Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The Russia Thing

I don't think I've addressed The Russia Thing more than peripherally on this site. It always struck me as stupid to be blunt about it. Russians certainly had a hand in shaping some opinions about candidates in the 2016 election, particularly Hillary, but so what? So did a lot of other interests, national and corporate, and it shouldn't matter in the larger scheme of things that Russia and Russians were also involved. That's part of the political game in this country and it has been as long as I've been alive. And no doubt it has been true as long as the US has been a nation.

When you look at it from a historical perspective, the focus on Russia's involvement to the exclusion of just about every other national and corporate involvement is distinctly odd. Not only were they not the only ones attempting to gain advantage from the election (of Trump, but it's more complex than that), they weren't necessarily the main foreign interest in the outcome of the election. Oh no, far from it.

But in order to understand what happened, we need to understand what was going on. Trump wasn't expected to win. Not even he expected to win. The outcome was a surprise and a shock to the entire electoral system including the funders, media, and candidates. The voters were largely appalled. How did this happen?

It's not easy to sort out what was happening that led to such an unexpected outcome, but among the things I was aware of was a very concerted online effort to influence the influencers. This is tricky; it isn't self evident that influencing the influencers had much of an effect, but I think it did.

"Stop Hillary" was a really big thing online. Bernie was the great white hope, but he failed miserably. Whether or not he was robbed by the DNC and Hillary's partisans is a question I choose not to get into. I'll just say from personal knowledge that the Democratic Party apparatus is tailor made for selected outcomes, and there isn't a whole lot insurgents (or Bernie) can do about it. In a lot of ways, the Party has fossilized around a set of rules and requirements that almost always ensure that a selected candidate achieves the presidential nomination, no matter what. And who does the selection? A committee of old timers, in effect a Politburo. Hillary was the foregone nominee, despite the fact that she was opposed a large minority of party voters. Realistically, so was Bernie. If they'd had their druthers, I'm not sure who the Democratic primary voters would have chosen. The problem was that none of the 2016 primary candidates really represented the interests of a majority of the party's voters. The factional split between Hillary partisans and Bernie partisans was unbridgeable. The Party apparat went with Hillary and the rest is history.

The factional split left a wide opening for "influencers" to do their thing, and I saw it happening in real time online.  Of course it had happened before, but not to the extent I was witnessing during the 2016 election. What I saw was a relatively limited anti-Hillary drumbeat -- from somewhere, initially I thought domestic, but it turned out to be generated in Eastern Europe, with a source apparently in Russia -- hammering away at her many flaws and being picked up and amplified by all kinds of online sites and eventually by the mass media. I noticed it seemed to start with apparent Bernie partisans, particularly the canard that Hillary was going to start WWIII -- which to this day is repeated as an article of faith.

I say "apparent Bernie partisans" because I don't think they really were. I think they were using Bernie's campaign as a launch pad, but they had no interest in his winning the nomination or the election. They wanted to stop Hillary. Whatever it took to do so.

When I started seeing "Macedonian teenager" memes showing up on a number of supposedly "progressive" sites, and not long after that in the mass media, I really questioned what was going on. Obviously these kids in Macedonia (which was initially where these memes were thought to be coming from) had a more or less direct line to the internet backchannels which in turn led directly to mass media backchannels. And then right out to the public.

It wasn't just the "$100,000 in Facebook ads" that the St. Petersburg Internet Research Agency purchased. Oh my no. Those ads probably had no effect at all. What was having an effect was the meme generators, wherever they were located, trouncing Hillary for "starting WWIII", for Libya, for Syria, for Iraq, for "super predators," for her devotion to neo-liberalism, for her supposed illnesses, for Bengazi, for those damned emails, etc.

Here's the thing. It wasn't coming from the Trump campaign (which was just riding a little bitty wave), and it wasn't coming from the Bernie campaign, either. There had to be some other source. It was relentless and repetitious to the point of complete predictability.

Hillary, the Arch-Bitch, had to be stopped at any cost.

By whom? Why? I think those questions are yet to be answered. "Russia" is not the Answer, though it may be part of it.

