leftists ought to recognize this concept, and not indulge in it.

Moving on:

“Since then thousands of streets and hundreds of towns have been renamed, statues of Lenin have been torn down in every corner of the country, and political parties which are deemed too sympathetic to the Communist past have been banned — including the Communist Party of Ukraine, which regularly received millions of votes.”

The street renaming has at times been kind of ridiculous, not just because of poor choices but the fact that there are streets that have been renamed for years now and yet you wouldn’t know by looking at the signs. I spent half of 2017 in Kyiv living on Kikvidze street, even though it was officially renamed after Mikhailo Boichuk at the time (on Google maps this has since been rectified).  As for Lenin statues, can someone give a legitimate reason for having hundreds of statues of a guy who has nothing to do with modern Ukraine  in prominent places throughout the country? Sure, he had a big influence on the country’s political development, and not all entirely positive as well, but as we rightly argued against defenders of Confederate monuments- just because someone played a major role in a region’s history doesn’t mean they should have statues everywhere. In 1917 Ukraine had its own nascent socialist government, and could have developed in an entirely different trajectory were it not for Lenin and the Bolsheviks’ imperialist and colonialist prejudices toward Ukraine and other non-Russian parts of the empire.

Lastly I find the comments about the Communist Party of Ukraine rather funny because they mention how it regularly received millions of votes. Totally ignoring the the party’s actual legacy of rampant corruption and far right politics for a second, what amusing here is that one reason for the CPU’s failure and banning was the Russian annexation of Crimea and occupation of part of the Donbas. In fact, had Russia not initiated either, decommunization probably never would have passed and the Western nationalists would have been even more marginalized. But of course Putin doesn’t care- a big part of his strategy is trying to force people to choose between him and some unsavory alternative. So from the Kremlin POV, the more actual “Banderites,” the better.

Even Volodymyr Ishchenko, a leftist with whom I have many core disagreements, saw the end of the Communist Party of Ukraine as an opportunity.** One thing I can agree with is the fact that the elimination of this party definitely opens the field for a real left to form- but that left will go nowhere with the capitulationist “both sides” rhetoric of people like Ishchenko. Furthermore, Eastern Europe is often plagued by parties that use Soviet or Communist symbols as a brand. Make your logo a red star or hammer and sickle, and you’re a Communist or socialist party. By banning many such symbols, A real left movement can attract people based on ideology and dedication rather than nostalgia or fetishism.

Naturally we’re talking about Ukraine (and not the countries literally run by strong far right governments), so we must bring up the Azov battalion!

“The legislation that Ukraine’s Parliament voted on wasn’t exclusive to Communism. Its text promised to combat celebration of both “Communist and National-Socialist totalitarian regimes.” But in 2015, as these measures passed, Ukraine’s government was in fact institutionalizing fascist militias into its armed forces. That summer the Azov Battalion, founded by members of the neo-Nazi Social-National Assembly, was officially upgraded to a Special Operations Regiment of the Ukrainian Army. Its members celebrated with photos showing their SS tattoos, symbols which the government was supposed to have banned.”

It is correct to point out the fact that the law’s enforcement against symbols is very lopsided. For example, far more symbols are associated with socialism and banned (though plenty of exceptions exist), whereas when it comes to Nazism you practically have to name your party “The National Socialist German Workers Party” and fly the Nazi German swastika flag to get prosecuted under the law (apparently this has happened a couple times recently). The law has been roundly criticized by people both inside and outside of Ukraine, as you can read here, and here.

Again, while Poroshenko bears responsibility for approving the law and appointing Volodymyr Viatrovych to his post, this is just another example of someone taking advantage of Russia’s imperialist war and occupation to further their own ends. The reason this kind of thing goes over well in Ukrainian society regardless of people’s actual political views is because historically, and indeed to this day, Soviet nostalgia and symbolism is routinely used by Russian propaganda aimed at Ukraine, as well as by pro-Russian parties and organizations. And for many Ukrainians, this connection is also rightly associated with corruption and backwardness that has plagued the country since independence and the beginning of a neo-colonial relationship with Russia in 1991. It’s kind of dickish for millennial Western leftists who have never been to Ukraine to demand that people keep all these statues of a Russian guy around because this is somehow “progressive” or “leftist.”

