(Image by NEIVANMADE)
Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz:
For the world #Auschwitz is a symbol of the #Holocaust & crimes of WW2, a painful reminder of what ideologies of hatred may lead humanity to.
In 2005 @UN declared 27 January – the date of the liberation of #Auschwitz – as the International #HolocaustRemembranceDay pic.twitter.com/hZUy4auQ6f
— Auschwitz Memorial (@AuschwitzMuseum) January 27, 2023
And it occurs just a little over three weeks before we hit the one year mark in the newest genocidal war in Europe.
Here is President Zelenskyy’s address from earlier today. Video below, English transcript after the jump:
Dear Ukrainians, I wish you health!
Today we are starting a marathon of honesty, which will be aimed at clearing the leadership of international Olympic structures of hypocrisy and any attempts to bring representatives of the terrorist state into world sports.
One cannot but be disappointed by the statements of the current President of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach. I spoke with him several times. And I never heard how he is going to protect sports from war propaganda if he returns Russian athletes to international competitions.
There is no such thing as neutrality when a war like this is going on. And we know how often tyrannies try to use sports for their ideological interests. It is obvious that any neutral flag of Russian athletes is stained with blood.
I do not want to get into what exactly motivated Mr. Bach to promote such an initiative. But we will do everything so that the world will protect sports from political and any other influence of the terrorist state, which is simply inevitable if Russian athletes participate in competitions. And especially – at the Paris Olympics.
Ukrainian athletes are forced to defend the lives of their loved ones and the freedom of our people from Russian aggression. Russian strikes took the lives of hundreds of Ukrainian men and women who could have brought their talents to world sports.
Russia must stop aggression and terror, and only after that it will be possible to talk about Russian participation in the context of the Olympic movement. Olympic principles and war are fundamentally opposed to each other.
The situation at the front, and in particular in Donetsk region – near Bakhmut and Vuhledar, remains extremely acute. The occupiers are not just storming our positions – they are deliberately and methodically destroying these towns and villages around them. Artillery, aviation, missiles. The Russian army has no shortage of means of destruction. And it can be stopped only by force.
Our soldiers, who are defending the areas in Donetsk region, are real heroes. I thank each of you guys for your bravery!
And, by the way, I invite Mr. Bach to Bakhmut. So that he could see with his own eyes that neutrality does not exist.
I spoke today with students, teachers and graduates of the College of Europe in Natolin and Bruges. This is a special educational institution that prepares specialists to work in and with European structures. It is precisely such specialists that we need, in particular, for the full integration of our state with the European Union.
Ukrainians are already studying under the programs of the College of Europe. And we have already started creating such a college in Ukraine. And this underlines our desire to fully and as soon as possible integrate with the EU. And also, I am sure, it will enable Ukrainians to help protect freedom and European values both in our region and throughout Europe.
I heard from the rector of the college in Natolin that free Europe now has a Ukrainian face. And such words mean a lot.
We will always do everything to increase our potential in relations with the EU, in particular, personnel potential. That is why we need our own Ukrainian College of Europe. And it will be.
Today we have important news from Belgium – the country where the governing structures of the European Union are located. There is a decision by the Belgian government on a package of support for our defense. It is that will strengthen our air defense. It is that will increase the mobility of our troops on the battlefield. I thank you for this support. I thank all the countries, all the leaders, who this week proved with their decisions that Russian aggression will be defeated.
And one more.
A ceremony honoring the memory of all victims of the Holocaust was held this morning in Kyiv near the Menorah memorial sign in Babyn Yar. Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. And even at such a time, during the full-scale war, Ukraine, together with the entire civilized world, feels and shares the pain that still remains in the world from the crimes of Nazism.
We remember. And so we resist the evil’s attempts to return.
I thank everyone who protects humanity together with Ukraine!
I thank all our soldiers!
Glory to Ukraine!
Defeating Russia? Plausible. Defeating the International Olympic Committee? I’m not sure there’s enough weapons platforms and ammo for that.
Here is former NAVDEVGRU Squadron Leader Chuck Pfarrer’s most recent assessment of the situation in Svatove:
SVATOVE AXIS /1410 UTC 29 JAN/ Intel reveals a significant & growing concentration of RU forces around Kreminna; an assembly of units and capabilities far in excess of the the defensive requirements of this sector of the front. A pending RU offensive cannot be ruled out. pic.twitter.com/4N8rdMI1A5
— Chuck Pfarrer | Indications & Warnings | (@ChuckPfarrer) January 27, 2023
2/4 The enemy is demoralized by losses, which is why they are bringing additional reinforcements, but we will see in the nearest days if they will be able to throw them for another large assault.
— Tatarigami_UA (@Tatarigami_UA) January 27, 2023
4/4 The situation is still difficult but more stable: the enemy continues to replenish their losses with additional manpower. They have lost advantages that they were able to get during the first two days
— Tatarigami_UA (@Tatarigami_UA) January 27, 2023
I think this is an interesting and thought provoking thread from NPR’s Melissa Chan:
One of my frustrations the past year is how many people have been shocked that enough Russians buy Putin's propaganda and believe in the war. We want so badly to imagine every citizen in an autocracy is a dissident struggling to break free. But autocracy requires complicity.
— Melissa Chan (@melissakchan) January 27, 2023
Until we acknowledge that enough people in Russia and China buy the propaganda to sustain the autocracy — regardless of the A4 protests, etc. — we are failing to understand these societies as they are, but rather approaching them as we wish them to be.
— Melissa Chan (@melissakchan) January 27, 2023
Most folks are not cut out to fight autocracy. Most understandably want to focus on family, get a paycheck. The path of least resistance. But it does mean ethical compromises. We need to recognize this. Also, how much is democracy a miracle therefore if you think about it?!
— Melissa Chan (@melissakchan) January 27, 2023
Like with Germany, it was collective responsibility and ordinary people were complicit but hey, with Russia or China or whatever it's suddenly aw shucks these folks are just trying to get on with their lives and keep their heads low. And that just seems intellectually dishonest.
— Melissa Chan (@melissakchan) January 27, 2023
Here’s more on that Russian defector from Wagner:
"You have to handle defectors with skepticism, in an effort to reveal whether they’re double agents or part of a diversion strategy. "
False defectors have been a favored op method of Soviet CI since the 1920s. Genuine defectors always had a tough time. https://t.co/B3Sxh14Avt
— Filip Kovacevic (@ChekistMonitor) January 27, 2023
From News In English Norway:
UPDATED: A Russian deserter who was picked up by Norwegian soldiers on patrol along Norway’s border earlier this month is now facing lots of questions from police and security officials in Oslo. Skepticism has risen around his story of a dramatic escape from Russia, and some even wonder whether he may be a double agent sent into Norway by Russian officials.
Police confirmed on Monday that the young man, named Andrei Medvedev, had been arrested the day before and moved from an undisclosed location in Oslo. He was confined at an internment center near Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen that’s normally used to detain illegal immigrants before they’re sent out of the country, until being released on Wednesday. He remains under restrictions, however, regarding his location for security reasons.
State police agency KRIPOS confirmed he had undergone questioning, but wouldn’t reveal what was discussed. Newspaper Aftenposten reported on Tuesday that the human rights organization Gulaga.net, through which Medvedev has channeled his communication since fleeing over the border, claimed he had been handcuffed and told he’d be deported.
His defense attorney in Oslo, Brynjulf Risnes, denied that to newspaper VG and state broadcaster NRK. “Deportation hasn’t been a theme now and it’s unthinkable because he has sought asylum,” Risnes told VG. Risnes added that “there are good reasons to believe what he says” regarding his alleged escape from the Wagner mercenary group that’s fighting for Russia in Ukraine. Medvedev has also claimed he’d be willing to testify about alleged war crimes committed by the Wagner group.Aftenposten has noted that Medvedev’s story about fleeing Wagner and Russia has only been told through videos published on Gulaga.net by its leader, the Russian activist Vladimir Osechkin. Others question how Medvedev, as a military deserter, could have managed to travel from Ukraine through Russia to the northern city of Murmansk and then through various Russian checkpoints from Murmansk to the heavily guarded border area aound Nikel. Medvedev and Osechkin claim he did have help from undisclosed sources. His story of running across the frozen Pasvik River that separates Russia and Norway in the middle of the night, while being chased by dogs and shot at, has puzzled residents of the area.
