Tag Archives: Trump

Russia Mulling Switch to ‘Western Cyrillic’ in Bid to Popularize Language Abroad

MOSCOW– Russia’s State Duma is currently proposing a historic language reform bill that would see the Russian language switch from Cyrillic to what they are calling “Western Cyrillic.” The new alphabet is based on the way Cyrillic often appears in advertising and art in the West, particularly in the United States. Chairman of the State Duma Vyacheslav Volodin explained the basis and rationale for the new alphabet in an address to the legislative body on Friday.

“Westerners apparently think the letter ‘ya’ is an R, and that our letter ‘D’ is an A- well soon they could be right,” Volodin said.

To demonstrate how the new alphabet would work, Volodin presented slides of various advertisements, book covers, t-shirts, and video game cases in order to explain how words would be pronounced in the new alphabet. One example was the cover of the book Once Upon a Time in Russia: The Rise of the Oligarchs―A True Story of Ambition, Wealth, Betrayal, and Murder

cyrillicabuse.PNG

Cover of Once Upon a Time in Russia, which Duma Chairman Volodin claims is a good example of why the alphabet needs to change

“In our current alphabet, this cover would be very confusing to read,” Volodin said.

“As a Russian speaker, your mind wants to read ‘Oisye Uroi a Time Ii Yaussia.’ With the new alphabet, however, what the Westerners call ‘those backwards N’s or backwards R’s’ will actually be N’s and R’s.”

The new alphabet was designed at Moscow State University’s linguistics department, whose researchers scoured the internet for Western media containing examples of faux-Cyrillic to use as a basis for new letters. At times different Cyrillic letters have been used to replace Latin ones, which means that linguists sometimes have to debate which replacement is more common and therefore more suitable. Many examples come from the 1980’s, however, even recent media can be useful, such as the promotional material for HBO Films The Romanovs, and the very popular FX series The Americans.

theamericans

In the current Russian Cyrillic alphabet, this would read “The Amyeyaisans,” but if the new language reform passes, it will be read as it appears in English

bourne

Unfortunately not all examples are salvageable. This name shown in the film The Bourne Identity cannot be corrected in any was as to be pronounceable by a human being.

So far it isn’t clear whether Vladimir Putin will approve the new reform should it pass the State Duma. However, Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov recently hinted that the Russian President could see the reform as a way to secure his historical legacy.

“This would be the biggest reform of the Russian language since the Bolshevik Revolution,” Peskov said.

“We could finally start to improve our relations with the rest of the world. Instead of telling them they’re writing our language incorrectly, we’d essentially be telling them they were right all along, and that our Cyrillic alphabet is really just a funny looking equivalent to their Latin alphabet- nothing more.”

During the same briefing, Peskov showed reporters a slide to demonstrate how President Putin’s name would be written in the new alphabet: “VLДDIMIЯ РЦТIИ.”

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 New Default

Lately I find myself writing more and more about how modern America is starting to resemble Putin’s Russia. Yesterday seems to confirm a new milestone.

As some of you are no doubt aware, on Friday authorities arrested a man suspected of mailing package bombs to a long list of Fox News rogues gallery villains such as George Soros, the Clintons, and Barack Obama. Now even before the suspect had been arrested, it became pretty clear based on the targets alone that the guy was clearly a right-winger. Occam’s Razor in this situation would tell us that if a man shows open support for Trump, belief in right-wing conspiracy theories, and targets the main villains in those conspiracy theories, he must be a true believer who has become radicalized, i.e. a home-grown, right-wing terrorist.

But this, of course, is 2018, and Occam’s Razor has been totally thrown out the window by a huge segment of the population. Now, when someone actually acts on all these conspiracy theories by engaging in some kind of violence or threat of violence, the default for all the other chuds that spread this bullshit is, you guessed it- FALSE FLAG!

Mass shooting? False flag! Terrorist attack? False flag, unless it can be used as an argument against immigration or Muslims. Chemical attack? False flag! Once again, another sign that modern-day America is becoming more and more like Putin’s Russia. There, for many years, whenever some scandal leads directly to the Kremlin, the state-press repeats the mantra, Кому выгодно? (Qui bono?)

Again, just another sign we’re sinking deeper and deeper into unreality, where the truth is whatever you want it to be at any given moment so as to preserve your sense of identity. Strap yourself in, folks. This isn’t going to end well.

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.

