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On Subversion, Disinformation, and Propaganda-- And Why We're Losing the War

Who's "we"?

In the larger sense, America.

More specifically, liberal Americans.

More specifically still, the Democratic Party.

What's this "War" of which you write?

Again in the largest sense, the long war waged by Russia, first in its Soviet incarnation, and now in its incarnation as an autocracy under Putin. Russia is not the only adversary waging a war of subversion via disinformation and propaganda, but they are the most expert and they have been focused on America as "the main enemy" for a very long time. And they put a LOT of resources into it. But there are also other players out there using similar playbooks.

In a sadder and closer-to-home sense, the "War Within" involves Americans versus Americans. Though this is promoted and strongly enabled by the outside adversary(s) as part of their larger strategy, there is an equally long history of Americans motivated by greed and hunger for power who haven't hesitated to use the same arsenal in their quest to accumulate wealth and control at the expense of other Americans.

Define terms, please-- 'subversion'? 'Disinformation'? 'Propaganda'?

Any search engine and all dictionaries will provide general definitions. But for our purposes, 'subversion' is any strategy used to render an adversary either unable or unwilling to oppose the actions of the subverter. Here's an example: Promote disunity among your opponents with "No True Scotsman" arguments that splinter them into increasingly narrow factions and set them against one another.

Disinformation is deliberate deception, but that's more than lies or fake news. It can be distortion of the importance of a particular piece of information, distraction, misinterpretation of factual information, the establishment of nonexistent connections between actual events or facts, etc. It can be as simple as a suggestion to an innocent journalist that they investigate something that will ultimately prove to be a blind alley, rather than pursuing something else that would lead to a genuine story. It can be using various audiences' lack of sophistication against them- we see this a lot in loud assertions that something is "proved" by "research". On more rigorous technical analysis, no such "proof" exists, but the disinformation has already had its effect.

Propaganda can be very crude and still be effective- see "Facebook/bots/2016 General Election". But it can also be more subtle, and very powerful. It comes in many forms. A great deal of marketing and advertising relies on what is, essentially, propaganda: Influencing the beliefs and actions of the target audience via a whole range of informational tools.

So how are we "losing" against this nasty stuff?

That question itself holds the first clue: "Nasty stuff." Americans have an ingrained and visceral "eeeeeyew" response to information warfare. Subversion, disinformation, propaganda? Those are used by Bad Guys. Since we are the Good Guys, all we have to do is Tell the Truth, Protect the Free Press, and Justice Will Prevail. This combination of naivete' and squeamishness has been most effectively exploited.

Here's an example from the smaller-scale War Within: The "Liberal" bubble. Personally, I think being liberal is a fine and admirable thing. I look at the dictionary definitions and my heart swells with pride. "Open to new behavior or opinions"? "Respectful of individual rights and freedoms"? These are good things, right? Of course! Me and other self-identifying Liberals in this here bubble think it's a wonderful thing to be! And while we've been complacently relying on those dictionary definitions to explain who we are and why it's so great, have we been paying attention to what's been happening outside our bubble? No, we've relied on simple faith. If people just look at the definition...

Except that there's been a decades-long campaign of disinformation and propaganda to turn the label "Liberal" into a vile insult. And it's working.

Facts, dictionaries, records, primary sources, all the things we love and rely on and have such faith in can be dry and dusty, compared to the shiny glitter of propaganda. And they can be very vulnerable to disinformation tactics. Does the phrase "Lies, damn' lies, and statistics" ring a bell?

So what do we do? Join them in the gutter? Isn't the cure as bad as the disease?

Yes and no. Remembering that we are the Good Guys, after all, there is no shame in embracing that identity and staking our claim to the moral high ground there. Sure, it somewhat limits our tactics, and they have a helluva head start on us. But the truth is that pretty much everyone has both a 'better self' and a 'baser self'. While it's generally easier to tickle the fear buttons and the self-interest buttons, it's not that difficult to tickle the love buttons and the altruism buttons-- and it can be very powerful.