“I think someone must have been looking the other way in order for that to be possible,” Rolf Randa, a former border patrol office in Sør-Varanger, the region of Northern Norway that extends ot the border, told Aftenposten. Several others in the area also told the paper that they were skeptical because the area is under strict surveillance at all times, year ’round. When the ice melts, the river is also patrolled by boat.
Randa noted that documentation is needed in order to even be allowed to enter the border area on the Russia side. There also are many fences with control posts to go through before arriving at the border, the first one fully 40 kilometers away. The last fence is said to be three meters high and covered with barbed wire on both sides, with sandtraps below to help track anyone getting over it. A signal system mounted on the fence also sets off alarms if anyone comes in contact with it.
“It’s extremely difficult to cross the border illegally,” agreed Tom Røseth, an intelligence expert and instructor at Norway’s militarty college. He told Aftenposten that Medvedev “must have had help on the Russian side, which he says himself. That could have given him the necessary lead time he needed to cross.”
More at the link!
New thread from "Karl," the Estonian military analyst, on where we stand in Ukraine. With @holger_r:
— Michael Weiss (@michaeldweiss) January 27, 2023
Here’s the rest from the Thread Reader app:
“The amount and types of armor that Western countries have promised to send to Ukraine is noteworthy. We can presume that some countries will send a bit more than announced. It fulfills one criteria that will allow Ukraine to start a counteroffensive in the south this spring.”
“The terrain there is bare, it’s a steppe. It wouldn’t be possible to advance there without armor.”
“It is difficult to comprehend Germany’s (and partly America’s) fears of taking the decision to send tanks. In Germany’s case it must be a combination of historical fears, the Russian lobby especially inside Germany’s business sector and the indecisiveness of Scholz.”
“This combination caused the delayed decision. It was evident that Germany would not escape that decision. The pressure on them was so strong. Their resistance just didn’t make sense…”
“Among other things, it deepens the wounds that the Baltic countries and especially Poland have toward them. It is regrettable that Germany’s leadership role took another serious hit in our region.”
“Germany made another mistake when they announced sending the Leopards. They added a new public ‘red line’ about not giving Ukraine fighter jets. Why would you need to say out loud what you will not give?”
“Biden made the same mistake before the war. We have seen so many times how such ‘red lines’ have been erased soon afterwards.”
“From a military perspective Ukraine still needs two things. First, longer-range missile systems. Russia has taken its ammunition depots further away from the frontline. They are now 90-120 km away and out of HIMARS’ range.”
“Yes, it hampers their logistics but it also hinders Ukraine’s countering. It is more difficult to hit the trucks carrying ammunition than to hit a depot.”
“Secondly, Ukraine still needs fighter jets. If they sufficiently have all three types of weapons [tanks, long-range missiles, jets], it would allow them to break through the frontline at least in the south in late spring/early summer.”
“Ukraine says they’d need 350-400 tanks, but by the time of their spring offensive they will have around 200-250 including the modernized Soviet tanks given by some European countries.”
“It is a really remarkable number. Most experts agree that 1 Leopard is worth 2.5-4 Russian tanks due to superior firepower and maneuvering ability.”
“The delayed announcement about sending the tanks can postpone the start of the spring offensive by some weeks. The terrain would allow the offensive to start at least in the south in early April. Now it’s difficult to see it happen before May.”
“It’s worth noting that Germany has sent Ukraine 3.5 times more military aid than France but France has largely escaped similar levels of criticism. If you compare the two countries’ military capabilities, France is clearly better equipped.”
“Most Western European countries are well supplied with fighter jets. It’s one of the few areas where European militaries are good. A critical issue is how much ammunition can be produced and how fast can Ukraine do maintenance and repair works.”
“People are talking about an upcoming large-scale Russian offensive. I am moderately confident that Russia itself already thinks it is conducting one. It’s just that none of the others see it as large.”
“I am doubtful how good a picture Putin has about the status and readiness of its units.”
“Besides Bakhmut and Soledar, Russia is trying something near Vuhledar and Pavlivka about 30km southwest of Donetsk. Also, they have been conducting offensives north of Vasylivka (where the Dnipro river turns straight north and where there would be direct route to Zaporizhzhia).”
“But all of this seems to be largely resultless.”
“Last time they tried in Vuhledar was 2-3 months ago and they had 2 battalions worth of their marines killed in 3 days. They are also without any success in Kreminna and, if anything, Ukraine is really slowly advancing there.”
“As long as there will be no large and visible loss for Russia, Putin will try to avoid the next level of mobilization. Last time he announced it after the epic defeat in Kharkiv. Mobilization is one of the few things that actually decreases the popularity of war in Russia.”
“Putin’s instinct is not to do it. Let’s hope that he keeps on delaying it.”
“Ukraine has suffered a lot of casualties and their situation in Bakhmut is still very difficult. If Russia advances a few more kilometers in the south of Bakhmut, one of the most significant supply routes will be in a critical situation.” /END
The Guardian reports on a somewhat different anti-corruption effort in Ukraine.
The arrest of a high-ranking Ukrainian intelligence agent accused of spying for Russia has highlighted the urgent need for a cleanout of the country’s key security service, a former deputy head of the agency has said.
The Ukrainian security service (SBU) reported on Thursday that they arrested a lieutenant colonel in their ranks on suspicion of “high treason” and published a photograph of bundles of cash found in his home.
The unnamed man is said to have used his mobile phone to photograph documents detailing the location of military checkpoints in Zaporizhzhia, a frontline region in the south-east of the country, and sending the information via an email account registered on a Russian domain.
A photo issued alongside the official statement showed sim cards issued by Russian mobile carriers, bundles of foreign currency, a knuckle duster, two knives and a Russian language guide to learning English.
“Evidence of permanent connections with representatives of law enforcement and state bodies of the Russian Federation was also established,” the statement said. “In particular, close relatives of the traitor are among them.”
Maj Gen Viktor Yahun, who was deputy head of the SBU until, 2015, said there needed to a thorough cleanout of the service, which he said had long had an overly close relationship with its Russian counterpart, the FSB.
Following Russia’s invasion on 24 February last year, more than 60 members of the SBU and the prosecutor general’s office had remained in occupied territory and collaborated with the Russian forces, highlighting the scale of the infiltration of Ukrainian law enforcement by the Kremlin.
As late as 2010, Yahun said the SBU had internally celebrated KGB Day, marking the establishment of the communist-era Russian secret service, and there remained pro-Russian agents through the ranks of the service.
Yahun claimed that the biggest attack on a military site near Lviv in western Ukraine last year had been enabled by a 77-year-old former SBU agent who had passed on the coordinate details and that he feared many in the service still considered themselves Russian.
While the generation that worked for the Soviet security services had retired, Yahun added, the recruitment practices of the SBU meant that their sons and daughters were now in the agency.
“They grew up with the same values as their fathers,” he said. “Ukraine made a major mistake in not following the lead of the Baltic nations following independence in reforming the security services from ground zero.”
“Of course there were always patriots in the SBU, but they have been in the minority,” he said. “It is getting better and since 24 February President Zelenskiy has cleaned the top ranks, so I do not believe any vital strategic information has been passed to Russia. Now they are moving their way down the ranks.”
More at the link.
I want to highlight, again, why it is important that the Ukrainian authorities are not just trying to run this stuff to ground despite defending against the Russian invasion, but that they’re doing so publicly and/or not trying to use the war as a pretext to stifle reporting on the problem. There is not a state or a society on the planet that doesn’t have some form of public corruption problem. If I started listing just the different examples in the US, we’d be here for several hours. Unfortunately, we’ve legalized a lot of ours in the US. And the ones we haven’t we’ve just decided to either not prosecute at all or somehow treat differently because its committed by people in executive suites. It isn’t like we don’t have our own oligarch and kleptocracy problem, it’s just that very few of our elected officials or the news media that covers politics, finance, and business dare to use the terms to describe what is actually happening. And if you’re waiting for anyone in Federal law enforcement to take this seriously, I’ve got some lovely beach front property to sell you. The DOJ under Democratic appointed leadership won’t take action because it would look political and they don’t want to be accused of criminalizing politics and business. The DOJ under Republican appointed leadership actually aids and abets the corruption along because they could care less about whether they appear to be politicizing anything.
