Clinton Journalist Has Meltdown After His Russian Conspiracy

Re: Clinton Journalist Has Meltdown After His Russian Conspi

Postby admin » Fri Jun 09, 2017 1:07 am

The Myths of ‘Democracy Assistance’: U.S. Political Intervention in Post-Soviet Eastern Europe (EXCERPT)
by Gerald Sussman

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‘Americans to the Rescue’—A Russian Assignment

With the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, the U.S. electioneering industry began to operate in a more globalized environment, sustained by state funding and encouragement to establish in the name of “freedom” new bridgeheads for neoliberal economic conquests. As a former bête noire, Russia was an electioneering plum for U.S. foreign policy planners. Initially, with production of political television spots in 1993 and then in the 1996 Russian presidential election, the first American consultants were invited to Moscow to spin the blessings of capitalism and Boris Yeltsin over communism and Communist Party (KPRF) challenger Gannady Zyuganov. Just prior to the election campaign, the United States helped bankroll Yeltsin with $14 billion in loans. German Chancellor Helmut Kohl committed an additional $2.7 billion, most of which was fully unconditional (thereby permitting its use for massive vote-buying), and French Prime Minister Alain Juppé added $392 million to the kitty, “paid entirely into Russian state coffers.” International Monetary Fund managing director Michel Camdessus committed his organization, as a “moral obligation,” to supporting Yeltsin’s privatization plans. Most of the IMF funds went to the state treasury for discretionary spending—with the caveat that financial assistance would be suspended in the event of a Communist Party election victory. “In the end, though, the KPRF’s door-to-door campaign was obliterated by the heavily researched, well-financed, media saturating, modern campaign waged by the Yeltsin team.”9

Operating under cloak in the Yeltsin campaign were American consultants, George Gorton, Joe Shumate, and Richard Dresner, who previously had worked together on Pete Wilson’s California gubernatorial campaign.10 At a moment when Yeltsin fared poorly in the polls, the three were asked to use their American razzmatazz to help “rescue” Boris. They were joined in this task by Steven Moore, an American public relations specialist, and a Russian TV advertising production company, Video International. Dresner was a former business partner of Dick Morris and former gubernatorial campaign consultant to Bill Clinton. Morris, in turn, was Clinton’s main political advisor (previously having worked for conservative southern senators, Trent Lott and Jesse Helms) and acted as a liaison between the U.S. president and Morris’s friends on the Yeltsin team. Despite these close associations, the consultants denied any connections between the Russian campaign and the White House.11

Video International (VI) staff were trained for the election by the American advertising firm Ogilvy and Mather (part of the worldwide WPP advertising group). The campaign strategy, including use of archival footage of Stalin’s brutality, was to attack the KPRF and Zyuganov with an assortment of anti-communist tactics. Within just a few years of the fall of the Soviet Union, this was an extraordinary turnaround in Russian (formerly Soviet) politics. As one scholar found in her interviews with VI, the company’s producers mocked Zyuganov for failing to grasp the importance of political marketing, which suggested yet another remarkable adaptation in Russian political thinking.12

VI was run by former KGB member Mikhail Margolev, who had previously spent five years with American advertising agencies. Margolev next joined the Putin public relations team for the 2000 election campaign. Since then he has became a “senator” in the Federation Council, Russia’s legislative upper chamber. He and other close advisors to Putin have been receiving “first-hand insights into strategies and techniques of American campaign practice,” a tutelage they presumably assume will assist their leader’s grand political ambitions. Another VI company executive, Mikhail Lesin, became Putin’s press minister. Lesin is known in Russia for harassing media outlets that are critical of the Putin government, marking the growing authoritarian style of that leadership.13

The American campaign consultants worked closely with Yeltsin’s daughter and campaign operations manager, Tatyana Dyachenko, passing on to their Russian counterpart the American techniques of spin-doctoring. According to a published news report, “they advised the campaign on organization, strategic and tactical use of polls and focus groups” with a “central campaign message of anti-communism,” a role they shared with Burson-Marsteller and other American public relations firms. They also urged Yeltsin to assert authoritarian control and think in terms of how to make the state-run television stations “bend to your will.” Boasting that they had saved Yeltsin from certain defeat and Russia from a return to the Cold War, the consultants admitted to employing a host of manipulative tactics in their advertising strategy to sow fear among Russians, a style that has been well-rehearsed by many Republican political strategists. A Time magazine report on these events came with the brazen cover lead, “Yanks to the Rescue”—later inspiring a Showtime (cable TV and subsequent DVD) film undertaking, Spinning Boris, about how the heroics of American political consultants “saved Russia from communism.”14

The consultants’ political ads, mostly aired over state-run television and radio stations, which Yeltsin fully controlled, repeatedly pitched the theme that a Zyuganov victory would bring back a command economy and a climate of terror. For “personality” styling designed to capture the youth vote, the Americans asked Yeltsin to appear at rock concerts and had him “jitterbug” onstage at one of them. Some of Yeltsin’s Russian advisors did not approve of the stunt, possibly because it caused the candidate’s heart attack in the midst of the campaign. Ignored in the campaign slogans, and by the Clinton administration, were the out-of-control economy, Yeltsin’s poor health and alcohol addiction, and his broad use of repressive policies. Despite his autocratic tendencies, disregard for constitutionally guaranteed freedoms, frequent money-laundering scandals, and brutal war in Chechnya, Yeltsin received the unreserved endorsement of the leaders of the main market economies, as if open markets were the true measure of a democracy. A Time correspondent rationalized the American intervention in pure Machiavellian logic: “Democracy triumphed—and along with it came the tools of modern campaigns, including the trickery and slickery Americans know so well. If these tools are not always admirable, the result they helped achieve in Russia surely is.”15

Russians too have learned the dark arts of Machiavellian political chicanery. Moscow hosts a Center of Political Consulting, more popularly known as “Niccolo M”—referring to the famed theorist of political manipulation and spin. By 2002, Niccolo M, whose organizers were trained in NED-funded seminars by the NDI and IRI, was joined in Russia’s new electioneering business by several other new political consulting groups, such as the Center of Political Technologies, which helps design campaign strategies and arrange contacts between businesses and Kremlin officials. Niccolo M staff used all the methods learned from their mentors, including candidate marketing, polling, focus groups, direct mail, phone banks, heavy use of the mass media, attack ads, and spin doctoring. Following its 1996 election defeat, the KPRF began studying Western campaign manuals and adopting the same tactics. Russian business groups have learned to give their money directly to the consultants rather than to candidates for tighter control over policy making, a practice that corresponds to soft-money election financing in the United States.16

An NDI assessment congratulated itself on the role it played in transforming Russian society through the introduction of American electioneering techniques. Under U.S. influence, Russian political parties, the study confidently claimed, were now

targeting their communication to voters based on demographic and geographic information…conducting research on voter attitudes through focus groups and polling…small meetings, coalitions with civic groups, door knocking, phone banks, and public leafleting; organizing more sophisticated press operations that attempt to create news and respond to events….Much of this change can be attributed to NDI training. (emphasis added)17


If the U.S. influenced Russian politics as much as the NDI claimed, then the accession of Vladimir Putin suggests that American campaign practices have little to do with institutionalizing democracy.

In fact, American “democracy assistance” to Russia has been part of a larger project to transform that country into an open market economy and place it under the control of stable and reliable pro-capitalist, pro-U.S. elected officials, regardless of their anti-democratic history or inclinations. In the early 1990s, Harvard University’s Institute for International Development (HIID), which “served as the gatekeeper for hundreds of millions of dollars in USAID and G-7 taxpayer aid, subsidized loans, and other Western funds,” sent a team of economic “shock therapists,” led by Jeffrey Sachs. HIID’s influence extended to the coordination of $300 million in USAID grants that went to the global public relations firm Burson-Marsteller and the “big six” international accounting firms operating in Russia to help sell the privatization program.18 Working closely with Anotoly Chubais, Yeltsin’s first deputy prime minister, minister of finance, and chief of staff, HIID support led to the conversion of major state enterprises to private ownership. The Harvard group actually “drafted many of the Kremlin decrees” to this effect.19 The policies the Sachs group advocated have been widely discredited as disastrous, as measured by subsequent Russian quality of life indicators.
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Re: Clinton Journalist Has Meltdown After His Russian Conspi

Postby admin » Tue Jun 13, 2017 11:51 pm

Democrats Now Demonize the Same Russia Policies that Obama Long Championed
by Glenn Greenwald
March 6, 2017

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ONE OF THE most bizarre aspects of the all-consuming Russia frenzy is the Democrats’ fixation on changes to the RNC platform concerning U.S. arming of Ukraine. The controversy began in July when the Washington Post reported that “the Trump campaign worked behind the scenes last week to make sure the new Republican platform won’t call for giving weapons to Ukraine to fight Russian and rebel forces.”

Ever since then, Democrats have used this language change as evidence that Trump and his key advisers have sinister connections to Russians and corruptly do their bidding at the expense of American interests. Democratic Senator Ben Cardin, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, spoke for many in his party when he lambasted the RNC change in a July letter to the New York Times, castigating it as “dangerous thinking” that shows Trump is controlled, or at least manipulated, by the Kremlin. Democrats resurrected this line of attack this weekend when Trump advisers acknowledged that campaign officials were behind the platform change.

This attempt to equate Trump’s opposition to arming Ukraine with some sort of treasonous allegiance to Putin masks a rather critical fact: namely, that the refusal to arm Ukraine with lethal weapons was one of Barack Obama’s most steadfastly held policies. The original Post article that reported the RNC platform change noted this explicitly:

Of course, Trump is not the only politician to oppose sending lethal weapons to Ukraine. President Obama decided not to authorize it, despite recommendations to do so from his top Europe officials in the State Department and the military.


Early media reports about this controversy from outlets such as NPR also noted the irony at the heart of this debate: namely, that arming Ukraine was the long-time desire of hawks in the GOP such as John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio, but the Obama White House categorically resisted those pressures:

Republicans in Congress have approved providing arms to the Ukrainian government but the White House has resisted, saying that it would only encourage more bloodshed.

It’s a rare Obama administration policy that the Trump campaign seems to agree with.


Indeed, the GOP ultimately joined with the hawkish wing of the Democratic Party to demand that Obama provide Ukraine with lethal weapons to fight Russia, but Obama steadfastly refused. As the New York Times reported in March, 2015, “President Obama is coming under increasing pressure from both parties and more officials inside his own government to send arms to the country. But he remains unconvinced that they would help.” When Obama kept refusing, leaders of the two parties threatened to enact legislation forcing Obama to arm Ukraine.

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The general Russia approach that Democrats now routinely depict as treasonous – avoiding confrontation with and even accommodating Russian interests, not just in Ukraine but also in Syria – was one of the defining traits of Obama’s foreign policy. This fact shouldn’t be overstated: Obama engaged in provocative acts such as moves to further expand NATO, non-lethal aid to Ukraine, and deploying “missile defense” weaponry in Romania. But he rejected most calls to confront Russia. That is one of the primary reasons the “foreign policy elite” – which, recall, Obama came into office denouncing and vowing to repudiate – was so dissatisfied with his presidency.

A new, long article by Politico foreign affairs correspondent Susan Glasser – on the war being waged against Trump by Washington’s “foreign policy elite” – makes this point very potently. Say what you will about Politico, but one thing they are very adept at doing is giving voice to cowardly Washington insiders by accommodating their cowardice and thus routinely granting them anonymity to express themselves. As journalistically dubious as it is to shield the world’s most powerful people with anonymity, this practice sometimes ends up revealing what careerist denizens of Washington power really think but are too scared to say. Glasser’s article, which largely consists of conveying the views of anonymous high-level Obama officials, contains this remarkable passage:

A few days in, I went to meet with an early Obama appointee who had since become disillusioned. He saw much in common between the skeptical dovishness of Obama and the grand but vague America Firstism promised by Trump. Both considered the 2003 invasion of Iraq a big mistake and the entanglements of the Middle East a waste of time and money. Both were weary of America footing the bill for the defense of the well-heeled countries of Europe and Asia; both came to office looking for better relations with Russia. “There is a lot of continuity between them,” he insisted. “Both are promoting a minimalist, anti-interventionist foreign policy. Trump says a lot of what Obama thinks—it’s just he says it in a much more crass way.”

But it was much too soon for this kind of second-guessing, and nobody wanted to make the comparison publicly. “You can’t really have an honest conversation about this,” the former Obama appointee said. After all, Trump was in the White House and he was scaring the shit out of everybody.


In other words, Democrats are now waging war on, and are depicting as treasonous, one of Barack Obama’s central and most steadfastly held foreign policy positions, one that he clung to despite attacks from leading members of both parties as well as the DC National Security Community. That’s not Noam Chomsky drawing that comparison; it’s an Obama appointee.

The destructive bipartisan Foreign Policy Community was furious with Obama for not confronting Russia more, and is now furious with Trump for the same reason (though they certainly loath and fear Trump for other reasons, including the threat they believe he poses to U.S. imperial management through a combination of ineptitude, instability, toxic PR, naked rather than prettified savagery, and ideology; Glasser writes: “‘Everything I’ve worked for for two decades is being destroyed,’ a senior Republican told me”).


ALL OF THIS demonstrates how fundamental a shift has taken place as a result of the Democrats’ election-related fixation on The Grave Russian Threat. To see how severe the shift is, just look at this new polling data from CNN this morning that shows Republicans and Democrats doing a complete reversal on Russia in the span of eight months:

In the new survey, 34% call Russia a "very serious" threat, up from 21% in May 2016. Last spring, Republicans were about twice as likely as Democrats to consider Russia a deep threat (30% among Republicans, 15% among Democrats). Now, that's reversed, with Democrats about twice as likely to consider Russia a very serious threat (51% among Democrats, 24% among Republicans).


The Democrats’ obsession with Russia has not just led them to want investigations into allegations of hacking and (thus far evidence-free) suspicions of Trump campaign collusion – investigations which everyone should want. It’s done far more than that: it’s turned them into increasingly maniacal and militaristic hawks – dangerous ones – when it comes to confronting the only nation with a larger nuclear stockpile than the U.S., an arsenal accompanied by a sense of fear, if not outright encirclement, from NATO expansion.

Put another way, establishment Democrats – with a largely political impetus but now as a matter of conviction – have completely abandoned Obama’s accommodationist approach to Russia and have fully embraced the belligerent, hawkish mentality of John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Bill Kristol, the CIA and Evan McMullin. It should thus come as no surprise that a bill proposed by supreme warmonger Lindsey Graham to bar Trump from removing sanctions against Russia has more Democratic co-sponsors than Republican ones.

This is why it’s so notable that Democrats, in the name of “resistance,” have aligned with neocons, CIA operatives and former Bush officials: not because coalitions should be avoided with the ideologically impure, but because it reveals much about the political and policy mindset they’ve adopted in the name of stopping Trump. They’re not “resisting” Trump from the left or with populist appeals – by, for instance, devoting themselves to protection of Wall Street and environmental regulations under attack, or supporting the revocation of jobs-killing free trade agreements, or demanding that Yemini civilians not be massacred.