America hasn't always been sitting back and letting our adversaries steamroll us in this war. We have propaganda chops of our own. "Radio Free Europe," the "Voice of America" even the Peace Corps were all tools in America's fight to keep the hearts and minds of the world out from under the Soviet cloud. Yes, we didn't always use them well and they were occasionally subverted against us, often by our own ineptitude-- but using an adversary's mistakes against them is part of the package. The correct response is not to quit using a tool that we've made a mistake with, but to fix the mistake, recalibrate the tool, and keep fighting.

There are three things we can do to fight back, and I believe to ultimately win (because, yeah, we are the Good Guys):

First: Acknowledge that the war exists and commit to fighting it. Commit resources, ingenuity, and effort. Point out what's happening. Be alert for our adversary's actions and CALL THEM OUT. Point out what they're doing. Pull away the curtain. Explain what they're up to. No one likes to feel like a manipulated tool, and, at first, we won't admit to ourselves that's what's been happening to us. Persistence. Repetition. Avoid blaming-the-victim framings in favor of "whoa, they're clever-- but now that we SEE what they're doing, we don't have to be fooled".

Second: Use propaganda techniques to make the Good Stuff shinier, louder, and more attention-getting. Yes, even if that means sometimes oversimplifying, losing the nuance, and giving up the on-the-other-hand equivocation. Is direct participation of people in determining their leadership and the policies that will shape their lives a Good Thing? Damn' straight it is, and IT DOES WORK. Yes, it can be subverted and perverted and made less effective by a clever adversary, but that doesn't change the reality: It's a Good Thing and Worth Making Work, even at a cost.

Third: Use propaganda techniques to expose the icky, icky, ickiness of the Bad Stuff. Not only is what we're promoting a Good Thing, take a hard, personal, in-your-face and it-can-happen-to-me look at how unpleasant the alternatives really are. Okay, so taking passports away from some people with Mexican-sounding names in the border states is okay because I don't like Mexicans and it won't happen to me anyway? You think so? What about when the passport-takers-away decide that they don't want YOU traveling for some reason? You think it can't happen? LOOK OVER THERE (pointing at Vladivostok and the latest defenestration and/or forcible detainment of some Enemy of Putin trying to flee). THAT'S WHAT THEY WANT. And it won't stop with "people with Mexican-sounding names," bucko.

We can turn this war around. But we have to start actually fighting it.


Russia Is Co-opting Angry Young Men

via The Atlantic

Fight clubs, neo-Nazi soccer hooligans, and motorcycle gangs serve as conduits for the Kremlin’s influence operations in Western countries

Part of the appeal of this strategy is its sheer outlandishness. It may seem implausible that Russia’s secret services could recruit or radicalize skinheads or social outcasts in the West. The Kremlin can easily argue that whatever ties exist between far-right groups in Russia and the West occur spontaneously, and have no connection to the Russian state. But whether it be Serb ultranationalists in Montenegro or neo-Nazis in Hungary, the hand of Russia’s intelligence services has in many cases already been exposed. Russia’s ongoing war in eastern Ukraine, waged using separatist proxies under the firm command and control of the Russian military, has provided a convenient recruiting ground for right-wing fanatics from Brazil to Belarus.

After the Kremlin accelerated its covert war against Western democracies in the aftermath of its invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s intelligence services dramatically ramped up their “active measures” (in Russian intelligence jargon, aktivnyye meropriyatiya or “active measures” refers to a broad range of covert influence and/or subversive operations) using radical-right and fringe groups. These groups serve as the perfect unwitting agents to accomplish Moscow’s twin goals of destabilizing Western societies and co-opting Western business and political elites.

By forging ties to radical groups on the far right, and sometimes on the far left, the Kremlin has developed convenient local surrogates that can amplify its talking points, even as Russian trolls reinforce the divisive narratives such groups spread online.

It would be a mistake, however, to think that the partnerships between the Kremlin and these groups are always marriages of convenience. Many are genuine partnerships based on a shared aversion to liberal democracy and a desire to undermine it.

Yes, disinformation and propaganda are the major battlefield tools for Putin's war on the west and 'liberal democracies' in general, and 'the main enemy' (America) in particular.

But they are not by any means the only tools.

Anyone who thinks otherwise is in denial, or naive beyond what's good for them.

When you look at those videos of the skinheads doing dumbshit, mean, scary, stupid skinhead things and think "What tools!" you are more accurate than you may realize.

