Tag Archives: politics

Guest Post: Ukraine Wonk Explains Elections, Neo-Nazis, and Russian Propaganda

By Joe Dandleton

With less than a week to go to Ukraine’s historic presidential election, it’s a good time to discuss what this means for Ukraine, the West, NATO, Russia, Putin, and the Baltic states. There are several dozen candidates but only three in the top three and only one can win after two rounds of democratic combat. Already things are looking difficult for incumbent Petro Poroshenko, known as the “Porky Chocolate Man” on the streets of Kyiv. He’s facing series challenges from TV comedian Volodymyr Zelensky and Gas Queen Yulia Tymoshenko, who comes in both her normal female form and a male form known as Yuriy Tymoshenko. In a way, you could almost say the top three is a top four, but that’s what you’d say because you’re not Ukraine-savvy and never worked for the State Department like I did. So take my word for it, Russian trolls, it’s a top three- both Tymoshenkos count as one person.

Back to Zelensky. Is he the Kremlin’s candidate? Or is the Kremlin’s candidate Zelensky? Does anyone truly know for sure in this era of hybrid warfare and dezinformatsiya? No, no one does. Except me. And I will tell you this about Zelensky. He’s a comedian, and comedians see their careers go down in flames all the time. Sure, he might be doing very well now (possibly with Kremlin support channeled through Belarus’ Last European Dictator Alexander Lukashenka), but who’s to say he doesn’t pull a Louis CK before election day? And if he does, do we know if it was genuine or could it have been a case of kompromat set up by the Russian intelligence services. Nobody knows. Nobody can know. That’s the point of clandestine hybrid warfare and dezinformatsiya, known as deza for short.

But there’s one factor everyone (except me) is forgetting during this critical time when Ukraine is standing at the crossroads at the intersection of N. Fulfill Minsk Street and Get Totally Fucked Road, and that is the neo-Nazi ultranationalists such as Andriy Biletsky’s National Azov C14 Corps. Recently they have been holding rallies all across Ukraine attacking Poroshenko. It is they who coined clever nicknames for him such as the aforementioned Porky Chocolate Man, Piggly-Wiggly, and President Fuckface. The question is, who does the Azov 14 Corps actually work for?

To my trained eye, this whole movement appears to be some kind of complex Russian hybrid propaganda campaign. Given the state of advanced animatronics these days, it’s entirely possible that Russia has created a small army of androids capable of marching in parades and mouthing simplistic slogans. Think this is too far-fetched? Just look at how many articles on RT and Sputnik are about sex robots. There are so many that I don’t even have to use Google to learn the latest developments in sex robots; Russia has become my number one source on that. And besides, you cannot say these National Corps thugs aren’t robots when you haven’t administered anything like a Voight-Kampff test or ripped one of them in half to see if they have milky blood a la Bishop from Aliens.

Of course maybe the neo-Nazis aren’t a Russian propaganda ploy to undermine Poroshenko. Maybe I’m just writing the above to make light of those who insist they are working directly or indirectly for Russia. Maybe I am in fact just amplifying the Kremlin’s narrative of a Ukraine overrun by Nazis. You don’t know. I don’t know. You definitely don’t know. Andriy Biletsky may know. Someone should probably ask him. If you do, ask him what he’d do if he were in the desert and saw a tortoise lying on its back. It’s like a turtle if that helps.

The fact is we’re down to the wire in Ukraine. There is corruption and not enough reforms. Or possibly too much reforms and not enough corruption. Will Poroshenko be the one to bring balance to the reforms and corruption so one does not displace the other and allow Putin to seize more of Ukraine? Or will Zelensky and the Tymoshenkos unleash the National Corps which could be as much under the control of Vladimir Putin as it is under the control of Interior Minister Avakov? Too early to call. Much too early. But I feel like we’ll have a lot of answers to a lot of questions we never knew we had until tomorrow, next week. Stay tuned.

 

Joe Dandleton is a DC based analyst who spent a year and a half working for the US State Department in Ukraine after 2014’s Euromaidan Revolution. He says he is lost and can’t find his metro card or keys and that it is ‘getting very cold and dark out now.’ 

Advertisements

A Very Special Message

So I was happy to see the blog is once again getting a lot of engagement, seemingly due mostly to one of my recent posts, The Foreigner’s Guide to Appropriate Protests. I was a bit less amused to find that some of this attention is due to it being shared on several conservative and liberal subreddits. So while I made a decision to make this a humorous/satirical site a while back, forgive me for getting a bit serious for a moment.

