“Popular culture is a place where pity is called compassion, flattery is called love, propaganda is called knowledge, tension is called peace, gossip is called news, and auto-tune is called singing.”
Criss Jami, from “Killosophy”
“Propaganda is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state.”
Noam Chomsky, from “Media Control: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda”
I don’t think you would get anywhere by arguing that living in a democracy means your leaders always tell you the truth – and let you and your fellow voters decide, based on that truth, whether you want to go further down the road under their leadership or come to a parting of the ways, and go forward without them. There is no written promise that leaders will not lie, just as there is no statement of ethics which forbids a free press from lying to its readers, whether deliberately or because it was itself deceived by liars.
Nonetheless, the obvious repugnance and disgust expressed by generations of western journalists for the manipulative propaganda of Nazi poster-boy Goebbels and the overly-motivational exhortations of the Communist Soviet Union’s five-year planners strongly suggested the west at all levels disapproves of lying in order to manipulate public perception.
Can we agree, then, that western philosophy – by which I mean the propounded creed of NATO and various western temporary and semi-permanent alliances over the years since the Second World War – encourages a belief that the creation and dissemination of propaganda is wrong? That western journalism strives for an impression that propagandists are also liars, and that an informed populace can handle the truth?
“If you would have a boy to despise his mother, let her keep him at home, and spend her life in petting him up, and slaving to indulge his follies and caprices.”
Anne Brontë, from “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall”
“In any epoch the difference between a rabble and an army is training, which was not bestowed on foot soldiers called up by the arrière-ban. Despised as ineffective, they were ineffective because they were despised.”
Barbara W. Tuchman, from “A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century”
Poor Britain. Since the ignominious crumbling of its empire it has craved to be globally relevant. as it once was when it brought English civilization to the unruly and wild places of the earth with mace and halberd. In its more recent incarnation, it drifts about the periphery of great happenings like a resentful ghost; yearning to dominate, but able to broadcast only the memory of its great power. Increasingly, in its jiggling impatience to be noticed and respected, it attaches itself to the United States like a remora to the lower jaw of a cruising shark. The ‘special relationship’ might just be the sole truly symbiotic partnership in existence, or perhaps is the best modern example of it – an English accent makes Americans swoon with admiration for its implication; generations of refinement in ancient halls of academia such as formed Byron and Shelley, while Britain gets the vicarious thrill of holding America’s coat as it corners some poor fool and beats the shit out of him.
The Independent, of course, is owned by former Russian billionaire oligarch, KGB agent and later FSB agent Alexander Lebedev and his son, Evgeny. The British are nothing if not fair – Russian oligarchs who are said to be close to the current government of the Russian Federation are vile as raw sewage, and make the British gnash their teeth and shake their fists with disgust and rage: but Russian oligarchs who have brought their money to Britain to invest and spend are absolutely top-hole. Nothing subversive and shifty about them.
Victoria Nuland has kept a comparatively low profile since her part in the still-unfolding grotesque failure to mastermind Ukraine, at America’s intervention, into a ‘prosperous western-leaning market democracy’ at Europe’s expense. She made a cameo appearance, smiling and nodding and handing out bread and buns to the revolutionaries at the ‘Euromaidan’ on Kiev’s Independence Square, and almost immediately thereafter was recorded in the act of colluding with United States Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt to hand-pick the incoming revolutionary government. The EU was a bunch of twittering incompetents who would never get anything done, so fuck them – America would show them how to grease the guillotine with the fat of tyrants. Then she appeared in a Chevron-sponsored press conference for the National Press Club, at which she was a guest speaker, and announced that since 1991 the United States had invested $5 Billion in ‘democracy promotion’ in Ukraine. I had to listen to nearly the whole speech to verify that fact was in there, through exhortations that the hand-picked-by-America revolutionary government constituted the ‘principles and values that are the cornerstones of all free democracies’, but when she got to the part about how she had personally ‘witnessed the appalling violence when Yanukovich turned his riot police on demonstrators as they sang hymns and prayed for peace’, my stomach revolted and I nearly blew chunks over my monitor. Dear God. I guess a saucepan for your head and a club studded with nails are important accessories for demonstrators these days when they know they’re going to be singing hymns and praying for peace.