And, in America at least, they are heavily-armed. Why? Oh, just because Putin's Russia has put a buttload of effort, money, and resources behind the NRA, that's all.

Purely coincidental, I'm sure.

Are you?


John McCain's Last Service to America

I didn't agree with much of John McCain's ideological agenda, and I was keenly aware of his flaws, and the damage that some of his ideas and actions have done to things I value.

Nevertheless, he has my respect, and his family has my sympathy in their time of loss. As do the people of Arizona, whom he served conscientiously, to the best of his ability, for decades.

It is, of course, easy to point out everything he ever did wrong. It is easy to question his motives, the compromises he made, the values he expressed. It's easy to find flaws and faults. He was on the other side of the aisle, for one thing.

Nevertheless, I suspect we will see a few days' very welcome public applause for John McCain and the live he lived, and the service he gave this country, and that is not only a good thing, it is a profoundly valuable thing right now.

We need focus and unity on things that we can agree on. We need to share and praise the values of service and patriotism that his life expressed. The sacrifices he made for this country. The genuine heroism he displayed as a young Navy pilot. The deep commitment to public service he lived as a Senator.

It is profoundly valuable and important right now because we are under attack. That attack is focused on dividing us. On magnifying our differences and promoting our hatred for one another as Americans of differing opinions, ideologies, beliefs, and backgrounds. We are experiencing a deeply anti-American campaign of disinformation and propaganda to keep us at each others' throats.

By the life he lived, his words, his personal sacrifice, the ideals he expressed, the commitment he made to public service, John McCain demonstrated his love for an America that is bigger than any narrow ideology.

At a time when so many things divide us, when it is so easy to find things to hate one another for, John McCain has rendered us a last service: The opportunity to come together in celebration of a truly American life, writ large in all its heroism and all its flaws. To celebrate the things we share, that he shared with us, rather than to tear each other down for everything we believe each other are wrong about.

Thank you, Senator.

Pass gently, and know that your contribution to this nation is honored, and will not be forgotten.


Looks like Putin is throwing Dirty Donald under the bus.

Maybe cutting his losses?

To me it looks as though Putin's finally decided Dirty Donald is more of a liability than an asset. And that the longer he continues where he is, the higher the likelihood that other, more valuable, Russian assets will be exposed and well-entrenched espionage and disinformation operations will be disrupted.

And those have always been Putin's top priority- it's the long, slow game that does deeper, more lasting damage to his "major enemy", the U.S.

If Dirty Donald goes down for money laundering, tax fraud, etc., it'll render the ongoing investigation of Russian electoral meddling, disinformation, and espionage via compromised assets moot.

So... time to cut the losses. Weisselberg, Pecker, Cohen, etc. have their 'new instrutions'. So do the Russian assets in the SDNY Attorney's office.

Once Putin decides he wants Dirty Donald to go away, the dominos will start falling quickly.

I can hear arpeggios coming from the fat lady's dressing room. And an odd, rhythmic splurty clicking that may be Dirty Donald's butthole a-puckering.


Dear GOP Congresscritters: (What I, a Voter, Can and Cannot Forgive)

Dear GOP Congresscritters:

I think many of you are starting to be aware that your political Party is garnering a reputation for being, (to understate the case a trifle) spectacularly corrupt.

This puts y'all in a helluva bind, I suspect.

Because as more and more comes to light about the cabal based over on Pennsylvania Avenue's ongoing smash-and-grab raid on America's economy and the very integrity of our democratic republican electoral and governing processes, the mouselike silence from y'all is becoming deafening. Those of us old enough to remember the Republican heroes of Watergate have been looking for similar courage to manifest itself, and coming up pretty effing dry.

It's fairly clear that mere ideological fervor wouldn't be enough to keep you shtumm, especially since the corruption cabal has done its possible to rip apart the very Constitutional protections of our democracy your party claims to revere, and is in the process of noisily trashing the Holy Free Market Church of the Invisible Hand. Even those with ::koff:: sincere religiously-motivated loyalty to your Party have to be deeply dismayed by the evidence of profoundly (to say the least) un-Biblical behavior among your colleagues.

So what's at the root of this reverberating absence of disapproval?

