Tag Archives: politics

Some (Negative) Feedback

One of the worst things about the internet is that it has greatly magnified people’s ability to give an uninformed opinion…loudly. Youtube is a perfect example of this, where you have and endless parade of mostly white guys in their twenties to early thirties ranting about issues they clearly have no background knowledge in (typically feminism or gender issues). Each one of these figures will take some topic that happens to be in the media in recent times, e.g. trans issues, and then proceed to “debunk” someone’s statement or some policy using their “logic” and “reason.” The problem with formal logic is that it only works when you understand the issue you’re talking about, and take into account the whole context. Focusing on one particular detail while ignoring the whole picture makes it possible to “debunk” almost anything with “logic.” Holocaust deniers and 9/11 truthers have been doing it for years. Some people have coined the term “sea lioning” to describe a very similar practice, whereby a person asks really basic, entry level questions (“Do you have any evidence that sexism is real?”) in an attempt to derail the conversation.

I’m reminded of this phenomenon- that of loudly expressing and uninformed opinion, after I made the mistake of following a link to a response to the previous post on this blog. I’m featuring it here so as to give “equal time,” so to speak. Some of the concepts my last post raised are, unfortunately, foreign to many Western leftists, and so it’s only natural to assume there will have to be a struggle over this issue in the future. People like this do have valid reasons for concern, especially with a lot of the liberal paranoia about Russian influence operations out there. I just wish some people wouldn’t assume that just because something is unfamiliar to them, it must be nonsense.

 

Anyway let’s get on with it.

The author seems very scared of leftists repeating “Russian propaganda” but fails to point to any specific examples of leftists doing so. I would be somewhat less sceptical of this article if it identified what “Russian propaganda” is and how “we” are falling victim to it.

Let me translate this opening sentence. “I’ve never heard of this thing that someone who has far more experience and knowledge in this field is talking about, so this is highly suspicious!”

Now I will concede that I could have taken more time to list specific examples in order to break it down even further for the total newcomer. I’ve already updated the post in question with some links to examples of Russian support for the far right. If we want to talk about the far left? Where to start? We can start with Spanish Communists being duped into fighting alongside neo-Nazis in the Donbas, perhaps? But that’s an extreme case. We could talk about the problem with Jacobin, which I covered a bit in this post about the Ukrainian leftJacobin is still repeating Russian propaganda, such as the idea that the Ukrainian government was somehow responsible for the “Odesa Massacre” (which was in fact a riot that turned violent after pro-Russian demonstrators opened fire on a parade). We could look at how even Noam Chomsky seems to have trouble condemning Russia over the annexation of the Crimea, and even comes very close to articulating the Russian view that it has the right to determine Ukraine’s foreign policy. There’s MMA fighter Jeff Monson, formerly an IWW anarcho-syndicalist who was duped into thinking the “Communist Party of the Russian Federation” is actually socialist. I could also point to several episodes of the otherwise wonderful podcast Chapo Trap House when they repeat the meme about “Ukrainian Nazis.” I realize that as a comedy podcast, they engage in exaggeration for effect, but in one recent episode they not only repeated the meme several times, but it also came with a policy opinion not to send lethal arms to Ukraine. This clearly isn’t intentional and I doubt the guys at Chapo Trap House spend much time if any watching RT or reading Sputnik News. It just shows how certain knee-jerk responses and memes can influence people and shape a narrative, including ones the Russian government wants to popularize.

As for the demand that I “identify” Russian propaganda and give examples of leftists falling for it (hell I’ll throw in one more- Caleb Maupin), well that’s why the term “sea lioning” is useful. Do a little research first.

This article also employs the same patronising language that your average Twitter liberal conspiracy theorist uses, but as though it was coming from someone “on my side”.

I find that a bit odd considering I’m blocked by many of those people, and I’ve spent a lot of time on Twitter and this blog criticizing their behavior. If someone with experience and knowledge in a particular subject is trying to break it down for people who are new to the topic, does that make their language patronizing? Remember this person just demanded that I “identify” what Russian propaganda means, but now considers me to be patronizing. Okay. Sure.

It’s also operating under the implied assumption that leftists that reject the author’s beliefs may be “in a de facto alliance with the global Far Right”.

That’s your inference, not my implication, and it is incredibly wrong. If you associate with Russian propaganda organs like RT or Sputnik and promote the Russian government’s foreign policy talking points, you will find yourself in such a de facto alliance. I already mentioned the example of the Spanish volunteers in the Donbas as well as the “election observers” Russia rounded up for its referendums in Crimea and Donbas. If you were to appear on RT, you’d be appearing on a network that has given platforms to far right and even neo-Nazi figures including Richard Spencer.

 

Maybe you think this doesn’t matter, sharing a platform with neo-Nazis and conspiracy kooks, but believe me it will matter to your opponents, and they’ll be all too happy to use this to discredit you in the public eye. But if you want to be the leftist who manages to get dunked on by such a pathetic figure as Jamie Kirchick, by all means, do that interview I guess.

These paragraphs attempt to illustrate some Leftist cooperation with Russia but fails to present any evidence. What does it mean to “maintain contacts with the left”? Who is identifying with post-Soviet Russia? Who is accepting anything that “[Russia] has to offer?” What the fuck is this person talking about?

I’VE NEVER HEARD OF THIS THING HAPPENING!!! IT MUST NOT BE! WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS PERSON TALKING ABOUT?!