If you’re one of those centrist liberals or conservatives who enjoyed the piece, here’s a special message for you: Fuck you, you hypocrite.

Yes, Western, particularly American leftists are ignorant about the situation in the rest of the world and arrogantly lecture people on how to behave in their own countries, but people like you not only do the same thing with protest movements abroad, but you even do it to your own people. You ignore the cause of a mass protest to focus on a window getting smashed or an upended trashcan. You whine about the lack of “civility.” Conservatives in particular are extremely fond of deliberately misinterpreting the message of a protest movement so that they can knock down a strawman, e.g. “All lives matter.”

And for the leftists whose nerves were struck by that satirical work- tough shit. You make fun of conservatives for not knowing the difference between Shiites and Sunni (though you probably couldn’t say what that is if asked right now), or for not knowing that Iranians aren’t Arab, but the truth is that so many years after 9/11 and Iraq, you’re not really that much more informed. What you’ve got is a serious case of Dunning-Kruger syndrome about the outside world, which is what happens when your frame of reference for how informed you are is comparing yourself to the dumbest people in the country. Think I’m being unfair? I just spent about half of my Twitter day slowly explaining to a bunch of self-proclaimed leftists that no, the Taliban wasn’t created or set up by the CIA, that it in fact didn’t exist as a fighting force until 1994, well after the US had all but abandoned Afghanistan, and no, they didn’t fund Bin Laden and he and his Arab volunteers actually weren’t a significant force in the mujahideen. Yes, I’ve been reading a lot of books on Afghanistan in recent years, but a lot of this stuff isn’t too hard to find. For example, you can learn about the role of Afghan Maoists in the Afghan-Soviet War from Wikipedia, of all places.

These days much of my timeline is filled with Syrians, Venezuelans, and Afghans all making a futile effort to get Western, mostly American leftists to actually listen to them and acknowledge that they might actually know a little more about their own countries’ history than people who may not even have a passport. Indeed, they may even know more than Oliver Stone or…gasp! St. Chomsky! The really infuriating thing about this is how all that intersectionality and respecting “lived experience” flies right out the window when it comes to a foreigner voicing an “incorrect” opinion. Look, being from a country doesn’t automatically make someone right, but at the very least, it demands you act a little less arrogant, and maybe listen more than you talk. Ask some follow up questions for a change. Again, it’s amazing that people who will call out someone for “mansplaining” will happily lecture a Syrian or Afghan on the politics of their own country, to which they’ve never been, whose language they cannot speak, based on shit they heard on RT or Democracy Now! 

You want to know the secret as to why I’ve never been a Chavez/Maduro backer despite being a socialist and at one time a self-identified Marxist-Leninist? It’s not just because Chavista Venezuela was never even remotely socialist. Part of it has to do with Venezuelans I’ve met over the years (oh I’m sure they were secretly millionaires in disguise though, right?) of course. But one of the biggest reasons was simply living in another authoritarian state where the leadership blames all its failures on shadowy Western conspiracies. That, and I’ve had friends who either lived under similar regimes. What you learn from this experience is that virtually all these regimes operate the same way. They all have a ruling class that siphons off money, usually form the export of natural resources, into the offshore accounts of the leader and his cronies. When times are good and commodity prices are high, some of that does manage to trickle down in the form of social safety nets. But when times get rough and it comes down to social programs for the masses or more luxury villas for the ruling class, the latter wins every time. And if the US and its allies criticize this or better yet, levy targeted sanctions- so much the better.

All of these regimes use similar tactics. Harassment of dissidents with plausible deniability. Consolidation and control over the media. Pro-regime rallies consisting of paid pensioners, public school and university students, and state workers. Constant promotion of bullshit conspiracy theories. Most of all, there’s always some kind of narrative about how the regime is coming under pressure because it has some great worldview that is opposed to the greedy Yankee hegemony. In Venezuela it was “21st century socialism.” In Syria it’s Baathism. In Russia it was “sovereign democracy.” In virtually every case, we’re told that this is an expression of the country’s sovereignty and self-determination, and the only reason why the US or the West criticizes it is because this country is going its own way and now kowtowing to the imperialist hegemony. The problem is, that in most cases the vast majority of people in those nations were never asked if they wanted to live under a corrupt and authoritarian regime that steals their country’s national wealth in exchange for supposedly “standing up to the West.” Believe it or not, but most of these people want things like food, shelter, and the opportunity to better their lives without having to have personal connections to the right family, bureaucrat, military officer, etc.