But you came here for Azov, so let’s do Azov. Again. First of all there’s the claim of “institutionalizing fascist militias” into the armed forces. This betrays a woeful lack of understanding about what national guard/Ministry of Defense integration actually meant, and this is another one of those topics that I too misunderstood for a long time. The way a lot of people see it, there were these “fascist militias” and then the government said “Okay you’re official now! Here’s a shit ton of weaponry!” In reality the government was basically saying: “Great job, but we’re taking over now.” Commanders were replaced, what passed for military discipline imposed. The Azov Regiment is now firmly under control of the government, not Andrii Beletsky or neo-Nazi football hooligans. And one thing about integration that nobody seems to point out is that the offensive original logo was also changed after integration. Even a recent unusually sub-par StopFake article on this subject missed this point. Compare:

Azov_Batallion_logo

Original, very fashy logo.

Azov_symbol

Post-integration logo. Now 60% LESS Fashy!*                                           *Results may vary

 

This may seem like a minor issue and the regiment’s press service has a typical bullshit-explanation as to why they changed the logo, but I think the real reason is pretty obvious- It was fashy. If the regiment’s explanation that a less cluttered design was needed, why not keep the wolf’s h- Oh I’m sorry…I mean the “Idea of the nation“* symbol…upright as before? Nah. My money’s on the national guard or Ministry of Internal Affairs deciding that the unit needed some image polishing. Now it looks like a weird little Z.

None of this is to say that the regiment doesn’t certainly attract a fair number of far-right recruits based on reputation alone, but since integration it has become basically another ordinary national guard unit, albeit with a logo that’s still fashy. More importantly, this unit has been more or less confined to its barracks for years now. So if you want to talk about the threat of the far right, it makes much more sense to talk about organizations like C14 and various political offshoots associated with Azov such as the National Corps party; the regiment itself poses no threat to society, whereas those other organizations arguably do. In the past the state has often turned a blind eye to the street activity of these groups, but there is evidence that the Ukrainian government is starting to appreciate the threat these groups pose and is slowly starting to address these issues in their usual, ham-fisted, incompetent way.  This situation is by no means ideal, but it’s also not a fascist junta using heavily armed death squads to commit pogroms. It’s safe to say these groups are either criminal gangs or political projects designed to enrich their founders, and Ukrainian voters know this and steer clear.

Naturally the author goes into a lengthy rant about Bandera and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army which would be  perfect low-hanging fruit for a cultist like Viatrovych. I won’t get into details here because this piece has gone on long enough, but if you too want to fight OUN-cultists in Ukraine (forget the Canadian and American ones, they’re beyond all hope), you have to possess a deep knowledge of this not-too-accessible topic of Ukrainian nationalism. The cult has always benefited from their heroes’ obscurity. Most Ukrainians know almost nothing about Bandera or the UPA, so advocates fill their head with isolated factoids and canned arguments that become so laughably predictable I sometimes feel like I can actually control what an OUN-apologist is going to say next. If you demonstrate a much deeper knowledge on the topic than they have, it’s a lot easier to establish dominance. The truth is the overwhelming majority of Ukrainians don’t give a fuck about Stepan Bandera and a good portion, perhaps a majority, still see him as a negative figure. And that, mind you, is without several million people who now live under Russian occupation. Imagine how things would have been without the war.

Bandera in Ukraine is a talisman, a litmus test to see what side someone might be on, and to more sophisticated people, a meme, a joke.

Had the author been more focused and not got sidetracked telling horror stories about Ukraine, they might have come up with a better point. For example, it is certainly true that Ukraine’s current memory policies and the government’s poor record of reining in far-right activity ensures that said activity will persist so long as the war with Russia goes on. The Russia factor is also important because only a naive fool would think Russia’s intelligence services don’t have their tendrils in some of these groups, many of which share the same core values as their Russian “opponents” on the other side of the contact line. I’d also say that in Ukraine at least, decommunization is in many ways an thinly-veiled attempt to suppress leftist movements in service to Ukraine’s ruling class- the oligarchs and other business people. But on the other hand, it is a knee-jerk reaction to Russia’s typical propaganda tactic in the region of using Soviet symbols and history to promote its interests.