Instead, they’re attacking him on the grounds of insufficient nationalism, militarism, and aggression: equating a desire to avoid confrontation with Moscow as a form of treason (just like they did when they were the leading Cold Warriors). This is why they’re finding such common cause with the nation’s most bloodthirsty militarists – not because it’s an alliance of convenience but rather one of shared convictions
(indeed, long before Trump, neocons were planning a re-alignment with Democrats under a Clinton presidency). And the most ironic – and over-looked – aspect of this whole volatile spectacle is how much Democrats have to repudiate and demonize one of Obama’s core foreign policy legacies while pretending that they’re not doing that.
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Re: Clinton Journalist Has Meltdown After His Russian Conspi

Postby admin » Wed Jun 14, 2017 12:05 am

A Bernie Sanders Campaign Adviser Was a Russian. Now He’s Speaking Out.
by Glenn Greenwald
April 19, 2017

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A HIGH-LEVEL ADVISER and operative for the 2016 Sanders campaign was Vitali Shkliarov, a Soviet-born citizen of Belarus. Shkliarov, who had previously worked on the 2012 Obama re-election campaign and for several other successful Democratic Party campaigns, has also become increasingly in demand as a political adviser and campaign manager in Russia, working for liberal candidates in opposition to President Vladimir Putin.

Possessing a unique background and vantage point, Shkliarov, now that the 2016 election is over, has many interesting observations to express on the state of American politics, the Democratic Party, U.S.-Russian relations, and the impact of rising anti-Russian sentiment in the United States.

To say that Shkliarov’s background is unusual for U.S. political advisers is an understatement. The 40-year-old, for whom English is a fourth language, has a Ph.D. in political and social sciences from Universität Vechta in Germany. Having spent the 1990s working with various German music industry startups, he was first infected with political passion as a volunteer youth organizer for Germany’s Left Party. Shkliarov’s wife is a U.S. State Department consular officer who, after serving years in Asia and Europe, is now based in Brazil, where they live with their 5-year-old son.

Shkliarov’s first significant position with U.S. political campaigns was his overseeing the get-out-the-vote operation in Wisconsin for Obama’s 2012 re-election bid, as well as consulting work that year for Tammy Baldwin’s successful Senate run in that state. In 2015, Shkliarov was recruited to work for the Sanders campaign by colleagues he knew from his prior work on behalf of Democratic candidates.

He began by working on the Sanders campaign’s get-out-the-vote effort for Nevada. After Nevada, he became Sanders’s deputy state director for Washington, and then moved to the national team, where he worked as a deputy to the political outreach director through the end of the campaign.

His 2012 work with the Obama campaign, and his activism within the community of Russian liberals working in opposition to the Kremlin, has made him a highly sought-after campaign manager in Russia on behalf of anti-Putin candidates. In 2014, he managed the mayoral campaign of one of the leaders of the anti-Putin opposition, Ilya Ponomarev, the only member of the Russian Parliament to vote against the Russian annexation of Crimea, who now lives in exile. Shkliarov also ran the re-election campaign of one of the Kremlin’s most outspoken opponents in the Russian Parliament, Dmitry Gudkov, a campaign whose ads and messaging just won multiple top awards from the American Association of Political Consultants.

Shkliarov’s anti-Putin bona fides, and his now-entrenched status in both the Russian and American community of liberal and leftist political consultants, makes him a unique voice on a wide range of issues of current prominence, particularly the state of U.S.-Russia relations and the impact of anti-Russian discourse in the U.S. Last week in Rio de Janeiro, I spoke with him about his experiences with the Sanders campaign, his views on Trump’s victory, the dangers posed by rising tensions between Moscow and Washington, and what it’s like now to be a Russian who works in U.S. politics.

Of particular interest is Shkliarov’s analysis of — and his warnings about — the dangers posed from escalating U.S.-Russia tensions (on Tuesday night, the U.S. scrambled jets in response to Russian warplanes flying 100 miles off the coast of Alaska for the first time since Trump became president).

Especially noteworthy are Shkliarov’s concerns about how intensifying anti-Russian sentiment in U.S. discourse is alienating Russian liberals from the U.S. and uniting them behind their own government
— as happens in most countries when people, even those who loathe their own government, perceive that their nation is being demonized and targeted by a foreign power.

The transcript of our discussion, edited for length and clarity, is below, along with several video clips:



The 2016 primary battle

Glenn Greenwald: Let’s start by talking about the work that you did with the Sanders campaign, specifically, how — as a Russian who comes from Belarus — you ended up working pretty high up at this campaign and what you did as part of that.

Vitali Shkliarov: Well, I started with the first or second, second caucus state, Nevada. We started, there was a huge ground operation, and as a director for get out the vote, we needed to hire 5,000 people, precinct captains, as we called them. We ended up actually being four points down. Like we did a good job.

GG: How did you even end up in a position to work in the Sanders campaign? Did you know someone, and what was your entry into that?

VS: A couple of progressive consultants that worked for progressive campaigns that I used to work for, they knew me, they knew my skill set, and I got a call from a friend of mine who has been working for Bernie’s campaign already and who has been really high up.

I knew them from the 2012 Obama campaign — I was actually working for two campaigns back then — for Tammy Baldwin, running for Senate in Wisconsin. And together for a big get-out-the-vote campaign operation in Milwaukee for President Obama.

GG: The Sanders campaign surprised pretty much everybody in terms of the challenge imposed and the excitement that it created, especially among young voters, and its ability to sustain itself for so long, with almost no establishment support. What was it like to work in a campaign like that? What was your experience? The feeling that it gave?

VS: It’s amazing, because Bernie was, from beginning, an underdog, and he always had this startup state of mind fever, like, oh, working really hard, like 15, 17 hours, we were all excited, it was like no fatigue, whatever. And all of those progressively minded people were totally excited about his agenda.

People came as families, they camped, they had fun, they listened to messages, they listened to bands, to music, so we created as a huge gathering of people, and he had up to 35,000 people, 30,000 people events. Free events every day. So it was like just this excitement. First of all, the agenda was appealing to me, appealing to my background, to my view of the world, of life.

GG: What about the agenda was so appealing?

VS: Well, his views of education, reform of political campaign finances. His ideas about or a vision about foreign policy in America, I liked a lot. And it hit me personally, when I moved to the U.S. and when my wife got pregnant with my first baby — that American women don’t have paid maternity leave. That’s so normal for someone who is from Europe, you can as a dad have like up to a year, 70 percent paid maternity leave or paternity leave.

I wasn’t even aware of that: The richest nation on Earth doesn’t have this. And it was like, wow, I didn’t know that actually. And I believe Bernie vocalized it for the first time, like in this manner that everybody heard it. And I believe it was so authentic, so true, and I believe people were thirsty for this type of voice, this type of truth.

And I believe exactly that he gave them, and especially why so many people asks why he was so successful among young people, because my theory is that young people have less tolerance for bullshit, that’s exactly the age when the people, the whole social network, the whole life is based around social connections, and the key is if you’re true or not, if you’re legitimate or not, if you’re telling the truth, if you’re a credible or not person.

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Photo: Erick Dau/The Intercept

Trump’s victory

GG: So you went from this really exciting, energizing political event, the Sanders campaign, to this shocking outcome for a lot of people — which is still very disorienting: the victory of Donald Trump.

There’s a lot of debate about why Trump won, how could somebody like this, just so retrograde and seemingly from another decade and political culture, win, especially after two terms of President Obama. And there’s a lot of debate about what the causes were, and why that happened.

What is your view on that question?

VS: Well, I believe there’s a lot of arrogance on the side of the Democratic Party, first of all. I believe disengagement, the fact that the Democratic Party, regardless of analytical data, regardless of all perception, regardless of all polls and excitement over Bernie, still chose to nominate Hillary, was one of the mistakes.


Moreover, actually even if they ran the Hillary campaign differently, better, she could have won, she actually won the popular vote. But I believe they were killing themselves by being a little bit arrogant and just dismissing what the American people were looking for.

The Trump campaign used the rhetorical tactics of Sanders, which galvanized him, energized a lot of people. Trump used it on a different spectrum of the political aisle, but he used pretty much the same rhetoric as Sanders. He used, he told —

GG: About inequality, about trade?

VS: Inequality, jobs, and so on, about rich, about foreign policy and wars. So I believe they took Sanders’s approach in a smart way.

The U.S. and Russia

GG: Let me ask you about what has happened after the election — particularly the constant focus in the United States on Russia and on Vladimir Putin and the relationship of both the U.S. and the Trump campaign to Russia.

First of all, can you just talk a little bit about the work, the political work you’ve done in Russia? Was it on behalf of Putin? Was it against Putin? And what’s your overall view of the political situation in Russia as it pertains to Putin’s future role in the political process?

VS: Sure. So I was helping Russian candidates, all liberals, to run campaigns in Russia. Even though we lost the campaign — have to mention that it’s fairly difficult to win a campaign against the regime, against Putin, against Kremlin candidates, and against money — but still I don’t think with winning one campaign you will change something. I see my approach and my mission in Russia and working in Russia as being more educational.

We said, “Look, where is the country right now.” Look at the economic situation. And we explained, with infographics, with easy language, people on the street every day can understand, we have 251 events with, with pretty much like we did with Bernie, like, we did five events a day, reaching a broad audience, explaining what is the status quo of the country, of the economy, of the rate of growth in the country, of the house budget. And so on.

And as a second step of the campaign, we tried to show that there are tools how to get out of this misery, like by reforming this and that, by setting foreign policy a different way, and so on, talking about politics in Russia, I’m not saying that the change is going to happen as soon as Putin’s gone.

But the problem is also in hands of people, the people who has been ruled for 70 years, in a particular manner. So I believe you have to start to talk about Russian politics with an educational approach towards all the Russian people. And I believe the future of activism in Russia lies in this approach, like teaching young people.

GG: As a Russian liberal or somebody in the circles of Russian liberalism, and somebody who has worked against the Kremlin and the Putin government, for their opposition, what is your view of what has happened in the United States as it concerns Russia? The way Russia has sort of taken center stage in American discourse, the focus on Putin and the Kremlin as kind of the cause or explanation behind many bad things, including the election of Trump?

As somebody who has been in the United States for a while, has focused on U.S. politics, what has this change been, and how do you view it?

VS: I believe it’s really bad right now. It’s the whole hysteria in the media. Partly it’s the media’s fault — just like in order to get a lot of views, a lot of attention and audience, like trying to ride this horse and trying to play this card.

Partly I believe the Democratic establishment is a little bit at fault, has fault in all this rhetoric. I mean, it’s true that probably — even though it’s not, there’s no like real facts on the table — but partly the media says that Russian intervention in the highest of American culture, in the American elections, and that this is a bad thing. Sure.

But, for instance, America does the same. Every country does the same. Like, we all know from the latest from Snowden that everybody does the espionage and it’s part of the job. So let’s not go crazy about it. To use Russia as a justification for bad and misery in election, from the Democratic side, I believe it’s really dangerous, because what’s happened if you’re starting to shake this board, like, you can shake it to a certain degree and and at some point it’s going to turn around, and you’re going to sink.

GG: What do you mean by that?

VS: I believe that — look, the situation with Russia is really dangerous, first of all. So we kind of are like in the Cold War 2.0 or 3.0 right now, because neither of the sides trust each other, so we don’t communicate. I mean like, Americans and Russians do not communicate anymore. So we cannot get rid of this 60, 70-years-old politics of, like, that mutual deterrence, you know? That started actually with Truman, and it was probably really important back then, in ’48 or like in ’50s, but I will be living in the 21st century right now, and then so much has changed.

And I believe, instead of having, continuing trying to establish the politics of distrust, and this mutual deterrence, Russia and America should calm down and start to talk, because those are two major nations in the world. Sure, America has 27 percent of world GDP, and Russia has just, fairly 2 percent. Sure, they’re economically unequal, but based on nuclear weapons, based on ego alone, politically, those are two major countries, and I believe if this hysteria doesn’t stop, it’s going to lead to some bad events.

Partly because Russia is in the corner. Partly because Russia is economically, because of sanctions, because of political instability, in a country, on the knees, and in the corner, and Russia doesn’t have much to lose, and that’s what the American politicians underestimate: I believe the Russian mentality, when you look throughout the history, is shaped by all these losses, all these wars. And they are like more capable of taking a lot of pain, and a lot of sacrifice, and once, even as a little, teeny tiny cute dog, if you push them in the corner, you gonna start to bark and you gonna start to bite back, you know?


And I believe, like, economically, in the media, and in the perception, Russia is pushed in the corner right now.

GG: But are there opportunities that you see for the U.S. and Russia to work more constructively, together — ?

VS: In 1948 with the Marshall Plan, the U.S. saw the opportunities, the tourists, to restore Europe, easily, even though the distress with Hitler and then Germany was huge. They saw the opportunity to put a lot of money in the economy [to rebuild German and Europe].

Sure, they tried to get their own products — they had all personal reasons for, like political reasons for it — but still, that helped, that made Germany, Germany. That helped England, that helped later Japan and so on.

Why doesn’t same strategy apply to Russia? Why not helping, why not creating like a partner?

So what happens with Russia right now, it doesn’t matter if you have five icebreakers in the pocket or just one. It’s still dangerous. They have a lot of missiles. They have nothing to lose. And they could easily, easily, I believe, they could start the war just to cover up the misery, what’s happening in the country. Just to cover up, just to shift the attention, like so many presidents do, also in America, throughout the history.

GG: I’m really interested in this dynamic in particular, which is that there is a fairly vibrant sector of the Russian intelligentsia that is opposed to Putin, Russian liberals. We’ve seen signs that it’s getting increasingly vibrant, protests, the opposition’s getting a little bit stronger. And yet, one of the things that happens in every country is when people in a country feel like they’re being attacked from the outside, or vilified by an outside power —

VS: They unify.

GG: They unify. Like Iran, right? There was this growing movement against the conservative mullahs, and yet the idea was if the U.S. gets too antagonistic to Iran, they’re going to unite behind the government that they hate.

VS: Absolutely.

GG: Do you think there’s a danger of that happening with Russian liberals or is that already happening, that this kind of hysteria, this very anti-Russian strain in U.S. discourse, is starting to alienate Russian liberals and drive them to move away from the U.S.?

VS: Absolutely, I mean, we see it, like all the time. We see it in the media, we see it in everyday life. We see it with the war in Ukraine, we see that Putin is hard, or like, he is trying hard, maybe now less than before, but he’s been trying hard to get to find the love, the appreciation, the recognition invest. He wanted, I believe, deep down, something good for Russia. It didn’t happen. I believe partly because of the misery of foreign policy of America. I believe it truly.

But partly because Russian corruption as well. And once you try and try and try, and you get always portrayed as a dumb idiot, and some conspiracy theories tell us that he is getting paranoid, that the West is trying, like, to putsch him, like they did in Ukraine with Orange Revolution, so of course you are going to try to do whatever it takes, whatever is possibly to protect yourself, and your country.




I believe the problem is partly of course in Putin, because the president determines the course of the country. But even if Putin’s gone tomorrow, nothing is going to change that quick, believe me, because the country is corrupt, the infrastructure is dead.

So that’s why I’m saying, when we talk about Marshall Plan, that’s how the Americans helped, first of all to establish, to recover the economy in Europe: that people became monied, the middle class grew, and that people started to live a normal life, and that’s how people change. And that’s how systems change.

People don’t change by getting beaten up. Getting to starve. People doesn’t change by putting some labels on them. People do not change when they are being pushed in a corner, so I believe — everybody knows that America is so strong economically. We know that America, if tomorrow is a war, nobody is going to survive. So why don’t we just stop for a second and be a little bit smarter with the first step?


Climate in the U.S. for Russians

GG: There was an article in the Washington Post, maybe two or three weeks ago, about how Russians who are either Americans, who became Americans, or who worked in America for a long time, are starting to become really worried about the climate, how they feel personally stigmatized and almost as though people are afraid to even interact with Russians, because of the perception that has been created.