Anyhow, as states and societies seek to transition from authoritarian systems they actually become more susceptible to corruption. The transition creates opportunity. Because of the attempts by Russia to keep Ukraine within its orbit, first by coercion and the use of economic power and then, after 2014, by force, Ukraine’s transition has progressed in fits and starts. This too is not unusual. So taking these anti-corruption moves and doing so out in the open is a very positive sign.
Bellincat brings us an in depth investigation into the shelling of Mykolaiv from last April:
On April 4, 2022, Russian rocket artillery struck the Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv with cluster munitions. On the night of April 3, the Furshet shopping centre and nearby city hospital were attacked. Local media had published images to their Telegram channels at around midnight. At 8:03 in the morning of April 4, eyewitnesses told the Ukrainian website Prestupnosti.Net of damage to residential areas in the Zavodskyi District. Later, on the afternoon of April 4, a second attack followed in which a shopping precinct and a children’s hospital were attacked. Both were located in densely populated residential areas. According to the Mykolaiv regional prosecutor, 12 people died and 41 were injured from the attacks.
Videos of rocket launches began to appear on social media after the attacks, with the uploaders claiming that they were firing towards Mykolaiv. A close inspection of one of these videos has allowed Bellingcat to verify the location of the rocket launches likely behind the afternoon attack on the shopping precinct and children’s hospital. It is as yet unclear whether the same location and rocket launchers were implicated in the early morning attack that day.
Our geolocation suggests that the strike was launched by Russian forces from a location near the Inhulets River in the north of Russian-occupied Kherson Region; a chronolocation of the same videos indicates that one launch likely took place just minutes before the afternoon’s explosions at the shopping precinct and children’s hospital occurred.
This attack was one of dozens launched against the port city throughout the spring and summer of 2022, after Russian forces from occupied Crimea swept through Ukraine’s south and were held back by the Ukrainian army just outside Mykolaiv city. It came just days after a Russian cruise missile destroyed the regional government office on March 29, which Ukrainian officials say killed 12 people.
Mykolaiv’s Regional Governor Vitaly Kim narrowly avoided that attack on his workplace. By the time Ukraine’s army retook Kherson in November, Kim estimated that around 200,000 of Mykolaiv’s 470,000 residents remained in the city.
As soon as news of the April 4 attacks broke, imagery emerged showing the scale of destruction. Locals shared videos and images on social media. These sources indicate that most casualties that day appeared to be concentrated in the commercial area where people had been working and shopping. There was also a public transit stop at this location.
The paediatric hospital shown in this surveillance footage is about 800m from another attack in Mykolaiv yesterday that killed multiple people near a shopping strip at 46.943047, 32.055330: https://t.co/iV07BMbjYY https://t.co/4hAqMu4hGO pic.twitter.com/dsJnk61MMy
— Jake Godin (@JakeGodin) April 5, 2022
Security footage from the paediatric hospital first appeared online the day after the attack on the Telegram channel of Governor Vitaly Kim, who shared it at 13:58 (local time). It was then widely amplified by the channel of the local branch of Suspilne, a Ukrainian media network. The video showed that the submunitions, which detach from the launch rocket close to impact and spray over a target area, hit the hospital at around 15:30, according to the timestamp of the CCTV camera. On April 8 Chief Doctor Oleksandr Plitkin told reporters for the TPK channel that nobody at the hospital was harmed physically, but that the hospital building did take exterior damage, of which photojournalists from NPR also published photographs.
This video, with a date and timestamp consistent with the @MSF_Ukraine report, shows an impact at the paediatric hospital.https://t.co/iz9XqOpMzK https://t.co/kO0MYUvRms pic.twitter.com/ea3ckTphGj
— Eliot Higgins (@EliotHiggins) April 5, 2022
The timing of these video clips offered clues as to when precisely the projectiles hit downtown Mykolaiv that afternoon. But where did they originate from?
Much, much, much more at the link
— Paul Massaro (@apmassaro3) January 27, 2023
Poland will hand over 60 tanks to #Ukraine. The famous Leopard-2 and PT-91 Twardy will strengthen 🇺🇦 Armed Forces. I'm grateful to @MorawieckiM and all the 🇵🇱 people for their strong support for 🇺🇦 on the way to victory.
— Denys Shmyhal (@Denys_Shmyhal) January 27, 2023
Kharkiv via Canada:
🇺🇦This is Bruce Perry, a 75 year old former military pilot from 🇨🇦Canada. He now takes care of rescued animals in Kharkiv #Ukraine. We love you Bruce❤️ pic.twitter.com/5twK9m3CeI
— Sofia Ukraini (@SlavaUk30722777) January 27, 2023
That’s enough for tonight.
Your daily Patron!
A new video from Patron’s official TikTok!
Вічна пам‘ять усім жертвам Голокосту…
The caption machine translates as:
Eternal memory to all victims of the Holocaust…
That thread from Ms Chan was excellent, thank you for boosting it.
To me, part of the danger in allowing russian and belarussian athletes to compete is not so much about the individual athletes, but the fact that competing in sports on a global stage is about winning recognition and pride not only for yourself but for your country. It’s something that countries loudly celebrate as a collective achievement. Even if some of these athletes themselves are not monsters, they do not deserve the chance to bring glory and pride to their monster-run homelands.
And I for one would love to see Bach take Zelenskyy up on that offer. But it’ll never happen, because apparently that man chooses to live in willful ignorance.
Thank you as always, Adam.
Oh, also — The Kyiv Independent had another Q&A today for their Patreon supporters, with Olga Rudenko (their EIC) and Lili Bivings, a contributing editor, and it was focused on russian disinfo in the media. It was a great discussion. I’ll give a few highlights.
Lili explained that there are two types of disinfo: the online trolls and bots which are essentially campaigns of russia’s foreign policy and IRA; but also the way that russian narratives, for many years now, have made their way into Western thought and perspective, especially in Western media and academia. She said it was the second kind that was more insidious because of how easily those narratives take hold once people see them and because of how either willingly or obliviously news outlets parrot the kremlin’s talking points. When people see these things from sources they think are trustworthy, like Reuters or NYT or the like, they believe them and then regurgitate them.
Olga noted that russia’s underlying goal is not necessarily to make people believe a certain thing, but to sow confusion and muddy the waters in the public understanding, to make people feel doubtful about the actual facts. She compared the way it works in a lot of peoples’ minds to Covid conspiracies, in how easily people fall for it when it comes from a source that they don’t think would lie to them.
Lili added that the first version people see if often the one they believe, which is why Ukraine being so skilled at the information war is massively important. russia engages in a “firehose of falsehoods” just to try to soak the media landscape and get their version into people’s brains first. Because, as she noted, it can be incredibly hard to talk someone out of believing something once they become set in their ways about it. They see you as part of the problem, essentially, as being in on it. But boosting and spreading accurate info and stories is incredibly helpful, because if people see those first, they’re less likely to believe the lies that they see later.
As for how to try to talk someone out of bullshit beliefs, Lili said one way is to make it human, to tell personal stories or show them stories from actual people involved in the situation. (This reminded me of the way a lot of homophobic or transphobic people can be brought out of their hatred — by actually talking to and getting to know a queer and/or trans person, and putting a human face on the topic.) Olga said it was also important to point out the impossibilities and impracticalities of some of this disinfo. To show them how many people, how many organizations, how much time and effort would be required to actually pull a fake off, like for instance people saying the Maidan revolution being US-orchestrated and full of fake actors, or the claims of all these Ukrainian-run torture chambers. Get the person to think in real terms about the massive efforts involved in perpetuating such a sham. (Similar to me to the methods some people use to try to convince others out of believing the moon landing was faked or something.)
Olga noted that because too many Western countries had bought the russian narratives, it impacted the war in the beginning. Some governments believed russia’s insistence that Ukraine was weak and would fall immediately, and thus were too slow to provide aid and weapons. They were afraid those weapons would end up in russia’s hands. But if they had not bought the bullshit, the war could have gone much differently and we might have seen those big Ukraine victories in the fall much earlier. But Western countries have often been too concerned with being nice to russia and appeasing them, and both-sidesing their news stories by saying “The kremlin says….” or whatnot, even though 99% of the time, what the kremlin says is garbage.