But there is one thing that the author does not ask at all, and it’s a question I had to struggle with a lot since 2014. One cannot ignore the very obvious fact that things such as anti-Semitism, xenophobia, clericalism, and radical nationalism have historically been much more prominent in the Former Soviet Union and former East Bloc than in Western Europe. There is a tempting delusion on the left, one which I was under for quite some time, that says this explosion of reactionary politics in the former “socialist” bloc was due to some kind of massive ideological upheaval where everything associated with socialism, even the good things, was demonized as evil and anything that opposed socialism, however bad, was suddenly rehabilitated and glorified. There is a kernel of truth to this formulation, but it is a fantasy.

Human beings are not robots that can be switched from one mode to another so easily. If socialist regimes really imparted to their populations progressive, universal values, it’s hard to believe we’d see things like the rise of neo-Nazism in countries like Russia, Ukraine or Bulgaria after the fall of the regimes. The fact is, however, that so-called socialist regimes were in fact quite conservative, and because they did not typically allow dissent, certain conversations and struggles didn’t take place. Since everyone was so happy in the Soviet peoples’ friendship, there was no need to address discrimination between nationalities, and when things go bad enough the only possible solution anyone could come up with was separation and often reactionary nationalism. The LGBT struggle never took place, so that today in Russia gay men are typically just referred to as “pedophiles.” In other issues, such as the history of Nazism and fascism, the state eventually portrayed them as evil simply because they were invaders and occupiers. State policy said not to identify Jews as a specific group targeted by the Nazis. In some cases, Soviet propaganda leaned on anti-Semitic tropes and images to support its domestic and foreign policy goals.

As for Ukraine the situation looks dim but if we’re talking about dealing with the far right I’d choose Ukraine any day over Hungary or Poland…or the United States for that matter.  In Ukraine the real problem isn’t so much an all-powerful right but rather an extremely weak left, and that is largely the left’s own fault for not preparing  or following false paths, and then not rectifying the situation when it was caught napping in 2014.

It’s also worth remembering that we’re all in the midst of a global rise in reactionary and far-right activity, and when you take that into consideration, along with the fact that Ukraine is emerging from a far-right neocolonial regime (Yanukovych) and fighting a defensive war against a colonial master that is also arguably outright fascist, there is little reason to single out Ukraine at all. The Western left will certainly not reach people there by regurgitating Russian propaganda while sounding completely ignorant of the situation on the ground, either in Ukraine or anywhere else for that matter.

So in conclusion:

YES- There is a far right problem in Ukraine.

NO- The main problem isn’t the Azov Regiment of the National Guard, but rather spinoff organizations and other far-right groups.

YES- Ukrainian memory politics under Volodymyr Viatrovych’s control is a problem. It is no better or worse than the situation in Poland or Russia in this regards. 

YES- Anti-Communist hysteria is often instrumentalized by regimes in Eastern Europe for self-serving purposes (duh!). That doesn’t mean there aren’t logical historical reasons why these policies succeeded or at least weren’t vigorously opposed. Much of that blame lies with the Soviet government and self-proclaimed socialist regimes. 

Everyone happy? No? Good- I did my job.

As for Jacobin- they really need to just get someone who has actually spent significant amount of time in Ukraine and who studies and investigates these issues with far more rigor than what I’ve seen so far.

Comrades, I’m available.

 

*The standard Azov boilerplate explanation of the logo is that similar designs were used on the standards of some Ukrainian cossacks and that the modern logo is formed of the letters I and N and stands for “Idea of the Nation” (Iдея Нації). The reason for the N being like our Latin N and not the Cyrillic Н is because supposedly this was the way it would have been written prior to reforms of Peter the Great. I’ve seen no convincing evidence of any of this. Azov’s founders claim their logo has no intended connection with the German wolf’s hook, but if that’s the case why didn’t they just go with something that is unmistakably Ukrainian. Like…I don’t know…Maybe the fucking national trident that you actually put on the first patch? Don’t expect logic from the far right though. 