Do you sense that? Have you had any kind of personal experiences with this changing climate, as a Russian?

VS: I totally sense that. I sense it every day by watching the news and feeling sorry for Russians and for Americans as well, because so many companies suffer. I feel it pretty much every day while talking to people.

I recently tried to open a bank account, for my company. I was denied because it’s a Russian entity. If you talk to people, and try to talk about politics, it’s so toxic. Russia became so toxic that nobody want to touch it.

So many colleagues of mine from D.C., like really smart people, are looking for jobs and having hard time to find a job because nobody all of a sudden needs any Russian experts, or like any Russian people.


GG: Or is almost afraid to interact with Russians?

VS: Afraid. Absolutely afraid. It’s just crazy. Recently when I was receiving those prizes in LA, for the campaign, from the American Association of Political Consultants, I was talking to a couple of people and tried to help my colleagues from the European Association of Political Consultants to get speakers, to the conference in Moscow, and people from the Trump administration said, like, “No, we can’t. We just, we going to be tomorrow on the news [if we do that]. Done!”

Like, instead of learning from mistakes and move on. Come, the election is over, move on guys. Learn. Like, Russia, sure, maybe they did it. Who cares right now? It’s done already. We have a different president, Trump is the president, the same because they push this president in a corner to be distanced from Russia.

So he cannot change. Everybody from both sides of the ocean, we are like hoping with a new administration, it’s going to be a new era of Russian-American relations. And it looked like it’s gonna happen. But now they push him so far in the media, so far to have distance to Russia and to any Russian topic, that it’s getting actually worse. And I believe the media is partly responsible for that.




GG: What about this idea of being cornered, and what are the dangers of continuing to ratchet up tensions between these two countries. What are the real dangers?

VS: Well the big danger is to get — like, there’s a couple of dangers. One is to get a new war that could happen because of isolating of this —

GG: Is that a cold war or a hot war?

VS: Hot war.

Second danger is: People make mistakes. We already have situations when they fly jets over navy ships or, like, some bombs firing in Syria — maybe the next attack could hit a couple of Russian planes, hurt a couple of Russian citizens. Maybe not, but they’re going to claim that, and bang you have a problem!

So I believe that’s a really, really hot iron right now, so you cannot drop a lot of water on it.

And I mean, just imagine: In 2002, there are interviews with Putin, who was like back then on the pinnacle of Russian development. He was giving speeches in the Bundestag, in Germany, and he was thinking, he was talking about maybe Russia becoming part of NATO.

So we were that far, and now we are where we are right now.

And I believe for Russia it’s getting existentially dangerous. Not just because of Syria. Partly because of economical sanctions, partly because of infrastructural problems, partly because of the perception of Russia as a son that nobody wants. I believe Russia struggles and Putin personally struggles with that perception, and instead of fighting this, I believe the West should really approach and be wise, you know, like, if two parties, if a couple fights at home, someone has to be wise and stop first and say, “I’m sorry.”

Even if it’s not his or her fault. But that’s the only way to solve the problem and to start the peace, otherwise you’re gonna get the wars. And that’s what we’re doing right now, and the media unfortunately does the same, just keeping putting oil in the fire, instead of saying, like, “Come on. It’s enough.”

Even if Russia did the election hacking, it’s not about that. Like, nobody is sane. Both parties are hiding some skeletons.
But the problem is actually the point, my point is, Glenn: not the problem of mistakes that characterize a state or a smart person or a smart government, it is the reaction to the mistakes.

And what I see is the reaction to mistakes made on both sides of the aisle that are just terrible, and that’s how we should judge our politics.
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Re: Clinton Journalist Has Meltdown After His Russian Conspi

Postby admin » Wed Jun 14, 2017 12:10 am

MSNBC’S Rachel Maddow Sees A "Russia Connection" Lurking Around Every Corner
by Aaron Maté
April 12, 2017

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ONE DAY AFTER her network joined the rest of corporate media in cheering for President Trump’s missile attack on Syria, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow was back to regular business: seeing Russian collaboration with Trump at work.

It’s “impossible,” fellow anchor Lawrence O’Donnell told Maddow on April 7, to rule out that “Vladimir Putin orchestrated what happened in Syria this week – so that his friend in the White House could have a big night with missiles and all of the praise he’s picked up over the past 24 hours.”

Maddow concurred, suggesting that only the FBI’s ongoing probe into Trump’s alleged collusion with Russian electoral interference will determine the truth. “Maybe eventually we’ll get an answer to that from [FBI Director] Jim Comey,” Maddow said.

The Washington Post noted that the “conspiracy theory” drew “derision from across the political spectrum.” But it was not out of place.

MSNBC, the country’s most prominent liberal media outlet, has played a key role in stoking the frenzy over Trump’s alleged involvement with Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential race — in lock step with the Democratic Party’s most avid partisans.

Jennifer Palmieri, a senior member of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, captured the prevailing mentality when she recently urged party members to talk about the Russian “attack on our republic” — and to do so “relentlessly and above all else.”

And no leading media figure has done so more than Maddow. In the period since Election Day, “The Rachel Maddow Show” has covered “The Russia Connection” — and Russia, generally — more than it has any other issue.


Here is a video sampling:

The Intercept conducted a quantitative study of all 28 TRMS episodes in the six-week period between February 20 and March 31. Russia-focused segments accounted for 53 percent of these broadcasts.

That figure is conservative, excluding segments where Russia was discussed, but was not the overarching topic.

Maddow’s Russia coverage has dwarfed the time devoted to other top issues, including Trump’s escalating crackdown on undocumented immigrants (1.3 percent of coverage); Obamacare repeal (3.8 percent); the legal battle over Trump’s Muslim ban (5.6 percent), a surge of anti-GOP activism and town halls since Trump took office (5.8 percent), and Trump administration scandals and stumbles (11 percent).

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Russia issues vs. Non-Russia issues. Chart: The Intercept

Maddow’s focus on Russia has helped her ratings, which are at their highest level since 2008.

As MSNBC’s most popular host, Maddow over the years has become a critical voice for U.S. progressives, helping to shape the outlook of millions of viewers and the smaller left-leaning outlets that follow her lead. A supremely gifted journalist who Vanity Fair has dubbed “the smartest person on TV,” Maddow’s influence is well-earned. She frequently brings pivotal national attention to overlooked stories, such as the poisoning of Flint, Michigan’s water supply.

While proof of collusion with Moscow could well emerge — and could well topple Trump’s presidency — the “above all else” focus on Russia lacks concrete supporting evidence, either of Russian hacking and cyber disinformation impacting the vote’s outcome or of the Trump campaign’s complicity with it. Journalist Matt Taibbi calls it “an exercise of conspiratorial mass hysteria.”

This muddies the waters for a sober, credible investigation of Russia’s actions — but that is the least of its consequences. Democrats have avoided constructive introspection on their seismic election loss by blaming the Kremlin. Anti-Russia sentiment threatens to turn into rank xenophobia and escalate tensions with a nuclear-armed power. And most critically for a vital news source like Maddow’s show, every moment devoted to scrutinizing Trump’s alleged Russia ties deflects attention from his administration’s actual policies.

“The Rachel Maddow Show” on Russia, February 20-March 31, 2017

In the six-week period we reviewed, Maddow covered Russia not just more than any other issue, but more than every other issue combined. The contrast is particularly striking when comparing the amount of time that speculative Russia stories received versus critical non-Russia issues.

The Republican attempt to repeal Obamacare, which was in full swing during the six-week period, got less coverage (nearly 46 minutes) than six other individual Russia issues on the chart below, such as the plight of Russian dissidents under Putin’s rule (54 minutes) or alleged Russian hacking and cyber disinformation (70 minutes). Trump’s Muslim travel ban got less time (67 minutes) than any one of four other Russia-related issues, including former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s Russia ties (88 minutes). Trump’s escalation of immigration raids and deportations (16 minutes) got just over half the coverage of the Russian-related machinations of his former campaign manager, Paul Manafort (31 minutes).

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*these issues included substantial Russia content but were included in this category because their overarching focus was non-Russia. Chart: The Intercept

In 16 of the 28 episodes analyzed, Russia comprised either all or a substantial part of the “A-block”, the show’s headlining and far lengthiest segment, which often amounts to nearly half the show, excluding commercials.

Maddow’s Insistence on “a Continuing Operation”

Maddow’s foremost concern has been alleged Trump-Moscow collusion, which she has repeatedly suggested has continued beyond the election. Here she is on March 9:

What’s getting to be, I think, particularly unsettling, is that simultaneously, we are … number one, nailing down more direct connections between the Trump campaign and the Russian government at the time the Russian government was influencing our election. Number two, at the same time, we are also starting to see what may be signs of continuing influence in our country. Not just during the campaign but during the administration. Basically, signs of what could be a continuing operation.


Maddow has acknowledged that allegations of Trump-Russia collusion are unverified. But she has ignored claims that cast them in a more skeptical light. For instance, James Clapper, the former Director of National Intelligence, told NBC News on March 5 that U.S. intelligence has “no evidence” of collusion between Trump and Russia. On March 15, former CIA Director and Hillary Clinton surrogate Michael Morrell said “there is smoke, but there is no fire, at all.” Those statements have gone unmentioned.

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MSNBC-PutinTrump-Power-Play--1491941048 Putin/Trump Power Play. Screenshot: MSNBC

“A Dream for Putin”: Trump Chose Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State and Weakened the State Department for Russia

Proposed budget cuts, canceled press briefings, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s muted role have led Maddow to wonder if Trump is weakening the State Department on Vladimir Putin’s behalf. “We have to ask,” Maddow said in a 12-minute segment on March 8, “whether [Russia] wanted actions by U.S. political figures to weaken the parts of America that most annoy and that most undermine Vladimir Putin.” In an extended follow-up the next night, Maddow said, “Silencing the U.S. State Department, putting a friend of Vladimir Putin’s in charge at the U.S. State Department, who stands by quietly while the State Department gets hollowed out, gets gutted… That’s a dream for Putin.”

“It’s the CIA, Right?”: Putin used WikiLeaks Against the CIA

On March 7, WikiLeaks published documents exposing cyber tools used by the CIA to penetrate cell phones and other devices. Two days later, Maddow blamed Putin. Reminding viewers that WikiLeaks had released the Podesta emails, Maddow asked:

Consider what the other U.S. agency is besides the State Department that Putin most hates? That Putin most feels competitive with? That Putin most wants to beat? It’s the CIA, right? Spy versus spy. Putin is ex-KGB. He’s an ex-FSB officer… Smart observers say this is the largest dump of classified CIA material maybe ever, and it really could be a devastating blow to the CIA’s cyber war and flat-out spying capabilities, and that dump was released by WikiLeaks.


Maddow omitted the widely circulated reports that U.S. intelligence officials believe that the CIA’s own contractors were behind the cyber tools leak.

“How’d You Know It Was Coming?”: RT Colluded With WikiLeaks on the Podesta Emails

A popular internet theory posits that RT (formerly Russia Today), the Kremlin-funded television network, had advance knowledge of a WikiLeaks release of hacked Podesta emails. The claim is based on RT’s Twitter account reporting the release 19 minutes before WikiLeaks’ Twitter account did. Here’s Maddow on March 9:

Russian state television was magically able to tweet about the next release of John Podesta e-mails. The sixth release of John Podesta e-mails even before WikiLeaks released them… Russia Today, how did you know it was coming?


But RT answered the question months earlier: the Podesta emails appeared on the WikiLeaks website before WikiLeaks got around to tweeting about it.

“Quid Pro Quo”: Trump Weakened the GOP Platform on Ukraine

On March 8 – one day after congressional Republicans unveiled their Obamacare repeal bill – Maddow led her show with “dramatic news.” U.S. officials, she explained, “are looking into a Russian citizen in conjunction with one of the incidents on the Trump campaign last year which defied explanation at the time”: the rejection of a proposed amendment to the Republican Party platform that called for sending lethal aid to Ukraine. Politico reported of the Russian in question, Konstantin Kilimnik: “after a late summer trip to the U.S., Kilimnik suggested that he had played a role in gutting a proposed amendment to the Republican Party platform that would have staked out a more adversarial stance towards Russia, according to a Kiev operative.”

The Politico report, Maddow explained over the course of 16 minutes, confirms “essentially a quid pro quo between Russia and the Donald Trump campaign,” whereby the Trump campaign sought “to take Russian intervention in Ukraine basically out of the Republican Party platform as an issue.”

But Politico’s main revelation was that U.S. investigators are “looking into” a Russian guy who an unnamed Ukrainian “operative” says “suggested” that he helped the Trump campaign change the language in a document that has no practical effect on anything, and that in fact remained strongly pro-Ukrainian government, stating:

We support maintaining and, if warranted, increasing sanctions, together with our allies, against Russia unless and until Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity are fully restored. We also support providing appropriate assistance to the armed forces of Ukraine and greater coordination with NATO defense planning.


“Is the New President Going to Take Those Troops Out?” Putin May Blackmail Trump Into Withdrawing U.S. Forces from Europe

On January 17, Maddow opened her broadcast by noting the parallels between Vladimir Putin’s political ascent and former British spy Christopher Steele’s just-disclosed dossier asserting that Russia has compromising details on Donald Trump’s sex life. “How Vladimir Putin stopped being just a KGB guy and got political power in the first place was by producing, at just the right time and in just the right way, just the right sex tape to use for political purposes,” Maddow said.

Maddow then discussed the increase of U.S. troops near Russia’s border during President Obama’s last days in office:

“The Kremlin is furious about it,” Maddow said. “Russia hates it, but our allies—they say they want it.” And so, with Trump about to enter the White House, Maddow had this to say:

Here’s the question – is the new president going to take those troops out? After all the speculation, after all the worry, we are actually about to find out if Russia maybe has something on the new president? We’re about to find out if the new president of our country is going to do what Russia wants once he’s commander-in-chief of the U.S. military starting noon on Friday. What is he going to do with those deployments? Watch this space. Seriously.


As of this writing, Trump has not withdrawn the troops.

Missed Opportunities While Focusing on Russia

On March 7, Maddow led with the day’s top story: the unveiling of Republican plans to repeal Obamacare. “If you are worried about losing your health insurance, if you are worried about 20 million of your fellow Americans losing their health insurance, today was very scary,” Maddow said.

But after less than two minutes, Maddow promised to return to the story later and shifted gears to a higher editorial priority:

But we are going to start at this embassy. The embassy, this is a big one. It is fully staffed … there’s even an attaché specifically for fish. The fisheries attaché is named Mr. Oleg Vladimirovich Rykov.


Viewers were then treated to a 22-minute deep dive into the Steele dossier and the various ways “the bits and pieces of what’s reported in this dossier are turning out to be true and reported and checkable.” When Maddow finally returned to the day’s opening, “scary” story about millions standing to lose their health insurance, she gave it less than four more minutes.

Six days later, on March 13, Maddow opened with the day’s “absolutely astonishing” news that the Congressional Budget Office was now estimating that 24 million people would lose their health insurance if Republicans manage to repeal Obamacare. But after less than two minutes, Maddow again veered off: “We’re actually going to start the show tonight on the subject of money, lots and lots and lots and lots of money.” The ensuing 20-minute segment speculated on whether the recent firing of New York U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara could be tied to investigations into Russian money laundering through Deutsche Bank and the Bank of Cyprus. The CBO’s Obamacare repeal news ended up getting less than five minutes of Maddow’s time.

