Sunday, October 27, 2019

Ukrainian Rhapsody

"Our future will be more about artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and non-state actors than stump speeches from the back of a bunted caboose. Facebook and Twitter have been weaponized."


There has been a recurrent theme here at The Great Change over the past several months. It began with revelations from whistleblowers from Cambridge Analytica speaking to Parliamentary inquiries in London to the effect that the US 2016 election was not the only election being hacked—you had to look to Australia, Brazil, Malaysia, India, Kenya, and Malta too—and that social media like Facebook and Twitter were being manipulated rather than voting machines. After the Diebold scandals of 2000 and 2004, a number of states and nations began to revert to paper ballots. A machine hack would still suffice in many places, such as my own state of Tennessee, as is easily demonstrated, but the long game is in hacking minds, not machines.

An enduring trope in our culture has been a short, almost insignificant scene from the first Star Wars film, A New Hope, that but for George Lucas’s sense of humor could have fallen to the cutting room floor. The scene is only 30 seconds but has lingered in the pop culture for 40 years.
EMPIRE TROOPER SERGEANT (to Luke Skywalker): Let me see your identification.
OBI-WAN KENOBE (staring into the Sergeant’s visor and subtly waving his fingers): You don’t need to see his identification.
SERGEANT (to other four Empire guards): We don’t need to see his identification.
OBI-WAN: These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.
SERGEANT: These aren’t the droids we’re looking for.
OBI-WAN: He can go about his business.
SERGEANT: You can go about your business.
OBI-WAN: Move along.
SERGEANT: Move along, move along.
(Next Scene)
LUKE: I can’t understand how we got by those troops, I thought we were dead.
OBI-WAN: The Force can have a strong influence on the weak-minded.
That is it, in essence—the neurobiology of election manipulation. Over the decades a film trope has morphed into a catch-phrase— “Move along, nothing to see here.”



Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the quality of public education in the United States has been stagnant to declining for many years. It trains test-takers to give rote answers rather than stimulating creativity by constant questioning. This has the tendency, long-term, to elevate weak-minded followers of social memes to an electoral majority and a majority of the elected representatives. While the United States ranks high among nations in education spending, a closer look reveals that most of that spending has been on teacher pay and hardscape while leaving test scores unchanged or even declining.

Moreover, the US privatized education system, like its companions—privatized health care, privatized veterans care, privatized justice and prison systems, etc., is inefficient, ineffective, bloated, declining in performance, and failing those it is intended to serve. I could compare these examples to how bloated corporate US military avionics has fallen behind Russian, Israeli or Chinese technology for basic indicators like fighter jets, missiles, and air defense systems, but that is poking the hornets’ nest.

One effect of privatized education that grows in cost while delivering less is our student loan bubble coupled with trillion-dollar delinquency rates. This serves to consign the college-educated workforce to detestable, unfulfilling and uncreative work. Debt-slavery marches them lock-step in shackles from blank cubicles to home entertainment cocoons and back each day. A manufactured rabble, now tethered to social media on their daily commute and rationed work breaks, become easy prey to the new breed of vote management hacksters.

The big kerfuffle over Russian trolls electing Donald Trump in 2016 is only amazing in its ability to consistently overlook some 80 elections in other nations whose outcome was determined by campaign-finance or hardware vote-hacking by the CIA over many decades, using tools that much resemble and perhaps pioneered the Cambridge Analytica variety.

Recall, for instance, the 2014 regime change in Ukraine, where President Barack Obama spent $5 billion paying Ukrainians to riot and dismantle their Russia-allied government in favor of one that could potentially bring Ukraine into NATO’s orbit. We would know little of this had not whistleblowing hackers posted a telephone conversation between Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and then US Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, to YouTube. We can now see the complete sequence that followed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s election tampering directive:
21 November 2013: Protests start after Ukraine announces it will not sign a deal aimed at strengthening ties with the EU
17 December: Russia agrees to buy $15 billion of Ukrainian government bonds and slash the price of gas it sells to the country
16 January 2014: Parliament passes a law restricting the right to protest
22 January: Two protesters die from bullet wounds during clashes with police in Kyiv; protests spread across many cities
25 January: President Yanukovych offers senior jobs to the opposition, including that of the prime minister, but these are rejected
28 January: Parliament votes to annul protest law and President Yanukovych accepts the resignation of PM and cabinet
29 January: Parliament passes an amnesty law for detained protesters, under the condition occupied buildings are vacated

The Secretary of State’s fingerprints on the crime scene were revealed by her hacked emails, so she and the State Department, notably Susan Rice in her new memoir, Tough Love, defected attention to Wikileaks hacker Julian Assange, who is now on the verge of death by torture after 8 years of arrest without charge.

