This week’s lunacy

It is a strange world we live in. At least, it is if you live in the world of political commentary. I don’t know if it was always this odd, or it’s just me getting old and cynical, but it feels as if it gets more and more unhinged every year. This week in particular was a gem, with so much bizarre, wacky reporting flitting across my screen that it’s hard to pick out just one example to analyze in depth. Instead, I’ve decided to highlight several of the weirdest bits of writing I came across in the past few days. Here they are:

First out of the gates was The Washington Post. ‘Democracy dies in darkness’ is the newspaper’s banner, right under which it ran the headline ‘It’s time to give the elites a bigger say in choosing the president.’

Yup, you read that right. It’s not a spoof. Apparently, the problem with America is that its political system is not elitist enough. To be fair to author Julia Azari, there is a lot wrong with the way that Americans select president candidates. A party system in which candidates are chosen by party members, as in many other countries, might work better. But Azari’s solution of a system in which people choose delegates who are then free to do whatever they want regardless of their electors’ preference, and are thus left to stitch things up in a process of elite bargaining behind the scenes, is more than a little strange.

Unsurprisingly, the article got a very negative reception. In response, the paper changed its headline, which now reads ‘It’s time to switch to preference primaries’. But you can still see much of the original title in the webpage URL, which includes the phrase ‘fix-primaries-let-elites-decide/’. It seems that democracy doesn’t so much die in darkness as in right out in the open in the op-ed pages of the Washington Post.

Next up was a very weird article in The Guardian by former Moscow correspondent Ben Judah and David Adler, who’s listed as ‘Policy Leader Fellow at the School of Transnational Governance’, whatever that is. Judah is the guy who produced a book about Russia called ‘Fragile Empire’, with the gloriously ill-timed subtitle ‘How Russia fell in and out of love with Vladimir Putin’. I say ‘ill-timed’ because Judah published this in 2013 just a few months before Putin’s rating shot up to record highs following the annexation of Crimea. Meanwhile, the predicted collapse of the ‘fragile empire’ remains as remote as ever.

Anyway, Judah and Adler think that Bernie Sanders is the man for them. Not because he’d be the best president for the United States of America, but because ‘Putin should fear a President Bernie’. According to our Guardian geniuses, Vladimir Putin’s power rests on a) hydrocarbons, b) corruption, and c) propaganda. I’m guessing that political, economic, and social stability, improved health, a rising sense of national self-confidence, and the like have nothing to do with it. For Judah and Adler it’s a given that the foundations of Putin’s power are all bad.

And that’s where Bernie comes in. For apparently he will work to ‘decarbonize’ the American economy, so undermining point a) of Putin’s power base; he will institute a program of ‘corporate accountability’, which will make it impossible for Putin’s cronies to hide their money overseas anymore, so weakening point b); and finally, ‘Sander avoids the lazy cold war rhetoric about “the Russians” that helps boost Putin’s legitimacy back at home. Somewhat perversely, by not being so hostile to Russia, he’ll actually weaken it (or at least the ruling regime) by undercutting point c). Thus conclude Judah and Adler,

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that those who understand Putin’s kleptocratic system – such as the leader of the Russian opposition, Alexei Navalny – are now rooting for Sanders.

I have to say that it’s news to me that Navany is ‘leader of the Russian opposition’. But even if he was, this would still be nonsense on stilts. How exactly will ‘decarbonizing’ the United States wreck Putin’s power base? At best, such a process would take decades. Putin will be long gone by then. As for ‘corporate accountability’ – it’s a good thing in and of itself, but it’s connection with Russia is more than a little tenuous. And for sure, ‘lazy cold war rhetoric’ is harmful, but Judah’s denunciation of it is very much a case of the pot calling the kettle black. If you think it’s so wrongheaded, Ben, why don’t you tone it down a bit yourself?

More fundamentally, though, one has to ask why any of this should matter to American voters. Surely their decision should rest on who they think has the best policies for the United States, not on whether Putin ‘fears’ a given candidate. And, in any case, does he really fear him? Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin trembling in his boots at the thought of President Bernie! What a load of cobblers!