On March 16, Trump unveiled a budget that would boost military funding and slash vital government spending. But Maddow viewers heard no mention of the EPA, public broadcasting, meals on wheels, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, the Community Development Block Grant program, or other targets of Trump’s domestic cuts. Instead, Maddow began the show by recounting the shady Russian bid to win the 2014 Winter Olympics, and how a Russian air cargo company involved in the scandal would later become one of several Russian entities that made payments to former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. The 22-minute segment explored the issue of whether Flynn committed a crime in taking money from Russians, and whether the Trump campaign knew about it. The next 12 minutes were devoted to alleged Russian hacking that targeted down-ballot congressional Democratic candidates in 2016, and the Clinton campaign’s response.

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Russia Cargo Company. Screenshot: MSNBC

Given her political expertise, journalistic acumen, and influential platform, Maddow is ideally suited to explore the Democrats’ 2016 electoral collapse in an insightful way. But the time and investigative zeal that Maddow has devoted to Russia has come at the cost of any such analysis. Maddow has shunned critical issues such as the Democratic establishment’s embrace of neoliberal financial policies and rejection of economic populism. Her audience has heard next to no discussion of why a segment of Obama voters abandoned Democrats for Trump or didn’t vote at all. Instead, lengthy segments have suggested that Clinton and the Democrats were done in by such Russian “active measures” as anti-Clinton bot attacks (their key target, a Bernie Sanders Facebook fan page in San Diego); hackers interfering in Congressional races; and fake news stories and social media posts.

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Bernie Sanders San Diego Facebook Page. Screenshot: MSNBC

Maddow has also avoided substantive post-mortems on Clinton team fumbles such as its absence of policy messaging or neglect of swing states. Clinton campaign guests have faced almost no challenge or criticism. Interviewing Jennifer Palmieri, Clinton’s communications director, on December 12, Maddow asked about how Russia, FBI Director James Comey, and Green Party candidate Jill Stein fueled Clinton’s loss. Her toughest question on the campaign’s mistakes: “You guys did outraise and outspend Trump two to one. How could you have taken better advantage of your cash advantage?”

The Danger of Hyperbole

On several occasions, Maddow has described Moscow’s alleged interference in the 2016 race as an “attack on our election.” On March 21, she went further:

This is not part of American politics. This is not, you know, partisan warfare between Republicans and Democrats. This is international warfare against our country. And it did not end on Election Day. We are still in it.


But whatever Russia may have done, it was not “international warfare.” And it was most likely far less consequential than U.S. interference in other countries over many decades, including Russia itself.

“If the worst is true,” Maddow warned on March 17, “if the presidency is effectively a Russian op, if the American presidency right now is the product of collusion between the Russian intelligence services and an American campaign — I mean, that is so profoundly big, we not only need to stay focused on figuring it out. We need to start preparing for what the consequences are going to be if it proves to be true.”

But what if the allegations are ultimately disproved or go nowhere? Maddow and likeminded influential liberals will have led their audience on a fruitless quest, all the while helping foment anti-Russia sentiment, channeling Democratic Party energy away from productive self-critique, and diverting focus from the White House’s actual policies. Trump would be handed a further gift via the damaged credibility of his “enemy”: the media responsible for holding him to account.

And what if the media’s focus on the “Russia Connection” ends up goading Trump to become more bellicose with Russia? The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists recently moved its doomsday clock to its highest point since 1953. Among many contributing factors, the Bulletin warned: “The United States and Russia—which together possess more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons—remained at odds in a variety of theaters.”

The need for caution was perhaps most starkly underscored last week with Trump’s Syria bombing, which prompted the Kremlin to warn that Russia and the U.S. are “on the verge” of military conflict. Rather than raising the ludicrous theory that the attack on Syria was orchestrated by Putin, as Maddow and O’Donnell speculated, it’s worth asking if Trump was motivated at least in part to show the media – a top presidential preoccupation – that Putin isn’t pulling the strings.

But Maddow shows no signs of slowing down. Her top story on Monday night was about the detention in Spain of a prominent Russian spammer, Pyotr Levashov, at the FBI’s request. Levashov’s wife has told reporters that his arrest may be linked to a computer virus “associated with” Trump’s election victory. The FBI has offered no details. “This is the news,” Maddow reported in her 13-minute segment. “The Russian guy just got arrested.”
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Re: Clinton Journalist Has Meltdown After His Russian Conspi

Postby admin » Wed Jun 14, 2017 12:36 am

The Increasingly Unhinged Russia Rhetoric Comes From a Long-Standing U.S. Playbook
by Glenn Greenwald
February 23 2017

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FOR ASPIRING JOURNALISTS, historians, or politically engaged citizens, there are few more productive uses of one’s time than randomly reading through the newsletters of I.F. Stone, the intrepid and independent journalist of the Cold War era who became, in my view, the nation’s first “blogger” even though he died before the advent of the internet. Frustrated by big media’s oppressive corporatized environment and its pro-government propaganda model, and then ultimately blacklisted from mainstream media outlets for his objections to anti-Russia narratives, Stone created his own bi-monthly newsletter, sustained exclusively by subscriptions, and spent 18 years relentlessly debunking propaganda spewing from the U.S. government and its media partners.

What makes Stone’s body of work so valuable is not its illumination of history but rather its illumination of the present. What’s most striking about his newsletters is how little changes when it comes to U.S. government propaganda and militarism, and the role the U.S. media plays in sustaining it all. Indeed, reading through his reporting, one gets the impression that U.S. politics just endlessly replays the same debates, conflicts, and tactics.


Much of Stone’s writings, particularly throughout the 1950s and into the 1960s, focused on the techniques for keeping Americans in a high state of fear over the Kremlin. One passage, from August 1954, particularly resonates; Stone explained why it’s impossible to stop McCarthyism at home when — for purposes of sustaining U.S. war and militarism — Kremlin leaders are constantly being depicted as gravely threatening and even omnipotent. Other than the change in Moscow’s ideology — a change many of today’s most toxic McCarthyites explicitly deny — Stone’s observations could be written with equal accuracy today.

If Communists are some supernatural breed of men, led by diabolic master minds in that distant Kremlin, engaged in a Satanic conspiracy to take over the world and enslave all mankind — and this is the thesis endlessly propounded by American liberals and conservatives alike, echoed night and day by every radio station and in every newspaper — the thesis no American dare any longer challenge without himself becoming suspect — then how to fight McCarthy?

If the public mind is to be conditioned for war, if it is being taught to take for granted the destruction of millions of human beings, few of them tainted with this dreadful ideological virus, all of them indeed presumably pleading for us to liberate them, how can we argue that it matters if a few possibly innocent men lose jobs or reputations because of McCarthy?


Two vital points stand out here: 1) the key to sustaining fears over foreign adversaries is depicting them as all-powerful and ubiquitous; and 2) once that image takes root, few will be willing to question the propaganda for fear of being accused of siding with the Foreign Evil: “the thesis no American dare any longer challenge without himself becoming suspect.”

This tactic — depicting adversaries as omnipotent super-villains — was key to the war on terror. Radical Muslims were not just violent threats; they were uniquely menacing, like Bond-film bad guys.

When photos emerged showing how the U.S. government was transporting terror suspect Jose Padilla to his trial by placing blackened goggles and earphones over his face, one U.S. commentator justified it by explaining it was necessary to prevent him from “blinking in code” to his terrorist comrades to activate plots. When asked why terror suspects were bound and gagged for long intercontinental flights to Guantánamo, a U.S. military official said that these were “people who would chew through a hydraulic cable to bring a C-17 down.” They possessed powers of dark magic and were lurking everywhere, even when you couldn’t see them. That’s the reason to fear them so much that one submits to any claim and any policy in the name of crushing them.

FEW FOREIGN VILLAINS have been vested with omnipotence and ubiquity like Vladimir Putin has been — at least ever since Democrats discovered (what they mistakenly believed was) his political utility as a bogeyman. There are very few negative developments in the world that do not end up at some point being pinned to the Russian leader, and very few critics of the Democratic Party who are not, at some point, cast as Putin loyalists or Kremlin spies:


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Glenn Greenwald ✔ @ggreenwald
Has there even been a more ubiquitous and omnipotent villain in history?
9:45 AM - 24 Jul 2016


Howard Dean @ GovHowardDean
Would be interesting to find out if the intercept gets money from Russia or Iran

Corinne Marasco #CorinneAM
PSA: Guilt by association is @lhfang's speciality because he fancies himself an "investigative journalist"


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RAWSTORY
Rachel Maddow: Why hasn't Jill Stein said anything about the Trump-Russia scandal?
by Travis Gettys
22 Feb 2017

Maddow cast suspicion on Stein’s silence over alleged Russian attempts to interfere with the election to benefit Donald Trump, who she claimed during her own campaign would govern no differently than Hillary Clinton.

“So everybody’s like, ‘Wow, how come this like super, super aggressive opposition that we saw from these third-party candidates — how come they haven’t said anything since this scandal has broken?’” Maddow said.

“I don’t know, Jill — I can’t pronounce it in Russian,” Maddow said, with apparent sarcasm. “Hope you’re really psyched about your Wisconsin vote totals.”


Putin — like al Qaeda terrorists and Soviet Communists before him — is everywhere. Russia is lurking behind all evils, most importantly — of course — Hillary Clinton’s defeat. And whoever questions any of that is revealing themselves to be a traitor, likely on Putin’s payroll.

As The Nation’s Katrina vanden Heuvel put it on Tuesday in the Washington Post: “In the targeting of Trump, too many liberals have joined in fanning a neo-McCarthyite furor, working to discredit those who seek to deescalate U.S.-Russian tensions, and dismissing anyone expressing doubts about the charges of hacking or collusion as a Putin apologist. … What we don’t need is a replay of Cold War hysteria that cuts off debate, slanders skeptics and undermines any effort to explore areas of agreement with Russia in our own national interest.” That precisely echoes what Stone observed 62 years ago: Claims of Russian infiltration and ubiquity are “the thesis no American dare any longer challenge without himself becoming suspect” (Stone was not just cast as a Kremlin loyalist during his life but smeared as a Stalinist agent after he died).

I’ve written extensively about all this throughout the last year, as Russia Fever reached (what I hope is) its apex — or, more accurately, its nadir. I won’t repeat that all here.

BUT I DO want to draw attention to an outstanding article in today’s Guardian by the Russian-born American journalist Keith Gessen, in which he clinically examines — and demolishes — all of the hysterical, ignorant, fearmongering, manipulative claims now predominant in U.S. discourse about Russia, Putin, and the Kremlin.

The article begins: “Vladimir Putin, you may have noticed, is everywhere.” As a result, he points out, “Putinology” — which he defines as “the production of commentary and analysis about Putin and his motivations, based on necessarily partial, incomplete and sometimes entirely false information” — is now in great prominence even though it “has existed as a distinct intellectual industry for over a decade.” In sum, he writes: “At no time in history have more people with less knowledge, and greater outrage, opined on the subject of Russia’s president.”

It’s hardly unique for American media and political commentators to speak of foreign adversaries with a mix of ignorance and paranoia. But the role Putin serves above all else, he says, is to cast America’s problems not as its own doing but rather the fault of foreigners, and more importantly, to relieve the Democratic Party of the need to examine its own fundamental flaws and errors:

According to a recent report, Hillary Clinton and her campaign still blame the Russians — and, by extension, Barack Obama, who did not make a big issue of the hacks before November — for her electoral debacle. In this instance, thinking about Putin helps not to think about everything else that went wrong, and what needs to be done to fix it.


But while petty self-exoneration may be the prime motive, the far greater danger is how much this obsession distracts from, and distorts, the pervasive corruption of America’s ruling class. As Gessen writes:

If Donald Trump is impeached and imprisoned for conspiring with a foreign power to undermine American democracy, I will celebrate as much as the next American. And yet in the long run, the Russia card is not just bad politics, it is intellectual and moral bankruptcy. It is an attempt to blame the deep and abiding problems of our country on a foreign power. As some commentators have pointed out, it is a page from the playbook of none other than Putin himself.


As Adam Johnson detailed in the Los Angeles Times last week, the constant effort to attribute Trump to foreign dynamics is devoted to avoiding the reality that U.S. policy and culture is what gave rise to him. Nothing achieves that goal better than continually attributing Trump — and every other negative outcome — to the secret work of Kremlin leaders.

The game that establishment Democrats and their allies are playing is not just tawdry but dangerous. The U.S. political, media, military, and intelligence classes are still full of people seeking confrontation with Russia; included among them are military officials whom Trump has appointed to key positions.

As Stone observed in the 1950s, aggression toward and fearmongering over the Kremlin on the one hand, and smearing domestic critics of that approach as disloyal on the other, are inextricably linked. When one takes root, it’s very difficult to stop the other. And you can only propagate demonization rhetoric about a foreign adversary for so long before triggering, wittingly or otherwise, very dangerous confrontations between the two.

Top photo: Portrait of journalist I.F. Stone in his office in Washington in 1966.
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Re: Clinton Journalist Has Meltdown After His Russian Conspi

Postby admin » Wed Jun 14, 2017 1:23 am

Full Clapper: "No Evidence" of Collusion Between Trump and Russia
Interview with James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence
by Chuck Todd, Meet The Press
March 5, 2017

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CHUCK TODD:

We're going to pause the conversation and pick it up, I have a feeling, on the other side of the half hour. But coming up is a man who may know more than anyone about Russia's efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election. It's the former Director of National Intelligence, Jim Clapper. He joins me next.

***COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Earlier this week, the New York Times reported that, in the dying days of the Obama presidency, White House officials took steps to spread information about Russia's attempt to undermine the presidential election. Why? Well, one reason given was to make it easier for government investigators, and in particular, Congress, to uncover that truth.

Well, James Clapper, a career intelligence officer, was the Director of National Intelligence for more than six years under President Obama, he spearheaded the report that was released in January that concluded that Russians hacked the Democrat National Committee e-mails and interfered with the 2016 election. And Mr. Clapper joins me now. Welcome, sir, to Meet the Press.

JAMES CLAPPER:

Thanks, Chuck, for everything.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me start with the President's tweets yesterday, this idea that maybe President Obama ordered an illegal wiretap of his offices. If something like that happened, would this be something you would be aware of?

JAMES CLAPPER:

I would certainly hope so. I can't say-- obviously, I'm not, I can't speak officially anymore. But I will say that, for the part of the national security apparatus that I oversaw as DNI, there was no such wiretap activity mounted against-- the president elect at the time, or as a candidate, or against his campaign. I can't speak for other Title Three authorized entities in the government or a state or local entity.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah, I was just going to say, if the F.B.I., for instance, had a FISA court order of some sort for a surveillance, would that be information you would know or not know?

JAMES CLAPPER:

Yes.

CHUCK TODD:

You would be told this?

JAMES CLAPPER:

I would know that.

CHUCK TODD:

If there was a FISA court order--

JAMES CLAPPER:

Yes.

CHUCK TODD:

--on something like this.

JAMES CLAPPER:

Something like this, absolutely.

CHUCK TODD:

And at this point, you can't confirm or deny whether that exists?

JAMES CLAPPER:

I can deny it.

CHUCK TODD:

There is no FISA court order?

JAMES CLAPPER:

Not-- not to know my knowledge.

CHUCK TODD:

Of anything at Trump Tower?

JAMES CLAPPER:

No.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, that's an important revelation at this point. Let me ask you this. Does intelligence exist that can definitively answer the following question, whether there were improper contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials?