Now rewind to the Bush-Cheney presidency and the political context of Ukraine becomes a little clearer (although we could go back to its Viking origins, or even 32,000 BCE if we wanted):
2000: Chernobyl nuke is finally brought to cold shut down, 14 years after the explosion that wafted fallout around the globe. The health of millions of Ukrainians is adversely affected. Popular sentiment against the US-backed government in Kyiv is strong.
2002: General election that should have been a clean sweep away from the US, based on polls, results in a hung parliament. Opponents of President Kuchma allege widespread electoral fraud.
2002: The government announces a decision to launch a formal bid to join NATO.
2005: Pro-Western Viktor Yushchenko becomes president after winning the December election re-run. Relations with neighboring Russia sour, leading to frequent disputes over gas supplies and pipeline transit fees.
2006: Socialist Party abandons Orange Revolution allies to form a coalition with Viktor Yanukovych's Party of Regions and the Communists.
2010: Yanukovych is declared winner in the second round of the presidential election.
2010: Parliament votes to abandon NATO membership aspirations.
In the 1990s, Victoria Nuland was chief of staff to Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott before moving on to serve as deputy director for former Soviet Union affairs. She also served as the principal deputy foreign policy adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney and then as U.S. ambassador to NATO. In 2011 she became a special envoy for Conventional Armed Forces in Europe and then Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs. From that position, she earmarked $1 billion in “non-lethal” aid to Ukraine in 2014. While she had advocated for a more conventional defensive weapons delivery to Ukraine she was forced to settle for the Clinton/Obama 5- billion-dollar social media manipulation campaign.

This is an important juncture in world history.
2014 February - US-sponsored Euromaidan protests. Violent anti-government demonstrators occupy buildings in the center of Kyiv, including the Justice Ministry building, and riots leave 98 dead, approximately fifteen thousand injured, and 100 missing. Parliament votes to remove the president and set an election for 25 May to select his replacement. Pro-US opposition takes over.
2014 In a Crimea-wide referendum, residents of that Autonomous Republic (retaining a “special status” within Ukraine) vote for reunification with Russia. Russia formally annexes the Republic of Crimea and the federal city of Sevastopol. The government in Kyiv accuses Moscow of deliberately stirring up tensions in the east by bringing in professional activists and provocateurs and predicts that eastern Ukraine will be next to join Russia. "Donetsk, Lugansk, Kharkiv have the same situation as in Crimea – 75% of people want to join Russia in eastern Ukraine,” a Kyiv spokesman tells Reuters.
Hoping to forestall a rift with Europe, Russian President Vladimir Putin telephoned the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and told her that the referendum in Crimea complied with international law. The next day a US-drafted motion to the UN Security Council declared the Crimea referendum invalid. The motion was defeated. Nonetheless, the US and EU impose harsh economic and trade sanctions on Russia and send weapons to Kyiv to fight a growing insurgency against the pro-Western coup in eastern Ukraine.
2014 April - Pro-Russian armed groups seize parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions on the Russian border. The government launches a military operation in response. 
2014 May - Leading businessman Petro Poroshenko wins the presidential election on a pro-Western platform.
The civil war in Ukraine, which has taken away from Kyiv the Donetsk, Lugansk, Kharkiv regions as predicted, has killed 13,000 people, most of them civilian non-participants. The US puppet regime in Kyiv is very keen to get anti-tank weapons, particularly Javelin missiles, to counter the Russian-armed rebellion against NATO-armed Ukraine.

Remember the Javelin? It came up in the US president’s phone call to the Ukrainian president on July 25, 2019, right after the latter reminded the former that he had stayed in a Trump hotel recently.

In May 2018 Ukraine purchased 210 Javelin missiles and 37 launchers from the United States for an estimated $47 million. A shoulder-launched weapon, Javelin uses an imaging infrared system to detect and lock onto tanks at distances of up to 4,750 meters (3 miles). The missile detonates its first warhead on impact to trigger the reactive armor tiles on Russian tanks, neutralizing their unique defense system, then uses a second warhead to penetrate a tank’s main armor. One missile, one tank. Boom.

Political survival in Ukraine has for centuries often hinged on finding a strong patron abroad. This sometimes led to disaster, most famously in the case of Ivan Mazepa, the Cossack leader of an embryonic state in eastern Ukraine in the 17th century. Initially, an ally of Peter the Great of Russia, Mazepa, worried by the rise of powerful Cossack rivals, switched sides to ally with Russia’s great enemy at the time, Sweden, which he thought would offer protection. Instead, it led him to crushing defeat by Russia at the Battle of Poltava in 1709.
“Ukrainians all the time tried to form an alliance with the stronger side,” said Volodymyr Yermolenko, editor in chief at Ukraine World, an online magazine. Mazepa, despite his defeat, is revered as a national hero in Ukraine for trying, albeit with catastrophic consequences, to hold Russia at bay by finding a powerful patron in the West.
—Andrew Higgins, The New York Times, Sept 27, 2019

When Cobblepot put the touch on Zelensky by suspending $400 million in military aid (read interest-bearing loans for weapons systems to fill the coffers of the Military Industrial Congressional Complex) to Ukraine, he did more than just expose the seamy underside of his family extortion rackets. That $400 million bribe pales in comparison to the $5-billion social media campaign waged by Nuland-Hillary to overturn the 2010 election in Ukraine and set off the civil war.