As if I haven’t demonstrated enough in the preceding paragraphs, here’s “what the fuck” I’m talking about. You want more? There’s more. Hell, even I am an example of a leftist who was duped by Russian propaganda when I thought I knew better. How did it happen? Thanks to personal contacts with a Ukrainian “leftist” organization that in fact was allied with the Russian government and…guess what…worked alongside pro-Russian far right organizations.

But yeah, this is all a bunch of crazy paranoid rambling, sure.

I could say the same for the American bourgeoisie, who profited greatly from the political and economic strife from the 2008 recession. What destabilisation American politics has already suffered through has been nothing but a boon for their elites, fostering a deeply pro-business fascist/nationalist ideology.

Did someone order a red herring? Nobody’s defending the American bourgeoisie. This is a reminder that they are in competition with ruling capitalists of other countries, and those capitalists don’t actually care about your leftist cause or how successful it is. Don’t think for a minute that the people at RT are secretly hoping a US protest movement like Occupy somehow grows so big and successful that it leads to actual reform that helps millions of working Americans- that would be the worst result from their point of view. It’s about the tension, not resolution.

 

The US government is staffed entirely by neo-conservative war hawks. Donald Trump threatens nuclear war regularly, without restraint or “candor”. The only time American media outlets like Trump is when he sends cruise missiles of “freedom” into Syrian air bases. The American government has dominated within and without its “sphere of influence” since World War 2. Don’t pretend that the US is better than Russia in this realm.

Oh look, another red herring, one which actually contradicts itself (on the neocon thing), and ends with a strawman. Way to miss the point there, buddy.

Also the idea that the US dominates everywhere today as much as it did in WWII is simply false. US power is weakening as regional powers increase and strengthen, and the US has seriously squandered much of its power and influence due to its “War on Terror.”

 

This is really weird speculation that doesn’t actually strike me as being anywhere close to reality. The idea that Russia is offering “cooperation” in exchange for concessions to “all of Russia’s demands” sounds extremely suspect, and even if it is true, it is not as though the US doesn’t do the same thing, especially when dealing with third world countries. The USA is doing the exact same thing that the author is complaining about right now to North Korea, for heaven’s sake.

Here’s helpful tip- maybe if something seems weird to you, consider first whether or not you’ve taken the time to research and understand the issue being discussed. I’ve written plenty of times about Russia’s offers of “compromise” and the “realists” who recommend them. They always require the US to meet the Russians half way by recognizing the Crimea as part of Russia, encouraging a Ukrainian recognition of the phony “republics” in the east, a removal of sanctions, in exchange for…uh…erm…something something counter-terrorism work? If there has been a concrete offer of concession from the Russians on one of their major foreign policy goals that I haven’t heard of to date, I’m all ears.

And the rest of this argument is all “whataboutism.” The point isn’t that the US doesn’t do stuff like this, it’s that there are other governments already doing the same thing and they will continue to do so should they get the chance. We live in a capitalist world that pits countries against one another. If one hegemon’s power begins to wane, it will be filled by other contenders. We will not resolve this problem by supporting the underdogs but rather by overthrowing the system as a whole.

Onto the actual meat of the quote, this dreamed up fantasy about Rojava fails to take into account the contradictions that the author points out within the same paragraph. The Department of Defense could decide to withdraw funding for the PKK and let their ally Turkey whittle them back down into an oppressed minority, or even agree with Turkey and designate them as a terrorist group (opening them up to surveillance and military action). Both of these hypothetical situations could happen without Russia having to lift a finger. It’s like the author is racking their brains, trying to think of something that socialists like that has a remote chance of being imperiled by some bilateral US-Russia pact that was never, ever on the cards anyway!

I figured this situation is pretty easy to understand, but I guess some people really do comment on things without reading about them first. In the case of Rojava, Russia has played a double role. In a draft constitution proposal written up by the Russians and presented in Astana (it was almost immediately rejected), the Russians did appear to recommend Kurdish autonomy. It’s not difficult to see why Russia would do this- they’re basically keeping Assad on life-support, the Kurds have shown themselves willing to work with the regime for the sake of peace, and therefore conceding to the Kurds is a big step forward to getting what Putin was looking for at the time- some kind of peace agreement in Syria. Since then, however, things have gone more favorably for Assad, and there are questions about what will happen between the SDF and the regime now that ISIS and most other rebel forces have been driven out or crushed (see what happened more recently in Iraq between the Kurds over Kirkuk). Since Russia’s priority is Assad and the US is far more likely to defer to a NATO member and regional power like Turkey over a rag-tag quasi-anarchist experiment, there’s nothing particularly far fetched about this scenario.

The next part is responding to my advice, supporting what that former Occupy leader wrote about internationalizing protest movements.

What the fuck is this person talking about? First of all, Occupy imploded for a reason. You couldn’t pay me to take advice from an “Occupy leader”.

I don’t remember implying that Occupy collapsed for any reason having to do with Russia. The reader can see here.

And while I had and still have plenty of criticism for the Occupy movement, I kind of try to go by this school of treating every claim or piece of advice on its own merit rather than dismissing it immediately because of who it came from.

Second, demanding that protesters change tactics in order to prevent “foreign government hijacking” is extremely paranoid and extremely arrogant.