It was really terrific. I recommend supporting them on Patreon if you can. They’re so close to 10,000 supporters!
Apropos of, Oz Katerji had a good thread about BoJo:
We don’t have to love the man, to respect that a moment when there was nothing in it for him, he rose to the occasion and sent Ukraine what they needed to blunt the initial Russian thrust. He cites Ukrainian sources who are convinced that without the antitank weapons that BoJo sent *before* the invasion (by the planeload), Kyiv would have fallen. He also notes that without BoJo’s actions, he’d probably be dead today (Oz was in Kyiv at the start of the invasion). And for all that, he hates BoJo. Has to give the man props, tho.
Gin & Tonic
I know somebody a lot closer to us than the Kyiv Independent, who’s been bringing this up for years.
@Gin & Tonic: As a form of atonement or redress, I try to remember the many Soviet figures who were in fact Ukrainian. Like Yaakov Smirnov! And the key guy behind Sputnik (IIRC).
Gin & Tonic
@Chetan Murthy: A lot of people and a lot of governments thought Ukraine was doomed. Part of the reason it took this long for the tank question to gain traction (sorry!) is that the Ukrainians had to demonstrate that they were willing and able to take the fight to the russians.
Excellent summary, thanks. (Haven’t listened.)
Lili was (probably) referring to this piece, ror those who haven’t read it:
The Russian “Firehose of Falsehood” Propaganda Model (2016, RAND Corporation, Christopher Paul, Miriam Matthews)
6+ years old but still worth reading.
@Gin & Tonic: Indeed!
“Most folks aren’t cut out to fight autocracy”
It’s not just a USA thing, it’s a global thing. Jeez, I’m looking at this and it sounds so trite.
Sister Golden Bear
@Alison Rose: As Adam has said in the past, the goal is reach a point where “nothing is true and everything is possible.” (Adam please correct me if I’ve misremembered the exact wording.)
@Chetan Murthy: I loathe Johnson but on this occasion he really did do the right thing. Those 2,000 NLAWs tore the Russian forces to shreds, they were exactly what Ukraine needed at that place at that time.
Johnson is a shambling collection of character flaws but he can, when he chooses to, see clearly. Personally I think he saw this as a way to make his mark on history and as a way to generate favourable headlines domestically, channelling what he sees as his inner Churchill if you will. Nonetheless all credit to him for his actions at that vital time
@kalakal: Katerji is withering in his assessment of Corbyn, too. And I agree with him on that, as much as I detest BoJo.
@Chetan Murthy: I have a few friends in England, none of whom were fans in any sense of Boris, but all of them said his work and commitment to Ukraine was genuine and important and worthy of admiration.
And that was the ONLY thing that was, LOL.
Adam L Silverman
@Gin & Tonic: That guy’s making me look bad.//
Adam L Silverman
@Sister Golden Bear: You’ve got it right.
@Alison Rose: I would say that he did the right thing for the wrong reasons. The guy is a self-interested, self-serving ass. But he’s also a romantic, and a believer in romantic narratives. The Russian invasion handed him a perfect such narrative, and as subscribing to it gave him a perfect opportunity to write himself into it, he jumped in with both feet.
Ukraine is fortunate that there were no apparent, immediate reasons for him to consider such behavior against his personal political or pecuniary interests. His romanticism would probably not have won out.
Mike in NC
In 2010 we and some neighbors took a fabulous river cruise down the Danube. I came back with three WW2 Red Army campaign medals: Capture of Budapest, Capture of Vienna, and Liberation of Prague, which I framed.
Putin will never be able to issue a Capture of Ukraine campaign medal.
Melissa Chan is broadly correct, but it is not limited to populations in autocracies. People in any polity fall into the following groups:
1) A substantial minority are attracted to authoritarian politics, for any number of reasons.
2) A substantial minority are illiberal democrats who believes democracy is only for the “in group”, everyone else can & should be repressed/suppressed.
3) A mushy middle is just trying to go w/ the flow to survive, & not get crushed by larger events they feel they cannot control.
4) Only a minority are dedicated liberal democrats.
In a relatively functioning authoritarian regimes that is delivering material improvements to the population (such as China, Vietnam, Singapore, or Taiwan/South Korea before democratization), Group 1 could make up a the plurality or even majority of the population, & along w/ Group 3 can make the authoritarian regimes appear quite stable. Until ~ 2014 Putin’s Russia could be perceived as such an authoritarian regime. That is, until things deteriorate enough via mismanagement that a majority of the population feel desperate, & the anxiety concerning the present & present course outweighs the anxiety about uncertainties associated w/ revolutionary change. Then groups 2 & 4 might grow large & strong enough to effect change, & bring enough of Group 2 along for the ride. To overthrow the authoritarian regime, Group 4 may have to make unpalatable compromises w/ Group 2 to cement the alliance.
In established liberal democracies, it is a constant struggle for Group 4 to struggle against the malevolence of Groups 1 & 2 & apathy of Group 3.
That is why liberal democracy cannot be taken for granted, & functioning autocracies should not be underestimated.
Here is a video that describes some small unit engagements. WARNING: Lots of weapons being fired and graphic descriptions of combat and one person injured by shrapnel getting first aid. To be it really gives me the feeling of what is going on across the entire front right now.
Two things I thought was interesting
One was that the use of Wagner convicts as bait to find out where the Ukrainians are is fairly well confirmed (at least that is what the Ukrainians think). As you can imagine it does not go well for the convicts.
The other is that it sounds like the Ukrainian army is getting real time intercepts of Russian command and control all the way down to the Company level. That to me is shocking.
@lee: During WW II, the Soviet Red Army had a tendency to use penal battalions (w/ NKVD troops pointing machines guns at their backs) as fodder to clear German minefields & expose Germany firing positions.
As to your last point, the Russian Army had been using unencrypted civilian walkie-talkies at lower echelons since the start of the current invasion, to their great detriment, & perhaps things haven’t changed.
@YY_Sima Qian: To me the impressive part is getting the real time data all the way to the Company level is such a short period of time or that a Company would have their own team working on the intercepts.
I’m not surprised they have not changed as the embargo is creating significant equipment issues.
@Mike in NC: Ironically, because Eisenhower decided, at Stalin’s behest, not to liberate Prague, though the Third Army was only a day away in Plzeň, it was not the Red Army that actually liberated Prague, but Vlasov’s Army, which was made led by a Ukrainian, Sergei Bunyachenko: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_Liberation_Army . The Red Army didn’t arrive until after the fighting was pretty much over. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prague_uprising
This is going a bit far, and is asking for a bit of pushback, in my view.
I believe that it is naive to view a society’s level of corruption as measured only by the institutional response to corrupt acts. Describing US society as being characterized by “kleptocracy” because we have examples of powerful people who skirt punishment for their self-interested abuses of the law is very misleading, because it assimilates the US to true kleptocracies such as Russia, where not only are such things common, but they are expected, and shrugged off, rather than being viewed as reasons for outrage by large majorities.
That’s the point, really. Resistance to corruption may be embodied by institutions of governance, but their true source, and their source of resilience, is somewhere else entirely: It is popular revulsion against corrupt acts that is the primary protection of societies against corruption, not their institutions or laws.
This goes for all corruption, not just pecuniary corruption: it is even more true—and more important—with respect to acts of political corruption that by betraying istitutional trust undermine democracy.
We had a very clear (although not widely or clearly understood, in my opinion) object lesson about this on January 6 2021. In almost every country on Earth, an incumbent executive leader who decided to subvert constitutional law to remain in power, could have easily exploited control over national security agencies, the military, and law enforcement, as well as support by an appreciable (but very definitely minority) political base, and a supportive media empire, to carry out a successful coup d’etat. In the US, Trump failed dismally. While the media narrative that emerged was that he came close to succeeding, it is abundantly clear now that this is bullshit.
Not only had every single court case challenging the election gone down in humiliating flames: Most of Trump’s own staff is now on record as regarding his quest as mad, delusional, and potentially criminal, dividing themselves up into “Team Normal” and “Team Giuliani”. Which is only a superficial manifestation of what was happening among political appointees and civil servants, the vast majority of whom were nauseated by the cheapening of their calling by this ape’s manic behavior. If his own people (staff, a few members of USSS, DOJ leadership) had somehow managed to steel themselves to execute the coup, it’s pretty clear that the next act would have been a massive unanimous revolt by both the civilian and military components of the Federal government.
