Monday, September 19, 2016

Are Russians trolling our election? Well, duh.

Are Russians trolling our election?   Well, duh.

I wrote before about Russian Troll Farms.   Russians, along with everyone else in the world, troll the Internet for fun and profit.  You will see videos on YouTube extolling how to cut bottles with string and lighter fluid.  (I even made my own parody video!)  We tried this and it really doesn't work, and you have to ask yourself why you are cutting bottles in the first place.   The goal of these "how to" videos is to get clicks and ad revenue and also, as in one video, sell a commercial bottle cutter to the inevitably frustrated viewers.   What is funny is that there are a number of "copycat" videos out there as well - all vying for that tasty bit of click money.

But governments also troll the Internet trying to alter public opinion.  This is merely an extension of what governments did before the Internet.   We did it.  The Russians did it.  The Chinese, and so forth.   Read Normal Mailer's Harlot's Ghost sometime for an in-depth description of how the CIA and other agencies tried (and succeeded) to steer public opinion in many third-world countries, alter the outcomes of elections, or even install leaders of our choosing.   This is no State secret, either.

In the 1960's, kids rejected American consumerism and of course protested the war.  They did drugs, and of course our soldiers were often also high.   Was this just a spontaneous movement, or one guided by our opponents in the world?  Or was it a spontaneous movement that was aided, abetted and guided by outside forces?   You decide.   But it is no big State Secret again, that the North Vietnamese made sure our G.I.'s had ready access to recreational drugs all the time they were in Vietnam.   There is more than one way to win a war.

The Russians are at it again.  As I noted in my previous postings, we are seeing weird videos and comments and discussions online where people are touting the "superiority" of Russian technology over that of the West.  They are literally re-writing history.  Never mind that their space shuttle flew only once (and was empty of any cosmonauts at the time) while ours flew hundreds of missions.  Never mind that their naval fleet consists of one aircraft carrier and a host of unsafe rusty and abandoned submarines.   Russian tech is supreme!

Oh, and all those nasty accidents they have that kill their sailors?  Had to be interference by America - not merely incompetence by drunken sailors.  The Kursk was rammed by a US sub!

Putin is smart about this.  He realizes that at least for a while, if you win the propaganda war, you win the war.   It doesn't matter what reality is, only what people's perceptions of it are.  And for at least a while - often decades - you can skew people's perceptions until reality finally plays its ugly hand.   And that in short is how the Soviet Union stayed afloat as long as it did and why it eventually failed.  And taking a page from the CCCP handbook, Putin (who has been in office, in one form or another, for decades) is trying to "Make Russia Great Again!"

And helping him are Donald Trump and his allies.   Already his campaign manager had to quit when it was revealed his previous client was a Putin lackey from the Ukraine.   The Donald makes no secret of his admiration of Putin, who is a brutal dictator who murders his own people.   Oh, but of course, this is no different that what Obama does - or at least in the funhouse mirror world of Trump.   I am not sure, but I don't think Obama has poisoned anyone with Polonium lately.

Of course, you probably don't buy any of this crap and see through it as the propaganda it is.  That doesn't matter.  It isn't aimed at you.   It is aimed at an audience willing to believe such things - people who believe that America is "in peril" at a time when its economy is the strongest in the world and growing daily.  Our unemployment is at record lows.  Inflation is low as are interest rates.  Gas prices are shockingly low.  And the latest news from the Census bureau is that median income is rising and the poverty rate is going down.    Even the Sanders people have to admit things are doing pretty well.   Oh, and Obama just shut down one of the worst "for-profit" colleges in the country.

So, how do you win an election with stats like this?  The status quo looks pretty good to most Americans.   The answer is, of course, to convince people that reality isn't real and that an alternative reality is.   So we have this constant barrage of propaganda, with the baseline assumption being that our country is in trouble and we are in dire straits.

But where do the Russians come in?   Well, from their perspective, they got a raw deal with the Berlin wall fell.   Communism was overthrown, but in its place they got... well, more of the same unequal distribution of power and wealth.   The worst part, for their country, was that they no longer had influence in the world, and one by one their former satellite countries were being lured into NATO or the EU, surrounding Russia.   You can't blame them for being paranoid.  We are the 6000-lb gorilla now, and all they have as leverage is oil and gas reserves.

So from their perspective, any action which weakens America helps them.  A weaker America, a divided country, a divided Europe (hello Brexit? - the fellow behind that nightmare is also on the Trump team!) is helpful to the Russians - and the Chinese.   

We spend more on our military than the next 8-10 countries combined.  They can't catch up in terms of spending or in terms of technology (at least technology that works).   So they play the propaganda game instead.  That's why you'll see stories in the paper about how such-and-such defense project is over budget and doesn't work right.  You never hear stories about how effective our technology is, most of the time.   The perception they want to spread is that we are weak and misguided.   And it is a message that many folks believe.

So Trump praises Putin, because Putin wants him in the White House, knowing it would lead to an economic collapse, just as the Brexit vote did in the UK.    Similarly, they want to hype divisions among European countries (which isn't hard to do, as everyone hates France, right?).   Or fund separatist movements in Northern Ireland or in the Basque - and now Catalan - regions of Spain.  Divide and conquer, the oldest game in the book.

And perhaps that is one reason why we are so divisive today in America.   Again, you have to wonder whether this is one of those things that occurred organically that they are taking advantage of, or whether they "primed the pump" so to speak.  But candidates like Trump don't seemed too much interested in "bringing America together" but instead playing to our divisiveness and fears.

A divided America is a weak America.   And this cannot go unnoticed in Moscow or Beijing.  Our adversaries and competitors in the world see these things and do their best to cause them to fester and erupt.   It has always gone on - since the dawn of human civilization.  People playing others emotionally and psychologically in order to gain advantage.   It is just today, it is much easier to do, thanks to the Internet.