On October 24, 2019, the New York Times reported:

The war began in 2014 after street protesters deposed Ukraine’s kleptocratic, pro-Kremlin president. Russia responded by helping stir up rebellions in two eastern provinces, and since then Russia has wielded the military advantage, able to slip tanks, antiaircraft weapons and soldiers into Ukraine at will.

Ukraine has fought back with repeated appeals for aid, diplomatic pressure, Western sanctions against Russia — and with an army that is holding on by its fingernails.

We hear this official version of events being parroted almost every day by congressmen and candidates passing back and forth between impeachment hearings. Take, for instance, these sound bites from the latest Democratic debate:
Klobuchar: I'm still waiting to find out from him how making that call to the head of Ukraine and trying to get him involved in interfering in our election makes America great again… It doesn't make America great again. It makes Russia great again.  
Booker: We cannot allow Russia to not only interfere in the democracies of the Ukraine, and Latvia, and Lithuania, but even not calling them out for their efforts to interfere in this democracy are unacceptable.

Contrast the realism of Tulsi Gabbard and Andrew Yang. Asked about withdrawal from Syria, Gabbard said:
[P]oliticians in our country from both parties have supported this ongoing regime-change war in Syria that started in 2011, along with many in the mainstream media, who have been championing and cheerleading this regime-change war.
Not only that, but the New York Times and CNN have also smeared veterans like myself for calling for an end to this regime-change war. Just two days ago, The New York Times put out an article saying that I'm a Russian asset and an Assad apologist and all these different smears. This morning, a CNN commentator said on national television that I'm an asset of Russia. Completely despicable.

As president, I will end these regime change wars by doing two things -- ending the draconian sanctions that are really a modern-day siege… and I would make sure that we stop supporting terrorists like Al Qaida in Syria who have been the ground force in this ongoing regime-change war.

Asked about Putin and Russia, Yang said:
We have to look at the chain of events. How did we get here? The fact is, we were falling apart at home, so we voted in Donald Trump, and he's now led us down this dangerous path with erratic and unreliable foreign policy.
We have to let Russia know, look, we get it. We've tampered with other elections, you've tampered with our elections. And now it has to stop. And if it does not stop, we will take this as an act of hostility against the American people. I believe most Americans would support me on this.
But Russian hacking of our democracy is an illustration of the 21st-century threats. Artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, climate change, loose nuclear material, military drones, and non-state actors, these are the threats that are going to require our administration to catch up in terms of technology.

We all know we are decades behind the curve on technology. We saw when Mark Zuckerberg testified at Congress the nature of the questioning. 

At that point, the CNN moderator abruptly cut him off.

What mainstream media like The New York Times and CNN have in common with Chinese hackers targeting LeBron James, Nike and the NBA, or Steve Bannon’s Cambridge Analytica targeting the elections in Kenya or Mexico, is they are getting in at the opening of an entirely new era of how we decide how leaders are chosen, where our money is spent, and when and where wars will next be fought. Trump got where he is by mastering social media and reality TV. He was pitch-perfect for the lowest common denominator. As Yang said, our future will be more about artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and non-state actors than stump speeches from the back of a bunted caboose. Facebook and Twitter have been weaponized. Your daddy’s ballot box defenses have been breached.

"They have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.” 
—Hosea, an 8th-century BCE prophet who authored the book of prophecies bearing his name. Hosea (“He helps” in Aramaic) 8:7.

Obi-Wan waives his hand and says “These aren’t the droids you are looking for… move along….”  And it worked. But these were weak-minded guards. With The Force, Luke and Obi-Wan were able to “mask” the truth and proceed. This president, and most of those vying to be our next, are only doing the same.

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1 comment:

Robert Gillett said...

Hard for me to imagine how 5- billion-dollars could be spent on a social media manipulation campaign. I keep seeing that claim, but where were the actual expenditures? Could the catchall be referring to diplomatic and intelligence work that might also include psyops as a component? Billions spent on diplomacy and winning hearts and minds connotes goodwill. Not to say we did not undercut democracy along the way, but what has Russia done for us lately?

Yang is right. We need to de-escalate. You are right, too. We started it. The dawning of the Age of Aquarius is looking awfully red.

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