Uh no, it’s not. What’s funny about this is that such leftists typically have no problem dismissing certain foreign protest movements as bought and paid for by the US government, yet the very idea that a foreign government might try to exploit or manipulate their movement is “paranoid.” We already know that domestic actors try to manipulate protest movements. Anyone remember “99% Spring?”

Showing up to a protest with some arbitrary shit about Russia sounds extremely suspect, and the idea of “signs and slogans comparing American wealth inequality with that of Russia” is a fascinating example of liberal chauvinism.

You know what’s funny is this person accuses me of being patronizing, but apparently could not conceive of any way to apply this concept of solidarity in a protest movement save for the clunkiest and most arbitrary one.

First of all, anyone who’s actually been to leftist protests, major ones that is, knows that they tend to be a cornucopia of many different broad left causes- feminist, anti-racism, environmental preservation, Palestinian rights, etc. Reasonably intelligent organizers can determine what messages are appropriate or not.

Second, if it is appropriate within the context, I’d say comparisons with Russia can be very useful if done correctly. After all, our politicians and our media are now constantly deriding Russia, and pop culture maintains numerous negative stereotypes about the society. So sometimes identifying similarities between that system and ours shows how our government is failing us on a daily basis. What is more, there are actually some areas where Russia actually beats the US, such as in healthcare (big asterisk here, but it certainly worked for me and other expats I know), paid vacation, and maternity leave.

People are out protesting for reasons that relate to their personal struggle, and trying to adjust their message so that Russian state media have less of a chance of, uh, “covering it”, sounds extremely counter productive.

Again I didn’t know I’d have to spell this out so simply; it would seem…patronizing. But I think most activists can determine whether an issue is too local to be part of some international solidarity action. Many protests actions will never be covered by Russian media anyway. The main thing is not to be manipulated.

And as someone who has been attacked in this way numerous times by the “info-warriors,” I do not believe in self-censorship for the sake of preventing my work or statements from being wrongly appropriated by pro-Russian sources. This has actually happened before on at least one occasion, but I feel that the weight of my work shows my independence. Anyone can cherry pick things  for their own purposes.

I don’t care for fortune telling about what working class people will and won’t relate to, but why would I, personally, show up to a local protest about any issue if it’ll get co-opted into some weird nationalist Russia shit? When another black kid gets murdered by cops, I think showing up with signs trying to flimsily tie pigs killing innocent people to Russia will be in pretty fucking poor taste!

And this person is accusing me of inventing far-fetched scenarios. Yeah it’s easy to make something look stupid when you purposely dream up the most ham-fisted implementation for it.

If we’re talking about the issue of police brutality, for example, one could compare the militarized police response in America to that in Russia, and also point out how they are both treated differently. In Russia (or Ukraine during Euromaidan), the media and US government are totally on the side of the protesters (not making moral judgments here, they just happen to pick the right side for different motives), but in the US the media flips out over a smashed Starbucks window or overturned trash can. This is a point that not only hits at the authorities, but also our media since they are often the enablers of this double standard.

For the next section I have to quote the part of my post that the critic responds to. My words are in italics.

Unfortunately, many American leftists subscribe to out-of-date, naive ideas about imperialism and how to oppose it. As such, they are prone to knee-jerk reactions to world events and end up regurgitating Kremlin talking points totally independently of any exposure to Russian-produced propaganda. The best you can do in this case is to point out the moral inconsistency of their positions and how such out of date views of the world are not only counter-productive, but they often actually aid the forces of reaction and are condescending to boot. So-called “anti-imperialists,” often with zero experience or background knowledge on the country in question, are typically more than happy to make loud pronouncements about which peoples deserve self-determination, and which do not, which protests are authentic, and which are nothing but paid dupes of the CIA or State Department. And yet how many of these same people would bristle with anger when the right says they’re “paid by George Soros?”

I feel like no matter their political views, anyone could be able to identify this paragraph as being wildly arrogant. Assuming that those who disagree with you have “out-of-date [and] naive ideas about imperialism” asserts that if only these people were smarter and more well-read, they wouldn’t hold the political stances that they hold; you don’t need me to tell you that that’s fallacious. Political stances can be informed by someone’s “intelligence” and the books that they read, but they’re never determined by them.

First of all, many leftists do have naive ideas about imperialism, as is evidenced by the way they treat information from foreign state media outlets or governments versus how skeptical they are of anything from their own government or “mainstream media.” One would think that at best, some people might decide to treat all sources with equal skepticism, but that’s simply not what happens and anyone who says otherwise clearly isn’t having enough interaction with the left as a whole.

As for the question of being more informed well, I’m very sorry but people should be more informed and modify their political beliefs as a result. I certainly have.

The fact is that much of the American left has never set foot in Russia, does not speak the language, and in many cases knows little about its history save for certain topics related to the Soviet Union. This lack of information puts the left in danger of being manipulated. I have already demonstrated many times (including with links in this post) how this leads to leftists taking really incorrect positions on Russia (among other issues).

And if you want to speak about arrogance, there’s nothing more arrogant than a Western-based leftist who’s never been to Russia or Ukraine lecturing on Putin’s alleged anti-imperialism or the “Nazi junta” in Kyiv. The funniest thing is that if someone like me just started lecturing a Palestinian activist about what’s going on in the place where they live and the struggle they are involved with, I’d be rightly called out and probably demonized. But leftists are doing this all the time with Ukraine, Russia, and Syria, to name a few places.