**UPDATE: Apparently Volodymyr Ishchenko takes issue with my portrayal of his position in The Guardian article. I think his characterization of the party was more or less accurate but in the end he did say people should condemn the banning of the party.

Transcript of Bashar al Assad’s Victory Speech, 2020

Bashar_al-Assad_in_Russia_(2015-10-21)_08

*Applause*

Thank you! Thank you all! Throughout this long and difficult conflict I have frequently expressed my deepest gratitude to you, members of parliament, my military from the chief of the general staff to the lowest-ranking recruit, and of course, to my foreign allies Russia and Iran. A thousand speeches would not be enough to fully express how much I feel indebted to all those who rallied to the flag during Syria’s darkest hour. There are so many who deserve boundless gratitude for helping us overcome our enemies, the so-called Free Syrian Army jihadists, the Kurdish separatist terrorists in the north, the Islamic State, and the most tenacious of all adversaries, the White Helmets, better known as Al Qaeda! Damascus was besieged by terrorists of every kind, some even disguised as little children, but you did not waver and because of your resolve we have triumphed!

But I trust you will forgive me when I dedicate this speech to another steadfast ally of the Syrian Arab Republic, one which up until now has never received my thanks, our thanks, for all its unflagging support for myself and the government I lead. Naturally I am speaking about the Western left and the anti-war movement it leads.

They go by many different names, many of them claim to be Marxists, Communists. I’m sure some of you, and indeed even myself at one time, feared that their ideological leanings might prevent them from supporting our government, which is in no way Marxist or leftist and to be honest, is arguably rightist if anything. Some of us were afraid they might look upon our past actions such as jailing leftists or helping the CIA with its rendition program in the War on Terror and reject us entirely in favor of the terrorist uprising which was also totally orchestrated by the CIA, Mossad, and Saudi Arabia. But no, they were not discouraged by any of that. Quite the opposite.

Despite the fact that almost none of these people had ever been to Syria, or even anywhere in the Middle East for that matter, despite the fact that for many of them their only source of factual information about what was happening here was our ally’s satellite TV network RT and a collection of various Russia-connected blogs all citing the same sources, these people saw the truth of our struggle and boldly stood up to their own governments. When their imperialist regimes accused us of using chemical weapons as a pretext for a massive invasion on par with the 2003 Iraq War in 2013, 2017, and 2018, these intrepid anti-imperialists could not be swayed by the insidious propaganda of terrorist organizations such as the United Nations or the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. On the contrary, they were more than willing to take the word of their far-right wing ideological opponents and speak the truth- that these chemical attacks never happened, that they were staged by the Al Qaeda White Helmets. Or the chemical attacks actually happened, but the rebels carried them out. Or the Islamic State. Or the White Helmets actually gassed civilians themselves. All of those are totally real things that actually happened, and the Western revolutionary left were not afraid to speak that truth to power.

Indeed, so loyal were they to our cause that they never flinched from entering into tacit alliances with those who could honestly be called fascists in order to get our message to their own countrymen. So determined were they in spreading that message, than when our neocon and neoliberal enemies tried to point out their strange and seemingly contradictory alliances, those brave leftists simply acted as though no such collaboration ever took place, or insisted that it didn’t matter. But it did matter. It mattered so much too us.

And that is why I’m announcing that the Syrian Arab Republic is prepared to give back to the Western left that stood so loyally by its side throughout this seemingly never-ending conflict. The revolutionary movement that dedicated so much time to defending our just regime deserves no less than our material and moral support in its own struggle, which of course is something I have always deeply cared about. I especially care about the local struggles of groups like Stop the War Coalition in the United Kingdom, the Communist Party of Great Britain (ML), and the Workers’ World Party in the United States, to name a few. That is why I say to the following to them and all their comrades worldwide:

