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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?

observer

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.

mckew2

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.

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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.

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!

Ubisoft Starts Civil War in Russia to Promote Far Cry 6

TAGANROG- The game developer Ubisoft initiated an armed insurgency in southern Russia as a special promotional event for its upcoming release Far Cry 6, which is set in a “former Soviet republic in the midst of a civil war.” A company spokesperson said customers who pre-order the game will be automatically entered in a contest in which winners will be given a free tour of the newly-created republic of “Rostovia,” as the fictional country in the game is known. The grand prize winner will be allowed to act as Rostovia’s official Minister of Energy for a week.

Since armed clashes first began in the city of Rostov-na-Donu last week, the Kremlin has reacted extremely negatively to the game developer’s promotional event. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called it an “egregious provocation” and “an act of war.”

While the Foreign Minister was quick to point a finger at the United States, a State Department spokesperson denied any US government involvement.

“The United States government does not exercise any control over this private company, which, incidentally, is French,” the spokesperson said.

Meanwhile residents of the newly created “Republic of Rostovia” have been overly supportive of the new Ubisoft regime. Svetlana Malinovskaya, 38, runs a small grocery shop in one of Rostov’s suburbs and is quite happy with the new city administration.

“They got rid of all the corrupt bureaucrats and they’re actually doing something about the roads,” she said.

“Even better- they’re going to put my shop in the game, and my kids get all the downloadable content for free!”

While polls show that 96 percent of residents prefer the Ubisoft regime to Moscow’s rule, the fledgling republic has had to pay the price for its radical experiment in local democracy and cutting edge video game marketing. According to the most recent UN report, the conflict has so far claimed close to 3,000 casualties. An informal ceasefire which went into effect on Friday is expected to reduce the losses, and OSCE monitors have already been dispatched to the line of contact.

Russia’s representative at the United Nations introduced a Security Council resolution to condemn the game developer’s “unprovoked aggression and continued occupation of the Russian Federation’s territory.” In an official response letter, Ubisoft pointed out that it is not a state and possesses no armed forces. According to the company, all armed individuals involved in the “marketing event” are in fact “promotional contractors” who were hired locally within the Russian Federation.

The Dark Future: It’s a Blog About Star Wars Again

In a few years they will start making Star Wars films via computer algorithm. They will be designed to create a pastiche of characters and images that reference the original series, post original trilogy, prequels, etc. A Star Wars for every fan.

The program will create a random-named protagonist and then it will be assigned to be a relative/acquaintance/friend/mentor of some important character from the main original films, e.g. Wint Blinko, Han Solo’s forgotten nephew. Based on this, a plot will be assembled with various references to Han Solo’s story, e.g. it will turn out that our hero learned about the importance of a blaster from Han! Or a love interest will say “I love you” and he’ll respond with “I know,” and the whole audience laughs and claps because they get the reference.

Of course technology being what it is, many of these computer-manufactured films will have errors and bugs. Some may introduce subplots that are unresolved, or a supporting character may be missing in the second half of the film for no reason. In this case, Disney will release no refunds nor apologies. There will just be a statement like: “We regret that our latest film, Uncle Owen’s Garbage Man: A Star Wars Story, was released without an ending or audio from 1:09:47-1:13:08. We hope next months release of AT-ST Pilot Adventure works out better.”

Fans the world over will curse the company, and yet they will continue to fork over their money.

Generations later, war has ended human civilization. Nature begins to reclaim the Earth. But there, in a Disney bunker complex somewhere in northern California, the Star Wars supercomputer lives on, immortal. Directly connected to cinema screens around the world, every few months a new Star Wars movie is released. If an alien visitor were to touch down on the planet and stumble upon a cinema, they might be able to catch Wookie Battle: A Star Wars Story.

Powered by nuclear batteries designed to run on fuel that won’t run out for millions of years, the Star Wars computer lives on as the final tombstone of humankind…

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.

Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

So recently I read this piece about Glenn Greenwald. Personally I’ve never had much of an opinion about the guy, but I think this description near the beginning of the article kind of sums him up:

Greenwald is predisposed to righteous posturing and contrarian eye-poking — and reflexively more skeptical of the U.S. intelligence community than of those it tells us to see as “enemies.”

The thing about Glenn though, is that when you look at his complaints about the Russiagate scandal, they’re not terribly irrational. Here’s his quote on the subject:

“When Trump becomes the starting point and ending point for how we talk about American politics, [we] don’t end up talking about the fundamental ways the American political and economic and cultural system are completely fucked for huge numbers of Americans who voted for Trump for that reason,” he says. “We don’t talk about all the ways the Democratic Party is a complete fucking disaster and a corrupt, sleazy sewer, and not an adequate alternative to this far-right movement that’s taking over American politics.”

This is entirely fair and in many ways mirrors my own position on the subject. What I don’t get though, is why he, like some other commentators, has to constantly leap to Russia’s defense the second anyone mentions anything related to Russiagate?

What exactly is the harm in acknowledging that there are other governments out there which do bad, and occasionally worse things than your own? What is he afraid is going to happen? If he admits that yes, Russia did act to negatively influence our domestic politics, does he fear that he’ll suddenly be on the cover of TIME  magazine as America’s newest neocon pundit? Does he think that some neocon cabal is just waiting for him to say something they can use to greenlight their secret plan to invade Syria and Russia simultaneously?

Realistically this is much bigger than Glenn Greenwald. I think this case just speaks to a larger problem of tribalism in politics, and the fear that any concession will be seen as weakness. To be fair, it’s not just an irrational fear. In the information space today, concession can be capitalized upon by bad actors to “win” internet debates. This video gives an example of how this works:

 

Going all-in on offense has a proven track record, especially today. But you also sometimes have to ask who these arguments are actually convincing. Alt-right and “anti-SJW” Youtubers have managed to garner large audiences by using this tactic, but who are they really getting? I’d reckon the majority are teenage to early twenty-something males who are gullible enough to be duped by endless videos telling them that Anita Sarkeesian is going to ruin their precious video games by lobbying the government to require all video game protagonists to be mixed-race body-positive females with colored hair. Of course Fox News has also managed to do well with a certain demographic- old people who are going to die soon.

My point is that integrity and consistency may also have qualities of their own, and even better- attract better, more reliable people. I realize it’s easy to be pessimistic these days, but at the same time the overwhelming fakeness of our politics these days, coupled with the polarized tribalism, may eventually reach a peak where increasing numbers of people start to rebel against joining a tribe and parroting one line in spite of all evidence to the contrary.

Of course what would I know? I’m no where near as successful as Glenn Greenwald. But on the other hand I’ve often been complimented for my balance and objectivity, even by people who strongly disagree with my politics. A lot of my friends and colleagues are also praised for their refusal to join a team. Hopefully in the future, more people burnt out on tribal politics will start seeking out nuance, if only to escape the cynicism of those dead-end politics.