 

Quibbling aside, based on the discursive background of the modern left argument that boy, some anti-imperialists are just wackos!, this article is almost certainly about leftists who, I suppose, could be described best as “defending” the government of Syria, as well as the others who find themselves under the heavy gaze of the American empire (such as North Korea’s or Iran’s).

The fact is that many leftists do cross the line from opposing US regime change to defending governments in Libya, Syria, Russia, etc. I remember this very well with the Libyan case. I’d done some research about Libya and found that under Gaddafi it did certainly have very good living standards. But over time I noticed some of the people in the circles I frequented posting insane claims about how great the Gaddafi government supposedly was. Judging by those claims, you’d think Gaddafi had achieved full communism and built an almost utopian society. Makes you wonder why anyone would ever want to revolt against that, doesn’t it? Oh well- they must be Islamic fundamentalists paid by the CIA and Israel. There’s nothing arrogant or orientalist about that, right?

It’s often that these leftists are accused of, if not being on the take from Vladimir Putin, then falling for his dastardly talking points. But that fails to take into account the logic behind “supporting” these governments: constantly adding your voice to a chorus of right wing regime change fanatics, who hate nations solely for refusing to become American client states, serves solely to galvanise the bourgeoisie’s case for regime change in those nations.

Excuse me, but who’s been seriously pushing for regime change or war on Russia since the end of the Cold War? See this is the very opposite of what the critic talks about when it comes to protests. There, we shouldn’t be concerned with how Russian press might portray it (which is actually true in most cases), but now we have to censor ourselves lest this “right-wing chorus” somehow uses our statements to justify a war they’re not even planning.

As for countries other than Russia, I’m very sorry but I’m not going to stay silent about the Assad regime’s brutality just because someone else (I don’t know who) is pushing for a major US invasion of that country. If the ruling class decides to go to war, they’ll go to war, and thanks to their blunder in Iraq it will be a long time before public opinion gets on the side of any major military intervention (such as a regime change) whether it has any actual justification or not.

At the end of the day this is just arguing for self-censorship due to fears someone might misuse your statements. I’ve already said I’m against that. The trick is thinking about optics and not self-censorship.

Condemning American enemies that are under the crosshairs of American cruise missiles because they’re capitalists – just those that are outside of American hegemony – is, in execution, simply tacit approval.

No, it’s not. It’s called being honest and morally consistent. Most of these pariahs really aren’t in any military danger at all. Russia is not threatened militarily by NATO. They have worked with NATO in the past and could have had great relations were it not for Putin’s imperialist worldview. If Putin were so afraid of NATO, he wouldn’t have nearly opened a NATO military base in Ulyanovsk in 2010.

Hemming and hawing over how problematic a nation is when the American public consciousness is, aloud or not, mulling over actions against that nation will only harm that nation’s workers, is, in execution, staying silent!

Yes, because it’s totally impossible to condemn and oppose a war while at the same time acknowledging a certain regime’s crimes against humanity. What about pointing out how such military interventions have never (possibly with one small exception) actually achieved what they were intended to do? Intervention in Bosnia did not stop massive ethnic cleansing. Ditto with Kosovo. Iraq was…do I even need to explain? Syria has been an unmitigated disaster, and results in Libya are still in doubt.

The main point is that the liberal capitalist system likes to identify these dictators and criticize their human rights records, but at the same time they cannot and will not solve this problem militarily.

The rhetorical purity over correctly identifying every capitalist state as harmful to the proletariat means little when proletarians will suffer under whatever action America takes against their nation, be it military (drone strikes, invasion, funding of paramilitaries) or not (funding of right wing political figures, embargoes, diplomatic isolation).

Hey proletariat living under various dictatorships? Yeah I hate to do this to you but you need to give up your hopes and dreams and struggle because over here in America we’ve decided that America’s the worst government ever and we decided it wants to invade and overthrow that dictator you hate. Yeah I know he’s left you impoverished and his police torture you, but we’ve decided that he also opposes American imperialism, so you’re going to just have to sit there and take it because even though we’ve been predicting that US invasion for years, we’re pretty sure it’s right around the corner. Just shut up and sit tight. You’re probably all paid by the CIA or Al Qaeda or something anyway.

Yeah. Not arrogant at all.

We mustn’t stay silent when America’s knife is at anybody’s throat, because history tells us whatever happens, working people will be worse off after she’s done her dirty work.

freedmen

Are you sure about that?

dachausurvivors

Are you really sure about that?

I’m not sure exactly who this anthropomorphized female America has her knife pointed at, but I think maybe a better idea is to just condemn attacking countries with metaphorical knives in general.

Perhaps more importantly- this age-old “America is the worst thing since Hitler” attitude that still permeates the left is beyond stale and simply doesn’t fucking work. Look at it this way- you can spend your life going to rallies and burning American flags, or you can come up with better talking points and organizing tactics so that your movement actually achieves real power and then, one day, can actually prevent the US from doing bad things around the globe. And if you think that’s not possible you’re basically admitting you have no real goal in leftist politics at all and you might as well go ask Peter Daou for an unpaid internship or something.

