One dime is all it cost me, and
I found out for sure; you know,
that you double-crossed me:
Just how much can I endure?
Harlequin, from “Innocence”
“Everything is a contest. All dealings among men are a contest in which some will succeed and others fail. And some are failing quite spectacularly.”
Brandon Sanderson; “The Way of Kings”
You probably thought you had seen it all this year where Russia Hysteria In America is concerned. You probably thought there was no way America could top the loony accusations that Russia rigged the 2016 election for Trump, when the only part of the election Russia could conceivably have affected – the popular vote – was actually won by his opponent. Trump won in the electoral college, which would be impossible for Russia to manipulate – the electoral college votes using a paper ballot with a chain of custody impossible for Russian agents to interdict.
It would be quite a feat for Russia to rig the election so that the candidate it wanted to win actually lost, but still won – I’m not sure too many investigators could stay with that pretzel logic, and if the Russians are so smart they could pull that off with a layout of less than $110,000.00 when the combined spending of the Democrats and the Republicans on the 2016 election was $2.6 Billion (just on the Trump-Clinton war), it is probably useless for Washington to struggle against them any further. It would be like Dirty Harry in a shootout with a guy from the Bronze Age, or Crocodile Dundee in a knife fight against Boy George armed with a sherbet spoon.
But we’ve been over that before; America persists with the deluded canard that Russia ‘interfered’ in the 2016 election only because Hillary Clinton was incapable of coming to terms with having been beaten by Donald Trump, the intellectual equivalent of a street race between a Lamborghini Murcielago and a Segway. I didn’t want Clinton to win because she is a warhag whose first instinct is to send in the Marines for anything more competitive than the Boxing Day Sale at Best Buy, but I would have to stipulate that she is so much smarter than Trump that they might be different species. Even mild-mannered dotard Bernie Sanders plays along with the charade, raising arms like steamed noodles in a fighting stance as he vows to protect America’s precious democratic process from the blackhearted machinations of Vladimir Putin.
While not too busy subverting the will of the American people, lumbering them with a President more like a petulant four-year-old with a bad comb-over, Russia shot down MH17, stole Crimea, invaded Ukraine, cyberattacked Ukraine over and over, rigged Brexit so the UK had to leave the European Union even though most of the British wanted to stay, hacked the French election and no end of other skullduggery, all of which America said it could prove beyond the shadow of a doubt, and none of which it proved. Ever. Satellite photos of Buk missile launches, anyone?
So surely, surely to God the USA would not get right down on the floor and roll in its own sticky flopsweat any further, not make any more of an hysterical fool of itself before an increasingly skeptical and unsympathetic world on the issue of Russians under the bed, hiding in the cupboards, relentlessly sandpapering the exceptionalism right off of the beacon of democracy?
I beg to differ. Next up, Russia pits Americans against…Americans. Yes, in a story of crazy plot twists in which Russia is simultaneously friendless and isolated with an economy in ruins, and an all-powerful multi-pronged democracy skewer taking down one hapless freedom-loving nation after another, Russia lifts its eyes to the biggest and most ambitious target of all – it’s TRYING TO MAKE AMERICA DESTROY ITSELF.
Okay, it sounded way more scary with the soundtrack and the special effects.
I know, you’re probably thinking, who does this come from – some conspiracy theorist with a tin-foil hat and a George Orwell fixation? Au contraire, mon frere – this is David Porter, an assistant section chief with the FBI’s Foreign Influence Task Force.
Right off the mark, I thought, that can’t be right. The FBI is a domestic law-enforcement and investigation agency. But I be go to hell if the FBI doesn’t include an intelligence wing. Because, you know, the United States does not have enough intelligence agencies.
And it’s probably not the bureaucratic equivalent of a lemonade stand, either, with a basement office that used to be the janitor’s closet, and two people sharing an old Pentium computer – the FBI employs 35,000 people (although of course they’re not going to tell you the real number; you might be a Russian spy), and has an annual budget of about $9.5 Billion, with a ‘B’. It’s kind of comical to read that they have that much money to play with, and then scroll up to see that one of their missions is “to combat public corruption at all levels”. Quite a few of them must be using their share for singing lessons or something, considering a 2017 survey by Transparency International found that (1) nearly 70% of Americans surveyed believed the US government is failing to fight corruption, up from 50% the year before; (2) more than half those surveyed cited fear of retaliation as the main reason not to report corruption; and, (3) of 9 influential groups identified, government institutions and officials in Washington were perceived as the most corrupt in the country. A whopping 44 per cent of Americans said that most or all of those in the Office of the President are corrupt. Heck of a job, FBI.
Well, we’re not here to talk about corruption in America, fascinating as that might prove – I keep getting sidetracked. Let’s see what Mr. Porter had to say.
Okay, this is good: he says that “Russia [is] generally engaged in “information confrontation” aimed at blurring fact from fiction, eroding American confidence in democratic institutions and driving wedges into society’s fracture lines”.
What, you mean like MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell reporting that Russian oligarchs had co-signed loans for Donald Trump? That kind of ‘blurring fact from fiction’? I can’t wait to hear how Russia was responsible for O’Donnell’s admitted unprofessionalism – their tricky disinformation made Deutsche Bank tell America the story was not true. And I have to say, if we could just backtrack for a second to the perception of corruption we just discussed, the belief by nearly half of Americans surveyed that the highest office in America is staffed by persons who are mostly or all corrupt kind of says it all about ‘confidence in America’s democratic institutions’. Who sponsored that survey, again? The Kremlin? Oh, no – I remember: Transparency International. Supported by George Soros and any number of democracy manure-spreaders just like him.