Trump of course benefited from an enormous amount of free publicity, but it was widely thought that was OK because he would come across so badly. That kind of thinking was critically in error, but it seems to have been the underlying thought process of those who were giving him so much free airtime.

On the other hand, Hillary was given no quarter, she was criticized relentlessly for everything, and she got much less airtime, even as she spent wildly to buy ads and positive coverage -- or any coverage. She was thought to be the uncatchable frontrunner. Trump was being boosted to make it a horserace, but Hillary was going to win, hands down. Everyone was certain of it. Absolutely certain.

And yet she didn't. What happened? Officially, what happened was that less than 80,000 votes in three states meant that Trump won the Electoral College while Hillary won millions more popular votes. Yet again, the Electoral College handed the presidency to the candidate with fewer popular votes.

Among the factors that led to that outcome were voter suppression in Wisconsin and Michigan, to the tune of several hundred thousand eligible voters who either not permitted to vote or whose votes weren't counted. Pennsylvania had some very hinky voting machines that could not be audited. A recount was tried in all three states, and it was shown to be impossible. Jurisdictions refused to cooperate, machines could not be audited, votes could not be verified; in some cases there were no paper trails or any trail at all. You had to take the results on faith because there was no way to verify the counts.

Then there was the issue of "interference." Prior to the election we were told that the Intelligence Community and DHS would be closely monitoring the election for any "interference." Uh oh. To me, that meant they intended to interfere. I wouldn't put it past them. They could certainly do it. As I pondered that possibility, it occurred to me that a faction of those entities would very much prefer a jocular, macho racist idiot in the White House to Hillary, no matter what we might think. Indeed, there was an obviously strong anti-Hillary streak among the macho agencies, plain as day. Particularly true of DHS, but I wouldn't say that the other three letter agencies were much in favor of her. If they were going to monitor, there would be little or nothing to prevent them from jiggering the results themselves if they wanted to.

And when the tiny number of votes in three states made the ultimate difference, I nodded sagely. When it proved impossible to fully recount or verify those votes, I figured it was obvious.

But my thinking about it is distinctly in the minority.

"Russia!" was announced as the culprit. OK. Russia and Russians did do things, yes, and Trump is in thick with Russians and (especially) Russian money, things that were almost never mentioned during the campaign. But did Russia cause Trump's success? Uh, no.

No, what was happening was much more complex. What Russians and Israelis and many other foreign interests were doing -- and are still doing as far as I can tell -- is using every tactic they can to influence the influencers, hoping to set public policy in the US favorable to themselves. The people -- we -- have almost nothing to do with it.

And I suspect the focus on Russia! is part of an influence campaign itself.

We've been in a very decadent phase of the Republic, and realistically, we're near the endgame. Trump won't be Emperor, any more than Julius Caesar was. But his successor likely will be. The Republic will become extinct. And you know what? Most people will say "Good riddance."


  1. I am convinced the republican party has used many means to change the outcome of all presidential election since 2000. Suppression - Voter ID or provisional ballot - evict from voter rolls , toss out, destroy outright, and finally hi tech hacking.

    The trail of all this is clear and in plain sight. Our national media is controlled by board rooms of totally corrupt money men who either agree out right with these tactics or not willing to jeopardizes the monopolies they have a massed and do not want to anger the 3 letter agencies you mentioned that might effect their business model at many levels.

    Beyond that the leaders of the democratic party whether they are corporate scum bags or not have been running scared from these right wing forces since that day in Dallas and when they just stop counting votes in Florida in 2000.

    Had Johnson, who knew that Nixon had told the South Vietnamese to walk away from the Paris Peace talks nailed Nixon to the wall for that treason that led to another 25K names on that memorial wall we would really be in a very different political space now. Hell, I would go as far as saying had Johnson done that it might have ignited a national crisis in which the false wall around the JFK cover up could have been torn down. oh well move along no one cares.

    1. Well,Jackson,I tend to agree, and it has long been happening in plain sight. Our elections are shams. Our parties and their leaderships are frauds. And there is little we the rabble can do about it... legally.

      I often wonder whether anyone cares. I still see too much devotion to an electoral process that cannot produce the kinds of outcomes we need. It will always revert.

      Our interesting times continue.