We have not forgotten your sacrifices and struggle in our name. We have not forgotten how you put off your own organizing and issues in order to march in the streets with our flag and defend our regime no matter what it was accused of doing. We have not forgotten how you were totally unconcerned with your so-called credibility when you embraced and repeated our side of the story, indeed our sides of each story, when so many people called you cranks and conspiracy theorists for doing so. We have not forgotten how you were more than willing to enter into strategic alliances with self-identified neo-Nazis and white supremacists in order to spread our message- the message that anyone who opposed us was a bloodthirsty Wahhabist terrorist. We admire your confidence and resolve as you diligently and consistently lectured traitorous Syrian former-citizens despite never having been to the Middle East or speaking Arabic. Many people, lacking that kind of experience, would never want to appear so arrogant and condescending by telling a person what is really happening in their country when they have never set foot even in the region. But you were not afraid to do exactly that. You knew these people had to be terrorists and pawns of the United States and Israel, you were right, and you spoke the truth.

And because you did all this, it is now time for us to fight for you. Now that we have victory, peace, and a lot more living space in Syria for reasons you should not concern yourself with, I am ordering my generals to set up numerous educational and training camps for left revolutionaries. As a caveat I must say that you may be sharing your quarters with people who are your ideological enemies on the far-right in your home country, but from what I’ve seen you’ve managed to get along somehow for my sake and I’m sure you’ll work something out.

In addition to the free use of our infrastructure and facilities with which you can train legions of loyal, dedicated revolutionaries to struggle against your own exploiters at home, I offer you the use of our media facilities as well. Any leftist party who showed support for us will be able to obtain its own satellite network to reach viewers back home.

I was also especially touched by those of you who, after the last false flag chemical attack staged by the White Helmets in Douma, pointed out that the US government had poisoned its own people in Flint, Michigan. Others asked why no other countries were talking about bombing the US when police used tear gas on protesters at Standing Rock. Such rhetorical brilliance was so inspiring that I have decided to set aside some of our oil revenue toward providing the people of Flint the clean water they deserve! We will also provide any leftist organization in the US with high quality gas masks to protect themselves at their next protest, which will no doubt be in support of a cause I deeply agree with and care about.

Another thing these leftists have shown me is that we as Baathists need to remember the socialist aspect of Arab Socialism, one of the core ideas in the Baathist ideology. Now that we are no longer under imperialist threat, I hereby announce that we will be carrying out a new constitutional referendum with the goal of setting up not only a truly socialist society, but in fact a fully democratic communist society of which the leadership of the long-dead Soviet Union could only dream of. Our resources will be publicly owned so that every man, woman, and child will be guaranteed access to adequate shelter, food, clothing, education, and healthcare. This we shall achieve by instituting the combination of direct democracy and labor time calculation-based planning according to the theories of Paul Cockshott, an author whose work I have read extensively throughout this conflict.

Having established true functioning communism, I shall resign as president and remain merely head of the party, which will only minimally interfere in the administration of day-to-day life. More importantly, as the Syrian Arab Republic becomes the first territory living under functioning modern communism, it will become a beacon of light, spreading socialist theory and praxis throughout the world. Where the Russians and Chinese failed, we shall succeed!

And let me say this to my comrades in the Western left- this is only the beginning. You stood up for me and proclaimed the truth, that I am the Lion of Damascus and flame of secularism in a Middle East infested with hordes of bloodthirsty jihadists. For that I shall open the floodgates of my country’s wealth and back your revolutions because you backed our war for survival! Moreover, my allies Russia, as well as the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, which I assure you have nothing to do with Russia and are an internal matter for Nazi-controlled Ukraine, agree with me one hundred percent when it comes to this new initiative. They have offered to send you whatever you need so that working people in your nations can fight for and seize the rights they so sorely deserve!

The right to rebel against tyrants is universal and just! It is not like that rebellion against me because I am in no way a tyrant and those were all head-chopping takfiri Al Qaeda Islamic State terrorists who were paid by the CIA and Israel. You are nothing like them and thus have every right to revolution and freedom!

So from the bottom of my heart, and on behalf of the Syrian Arab Republic, soon to be the Syrian Communist Republic, I say as emphatically as possible. Thank you, anti-imperialists! Thank you all! 