A lot of us voters out here are triangulating in (reluctantly or eagerly, depending on natural ideological inclinations) on the explanation that y'all have some pretty intimate skin in the 'omerta game'. As in, someone's Got Something On You. That Someone may or may not be based in Moscow-- could merely be an "American" oligarch who's pulled a few strings for you, managed a few kickbacks, helped with the bank account padding, made an embarrassing moment go away, whatever.

Well, so be it. The last few decades have been a notably febrile ride of greed, corruption, and grab-assery by any historical standard.

So, y'all are keeping the lips locked to protect your own asses, which is... well... human.

Not precisely the standard we hope for from our elected representatives sworn to uphold the Constitution, but definitely all too human.

And, you know, we're human, too. We voters. Yep.

So... perhaps we can cut a deal.

We know y'all aren't exactly squeaky-clean. You may have reason to worry about losing the next election, to start with (say, have you noticed how many of your colleagues are grabbing the swag they've accumulated and getting out while the getting is good? Just askin'...). Maybe even public embarrassment, shaming, loss of future career viability if your particular hanky-panky comes under the glare of media scrutiny. Possibly even (gulp!) criminal charges? Ouchie.

We get it. No one contemplates any of that without serious, butthole-puckering anxiety.

But here's the deal, GOPpie Congresscritters:

We need you. We need heroes. And your Party, believe it or not, needs you to be heroes, too.

Right now, your Party is looking like a wavering Jenga tower of shady ethics, power-crazy greed, shameful pandering, and racist fervor, that's going to collapse into a thousand-year night of non-viability.

So think about this: If what's keeping you shtumm is something that falls under the general category of, well, day-to-day sleaze (#MeToo shenanigans, under-reported campaign finance hijinks, etc.), you know what?

All that stuff is reprehensible, but it's forgivable reprehensible. It's human nature shit, and while you may have to go through the wringer a bit, you can still achieve redemption, if you help save the Constitution and the very existence of the Democratic Republic of the United States of America which is currently under a nasty, insidious attack by foreign enemies.

You know who they are. They're the same as they've been for years, in some cases for decades:

Russia tops the list.

But Iran is there, too. So is North Korea. And China. They all share similar goals: create chaos and division in America. Damage American democracy. Interfere with America's ability to promote American ideals of self-government, equity, and freedom on the world stage. Induce America to tarnish its own reputation. Leach the power from our economic models, our technological leadership, our cultural influence.

They've got us on the ropes.

And you can help.

If you even suspect that some of the pressure you've been under might have connections to Moscow or Tehran or Beijing, talk to Mr. Mueller.

And then talk to the press, the real press-- the "fake news", "enemy of the people" media. Confession is damn' good for the soul, yanno? And then join the Resistance. Hold your colleagues accountable.

I'm not saying you'll get a free pass on whatever's in that closet. But you may be able to earn forgiveness, once it becomes clear that America, American democracy, and our Constitution mean more to you than your own bank account. That you're willing to sacrifice to uphold your oath of office.

Give it a try.

I, for one, stand ready to say, "Humans make mistakes. But even humans who make mistakes, can be heroes."


Never Forget

Never forget that in 2008 America elected a BLACK MAN President. By a decisive margin. And re-elected him, in 2012. Again, by a decisive margin.

Never forget that the Queen of Soul sang "My Country, 'tis of Thee" at the Presidential Inauguration in 2009. And that again in 2015 she sang at the national cultural awards ceremony known as Kennedy Honors, and moved that President and an entire auditorium of eminent people to tears of joy.

Never forget that in 2015 a brilliant young musician of Puerto Rican heritage penned a libretto and music based on the life of a Caribbean immigrant who became one of the architects of American freedom, and broke the mold of Broadway, winning every possible award and blazing across the national cultural consciousness like a comet.

Never forget that >>write in your "so proud of my country and its accomplishments in evolving towards greater unity and greater humanity" accomplishment in a response, and I'll update this post with as many as I can<<

Never forget these things because THEY ARE AMERICA.

More than anything since, they represent the truth and the vision of who we are as a nation.

In 2016, a potent foreign enemy won a crushing victory against America. All the more so because although the attack was made in plain sight, Americans would not recognize it for what it was.

During the Soviet era, Russia built a vigorous and all-too-effective disinformation program against its principal adversary, America.