That kind of thing isn’t even possible in most places in the world. There’s a very definite and specific reason that it is possible in the US: over two centuries of cultural training in constitutionalism that leaves most Americans unable to accept Kingship in their politicians, and produces actual revulsion at the notion of leaders escaping the bounds of citizenship, and placing themselves above the law.
Anyone who speaks of the US as a “kleptocracy” is blind to this central fact about the US, and in my opinion is abusing the meaning of that word. The US probably has the greatest level of cultural resistance to corruption of any nation in the world, a fact reflected in the daily lives of Americans, who unlike most of the world’s population rarely have to bribe a postman to make sure they get their mail, or a banker to be sure their account changes take hold in less than six months, or a traffic cop to be safe to operate their vehicle. This may seem normal to you, but it’s not: not to many immigrants with whom I have spoken, who are not so impressed with our elections or politics but who marvel at how long it’s been since the’ve needed to bribe anyone.
We certainly cannot take it for granted, and we could lose it if we should decide collectively that it doesn’t matter as much as we once thought it does, but for now, we in the US seem to have this unusual, remarkable, cultural partial immunity to the phenomenon of corruption. There are many things about being a US citizen that shame me, but this is one about which I am unabashedly, patriotically proud.
Ukrainian institutions and politicians had a long-standing and reasonably well-deserved reputation for corruption well prior to the war. In this, they were not particularly conspicuous, and anything else would have been surprising on emerging from Soviet governance. EuroMaidan showed promising willingness by at least some part of the population to stand up to government unlawfulness. And Zelenskyy’s government is absolutely doing the right thing by its (nearly) uncompromising stand on ferreting out and prosecuting government malfeasance. Nonetheless, we should be realistic about the distinction between what sort of reforms are possible by government fiat in a wartime emergency, and the chances of survival of such institutional measures beyond the end of the emergency.
True resistance to corruption, in my view, is in popular sentiment, not merely in law. It’s a kind of muscle memory that takes a while to build up.
@lee: Civilian walkie-talkies have relatively short range, so probably company level echelons near the front lines are in better position to intercept them. That said, there have been many operational validation of concepts, innovations, lessons learned from this war that militaries around the world will be studying for years.
@YY_Sima Qian: Mine at #24 was a long time in composition, so I could only read your sociology of governance after the fact. Nevertheless, I think we have a very substantial disagreement here (it is of long standing, I know). Your model points to the ephemerality and ultimate inevitable doom of democracy, as it survives subject to the fickle determination of “liberal democrats” to overcome the antidemocratic tendencies of “illiberal democrats” and authoritarians.
I believe that this model trivializes the cultural effect of many decades (or even centuries) of propagandistic socialization in democratic values, which confers some societal-level immunity to authoritarian corruption, despite superficial manifestations of the same.
@Carlo Graziani: Carlo, with respect, I think you’re wildly understating the gravity of the problem.
Look at the way that for decades, public corruption goes unpunished. Decades. I mean, *Iran-Contra*, man. All the many mad corruption schemes of TFG’s reign. And sure, TFG failed. But NONE of the ringleaders have been punished. Oh sure, it takes time to assemble cases. That’s why it’s *damning* that nothing came of the cases against TFG and his ilk for the theft of the 2016 election. And for God’s sake, that was a matter of fucking counterintelligence.When a nation is incapable of defending itself against foreign enemies and their attacks ….
And then there’s private corruption, again the great crimes of theft that aren’t punished.
I remember when the “crony capitalism” of Suharto’s regime was exposed, and we all patted ourselves on the back, for our probity, our transparent markets, our strong regulatory regimes. And then came Enron, and Global Crossing, and Worldcom, and MERS, and the damn traders who threatened to crash the economy unless they got paid for their bankrupt trades, and on and on and on and fucking *ON*.
I mean, I’m sorry, but the idea that the population won’t put up with corruption ….. that horse left the barn and ran all the way to the coastline, swam out to sea and drowned, man
ETA: And what’s that phrase? “An unpunished coup is a training exercise.”
That video got me… Really moving.
I listened to a (26 Jan ’23) podcast today of Charlie Sykes talking to Michael Weiss. And Weiss reminded me that the early plan to transfer MiGs (from Slovenia? and Poland) to Ukraine never happened. Fighter jets that Ukrainian pilots already know how to fly (while hopefully being trained on F-16s). He also mentioned that Polish pilots who can fly both—prefer MiGs… Any hint that donating MiGs is back in play?
@YY_Sima Qian: Exactly
One only has to look at the example of Bush’s Iraq war which was launched against a country that demonstrably has zero to to with 9-11 and for with the justification was based on lies.
The US was a democracy with a free press and yet the war cheerleading was deafening and the press were part of the frenzy themselves. Anyone remember the national meltdown over the Dixie Chicks extremely tame criticism of Bush?
If a democracy can fall prey to that sort of war hysteria, how much easier is it in an authoritarian regime with no free press or access to information to counteract a highly sophisticated and relentless state-based propaganda machine that has been making the case for that exact war for 20 years?
@Chetan Murthy: You’re not really addressing the argument that I’m making.
The lack of punishment of marquee figures such as Oliver North is outrageous, but in the end, it is a distraction from the core issue.
Which is this: institutions and law cannot protect nations from corruption. They are themselves corruptible, irrespective of the impressiveness of the buildings or of the calligraphy. Those things only embody the real protection, which is due to societal revulsion against corruption.
Singling out political difficulty of bringing retribution to bad actors doesn’t even remotely challenge the point. Resistance to corrupting the foundations of our governance is deeply embedded in American culture through centuries of constitutional propaganda. That is what protected us on January 6. The joystick went slack in Trump’s hands, because he couldn’t even get a majority of his own staff to go along with him. That is not an accident, a coincidence, or luck. It’s a premonition of what he would have faced across the government and across society, had that cretin Eastman had more success with his lunatic fake elector scheme.
The “coup training exercise” argument is a rhetorical flourish with no substance. It fails to examine why Trump failed, or to compare his chances of success with what they might have been in Argentina (say), or Bulgaria, or even Spain.
And below the level of marquee villains, ask yourself this: what is the reason for the dominance of the dollar as an international currency, if not absolute, ironclad global trust in the institutional integrity of the US Treasury and Federal Reserve? And what is the reason for this trust? Why, despite Chinese economic muscle, is the Renmimbi certain to never be a candidate for global reserve currency? Rhetorical questions, of course—nobody would dream of assimilating the independent duty to diligence of a Federal Reserve governor to that of a CPC functionary appointed to control of the Central Bank of China. That is culture operating, custom, not law. The same goes at society-wide level, comparatively with most of the world.
I’m sorry that you have trouble seeing it. True patriotism needs reasons, not just birth. In my view, this is the best, clearest reason to be an American patriot (or, to be fair, a patriot of most Western nations). Long-term widespread acculturation to democratic values and respect for law is the reason that law works at all, and that democracy exhibits any resilience.
@Chetan Murthy: In fairness, I took his point to be: yes, there’s corruption, but where’s the water level on it? Are we really inclined to put up with having to bribe postal workers? How bad can we really say our corruption is compared to elsewhere? How spoiled are we to say, “oh no, a coup attempt”?
I’d like to be pleasantly surprised at how much resistance we have, but I’d like to accurately assess our capabilities even more than that. Keeping in mind, of course, that demoralization works in favor of corruption. If we keep winning, and by stronger margins going forward, that could be interpreted as either lulling us into complacency or validating our confidence in what we actually stand for.
@Carlo Graziani: Of course, you followed up with clarity and purpose while I was still typing. But there’s still one more distinction I’m curious enough to try to make.
In previous threads I drew a line, somewhat zealously, between institutional culture and social culture, arguing against the judgment of the latter in comparison to others of its category. Here I’d like to reiterate that a bit by defining “institution” in addition to your usage.
To me, an “institution” is composed of not just an organization but its constituency in whatever capacity they mutually interact with it, such that there can be a sort of reserve pool of resistance to corruption (or lack thereof) without impinging on the validity of the social facets of culture which operate in parallel to (and in spite of) the ability of institutions to support them. The way I model it, this is key to being able to acknowledge and embrace multicultural pluralism while also rejecting institutional toxicity and corruption. Hopefully not too deep of a quibble.