Judah and Adler aren’t the worst offenders, however. The prize for this week’s most hysterical piece goes to the US-based ‘Center for Security Policy’ and its article ‘Russia poises to grab Ireland to cut NATO, intercept cables’. This starts off with the alarming news that,

The Putin regime has mapped out a plan to invade Ireland, a vital telecommunications and logistics hub linking North America and Europe.

What, you might ask, is the basis for this amazing claim? The answer is an article in The Sunday Times which claimed that Russia’s military intelligence agency, the GRU, had sent agents to Ireland ‘to map the precise location of the fibre-optic, ocean bed cables that connect Europe to America.’ This may or may not be true. I have no idea. But as several people subsequently pointed out, if true, the GRU is wasting its time, because the ‘precise location of the fibre-optic, ocean bed cables’ is publicly available information, which anybody can look up on the internet. In any case, moving from GRU agents spying on Ireland to ‘The Putin regime has mapped out a plan to invade Ireland’ is, as Mark Galeotti put it on Twitter, ‘insane’.

Insane indeed, but also pretty much par for the course nowadays. Which leads me on nicely to the final dose of craziness – an article in Foreign Policy entitled ‘Iraq needs regime change again.’ Because it worked so well last time, you know.

Author John Hannah suggests that the United States throw its support behind the Shia-dominated street protests which have been rocking Iraq for several months. America should ‘invest in the protest movement’, says Hannah. Because obviously, Shiite Iraqi protestors are all massive admirers of the United States, would just love to have the USA invest in their protests (think of how much it would boost their domestic credibility!), and would be sure to do America’s bidding should they come to power. ‘The Iraqi regime as currently constituted is increasingly not a viable partner for advancing U.S. interests … that is an intolerable situation’, writes Hannah. Intolerable! How dare a foreign government not advance US interests. Topple it! It never fails to do the trick.

Looking at the end of Hannah’s article we come across some interesting news about the author. ‘During the presidency of George W. Bush’, we are told, ‘he served for eight years on the staff of Vice President Cheney, including as the vice president’s national security advisor’. Now it becomes clear. He’s one of those people who urged regime change in Iraq in 2003. Not only urged it, in fact, but was right at the heart of the decision to enact it. Youd think hed feel a little embarrassed and try to avoid pontificating about Iraq. Do these guys never learn??

Beyond that. I have some other questions. Why does all this stuff get published? Why is nobody held accountable for serial errors of judgement? Don’t our media and think tanks have any sense of shame? Apparently not is the apparent answer to the final question. They just keep adding to the deluge of filth which fills ours news feeds. ‘Russia meddling to help Trump win re-election’ is today’s main headline. Ah yes, how foolish of me. It’s all the Russians’ fault. I must try and remember that.

22 thoughts on “This week’s lunacy”

  1. In regards to “It’s time to give the elites a bigger say in choosing the president”, I’m not going to read it, of course, but I can see an angle where this is a good idea.

    Of course the elites do already choose the president. Always have, always will, and this year Mr Bloomberg is showing us the mechanics of it, quite openly (whether his goal is to get himself elected or only to prevent Mr Sanders from being nominated).

    And making it official, no bullshit, no unnecessary campaigning, no TV ads, no voting rituals — it would certainly make the system much more efficient and transparent. The elites will meet somewhere (Vegas, perhaps?) discuss among themselves, and put forward two candidates: candidate A and candidate B. And then, during the general election, the public is free to elect either one of them.

    Yeah, I’m all for it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Along with Mark Galeotti and some others, Ben Judah is a quite overrated source, when compared to a number of other individuals (ahem) regularly getting the shaft by the establishment, as well as some not so establishment sources.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. BTW, the biggest Russia related lunacy of this week concerns the presented “bipartisan” claim that there’s evidence that the Russian government is meddling in the 2020 US presidential election to benefit Trump.

    No conclusive proof given. Instead, scenarios like the Feb. 18 MSNBC Brian Williams hosted puff piece with partisan legal politico Andrew Weissmann, saying it must be true, because Russian meddling has been an ongoing issue and this recent claim is bipartisan – never minding that when it comes to Russia, there has been plenty of bipartisan BS.