Trump As Allegory

So I’m packing to go on a trip to NYC tomorrow and a thought just crossed my mind that I had to write about. This past week has been, in general, one giant shitshow as the sponge-brained old racist uncle-in-chief prostrated and cowered next to Putin. From an almost flat-out refusal to acknowledge interference in the 2016 election to a pathetically weak response to Putin’s suggestion of turning over officials such as former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, Trump has pretty much convinced every rational-minded person in America that he is, at best, subservient to or afraid of Vladimir Putin.

But what if there’s a lesson in all this? What if Trump’s behavior, as despicable and craven as it is, is just exposing the truth about Russia and the West, in the same way Trump totally debunked the idea that America is a “post-racial” society?

If we look at interactions between Putin and other Western leaders who are considered sufficiently “tough” on Putin, we see that while they often talk a big game about standing up to him either outside of his presence or at press conferences, they rarely back their words with action. Macron living it up with Putin at the World Cup is a perfect example of this. Ditto Merkel and Nord Stream II, although to her credit she seems to have put a damper on Putin’s dream of cutting Ukraine out of the gas network. And while Obama did bring several successful rounds of sanctions against Russia since 2014, it wasn’t enough to deter Putin from getting directly involved in Syria, or more importantly- interfering with the US political system itself.

So the along walks Trump, a man who seems to have a special affinity for the dictator in Moscow. Trump hasn’t actually managed to lift sanctions; he’s delayed on implementing some of them but new individuals and companies still get added to the sanctions list nonetheless. He doesn’t recognize Crimea as Russian, but he doesn’t really do anything for Ukraine. He doesn’t really suggest new ways to deter or punish Russian aggression, but he doesn’t uproot those in place.

In a sense, Trump is just openly doing what the US and Western governments did with Russia for years, if not decades. Whether it was under Yeltsin or Putin, the Western leaders expressed “concern” over conditions in Russia or Russian moves abroad, but they never took any action until Putin forced their hand by unleashing another war in Europe. This kind of deference to Moscow seems to be rooted in two factors. The first is the capitalist system that wants Russian investment and investment opportunities in Russia, a large potential market. The second is the very old inability to recognize Moscow-dominated Russia for what it is- the last European colonial empire. We saw plenty of the former during the boom of the mid-2000s, when the West was more than happy to ignore or at most, pay some lip service to the issue of human rights in Russia while billions of petrodollars were skimmed off and pumped into Western luxury items and elite property in London, New York, Miami, or the South of France. In the case of the latter, note how the West has expressed support for former Soviet republics, yet says nothing about non-Russian territories within the inappropriately named Russian Federation (it’s not really a federation).

I’m not excusing Trump’s behavior or saying it’s no cause for real concern, but I can’t help but notice that in a way, all Trump has done is put an end to the empty lip service and openly embraced Putin as opposed to talking a big game in public while making deals with him behind closed doors.

This is something Westerners need to seriously think about after Trump is gone. So many of the people who today tell us that we’ve experienced another Pearl Harbor or, as Morgan Freeman put it, “we are at war,” either support or worked for politicians who in the past had the same knowledge we have about Russia today, yet still accepted key parts of the Kremlin’s narrative and enabled many of its nefarious actions. Maybe the silver lining of Trump’s recent actions is that people will start waking up to that fact.

The Left and ‘That Russia Stuff’

Yesterday’s reaction to the Helsinki meeting between Trump and Putin was, to put it mildly, a shitshow. And once again, we saw the so-called radical left seemingly spending more time attacking “the libs” than, you know, the actual fascists like the president and his minions. Few seemed to notice the fact that their dismissive rhetoric toward “that Russia stuff” and their hysteria about World War III just happens to mirror not only the line coming straight from Kremlin media, but also from the alt-right and neo-fascists the world over. And looking at this mess, and at the same time being part of the left as well as someone who has a bit of a background in “Russia stuff,” I feel I should interject and remind some comrades about some key facts in this whole scandal.

What makes me so qualified to do so? Well apart from my knowledge and experience in Russia and its media, I’ve also been one of those voices of reason when it comes to Russiagate in the first place. Long time readers will note that when the Clinton campaign started to bring up Russia during the campaign, I warned about going too far down that path. Not only were most American voters utterly unconcerned about Russia at the time, it was obvious that Russia and Trump could use such rhetoric to posture as anti-establishment, and posture they did.

