Russian skepticism redux


#1

Continuing the discussion from Russian skepticism:

I never did get around to replying to that thread. So, belatedly…

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Wander’s current take on Russiagate.

Assessing the evidence:

  • The Buff Bernie memes.

These are just transparently absurd; a collection of bad cheesy memes, distributed to an audience of almost nobody, with no clear ideological intent, many of them after the election.

To me, Occam suggests that these had nothing to do with any supposed attempt to influence the election. I think they were just filler or carriers for some spam accounts or somesuch.

  • Russian trolls.

Not a major factor.

All sides in the election used paid online trolls; most notably, Clinton’s Correct the Record. Trump, OTOH, is cheap and cheesy, and quite likely hired the services of some dodgy Eastern European troll farms as well as setting up a US operation.

Again, not proof of FSB subversion.

  • Assorted financial/lobbying/money laundering links between Trump associates and Russian gangsters.

Trumpeters are crooks, and the crimes of the 0.1% are transnational. No surprise there. Again, not evidence of a coup.

  • The Podesta hack.

This is the most significant one, and the only one that had real impact on the election.

However, the only evidence that the hack was Russian is “the FBI/NSA says so”. Not a source that I’m willing to trust blindly.

Even if we assume that the hack was FSB, it still doesn’t imply the massive campaign of election rigging suggested by the Dems. Opportunistically publicising a bit of dirt on a foreign politician known to be militantly hostile is routine self-defence, not a coup.

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Motivations of Russiagate:

The Dems aren’t totally stupid; they know their case is thin, which is why they aren’t going to impeach on it. So why chase it so hard?

  • It provided a very useful distraction from the post-election analysis of their own corruption and incompetence. All of the people who lost 2016 are still in place.

  • It provided a useful excuse to mute the growing collection of left wing media. The effective banning of Telesur/RT/etc from Facebook and Twitter has done massive damage to the audience reach of left US media.

  • It allows them to attack Trump without actually having to commit to any policy critique.

  • It provided the opportunity for establishment Dems to throw accusations of Russian subversion at any and all of their ideological opponents. Neo-McCarthyism.

  • The New Cold War is going to be immensely profitable for the security state and the arms industry. Troop levels are already being ramped up by NATO on the Russian borders.

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Consequences of Russiagate

Is it a good thing, in an age of rising fascism, for the supposedly left party to be:

  • Calling for treason trials, on evidence far below what would usually be required for such a thing?

  • Wildly throwing around accusations of foreign subversion?

  • Declaring all left dissent as the consequence of foreign interference?

  • Seeking to censor all media to their left?

  • Arguing in favour of military belligerence?

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#2

I think there has been a genuine failure to accept that Russia’s role might be limited. If you think about it for two seconds, it’s easy to realize that the Russians are not omnipotent, regardless of their intentions and desires. Americans have been misdiagnosing and confusing the origins of a lot of support for Trump ever since before he was elected. A small example: The failure to correctly identify latent neo-confederate ideology as a motivator. We like to pretend we imported our racism, hence a lot of the focus on Nazis, which isn’t exactly wrong, because of borrowed images and ideas, but the epistemology doesn’t come clean, straight out of Germany, or because it was suggested on Facebook. This turd was in the pool while Obama was in his first term in office.

Actually the thing that bothers me is that it’s sort of become a weird excuse to not think critically about what happened in 2016. You can fill any gap in your own logic with “the Russians must have done something” and since you can’t possibly know in detail what that is, it becomes the god of your particular gaps. Like any good conspiracy theory, the conspiracy covers its own tracks except where it doesn’t. None of this is to say that the Russians would never ever engage in anything so unethical as election tampering, but to be skeptical of the extent of its effect can get you a suspiciously vicious response from liberals and those left of them. Meanwhile the headlines on the issue are really breathless but when you read the content, there’s a lot of nothing. “This site spread some anti-vaccination stories and its connected to Russia” (somehow), and “that commentary site said nice things about Putin, and it has a Russian on its editorial board.”

Some things, such as the Podesta hack, are much more convincing when we talk about the impact on the elections, but some of the stuff you find when you try to stare down this particular rabbit-hole gets a little loopy. It’s not like individual Russians aren’t allowed to exist, or work in the US, or even express their opinions about our politics; but to read some of this stuff you’d think it was somehow illegal to be Russian or have “ties to Russia.”