@Alison Rose: Boris does want to go down in history as another Churchill. Toxic, self-serving toff who heroically stands up when it really counts but meanwhile still makes time to screw someone over—you can’t get more self-serving than that.
@Carlo Graziani: I think we have to remember that liberal democracy is a relatively recent development, the US until the Civil Rights Act was in many respects an illiberal democracy, even more illiberal than most of Western Europe. Adam has long talked about a third of the US population being adherents to Herrenvolk white nationalism. Many of them would fall under illiberal democrats.
I think the danger for the US is not a quick slide directly toward authoritarianism, but deterioration to illiberal democracy 1st. Once people become accustomed to illiberal democracy, then the US would be vulnerable to full blown authoritarianism. We have already the destruction of democratic norms in GOP run states w/ the voter suppression, legislated discrimination of LGBT persons, restrictions to abortion, as well as legislated circumcision of governorships as soon as ads win them. We have seen the illiberal slide in Poland, Hungary, Israel, Brazil, Japan (especially during Shinzo Abe’s 2nd tenure), the UK under the storied, Australia under the National Liberals. In a sense a slide toward illiberal democracy would be a return to older form for the US.
I also think it is dangerous to think the US is somehow uniquely safe from authoritarianism. Someone as transparently corrupt, incompetent, venal, illiberal & malicious as Donald Trump should have been laughed out of the GOP primaries, & never been 100 miles of winning the presidency, regardless of the amount of Russian influence operation. What if the next authoritarian is actually competent & charismatic, & better at hiding the corruption, illiberalism & malice?
The independence of the Fed is undergirded by certain norms, norms that the modern GOP has proven having no qualms to break. Next time GOP wins the White House & controls the Senate, do you think it is impossible for them nuke the filibuster again, & approve a candidate that the GOP president believes to be pliant to hectoring? If they refrain to do so, it is more likely due to the capital interests supporting them fear the wreckage a non-independent Fed may bring.
Yes, I think liberal democracies are fragile, less so than even the best authoritarian systems, but fragile nonetheless. Because human beings are flawed, & not all buy into liberal democracy.
@YY_Sima Qian: I don’t know that I can do it justice, but one point where I’d differ with your careful analysis is on the delineation of institutions and ideology into seemingly predetermined categories. While such clear divisions lend a lot to one’s mental grasp, I can’t help but feel like they also implicitly suppose that those categories will remain statically applicable.
In particular, it’s my view that the definition of liberal democracy remains a work in progress. If it’s a novel concept then I contend that’s because we’ve only just started trying it on. Rather than a crystalline edifice that we ought to be hesitant to put too much stock in lest it be shattered beneath us, I suspect it represents a whole field of possibilities to explore. It may even yield to a preferable replacement yet to be conceived.
In this I’m with Pelosi – diversity is our strength. Not just our rectitude, but our resilience. We and many other nations may periodically regress to a mean, but it’s a fight both because we’re not guaranteed to win and because we might be able to. There’s no leverage that I can see in being afraid of the alternative.
Let me just say a quick thank you for a very fine conversation and read. I spent way too much time reading and think about all of this…Smart is good.
So, some appreciation to Alison Rose, Chetan Murthy , Gin & Tonic, Carlo Graziani , YY_Sima Qian, Kent, Jay, livewyre, Lee and anyone I missed.
Thanks is due. Best Wishes, T
The total number of tanks pledged to Ukraine probably has been posted here already but anyway, from CNN:
Ambassador Vadym Omelechenko said that countries have confirmed commitments to provide 321 heavy tanks to Ukraine.
The sister of North Korea leader Kim Jong Un thinks we’ve gone too far. A North Korean news site reported that Kim Yo Jong accuses the US and its allies of “further crossing the red line” with these tanks.
@Carlo Graziani: I don’t know what you meant by “almost every other country” but if you’re comparing the US to other liberal democracies, the US if far more prone to a seizure of full control than most because the head of government is head of state and commander in chief of the army. Most other places, those roles are somewhat divided — in Canada eg between three different people. If you’re comparing the US to the rest of the world, well, that’s a low bar.
it’s not an accident that constitutional monarchies are the most stable liberal democracies.
@livewyre: If we expand the time horizon out to centuries, I absolutely agree that institutions & ideologies can both be fluid. However, in the time horizon of my lifetime, I think the choices are what we have, & it takes continuous struggle just to keep liberal democracy (or authoritarianism, or any other human system of government) functional.
The reason for my foreboding is that the world is heading into a period of unprecedented tumult, “polycrisis” being the new favorite buzzword, & the ecological crisis brought about by AGW is the addition that we have not seen before, on top of & interacting w/ relative global economic stagnation, economic protectionism, population movement, geopolitical rivalry, & domestic populism.
The near to medium term future will severely stress every polity in ways that I think few policy analysts & ever fewer policymakers have truly come to terms w/ (they’ve come to grip w/ parts of the whole, but not the whole). Liberal democracies in North America & Western/Norther Europe, the increasingly illiberal democracies in parts of Eastern Europe, the Middle East & South Asia (I forgot to mention India previously), the seemingly stable authoritarian regimes in China/Vietnam/Singapore, the fragile authoritarian regimes in the fUSSR & sub-Saharan Africa, the immature democracies in sub-Saharan Africa & SE Asia, the petrostates, none will be spared The Russian re-invasion of Ukraine is but a small piece, thought it is everything to the Ukrainians.
We should not be comfortable in our old assumption in these dire circumstances. I tend to agree that liberal democracies in general is preferable to authoritarianism. However, there are many types of liberal democracies & authoritarian regimes, & countries w/ similar institutions still have different states of health. Therefore, we should not assume that any given liberal democracy will outperform any given authoritarian system at any given time.
@Carlo Graziani: I fear you are overoptimistic. Much of the corruption in nations like the US doesn’t need the trappings of a formal coup, troops or mobs of supporters occupying government buildings. The elites in such nations achieve their goals while retaining the external trappings of the system. Leonard Leo and the decades long subversion of judicial appointments, the NRA and gun legislation, the billions spent in lobbying by corporations to amend or introduce legislation in their favour are all deeply corrupting. We have a Supreme Court hell bent on weakening the very definition of corruption eg the aquittal of Governor McDonnel or the current NY cases of Cuomo’s aides. Vast amounts of money are being utilised to undermine the public school system, to replace it with private schools with little or no oversight. By no means unique to the US, eg the Baroness Mone PPE scandal in the UK. Much of this corruption isn’t necessarily ideological or political, it’s simply pecuniary, this I’m sure applies to many Russian oligarchs, and doesn’t even require an authoritarian system. It is however deeply corrosive and damaging to a nation both physically .eg weakening of regulations on water pollution injuring people and the environment and morally damaging the legitimacy and respect for the institutions that are required to resist attacks on a liberal democratic system. When Nadhim Zahawi claims he forgot about £27 million while Chancellor, when Kayleigh McEnany laughs on Tv at the very idea she might be prosecuted for violations of the Hatch Act it corrodes the law, the very fabric of society. When they and individuals like them face no real consequence unlike the vast bulk of the governed, Zahawi was fined a 1/3 of his gains, nothing for McEnany, how can anyone respect the law? These aren’t exceptions, such corruption is widespread and more dangerously for a democratic society believed to be widespread.
“One law for the rich, one law etc”
This is not a new phenomenon, it was a major factor in the fall of the Roman Empire but it seems to me to be running at an increasingly dangerous level
Another form of corruption is the collapse of institutional safeguards, the norms & checks and balances which we were constantly told would restrain bad actors such as Trump and Johnson.
Both men basically just said “Ok, stop me” and carried on. Trump left the Emoluments Clause and the Hatch Act , both vital legal safeguards against government corruption, as dead letters amongst his lesser sins. Johnson accepted bribes left, right and centre and then simply sacked the investigator.
There are certainly blatant acts of political, authoritarian corruption in the US, DeSantis is packing the Florida Education system with his cronies and enforcing an ideological straightjacket on what can be taught, banning materials and teachings that contradict the state enforced narrative. He is sacking government officials for not toeing the party line, restricting the right to protest, and has made it legal for his supporters to drive cars into crowds of protesters. He sent armed officials to arrest voters in the run up to an election and made sure it was widely televised. He successfully threatens private companies, up to and including Disney, over their internal policies.