*Standing ovation and applause*

Yes to Alternative Voices, No to Bullshit

I have been very open about the fact that I like the work of Matt Taibbi. For one thing, I started reading his stuff long before I even knew that he worked at The eXile. Now obviously there is a lot of problematic things with that, but since then Matt has gone on to do some genuinely great work, and he’s got a very entertaining style as well. So naturally I found this recent tweet a little odd:

Naturally, Taibbi got a lot of flak for that, largely because of who he was retweeting. Johnstone calls herself a “rogue journalist” (translation: not really a journalist at all) who has become known for lecturing the American left (she’s Australian) about how they need to work with the “anti-establishment” right to defeat the “empire” or some such Duginist bullshit. Now in all fairness to Johnstone, she claimed she wasn’t in favor of leftists working with the alt-right, but rather working with figures like Mike Cernovich, who doesn’t identify as alt-right and is often feuding with some people who do. That being said, that argument is stupid and Cernovich is a total scumbag who supports Trump, alt-right or not. Don’t take it from me though, just look at what definitely-not-a-neocon Ben Norton had to say about this:

Now back to Taibbi, who said that people should consider the argument and not who made it, i.e. Johnstone. I wholeheartedly agree- almost anyone can be right on the busted clock principle alone so let’s just leave Johnstone out of this entirely and focus on the argument itself.

First of all let’s just toss out this notion that more diversity in the “mainstream media” would “silence RT.” RT, like Sputnik, are now money making schemes for people like Margarita Simonyan and countless other people on the take. Margarita is on record comparing RT to an information weapon. According to her, it needs funding for the same reason the Ministry of Defense needs funding, to protect the privileged status of Russia’s tiny elite to “defend” against the dastardly West that hates Russia for no reason.

“The information weapon, of course, is used in critical moments, and war is always a critical moment. And it’s war. It’s a weapon like any other. Do you understand? And to say, why do we need it — it’s about the same as saying: ‘Why do we need the Ministry of Defense, if there is no war?’ –Margarita Simonyan

Now I get that the argument in question is actually implying that if people in the West see more anti-war or let’s say “anti-establishment” voices on their mainstream networks, RT’s audience will dry up and then perhaps the Russian government will start cutting its funding and maybe shutting down bureaus. I can tell you this is bullshit just based on the words of Simonyan I alluded to above.

More importantly, RT doesn’t have a massive audience or following anywhere. Plenty of people have pointed this out in the past. This is why they constantly harp on their Youtube views, despite the fact that their top hundred most-viewed videos include maybe two that have anything to do with Russian politics, and all their channels combined are dwarfed by the audience of a racist Swedish moron who screams at video games.

No, it’s not a lack of audience or ratings that would kill RT’s funding. If anything keeps it in business it’s alarmist quotes from Western leaders and think tank “information warriors” that make it out at something to be feared. RT’s editors actually collect these quotes and celebrate them, as they did in the end of a video celebrating their 10-year anniversary in 2015.

This is not to say that opening up “mainstream” media to more diverse voices, especially anti-war voices when a possible war looms on the horizon, wouldn’t reduce RT’s audience; it just wouldn’t make RT go away. Even if they were bereft of a significant audience because viewers flocked back to “mainstream media” outlets in droves to see more “anti-war” voices, the Russian government would still need to get out its message in service of its foreign policy goals.

See without outside influence, a lot of American and other Western “dissident” types would tend to ignore many issues of great importance to the Kremlin. Were it not for a major Russian propaganda offensive, very few Americans would pay any attention to Ukraine, for example, because that is simply not important to them. In order to make sure people outside of Russia believe that Ukraine is run by gay Jewish Nazis or that the Russian domestic opposition is a CIA front (controlled by gay Jewish Nazi CIA handlers), the Kremlin would need to keep broadcasting its messaging. And so they would, no matter how few people are actually watching.