 

 

Again, this is about moral consistency, and being realistic so your opponents don’t destroy you in public debate. When it comes to threatening wars, I can tell you about how back in 2004 radical left pundits on the radio were warning us of the impending invasion of Iran. One popular theory was that Bush would initiate the invasion and use it as an excuse to call off the 2004 presidential election (turns out voter suppression is a much better way to get reelected). Of course that invasion never came, and it’s unlikely to come because if you actually…I apologize in advance for the arrogance, learn about Iran’s defense capabilities, you’d see that they can literally throw the entire globe into economic crisis within a matter of hours using conventional munitions in the Persian Gulf. That’s why the hysteria over an Iranian nuclear weapon is just that- Iran doesn’t need a nuclear weapon to bring much of the world to its knees thanks to our dependency on oil. In fact you might say that when it comes to defending themselves…they’ve got the world over a barrel. The idea that the US and NATO plan to invade Russia is beyond laughable.

If you want to see an example of a real-world attempt to apply moral consistency to anti-imperialism and the anti-war movement, I suggest checking out the Revive the Peace Movement initiative, which was mentioned to me by a reader. Here are a couple excerpts from their page:

“We resolutely oppose the wars of the U.S., its allies and clients, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and U.S. support for repressive regimes such as Honduras and Bahrain. We call for an end to U.S. support for Israel and for justice for Palestinians, in all of historic Palestine and in their places of refuge.”

That should please any “anti-imperialist,” but then it’s followed by this:

“We also recognize that there are other oppressors in the world, from ISIS to Russia, from Iran to China, from North Korea to the Assad regime. We won’t hesitate to oppose their wars, interventions and cruelties.”

What? There are other bad governments out there besides America? You actually published this online?! Clearly these people are nothing but CIA shills or dupes of the neocons! What “cruelties” are they talking about in China? I’ve never heard anything about these? What the fuck are these people even talking about?! This is so patronizing!

 

Well that’s been fun. I realize that my original piece may not have been clear enough for people not familiar with these issues, and the critic has some valid concerns. I hope this answers them. I know I might have been a little harsh, but I think it’s proportional to the way the critic responded.

UPDATE: I just found an interesting transcript of a speech from well-known imperialist neocon CIA shill Bernie Sanders. Here’s an interesting excerpt:

Inequality, corruption, oligarchy and authoritarianism are inseparable. They must be understood as part of the same system, and fought in the same way. Around the world we have witnessed the rise of demagogues who once in power use their positions to loot the state of its resources. These kleptocrats, like Putin in Russia, use divisiveness and abuse as a tool for enriching themselves and those loyal to them.

I guess Sanders needs to be totally discarded by the American left. If he keeps saying things like that, it’s only a matter of time before the American public gets on board for an invasion of Russia or something. 

 

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The Tip of the Iceberg

I think it’s pretty clear now that the only reason we’ve been hearing so much about Russian election interference is because Hillary lost, and so many Americans need a convenient explanation that doesn’t require them to face the ugly truths in our society.  I’m sure the DNC hack, arguably the most influential aspect of the interference and the one which could have actually swayed votes away from Clinton, would have remained news for a few months and perhaps the related sanctions still would have been implemented, but apart from that I don’t think you’d see much more. I wouldn’t be surprised if all the chuds who are currently being indicted and investigated never came under any scrutiny, free to work their next con.

But of course Hillary did lose, and now we’re scrambling to track down every conceivable example of Russian interference. Some folks are going far above and beyond the call of duty as well.

russophobetweet

Now this is what Russophobia looks like. 

Unfortunately, for all the talk about Russian information operations in the US, few actual solutions have been proffered, and some of what has been suggested could be dangerous. It seems in the hysteria, some people have lost their ability to extrapolate and imagine how their remedies against foreign propaganda could one day mutate into suppression of internal dissent. But I can still extrapolate, and I’ve recently come to realize that Russia’s influence operations and the overhyped response to them could lead to something far, far worse.

As it stands now, a significant portion of Americans, especially in leadership positions, seems to believe that Russia successfully swayed the 2016 election. Perhaps their belief is not strong enough to get them to push for invalidating the results, but people seem to have no qualms about voicing this opinion. That means, for all intents and purposes, that the Russian tactics- the trolls, the bots, the fake pages, etc. were seen as effective.

What’s so scary about that? Well I can guarantee you that the PR industry and the rest of corporate America is watching. If they believe that these tactics are effective enough as to allow a country like Russia to sway a US presidential election, they’re likely to start adopting them. Since these will most likely be native US companies, they won’t be subject to the same scrutiny or regulations as foreign entities like the Russian government. Everything will most likely be well within the limits of the law. And it’s going to be terrible.

Remember back in 2008-2009 when people were talking about “astroturf” organizations behind the Tea Party movement? That was nothing. Some of these organizations were funded by people with deep pockets, but the people who showed up to the rallies were their on their own volition, driven by their own beliefs, however disconnected from reality they might have been. But what comes next is going to make astroturfing look like child’s play.

We already have rent-a-crowds in America. The decline in stable employment and lack of living wages means this could increase in the future, turning our political system into something resembling that of Russia or Ukraine. But imagine what it will be like when American lobbyist firms start adopting the online tactics of the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency, better known as the infamous Troll Factory.

Just imagine what it will be like when numerous corporations and lobby groups are implementing the same tactics for disparate or similar goals, year round. It will be almost impossible to say for sure what’s real, just like in Putin’s Russia. The worst is yet to come, my fellow Americans.