In fact, it’s worth including rkka’s take on it, upon having read it.
“She laments how Vladimir Putin has for twenty years repeatedly slapped away Uncle Sam’s extended open hand, offered in the purest desire for friendship with Russia…She does admit one US mistake, tearing up the ABM Treaty in 2002, but the rest of it is one long whine about Putin.
Her policy prescription: spend uncountable trillion$ the US has to borrow building up US military capability, unify all NATO allies to resist disinformation, hold up the renewal of the new START Treaty conditioned on Russian concessions on Russia’s short & medium range nuclear strike systems & new conventional capabilities, forge a united NATO & EU front on Ukraine with the US participating in the negotiations, and then offer a future Russian government a return to non-substantive participation in Western institutions like the G-7 and NATO-Russia Council as well as a few miniscule economic inducements…In other words, the same offer to Soviet/Russian leaders since Brezhnev: major substantive Soviet/Russian concessions in return for vague assurances of future Western goodwill.”
“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.”
– Lao Tzu
“Here’s to the few who forgive what you do, and the fewer who don’t even care”
– Leonard Cohen, from “The Night Comes On”
There must be a term for words which become so inexorably and automatically associated with one another that one of them is immediately assumed without being spoken. Like “dairy ice-cream”. I realize there are non-dairy kinds of ice cream, but generally speaking, ‘dairy’ is assumed when you say ‘ice cream’. And so it is becoming with “the United States of America” and “hyperbole”. Always known to some degree for self-aggrandizement, America’s official conversation with the world now routinely includes not only oft-repeated falsehoods that are intended to be repeated until they become truth, but wildly improbable schemes which seem to have as their purpose a general inoculation of feelgood in the American population, a return to those grand old ‘anything is possible’ days.
Certainly nobody else believes them.
An instructive, and repetitious example is the premise that the United States is going to become the major supplier of economical energy to Europe, supplanting Russia’s pipeline-delivered gas with tanker-loads of ‘freedom gas’ – I wish I was kidding, but I’m not; American leaders seem to think Europeans would eat a brick if you painted ‘freedom’ on it – brought to Europe’s LNG terminals by ship.
I’m sorry to keep bringing it up, and I know we’ve been over this and over this…but. The USA simply will not stop with this silly fable that good old American can-do will overcome all obstacles, regardless the difficulties they present. In fact, it calls to mind a line I read in Phillip Lewis’s wonderful “The Barrowfields” – “A beguiling optimism is often the first step toward folly”. America convinces itself that it can do it, and then afterward you’re not allowed to point out that it did not do it, because that would be rude and a repudiation of its cheeky and inspiring optimism.
How many times now – and you don’t even have to cast your memory that far back – has the United States promised that if the ‘free world’ (whatever that means) will only band together with it in a coalition (which it will lead, naturellement) they will turn this or that nation, presently afflicted with dictatoritis and not enough freedom, into a prosperous western-leaning market democracy? How many times has that actually come about? Has it ever? Iraq and Libya were ruined, spun in the negative-development chamber and spat out decades behind what they were before the Glorious Liberation. The Coalition Road Show gave it an honest try in Syria, where the megalomaniacal plan was to ease up on ISIS until it had managed to wipe out Assad, then pour on the coal in the home stretch, evict the flea-bitten rebels and implant a liberalizing Syrian leader who would occupy himself with gay marriage and other important western issues, while ‘international investors’ took over state energy production. Unfortunately – depending on your viewpoint – Russia spoiled that rosy outlook, and the western media went from confidently and mockingly forecasting Assad’s imminent demise to squawking about damage from Russian airstrikes that had not even taken off yet to grudgingly – and bitterly – allowing that Assad could remain in charge in the country that voted him into that capacity. America, largely on its own, tried it in Venezuela, and while it was predictably successful at causing ruin, it achieved nothing much else, although it’s early days yet and it has obviously not given up. Occasionally, it is distracted by the possibility of causing ruin in Iran, and wavers back and forth on which place it plans to ruin next.
Anyway, never mind that – I only wanted to point out that a sunny assessment of American intention to re-order this or that reality, plus $3.95 will get you a Caffe Mocha Grande at Starbucks.