Meanwhile, it’s not as if Trump’s rhetoric didn’t appeal to anyone. Fake news has been around for decades in the form of Fox News, which is still running strong. It was influential when GWB was in office and it’s influential now. If anything, they’ve been getting a pass because they express some relatively minor Trump skepticism, all while egging on the values and beliefs that got him where he is. Meanwhile, it hardly looks like Trump is going to be impeached in a political process where there is no judicial reach. Save your untested legal theories for when push comes to actual shove. No one is pushing, and no one is shoving. No one will, even as 2020 barrels towards us. Faith in the Russiagate investigations is misplaced, because it’s faith in powers and systems that don’t exist.


#3

Did Russia elect Trump? Probably not. Did Putin have contingency plans for multiple outcomes and is taking advantage of the fact that he has a very obvious asset in Trump? I think probably, because that’s what leaders of imperialistic nations and intelligence agents do. Russia is far from the only one in that regard.

The hard part for many Americans to grasp is that no matter how hard any propagandist pushed, there would be limited effect if the message didn’t resonate with a sizeable portion of the population.

Facebook and Twitter have not existed for generations. But for those generations, people have been electing implicitly (and explicitly) and increasingly authoritarian representatives. Russian bots may have helped boost the message, but it was a message a large portion of the population wanted to hear.


#4

My issue is not with the Russians or Chinese or anyone else trying to interfere with foreign elections. As I’ve said before, it sucks, but it’s not new nor is it anything from which the US abstains.

My issue is with a feckless presidential candidate and his campaign doing everything they can to court it. I kind of doubt Trump & Sons successfully leveraged Russian espionage funneled through unofficial channels, but not for lack of trying. Mostly I think Putin runs a tighter authoritarian ship than that. But it’s starting to look like a bunch of Trump campaign associates made a lot of money off a hostile foreign power by peddling influence in the GOP nominee and then president elect. So whether Trump committed treason, those in his employee arguably did, and he may be legally liable for some of that.

Russiagate: less than optimists hope for, more than skeptics are ready to accept.

Just my 2¢.


#5

Yup.

That’s what Russiagate is; not a foreign coup, but rather a set of behaviours that would, in most countries, constitute a violation of electoral campaign regulations.

However, in the USA, campaign finance law is such a mess that it’s doubtful that anything prosecutable occurred. There were probably some laws violated, but those laws are constructed so as to be effectively impossible to enforce.


#6

I honestly don’t know. But I’m certainly on the edge of my seat to see who gets indicted for what and how the courts rule.


#7

It would be more entertaining if not for the things listed in my “consequences” section.


#8

Bluntly, those are always perils in the US, but I seriously doubt their consequences of the Russia investigation.

Also, just so I’m clear, I’m not amused. I’m on the edge of my seat because my country is rushing headlong into fascism. I’m fucking terrified.


#9

Hence my edit; I realised as I posted that “amused” was far too flippant a word.


#10

Okay, didn’t see that before I replied. Just didn’t want to give the wrong impression with that turn of phrase.


#11

Most of this really doesn’t matter. It’s clear Russia meant to buy our election, and not just at the Presidential level. Whether they succeeded is immaterial. That’s an act of war. A reasonable response would be strengthening our own electoral security, and then using our Google-fu to undermine Putin.

It’s also clear Trump tried to arrange a Russian assist into the White House. Again, it doesn’t matter if that swung the election. What matters is the President conspired with a hostile foreign power to subvert democracy. He could not have betrayed his country more.

Probably nobody will be charged with treason, although a few people should. The financial crimes alone are enough to put the whole family away for lifetimes. Mueller didn’t need to go after Manafort for his many political crimes - he is charged with perjury. That’s much much easier to prove.


#12

No it isn’t.

It may be an act of espionage, or an act of propaganda, but it is not an act of war. It does not justify the use of military force.

It’s also relevant that the USA has been actively fucking with every election it can reach for the last century, often by means much more intrusive than what the Russians are currently accused of. See the Italian election of 1948, the Russian election of 1996, the Australian election of 1975, and just about every South/Central American election ever.

If attempting to influence a country’s election is an act of war, then the USA has been at war with the entire world for a century.


#13

Looking at L’affair Russe (read that on lawfare, I like it) I ask myself “is there something watergate-y about this?”. Maybe. Hard to tell at this point. But Nixon at some point knew that it was hopeless and quit. Will Trump do this? Absolutely not I would say. The fireworks could be spectacular.


#14

So you’re saying I shouldn’t jump up and down on Facebook with Likes and High Fives when my liberal friends post hot takes like this one?

/s


#15

If Trump or his team actively cooperated in that effort I’d argue it constitutes an act of treason, or in the very least a criminal conspiracy against the United States.