This man is widely touted as the next president
I can’t see a classic coup in the sense of troops occupying government buildings succeeding in the US without triggering a civil war, but the same applies to France, Germany, in fact one failed in Spain(without the war) in 1981.
But then I don’t think that is the route by which we could slide into being an authoritarian state, rather by an incremental subversion, an unchecked continuation of corrupt processes already at work, some political, some financial, some structural, some a mix.
Late to the party but looks like a great book
@YY_Sima Qian: The thing is, you could say I’m meta-optimistic about this in a way that’s not at all meant to downplay the cause for alarm. We may well not have a time horizon available to stay still in our categories or categorization.
It’s not as though there aren’t already ideals and concepts on the “other side” of liberal democracy from what we’re trying to escape, it’s also – as you rightly point out – a matter of gathering public consensus for them. But for me, public consensus is already and entirely a fluid thing. If we look to it for legitimacy, then we’re following it as much as shaping it, and our own individual fleeting horizons can only tell us so much.
I wouldn’t count it out just yet. Especially when it comes to ideals and identities that are traditionally marginalized but used to dealing with the offal of the “normal” class. We’re on the cusp of realizing what we could already do but were always told wasn’t our place to, and “normal” has gotten awfully distracted these days…
@Chetan Murthy: Something else that has gone unpunished, & faded from most of the public consciousness in the US: the illegal torture, extrajudicial indefinite detentions & extraordinary renditions carried out by the GWB administration. I was very sympathetic to the Obama team’s argument in 2009 of looking forward to address the crisis that was the GFC & reform the long standing ills of the US socio-economy, rather than getting bogged down litigating the past. In hindsight, I think the vociferous critics were right, as it once against solidified the lawlessness of executive action in the name of national security, & sure to be taken a lot further by future GOP presidents.
Has everyone forgotten how reckless Trump’s assassination of Iranian Gen. Suleimani in Iraq was? What kind of liberal international order would that kind of brazen assassination be acceptable?Because Suleimani was the “Big Bad”, US & allies basically just tried to move on as quickly as possible. However, consider the precedent that set, & how other nation state actors (or future US presidents) could push it further. Putin could refer to that precedent to target high level NATO military & intelligence officers visiting Kyiv, if he deems it in his interest.
@livewyre: I admire you optimism, & optimism is certainly vital. However, I think we are now veering away from analysis toward faith.
I used to be as confident of liberal democracy as Carlo G., & I thought Obama’s election & reelection were exemplary of the resilience of the US system. Analyzing the causes behind the 2008 GFC, & the GOP induced gridlock post-2010 mid terms, shook my confidence in the US system. Trump’s election & the extraordinary ways his administration & the GOP at all levels broke all the norms, & the highly inconsistent effectiveness of norms/institutions to constrain them or hold them accountable, & after all of that Biden’s relatively narrow margin of victory, really has made me question every assumption I used to have about the US system. Seeing the deterioration & devolution in the UK, parts of Eastern Europe, Israel, India, Japan, made me question the assumptions I used to hold about liberal democracies. Contra Carlo, I have come to believe that liberal democracy, like every other system of government, really does require constant struggle to be sustained, as opposed to a “natural” equilibrium state that polities will gravitate or revert to. Why? Because the assumptions about human beings, born out of Enlightenment, that serve as premise to liberal democratic governance, do not in fact apply universally, even in the oldest & most mature democracies.
@YY_Sima Qian: The shocker for me was the UK. It’s a system and country I know very well and the last few years have been beyond dreadful. Maybe it’s the perspective gained from being at a remove rather than being there but it has shattered my confidence in the resilience of liberal democracies
@kalakal: Absolutely. The devolution of the UK since the Brexit campaign has been as rapid as the US since the 2016 campaign season. Just as in the US, the root of the malaise in the UK went much further back. Unlike in the US, a return of Labor to power in the UK might result in course correction by a greater degree, since the intricate system checks & balances in the US can be both a blessing & a curse.
@YY_Sima Qian: Fundamentally, this kind of discussion always ends with faith. We are looking at the way events are trending, and, with all trends, things continue until they stop. We are going through a bad batch, but when does it stop? Just as an example: was the election of Biden as sign of the beginning of turn around and did the US institutions take a lot of damage but still survive, or are elections of 2018, 2020, and 2022 just blips on a path toward authoritarianism? One can easily frame an argument either way. I choose to believe the former. It will take a lot of work here and abroad, but deciding that we are all fucked just does not seem worth it to me. So, yeah, it is a matter of faith.
@YY_Sima Qian: In neither country is the situation irredeemable without a lapse into internecine violence, and yes the roots go way back eg UK politicians have been tying Themselves in knots since at least the 60s. In my optimistic moments I percieve signs that the pendulum is beginning to swing away from the authoritarians.
What it has convinced me is that in this
you are absolutely correct, but I do believe we can win that struggle
A major part of the struggle is now taking place in Ukraine. The heroic fight of the Ukrainian people is a fight for freedom for us all.
@Omnes Omnibus: I am not advising surrender or apathy, but I am advising being realistic about the danger we face & the work required to sustain a functioning liberal democracy, & that it will be an unending struggle (as opposed to one concluding in victory as soon as the current version of the GOP is vanquished).
Furthermore, even for leaders I believe to be committed liberal democrats, I do see a glaring disconnect in their domestic messaging acknowledging the titanic struggle against domestic illiberal & reactionary forces, but whose foreign messaging largely pretend that this domestic struggle is not happening & pretend that the other countries cannot see this domestic struggle happening, & indeed advocate foreign policy that often serve to empower illiberal & reactionary forces in other polities, to attain advantages in geopolitical rivalry.
I always find it interesting that there is an implication that those who have faith the liberal democracy can and will prevail lack an understanding of the dangers we face or the fact this is an unending struggle. This is not just aimed at you; it is quite common on this blog and beyond. Choosing democracy is choosing a never ending struggle. Fascism and other forms of authoritarianism just require people to let someone else take charge and go with the flow.
@Omnes Omnibus: For my own part what has shaken me about the last few years, espescially the UK, which I thought I knew better was not that the struggle is endless, it was where the current state of play was/is. I was genuinely shocked, not at what came oozing out from under the rocks kicked over by the Tories & UKIP but by the quantity of it. To me Brexit & UKIP were like the Flat Earth Society, a fringe group of laughable nutcases It seems I am a lot less perceptive than I thought.
@kalakal: Oddly, a group of my IB student friends taking science and math courses founded a Flat Earth Society at my high school. We chose it because it was the most absurd thing we could think of at the time. To balance it out, we also founded the Hester Prynne Fan Club for the more literary minded. I was a proud founding member of both.
@Omnes Omnibus: Lol! At my university the scandal was the “Fine Wine Appreciation Society”.A bunch of people whom I’m sure went into the City afterwards read the fine print for forming a student society, x number of members, accounts to be kept etc ,formed said society and happily accepted the £150* the university granted to student societies pa. They then promptly spent it all on fine wine for their first meeting and as the last cork was drawn dissolved the society.
*this was 1979
@kalakal: Those, old boy, were future barristers.
@Omnes Omnibus: I don’t think your perspective is in fact common among the average people or the politicians in liberal democracies.
@YY_Sima Qian: We disagree. I think it is just common enough.
ETA: I also think that what democracies do is muddle through problems in a very messy way. And everyone is going to spend a lot of time being at least vaguely disappointed.
My order from NEIVANMADE’s HelpUkraine! store on Threadless started arriving today. It looks like stuff ships out of Chicago, so it comes pretty quickly.
I got a mug, a notebook, and a magnet, today. I assume the framed print will be arriving soon.
All excellent quality and very well packed.
@YY_Sima Qian: I don’t actually disagree with this. I do not believe (and I’m pretty sure that I was careful not to write) that the US and other Western democracies are immune from decay through corrosion of their institutions. I was only pointing out the (to me) obvious fact that decades or centuries of propagandizing constitutionalism and liberty (*) confers a certain cultural resistance to the corrosion.
It is certainly the case that failure to continue such ideological education should be expected to lead to a decay in that culture, and this endangers such democracies. It is equally clear that the GOP’s grievance-driven politics is making a determined and conscious effort to undermine those cultural norms, even as it exploits its structural electoral advantages to undermine political institutions.