“The receptivity of the masses is very limited, their intelligence is small, but their power of forgetting is enormous. In consequence of these facts, all effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans until the last member of the public understands what you want him to understand by your slogan.”
– Adolf Hitler
We’re going to do something just a bit different today; the event I want to talk about is current – in the future, actually – but the reference which is the subject of the discussion is almost a year old. and the event it discusses is coming up to its sixth anniversary. The past event was the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH-17 over Ukraine, the future event is the trial in absentia of persons accused by the west of having perpetrated that disaster, and the reference is this piece, by Mark Galeotti, for the Moscow Times: “Russia’s Roadmap Out of the MH17 Crisis”.
You all know Mr. Galeotti, I’m sure. Here’s his bio, for Amazon:
“Professor Mark Galeotti is a senior researcher at UMV, the Institute of International Relations Prague, and coordinator of its Centre for European Security. Formerly, he was Professor of Global Affairs at New York University and head of History at Keele University. Educated at Cambridge University and the LSE, he is a specialist in modern Russian politics and security and transnational organized crime. And he writes other things for fun, too…”
Yes, yes, he certainly does, as you will see. But this bio is extremely modest, albeit he most likely wrote it himself. Mr. Galeotti also authored an excellent blog, In Moscow’s Shadows, which was once a go-to reference for crime and legal issues in Russia, a subject in which he seems very well-informed. The blog is still active, although he seems mostly to use it now to advertise podcasts and sell books. That’s understandable – it’s evident from the blur of titles appended to his name that he’s a very busy man. Always has been, really; either as a student or an educator. He also speaks with confidence on the details of military affairs and equipment…despite never having been in the military or studied engineering; his education has pretty much all been in history, law or political science.
I know what you will say – many of the greatest reference works on pivotal battles, overall military campaigns and affairs were written by those who had no personal military experience themselves. Mr. Galeotti studied under Dominic Lieven, whose “Russia Against Napoleon” was perhaps the greatest work of military history, rich with detail and insight, that I have ever read. It won him the Wolfson prize for History for 2010, a well-deserved honour. Yet so far as I could make out, Mr. Lieven never served a day in uniform, and if you handed him an AK-47 and said “Here; field-strip this”, your likely response would be a blank look. He most certainly was not a witness to the subject military campaign. No; his epic work on Napoleon’s invasion of Russia was informed by research, reading the accounts of others who were there at the time, poring over reams of old documents and matching references to get the best picture we have been afforded to date of Napoleon’s ignominious defeat through a combination of imperial overreach, a poor grasp of logistics and, most of all, resistance by an adversary who refused to be drawn into playing to Napoleon’s strength – the decisive, crushing battle in which the enemy could not retreat, and in which Napoleon would commit all the reserves and crush his enemy to dust. Continue reading “Trial by Blockhead”→
“Do you remember that part, in the Wizard of Oz, when the witch is dead and the Munchkins start singing? Think that kind of happiness.”
Julie Mulhern, from “The Deep End”
The New York Times is unable to contain its glee at Russia’s having had to cancel its Victory Day celebrations. There was no end of negative press directed at Putin for having not yet announced postponement or cancellation, because it looked for a bit as if Russia was going to go for herd immunity rather than bringing everything to a grinding halt, and sequestering its terrified citizens in their homes as the west has done. But finally the number of Russian infections began to rocket encouragingly upward, and something had to be done. So it was lockdown, Victory Day postponed indefinitely, and the Times couldn’t be happier.
The Times has been going downhill at quite a clip ever since the mendacious aluminum-tubes nonsense in the runup to the American invasion of Iraq, and in fact the Times was an enthusiastic promoter of that war in general, swaddling itself in righteousness when serial liar Judith Miller went to jail rather than reveal her sources. It was a ‘proud but awful moment for The Times’, but heroine Miller ‘surrendered her liberty in defense of a greater liberty’. Give me a moment, will you? I want to put on some violins.
Ah, that’s better. Inspiring, thank you, Judith. But in the end the Times’ blubbering about greater liberty looked a lot more like a heartstrings strumfest in defense of telling outrageous lies that got thousands upon thousands of innocent people killed, brought out the very worst in Americans in the grimy corridors of Abu Ghraib, and left a country so battered, demoralized and divided that it has never recovered to this day.