#17

most of the time you seem to have at least as good of an understanding of politics in the states as anyone who lives here. on this topic you seem to have gone astray to a certain extent. your list of motivations is weak because you leave out the possibility that the pursuit of our 45th president by robert meuller is motivated by the president’s incredible corruption especially with regards to foreign states including russia. the russians have been targeted because they’ve been the most aggressively bidding on the president’s services starting before the election.

much of the election rigging has been done by the republican party through practices of voter suppression in the years leading up to the 16 election but the large social media purchases made by the russian government gave a nudge to the candidate who won the electoral college. you seem remarkably sanguine about russian meddling in our election in general. if the chinese had used their resources to make social media buys, push false news narratives, and buy off the cabinet-level ministers of the australian government so they were biased in favor of china and willing to take direction from them, would you regard that as “routine self-defence” ?

as for the place of rt in the left wing media sphere, my experiences with their stories and editorial tone make me regard it as equivalent to fox news with a great russian chauvinist bias. i don’t think it’s appropriate to censor them out of existence but it isn’t much of a loss. i still read the website once or twice a week just like i look at the fox site from time to time but i don’t trust it nearly as much as i do "democracy now ".

you 3rd and 4th motivations of russiagate represent to me a sever misreading of the american political scene. i don’t know where you’re getting your information on this but everyone in the democratic party who has attacked trump has done so on multiple, specific policy grounds. the russiagate suspicions represent icing on the cake, not the cake itself and as for the neo-mccarthyism you talk about, i have seen damned little of that. mostly the people being accused of russian subversion are the business partner, lawyers, and aides of the current president who are being charged with actual crimes.

your list of the consequences of russiagate are things i haven’t seen at all despite reading through an enormous range of news-sources from wildly varying parts of the political spectrum. the clip from ms. gessen is true to the extent that of course a small subset of the american public cast enough votes for 45 so that despite his loss of the popular vote he took the electoral college vote. but if you think that advertising and marketing have zero effect on the habits of viewers and readers then why do companies spend billions on advertising and marketing?

i’m sorry, but your overall thesis here needs a lot of work.


#18

It seems the OP may not know who Joe McCarthy was, but knows that somebody is using the word “McCarthyism” to delegitimize criticism of Trump and Putin. There is no similarity whatsoever, except that some people are being connected to Russia. Actually, saying “Neo-McCarthyism” is therefore semantically identical to saying “Rigged Witch Hunt.” But it sounds more sophisticated, if your audience doesn’t know much American history.

It sounds like the thesis boils down to, “Russia didn’t do it, and even if they did, it’s fine, but they didn’t, but even if they did, we deserved it, because what if the US was bad that one time?” Somebody really really wants Trump and Putin to be just fine for some reason.

Why are we even relitigating this? That our election was attacked is not a matter of opinion; it is fact. That Putin himself ordered the operation has been established beyond a doubt. There were other shenanigans as well, but that’s beside the point.

It’s also painfully obvious he has some kind of control over our President. It’s fun to speculate about the “pee tape,” but there are mountains of evidence of decades of money-laundering - and that’s just what the public knows about. It’s likely Putin has copies of fraudulent tax returns and other damaging documents. It’s also likely he could make a few phone calls and banks around the world would call the loans that keep TrumpCo afloat.

Of course, I’m just a guy typing on the internet. The US government doesn’t dance to my tune. But if they did, we would be building a really secure election infrastructure, so at least our election returns in 2020 would be more credible. There would be real investigations, with teeth, into everybody in Washington who was complicit. For example, Mitch McConnell has been acting like a co-conspirator from the beginning, and it would be smart to have a look at his finances and foreign contacts. I suspect a whole lot of powerful people are either bought or blackmailed.

I want to see the whole mess unraveled and brought to light, and then I want to see the loyal opposition run in 2020 on an anti-corruption platform. Hey, it worked out okay after Watergate.


#19

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.

Russia is not your enemy. Geopolitical rivals ≠ enemies.

As Karl Liebknecht said, the main enemy is at home.


#20

That is certainly open for debate.

Even if you don’t buy the treason argument “conspiracy against the United States” would still apply.

Which is exactly why the main focus of the Mueller investigation has been on the Americans who knowingly worked with the Russians who sought to undermine our election system rather than the Russians themselves.


#21

a) We’re already halfway there:

b) It would be a refreshing change from the status quo where America fulfils that role. Australian foreign policy is largely written in Washington, while the Australian news media is dominated by Murdoch and heavily biased to his political ends. Australian domestic policy also gets the treatment when it draws attention.

Having more powerful countries fuck with your politics is a thing that happens to less powerful countries. It’s routine.

Looking at it from the other direction:

Suppose there was a Russian election between one candidate who was militantly anti-American and another who was not. Suppose that US intelligence had gotten their hands upon some true information that would make the anti-American candidate look bad.

Would you be surprised if US intelligence saw to it that this information was leaked to the press?