Do these experiences of mine make me an expert on Venezuela? Hell no. But living so long under Putin, plus the experiences related to me by people who lived under other dictatorial regimes has given me an ability to understand and filter information a little bit better because I’ve personally witnessed things that are near-identical to what these people are describing. Could I be wrong? Perhaps. Maybe these near identical things are just a coincidence, i.e. Maduro’s a genuine leftist who really is under siege by the US and this is responsible for his situation as opposed to his own mismanagement, while Putin is totally lying when he says similar things. But you know what? Occam’s Razor says we live in a capitalist world where states are run by ruling classes, not their working people, and it also says that if some country has some great popular ideology, it would probably be a lot more successful and the masses would support it. It’s a rule of thumb, but a pretty useful one.

The basis of a moral society, a socialist society, must in large part be empathy. It must be the concept that other people, in your community or thousands of miles away, have many of the same desires you have. If you have the desire for a better life and the will to resist oppression, you must recognize that other people also have a right to these things, regardless of their government’s relationship with the US. If not, you’re essentially dismissing those people as inferior, something less than human.

A while back, I encountered a rather burnt-out individual who turned on the left due to encountering so many leftists who refused to listen to anything Syrians had to say about their country, instead dismissing them as dupes of the CIA and Islamophobic caricatures of “jihadist headchoppers.” According to this individual, Western leftists are racists who “want these problematic people to die,” people referring not just to Syrians but also Afghans, Ukrainians, Nicaraguans, and other nationalities whose right to resist is denied by the privileged Western left.

I decided that person is far too burnt out and angry to have any use in politics, but after seeing how some icons of the American left write about Afghans and now Venezuelans, it almost makes me wonder if on some subconscious level maybe these people do want all those masses whose reality contradicts their personal narrative to die. Not so much to be killed, but to simply disappear, to be erased. If all these people would simply be silenced one way or another, the Western leftist would never have to struggle with the failings of their simplistic worldview. It’s so easy to dismiss someone’s lived experience, contemporary or historical, if you can just write them off as a kulak, a bourgeoisie, a jihadist, a dupe of the CIA. Then you don’t have to feel bad about your fetish for Soviet aesthetics or your admiration for a regime in a country you’ve never visited.

I realize this is a hard pill for a lot of the Western left to swallow, but look at it this way. You’ve been doing things more or less the same way for a long time now. Where are your results? What genuine US imperialism have you genuinely prevented? Who is in power in your country and what policies are they promoting? For nearly all my life, you’ve had a parade of neoliberals and fascists. You’re at a point now where voting for neoliberals has often becoming your only way to keep literal fascists out of power. Hell, the fascists in America are some of the dumbest people on the planet and yet they’re still running circles around you. So with that track record of solid failure after failure, maybe, just maybe, it’s time to start reevaluating your movement and your ideology to see if there aren’t any flaws in there that might actually be benefiting the far-right and hampering your own success.

Or you can dismiss me as an “ultra-leftist” or “Ukrainian fascist” (because associating ethnic groups with political ideologies is fine for some countries!), and we can watch this all play out. Me, I’ve already seen this show. All those things you think can’t happen here; I see them happening. So if you don’t know what life is like under people like Yanukovych, Putin, Maduro, or perhaps worst of all, Assad, keep on doing what you’re doing, and one day you’ll get a taste of it right here.

 

The Foreigner’s Guide to Appropriate Protests by Some White Leftist From Brooklyn

Hey there, foreigner! I saw on Twitter that you’re having a demonstration. That’s great! It’s good to express your dissatisfaction with your government. I do that all the time on Twitter, and if we ever had a really revolutionary protest movement I’d probably definitely go. But here’s the thing- there’s a big difference between you and I.

See, I’m an American citizen. I’m a true dissident, speaking truth to power (i.e. posting) and battling Yankee imperialism from within the belly of the beast as Che called it. You, on the other hand, are a foreigner, most likely a resident of a country whose regime isn’t on the best terms with my government. Yes, we talk about being internationalists who care more about the poor oppressed people of the world unlike those neocons, shitlibs, and alt-right neo-Nazis who for some unknown reason keep supporting the same governments we defend,  but the reality is that this little issue of citizenship makes all the difference in the world.

If we in America are upset with our government, we have a right to protest. We live in a developed country and we are highly educated because we have Noam Chomsky and podcasts. You, on the other hand, are most likely living in a crucial square on the geopolitical chessboard, and that means that no matter how dire your grievance must seem, you first need to take into account our political system and our country’s foreign policy before you go out into the streets and cause trouble.