The foregoing is simply a measure of how far the Times has fallen, from standard-bearer for journalistic excellence to liberal demagogue, not fit to wrap fish and chips in. And the unseemly sneering and giggling of the authors of the subject piece should be regarded with the same contempt which would surely be directed at Russians who cheered at Independence Day celebrations having to be canceled in the United States – stick your tailgate parties up your tailgate, Amerikanski! Continue reading “It’s Their Party, and We’ll Laugh if We Want To.”→
“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”
― Issac Asimov
There’s a prejudice against making fun of the mad that spans all cultures, all ethnicities; mock the mentally ill at your peril, for some fair-minded citizen will surely intervene. Possibly many, enough to make you take to your heels, because those who were born without the ability to reason, or had it and lost it, are perhaps God’s most innocent children. There are few compensations for being born half-a-bubble off plumb, but one of them is anti-mockery armor. Having a laugh at the expense of the lunatic is bad form; something only dicks do, because it’s cheap and easy.
That’s what must be preventing Dmitry Rogozin from roaring with laughter; from falling helplessly to his knees and collapsing, wheezing, onto his side. If someone smart says something stupid, they are fair game. But laughing when someone whose openly-stated beliefs suggest they are suffering from dementia is inappropriate. His dilemma is both obvious, and acute – what to do?
First, some background; who is Dmitry Rogozin? A former Deputy Prime Minister in charge of the Russian Federation’s defense industries, he also served as his country’s Ambassador to NATO. He has degrees in philosophy and technology, and currently serves as the Russian Federation’s Special Representative on Missile Defense. He is also the Director of Roscosmos, the Russian state’s Space Industry. Some have talked him up as a possible replacement for Vladimir Putin, as President of the Russian Federation, but it is in his latter capacity, head of Roscosmos, that we are most interested today. He knows more about rockets than that they are pointy at one end and have fire at the other, if you get my drift.
A bit more background, and then I promise we can begin to tie things together; I think I can also promise you are going to laugh. Not because you’re a dick. But I think you will find you do have to kind of snicker. Just be careful who hears you, okay? It’s not as much of an insult if people don’t know. Continue reading “Dmitry Rogozin; “I’m Afraid I’ll Look Like a Dick””→
“Yet all too often, guilt is just another name for impotence, for defensiveness destructive of communication; it becomes a device to protect ignorance and the continuation of things the way they are, the ultimate protection for changelessness.”
Audre Lorde, from “Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches”
Few exercises build perspective like reviewing the actions, approbations and forecast career trajectory of various socialites at the high point of their lives – or what one supposes to have been the high point; you never know – and their circumstances in the present. Sometimes it’s uplifting. Sometimes it’s humbling, or should be. And sometimes, especially in Ukraine, it highlights how certain characters are made prominent public figures despite their venal characteristics, snapping-turtle craziness or dangerous sociopathy, simply because they generated a lot of press in Russia and were perceived as being polarizing or otherwise undesirable figures in Russia. For their annoyance value, not to put too fine a point on it.
Nadiya Savchenko, for example. She was accused by Russia of acting as a spotter for Ukrainian artillery fire which killed two Russian journalists in eastern Ukraine in June of 2014. Even now, her Wikipedia page remarks scornfully that she was ‘abducted from Ukraine’ an hour before the journalists were killed, so somebody else must have dunnit. The celebrity-hungry British paragons of press quackery quacked endlessly about the ‘glamorous Ukrainian pilot’ who was a ‘role model for Ukrainian women’, featuring soft-focus cheesecake shots of her flawless complexion framed by a photoshopped pilot’s helmet (she actually did complete flight school and was qualified to fly aircraft, but the Ukrainian Air Force made her a helicopter navigator) and more or less uncritically rebroadcasting Ukraine’s position.