What I am saying, however, is that this is no easy task, given two centuries of cultural conditioning. I think that the Trump coup’s abject failure, which so few people regard as a puzzle in need of explanation, is completely understandable in terms of the nausea that it provoked even on his own staff, to say nothing of most Federal employees and the large majority of the public. I believe that much of the imminent-doom-of-democracy talk that we still indulge in after the suprising corrective of the 2022 midterm elections represents overblown, misplaced panic.
We certainly do need to recommit ourselves to our Enlightenment values, and use them relentlessly as a cudgel against those heirs of the Romantics, the Fascists, and the Theocrats who have wished them dead and buried since the Age of Locke and Voltaire. We could lose everything if we do not do this. But if we do, we avail ourselves of a great reservoir of latent strength and resilience, embedded in culural norms. That’s all, really.
(*) I am aware of the limitations of a conception of “liberty” that confers it only on propertied white men, then white men, then white people, then all straights, etc. It is, of course a lengthily dragged out work in progress. But progress there certainly is, steadily, over the course of centuries, and again that fact is weird enough to require an explanation. You already know mine…
One final thing: I’ve been moved to issuing these walls-of-text on this subject, because I’ve had occasion to think about illiberalism, corruption, democracy, autocrats actual and incipient, and the troubling history of the 30 years since the end of the Cold War. I am, of course regurgitating what I wrote in The Resumption of History, one of the principal points of which was about corruption and theory of governance. That was a lengthy essay, because I felt driven to write some kind of summary of a personal synthesis of several threads that I’d arrived at over years of confused, anxious, occasionally angry, but in the end hopeful reflection.
To those here who (a) haven’t read it, (b) have a tolerance for lengthy musing essays, and (c) wonder whether I am on crack for writing the strange, lightly supported reflections on corruption that I’ve for some reason poured out in this thread, you can find the more coherent and complete argument.at that link. It may not be persuasive (many who did read it objected to one part or another), but at least it shows that, at a minimum, I’m smoking very good crack.
J R in WV
I was under the impression that Brexit and the recent Tory “success” were both manifestations of the financial influence of Russian oligarchs and their investments in the “City of London”. In other words, Russian kleptocrats bought the downfall of democracy in Jolly Old England.
I’m not a big fan of GB, quite the opposite really, and so don’t study the news over there. But seems like the Scots and their prime minister have things under control, compared to whoever the PM is in England today… please correct me if I’m way off base here. Also King Chuck, OMG what an ignorant buffoon…
Or maybe I’m last again…. drat. Anyway, great conversation on political history etc.
@YY_Sima Qian: I’m not saying we aren’t somewhere dark, I’m saying there’s somewhere to go from there. On that point is where I’m starting to wonder if we agree at all. As said before, my understanding is that we don’t lack ideas so much as awareness, and presumably, being finite, we can’t be aware of all that there is to be aware of.
I’m not longing wistfully for some distant unknown – we’re already changing in myriad lesser-known ways, as is the tendency of finite things. If I was conservative that’s what I’d be striving against. In fact, isn’t just that – eternal struggle, war of all – a conservative conceit?
Regardless, my experience is already one of change. Like the climate, we can try to predict it, but unlike the weather, we can also try to shape it. In fact, we’d better.
@J R in WV: The Tories didn’t need outside help to trash the UK. They’re stupid and nasty enough to do it by themselves. I’m not saying they didn’t have help, Putin’s paw prints are all over Brexit, but they’ve been whining about the EU and its predecessors since the 50s. The Brexit vote was to reverse a referendum taken in 1975.
@livewyre: I certainly agree that there are paths that lead to potentially better futures, & that there ideas out there that could lead down those paths. I think voices on the Left (as opposed to just liberals) are important parts of the puzzle, as their analytical framing can & do identify key fissures & stresses in both domestic & international settings that are often overlooked in current mainstream analyses, & they offer proposals to solutions that are outside of the current mainstream mental space. The Left (like any other ideological strand) cannot offer a complete solution our troubles, it has limitations & blind spots, too. However, I am dismayed at how disorganized & marginalized the Left is in the US in particular, & I am further dismayed by some of the potentially influential voices on the Left in the US having discredited themselves & threaten to discredit the Left in general w/ their Putin apologia.
I am heartened by the global turn away from neoliberal economics, but I am dismayed that it is being replaced by trade protectionism & national security Keynesianism. I am dismayed that that geopolitical rivalry & trade protectionism threaten the effort to mitigate AGW, w/ green energy & EVs becoming yet another battlefield for technology war (not just between the U.S. & China, either) to achieve dominance, rather than space for collaboration to maximize global adoption.
@Carlo Graziani: We don’t necessarily disagree on what should & needs to happen domestically in the US & the West in general.
I even agree that the long inculcated civic “religion” toward Constitutionalism does offer a small measure of additional immunity to the US specifically, but the trajectory of the past decade makes me extremely skeptical that this small measure of additional immunity offers much protection in face of the reactionary populist forces, at a time of heightened anxiety & uncertainty (& set to rise further faster). The illiberal democrats believe themselves to be committed Constitutionalists, too, but in the end they help pave the way for committed authoritarians.
@YY_Sima Qian: It’s for reasons like these that I regard “Left” to be obsolete as a prescriptive category – its historical tail drags along too many outdated assumptions. Much of what I see as weighing it down is shared with its putative opposition, such as a seeming pursuit of absolute measures of virtue, which makes such things as a red-brown alliance conceivable.
What makes liberal democracy exceptional in this frame is its complete reliance on the notion of public consensus to determine what virtue consists of in the first place. That can look like a critical weakness – if it doesn’t draw a hard line anywhere, how can it stand for itself, let alone anything that matters? But I think that’s exactly what lends it to both thwarting autocratic outbreaks and replacing itself if and when appropriate.
We don’t oppose corruption because corruption is generically evil, but because of what corruption does to our ability to form consensus. In this way, liberal democracy may route around corruption similarly to how the Internet is said to treat censorship as damage and route around it (and with similar exceptions). It can be siloed and stymied for a period of time, but on some level we realize what we’ve been missing and reinvent it. I’m here for what comes after Twitter and maybe the venerable Left as well.
@Omnes Omnibus: Old thread so i don’t know if you’ll see this, but Milo Yiannopolis (remember him?) is a Flat Earther. Big time. So it seems that kalakal’s instincts about the fringe are spot on.
@livewyre: Yes, the one dimension “left-right” axis is inadequate. Another axis like “authoritarian-Liberal” might be useful, using Liberal in the classic sense. This is still insufficient except to remind myself that “left-right” leaves a lot out.
I have learned to use qualifiers when I criticize people on the left because a lot of people identify as left and take offense, and “punching left” is thought by some to be bad in and of itself. But I never thought punching back was a bad thing, even if it means punching left.
This analysis, such as it is, is abstract and I tend to be interested in “the left” primarily as it interacts with the Democratic Party both inside and from the outside. The last few years have been very interesting in that respect.
And the war in Ukraine has definitely cast a harsh light on different elements of the western “left,” and polarized them along the “authoritarian-Liberal” axis. The behavior of the more authoritarian elements sure hasn’t been pretty, either.
@livewyre: Dead thread. I am less concerned about the relevance of the “Left” as an ideological entity, I am more concerned about the analytical framework, analysis & solution proposals that are concentrated in many (not necessarily all) of the analysts who self identify as the “Left”, & whether their contributions are incorporated into the larger mainstream policy debate.
Whether you or I anyone else think the Left-Right axis is still a useful analytical framework for studying ideological orientation, in practice people still identify as the Left, & they are also still lauded or attacked as the Left. To me, these are the people who are still deeply focused on the economic root causes both domestic & international fissures & tensions, as well as the hegemonic/imperialist aspects of U.S. foreign policy, aspects that are largely overlooked (or very lightly touched upon) in mainstream discourse. Leftists can be as myopic & reductionist as anyone else, & these factors are certainly not exclusive contributors, but I feel they are far too underrepresented in mainstream discourse, rather than overrepresented. I do not believe we can effectively address the domestic & international challenges unless we understand the forces at play they are highlighting & confront these forces.
BTW, the Left may be irrelevant as a political force in the U.S., that is not the case in the ROW, including in many other liberal democracies.