    Perhaps this has been overlooked by spending too much time on Ben Judah and John Hannah – two people who don’t exhibit the ability to successfully refute my fact based comments on a number of Russia related issues.

    On another front regarding this week, though predictable, it’s nevertheless bizarre to see the leading Western nations take the Turkish side on the recent events in Idlib. Turkey has been lax in controlling/curtailing terrorist activity. The internationally recognized Syrian government in concert with it allies has a right to oppose this situation. When it comes to Russia, the differences between the West and Turkey can decrease to suit neocon, neolib and flat out anti-Russian elements that don’t necessarily fit into a left or right category.

    Spare the hypocritically applied talking point about civilian causalities, which have been numerous in Iraq and Syria c/o US military action.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. An update claims that the Russians are also meddling for Sanders to sow discord. Credit Trump for second guessing these claims, unlike Sanders who doesn’t challenge it. Sanders’ foreign policy is pretty much along standard establishment lines.

      The late Alexander Cockburn had that guy right.

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  4. The Guardian simply isn’t worth reading these days, never any facts, proofs or evidence only opinion and on anything geopolitical that opinion comes from the foreign office and the intelligence services. Judah, like Harding before him and Tildsall are simply risible, no other word, what the ‘know’ about Russia isn’t worth listening to let alone reading all without avenue of reply as comments are largely banned on anti Russian propaganda articles. They do a great disservice to readers and to themselves because at some point they’re going to have to backtrack over all of this Russophbic nonsense and explain why Russia has become one of the strongest truly sovereign nations on the planet with no need of the west or the americans at all. I noticed recently that Russia has almost completed its dumping of US sovereign debt bonds. De dollarisation and avoidance of the petro dollar continues as Eurasia moves ever forwards whilst the US ponzi scheme economy flounders and the west can only pump liquidity and cheap debt for share buy backs to create the illusion of growth. Western elites are indeed truly fearful of what Russia has the potential to become, not only of what it’s military has already become. The more of these nonsensical hysterical articles come out the more I know just how well Russia is doing and just how badly the West is.

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  5. As for the Guardian piece, as you describe it (I never read that russophobic rag anymore), this: “b); and finally, ‘Sander avoids the lazy cold war rhetoric about “the Russians” that helps boost Putin’s legitimacy back at home” is simply hilarious.

    Considering that in reality:
    1. Bernard “Bernie” Sanders does happily play the game of russophobic hate-mongering, and
    2. As far as I know, there are only three high-level US pols who do consistently refuse to play this game: Donald J Trump, Rand Paul, and Tulsi Gabbard,
    Messrs Judah and Adler, in their crusade to deprive Mr Putin of lucrative American hate-mongering, should support Donald Trump or Tulsi Gabbard for president (as Rand Paul is not running in this cycle).

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    1. MCJ, I read and admittedly enjoyed your first comment above as perfect Irony.

      As to the one above: Considering 2. I admittedly always took Trump’s position on Russia with a grain of salt. Maybe since from a PR and/or Marketing perspective during his election campaign, he had to choose a countervailing strategy to Hillaries (yes, ridiculous) 17 agreeing agencies argument.

      Looking at the whole context, he seemed to sent pretty mixed messages on Russia and/or Putin. Occasionally to uphold/maintain his self-image seemed to be more important. One passage as I recall it: I would meet Putin and get a beautiful deal for the US, believe me. If not, I would be out of the door very fast again, believe me.

      https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/02/imposes-sanctions-russian-oil-firm-venezuela-200219060002335.html

      *******
      Sanders? He won’t make it. … Or I would be more then surprised. But yes, for him Russia seems to belong into the authoritarian axis the international left has to fight. 😉
      https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/ng-interactive/2018/sep/13/bernie-sanders-international-progressive-front

      I wasn’t surprised by Trump’s victory, by the way, after watching the election campaign 2016 closely.

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      1. “Looking at the whole context, he seemed to sent pretty mixed messages on Russia and/or Putin.”