The Discourse: American Politics Prior to Russian Meddling

Conservative Republican: I am terribly sorry, my liberal Democrat friend, but I cannot agree with your assessment of the Obama administration. I find many of his so-called accomplishments highly specious, and dubious at best. Therefore I must express my disapproval when I see that your favored candidate, Mrs. Hillary Clinton, seems to wish to carry on with the status quo. I do believe I shall support Donald Trump, for in spite of his brash mannerisms, he does seem to be shaking things up in the political scene, and is such a shift not long overdue? I would put it to you that it is!

Liberal Democrat: I cannot agree. The country needs stability, and as I said, contrary to some of the critics on your tough yet fair Fox News channel, Obama has secured incremental growth while stabilizing the situation post-2008 collapse. I can provide you with figures you can peruse at your leisure. I think you’ll find them every bit as compelling as the facts and figures I provided you with when we last debated political matters.

Conservative Republican: Indeed I will concede your point on that. You certainly made a compelling case during that previous discussion and in spite of my party affiliation and differing political views, I cannot remain in denial about something which is supported by such irrefutable evidence. Though I must say I think I have plenty of hard data of my own to challenge your assertions regarding the Obama administration and its efficacy. If you don’t mind, good sir, I must check my phone. It appears I have some notifications.

Oh what’s this? An advertisement on my Facebook feed?

Liberal Democrat: Yes, I too seem to have a notification. And I see an ad as well. Let us both read these ads, for if we see them, we were surely targeted by Facebook’s innovative algorithms. Therefore these ads are far more likely to appeal to us and our tastes.

Seconds pass…

Conservative Republican: Maybe you want to explain why KILLARY murdered thirty Christian child sex slaves in Benghazi to please her Marxist-Fascist Muslim Kenyan usuprer master OBUMMER, you lib-cuck America-hating pansy! Get out of my country and take your Shakira law with you! FEMINISM IS CANCER AND THERE ARE ONLY TWO GENDERS!!!

Liberal Democrat: Your dog-whistle racism is coming through loud and clear, you dumb hick redneck jackass! I’m voting for Jill Stein!!!

Indistinct screaming…

Morgan Freeman: Does this sound like a comedy sketch to you? Well guess what…this is what actually happened when Russia divided America in 2016. We are at war…

 

Gotcha!

 

If I had to name one of the saddest, most useless tactics in the toolbox of Democrats/liberals, it would be those “Gotcha!” moments- pointing out the hypocrisy of their right wing and far right wing opponents. Take a look on Twitter some time and see liberal responses to President Pumpkin-face’s dainty curtsy for the Saudi King to see what I mean:

For the readers that aren’t aware, during his first Middle Eastern trip in 2009, Barack Obama made a shallow respectful bow upon greeting the Saudi monarch. The conservative mediasphere when nuts. Naturally they aren’t doing that now in response to Trump and if you managed to corner any conservative and demand an explanation they’d probably give you a rambling response about how Donald was just making it easier for the King to put the medal over his head before changing the subject to something else entirely.

Knowing this, however, I’m pressed to imagine exactly what liberals think would happen by pointing this out. Are they expecting to see conservatives respond with something like: “You know you liberals have got a point there! We made such a big deal of Obama just trying to show some courtesy to an important ally and friend of the Bush family, and it was all over nothing! I hope you can forgive us for flying off the handle that time! We’ll try to be more consistent with our outrage in the future!”

The point here is that just as basic facts don’t sway opinions for most people, pointing out even the most glaring hypocrisy can be just as useless. Even when that non-scandal with Obama took place in 2009, I predicted that there would have been outrage either way. That is to say if Obama hadn’t made any bow and just greeted the Saudi King as Westerners greet one another, Fox News and the army of conservative pundits would have screamed themselves red in the face about how the President disrespected this “valuable ally” and important partner. I’m sure some of them would have certainly declared the slight so serious as to jeopardize the War on Terror and by extension, America’s security.

These people weren’t genuinely angry about Obama being seen as submissive to a foreign leader (because normal, informed people don’t see the gesture that way at all), the point is that it was Obama, leader of the opposing team, and thus everything he does or doesn’t do is terrible and with malicious intent. And in spite of all that vaunted formal education, liberals totally missed this point and seemingly built an industry of cataloging each and every single time conservatives contradicted themselves, as though any of these people even cared about being consistent. The pundits who produce this manufactured outrage on the right are well-paid to do so. They aren’t so much as representing a coherent ideology as they are serving their purpose, which is getting masses of people to vote for the GOP and, quite often, policies which actually go against their own self-interest. I’m not saying that none of those pundits and columnists have some genuine, sincerely-held beliefs, but rather that they aren’t terribly concerned with being morally or ideologically consistent.

Realistically speaking, most people don’t have any coherent political worldview. The severe limitations on political participation and the pressures of capitalism mean that even in the most developed liberal democracies, the majority of people just “aren’t into politics.” With so many people posting political memes and sharing political stories it might seem that they are, but if you really look at what’s being shared most of it is simply bullshit. It’s clickbait, typically designed to provoke outrage or to stroke the reader’s ego for being on the “right” side. In other words- this isn’t politics but entertainment, in some cases highly-addictive entertainment. As such, it sort of resembles another form of popular entertainment- professional sports.