See, you might think you’re protesting because your leader and his friends and family siphon off the natural wealth of your country while arresting and sometimes torturing people for criticizing their behavior, but check this out: Did you ever consider that maybe your leaders are actually your legitimate, democratically elected governments, and the only real reason you think they’re bad is because our government says they are? Yeah, wild, I know, but if you had the brain capacity to understand books like Manufacturing Consent and Killing Hope, you too would understand that there are many “regimes” in the world which, contrary to the mainstream corporate media that only regurgitates US State Department talking points, are in fact demonized simply because they put the interests of their own citizens above those of the hegemonic US military-industrial complex. Also, it’s possible your country has oil, so the US just wants to take your oil. If your country doesn’t have significant oil reserves, then they most likely want to build a pipeline across your country and your government is refusing, probably on ecological grounds.

How do you know if your government is truly terrible or just maligned by American corporate elites? Well I’ve got good news- we’ll tell you! Yes, though the sum total of our international experience typically amounts to Spring Break in Mexico or possibly Amsterdam for the true globetrotters among us, we are experts in geopolitics and we will be sure to determine which side in your country’s dispute is worthy of support based on whatever official statements from US officials happen to grace the headline stories that we skim off our news feeds. To be honest, until recently the process would be much easier. We’d just skim the news until we found John McCain’s smiling mug next to the self-proclaimed leaders of some protest movement. That was all we needed to determine that said movement was in fact a US-organized coup against a legitimate government resisting imperialism. Nowadays, we actually have to read a few official statements, but don’t worry- we’re happy to help.

The most important thing to remember is that before you organize your protest movement, you need to clear it with a white leftist in the US or, failing that, Canada or the UK. Otherwise, you risk launching what we will have no choice but to designate as a US-backed coup against a government we have decided is  leftist. And if you’re going against a leftist government, you must be far-right. It’s pretty simple. So make sure you’ve consulted with us first so you can hopefully obtain our permission to be legitimate protesters like us, as opposed to mindless dupes of the CIA.

Now I’m sure you have some questions, so just because we in the left believe in a borderless world (save for sovereign anti-imperialist states who are forced to maintain strict border controls because imperialism) and internationalism, as an act of solidarity we will answer a limited number them.

Q: My government has never had a free or fair, competitive election in decades, and the lack of accountability has led to billions of dollars of our nation’s natural wealth being siphoned off by the ruling class and their cronies, much of it being stashed in your country. Anyone who tries to speak up against this gets arrested or harassed. Some have even been killed. Isn’t that enough to justify our protest movement? 

A: You’d think that, but no. I mean sure, if our government here in the US or some other leading industrialized country did even a fraction of that, we’d definitely have a protest march and post a lot of memes about our grievances, but you don’t live here, in the belly of the beast of US global hegemony.

You need to give us a chance to Google your country, skim the Wiki article, and then check our trusted sources of information like RT, Telesur, Jacobin, and The Real News in order to determine if all those things you say are actually happening, or if you’re actually just being duped by the CIA into thinking those things are happening in your country. We know it’s very possible that you don’t know what’s really happening in your country because you listen only to mainstream Western corporate media like CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, BBC, NPR, RFERL, Al Jazeera, SkyNews, AFP, AP, Reuters, CBC, etc. If you listened to real, independent news sources like RT, you’d know what’s really happening or not happening in your country.

Q: Do I have to get permission from a white person? 

A: Well that’s the best bet if you want to get the approval of podcasters. But if you cannot find any white leftist, feel free to address a person of color so long as they have been raised in their Western country nearly all their life. You don’t want to slip up and accidentally seek permission from say, a “refugee” or emigrant who, based on our determination, may just be a CIA plant or some exiled billionaire masquerading as a fry cook.

Q: Do you really think you know what’s going on in my country more than we do? 

A: Look, we may never have been to your country. We may not speak the language. We may not have read anything about it beyond daily headlines and the Wiki article. But we understand something you don’t- our Western governments. And that’s what really matters- our leaders, our politics.

What do you think has more explanatory value? The things you see on your poor-ass streets everyday? The headlines in your newspapers written in weird alphabets consisting of backwards R’s or squiggly little lines? Or, the sum total of Cold War history as told by intellectual giants like Noam Chomsky, William Blum, Seymour Hersh, and Michael Parenti? You have to look at the big picture. You have to consider history. We can determine the political trajectory in your country far better than you can simply by flipping to the relevant chapter in Killing Hope. If something happened in the past, it must repeat exactly the same way every time, because that’s definitely how history and dialectics work.

