Corruption

Dictatorships generally do not foster, or even tolerate, the kind of creative disruption of the status quo necessary to the existence of a dynamic free market. Plus, the economy of the Russian state can best be described as a mafia state, or kleptocracy. Thus Vladimir Putin needs to find other ways to shore up both the national finances and the support of his cronies (much less so, of his people, who are primarily afterthoughts in the Russian power structure).

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the rapid shift to capitalism was done with little oversight and many hands in the cookie jar. The Russian land’s rich stores of minerals, oil and gas, heavy metals, and other natural resources were rapidly privatized and newly-minted oligarchs flexed wealth and power in a way never before dreamed of in the former USSR.

The combination of powerful new gatekeepers who locked up the Russian economy early via capital flight and never let it go overshadowed the capitalistic transition and, in a very real way, hijacked it before it ever really got underway. The result is, some 30 years on, an unpopular creaking kleptocratic regime reviled around the world for its stubborn aggression, subversion of democratic processes around the world particularly in Europe and the United States, support for organized crime, and significant financial crimes on the part of the state itself.

Putin’s autocratic rule from dull to terrifyingly devious has a chilling effect on hope, self-determination, self-governance, and ultimately — on happiness, freedom, and creativity. Totalitarianism is capable of exerting control, but always fails to inspire anything except for eventual revolution against the oppressors.

Here is a granular look at major indicators of the economy of the Russian Federation.

OECD Country Dashboard: Russian economy

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There’s something those of us in marginalized groups know instinctively, having lived lives long in opposition to a dizzying continuum of Absurd Moral Authority: from outright violence, to secretive “technical” manipulations of statutes designed to erode or remove rights, to vague and carefully unstated “wink wink nudge nudge” moments from individuals of authority who had some power to constrain us — whether it’s a boss (or potential boss), a teacher, a community figure, and/or perhaps most guttingly a family member.

We know the sting of being scolded for even daring an attempt at upsetting the Tautological Supremacist Meritocracy: “If you weren’t worthless, you’d already be here by now!”

The British thought we would just roll over too

But we should remember one of the primary reasons that we as a nation even won our independence in the first place:

We were underestimated.

Lord North offered tax relief to the colonies that would help “defend the motherland” in February, 1775 — none took him up on it. And in fact, the Conciliatory Resolution only deepened the growing sense of unity emerging against what increasingly became perceived as a Common Enemy. The attempt to divide and conquer not only failed, but backfired.

The British Parliament thought the colonists full of hot air — that a few shows of military force would quickly crumble the upstart radicals in their quest for representation and rights. But battles at Lexington and Concord only fueled further the sentiment that the colonies were inhabited by an occupying force that must be resisted.

It was widely thought to be insane to stand against the world-renowned military force of the British Empire — but the Continental Army under George Washington doggedly turned the fact of underestimation to their advantage via innovative battlefield strategy. The motherland, finding it difficult to raise sufficient troops to fight against their own former countrymen, hired German mercenaries to fight against the colonists — further deepening the resolve of the Americans to throw off an oppressor willing to bring foreign assassins to bear in a dispute formerly perceived as a conciliatory process of achieving the basic rights of citizenship that colonists’ forbears once enjoyed in England. The British overestimation of Loyalist support — combined with the general mistreatment of those who did cross the “revolutionary picket line” — only added to the troubles faced by a predominantly naval power slogging through a lengthy land war over vast territory.

Diversity does not preclude uniting to face a Common Enemy

In so many ways we’ve become more fragmented; more balkanized; more atomized in modern society. We’ve self-selected into our communities of shared values and our social media bubbles. In many ways this is the paradox of prosperity, and the Catch-22 of progress.

We may feel stronger in our own foxholes, but there comes a time when the whole choir must sing together. Now is that time.

And perhaps it is dangerous to use the language of war, and of conflict — or perhaps it may help us to better identify where our Common Enemy lies. Our Common Enemy is not the down at heel rural Trump supporter who lashes out at us in fear, and in retaliation — though their words are often hateful, these people have been misled.

It’s a very old story — older than Trump; older than George W. Bush; older than Reagan or Nixon or Coolidge or Jackson or Johnson. The wealthy white elite has a centuries’ old playbook of dangling so-called Christian morality in front of those whites left most destitute by the former’s economic policies — and winning.

We are watching reruns.

This time, fascism and foreign influence have been added to up the ante — keeping even the most blasΓ© among us glued to our seats.

Stand up

The framers of our Constitution deliberated, debated, and agonized over the most ideal structure to support a broad pluralist power, in concerted opposition to the monarchies and aristocracies of the past. Many were shocked by — and fought bitterly against — the unprecedented act of beginning such a governing document with the words, “We the people.”
But 85 Federalist Papers later, our sovereign power was enshrined in the document that still governs our ambitions today — and acts as a backstop against those who would wield tyrannical power in our name. 