But as soon as we debunk that part of the argument we get into the bigger problem- what does it mean to give a platform to “alternative views,” including antiwar views? To dissect this we need to first understand that for the left at least, we still haven’t woken up to the fact that a lot of us have been viewing global politics via the prism of 2002-2003, i.e. the invasion of Iraq, for far too long. It was in the run-up to that war that we saw what future historians ought to call The Great Failure of the American Media (specifically American media since international media, including some international versions of US networks, was often more critical or even-handed). Pretty much everyone above a certain age knows this story- in the aftermath of 9/11 news networks didn’t want to appear “unpatriotic.” Fox News was banging the drums of war as loudly as possible and other networks began tailing them. This led to such disturbing actions such as the firing of Phil Donahue from MSNBC and deliberately stacking talk shows with pro-war guests.

But while US media outlets still have their biases towards military interventions of all kinds, one can’t pretend that the political landscape in regards to war is the same as it was under Bush post-9/11, because it just plain isn’t. In the last presidential election, Hillary Clinton was smeared as the “war-mongering” candidate, while conservatives actually started criticizing the Iraq War (to be fair the far-right paleo-conservatives always did that). Sean Hannity, a man who spent years spewing white-hot vitriol at anti-war voices under Bush and on occasion even claimed Iraqi WMDs had been discovered well after the US government reported that they had not, has become Donald Trump’s biggest defender in spite of his repeated isolationist statements. In fact if we go back to 2013, when Assad’s forces first used chemical weapons on a large scale, we see that while Republicans did mostly back the idea of military intervention to punish the regime, they seemed to be mostly in favor of cruise missile strikes or the use of other weapons that wouldn’t endanger American lives. In the end Obama couldn’t find support for any real intervention and ended up making a deal with Putin that obviously didn’t work. Less than a year later, the Obama administration advised Ukraine’s new government to stand down and not resist the Russian takeover of the Crimea even when Ukrainian forces could have spoiled the annexation plan. Even as Putin expanded his aggression with a war in the Donbas, the US administration held fast to its assertion that there was no military solution to the crisis. Putin clearly didn’t see it that way.

Nowadays the situation is quite different. One day we hear Trump is talking about pulling out of Syria as fast as possible, and then a few weeks later he’s launching cruise missiles at Damascus, but very politely warning the regime’s Russian allies well in advance. Before each of Trump’s strikes on Syria (2017, 2018), much of the radical left went into Iraq-era hysterics about war-mongering, often arguing against an Iraq-like ground invasion that nobody had even seriously suggested. I’m sad to say that around the time of the most recent strikes there was a Chapo Trap House episode on the subject that made me cringe because of the bad arguments. But it’s not their problem- the whole Western left, largely because it is stuck in the Cold War, the Iraq War era, or often a combination of both, just plain sucks when it comes to foreign policy. And here’s where we get to the whole problem of having anti-war guests on mainstream outlets.

You see, back in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq this was a pretty straightforward thing. You could find highly qualified critics of the Bush administration’s case for war who weren’t even necessarily motivated by an anti-war or pacifist ideology. It was a simple matter of the administration trying to make the case that Iraq posed a credible threat to the US and its allies due to its possession of WMDs and programs to acquire bigger, more powerful WMDs, ie nuclear weapons. Many of the claims they would put forth could be roundly debunked at the time, such as the case of the aluminum tubes. Sure they could have brought on ideological opponents of the war like Noam Chomsky or Chris Hedges (who by my research appeared on Charlie Rose’s program prior to the invasion), but there were plenty of guests they could have brought on to debunk administration claims based on technical expertise alone. They did not, with disastrous consequences for the whole world.

Today, however, the situation is quite different. Today many people who call themselves anti-war, be they left or right, are often cheering for or at least excusing some other war, either in Syria or somewhere else. If a self-proclaimed “anti-war” guest engages in rationalizing Bashar al Assad’s violence (arguably aggression since he started retaking territory in 2016 rather than suing for peace) or Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, how can they honestly be called anti-war? Oh sure, they’re against the wars you don’t like, but you can’t call them “anti-war.” More importantly for the network, they can’t honestly claim such a guest is anti-war.