Q: But I don’t think you understand. We are really poor here. The wealth inequality is unbelievable. We have a lot of things in common since I hear you guys talking about the same problems in your country.

A: Whoa, hold up there, comrade! We have little in common. For example, suppose I do some googling and find out that your country has state-provided universal healthcare. We have nothing like that here in the States. Suppose I do some more checking and found that from the time your country got full independence, infant mortality and life expectancy have gradually improved. Clearly you need to be happy with what you have.

Q: But our government has been imposing austerity measures on us for many years now. Isn’t that the same thing you people complain about?

A: They may be austerity measures, but it’s totally different. See it’s entirely possible that your government is only imposing those measures for your own good, because it is resisting US hegemonic imperialism. How can you know for sure? You can’t. We can. That’s why you need to consult with us first.

Q: What if we apply to you for legitimacy but you decide that our government is legitimate? Do we still have to go on suffering in poverty? 

A: Yes, I’m afraid so. The only possible alternative is inevitable US military intervention and occupation. It’s not easy to suffer in silence, but look at it this way- you’re opposing US imperialism!

Q: Shouldn’t you maybe, listen to people’s lived experience? I see you guys talking about that from time to time.

A: Oh sorry, that whole lived experience, listen to X marginalized group stuff only applies to people in our country. We’re happy to listen to people from your country give their opinions, for example your president, your prime minister, some other government officials, your state news presenters and the people they interview. These are clearly trustworthy sources. But we can’t just listen to anybody from your country. They could be paid by the CIA for all we know.

Q: No offense, but this all sounds well, kinda racist.

A: Impossible! I can’t be racist! I’m a leftist! I support BLM and Antifa! Why can’t you people just understand that we in the West have your best interests at heart?! I know my country has done so many terrible things to your country and I don’t want the CIA convincing a bunch of local ignorant people to rise up against its legitimate government! Don’t you realize that no matter how terrible you think your government is, US intervention will only make it worse?

wounded_civilians_arrive_at_hospital_aleppo

The consequences of not getting permission from the Western left first: These Syrians didn’t get our blessing to revolt against Bashar al-Assad. We made our calculations based on a few statements of the Obama administration and determined that this uprising was in fact caused by the US, and the resistance, such as all the people in this photo, were nothing but CIA-armed jihadists. 

Well that’s all we have time for in this guide, so to wrap up, remember- before you get out in the streets, did you make sure to vet your organization with Western, preferably white American leftists? The cost of not-doing so can be dire. You don’t want to be labeled as fascist dupes of the CIA, do you? So think before you revolt, and be sure to get our blessing before you get out in the streets.

 

 

A World of BS: Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Denial

So by now we’re all aware that the Saudi government almost certainly killed and dismembered a famous Saudi journalist in their consulate in Istanbul. The murder of Jamal Khashoggi has provoked an outrage among U.S. politicians, typically deferential to Riyadh, that is almost unprecedented. Naturally, instead of using this as a potential last straw to finally start shifting the American public’s attention to our country’s morally reprehensible relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Western left is fumbling the ball by saying things like “Saudi Arabia did 9/11!” and “What about Yemen?!” The latter is of course referring to the bloody, criminal war carried out in that country by Saudi Arabia and the UAE with military support the US and UK, a war that no major Western media outlet reports on, except for Washington PostNY TimesGuardianCNN, NBC, ABC, Vox, Voice of America, and BBC.

Of course since I’m taking a break from US left politics at the moment, I wanted to highlight another interesting phenomenon that we’ve seen in the wake of the Khashoggi case. Looking at the response from both the Kingdom’s Foreign Ministry as well as its media, one cannot help but notice eerie parallels with Russia’s response to scandals such as the Skripal poisoning, interference in the 2016 election, and the downing of MH17. To be fair, Russia has a bit more experience in this field, and as laughable as their denials can be at times, they have at least developed a certain style that is less awkward than that of the Saudis.

Compare:

demise

“Demise is the outcome of these weak endeavors” needs to be the next “Your industry can burn!

 

As you can see, there are some stylistic differences. What is curious, however, is the similarities. For example, note the expression of concern for the victim.

Remember how much the Russian government complained about not being granted access to Sergei and Yulia Skripal (after her recovery Yulia said she was aware of the Russian consulate’s offers, but declined to meet with them)?