Our Common Enemy is tyranny, and we must learn to recognize where it lives, and how it acts. Even — perhaps especially — when that domicile is the White House, and that act an act of Congress.

Our Common Enemy is those who would deny the power of the people to govern themselves: through the silencing of debate in a once great forum; through casual disregard of the judiciary branch; through an endless parade of troglodyte efforts at voter suppression.

Our Common Enemy is the long litany of elected officials who act in their own best interests at the expense of We the People. It is the slew of slick sycophants currying political favor with the powerful, who continually rewrite the rules of the game the Winners have already Won many times over, to accelerate the gaping gulf of inequality that threatens democracy, liberty, justice, and most certainly peace.

Without Justice there can be no Peace.

And those who wield injustice have vastly underestimated the swaths of citizenry who can see through the ruse; who have heard the old story and seen its outcomes; who are tired of having to wage the same struggles for rights and respect over, and over, and over again.

But the tired gain strength through camaraderie in adversity; through simple acts of kindness; through humor, and through love.

These are tools the tyrannical cannot access.
Stand, and wield them, in the name of We the People.

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But we will grow from it, and they will not — over the long run, at least.

Things we need to improve upon and/or rebuild:

  • media literacy
  • civic literacy
  • financial literacy
  • data literacy
  • tech literacy — especially security and privacy
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The creator of the also excellent Century of the Self film series released his latest film in October, 2016. Dubbed HyperNormalisation, it offers both a history lesson of the complicated relationship between the West, the Middle East, and Russia, as well as an unflinching look at the roles played by technology, surveillance, and the media on our modern condition of general confusion, destabilization, and surrealism.

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  • a. The Alfa Bank pinging server
  • b. Connections in the Trump campaign Β  Β  Β 
    • 1. Paul Manafort — former campaign manager who helped rig elections for Ukrainian pro-Moscow former president Viktor Yanukovich Β  Β  Β 
    • 2.Β Sergei Millian —Β head of the Russian American Chamber of Commerce in the US Β  Β  Β 
    • 3. Ivanka’s friendship with Putin’s girlfriend
  • c. Russian hacking of the DNC emails
  • d. Russian attempted hacks on state vote registration rolls
  • e. Russian bots and paid disinformation operatives influencing public opinion in the US presidential election
    • 1. Twitter Β  Β  Β 
    • 2. Medium Β  Β  Β 
    • 3. Facebook (?) Β  Β  Β 
    • 4. Darkweb
  • f. High probability of significant Russian investment in the Trump Organization, its subsidiaries, shell companies, or off-shore protectorates
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I still see a lot of denialism on this point about the DNC email hacks from the far-left (or the alt-left, depending on your favored terminology), which is a bit devastating to see as it essentially parrots the pro-Russian ideology of the far-right (both the alt-right and the neo-libertarian flavors). Green Party candidate Jill Stein is an especially pernicious promoter of this myth that Vladimir Putin is a poor, innocent, peaceful world leader who is being bullied by NATO (when in fact, Russia has been the aggressor since its annexation of Crimea in 2014).

DNC email hacks forensic evidence

Two separate Russian-affiliated adversaries were behind the attacks, according to a post-mortem by cyber-security firm CrowdStrike when the news of the intrusion first broke in early June, 2016. This has since been confirmed by other independent security firms including Fidelis, Mandiant, SecureWorks, and ThreatConnect as well as corroborated by analysis from Ars Technica and Edward Snowden.

At this point the US intelligence community is confident enough to formally accuse Russia of involvement in the hacks, and are currently investigating other breaches of voter registration databases in Arizona and Illinois as well as in Floridaβ€Šβ€”β€Šthe key battleground state from the 2000 election that handed GWB an unfortunate victory. Elsewhere, there is ample evidence of Putin’s extensive disinformation campaign being waged online (including several experiences I have myself witnessed), which is the continuation of a long through line of wielding propaganda as a tool from the former head of the KGB.

Related:

  • A timeline of recent Russian aggression
  • A RussiaGate Dictionary: Lexicon for the New Cold War
  • A RussiaGate Bestiary: Principal actors and related extras in the 2016 election scandal
  • The Russian Mafia State: How the former USSR has become a sclerotic kleptocracy under the rule of former KGB agent Vladimir Putin, who vowed revenge on the West after his station in Dresden, East Germany was overrun by angry citizens during the month leading up to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
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Be careful of our barnacled, crusty cynicism and the cavalier rabbit hole it could lead us down — away from the longest-running success story in human rights.

Democracy works only if political leaders put the common good ahead of personal interest. There is zero evidence Trump would even be equipped to deliver on this, should the interest in it ever be made to enter his mind.

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