If you watch professional sports, you’ll notice that even casual fans balk at referees when they call fouls or penalties against their team. Sometimes, after watching the replay, they’ll acknowledge that the call was justified, but more often than not the immediate reaction to a call against a fan’s team is “bullshit!” When you’re rooting for a team, what matters is that they win. I’ve never heard of a sports fan who worries that their team might push the rules or even break them without getting caught. For a more extreme example of this just look at last year’s doping scandal in Russia. There people flat-out broke rules in a big way, and yet a good portion of people just alleged that there was an anti-Russian conspiracy and that Western athletes were getting away with the same thing (they weren’t, actually).

Obviously the world of sports doesn’t translate over to the world of politics very well. Here it’s supposed to be about ideas, values, worldviews. If you’re trying to convince people that your side is morally right (as has been the case for a long time now), you ought to be consistent in regards to your values. Ought to be is the key phrase there. In reality we’ve long passed the point where consistency matters. And yet you still have liberals saying things like “How can you be so opposed to abortion and not want to help poor women who keep the babies as you demand? Sounds like someone’s a hypocrite!” Poor liberals. As a great baseball player once put it- they think it don’t be like it is, but it do.

I must confess that I’m guilty of playing the “Gotcha!” game with hypocrisy. Who isn’t? It’s one of the easiest games to play. It’s not entirely useless either. Part of the reason why it matters to me is that I actually care about having a morally consistent worldview, and that worldview has actually evolved radically over time as a result. Plus pointing out hypocrisy is useful for youth and people who are politically undecided. If you’re not really that involved, you might steer clear of a movement which demands ideological conformity yet openly betrays its own values. In this sense it is like fact-checking, which is still useful and important even if it doesn’t actually help persuade people on a large scale.

But that being said, pointing out hypocrisy can’t really be a winning or even effective strategy, and it certainly can’t be a replacement for having one’s own internally consistent set of values. American Democrats spent years relying on snark and the “Gotcha” approach, trusting that the glaring hypocrisy of the right would attract more people to their side. In the end, it was their own hypocrisy of claiming to care about the working class and the poor while constantly kowtowing to super-rich donors that was one of the most decisive factors in their pathetic defeat.

 

 

 

A Primer on Russia’s Presidential Election

Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in! I’ve decided to write one more article about Russia-related stuff (for the foreseeable future) just because I recently saw another example of a trope that never seems to die and I don’t think I’ve ever actually dedicated a whole post to it. Before I proceed let me point out that I’m not trying to single out any particular author here. I’ve seen this trope and variations thereof many times over the years, and in my less-informed days I’d actually voiced similar arguments. With the disclaimer out of the way, let’s jump in.

Among Western Putin apologists there’s a grand tradition of smearing Western Russia correspondents by pedantically homing in on any mistakes, real or imagined, in their work. The idea is that they’re actually ignorant about Russia, that they have an axe to grind against poor wittle Putin. To be fair, some journalists, usually those not actually based in Russia, can display horrendous ignorance about the country. Case in point:

However, when attacking long-time Moscow correspondents, the grievances are typically unfair, inaccurate, nitpicky, or all three at the same time. When there’s a major election in Russia, Putin’s pedants rehash the same trope every time- they complain that the Western media gives so much attention to non-systemic opposition candidates who in fact are very unpopular and have no chance of winning.

In support of this claim they will provide plenty of legitimate opinion polls. Rest assured you can usually take these polls at face value; they’re typically correct. It’s no secret that opposition politicians in Russia are incredibly unpopular, indeed far less popular than the two leading systemic-opposition parties the “Communist” Party of the Russian Federation (I can’t put enough quotes around the word “Communist” in their name) and the equally inappropriately-named Liberal Democratic Party of Russia. So why does the Western media focus so much attention on politicians who have no chance of winning and are almost unheard of outside of Moscow? Apparently someone actually needs to explain this, so here goes…

First let me say that the inspiration for this comes from a tweet thread by David Filipov, Moscow correspondent for The Washington Post, in which he addressed this very question.

In case that didn’t make it painfully clear to you, let me break it down to preschool level.

In an election, a real election, candidates are supposed to compete. That means they actually want to be president. Gennady Zyuganov and Vladimir Zhirinovsky have no plans to be president of Russia. If you deny the existence of systemic opposition in Russia you are either ignorant or a liar- period. While there is sometimes opposition at the local level and in the Duma, none of the systemic opposition parties pose a threat to Putin and his favored United Russia party. None of them plan to do anything to change the system that basically lets Putin do what he pleases as long as he wants.

Those opposition candidates, in spite of their minimal popularity, actually do want to change the system in some way. They actually intend to be real politicians. It’s kind of the media’s job to interview candidates, ask them about their ideas, why they want to be president, a representative, or whatever. Unless we’re talking about the Russian state media, of course.

And speaking of state media, it might be time to ask why these politicians are so unpopular. Apart from occasionally appearing on talk shows while they are mercilessly shouted down by other guests, most major opposition figures in Russia almost never appear on TV unless it’s in a bullshit story alleging that they’re working for the CIA, Soros, the YMCA, or whatever other organization the Kremlin is scared shitless of this week. All the while they and their volunteers are routinely harassed and their offices searched or closed under suspicious circumstances. Meanwhile the perpetrators are either never found or are promptly released.