JAMES CLAPPER:

We did not include any evidence in our report, and I say, "our," that's N.S.A., F.B.I. and C.I.A., with my office, the Director of National Intelligence, that had anything, that had any reflection of collusion between members of the Trump campaign and the Russians. There was no evidence of that included in our report.

CHUCK TODD:

I understand that. But does it exist?

JAMES CLAPPER:

Not to my knowledge.

CHUCK TODD:

If it existed, it would have been in this report?

JAMES CLAPPER:

This could have unfolded or become available in the time since I left the government.

CHUCK TODD:

At some--

JAMES CLAPPER:

But at the time, we had no evidence of such collusion.


CHUCK TODD:

There's a lot of smoke, but there hasn't been that smoking gun yet. At what point should the public start to wonder if this is all just smoke?

JAMES CLAPPER:

Well, that's a good question. I don't know. I do think, though, it is in everyone's interest, in the current President's interests, in the Democrats' interests, in the Republican interest, in the country's interest, to get to the bottom of all this. Because it's such a distraction. And certainly the Russians have to be chortling about the success of their efforts to sow dissention in this country.

CHUCK TODD:

So you feel like your report does not get to the bottom-- you admit your report that you released in January doesn't get to the bottom of this?

JAMES CLAPPER:

It did-- well, it got to the bottom of the evidence to the extent of the evidence we had at the time. Whether there is more evidence that's become available since then, whether ongoing investigations will be revelatory, I don't know.

CHUCK TODD:

There was a conclusion that said, "It's clear that the Russians interfered and did so in an attempt to help Donald Trump." Do you still believe that conclusion?

JAMES CLAPPER:

Yes, I do.

CHUCK TODD:

But at this point, what's not proven is the idea of collusion.

JAMES CLAPPER:

That's correct.


CHUCK TODD:

When you see these parade of officials that were associated with the Trump campaign, first they deny any conversations, now we're hearing more, does that add to suspicion? Or do you think some of this is circumstantial?

JAMES CLAPPER:

Well, I can't say what the nature of those conversations and dialogues were, for the most part. Again, I'd think it would be very healthy to completely clear the air on this subject. And I think it would be in everyone's interest to have that done.

CHUCK TODD:

Can the Senate Intelligence Committee-- what are we going to learn from their investigation, do you think, that will move beyond what you were able to do?

JAMES CLAPPER:

Well, I think they can look at this from a broader context than we could. And at this point, I do have confidence in the Senate intelligence Committee and their effort. It is underway, in contrast to the House Intelligence Committee, which just last week agreed on their charter.

And importantly, in the case of the Senate Intelligence Committee, this appears to me to be a truly bipartisan effort. And so I think that needs to play out. If, for some reason, that proves not to be satisfactory in the minds of those who make those decisions, then perhaps then move on to a special prosecutor.

CHUCK TODD:

The New York Times, earlier this week, and as I was introducing you, this idea that they sort of left a trail, maybe lowered classif-- can you walk us through how that would work? Did they lower classification levels on certain information? Was that a fair read of what was done in the last few weeks of the administration?

JAMES CLAPPER:

Actually not. Because of the sensitivity of much of the information in this report, our actual effort was to protect it and not to spread it around, and certainly not to dumb it down, if I can use that phrase, in order to disseminate it more widely. We were under a preservation order from both our oversight committees to preserve and protect all the information related to that report, in any event.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you one other final question on the infamous dossier that was put together by this former British operative named Christopher Steele. Why did you feel the need to brief the president on that at the time?

JAMES CLAPPER:

We felt that it was important that he know about it, that it was out there. And that, without respect to the veracity of the contents of the dossier, that's why it was not included as a part of our report. Because much of it could not be corroborated. And importantly, some of the sources that Mr. Steele drew on, second and third order assets, we could not validate or corroborate.


So for that reason, at least in my view, the important thing was to warn the president that this thing was out there. The Russians have a term, an acronym, called Kompromat, which they will either generate, if it's truthful or if it's contrived. And it's important, we felt, that he knew of the existence of this dossier.

CHUCK TODD:

Have you done this with other presidents? Have you had to brief them about unverified intelligence?

JAMES CLAPPER:

Yes, I’ve had occasion in the six and a half years I was DNI to tell President Obama certain things that we could not corroborate or validate, but that we just thought he ought to know it was out there.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. James Clapper, I have a feeling-- do you expect to have to testify on Capitol Hill among these things?

JAMES CLAPPER:

Oh, I don't think there's any doubt.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Mr. Clapper, then I have a feeling we will see you on T.V. some time soon. And hopefully you'll come back here on Meet the Press. Thanks for coming on and sharing your views, sir.

JAMES CLAPPER:

Thanks very much, Chuck.
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Re: Clinton Journalist Has Meltdown After His Russian Conspi

Postby admin » Wed Jun 14, 2017 1:36 am

Clinton Ally Says Smoke, But No Fire: No Russia-Trump Collusion
by Ken Dilanian
NBC News
March 16, 2017

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Former Acting CIA Director Michael Morell, who endorsed Hillary Clinton and called Donald Trump a dupe of Russia, cast doubt Wednesday night on allegations that members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russia.

Morell, who was in line to become CIA director if Clinton won, said he had seen no evidence that Trump associates cooperated with Russians. He also raised questions about the dossier written by a former British intelligence officer, which alleged a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia.

His comments were in sharp contrast to those of many Clinton partisans — such as former communications director Jennifer Palmieri — who have stated publicly they believe the Trump campaign cooperated with Russia’s efforts to interfere in the election against Clinton.

Morell said he had learned that the former officer, Christopher Steele, paid his key Russian sources, and interviewed them through intermediaries.

"On the question of the Trump campaign conspiring with the Russians here, there is smoke, but there is no fire, at all," Morell said at an event sponsored by the Cipher Brief, an intelligence web site.

"There’s no little campfire, there’s no little candle, there’s no spark. And there’s a lot of people looking for it."


Morell pointed out that former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said on Meet the Press on March 5 that he had seen no evidence of a conspiracy when he left office January 20.

"That’s a pretty strong statement by General Clapper," Morell said.

About the dossier, Morell said, "Unless you know the sources, and unless you know how a particular source acquired a particular piece of information, you can’t judge the information — you just can’t."

The dossier "doesn’t take you anywhere, I don’t think," he said.

He continued: "I had two questions when I first read it. One was, How did Chris talk to these sources? I have subsequently learned that he used intermediaries.

"And then I asked myself, why did these guys provide this information, what was their motivation? And I subsequently learned that he paid them. That the intermediaries paid the sources and the intermediaries got the money from Chris. And that kind of worries me a little bit because if you’re paying somebody, particularly former FSB officers, they are going to tell you truth and innuendo and rumor, and they’re going to call you up and say, ‘hey, let’s have another meeting, I have more information for you,’ because they want to get paid some more.

"I think you’ve got to take all that into consideration when you consider the dossier."

Another former CIA officer in the room pointed out that the CIA also pays its sources.

"But we know who the source is and we know how they got the information," Morell responded.

In August, Morell accused Trump of being an "unwitting agent of the Russian Federation."

Morell said Wednesday that he continues to believe that the Russian campaign of hacking, leaking and fake news, which the CIA says was designed to hurt Clinton and help Trump, was a hugely consequential action to which the U.S. has not sufficiently responded.

Putin, he said, has suffered no consequence for his unprecedented interference in the U.S. election.

"This has never happened before in American history on this scale, never not even close. And Putin did not pay any price for this — nothing, zero."
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Re: Clinton Journalist Has Meltdown After His Russian Conspi

Postby admin » Wed Jun 14, 2017 2:04 am

Killer, kleptocrat, genius, spy: the many myths of Vladimir Putin. Russia’s role in Trump’s election has led to a boom in Putinology. But do all these theories say more about us than Putin?
by Keith Gessen
February 23, 2017

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Vladimir Putin, you may have noticed, is everywhere. He has soldiers in Ukraine and Syria, troublemakers in the Baltics and Finland, and a hand in elections from the Czech Republic to France to the United States. And he is in the media. Not a day goes by without a big new article on “Putin’s Revenge”, “The Secret Source of Putin’s Evil”, or “10 Reasons Why Vladimir Putin Is a Terrible Human Being”.

Putin’s recent ubiquity has brought great prominence to the practice of Putinology. This enterprise – the production of commentary and analysis about Putin and his motivations, based on necessarily partial, incomplete and sometimes entirely false information – has existed as a distinct intellectual industry for over a decade. It kicked into high gear after the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014, but in the past few months, as allegations of Russian meddling in the election of President Donald Trump have come to dominate the news, Putinology has outdone itself. At no time in history have more people with less knowledge, and greater outrage, opined on the subject of Russia’s president. You might say that the reports of Trump’s golden showers in a Moscow hotel room have consecrated a golden age – for Putinology.

And what does Putinology tell us? It turns out that it has produced seven distinct hypotheses about Putin. None of them is entirely wrong, but then none of them is entirely right (apart from No 7). Taken together, they tell us as much about ourselves as about Putin. They paint a portrait of an intellectual class – our own – on the brink of a nervous breakdown. But let’s take them in order.

Theory 1: Putin is a genius

It’s simple: while the world is playing checkers, Putin is playing chess. He seized Crimea from the Ukrainians with barely a shot fired; he got back Yalta, the favoured beach resort of Chekhov and the tsars, and all he faced as punishment were some minor sanctions. He intervened on behalf of the Assad regime in Syria, after the US, Turkey and the Saudis spent years supporting the rebels, and in short order turned the tide of the war. He has been instrumental in undermining the pro-EU consensus, financing the Eurosceptic right – and, where convenient, the Eurosceptic left – aiming apparently to dismantle the postwar international order and replace it with a series of bilateral transactional relationships in which Russia can, for the most part, be the senior partner.

Finally, he interfered in the US election, the election for the most powerful post in the world, and managed to get his man in the White House. And what were the consequences? A few diplomats expelled from the United States is a small price to pay for a potential end to US sanctions, a renewal of economic ties and joint oil-drilling in the Russian Arctic, and the de facto acknowledgment of Crimea as part of the Russian Federation.

Domestically, Putin has managed to silence or co‑opt almost all opposition. The liberals squabble among themselves on Facebook and emigrate; the far right, which hates Putin for his refusal to go full fascist and, for example, take Kiev, is kept on a tight leash; and the democratic socialist left, hobbled by the massive pseudo-left authoritarian Communist Party of the Russian Federation, is so tiny Putin can hardly even see it (and he has many eyes).

Putin during his first two terms enjoyed immense luck in the form of a worldwide commodities boom, but he could have blown that luck. Instead, he husbanded it, and Russia grew rich. Now the closest thing to a rival to Putin within his inner circle is his prime minister, the pudgy and diminutive Dmitry Medvedev, who has distinguished himself primarily as a man who enjoys playing with his iPad. The lone domestic politician who has mounted a plausible threat to Putin is Alexei Navalny, a talented Moscow-based digital populist of variable political convictions, whom the Kremlin is keeping busy with various criminal charges and house arrests.

Putin-as-evil-genius is, unquestionably, the primary theoretical view in the west of the Russian president, whether by his multitude of critics or his smattering of admirers. Those who take a more jaundiced view of Putin’s political, intellectual, and military capabilities – President Barack Obama, for one – are treated as naive, soft on Putin: the sort of people who play checkers, not chess. Meanwhile, most Russian observers of Putin tend to be surprised at the western awe of his overwhelming strategic prowess. Garry Kasparov, for example, the great chess champion and not-so-great opposition politician, finds the whole thing insulting to chess.

Trump’s apparent romance with the Russian president has ignited a storm of Russophobia in the US


In any case, one does wonder about this genius business. Was it really worth international isolation, increasingly bothersome sanctions and the eternal enmity of the Ukrainian people to seize a beloved but past-its-prime resort area that Russians don’t even really visit any more? There was fear that the post-Maidan government of Ukraine might cancel the lease on the large Russian naval port in Sevastopol, but surely a genius might have handled the threat through something short of seizing the entire peninsula?

As for Syria, Putin may bask for now in the glory of rescuing the Assad regime, but who will celebrate this glory with him? Certainly not Sunni Muslims, whom Assad has been slaughtering – some of those who survive will soon return to their homes in the Caucasus and Central Asia, newly angry at the Russian bear. As for the disintegration of the EU, which Putin seems to seek almost above all else, is this really a winning formula for Russia? The “Hungarian Putin”, Viktor Orbán, is so far well-disposed toward Russia, but what we might call the Polish Putins of the Law and Justice party are committed Russophobes. And, as one shrewd commentator has pointed out, should Putin ever succeed in installing a rightwing nationalist leader in neighbouring Germany, that German Putin may well decide to go to war with the original Putin, as German Putins have always tended to do in the past.

And even our new American Putin, Donald J Trump, may not be as much of a boon to Russia as he seems at first glance. For one thing, Trump’s apparent romance with the Russian president has ignited a storm of Russophobia in the US, the like of which has not been seen since the early 1980s. For another, Trump is a fool. It is not the way of genius to hitch your wagon to a fool.

On the domestic front, Putin’s genius now seems equally suspect. In 2011, he made the momentous decision to return to the presidency after ceding it for four years to Medvedev. The decision, announced in a humiliating manner by Medvedev himself, was soon followed by the largest protests in Moscow since the early 1990s. Putin was impressive in waiting the protests out. He did not make the mistake that Viktor Yanukovych made two years later in Ukraine by first overreacting and then, perhaps, underreacting to the situation. Instead, Putin let the protests lose steam and then picked off the protest leaders one by one with surreptitiously videotaped provocations and phony criminal charges, while Moscow itself underwent a kind of urban renaissance, complete with public parks and bike lanes, to assuage some of the anger of the creative class. But Putin did nothing to address the substance of the criticism coming from the opposition – that his political regime was corrupt, unresponsive, and that it had no vision. Instead, with the invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent nationalist mobilisation, he doubled down on the worst aspects of his reign.

Had Putin retired after 2008, as he said he would, and become a grand old man of Russian politics, there would have been statues built to him throughout the country. Under him, Russia had emerged from the chaos of the 1990s into a relative stability and prosperity. Now, however, with low oil prices, a collapsed rouble, risible counter-sanctions in place on European cheese, and a demoralised opposition, it is hard to imagine an end to the Putin era that is not violent, and whose violence does not lead to more violence. If this is genius, then it is of a very peculiar kind.

Theory 2: Putin is a nothing

The first sight many Russians got of Vladimir Putin was on New Year’s Eve, 1999, when in a remarkable turn of events, a clearly ailing Boris Yeltsin, with six months left in his term, used his traditional televised end-of-year address to announce that he was resigning the presidency and handing the reins to his recently appointed, younger and more energetic prime minister.

Then Putin came on. The effect was startling. Yeltsin had looked confused and sickly. His speech was so slurred that he was hard to understand. He sat bolt upright as if wearing a brace. But this? This homunculus? Putin was tiny compared to Yeltsin, and though younger and healthier, he nonetheless managed to more closely resemble death. He spoke for a few minutes, promising on the one hand to keep Russian democracy strong, but on the other hand issuing various warnings to those who would threaten Russia – an incongruous performance. Many people didn’t think it was likely that Putin would last very long in this august seat. For all his faults, Yeltsin was at least a someone: tall, with a booming voice, a former member of the Soviet Politburo. Whereas Putin? He was, people suddenly scrambled to learn, merely a colonel in the KGB. He had been sent abroad, but only barely – to the East German backwater of Dresden. He was short and had a squeaky voice and his hair was thinning. He was a nonentity even among the nonentities who remained after Yeltsin’s perpetual clearing-out of his cabinets.