Also, note the Saudi use of the classic Russian tactic- “Let’s not point fingers and wait for the investigation to be finished!”

To be fair, advising everyone to hold their judgment until an investigation is finished is not in itself a terrible thing, except in cases where all the evidence almost immediately points to one particular culprit and there are no other suspects to logically consider. More importantly, it is pointless to demand people wait until the investigation is complete if you’re just going to claim the results were biased after the fact, as Russia has done in the case of MH17, several chemical attacks by the Assad regime in Syria, and the Skripal poisoning case. If an objective investigation is carried out, and all its findings point directly to Saudi Arabian government officials, it seems almost inevitable that they will declare the investigation to be politically motivated and thus void.

Saudi-owned media like Al Arabiya is also running interference. Here we can see editorializing right in the first paragraph of this article, which also shares a similarity with Russian state media by starting its headline with “US media expert.” The article’s lede refers to “rumors” about Khashoggi’s disappearance, and contains the term “doubtful information” and “wrongful accusations.” This is even more egregious than some recent RT articles which do things like refer to “staged chemical attacks” in Syria, as though they’ve ever managed to show any evidence of a staged chemical attack there.

There are even closer parallels in some cases. After a Turkish newspaper released photos of 15 men believed to be Saudi government operatives suspected of being involved in Khashoggi’s disappearance, Al Arabiya claimed they were just tourists, prompting one Twitter user to say they were “pulling a Putin.” Also, much like with the Russian playbook, the Saudis have already started to suggest alternative explanations, one of which is that the killing might have been carried out by rogue agents in its intelligence service either intentionally or during an interrogation gone wrong. This half-admission resembles Putin’s talk about “patriotic hackers” amid flat denials about interfering in the US election in 2016. And just like with Putin’s denials about interfering in the U.S. election, Donald Trump seems totally ready to buy the Saudi King’s story.

This is the world we’re living in today. The Kremlin, Donald Trump, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Bashar al-Assad, Brexit, China, TPUSA- all of these regimes, politicians, movements, etc. have all come to power, survived, or advanced their interests by propagating unreality. Unreality is beyond lies or propaganda; it’s dependent on a receptive audience. Unreality is the idea that you no longer have to live in material reality at all, and instead can just make up your own narrative to explain everything. Living in unreality is like a being an adult who still believes in Santa Claus. Nothing you were taught in school about physics or anything you observed for at least a quarter of a century can convince you that Santa Claus doesn’t fly around the entire globe on 25 December and deliver presents to good Christian children- that he in fact does not exist at all. You know he exists. You want him to exist. So he exists, and anyone who tries to tell you otherwise or even bring up any facts which might contradict your belief is a dupe, a shill, or a paid agent of the anti-Christmas lobby (Bet George Soros doesn’t celebrate Christmas, does he?).

In similar fashion, many people want to believe that Assad doesn’t gas people or that Russia didn’t shoot down MH17, so they will go through the most Olympic Gold Medal-winning mental gymnastics to explain why they’re dismissing all manner of concrete evidence while never applying the same skepticism to other claims that they either agree with or just don’t care about. Either that, or they just dismiss something offhand based on claims about the funding of its source, be it a media outlet, think tank, or NGO. And because it’s unreality, that same outlet, think tank, or NGO can be presented as totally legitimate any time it releases a information that supports or seems to support the unreality-dweller’s worldview.

When pondering on this topic I’m reminded of the words of one of my personal role models, James Randi, who described a particular type of person he often encountered in his lifelong struggle against con artists and quacks.

“There exists in society a very special class of persons that I have always referred to as the Believers. These are folks who have chosen to accept a certain religion, philosophy, theory, idea or notion and cling to that belief regardless of any evidence that might, for anyone else, bring it into doubt. They are the ones who encourage and support the fanatics and the frauds of any given age. No amount of evidence, no matter how strong, will bring them any enlightenment. They are the sheep who beg to be fleeced and butchered, and who will battle fiercely to preserve their right to be victimized… the U.S. Patent Office handles an endless succession of inventors who still produce perpetual-motion machines that don’t work, but no number of idle flywheels will convince these zealots of their folly; dozens of these patent applications flow in every year. In ashrams all over the world, hopping devotees of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi will never abandon their goal of blissful levitation of their bodies by mind power, despite bruises and sprains aplenty suffered as they bounce about on gym mats like demented (though smiling) frogs, trying to get airborne. Absolutely nothing will discourage them.”