Remember that the Putin apologists who constantly whine about the Western media devoting so much attention to minimally-popular opposition candidates are at least tacitly asserting that Russia has a functioning democratic electoral system. If they aren’t, I don’t know why they even bother, but let’s assume for the moment that they do. If this is the case, why are Russian elections so bizarrely different from those in other democratic states? Why are the second and third most popular presidential candidates not even interested in actually becoming president? Hell, one of them (Zhirinovsky) actually called for elections to be abolished and for Putin to be given the title of “Supreme Commander.” Can anyone imagine a Republican in the US suggesting such a thing for Obama? Can you even imagine them just calling for Obama to be able to run for a third term? The scandal would be at least equal to the one surrounding the Trump administration at the moment.

So please, Putinist pedants- stop pretending Putin’s regime is just a little quirky or just as democratic as other states and wringing your hands while presenting polls to show how unpopular candidates like Navalny are. We all know they’re unpopular, and anyone who knows about Russia’s political an mass media system knows why. To para-phrase Filipov, if you think there’s another candidate Russia correspondents should be spending more time covering, please name them and explain why. What is newsworthy about them? And to extrapolate from that- if you’re not happy with the stories that Western journalists cover, maybe you should provide examples of the stories you think should be covered and again, say why. I’ve often written about my complaints about some of that coverage and I give my reasons.

Otherwise, I suggest you drop that trope and stick to your whataboutism. At least there you’re more likely to come up with a decent point from time to time.

Diminishing Returns

I was on vacation recently and thus unable to report on the biggest non-Trump news of the past week, that being Macron’s victory over Le Pen in the French elections. Partisans of “the liberal order,” or as I like to call it “the liberal order that feels denying outright fascists access to political power is an anathema,” were celebrating while thousands of mentally-stunted shut-ins with Pepe frog avatars were wailing and insisting that France would now become a new Islamic Caliphate within a couple years. You know, the same thing such people have been saying for the past twenty years or so, even though the French Muslim population now is only about 7.5 percent of the total.

Of course there’s another angle to this story, which is that Russia turned its election meddling machine up to eleven this time in hopes of getting Le Pen elected. Whereas the US election meddling was mostly about trolling Hillary, the candidate they believed would certainly win, it seems the unexpected success of that campaign led the Kremlin to believe that it really could determine the outcome of foreign elections. Rather than deny connections to Le Pen and her party, Putin actually met personally with Le Pen and the two had a photo op together. Apparently neither party felt this would be seen as negative by French voters. In fact I’d bet they thought just the opposite- what better way to prove how anti-establishment you are by meeting publicly with Vladimir Putin?

Of course this all failed. What is more, the brazen attacks on Macron which included hacks, Wikileaks, and allegations that he was having a homosexual affair, will no doubt only increase his hostility toward Putin. The problem with election meddling like this is that it needs to work. If not, you’re in trouble. The trolling of Hillary worked because she lost (even if that wasn’t their original intention), and now the only repercussions against the Kremlin apart from some more targeted sanctions exist mainly on Twitter.

I think this is just another example of the Kremlin deluding itself into thinking it runs a superpower on par with the Soviet Union. I’ve long said that the “New Cold War” will be much like Putin- short and sad. This is because Moscow is behaving as though it is the Soviet Union when it has none of the advantages and far more weaknesses. By punching above its weight on several occasions, certain people at the top took those victories as proof that “Russia is back.” Now we’re starting to see how short term these gains really are.

I don’t think the Kremlin will cease its attempts at election meddling any time soon, as we will no doubt see in Germany and Italy in the near future. Still, each time they fail, or even when they succeed, more and more countries will start to take countermeasures against Russian interference. Even Russia-leaning politicians have good reason to avoid getting to close to Moscow. Russia will become increasingly isolated as the world begins to see it for what it is- not a defender against US or Western hegemony but rather an opportunistic kleptocratic dictatorship with no respect for anyone.

 

OH SHI-

I can’t remember if I ever posted about it here, but early on in the Trump race, even before he managed to cinch the nomination, I predicted that his most fanatical fanboys will not give up on their mad crusade just because their candidate loses. First of all, there would be the back-stab legends, the contrived conspiracy theories to explain, mostly to themselves, why their candidate lost. In fact, last week the Trump campaign and some of its supporters have already started peddling their basic theory that the election will be “rigged.” This will not be the last time you hear that, I guarantee it.

As it turns out, I’m not alone in my concern over the potential reactions of the Trump mob. This article from Foreign Policy lays out the danger pretty accurately, judging by the past reactions to Obama’s election and the general trajectory of American political discourse. But there’s something in it even more disturbing. Check out this excerpt:

“What will Trump himself do now that he is no longer a candidate? Media insiders are predicting the rise of “Trump News,” a media empire that will cater to, as one insider said, “a base of the population that hasn’t had a voice in a long time.” If the media organization mirrors Trump’s campaign, that base will include Klansmen, militia members, and everyday racists, and will likely circulate conspiracy theories and lies, further muddling reporting in a decimated media economy.”

Forget RT. Forget Sputnik. Hell, forget Fox News. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a threat to American society. Nobody really pays attention to the former two, and as bad as the latter is, even they have some limits as to who they’ll put on. A Trump news network is likely to be a complete circus, a cornucopia of the worst ideas. This threatens to do to America what Russia’s insane media did to this populace.

While it looks like Trump’s chances in November are pretty poor, and he’s got plenty of time to alienate even more potential supporters, I wouldn’t be breathing a huge sigh of relief should he go down in flames on election day. A more difficult struggle will no doubt ensue thereafter. I sure hope the left gets its act together and reconstitutes itself into a real political force very soon.