In a world where most people are convinced that Putin is a genius, this theory of Putin as a nobody deserves a second look. There really is an everyman quality to Putin. One of my favourite observations about him comes from a man who knew him back in St Petersburg in the 1990s. The man became a whistleblower after the successful medical supplies company he ran was asked, not long after Putin became president, to divert a portion of its earnings into the fund for “Putin’s Palace”, a huge complex going up on the Black Sea. But he had an interesting take on the president as he had known him before, as he told the British journalist Ben Judah:

He was an absolutely average man … His voice was average … not tough, not high. He had an average personality … average intelligence, not especially high intelligence. You could go out the door and find thousands and thousands of people in Russia, all of them just like Putin.


This can’t be entirely right: Putin was above average in at least a few respects (he was the judo champion of Leningrad, for one). But there is insight in these words. It was part of Putin’s charm that he didn’t stand out. During his first interviews in office he stressed how much of a regular guy he was, how he had struggled financially during the 1990s, how much tough luck he’d had. He knew all the same jokes, had listened to all the same music and seen all the same movies, as everyone else of his generation. It is a testament to the power of Soviet culture, to both its egalitarianism and its limitations, that when Putin mentioned a line from a quasi-dissident song or movie of the 1960s or 1970s, almost everyone knew exactly what he was talking about. This did not put him out of the mainstream. He was the unremarkable only child of an unremarkable working family from Leningrad. It was almost as if the Soviet Union had coughed up, from the great mass of its humanity, this average exemplar, with his average aggressiveness, his average ignorance, his average nostalgia for the way things were.

Accounts of Putin’s early years in office tend to confirm that he was something less than a colossus. He was impressed by the might of the American empire and awed by George W Bush. He was aware, too, of how limited his domestic power was. Russian politics during the Yeltsin era had been dominated by a small group of oligarchs, oil and banking titans with their own private armies. These were led not by short, skinny former colonels like Putin, but by barrel-chested former generals of the Interior Ministry and KGB. What’s more, some of the oligarchs were brilliant strategists – they had survived the ruthless 1990s and emerged victorious, while Putin had muddled along as the corrupt deputy to a one-term mayor. Putin’s early popularity was based on his tough attitude towards Chechens and oligarchs. He had succeeded in levelling Chechnya, but could he really win in a showdown with the oligarchs? He had no idea.

Image
Vladimir Putin shows off his judo prowess in 2009. Photograph: RIA Novosti / Reuters/Reuters

In 2003, in one of the main turning-points of his reign, it took Putin months to work up the nerve to arrest Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the country’s richest man. But then he did it, and it worked. No people rose up in the streets to defend the fallen oligarch, no secret armies emerged from the forests. Putin got away with it, and he would get away with much more. He would grow into his office. Today you see tiny Putin walking through the cavernous chambers of the Kremlin during official ceremonies, and clearly his stature has not risen to the grandeur of his surroundings. But time itself has done its work. When he meets Trump, it will be his fourth US president. Numerous British prime ministers have left office, along with two French presidents and a German chancellor (whom, in a less than proud moment for the German people, Putin later hired). Putin remains. A kind of stature accrues to him just from surviving. A middling stature.

Theory 3: Putin had a stroke

This early classic of Putinology was popularised in a 2005 Atlantic article titled “The Accidental Autocrat”, which cited the work of a “behavioural research fellow” at the Naval War College in Rhode Island named Brenda L Connors. After studying film of Putin’s movements, Connors concluded that he had a debilitating and likely congenital neurological deficiency, possibly caused by a stroke in utero, which prevented him from having full use of the right side of his body – which is why his left arm swings more than his right when he walks. Connors told the Atlantic that it was unlikely that Putin had ever crawled as an infant and that he still moves with his entire body, “in a head-to-tail pattern, like a fish or a reptile”.

The explanatory power of this hypothesis in terms of predicting whether Putin will, for example, invade Belarus, is low, but nonetheless it is haunting. One pictures little fish-like Putin moving through the world of men and women who have use of both sides of their bodies, and he, without that ability, feeling sad.

Theory 4: Putin is a KGB agent

After his famous first meeting with Putin, the newly elected President George W Bush declared at a press conference that he had looked into the Russian’s eyes and seen his soul. His advisers were mortified. “I visibly stiffened,” national security adviser Condoleezza Rice wrote in her memoirs. Secretary of state Colin Powell pulled his president aside. “You may have seen all that” in his eyes, Powell told W, “but I still look in his eyes and I see K-G-B. Remember,” he added ominously, “there’s a reason he’s fluent in German.” Vice President Dick Cheney felt the same way: Every time he saw Putin, he told people, “I think KGB, KGB, KGB.”

And ever since then, it’s been the same way. Whenever Putin tried to be nice to someone, it was because he was a KGB agent, manipulating them. And whenever he was mean – as when he introduced a dog-fearing Angela Merkel to his black labrador retriever Connie – this, too, was because he was a KGB agent, angling for psychological advantage.

That the KGB formed the bulk of Putin’s professional experience is beyond doubt – he worked there from the day he graduated college in 1974 until at least August 1991. And, what is more, the KGB was not just a company, but a university: at the Higher School of the KGB, in Moscow, which Putin attended, young agents took university-level classes. It was important, the KGB higher-ups believed, that the cadres understand the world they were being trained to subvert and manipulate. It is entirely likely that Putin kept in touch with his former KGB associates after 1991, while serving in the St Petersburg mayor’s office. And it is true that Putin has brought many of his former KGB colleagues with him to the highest levels of government.

And yet I can’t help but find the KGB hypothesis unsatisfying. When people such as Rice and Powell and Cheney speak of Putin’s KGB past, they are suggesting that he treats politics as essentially a contest in manipulation. People are either his agents, whom he is running, or his adversaries, whom he is trying to weaken. This is a ruthless worldview, but don’t many people in politics act this way? Aren’t there a lot of bullies who divide people into those they can control and those they can’t? Isn’t that how Dick Cheney operated, for example? That doesn’t make it an acceptable way to go through the world. It just doesn’t seem particularly unique to the KGB.

But the KGB label has other uses in western mouths. It is synecdoche for the Soviet Union, and Putin-as-Soviet-revanchist, with a hammer in one hand and a sickle in the other, is one of his chief avatars in the western press. What exactly is meant by this? Certainly not that anyone thinks Putin supports a historic union of the proletariat (the hammer) and the peasantry (the sickle), nor that he is an actual communist who wants to expropriate the bourgeoisie. Rather the USSR is meant here in its aspect as an aggressive imperial power that occupied half of eastern Europe. And it is true that Putin seems to feel about the countries on the Russian periphery that they are not full countries with rights and sovereignty – it’s fair to say he is an imperialist. What is unfair (to the Soviet Union, really) is to suggest that his imperialism is specifically Soviet in nature. The Soviets did not invent imperialism; the Russian Empire, for example, whose basic geography the Soviets managed to keep intact, did not become an empire by not conquering native Arctic peoples, prosecuting brutal decades-long wars in the Caucasus, and lopping off parts of Poland. Putin is a Russian imperialist, full stop.

But finally, of course, there is a moral connotation to saying that someone is “KGB”, because the Soviet KGB carried out assassinations, harassed and imprisoned dissidents, and was one of the pioneers of what came to be known as fake news. But the idea that anyone who walked its halls was pure evil is as blinkered as the KGB’s own idea of itself as the one uncorrupted, “professional” institution in late Soviet life.

Image
Putin and his dog, Connie, with the canine-fearing Angela Merkel Photograph: STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images

The KGB was a giant organisation – in the 1980s it employed hundreds of thousands of people. After it started shedding staff in the 1990s, we learned that KGB agents came in all shapes and sizes. There was Philipp Bobkov, for example, who once persecuted Soviet dissidents, but who after the Soviet Union’s collapse became an employee of the media oligarch Vladimir Gusinsky and a thoughtful commentator on the old KGB. Other KGB agents went into the private sector as surveillance specialists or hired assassins. There were KGB agents who stayed on with the FSB and tried to fight organised crime. There were KGB agents who stayed on with the FSB and used their positions to abet organised crime, to murder innocent citizens, and to amass small private fortunes. There were former KGB agents who fought bravely in Chechnya and there were former KGB agents who committed war crimes there. There was Alexander Litvinenko, the KGB agent turned FSB agent who was ordered by his corrupt superiors to kill the oligarch Boris Berezovsky, and who instead of doing so went public. Eventually in fear for his life he fled the country, settling in London where he cooperated with western intelligence agencies and published numerous anti-Putin broadsides. Years later, he was poisoned by a large dose of Polonium-210 in London by another former KGB agent, Andrei Lugovoi.

Theory 5: Putin is a killer

Though I now live in New York, I was born in Russia and sometimes write about Russia. This means that people often share their opinions of Putin with me. I remember one evening in March 2006, when I was introduced to a well-known French photographer. Upon learning that I was Russian, she said, “Pou-tine?” The French pronunciation was emasculating to the Russian President, making him sound like those Canadian french fries with gravy on them. “Pou-tine,” said the photographer, “is a stone-cold killer.”

I had heard this opinion before from some Russian oppositionists, but it was the first time I had encountered it in New York. Perhaps because the photographer was French, or perhaps because she was a photographer, the opinion struck me as primarily aesthetic: Putin was a killer because of his cold, bloodless face, his expressionless eyes, his refusal to smile. A few months later, Litvinenko was poisoned in London, and the journalist Anna Politkovskaya was shot while returning home with some groceries in downtown Moscow. The view that Putin was a killer became much more widespread.

I have no wish to dispute that characterisation here. Putin has launched violent, deadly wars against Chechnya, Georgia and Ukraine, and I agree with the recent British inquiry that concluded that Putin “probably” approved of the assassination of Litvinenko. But the launching of aggressive wars and the killing of a former operative who has defected are hardly the sort of thing that will get you kicked out of the international community.

No, there is another sense in which Putin is believed to be a murderer; it was the subject of much discussion in the United States during the strange rise of Donald Trump. During the Republican primaries, the conservative TV host Joe Scarborough, otherwise famously cosy with Trump, pressed the candidate about his sympathies for Putin – who, in Scarborough’s words, “kills journalists and political opponents”. A few days later, on a more prominent Sunday-morning politics programme, the former White House adviser George Stephanopoulos challenged Trump again. When Trump protested that “nobody’s proven that he’s killed anybody, as far as I’m concerned”, Stephanopoulos confidently replied: “There have been many allegations that he was behind the killing of Anna Politkovskaya.” Trump parried as best he could. But the issue obviously hasn’t gone away. In an interview before the Super Bowl in early February, Trump was confronted by Fox blowhard Bill O’Reilly. “Putin’s a killer,” said O’Reilly, to which Trump infamously (though accurately) responded, “There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What do you think? Our country’s so innocent?”

“I don’t know of any government leaders that are killers,” said O’Reilly. He did not mean that he didn’t know of any government leaders who had ordered the invasion of Iraq or who had signed off on dozens of drone strikes or shoot-to-kill missions such as the one that ended the life of Osama bin Laden. He meant that he didn’t know of any leaders who went around killing regular folks.

The trouble with this accusation is not that it is false, but that, like most Putinology, it is sloppy. When most people accuse Putin of killing “journalists and political opponents”, they mean Politkovskaya, killed in 2006, and the opposition leader and former deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov, killed in 2015. Allegations that Putin was behind the killing of Politkovskaya and Nemtsov do exist – but very few people with knowledge of the cases believe them. What they do believe is that Politkovskaya and Nemtsov were killed by associates of Ramzan Kadyrov, the violent dictator of Chechnya. In the Nemtsov case, the evidence for the involvement of people close to Kadyrov is overwhelming. In the Politkovskaya case, it is more circumstantial (and with Politkovskaya there is considerable evidence of other efforts to harm her, including an earlier poisoning attempt that looked more like a government operation), but still the most likely scenario.

And yet Kadyrov’s involvement does not absolve Putin, because Kadyrov works for Putin. It has been widely reported that Putin was baffled and angry over the Nemtsov killing and refused for weeks to take Kadyrov’s phone calls. On the other hand, here we are almost two years later, and Kadyrov is still in charge of Chechnya. He was put there by Putin. So if Putin did not directly order these killings – and, again, it is the consensus view among most journalists and analysts that he did not – he nonetheless continues to work with and support those who did.


With Putin the killer, we reach something like Putinology’s conceptual blind spot. What we seem to be dealing with, in Russia, is neither a failed state, where the government has no power, nor a totalitarian state, where it has all the power, but something in between. Putin does not order killings, and yet killings happen. Putin ordered the takeover of Crimea, but, as best as anyone can tell, he seems not to have ordered the invasion of eastern Ukraine. That invasion appears to have been undertaken as a freelance operation by a small group of mercenaries funded by a well-connected Russian businessman. Real Russian troops came later. But if Putin isn’t in charge of everything – if there are powerful forces operating outside of Putin’s say-so – what’s the point of Putinology? On this point, Putinology is silent.

The absolute worst crime of which Putin has been accused is the bombing of several apartment blocks in Moscow in 1999. In September of that year, with President Boris Yeltsin ill, presidential elections just around the corner, and a relatively unknown Putin recently moved from heading the FSB to running the government as Yeltsin’s prime minister, two large apartment buildings blew up in Moscow, killing nearly 300 people. A few days later there was another building explosion, this time in the southern city of Volgodonsk. And a few days after that, in a bizarre incident, some men were caught by local police planting what appeared to be explosives in the basement of a building in Ryazan – the men turned out to be from the FSB. They quickly removed the apparent bomb and declared the whole thing a “training exercise” meant to test the vigilance of the populace and the police.

Though the government immediately accused Chechen terrorists of planting the bombs, and used this as justification for its invasion of Chechnya, a persistent minority has always insisted the government itself was responsible. (Litvinenko was one of the earliest and most vocal proponents of this theory.) A public commission to investigate the allegations was set up by the Soviet chemist turned dissident Sergei Kovalyov. Two members of the commission, Sergei Yushenkov and Yuri Shchekochikhin, were killed in 2003. Yushenkov was shot outside his apartment building; Shchekochikhin was poisoned.

The question of the Russian government’s involvement in the bombings has remained a vexed one. The most authoritative account of the available evidence was written up a few years ago by John Dunlop of the Hoover Institute. While careful not to claim to have settled the case definitively, Dunlop argued that there is compelling evidence that the bombings were ordered by the Yeltsin inner circle and carried out by the FSB.

And yet here, too, Putin evades us. If the apartment bombings really were a palace plot, it was not Putin’s palace but Yeltsin’s that plotted them. And indeed the political killings that seem to characterise the Putin years also characterised the Yeltsin ones. This does not, again, absolve Putin of anything. But it points to a longer and more complex period of violence, of groups inside and outside the government employing assassination and terror as a political weapon, and not just the machinations of one evil man.
If Putin, as president, is unable to stop this violence, then maybe someone else should be president; if Putin, as president, is a party to the violence, then certainly someone else should be.

But on our end, it behoves us to be judicious. The practitioners of Putinology are maddeningly imprecise, and in no area of Putinology is their imprecision more damaging. When George Stephanopoulos appears on national TV and declares that Putin ordered the killing of Anna Politkovskaya, it makes it that much harder to pin the blame on Putin for things that he did, demonstrably and undoubtedly, do.

