• boethius
    I'd like to say a few words on the subject of the OP (though on the subject of "what about America meddling in foreign elections" I have to backup Πετροκότσυφας arguments here; it's as well documented historical fact as any other; it's in fact so well documented that the former CIA director, Woolsey, didn't even bother denying it just saying “Oh, probably, but it was for the good of the system in order to avoid communists taking over” (and keep in mind the subject is meddling in elections). So, as Πετροκότσυφας points out, you need a double standard to defend the US and condemn the Russians on this point, that the US is good and either knows what's best for other electorates (which again no one really even bothers to defend anymore, though I welcome anyone to try) or then the morally neutral "defending US interests" which translates directly to "Russians can defend their interests too". However, it's not clear to me anyone in the thread is actually defending US's meddling or simply denying specific comparisons as reaching the threshold for meddling.

    As for the OP's contention:

    What the Russians have done and are doing to us is no joke, and to be sure, they're doing it harder in other parts of the world. Perhaps it started, in the modern era, with Stalin. At issue is the lie, backed where possible by force. I don't see much news from Eastern Europe or the Baltic States, but I'd guess there is relentless pressure from the Russians on those countries to corrupt the narrative in any way possible, so that truth and news become essentially impossible.tim wood

    I'd like to point out what's usually minimized or not mentioned at all, which is is the whole disinfo meddling story essentially boils down to the Russians influencing voters primarily through twitter bots and facebook, and a particular focus on facebook adds.

    Even assuming the (scant examples so far of) trolling and adds coming from Russia was a Russian government operation, Twitter and Facebook are US corporations in US jurisdiction responsible for obeying American laws with sophisticated data analysis and profiling, In terms of organic spreading of information ... you need to be in people's social networks for this to have much effect; just making an anonymous bot on twitter will end up being followed by a few other bots. Accounts with influence on Twitter are real people or organizations with millions of followers genuinely giving weight to the opinions of the objects of their fandom. There's no evidence of the Russians bribing or blackmailing twitter or facebook influencers to support Trump nor some mysterious widespread hacking of hundreds of accounts that all shouted for Trump on election day; that's what a real disinfo campaign would be like on this social media level (to have any real effect); the idea that just making accounts and tweeting some poorly crafted memes, which is what I got from Mueller's actual case against the Russians, has any affect is preposterous. The whole thing, on face value, basically makes Mueller look like an idiot ... but there's a good reason for indicting what seems like a two-bit Russian troll farm which is to maintain the facade of the primary purpose of the investigation in order to continue also investigating other crimes that are very serious just not Russian election meddling per se (money laundering going way back and corruption and campaign finance violations of various kinds, involving American porn starts, as well as various other corruption schemes ).

    More important, it's not clear if making accounts and tweeting opinions as some anonymous world citizen and trying to attract followers and act like a random twitter user is legally actionable in any sense. Millions of people around the world as well as plenty other bot networks based elsewhere (it's a hot topic which plenty of bot nets are sophisticated enough to jump on the ban-wagon on all by themselves) tweeted and retweeted opinions about Trump or Hillary; why can't Russians participate? If they can't, why just them but every other country can? If no one can, how is Twitter supposed to enforce this (if laws have actually been broken then Twitter is responsible to attempt to make some reasonable effort to make sure laws are respected on their platform, or is this not the case: non-US citizens outside US jurisdiction can break US laws on a US platform that need not do anything about it, only the non-US citizen is at fault?)?

    Where someone could have some real effect would be in facebook adds. But here who's to blame? Russian oligarchs and shady characters with perhaps even the blessing of Putin to go buy some facebook adds? Or the US regulation for allowing Facebook to allow clients to buy targeted adds without even bothering to check who's buying them to ensure campaign finance laws are being enforced?

    US lawmakers left an obvious door for any foreign entity to buy influence anonymously wide open with the precision of Facebooks user profiling, and somehow the narrative is Russian's orchestrated a sophisticated disinfo campaign. Even if Putin himself poured billions of his own money into facebook adds, who's fault is that really? Now, if it wasn't really much adds for anyone to notice compared to the hundreds of millions spent of legitimate campaign and pack money, then well who cares? If it was enough to make a difference, no one at facebook noticed hundreds of millions of shady political add buying from ambiguous organizations requesting to target American citizen profiles?

    And let's say facebook does turn a blind eye because "hey it's money, I like money, letting this slide could definitely have zero future PR consequences we should think about", none of various US intelligence services with their sophisticated analysts, human intelligence, money flow and internet monitoring algorithms, direct access to facebook servers, no one there saw or suspected hundreds of millions of foreign funds are buying political adds and we should maybe go and knock on Facebook's door and see what's going on?