“‘By openly abducting citizens of Ukraine on the territory of their state, the Russian authorities not only violate all international norms but also exceed basic norms of decency and morality.’ Savchenko is regarded as a role model for women in Ukraine, having earlier served in Iraq in a peacekeeping mission. It is believed she was wounded in fighting before her alleged seizure by pro-Moscow fighters.” Truly heroic women always go down under a hail of bullets before the cretins who shot them capture them once they are too injured to defend themselves, after having fought like tigers. You know, like Jessica Lynch. Continue reading “Where Are They Now? Ukrainian Patriot Edition.”→
I may have mentioned the Canadian newspaper The National Post previously – I know I have mentioned it numerous times in comments. It’s a fiercely conservative medium, and its columnists are mostly united in the belief that Canada died a little when Stephen Harper lost the 2015 election to those liberal pansies. I am almost positive I remember him once describing his (Conservative) party as ‘the Republican party of Canada’, perhaps making a joke, but I cannot find any record of it now. Whatever the case, there were plenty of other people ready to attribute the Republican label to him.
Just as an aside, this is not an indictment of Harper as Prime Minister. I didn’t care for his politics personally, but I don’t care for (present Prime Minister) Trudeau’s, either. The former resisted calls from bankers to deregulate at the onset of the 2008 global financial crisis, and no matter what he might personally have wanted to do, it was the right decision; Canada emerged from the crisis with the strongest economy of the western nations. He was a staunch advocate for the military, in which I spent the best part of my adult life. All in all I could find little to personally complain about, except a general revulsion for conservative policies in general. Anyway, the purpose of this detour is to establish an alignment between Harper conservatives and the US Republican party, and by extension, an appetite on the part of National Post writers for conservative fiscal policies, foreign policies and leadership.
Including a visceral dislike – I would go so far as to say ‘hatred’ – of Russia and China, and tireless ridicule and scolding of those countries, as well as enthusiastic buy-in for any case made out against either or both. Would you like an example? Coming right up. Meet David J. Bercuson, a fellow of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and director emeritus of the Centre for Military, Security and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary. For those from Without – Calgary, Alberta is the very navel of conservatism in Canada. Mr. Bercuson’s piece is entitled, open-mindedly enough, “COVID-19 is bringing out the deceptive worst in Russia, China and Iran”.
He begins reasonably enough; Trump – yes, a Republican, but ideological conservatives often dislike him intensely – is full of shit when he refers to COVID-19 as ‘the Chinese virus’, something he only recently stopped doing, probably after being prompted by advisors. COVID-19 is not a Chinese weapon. Soothing bla bla bla…BANG! China, like all dictatorships, is covering up. It’s in their nature to lie to the west.
The substance of this post appeared as a comment to the last post, but I was having so much fun with it that I decided to expand upon it a little. Contrary to what the title might suggest, it is not my intent to discuss pending Russian legislation which might see Putin remain President of the Russian Federation for an additional term or perhaps even more than one – the positions on that issue are both far apart and clearly defined. The west blanches at the idea, and would have been happy to see him gone long since, and at least half the electorate in Russia would vote for him probably so long as he lives.
No, what I wanted to talk about for a little bit more – and hopefully to a wider audience – is the statistically improbable, and therefore incredible, run of luck enjoyed by the Russian leader since the west first soured on him and decided Russia could never be a friend and partner, and that it must therefore be shunned. Left to its own devices, it could not but destroy itself without western advice, know-how, initiative and wealth.
Well. About that.
Washington has tried for as long as the Russian Federation has existed, and before that when it was the Soviet Union, to alternately destroy it and subordinate it to Washington’s will. There was a brief window during the Bill Clinton presidency in which it appeared the United States was actually trying to come to terms with a great-power Russia co-existing with western power led by a great-power United States. But it lasted only until Clinton had gotten an agreement on a united Germany, whereupon the United States promptly reneged on its part of the bargain and began adding countries to NATO like an international charm bracelet. That notwithstanding, I’d like to look at US-Russia relations just including and since the George W. Bush presidency; this is both so that our scope does not broaden until it’s too unwieldy, and so that we restrict ourselves to those relations while Vladimir Putin has been in an influential political position, either as President or Prime Minister.
What I think will become clearer is that either (1) Putin has enjoyed an incredible run of good fortune which has permitted his country to dodge repeated attempts to smash it like a walnut, simultaneously remaining at the helm despite western machinations to drive him from office whose stubbornness is matched only by their incompetence, or (2) the whole thing has been a ballet of consummate skill, in which the blundering United States has been outmaneuvered by Russia at every turn. Continue reading “Vladimir Putin’s Long Run”→