        Obviously I could miss it (I don’t read tweets or campaign speeches), but I haven’t seen any cold-war-style rhetoric attributed to Trump.

        …directed at Russia, anyway. Venezuela and Iran is a different matter.

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  6. The level of – I love your term – nonsense on stilts – is beyond comprehension. There are people like us who see through it because we know more, and much of the anti-Russia nonsense is so blatant that it is an offense to American voters to assume they will swallow it. Unfortunately, this narrative, however crazy, does leave a residue in the minds and self-perpetuates. ‘State officials’ have spoken to Bernie. And to Trump. Such a phrase is enough to make it news, and once it’s news, it’s fact. Then it’s talked about in an Intelligence Committee. Next, the simple act of questioning its veracity gets you named as a conspiracy theorist. Manipulation is so easy: it can be crude, visibly false (the whole forgotten Skripal affair), internally self-contradictory (who is Russia helping? Trump or Bernie? or both?) – but some of it sticks.
    We can dream of Canada weaning itself off this sickening narrative, but it will remain a distant dream, in spite of having so many immigrants from non-empire countries that now change the fabric of our society. Our own elites happily prance along with our northern bully and his sick UK poodle and jump into colonialist adventures like Venezuela or sucker ourselves into unnecessary extradition loose-loose games. We’re part of the bad guys, now, in world history. UK’s MI6 and the CIA spin tales and easily have us follow, with most of the media happily reporting and endlessly repeating non-facts.

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    1. I can’t claim credit for the phrase ‘nonsense on stilts’. That should go to Jeremy Bentham, who used the phrase to describe the idea that humans have natural rights.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. “Jeremy Bentham, who used the phrase to describe the idea that humans have natural rights.”

        Ah, yes. “The genius of bourgeois stupidity” and father of the liberal utilitarianism

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  7. As Björn Eriksson, chairman of Friends of the Earth Sweden in the 80s, used to say: Media is in the entertainment business. They have no obligation to tell anything important or true.

    And by gosh, it IS entertaining!

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    1. It should hence be called News Entertainment, akin to how professional wrestling in the US is formally categorized as Sports Entertainment.

      Another factor is the trendoid situation where a phony, crony, baloney setting sees a select group wonking off on each other, while side stepping some pertinent input from other sources.

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  8. Well Professor I could not begin to tell you why, as you complain, all this is published. I do know however that because it is published you have staunch and dedicated readers. Because you actually inform and analyse. So we will continue to read.

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  9. Professor: a nitpick, in one sentence above, you misspelled Navalny’s name as “Navany”. Aside from that, I am frankly surprised that Navalny supports Bernie Sanders, I hadn’t heard that, and it doesn’t make logical sense.

    In other news, and I apologize in advance for plug, I started a new blogpost on that whole Ukrainian-villagers-stoning coronavirus-bus thing.
    I was hoping there was more to it than just the headlines, and apparently so, but not by much.
    Seems like, besides just ignorant people doing stupid things, it’s also a Lvov-Ternopil thing. As in, the Galicians still feel like they are being imposed on, even though, logically speaking, they have been the ones doing the imposing — go figure…
    And seriously, why would anybody want to get that close to people whom they believe are infected with a deadly plague (?!)

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    1. Navalny is the kind of unprincipled nobody who’ll hitch his little red wagon to Bernie Sanders’ coat-tails if he thinks this will garner him support:
      https://www.newsweek.com/bernie-sanders-alexei-navalny-russia-democrats-1486948

      Of course Navalny’s support for Sanders makes no logical sense, given that ideologically Navalny is 180 degrees away from Sanders’ platform, but since when did Western support for a crook like Navalny ever make logical sense?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Technically Bernie is a socialist (not really, but most people think he is); and technically Navalny is a fascist (really, actually a fascist). So, again, it doesn’t make sense ideologically.

        But, along the lines of your thinking, Jen, I wonder if Navalny THINKS that Bernie is going to win the election and be the next Prez. Then, by supporting him now, Navalny thinks to score some brownie points?
        But what if Trump wins? Did Navalny factor that in?
        🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  10. I’m curious about your opinion on the following piece: Thinking ahead: Russia beyond 2024, presented recently at Munich Security Conference 2020. I think that it isn’t based on any solid analysis at all and presents a more or less free flight of authors’ imaginations. To me it presents another deeply concerning example of the current state of political analysis.