    The whole social media disinfo story, thus far, is so easily stopped by a few monitoring algorithms and some extra steps to verify you are can buy political adds in conformity with campaign finance laws (problem solved). I see no way to argue that the fault is either on American regulators and facebook for enabling foreign political add buying, of then their not at fault because some got through but such a small amount compared to billions of domestic money spent on adds that it's totally irrelevant and of no real concern (though still good to plug any wholes for the future).

    Now, why is Russian disinfo such an important topic for US elites. Part of it is blaming Russians for Hillary's loss, but Hillary and other US commentators were already saying there was an information war with Russia before the election (and that the US was losing). There just wasn't any mention of twitter trolls and facebook adds (which obviously the next sentence would be, we should probably get Twitter to shut down Russian disinfo bot nets and we should probable get Facebook to stop selling add-space to Russian political disinfo operations).

    And this is true. There is a sophisticated Russian "disinfo campaign", it's called RT. It operates exactly like the BBC or any american news network, except it will host American journalist and intellectual voices that are essentially blacklisted from appearing on any Western platform as well as journalists and intellectuals that jumped ship in order to not self-censor.

    These American and Western dissidents basically say whatever they want about American politics without any instruction from the Kremlin. The only disinfo part of RT is that they are not allowed to criticize Putin or Russia in any significant way.

    RT also allows anyone to actually know the Russian side of the story on any political event, whether truth or lies you can hear what the Russian government has to say for themselves.

    The reason RT is not a big part of the disinfo conversation (though mentioned from time to time as "the problem") is that countries can have their own media organizations, and RT is not some covert operation masquerading as US based (it's literally called Russia Today). US media has a US bias, British media has a British bias, French a French bias etc. yet RT having a Russia bias is suddenly a problematic disinformation campaign. There's no real international law argument or even philosophical argument to make with RT (they haven't kidnapped any US journalist and forced them to repeat prepared statements at gun point; everyone who works for them is doing so voluntarily).

    Russia can also host whistle blower dissidents physically. Snowden's plan was just take the material and go to Russia. Without having a place outside US influence to go to, Snowden may have not leaked to begin with, been captured before being about to transfer the information, and even if successful at least made an example of. That there is a physical refuge for dissidents is just as frustrating for US elites as is a media platform refuge (just as the west being a refuge for soviet dissidents was a frustration for the Soviets).

    The reason it's a problem, is simply the West was accustomed to controlling the narrative and it's way easier if there's simply no way people can easily hear the other side of the story; so it makes life difficult. And here, (because RT does have a meaningful affect) US elites immediately identified google's amplification of RT's reach through the youtube algorithm (treating RT the same as any other content that a given profile may or may not be interested in), as something that "should be done about it". Here google resisted a time but ultimately caved, changing their algorithm as well as joining in platforming Alexjones and a bunch of other US citizens.

    The other part of Russia's disinfo campaign is just normal international politics, taking advantage of a loss of credibility of the US after the disasters in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria as well as things like Yemen. When a US narrative breaks down around something, because it makes no internal sense (like funding jihadists to fight Assad), this gives space for Russian diplomats to advance other ideas.

    The biggest problem of all of course is Russia propping up Assad to fight the jihadists. If it was quick and easy toppling like Libya shortly after it would "oh golly gee, Islamists and jihadists have basically taken over, they weren't democratic activists after all" and everyone would forget about it. But having it drag on, even western journalists going to Syria and seeing that their all Jihadists. This brokedown the US narrative to the point where US DoD supported factions are fighting CIA supported Factions (meaning the US military system themselves couldn't agree on which narrative their following).

    But regardless of narrative, Russian intervention in Syria created the worse information of all which is the CIA can't just topple any government at will nor rally the West for any cause at Will. There's enough a priori doubt about US claims and enough Russia view-points being heard (on internet or by ambassadors) that the rally the clans "this guy is evil, we got to take him out, no time to think of what's likely to happen after" effect, as we saw in Libya, stopped working in Syria. For instance, the chemical weapons; there was enough doubt about what really happened for real diplomats and analysts (not just US mainstream media) and more importantly enough doubt about US ability to control the narrative regardless of facts on the ground (people remember the last time WMD claims started a war ... and more importantly could not be maintained indefinitely without any facts; hence, what the facts are actually matter and reasonable doubts need to be considered regardless of appearances).