Also, I followed the Galeotti line, saying that Russia did not expect Trump to win and thus the interference was actually aimed at causing problems for an incoming Clinton administration. If I didn’t point it out on this blog, I certainly made the point some time on Twitter that Trump is most likely not a conscious agent of Russia, turned either by some kompromat pee tape or by some winding conspiracy dating back to 1987. Rather I saw and still see Trump as being charmed by Putin, who knows how to manipulate such people. If there is any kompromat on Trump, it has to do with business dealings, conflicts of interest, and that sort of thing. Beyond that, I think the main reason Trump seems afraid to call out Putin, especially about election interference, is that admitting that it happened is tantamount to questioning his own legitimacy, and there is simply no way Trump would ever allow that.

Furthermore, I have routinely dunked on people like Louise Mensch, Eric Garland, and slightly less odious figures like Molly McKew. I’ve been attacked as a “Russian bot” by “Resistance” types, and not too long ago Mensch and Garland even sicced their incoherent army of morons on me.

The point I’m making is- you know me. You know I’m not some ex-intelligence community pundit or “neocon” think tank academic, and I’m certainly not an amateur counter-intelligence agent on the internet posting about how Bernie Sanders secretly works for the GRU and Black Lives Matter is a Russian front. I’m a revolutionary socialist, one who has spent most of his adult life in Russia.

So I’m hoping you’ll take it to hear when I tell you that yes, Russia interfered in our election. Yes, it was with malicious intent and it was largely aimed at helping Trump. For whatever reason, Trump has been largely disinterested in doing anything about that, and you should be concerned. Now before you interject, here are a few things to consider.

First of all, no, I’m not reversing my position about the reasons why Hillary lost or the efficacy of the Russian interference. To date, we have no concrete data on who might have changed their vote or stayed home due to things they may have seen on Facebook, specifically Russian propaganda. I’ve often criticized those who are so confident in the efficacy of that propaganda while being so reluctant to make any attempt to measure what influence it actually had. But having said all that, it really doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if those idiotic memes didn’t change a single vote. The point is Russia put them out there with a certain intention, and that intention was to help Trump. Where they were not supporting Trump, they were encouraging people not to vote for his opponent, which objectively helps Trump.

Think about it this way- suppose there was a Trump supporter in the US, and he tried to support his candidate by writing a blog and maybe making a few Facebook pages with pro-Trump memes. Now let us imagine that they weren’t widely circulated, never got many views, and thus we later determine that they couldn’t have had any significant impact on voting whatsoever. Would we just totally ignore the fact that this person basically campaigned for Trump? Would we pretend he’s not a Trump supporter?

Worse still, the Russian Internet Research Agency, via Facebook, literally tried to hijack leftist causes, all for the purpose of getting people not to vote for Hillary, Trump’s opponent. That should piss most leftists off. I mean every election you see people correctly point out that to claim to stand “on principle” when doing so could hurt millions of disadvantaged or otherwise marginalized groups of people is bad, very bad. It’s almost the very definition of privilege. But operatives encouraged exactly this behavior while posing as leftists. That should piss you off, especially given the well-established connections between the far-right in America and Russia.

Next, let me smack down this objection that says the Russia stuff is going to cause Democrats to lose or that it’s being used as an excuse to ignore things like poor campaigning or historic problems like racism. First of all, as one of my Twitter followers have pointed out, you don’t really see many Democrats literally campaigning on Russia-related stuff. The media’s constantly talking about it, and they often talk to Democrats for commentary in these discussions, but apart from reactive criticism of Trump’s behavior on the Russia matter I haven’t heard of any candidates who are seriously running on a platform of RUSSIA! RUSSIA! RUSSIA!

As for the second issue, that of blaming historic problems on an external cause, yes- this is a valid concern, but let’s not pretend like every liberal does this. When you see the ones that do- just ignore them or dunk on them and move on. We don’t really have many options as to how to actually fight the fascists who dominate our government  at the moment but to work with people who aren’t quite as woke as you on social issues like wealth inequality. The good news is that these people did actually lose to the dumbest candidate in modern history, and thus we have every right to start making demands about how to proceed, but we do need to work with them. If you disagree, by all means run for the hills, kick off your protracted people’s war (I can tell you right now guerrilla foco is going to get you nowhere), and see how far that gets you.