Of course as the above quote shows, Randi was referring to believers in various spiritual doctrines, pseudo-scientific claims, and the paranormal. But in our age, unreality has become…dare I say it…weaponized by governments and politicians, and now we have perpetual believers in these secular cults.

No doubt the Saudi Kingdom will have its own share of believers around the world, although in the West I suspect most of them will simply be lobbyists on the payroll. Apart from Donald Trump and his entourage, most Westerners find Saudi Arabia too alienating and its soft power too awkward to be attracted to it the way they have been attracted to propaganda from, say, Russia.

Whatever the case, we are as a species stumbling further into unreality- perhaps because we can no longer face reality. Basically, we’re living in a world of bullshit.

Finally!

Lately there’s been a lot of talk about this New Yorker article about a new book called Cyberwar: How Russian Hackers and Trolls Helped Elect a President What We Don’t, Can’t, and Do Know by Kathleen Hall Jamieson. Unfortunately due to time constraints I wasn’t able to get around to reading it for a while and only now have I got the time to actually give my take on it. While I haven’t been able to examine the book’s arguments in detail, I have to say that this seems to be the first time I’ve seen anyone actually try to attempt to measure the influence of Russian propaganda on the 2016 election with some semblance of scientific rigor. Those of you who follow this blog know that I have often complained about how many of those pundits and politicians who express such confidence that Russia swung the election to Trump seem to avoid expending even minimal effort to try to substantiate their claims. Specifically, nobody seemed to be interested in going out to those key battleground states to survey voters who changed their votes to Trump, a third party, or who decided not to vote at all, and then try to determine the extent to which these people had been exposed to Russian propaganda, e.g. via Facebook.

To be fair, it doesn’t seem like Jamieson’s book does that specific thing, but it does present an interesting case. For one thing, it points out that in those key Midwestern states where Hillary lost unexpectedly, the deck was stacked against Hillary when it came to getting votes. Anyone trying to influence the election against her had an advantage because they didn’t need to push people to vote for her opponent or a third party but rather they could just as easily convince people not to vote at all. This is reminiscent of an old axiom about guerrilla warfare- the insurgent doesn’t need to win; they just need to not lose.

If you look at a lot of Russian propaganda surrounding the election, you’ll notice that a good deal of it is aimed at people who are either left wing or at least left enough to reject Trump. But the Russian propaganda on Facebook, for example, seems to be aimed at keeping those people from voting for Hillary. Some stuff could be construed as anti-GOP or even anti-Trump, but I’ve yet to see anything from that period which is pro-Hillary, or more accurately, anything that would support the idea that as bad a candidate as she is, she’s at least better than Trump.

Now before anyone suggests that this is setting up an excuse for the Hillary campaign, take note that if Russian influence played a decisive role, it could only do so because the election was so close, far closer than it should have been. Judging from the article, one of the main factors in swinging the election was the hacking of the DNC emails, which contained a lot of material relating to Hillary’s political baggage. In other words, a candidate without such baggage would have been harder to bring down. So there’s no letting the Democratic party off the hook even if this book is 100% correct in its hypothesis. If Russian influence swung the campaign it was almost certainly because the weakness of the party and its candidate made it vulnerable to such influence in the first place.

Like I’ve said about Kremlin propaganda dozens of times before- it is effective only where vulnerabilities exist. Corruption, lack of accountability, inequality, and a refusal by politicians to address any of those problems inevitably spreads the rot in which the bullshit of RT, Sputnik, and the Internet Research Agency take root and sprout. Address those aforementioned problems, and people will see the propaganda for what it is- nonsensical fringe crap from a corrupt, authoritarian, desperate regime that has nothing of value to offer the outside world.

And am I sold on the idea that Russia swung the 2016 election, after all this? Well I haven’t read the book so I can’t say for sure. In fact, I’m not sure we’ll ever know exactly what happened. Too much time has already passed and we have much bigger issues to deal with. What I will say is that the idea that it had an impact can no longer be discounted.

Russia Clickbait

So given the fact that today’s Russia news cycle has been dominated by the positively insane interview between RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan and the two suspects in the Salisbury poisoning case, you probably missed the story about Russia targeting the Boy Scouts of America.

“Wait,” you say. “The Russians are trying to ‘hack’ the Boy Scouts?”

Well no. Not yet at least. But they could! And so someone had to write an entire article about it.