Theory 6: Putin is a kleptocrat

Until around 2009, the complaints of Putin’s liberal critics in Russia, amplified by western journalists and statesmen, centred on his abuses of human rights. He was the censor of the Russian media, the butcher of Chechnya, a total stick in the mud during our glorious invasion of Iraq, the killer of Litvinenko, and the invader of Georgia. It took the anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny to fundamentally shift the discourse around Putin away from these abuses and towards something else: the theft of Russians’ money. Navalny, a corporate lawyer and online anti-corruption activist, concluded that in contemporary Russia, human rights was not a winning issue, but money was. (He memorably dubbed Putin’s United Russia a “party of crooks and thieves”.) In this account, soon taken up by western Putinologists, Putin was no longer a scary monster but something simpler and more manageable: a thief.

The accusation had the virtue of being unquestionably true. Either that, or a surprising number of Putin’s old friends were business geniuses, because in the period since he came to power, they had become billionaires. It was one thing for the Berezovskys and Khodorkovskys and Abramoviches to emerge from the vicious scramble of the 1990s with billions in their pockets – certainly they could not have made those billions were it not for their proximity to the Yeltsin regime, but they also had to survive the wilds of early Russian capitalism. They were geniuses of a kind. Whereas the only genius ever demonstrated by Putin’s billionaire friends was befriending the future president of Russia.

If Putin liked his friends (which he seemed to) and if his friends liked lining their pockets (which they definitely did), then it followed that hitting Putin’s friends in their wallets would cause Putin to pull back from some of his more outrageous foreign policy gambits, most notably in Ukraine. This was the genesis of the “targeted” sanctions imposed in 2014 by the US and EU against Putin’s “inner circle”.

If we do not hear so much anymore about Putin’s kleptocracy, it may be because these sanctions failed to alter the behaviour of Putin on the world stage. No doubt Putin’s friends, and Putin himself, did not enjoy the sanctions: Putin’s friends because they were no longer allowed to travel to their favourite vacation spots in Spain; Putin because the sanctions put him beyond the pale of the international order. It was embarrassing.

But this did not stop Putin from stalling and undermining the Minsk accords meant to halt the fighting in eastern Ukraine, nor did it stop Putin from pursuing his brutal intervention in the Syrian civil war. If Putin’s friends were begging him to come to his senses, he wasn’t listening. More likely, Putin’s friends knew that they had been the beneficiaries of his largesse, his unlikely rise to power, and that they had to support him, come what may. Kleptocrats are not the types to organise successful palace coups. For that, you need true believers. If there is a true believer among them, he has yet to show his face. In fact, it appears the closest thing to a true believer is Putin himself.

Putin lives a fairly modest day-to-day existence. Yes, he has a palace on the Black Sea, built with pilfered funds, but he doesn’t actually live in it. In fact, it is unlikely that he will ever live in it. The palace is, in a way, the most hopeful thing that Putin is building – a promise of his eventual retirement, and under circumstances where he is not torn from limb to limb by a mob that has entered the Kremlin and overpowered his personal guards.

Theory 7: Putin is named Vladimir

A recent article published on the website of a respected American magazine warned readers that the end of communism “doesn’t mean that Russia has dropped its primary mission of destabilising Europe”, and described Putin as “a former KGB agent who, it is no accident, shares the name Vladimir Ilyich with Lenin”. When it was pointed out that Putin does not, in fact, share the name Vladimir Ilyich with Lenin – his name is Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin – the article was corrected to say that it is no accident that Putin shares the name Vladimir with Lenin. If it is not an accident, this may be because it is one of the most common Russian names. But still, it cannot be denied. Both Putin and Lenin are named Vladimir.

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‘The outpouring of Putinalysis was a function of wanting to wish Trump away, to blame him on someone else. Surely we could not have elected this bigoted idiot-narcissist – surely he must have been forced on us from somewhere else.’ Photograph: Dmitri Lovetsky/AP

The Putin-is-named-Vladimir hypothesis is either the historic high point of Putinology, or its nadir, depending on your perspective. But the confident proclamation of expertise by someone who does not technically know Putin’s name is surely a sign of something. It’s a sign that most Putinology is not and has never been about Putin. In the weeks before and after the Trump inauguration, the outpouring of Putinalysis was a function of wanting to wish Trump away, to blame him on someone else. Surely we could not have elected this bigoted idiot-narcissist – surely he must have been forced on us from somewhere else.

There is no reason at this point to dispute the consensus view of most intelligence analysts that Russian agents hacked the DNC and then leaked the emails to Julian Assange; it is also a well-known fact that Putin hated Hillary Clinton.

Furthermore, it is true that the election was very close, and it did not take much to tip the result to one side. But it is also essential to remember that there was hardly anything damaging in the leaked DNC emails.

Compared to the 40-year cycle of US deindustrialisation, during which only the rich gained in wealth; the 25-year rightwing war on the Clintons; the eight-year-old Tea Party assault on facts, immigration and taxes; a tepid, centrist campaign; and a supposed late-breaking revelation from the director of the FBI about the dubious investigation of Clinton’s use of a private email server – well, compared to all those factors, the leaked DNC emails must rank low on the list of reasons for Trump’s victory. And yet, according to a recent report, Hillary Clinton and her campaign still blame the Russians – and, by extension, Barack Obama, who did not make a big issue of the hacks before November – for her electoral debacle. In this instance, thinking about Putin helps not to think about everything else that went wrong, and what needs to be done to fix it.

This evasion is the essence of Putinology, which seeks solace in the undeniable but faraway badness of Putin at the expense of confronting the far more uncomfortable badness in front of one’s face. Putinology predates the 2016 election by a decade, and yet what we have seen in connection to Trump these past few months has been its Platonic ideal.

Here in front of us is a man – Donald J Trump – who has said countless cruel and bigoted things and proposed cruel and bigoted policies, who is a pathological liar, who has failed in almost everything he has ever tried and who surrounds himself with conmen and billionaires. And yet, day after day, there is breathless excitement over each new data point in the effort to uncover Trump’s hidden connections to Russia – each one inflated by the hope that this, now, finally, will render him illegitimate, remove him from the White House, and end the liberal nightmare of having actually lost an election to this hateful dope.

If Donald Trump is impeached and imprisoned for conspiring with a foreign power to undermine American democracy, I will celebrate as much as the next American. And yet in the long run, the Russia card is not just bad politics, it is intellectual and moral bankruptcy. It is an attempt to blame the deep and abiding problems of our country on a foreign power. As some commentators have pointed out, it is a page from the playbook of none other than Putin himself.

Main image: Various portraits of Russian President Vladimir Putin draw by artist Dmitry Vrubel and his wife Vika Timofeeva for a pop-art calendar. Credit: Reuters
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Re: Clinton Journalist Has Meltdown After His Russian Conspi

Postby admin » Wed Jun 14, 2017 3:37 am

Putin Derangement Syndrome Arrives: Whatever the truth about Trump and Russia, the speculation surrounding it has become a dangerous case of mass hysteria
by Matt Taibbi
April 3, 2017

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So Michael Flynn, who was Donald Trump's national security adviser before he got busted talking out of school to Russia's ambassador, has reportedly offered to testify in exchange for immunity.

Perhaps it will come off just the way people are expecting. Perhaps Flynn will get a deal, walk into the House or the Senate surrounded by a phalanx of lawyers, and unspool the whole sordid conspiracy.

He will explain that Donald Trump, compromised by ancient deals with Russian mobsters, and perhaps even blackmailed by an unspeakable KGB sex tape, made a secret deal. He'll say Trump agreed to downplay the obvious benefits of an armed proxy war in Ukraine with nuclear-armed Russia in exchange for Vladimir Putin's help in stealing the emails of Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and John Podesta.

I personally would be surprised if this turned out to be the narrative, mainly because we haven't seen any real evidence of it. But episodes like the Flynn story have even the most careful reporters paralyzed. What if, tomorrow, it all turns out to be true?

What if reality does turn out to be a massive connect-the-dots image of St. Basil's Cathedral sitting atop the White House? (This was suddenly legitimate British conspiracist Louise Mensch's construction in The New York Times last week.) What if all the Glenn Beck-style far-out charts with the circles and arrows somehow all make sense?

This is one of the tricks that keeps every good conspiracy theory going. Nobody wants to be the one claiming the emperor has no clothes the day His Highness walks out naked. And this Russia thing has spun out of control into just such an exercise of conspiratorial mass hysteria.

Even I think there should be a legitimate independent investigation – one that, given Trump's history, might uncover all sorts of things. But almost irrespective of what ends up being uncovered on the Trump side, the public prosecution of this affair has taken on a malevolent life of its own.

One way we recognize a mass hysteria movement is that everyone who doesn't believe is accused of being in on the plot. This has been going on virtually unrestrained in both political and media circles in recent weeks.

The aforementioned Mensch, a noted loon who thinks Putin murdered Andrew Breitbart but has somehow been put front and center by The Times and HBO's Real Time, has denounced an extraordinary list of Kremlin plants.

She's tabbed everyone from Jeff Sessions ("a Russian partisan") to Rudy Giuliani and former Assistant FBI Director James Kallstrom ("agents of influence") to Glenn Greenwald ("Russian shill") to ProPublica and Democracy Now! (also "Russian shills"), to the 15-year-old girl with whom Anthony Weiner sexted (really, she says, a Russian hacker group called "Crackas With Attitudes") to an unnamed number of FBI agents in the New York field office ("moles"). And that's just for starters.

Others are doing the same. Eric Boehlert of Media Matters, upon seeing the strange behavior of Republican Intel Committee chair Devin Nunes, asked "what kind of dossier" the Kremlin has on Nunes.

Dem-friendly pollster Matt McDermott wondered why reporters Michael Tracey and Zaid Jilani aren't on board with the conspiracy stories (they might be "unwitting" agents!) and noted, without irony, that Russian bots mysteriously appear every time he tweets negatively about them.

Think about that last one. Does McDermott think Tracey and Jilani call their handlers at the sight of a scary Matt McDermott tweet and have the FSB send waves of Russian bots at him on command? Or does he think it's an automated process? What goes through the heads of such people?

I've written a few articles on the Russia subject that have been very tame, basically arguing that it might be a good idea to wait for evidence of collusion before those of us in the media jump in the story with both feet. But even I've gotten the treatment.

I've been "outed" as a possible paid Putin plant by the infamous "PropOrNot" group, which is supposedly dedicated to rooting out Russian "agents of influence." You might remember PropOrNot as the illustrious research team the Washington Post once relied on for a report that accused 200 alternative websites of being "routine peddlers of Russian propaganda during the election season."

Politicians are getting into the act, too. It was one thing when Rand Paul balked at OK-ing the expansion of NATO to Montenegro, and John McCain didn't hesitate to say that "the senator from Kentucky is now working for Vladimir Putin."

Even Bernie Sanders has himself been accused of being a Putin plant by Mensch. But even he's gotten on board of late, asking, "What do the Russians have on Mr. Trump?"

So even people who themselves have been accused of being Russian plants are now accusing people of being Russian plants. As the Russians would say, it's enough to make your bashka hurt.

Sanders should know better. Last week, during hearings in the Senate, multiple witnesses essentially pegged his electoral following as unwitting fellow travelers for Putin.


Former NSA chief Keith Alexander spoke openly of how Russia used the Sanders campaign to "drive a wedge within the Democratic Party," while Dr. Thomas Rid of Kings College in London spoke of Russia's use of "unwitting agents" and "overeager journalists" to drive narratives that destabilized American politics.

This testimony was brought out by Virginia Democrat Mark Warner. Warner has been in full-blown "precious bodily fluids" mode throughout this scandal. During an interview with The Times on the Russia subject a month back, there was a thud outside the window. "That may just be the FSB," he said. The paper was unsure if he was kidding.

Warner furthermore told The Times that in order to get prepared for his role as an exposer of 21st-century Russian perfidy, he was "losing himself in a book about the Romanovs," and had been quizzing staffers about "Tolstoy and Nabokov."

This is how nuts things are now: a senator brushes up on Nabokov and Tolstoy (Tolstoy!) to get pumped to expose Vladimir Putin.

Even the bizarre admission by FBI director (and sudden darling of the same Democrats who hated him months ago) James Comey that he didn't know anything about Russia's biggest company didn't seem to trouble Americans very much. Here's the key exchange, from a House hearing in which Jackie Speier quizzed Comey:

SPEIER: Now, do we know who Gazprom-Media is? Do you know anything about Gazprom, director?

COMEY: I don't.

SPEIER: Well, it's a – it's an oil company.


(Incidentally, Gazprom – primarily a natural-gas giant – is not really an oil company. So both Comey and Speier got it wrong.)

As Leonid Bershidsky of Bloomberg noted, this exchange was terrifying to Russians. The leader of an investigation into Russian espionage not knowing what Gazprom is would be like an FSB chief not having heard of Exxon-Mobil. It's bizarre, to say the least.

Testimony of the sort that came from Warner's committee last week is being buttressed by news stories in liberal outlets like Salon insisting that "Bernie Bros" were influenced by those same ubiquitous McDermott-chasing Russian "bots."

These stories insist that, among other things, these evil bots pushed on the unwitting "bros" juicy "fake news" stories about Hillary being "involved with various murders and money laundering schemes."

Some 13.2 million people voted for Sanders during the primary season last year. What percentage does any rational person really believe voted that way because of "fake news"?

I would guess the number is infinitesimal at best. The Sanders campaign was driven by a lot of factors, but mainly by long-developing discontent within the Democratic Party and enthusiasm for Sanders himself.

To describe Sanders followers as unwitting dupes who departed the true DNC faith because of evil Russian propaganda is both insulting and ridiculous. It's also a testimony to the remarkable capacity for self-deception within the leadership of the Democratic Party.

If the party's leaders really believe that Russian intervention is anywhere in the top 100 list of reasons why some 155 million eligible voters (out of 231 million) chose not to pull a lever for Hillary Clinton last year, they're farther along down the Purity of Essence nut-hole than Mark Warner.


Moreover, even those who detest Trump with every fiber of their being must see the dangerous endgame implicit in this entire line of thinking. If the Democrats succeed in spreading the idea that straying from the DNC-approved candidate – in either the past or the future – is/was an act of "unwitting" cooperation with the evil Putin regime, then the entire idea of legitimate dissent is going to be in trouble.

Imagine it's four years from now (if indeed that's when we have our next election). A Democratic candidate stands before the stump, and announces that a consortium of intelligence experts has concluded that Putin is backing the hippie/anti-war/anti-corporate opposition candidate.

Or, even better: that same candidate reminds us "what happened last time" when people decided to vote their consciences during primary season. It will be argued, in seriousness, that true Americans will owe their votes to the non-Putin candidate. It would be a shock if some version of this didn't become an effective political trope going forward.


But if you're not worried about accusing non-believers of being spies, or pegging legitimate dissent as treason, there's a third problem that should scare everyone.

Last week saw Donna Brazile and Dick Cheney both declare Russia's apparent hack of DNC emails an "act of war." This coupling seemed at first like political end times: as Bill Murray would say, "dogs and cats, living together."

But there's been remarkable unanimity among would-be enemies in the Republican and Democrat camps on this question. Suddenly everyone from Speier to McCain to Kamala Harris to Ben Cardin have decried Russia's alleged behavior during the election as real or metaphorical acts of war: a "political Pearl Harbor," as Cardin put it.