Lastly I want to tackle two of the dumbest left objections to this issue. The first is the claim that “Well, like, we interfered in their election too!” This is largely based on one story in Time magazine which had a cartoon Boris Yeltsin on its cover, accompanied by the headline “Yanks to the Rescue!” It’s cringe-inducing to see so-called leftist Twitter accounts responding to anyone criticizing Russian interference in the 2016 election with a picture of that cover, acting like it’s some kind of awesome dunk. For one thing, the idea that we should let a far-right wing fascist regime interfere in our election on behalf of a local fascist, with the help of local fascists, just because the US allegedly helped Yeltsin get reelected in 1996 is one of the most idiotic pseudo-left arguments I’ve ever seen. The other reason this argument is idiotic is because the story itself is largely bullshit. Yeah, next time you might want to actually look into Russian history a little bit deeper. It’s amazing how people who seem to pride themselves on doubting the “corporate media” will fall for a narrative largely based on the cover of a major corporate news outlet. I don’t give a shit what the US government supposedly did when I was 14- I’m not going to give Russia a free pass to at the very least, attempt to help a fascist get elected in the US, and you shouldn’t either.

The other moronic objection is that talking about Russian interference and suggesting something be done about it will lead to nuclear war. Yeah, I saw people calling it 9/11 or Pearl Harbor. You know what I haven’t seen? Anyone seriously calling for open war with Russia. What is more, the US already has retaliated against Russia in direct connection with the election interference going back to 2016. Are we at war yet? Nope. Did Russia nuke us? Nope. The truth is that while Putin would like to see an end to the sanctions so he and his friends can stash their ill-gotten wealth in Western banks and real estate, they also need the appearance of a conflict with the West. They need that threat of an external enemy to solidify their support at home. As such, anyone who thinks that toning down the rhetoric will lead to better relations between Russia is not only ignoring the horrible imperialistic shit the regime is doing to its own people and others like Syrians and Ukrainians, but they are also simply ignorant about how the system in Russia perpetuates itself.

So please, let’s not let the fact that some people have been grifters or just plain idiots about Russiagate distract from the fact that this is a serious issue for the left. We’re talking about an authoritarian fascist state that is supporting similar movements and governments around the world. We are engaged in an existential struggle right here in the United States, and as one of my followers (albeit one I often disagree with), some liberals are starting to get really radicalized by this issue. Yes, some of them are going about it in stupid ways or making really bad takes, but we have no other allies to work with. The radical left needs to stop denying the Russia story and try to steer the centrists towards a more realistic understanding of it, as well as an understanding of why real progressive politics are crucial for defeating the far right in America.

The truth is that the “Russia stuff” is a socialist concern. At its root this is a story of wealth inequality, of the shadowy world of money laundering and neoliberal financial systems. It is a story of a global reactionary movement and an archaic, reactionary dream about returning to a 19th century world of imperialistic great powers which divide up the world into spheres on influence which they can exploit at will. Like it or not, this is our fight, and if you repeat the same apologia used by Trump and his defenders both in the US and Russia, you might as well be one of them.

 

So You Live in a Dictatorship Part III: Impunity

So recent domestic news has compelled me to write another entry in a series I dubbed “So You Live in a Dictatorship” (see the category list on the side bar for previous entries). Since it’s been a long time since the last entry in the series, let me recap it’s purpose. Since the election of Donald Trump, many Americans seem to be reeling from the new normal of politics. Well what seems novel for you isn’t for those of us who have lived under real dictatorships. Therefore using my experience from living under the Putin regime, I decided to help my fellow Americans understand what to expect as the tactics of foreign authoritarian kleptocratic dictators become commonplace in American politics. You’re welcome for my service.

Given the nature of the news cycle these days and the sheer amount of idiocy it brings on a daily basis, you might have either missed this particular item or perhaps you heard about it, rolled your eyes, and braced yourself for the next scandal, still bracing yourself for the very real possibility that the nation will one day be faced with photographs of Trump’s dick.

footballman

Yes, this manufactured scandal was also in the news again this week.

Yet as eye-explodingly bad as that apocalypse will be, and rest assured it is almost certainly going to happen, you should not ignore the story about Trump’s pardon of whackjob conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza.

Some of my friends consider Trump’s pardon of Arizona ex-Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio to be worse, but comparisons are irrelevant. What matters is a pattern here. Even if Trump cannot pardon himself, he can certainly pardon numerous passengers in the clown car he brought to Washington. This includes those would already pleaded guilty, like Michael Flynn, those under investigation like Paul Manafort, and those who are likely to get indicted like Michael Cohen.