Soviet intelligence fabricated, produced, and disseminated information specifically targeted at two objectives: One was to sow distrust and opposition in the community of nations, toward American goals and actions. Any time America committed a mistake, or ended up with a lesser-of-evils options set, the Soviets would exploit it. If there was nothing to exploit, they would distort and fabricate. They were all too successful, all too often.

The other Soviet objective was to sow disunity and distrust within America itself, to exploit the fault lines in our diverse culture and population to exacerbate tensions already manifest as we Americans struggled to evolve towards universal civil rights, respect, and equity. Racism was a particularly beloved fault line and the Soviets created and encouraged all kinds of sham organizations, events, distorted press coverage, rumors and gossip to exacerbate the fault line.

Of course, in the early 1990s, "the Soviets" were no longer a factor.

But they never went away. They became simply "Russians."

And in the churning smash-and-grab oligarchy-building era of Russian political evolution, they had less time and energy for their old foreign adversary, until one oligarch managed to claw his way to the top.

And once he'd consolidated sufficient power and eliminated potent rivals at home, Putin set about rebuilding the Soviet empire, without the Soviet, of course. But something was standing in his way.

America had been a potent opponent of Russian hegemony for more than fifty years. And America was a big, fat, vulnerable target.

Sure, communications methods had changed a lot since the old KGB days. But the principles remained the same: Sow distrust, use disinformation. Use rumor and innuendo. Exaggerate and exploit real mistakes. Fabricate plausible fantasies. Aim them strategically. Use the new, cheaper, and woefully less secured new digital methods to the max.

Combine that with the same old, same old- exploiting human assets, using kompromat and bribery and subversion to build networks of enablers and useful idiots and willing shills. Move tools into ever-more-strategic positions.

Russia isn't new at this. They have decades of successful experience. Putin isn't new at this, and he's highly motivated.

This attack has been building for a long time.

And in November of 2016 it looked as though he'd won a major battle in his larger strategy.

Here's the deal: I don't think he's as happy with his victory now as he doubtless was in December of 2016.

Because for all the tools he's suborned and nurtured and moved carefully into position, America as a whole remains AMERICA.

We are too big, too complicated, too chaotic, too American to yield tamely and universally to the kind of subversion the Kremlin delivers.

Too many of us know that although darkness may endure for a night, MORNING COMES. And those things we will not forget, do not forget, those things we love and value, they remain.

And with the slow return of Light, those memories will power a renaissance of American evolution:

We will free our scientists to tackle the challenges of climate change, in concert with the world's best minds.

We will invite in the hopeful, the hardworking, the aspirational immigrants who will help us build a new American infrastructure.

We will reinvent health care and education to serve everyone.

We will reinvigorate economic development and evolve new ways to distribute entrepreneurial brilliance and its benefits more broadly.

We will work creatively with allies and even with adversaries to ensure that the whole world sees hope and experiences greater freedom and security.

We can do all of that, if we NEVER FORGET.

Keep the flame, my dear ones.

Keep the flame.


My White Privilege Moment Today

I feel ambiguous and guilty about benefiting from my white privilege in a very specific way today.

Don't get me wrong: I benefit from white privilege EVERY day. It allows me to walk around in a shielded bubble of never having to think about whether a store clerk is eyeing me distrustfully when I stop in to buy a lightbulb, never have to think about whether some ICEhole will ask to see my papers if I'm picking up a kid at school, never have to be conscious of how many of the people in pictures and movies and advertisements do/don't look like me... oh, all kinds of things, every single day.

Like a fish, I don't notice the water I've been breathing all along, except when I try to remind myself. When I try to pay attention. Which, honestly, isn't nearly often enough.

And then today I got my nose rubbed in my white privilege, pretty hard.

I made an illegal left turn. Right in front of a cop car.

Mind you, I didn't realize the left turn I was making was illegal. There was a sign, according to the cop who promptly pulled me over, but I didn't see it. Bad me.

Anyway, I made the left, and the cop car's flashers went on, and I thought, 'WTF? Is that for me?' even as I proceeded to a cutout and pulled over.

And as I was getting my wallet out of my purse, and opening the glove box for my registration, I was thinking, "What would I be feeling right now if my skin was brown?"