    The second biggest problem is Turkey, it's rumored that Russian infosec tipped Erdugan off about the coup, which is nearly impossible to believe occurred without US blessing and likely aid. This again undermines the "topple governments at will" assumption as well as US infosec omnipotence.

    Erdogan surviving the coup creates all sorts of problems.

    I could go on, but my point is what Russian is doing is similar to what the US did to the Soviet Union. Host dissident intellectuals that have opinions and analysis that spread one way or another (i.e. breakdown narratives despite large internal propaganda trying to maintain those narratives), and frustrate military adventures in the middle-east, use loss of narrative credibility to sow doubt and undermine alliances via normal diplomatic channels (so when there are problems there is no coordinated response from allies, institutions and even soldiers, as people ponder both factual and moral doubts instead of acting to protect the system). However, just like the Soviet Union, these are internal processes and weaknesses that are happening anyway (it wasn't Russia that invented the idea Iraq was a mistake, nor leaked the Torture tapes nor gave Trump 2 billion dollars of free air time) and can only be helped along on the outside (there are US intellectual dissidents without RT, but with RT hosted dissidents can outproduce essentially the rest of the internet in terms of dissident content weighted for quality, and likewise allies can start to doubt US narratives without Russian diplomats providing further contradictory arguments and information).

    All this to say, if you want to get worked up by the US media going on about the Russian information war, at least get worked up about the right information war, not twitter and facebook posts and adds.
  • tim wood
    Yours is a disturbing post. I hope most folks will try to read it. What is disturbing about it? It is a long piece of misdirection and apologetics for Russian activity, built on an extended tu quoque argument.

    The point of the OP is that the Russians wage war, make war. Part of that war is disinformation. The question is, what to do about it?
  • boethius
    Yours is a disturbing post. I hope most folks will try to read it. What is disturbing about it? It is a long piece of misdirection and apologetics for Russian activity, built on an extended tu quoque argument.tim wood

    I'm not defending the Russians here. Putin is definitely trying to do everything he can to disrupt the Western system, just as the US did everything they could to disrupt the Soviet system (and the similarities of tactics are in my view striking).

    If I had to choose between a US, Soviet or Chinese dominated system, I would not hesitate choosing to live under US hegemony; and I basically do, living on the periphery of the US system where I am not bothered much by US policies but have no real risk of falling under Russian or Chinese domination either.

    However, just because the peripheral places orbiting the US system is the best place to live at the moment, does not mean the US system can or even should be saved.

    The point of the OP is that the Russians wage war, make war. Part of that war is disinformation. The question is, what to do about it?tim wood

    The conclusion of my post was that Russia is simply stoking (how effectively can be debated both ways) processes that are happening in the US anyways. These processes are things like a delusional war lobby that led the US into the Iraq war that was later found for discredited WMD reasons, general quagmire in the middle east, polarized political system far beyond ability for reasonable compromises to make sound policy when needed to fix real domestic and foreign relation problems that are very real problems, legalized cronyism now at eleven under Trump, de-industrialization to focus on "innovation" but then letting the Chinese steal all the IP anyway because promoting real information security would frustrate information collection, various addiction problems from opiates to television, inflating a real-estate bubble and then bailing out the bankers with zero percent credit who then foreclosed on overdue interest payment of citizens, out of control debt at every level, dilapidated infrastructure, natural disasters costing hundreds of billions made much worse by climate change and bad zoning and land management over decades, are all problems that have nothing to do with the Russians.

    Now that these, among many, problems are starting to reach a breaking point where the citizenry find them intolerable but the political system can't respond in a reasonable way (producing Trump as an answer, for reasons including but not limited to a prior inability to modernize presidential elections, a break down of reasoned discourse due to Fox news and conservative talk radio, systematically disenfranchising black voters, a reality-TV culture with many just wanting to see the next season of "The Trumps vs the Establishment", a distrust of established media fueled by things like supporting the WMD narrative which creates a credibility vacuum filled by the echo chamber of your choice with a little help from your friend Facebook, and maybe even some Russian and Saudi money cutting deals here and there to tip the balance for certain supporters to jump in with Trump, and maybe even some twitter posts too), the system is starting to destabilize and both Russian legitimate arguments (i.e. Russia looking after Russian interests just like US looks after US interests, prove yourselves morally superior) as well as genuine disinformation starts to add to the problems.

    So what to do? In my opinion there is nothing to be done other than solve the underlying problems causing the US domestic economy and political system to destabilize. That what Russia does and says starts to matter (have some sort of real effect) these days is evidence that the system maybe past saving.