The basis for Trump’s pardoning, regardless of whether the person was rightfully convicted or in D’Souza’s case, pleaded guilty, is that the courts were being “unfair.” Trump constantly uses this word “unfair,” like a little child whining on the playground. Yes, these days conservatives are extremely concerned about fairness, except when it comes to things like poverty or racial equality.

What does unfair really mean to these people? Well if they lose, in anything at all, then it was unfair. Someone cheated. It’s rigged. Moreover, it seems that the new permutation of conservative, particularly of the Boomer Tea Party variety, is that everyone they don’t like needs to go to jail, best exemplified with the campaign chant “Lock her up!” By the same token, if one of their conservative heroes is convicted of a crime or even if they plead guilty- it was “unfair.” If Hillary Clinton is still free, it’s because the courts and Justice System, including those officials appointed by Trump, are corrupt, as are those who prosecute or investigate Trump and other conservative figures. Yes, there’s a vast conspiracy against conservatives in America, and yet they somehow manage to control all three branches of government despite regularly getting fewer votes. Those poor souls.

Now obviously giving the president such powers to pardon was one of the Framers’ dumbest ideas, and certainly Democratic presidents have had their share of questionable pardons. But like previous Republican presidents, pardons usually came as they were leaving office, and they were not announced in such a way as to signal to supporters the way Trump has done by pardoning people like Arpaio or worse- D’Souza. Yes, I said D’Souza was worse because not only did he plead guilty to a crime, but he also had virtually no interaction with Trump until recently. In other words, Trump decided he likes D’Souza, so D’Souza was “treated unfairly” and deserves a pardon. What this will quickly lead to if it continues is a serious breakdown in the rule of law.

I guarantee you that if this kind of thing does not get nipped in the bud, any Republican president will use it almost constantly. I’d say the same of hypothetical Democrat presidents, except that in such a scenario I don’t really see one getting elected anytime soon. Once you are basically ready to abuse the justice system in this way, there’s virtually nothing to stop your minions from employing every dirty trick in the book to ensure your perpetual victory at the polls.

Of course abusing pardons would only be a first step towards a dictatorial system like that of Putin’s Russia or Erdogan’s Turkey. Things tend to get really bad when prosecutors, judges, and law enforcement come under the control of a particular party. We can see how we are certainly moving in that direction with Trump, particularly in the judiciary and with law enforcement as well.

What all this leads to is more corruption and repression due to impunity. Impunity for those who engage in corruption or who support the regime against its opponents, and arbitrary harassment and suppression of dissidents. As one Russian friend of mine put it in a conversation about how this impunity works in Russia, the leadership sends signals to certain people that they can act against designated opponents of the regime and act in their own self-interests without any negative consequences. As a corollary, if anyone should push back against them, the system with its organs of legal violence will have their back. This kind of set up is why you never hear of something like Alexei Navalny decking some pro-Putin activist for trying to throw green dye on him. Navalny knows very well that in that case he’d be locked up for sure. In fact his whole organization might be rolled up and declared “extremist.”

Things don’t look too good right now, but there is a slight glimmer of hope. So far Trump’s only starting to complete one half of the equation- letting cronies get away with criminal activity. And even here he’s not entirely in control. For some reason he has not yet sacked Mueller, even though to the dismay of pussy hat-wearing wine moms everywhere, he almost certainly could without endangering his presidency. No, the shit hits the fan only when the dictator is able to direct the security services against enemies, either to convict them on dubious charges or simply harass and intimidate them. That’s the signal for open season on dissidents. Loyal self-anointed “patriots” will start doing the regime’s dirty work knowing that not only will they probably go unpunished or at most receive a slap on the wrist, but also that if their targets fight back, they will be the ones facing the full force of the law.

And if this doesn’t happen under Trump, rest assured that even Democrat administrations could pave the way for this kind of scenario in the future. In the past Democrats have often supported increased powers for domestic spying and crackdowns on whistle blowers and leakers, often for the most short-sighted reasons. In fact they have even done so under Trump, demonstrating how they are fully capable of moving the ball forward in that direction.

Thus, be on guard not only for actions in this vein coming from the Republicans and Trump, but also from their useful idiots in the Democratic party. Yes, we have these institutions that are supposed to prevent the scenario I have described here, but only a fool would put so much faith in institutions. Institutions are, after all, made up of people, and oftentimes those people care far more about their own power within those institutions than fulfilling the task for which the institution was originally intended.