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    1. It would be interesting which of the European, Russian and US experts contributed what to the scenarios. The German bit of the Wounded Eagle scenario in any case has already been overtaken by events partly. …

      But strictly, at what point did “the West” as some type of supposedly shared interest community surface? The West vs the Rest? The Western Block, the Western World? First vs Second, Third World? Old vs New Cold War? Makes me feel uncomfortable. 5 times Trump, 5 times Middle East and 48 times Putin.

      Arbitrarily this from the “Golden Eagle” Scenario:i>

      The gradual remaking of a social tissue linking elites and society has encouraged the Russian leadership to focus less on the Great Patriotic War, as the conflict is known in Russia, as the pivotal source for
      nation-building.

      Versus this under the header: Normandy, Land of Liberty

      Normandy will bear the scars of this moment in history for ever and every year we remember and pay tribute to the veterans from America, Britain, Canada, Belgium, Denmark, Holland, Norway, Poland and Australia, along with their brothers in arms, those many heroes who lost their lives here during that summer of 1944.

      Otherwise if you force me to choose I would prefer a Fort Trump in Poland to Georgia and Ukraine joining NATO. Maybe all US troops can move to Poland and the Baltic States and protect them against evil Russia? Do I have to add irony alert?

      Rooms full of mirrors.

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      1. “But strictly, at what point did “the West” as some type of supposedly shared interest community surface? The West vs the Rest?”

        Earliest instance of proto-“the West” vs proto-“the Rest” surfaced right after 1815 Congress of Vienna. Britain saw fit to support the revisionist (and, yes, it was a revisionist from the Day One) France on the Continent, claimed that they together represent The Freedom and Liberalism (contrasted to the “autocracy” of the other members of European Concerto), and it was them precisely, who argued for the imposition of the “spheres of influence” in Europe (e.g. France insisted on having a free reign/primacy in internal affairs of Spain). The latter ran against the core tenet of the international security arrangement (primarily – as envisioned by Austria), i.e. the collective action of the 5 European great powers.

        This didn’t result in the lasting alignment, because, see above – France was a revisionist power, and once it began “revising” the post-Napoleonic international order in Europe (during the Paris Congress following the Crimean war Louis-Napoleon III basically told “fuck you!” to every single crowned head on the Continent), it resulted in 25 year long dumbassery bacchanal orgy of mustache twirling nationalism-tinged warfare.

        “Take two” took the form of the newest incarnation of “Entente” (not the first time this name was used), the First World War and the interwar period, when the new system of the international relations had been written by and for a few of the official winners. Back then “The West” meant more or less “Western Europe”, leaving isolationist USA away.

        “The West” as Americans and their quislings understand it, appeared officially, after 1945, but not immediately. The central tenet of “the West” is indispensability, uniqueness and seniority of the US, so for it to finally take a present form, European powers first had to de-colonize. Along the way, completely retroactively, a mythology sprang, insisting that “The West” had been in existence for millennia. Even now you will undoubtedly read comments, books and articles by the supposedly educated people, insisting such nonsense, that “Ancient Greece culture is the bedrock of the Western Civilization”. It works, because these propacondoms are very liberal when it comes to cherry-pick the examples.

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  11. Started a new post today which is a review of a piece by Russian analyst Borzyakov. Will be a 2-parter, concluding tomorrow.

    Using the trivial subject of rap and hiphop as the starter, Borz gets into some really important issues about American race situation, and accusations against Russia as white racist country, as part of the Culture War against Russia.
    In the continuation (tomorrow) will even get into the issue discussed right here on the Professor’s blog, as to whether or not Russia is an “ethno-nationalist” entity. Borz’s opinions jibe with mine, namely that Russia is NOT an ethno-nationalist entity. And certainly NOT a white-racist country. But is thought to be so, not only by Russia’s enemies, but also by false friends who wish it were so!

    Like

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