(I am so, so very white... Even in the middle of the summer after plenty of work in the garden, no one would ever mistake me for anything but white.)

And I thought, "Instead of being annoyed about possibly being late for my meeting, and about a potential fine for something, and possible points on my license if whatever I did was really horrific, I would be feeling terrified about possibly being yanked from the car, told to lie down on the ground, handcuffed, otherwise brutalized and/or traumatized, possibly arrested, and a whole cascade of other horrors to follow. I'd probably be worrying about that."

Instead, the pleasant-looking, youngish Anglo cop stuck his face toward the window as I lowered it, and asked nicely (with a "please, Ma'am", even) for my license, proof of insurance, and car registration. And let me reach into the glove box for the one, and into my wallet for the other two, and took them from me politely, while he explained that the left turn I'd just made was illegal.

And that there was a sign. And that it was illegal because it's unsafe to make a left turn there because cross-traffic blah-blah and signal blah-blah, and would I please remain in the car in the driver's seat for a 'few minutes'.

To which I nodded, of course. And he walked back to his car.

And I took out my cell phone to tell one of the people I had a meeting scheduled with, that I might be a few minutes late.

And while I was doing that, I thought, "If my skin was brown, would I reach for my cell phone, and hold it up where the cop could see it, and make this call?"

And I thought, "Fuck, no, I WOULD NOT. I would sit still like a mousie with my hands both on the wheel and pray like hell that the cop isn't in a prove-something mood today."

I finished my call, and put the phone away, and after another minute or two, the nice young white cop approached my window again, and told me he was issuing me a 'written warning', which would not involve a fine or a court appearance, and would I sign here, please?

And I thought, for just a moment I thought, about asking the nice young white cop, "Officer, if my skin were brown, would I be getting an actual ticket this time? Or worse?"

But of course, I didn't. #NotAllCops blah-blah and besides I'm chickenshit. I admit it. I chickened on that.

So I thanked the officer nicely, and signed where he pointed, and accepted my copy of the warning and my license and insurance certification and car registration back from him. And promised to drive safely and pay better attention to signs, yes, officer.

And while the officer went back to his car I put the documentation away and folded up the warning and put it away and started my car, and signaled to pull out, and carefully went on my way, driving as safely as I could for the whole rest of my journey.

And I wasn't even late to my meeting.


For me.

Because I'm white.

And I'm feeling so damned ambivalent right now. Of course I'm glad that I, personally, had no negative effects from the encounter.

But I'm sitting here wondering where I'd be, now, at this moment, if my skin were brown. Late for my meeting? Worrying about paying my fine and/or possible points on my license? In a holding cell?

In the fucking morgue?

White privilege sucks. Because I have it, that means lots of my neighbors and friends DON'T have it. They have to live with these calculations and thoughts every single day, and I hate that.

I wish it hadn't been white privilege that made my little encounter so harmless. I wish it were just the way things are for everyone.

I'll stay aware of how and why I benefit as I did today. And I'll do my best to just make it the way things are for everyone, in every way I can.


From now on, [Redacted] true believers are "Mumpsimusers" to me.

Or maybe mumpsimusi? Not sure of the correct plural. But the tag is precise.


A mumpsimus is an action by a person who adheres to a routine, idea, custom, set of beliefs, or a certain use of language that has been shown to be unreasonable or incorrect.


...someone who obstinately clings to an error, bad habit or prejudice, even after the foible has been exposed and the person humiliated; also, any error, bad habit, or prejudice clung to in this fashion

ahhh, the English language. There really is a word for everything!


Current Manafort Trial Isn't Even About Russia. Why is [Redacted] So Freaked?

Trick question, which WaPo answers in the first sentence of this article.

"President Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort went on trial Tuesday in federal court in Alexandria, Va., where prosecutors charged that his personal fortune was propped up by years of lies to tax authorities and banks."


From the nutshell: "His personal fortune was propped up by years of lies to tax authorities and banks."

THAT'S why [Redacted] is crapping his pants all over the tweeter machine right now. If they can actually prosecute a schlub like Manafort for THAT...

...OMG, whatta they gonna do to him?

He thought he'd get away clean. He's been getting away for decades. And now they're prosecuting someone for exactly what he's been doing all along.

Karma, dude.

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