And I’ll tell you what; don’t even get me started about American social fracture lines, because I have my mind pretty much made up on what causes those, and it isn’t the Russians. The Russians were not in any way responsible for Citizens United vs. FEC, the 2010 US Supreme Court decision which ruled that spending on political campaigns is a form of free speech, and thus cannot be restricted. Therefore, US corporations were freed to spend unlimited amounts of money on assuring their preferred candidate was elected. ‘Cause, you know, lots of American citizens clear $290 Billion a year, like Exxon-Mobil. Or $514 Billion, like Wal-Mart; I’m sure everyone’s vote counts just the same. Actually, you probably couldn’t tell, but I am being sarcastic – it’s like a friend confided to me just today, when we were talking about politics; “If voting really decided anything, they wouldn’t let you do it”. So I guess you could say the feverish efforts to make sure the voters turn out in droves every election is a measure of just how useless an exercise it really is, in terms of the ordinary citizen getting to choose who rules over him or her. All voting really does is lend an affirmative veneer to the corporations’ choice.
Or maybe Mr. Porter was talking about fracture lines like America’s intelligence agencies tracking Americans’ social media accounts. Hey, you’ll love this – “…the CIA maintains a social-media tracking center operated out of an nondescript building in a Virginia industrial park.” I wonder if they get smart-ass remarks all the time, like “How’s the weather at Savushkina St. today, Comrade?” This source suggests the effort is focused on international users. Pull the other leg, comrade.
Well, that kind of reckless and malicious tampering cannot be allowed to go without a response, can it? Of course not. So what’s it gonna be? You guessed it, baby: sanctions.
Meanwhile, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, along with Democratic Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Robert Menendez of New Jersey, sent a letter Monday to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urging sanctions for “all those determined to be responsible for ongoing elections interference,” including Russia President Vladimir Putin.
Yes, America has evolved into a one-trick pony, and its trick is sanctions. Because America has lost any capability it might once have had to tell the difference between actions which piss people off and make them dislike you, and effective deterrents. Further, it has convinced itself that sanctions, which are the former, are actually the latter – that the world fears American sanctions, and that imposing them causes serious damage to the target.
I wonder if I can tell you just how amusing and ineffective American sanctions against Vladimir Putin would be. I don’t think I have the vocabulary. It would be like Taylor Swift threatening to sing Putin to death, or some bakery announcing it is going to make funny Putin faces out of sourdough until he resigns. Putin fears American sanctions like he fears being beaten up for his lunch money by Dora the Explorer. Not scary, Chuck Schumer.
But don’t take my word for it. Late last year, Putin addressed the “Russia Calling” Investment Forum in Moscow. While he was, as usual, restrained and polite in his treatment of the United States, and offered hopes that common interests would prevail in the end, he was unequivocal that rather than crippling and hurting Russia, American sanctions have strengthened its economy, made it more self-reliant and less trusting, and continue to damage Europe far more than Russia. No need to take his word for it, either; in 2017, UN Special Rapporteur Idriss Jazairy published a report on the deleterious effect of sanctions on Europe, in which he stated the EU states were losing approximately $3.2 Billion USD per month because of them. He noted the American-initiated sanctions “were intended to serve as a deterrent to Russia but run the risk of being only a deterrent to the international business community, while adversely affecting only those vulnerable groups which have nothing to do with the crisis”. The report also questioned at length whether the extraterritorial application of sanctions by the United States is legal under international law.
“But Russia has now largely weathered the restrictions after a period of capital flight and a financial crisis a few years ago. Russian equities are among some of the world’s top performers this year amid relatively low valuations and a strengthening currency.
Net returns on the MCSI Russia index were up more than 40% year-to-date as compared to the overall MSCI Emerging Market Index, which was up 10.35% in the same period, data from the MSCI at the end of October showed.
Russia’s central bank has tamed high inflation in the last few years with a policy of high interest rates (the interest rate was 17% in December 2014) but has since gradually lowered rates as inflation has fallen.
In October, the central bank again cut its main interest rate by a surprising 50 basis points to 6.5% and signaled that it could cut the rate again in the coming months. In its October statement, Russia’s central bank said that “the Russian economy’s growth rate still remains subdued” and it maintained its 2019 GDP growth forecast in the range of 0.8–1.3%.”
Taking on the flavour of a situation comedy, the country which was supposed to stumble and then fall now has its erstwhile would-be tormentor ‘right where it wants us’, according to The Grim Weeper, ‘Dr.’ Fiona Hill. A former official at the US National Security Council and former Russia advisor to US President Donald Trump, Hill moans that Putin has political America by the goolies, “making American political leaders and policymakers feel vulnerable, and causing them to doubt the legitimacy of their own systems”. No word on whether Putin has soured milk in America and caused children to be born with deformities, but I don’t expect such reports will be far behind.
Hill is not stupid, of course, and while this is amazingly clumsy psychology, that’s all it is, and she does not for a moment believe Vladimir Putin is in control of American politics. This is just another appeal – and you will hear more of them – for Americans to rally behind their government institutions and trust them without reservation.
Once a relatively sophisticated country with a mature and even dignified political milieu, America has deteriorated at an appalling rate to a state of tribal paganism which plays to Americans’ fear of the unknown, much as natives were once warned not to allow their photograph to be taken, lest their soul be stolen. Its kitty-paws batting at its selected enemy is not doing it any serious or sustainable damage, and is instead making America itself appear weak, addled and committed to a self-destructive course before an increasingly skeptical world.