Ordinarily when I see one of these articles, I do a CTRL-F and search for the word “Hamilton.” If I get a hit on the so-called Hamilton 68 dashboard, I close the tab, secure in the knowledge that this article is unlikely to offer any real insight. In this case, however, I didn’t do the search. As I scrolled through the article, I saw a bunch of stuff we’ve all been aware of for at least a year now. Yeah, we know Russia has orchestrated information warfare campaigns. We know they target wedge issues. I kept wondering when this article would get to the Boy Scouts. Was there some kind of specific information campaign being aimed at the Scouts?

Nope. The author tells us that due to all the various controversies that have plagued the Boy Scouts for many years now, the Russians might tailor some disinformation campaigns targeting those issues. Seriously- that’s it. The whole article doesn’t get to the actual topic of the headline until the second to last paragraph, which I am quoting here in its entirety.

“In the U.S., the Boy Scouts could be a tempting target for Russians seeking to inflame social discord. Over the past 50 years, the organization has been embroiled in various controversies over social values. The organization has internally – and publicly – debated allowing women to serve in leadership roles, whether to let gay men and boys join and lead scout troops, whether transgender boys could join and, most recently, including girls in Cub Scout and Boy Scout groups.

All of those changes, raising legitimate questions about equality and humanity, involved heated discussions in the scouting community and the wider society. Now imagine that an outside group – one whose only goal was discord – jumped in to deliberately inflame the debate.”

Think about that for a second. No fake Russian Facebook pages about Boy Scout controversies were found. No hacking attempts on their website or computer systems. No fake astroturfed campaigns with Russian links. They literally just thought about an organization that has been at the center of some controversies and said “the Russians could try to make decisive propaganda about this.” They could have written this article about literally dozens of different topics, and more importantly, the article doesn’t deliver on the headline’s promise. This was published on a site which boasts “academic rigor, journalist flair.”

This, folks, is clickbait. Literally anyone can skim the news about past Russian disinfo campaigns, then brainstorm until you find the latest bullshit culture war battle so you can declare that the Russians might target this issue for future disinformation campaigns. Do this often enough and open up a Patreon account, and you might be able to quit your day job.

 

 

A Parable

You’ve been interested in socialist politics for a long time. You’ve read a lot but you’ve still been on the sidelines all this time. You decide it’s time to actually start doing something about it. Thus you do some research and decide to go to your first real socialist meeting.

When you arrive, you find a room with about a dozen males in it, all repeatedly punching themselves in the balls. You think you might have made a mistake.

“I’m here for the socialist meeting, I think I might be in the wrong place,” you say, secretly horrified.

“No, you’re not,” one of them replies, wincing each time his fist connects with his own testicles. “This is the place.”

“Why are you all punching yourselves in the balls,” you logically ask.

One of them seems offended. Not offended enough to stop punching himself in the nuts every few seconds, but he’s clearly upset.

“What are you talking about? We are advancing the cause of socialist revolution!”

“By punching yourselves in the nuts,” you ask.

“We aren’t punching ourselves in the nuts, as you say,” another puncher replies. “We are fighting for socialism. We’re revolutionaries. This is how you fight for socialist revolution. Won’t you join us?”

Not terribly inclined toward the idea of punching yourself in the balls repeatedly for at least an hour, you politely decline and say that this doesn’t seem like a viable way of achieving socialism, or any political change, in fact.

“WHAT?!” One of them exclaims, almost breaking the rhythm of punching himself in the testicles.

“You’re an anti-Communist! You believe all the CIA propaganda!”

“What are you talking about,” you ask, dumbfounded. “I just don’t want to sit in a room punching myself in the testicles. I don’t see how that’s socialism. I’m quite certain that there are a lot of other approaches to socialism.

“TROT!” one of the occupants yells, just as his fist connects solidly with his crotch.

“I don’t know about this one, comrades,” another begins. “The only people that would reject socialism so adamantly are fascists. I think we’ve got a fascist infiltrator on our hands!”

This idea clearly resonates, because now the whole room is shouting “NAZI!” each time their fists smack their own balls. It’s insulting, but when the label is being hurled by a bunch of men sitting in a room hitting themselves in the testicle it kind of loses it’s bite. Not only are you not a Nazi, you’re not anti-socialist; you just don’t want to hit yourself in the balls over and over again. It’s very natural.

You back out and quickly leave. This can’t be it. There must be a mistake. Socialism can’t possibly be about punching yourself in the- actually no viable political ideology can be about that.

You decide to continue your search. There must be a real socialist movement out there. There must be a movement where the people care about actually achieving justice, equality, and a sustainable system that is superior to capitalism, as opposed to punching themselves in the nuts. At least you hope there is.