Another problem is that in contrast to the potential anti-war guests you might have had back in 2002 and early 2003, nowadays it’s often the so-called “anti-war” guests who, like Caitlin Johnstone, traffic in conspiracy theories that are often generated by the propaganda mills of the Assad regime or their Russian allies (or worseworse). Everything is now a “false flag,” with seven or eight “alternative” explanations being generated sometimes in the space of a week. How can a media company be more ethical by inviting on a person who bases their case against military intervention on a conspiracy theory put out by some Kremlin or Syrian government source, when one can find numerous other theories of the same event, some of which contradict that guest’s particular narrative? Should they maybe bring on two such anti-war guests, one that says there was no chemical attack in Douma and another who says there was a chemical attack but it was carried out by the White Helmets, and let them duke it out on air?

See the problem is that in the run-up to the Iraq War, the Bush administration was making extraordinary claims and failing to provide adequate evidence. As such there were a lot of legitimate anti-war guests they could have brought on. Yet I don’t know any rational opponent of the Iraq War who insists that mainstream media outlets should have brought on 9/11 truthers whose “criticism” of the administration’s case for war was that it was based on a false flag attack carried out by the government itself.

And speaking of false flags, that brings us to another problem- why stop at anti-war guests? There’s no doubt a significant portion of RT’s audience that also listens to Infowars- should mainstream media outlets be inviting Alex Jones and Paul Joseph Watson on more often to steal some of that demographic from the green monster in Moscow? I know what they could do- next time there’s a mass shooting (there’s possibly one happening as I write this) somewhere in the US they could do a live call with a stringer on site and Alex Jones on the other line. The local stringer can pass on the first responders’ report on the incident while Jones explains how the inter-dimensional demons engineered yet another false flag attack to justify a total gun ban that they forgot to pass after the previous 132 mass shootings in the past few years. That would definitely sap some of RT’s audience!

And you know what? A lot of neo-Nazis and other assorted fascists also apparently love RT, so you know what that means! Now we’ve got to invite more Western neo-Nazis on mainstream media outlets to sap RT’s ratings even further. Well okay, the mainstream media has kind of been doing that already, but you get the idea.

Lastly, I should point out that these days you do see more anti-war or anti-government voices on TV, just not in any way that is helpful. Take Glenn Greenwald’s numerous appearances on Fox News, for example. Should leftists all flock to Fox News? Hell they’d probably be better off sticking with RT- watching five minutes of Sean Hannity has always made me want to punch through the screen whereas Mark Sleboda is just a really silly dude* who inspired one of the greatest memes among Russia watchers.

 

In all seriousness here, we need to address a much bigger problem in media these days, one that Matt Taibbi has actually written about for quite some time now. Namely, it is the problem of media reorganizing itself to provide consumers with precisely the version of reality they prefer. Taibbi has taken this conversation a step further taken this conversation a step further by writing about how Facebook is now arguably a “de facto media regulator.” Even long before reading that article I noticed how platforms like Facebook and Youtube would recommend pages and videos, respectively, that linked to highly questionable content. And of course if you clicked on any of that, you’d get more recommendations for similar content. Whereas with Fox News you might be forced to occasionally see something that challenges your worldview, the internet gives you the ability to totally block out any contradictory information to the point where you can be confident that the Earth is actually flat, or #QAnon seems like a plausible source of information.

 

My point is simply that we may have passed a point of no return where simply improving the diversity of opinion in the mainstream media won’t improve anything. RT’s head office could get sucked into a black hole tomorrow and we’d still be just as thoroughly screwed as we have been in the past few years. If anything the problem with people tuning into RT (I have never known anyone who regularly does this) is really just a symptom of that much larger problem. If they’re going to RT to hear the latest false-flag theory about MH17 or the Skripal poisoning, we’re not going to solve anything by airing such bullshit theories on CNN. All we’d be doing is further poisoning an already extremely toxic media space.

So would more anti-war voices help anything? Sure- I’m all for it so long as the anti-war guests are legitimately anti-war, and more importantly, if their arguments are based in reality and not bullshit unfalsifiable conspiracy theories. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.

So I have to say I think Taibbi really swung and missed on this issue, but I know he knows better because he’s written entire books on this kind of problem.

 

 

 

 

*A silly dude who really wants you to know he has a CRIMEAN WIFE. Never forget, you Western pig whores!