    For certain, Putin learned a lot about weaknesses of Empire from the collapse of the Soviet Union and is trying to help along similar tendencies towards collapse in the West. My previous post was just trying to point out troll farms and facebook adds are not Putin's tools of choice here (though of course if facebook did allow Russians and other foreigners to buy hundreds of millions of dollars of adds, enough to matter, as foreigners or then laundering to pack money in the US, I'm sure Putin would have jumped on this opportunity too; just the blame here is Facebook and US government for letting it happen as it's pretty easy to stop; you simply can't move that kind of money to a US corporation without that corporation or any cursory regulatory fiscal investigation finding out, which "ensure campaign finance laws are being respected" is plenty enough reason to investigate in any reasonable legal system ... though I wouldn't be surprised if it was either impractical or legally impossible to force facebook to allow scrutiny of political add purchases during the election, and maybe still is as it seems measures taken since were voluntary).
  • ron
    Very interesting last post. What are your thoughts on the current situation on the US border with immigrants? Solutions to solving the American debt problem? I think a large part of it simply has to do with financial contributions to politicians. Reversing Citizens United vs. FEC would be incredible as it would help reverse "dark money" from foreign entities trying to influence elections+politicians like you are describing.

    It seems like humanity at large, not just America, is headed for a major change up. Not only are we seeing populist movements in America but Europe and Central/South America.
  • boethius
    What are your thoughts on the current situation on the US border with immigrants?ron

    US illegal immigration is a complicated issue. The root causes are first and foremost immigrants needed to drive economic growth by importing births to grow the population (easiest way to grow GDP) and on a micro level various industries wanting cheap vulnerable disenfranchised exploitable labour (including sexually) who then use profits to, in part, corrupt the political system to maintain the status quo. This economic incentive for illegal immigration often combines with people compassionate for illegal immigrants and wanting to protect them from deportation. These are the internal reasons.

    The external reasons are mainly the war on drugs and CIA actions that, as I mention in my first post, "was for the good of the system in order to avoid communists taking over" that disrupt fragile democracy, result in crony capitalism riddled with drug gains and so failed, tyrannical or inefficient states people have many reasons to leave and take their chances in the US (to build a new life or remit money back home).

    So, for solutions. Why is GDP growth an absolute imperative? Why is US birth rate below replacement? Why do companies easily get away with exploiting illegal immigrants? Why is the war on drugs still a thing even after the obvious reality has emerged that it causes way more problems and doesn't even solve any problems, both in the US and the drug supplying countries? Why is US policy to support crony capitalism in its poor periphery?

    The above root causes need to be addressed so solve the causes of illegal immigration. However, now that there's 11-12 million illegal immigrants in the US, it's simply impractical from both the economic and compassionate point of view to deport any significant percentage of them; making a immunity period where legal immigrants can be made legal in one form or another and then afterwards large fines for companies employing illegal immigrants and even larger fines and prison time for any company obstructing their illegal workers from getting documented, can then turn the illegal problem in to a legal problem, which would still be nuanced and complicated situation but the first step.

    I think a large part of it simply has to do with financial contributions to politicians. Reversing Citizens United vs. FEC would be incredible as it would help reverse "dark money" from foreign entities trying to influence elections+politicians like you are describing.ron

    Yes, corruption is now legal in the US. These laws are essentially represent the "rats looting and abandoning the ship" phase of collapsing empire.

    When I talk about the US system, I refer to the US global system (empire, hegemony, power projection, Internationale order, or whatever it's called in a given context). I see essentially no way this system will continue for the reasons in the first post. Bush II oversaw the overstretching and loss of credibility supported by economic crisis at home phase; Obama oversaw a very tense but diligent strategic retreat and salvaging America's international brand phase; but Trump is simply trashing the whole system and there is no recovery or even consolidation and maintenance of a smaller empire as
    far as I can tell: the system is in free fall.

    However, the prospects of the US as a country is not so bleak. Though the root problems are numerous and have been neglected for decades, it also means there's plenty of low-hanging fruit so a group of competent politicians could make life significantly better for US denizens in short time. Most people in the US don't actually benefit from the US global system. If the momentum reversed it could go a long way very quickly. However, it's a race against time since if the US global system collapses with incompetent, delusional and/or corrupt politicians in charge the result will most likely be total chaos domestically (hyperinflation, disrupted supply chains, roaming bandits, doubling down on the police state, riots like we are now seeing in France but with lot's and lot's of guns; it could go as far as things like a coup); just like a cycle of fixing problems could suddenly make life a lot better, a cycle of violence could spiral out of control (Appendix: Mexico).
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