That no one seems to be concerned about igniting a hot war with nuclear-powered Russia at a time when both countries have troops within "hand-grenade range" of each other in Syria is bizarre, to say the least. People are in such a fever to drag Trump to impeachment that these other considerations seem not to matter. This is what happens when people lose their heads.

There are a lot of people who will say that these issues are of secondary importance to the more important question of whether or not we have a compromised Russian agent in the White House.

But when it comes to Trump-Putin collusion, we're still waiting for the confirmation. As Democratic congresswoman Maxine Waters put it, the proof is increasingly understood to be the thing we find later, as in, "If we do the investigations, we will find the connections."

But on the mass hysteria front, we already have evidence enough to fill a dozen books. And if it doesn't freak you out, it probably should.
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Re: Clinton Journalist Has Meltdown After His Russian Conspi

Postby admin » Fri Jun 16, 2017 10:10 pm

Branding Democracy: U.S. Regime Change in Post-Soviet Eastern Europe (EXCERPT)
by Gerald Sussman

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RUSSIA: AMERICANS TO THE RESCUE

U.S. political support for new regimes always has behind it the implied promise of foreign assistance. The disintegration of the Soviet Union and the community party system in Central and Eastern Europe quickly attracted the United States to the region's midst, which has since been a major target of opportunity. Following the collapse, millions of Russians were left without means of subsistence. The first post-Soviet Russian president, Boris Yeltsin, turned to the United States for assistance, and just prior to the 1993 parliamentary elections, [8] the Clinton administration responded with a strong endorsement of the country's new market economy, backed a $10 billion loan from the IMF, and turned its back on the brutal war carried out in Chechnya (Cohen 2005).

The collapse of the Soviet Union triggered an acceleration of democracy promotion in the United States and made it into a major industry. For the United States, of all the countries constituting the former Soviet sphere of interest, Russia, with the largest population, a wealth of resources, and a source of potential resistance, is the crown jewel. From 1992 until 1996, when Boris Yeltsin was reelected as president, the United States made Russia its third largest recipient (at more than $2.1 billion) of bilateral foreign aid. [9] The World Bank and IMF bailed out his government with a $22 billion rescue package, turning a blind eye to Yeltsin's 1993 use of military force to dissolve the Russian parliament and other repressive measures (Hook 2002, 124; Ralph 2000, 202; Rutland 2000, 254).

As inconvenient as Yeltsin's corruption, repression, massive social dislocations, dictatorial behavior, and his personal chronic alcoholism may have been for his foreign backers, his Western supporters had little difficulty in backing him and his embrace of disastrous neoliberal "shock therapy" policies against the challenge of his main Community Party rival. For U.S. policy planners, a convenient depiction of Yeltsin was the false propaganda that he was a democrat, indeed a combination of George Washington and Adam Smith (Rutland, 2000, 244). Responding to Yeltsin's violent seizure of parliament in October 1993 in which 500 people were killed and almost a thousand wounded, the U.S. secretary of state at the time, Warren Christopher, remarked, "The United States does not easily support the suspension of parliaments. But these are extraordinary times" (Klein 2007, 229).

The United States and its allies, including the international banking community, exercised a double standard in the case of Yeltsin. Russian studies professor Stephen Cohen found U.S. behavior toward Russia terribly misguided:

When in the 1990s the U.S.-supported Yeltsin overthrew Russia's elected Parliament and Constitutional Court by force, gave its national wealth and television networks to Kremlin insiders, imposed a constitution without real constraints on executive power and rigged elections, it was "democratic reform"; when Putin continues the process, it is [called] "authoritarianism."


America's "triumphalism" in the CEE region not only ignores the realities of the Russian and Soviet past, he argues, but represents an unnecessary provocation, which has led to a buildup of Russia's nuclear and conventional arsenal and the country's defensive nationalist reaction to the West and hostility to Western-supported "color revolutions" within the former Soviet region (Cohen 1996).

U.S. support for Yeltsin was linked to a campaign of fear, a key element in shock therapy that would open the floodgates to a neoliberal, IMF-approved economy, with its attendant cutbacks in social protections, carried out in the name of modernization and economic efficiency. [10]

The region was filled with factories employing thousands of workers they didn't need, to produce shoddy goods that no one wanted. For years, the whole system was propped up by subsidies and noncommercial trading relationships and sustained by wasteful use of energy that polluted the land, air and water.

That system crumbled when the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union imploded. Today, the countries of the region are moving—some quickly, and some far too slowly—toward open, market-driven economies. Prices have been freed. State-owned enterprises have been sold to private owners. New economic institutions are leading to improved economic policies and management. A commercial law framework is being put in place and enforced. Sound banking systems and practices are beginning to emerge....

During the Soviet period, the price of natural gas was kept so artificially low that Russians joked it was cheaper to leave a gas stove on all the time than to waste matches lighting it. The result, of course, was that huge amounts of natural gas were wasted. Although the wholesale price of gas rose after 1991, consumers did not conserve, mainly because most Russian apartments do not have individual gas meters. A USAID program that links a U.S. utility and Russian counterpart is helping to change that. Vladmiroblgaz and Brooklyn Union Gas have conducted a pilot residential metering project designed to determine how best to improve revenue collection and conserve energy. With USAID financing, 500 meters were purchased and installed in apartments just east of Moscow. Natural gas consumption dropped dramatically. Since then, the pilot program has been expanded. The Vladmiroblgaz-Brooklyn Union Gas program and others like it are now helping conserve natural resources in cities across Russia....

Creating market economies and establishing democracy offer the people of Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia the best long-term hope for higher living standards and a better quality of life. In the short and medium term, however, the weight of change has taken a heavy toll on social services and benefits and caused unemployment and poverty to rise....

A hallmark of the old socialist system was the provision of a basic level of social protection to all its citizens, including universal subsidies for housing, utilities, and social services, and income after retirement, irrespective of need....

Early in the decade, the Ukrainian Government recognized that it had to take a close look at government spending levels and begin to tackle the issue of universal subsidies. In close coordination with local governments, Ukraine initiated a policy which introduced the recovery of real costs for housing and utilities while also protecting the neediest. Universal subsidies for communal services were replaced with financial assistance targeted to help the poor. USAID provided technical expertise to help the municipalities conduct income surveys and objectively determine cut-off points for government aid. Three months after enactment of the enabling legislation, the national housing subsidy program opened 750 offices across the country. As many families started to pay for housing and related services, those in the low income brackets received subsidies. By 1999, over four million families were being helped with targeted subsidies and the government was realizing a net budget savings of $1.2 billion....

A large and stable middle class -- a keystone to enduring democratic systems and dynamic private economies -- still needs to develop. In too many cases, these societies are polarized between a few very wealthy beneficiaries of change and a great number of people who have been unable to access the benefits of reform. At the same time, social services are woefully insufficient, adding to the burden of the common citizen. Toward the end of the decade, one-half of Eurasia’s population and one-quarter of Southern Tier citizens were living in poverty. The turmoil and pain resulting from incomplete reforms have discouraged citizens and led many to long for the certainty of the old Soviet days.

-- A Decade of Change: Profiles of USAID Assistance to Europe and Eurasia, by USAID


According to Cohen, the United States saw the disintegration of the Soviet Union as an opportunity not for strategic collaboration with a remaining major political and military power but for "a relentless, winner-take-all exploitation of Russia's post-1991 weakness" (Cohen 1996). Going beyond the threats to the security of the Soviet Union, the United States and its NATO allies expanded the encirclement of Russia by extending NATO membership to countries in the CEE region and placing or planning military bases in at least half of the former Soviet republics (Cohen 1996).

America's aid package to Yeltsin required a radical restructuring that forced the end of price controls and state subsidies, the privatization of state industries, the floating of the state currency, and reduction of barriers to and restrictions on transnational trade and investments. Led by economic shock therapist Jeffrey Sachs and the Harvard Institute for International Development, and backed with $57.7 million in USAID funding (and some $300 million in USAID money granted to other American contractors), U.S. economists and business firms worked closely with Yeltsin's first director of economic reform, Yegor Gaidar, and later his main architect of privatization, first deputy prime minister Anatoly Chubais, "a darling of the U.S. and Western financial establishments" (Wedel 1998).

The program was intended to dismantle remaining state economic structures and put in place a disciplining infrastructure of market-based institutions. In this vein, George H.W. Bush had earlier announced (1990) a startup initiative of $300,000 for "establishing a center and clearinghouse for American private-sector assistance and volunteer activities in Eastern Europe" that would "support democratic change and market-oriented economic reform" (Devroy 1990). What the Russians had anticipated, but the United States would not deliver, was some degree of equitable partnership. But, as Russian specialist Cohen observed, what the Russians got was an American withdrawal from the ABM treaty, U.S. and NATO military expansion in former Soviet republics in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic, aggressive access to Caspian oil and gas, and hostility to Russian domestic and foreign policies (Cohen 2006).

The collapse of Soviet communist power in 1991 brought chaotic changes. Almost immediately, Russia experienced an explosive proliferation of political parties. Nineteen parties contested elections for the Duma in 1993; two years later, there were 43 (Carothers 2006b, 26), the Communist Party being the largest among them. Initially, two of the beneficiaries of IRI and NDI assistance in the Russian parliament were the pro-Western, "reformist," and personality-centered Yabloko Party and the Russia's Choice party, later reformed as the Union of Right Forces (SPS). The "larger parties such as the Community Party, Unity [Putin-aligned party, now merged as United Russia], and Vladimir Zhirinovsky's [right-wing nationalist] Liberal Democratic Party appeared to them as unsuitable partners for Western aid." IRI in particular was committed to blocking the leading Communists from coming tot power (Carothers 2006b, 102-103).

The conversion of the Russian economy to a haven for foreign investments and trade, with its security supervised by NATO and its politics guided by the West, is a dream of supremacy that would even surpass the wartime "Grand Area" strategy of American global planners. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, a rush of American consultants arrived to train their Russian counterparts in the dark arts and technologies of political consulting (discussed in Sussman 2005). By the late 1990s, Russians had developed a political consulting and electioneering industry of their own. A Russian academic (Pshizova 2007) found that the professionalization of politics in Russia rationalizes the lack of a civil society, which permits the concentration of power in the hands of new political formations, former Soviet Community Party apparatchiks and nomenklatura, their billionaire allies, former KGB agents, and other closely associated groups and individuals, including those in the state-controlled media.

The management of Russian-style democracy by professionals enables political groups to bypass popular mobilization by citizen activists, an activity in which only the current Russian Community Party (CPR) is particularly strong. Inasmuch as professional management of politics invites more expensive forms of lobbying and campaigning, business patrons stand to benefit, which works against the political ambitions of the CPR. To wit, in the 1999 Russian parliamentary elections, 78 percent of political party expenditures (83 percent for victorious parties) went to television advertising. The pattern seen in Russian electoral politics, much like the United States, indicates a low level of party identification, close ties between parties and state bureaucracies and the latter's resources, increasing use of political technologies (polling, focus groups, advertising, media appearances, and the like), and image-making and personalization of political "leadership" (Pshizova 2007, 4, 10, 15). Russia's Niccolo M website boasts that several of its top managers are members of the American Political Consulting Association ("Niccolo M" 2007).

Russia's greater a sorption into the world economy is made more certain by the presence of global consumer-oriented corporations, including Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Ikea, American Express, Nestle, Wrigley, Procter & Gamble, Unilvever, Nike, Levi Strauss, PepsiCo, Philip Morris, GM, and others. Their presence is supported by the consumer marketing data delivered by such brand research companies as WPP's TGI and TNS Gallup (O'Leary 2008). The operations of leading Western PR consultants, such as Rory Davenport, managing director of the fast-growing Washington-based Qorvis Communications, is another reason behind Russia's accelerating market status. Paced by Russia, whose annual advertising market expanded an an average of 41 percent from 2000 to 2006 and reached sixth place internationally by 2006, Central and Eastern Europe as a region has the fastest advertising growth rate in the world (Campaign Magazine 2007).

After an initial delirium with the U.S. market model, Western economic and political assistance eventually became unwelcome in Russia. Before the 2003 legislative election, Russia's centrist Yabloko Party turned down the offer of foreign assistance. Yabloko and the right-wing SPS party questioned the motives behind Western backing, which they came to see as focused more on campaign victories than long-term party development (Carothers 2006b, 103, 169) -- and perhaps because association with the West damaged their reputations as genuinely Russian parties amidst a climate of intensifying nationalist sentiment. Nonetheless, $45.2 million in U.S. assistance to Russia was targeted to democracy programs in FY 2006. Putin himself expressed skepticism about the "civilizing role" that democracy assistance represents (Wilson 2009, 378).

Since Putin's ascendancy to Russia's presidency and then prime ministership, the country's political disposition toward the United States and its program of democracy assistance has significantly changed. One target of the Putin government's political crackdown as been the NGO community, both domestic and foreign, consisting of several hundred thousand non-profit organizations, which the Duma, passing by a wide margin, forced into reregistration under a restrictive 2006 law. Many foreign NGOs were shut down. Speaking for the Duma, Alexei Ostrovsky, a Duma deputy, said to the parliament: "We have seen what happened in Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova [11] and how these local branches of foreign NGOs that are funded by the CIA functioned .... We want to defend our citizens from the chaos which our country can be dragged into by these foreign NGOs" (Page and Evans 2005). Over 90 percent of funding for human rights NGOs is from foreign sources, particularly NED (Abdullaev 2007). Russian officials also distrust local NGOs as being either corrupt or inefficient, leading to their underfunding and the substitution by Russian corporation philanthropy. Responding to criticism from the Council of Europe, Putin's presidential successor, Dmitry Medvedev, agreed in 2009 to revise the 2006 law to permit greater freedom for human rights and other NGOs.

Apart from civil society, there has been a degree of foreign political engagement in Russia. An NDI assessment congratulated itself on the role it played in transforming Russian society through the introduction of American electioneering techniques. Under U.S. influence, the study confidently claimed, Russian political parties were now

targeting their communications to voters based on demographic and geographic information ... conducting research on voter attitudes through focus groups and polling ... small meetings, coalitions with civil groups, door knocking, phone banks, and dpublic leafleting; organizing more sophisticated press operations that attempt to create news and respond to events ... Much of this change can be attributed to NDI training (cited in Carothers 1999, 152; italics added).


If the U.S. influenced Russian politics as much as the NDI claimed, the accession of Vladimir Putin suggests that either the American organization is seriously misguided or the real intent behind U.S. political assistance actually has little to do with institutionalizing democracy.

_______________

Notes:

8. According to a New York Times account, Clinton's secretary of state, Warren Christopher, acted like a "politician passionately endorsing a candidate at a campaign whistle-stop" during his visit to Russia just before the December 1993 parliamentary election. Christopher supported Yeltsin's suspension of parliament in September of that year (Sciolino 1993).

9. In 1996, a group of American consultants, including a team that had previously worked on Pete Wilson's gubernatorial campaign in California, went to work on the Russian presidential campaign for Boris Yeltsin. Unfortunately for Russia (Sussman 2005), Yeltsin failed to require a non-disclosure agreement from his American advisors, which resulted in an embarrassing cover story in Time magazine that made the Russian president look sadly dependent on foreign patronage (Vuijst 2008a). The American campaign advisors pushed a hard line anti-communist strategy, creating a false choice between going back to Stalin or going forward with Yeltsin (Steele, personal communication, 2008).

10. Shock therapy also had the early support of conservative Central European economists, including Poland's Leszek Balcerowicz and the Czech (currently president) Vaclav Klaus, "experts [who] were integrated into transnational networks of exchange" (Brier 2009, 347).
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