Tuesday, 31 October 2017
This week, the titans of social media will explain to stony-faced members of the Senate Judiciary Committee's Panel on Crime and Terrorism exactly how Russia purchased the 45th President of the United States for just pennies on the dollar.
Although Russia jumped on the democratic bandwagon late in the game, and the capitalist gravy train even later, it appears Russian political technologists are already light-years ahead of the wolf pack when it comes to the election process, which - let’s be honest - has always been a tainted affair, even in fairy-tale Western capitals.
While US lobbyists are cunning enough to hedge their bets on both horses in every race, or join some shady Super PACs to get maximum bang for the buck, nobody has been able to determine - with absolute, rock-solid certainty - the outcome of any political contest.
That is, until now.
At this point, the more incredulous readers may wish to have a seat because the following news will send spasms of shock and awe to the very core of your democratic body.
Russia, the erstwhile ‘evil empire’ that only recently shook off the dusty cobwebs of communism, has mastered the democratic game of thrones with such impeccable precision that it is now able to buy any political candidate for about the going price of a German sports car, or a Spanish villa, take your choice. Despite considerable efforts to conceal the secret from annoying interlopers, the proverbial cat is out of the bag.
Consider Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook, a veritable global warehouse of friends, photos, and likes that the free world apparently can’t live without. After all, how else would we know what our friends had for dinner last night? But more to the point. Beginning on October 31, apparently to achieve maximum Boo! factor, company executives will have to explain, with perfectly straight faces, that 'Russia-linked' election-related posts (whatever that means) comprise less than one percent of all election-related posts.
In other words, out of Facebook's massive influx of ad content, ‘Russia-linked’ election posts amount to one in 23,000 posts, or some 0.004 percent of overall content. In September, the company revealed that 470 “inauthentic” accounts spent $100,000 on 3,000 ads around the time of the 2016 election. It's difficult to fathom that such a negligible influence could have the slightest impact on a billion-dollar, barnstorming US election. But never underestimate Russian resourcefulness!
Russia’s success story in determining the outcome of the 2016 US election, becomes even more fantastic when we realize that more than half of the ads were posted on the social media platform after the election was over. Yes, when the legendary fat woman was already singing. The social media giant also admitted that “25 percent of the ads were never shown to anyone.”
Needless to say, Russia is now the envy of every lobbyist and campaign manager on K Street, and that may explain why the US refuses to provide a shred of evidence that pulls back the curtain on this “Russian collusion.” This information is just too damn valuable and could break the entire US lobbying industry. Russia has found a way to take the unpredictability out of US elections, and save a lot of corporate dollars at the same time!
In an effort to deny Russia its victory parade, however, Facebook would only say the accounts were “likely operated out of Russia.” This is lamentable. After all, having spent so much time and effort devising such dirt-cheap and ingenious methods of electoral fraud and deception, would it be expecting too much to finally acknowledge Russia’s rightful place in the rogue’s gallery of political corruption? Alas, this appears to be the case.
With disturbing predictability, Russia is written off as a basket case every time it tries to do something remotely positive - from hosting the Olympics, to intervening against terrorists. But now that Russia has finally found its calling – buying Western leaders for a fraction of the going price - nobody wants to acknowledge the debt! To paraphrase the journalist Greg Palast, 'is this the best democracy money can buy?' Certainly not!
Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch called Russia’s drop in the proverbial bucket a "new threat,” which, to be perfectly honest and humble, is probably about the same paltry amount one would expect to find from Lithuania, Libya or Latvia, although apparently, nobody thought to study the numbers from those countries, nor many others. Why you may ask. Well, because we are talking about ‘Russian influence’ and who could deny the dark and dangerous connotations that delicious-sounding phrase conjures up? ‘Russian influence.’ Ah, yes, the way it rolls off the tongue has an almost hypnotizing effect and is enough to make an American Neocon want to bomb something, anything. As far as a political marketing tool, ‘Russian interference’ is second to none.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves.
There is also the question of Russia’s minuscule yet muscular presence on Twitter, which Donald Trump used with tremendous effect during his presidential campaign. In fact, he admitted he would not have been elected president without it.
“Tweeting is like a typewriter – when I put it out, you put it immediately on your show,” he told the Fox Business Network channel. “When somebody says something about me, I am able to go bing, bing, bing and I take care of it. The other way, I would never get the word out.”
And millions of other Twitterati feel exactly the same way. Bing, bing, bing! Yet somehow only Russia had the brains to steal an entire presidential election with the platform. Again, at unbelievably low prices.
Twitter probably won’t relieve the jitters of the Russian inquisition, despite the fact that a September 28, 2017, the company stated: “Based on our findings thus far, RT spent $274,100 on US ads in 2016. In that year, the @RT_com, @RT_America, and @ActualidadRT accounts promoted 1,823 Tweets that definitely or potentially targeted the US market."
Despite these very slim findings, Twitter recently banned all ads from RT and Sputnik, citing "election interference." While doing so, however, it failed to inform US lawmakers of its own multi-million dollar sales pitch for RT to buy ads during the election in question. Ah, those annoying details.
As far as Google goes, the search engine said it found no evidence RT manipulated video hosting platform YouTube or violated its policies during the 2016 US election campaign. The two-page report fails to provide the smoking gun that some may have been hoping for.
The report also mentioned the use of YouTube by RT, which is the most-viewed global news network on the platform. “Some have raised questions about the use of YouTube by RT, a media service funded by the Russian government,” the document said. “Our investigation found no evidence of manipulation of our platform or policy violations; RT—and all other state-sponsored media outlets— remains subject to our standard rules.”
Needless to say, many US politicians will be watching the McCarthy-like show trials with great interest, determined to learn how Russia was able to serve as the American ‘king-maker’ in the US political system, placing the crown on the head of a very unlikely candidate, Donald Trump, a real estate developer, for crying out loud.
it is very doubtful that the assembled US Senators will learn anything at all from the deliberations, aside from whatever their vivid imaginations may conjure up. What else should we expect on Halloween?
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.
Published time: 31 Oct, 2017 11:57
Spain's Constitutional Court has overturned Catalonia’s declaration of independence, announced by the region’s government on Friday, the court spokeswoman said.
The news came as deposed Catalan President Carles Puigdemont was giving a speech in Brussels, his first since Madrid filed charges against him and he fled to Belgium. Earlier the Spanish attorney general filed a lawsuit against the secessionist leaders over their push for independence.
Speaking to journalists in advance of his speech, Puigdemont said: “I'm not here to ask for political asylum.”
The former leader said that he and his government were denouncing “the polarization of the Spanish justice system” and wanted to “show the world the serious democratic deficit that exists in the Spanish state.”
Minutes after the Constitutional Court decision, Spain's Supreme Court called on the Catalonian parliament speaker and five senior lawmakers to testify on November 2-3.
The Catalan parliament declared independence from Spain following a secret vote on October 27, which was boycotted by MPs supporting the union with Spain. In response, the Spanish Senate triggered Article 155, also known as the constitution’s ‘nuclear option,’ stripping the Catalan government of power. New elections will be held in the region on December 21, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said. Puigdemont slammed Madrid for its “premediated aggression” and called for peaceful “democratic opposition.”
On Monday, Spain's Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis said the political standoff between Madrid and Barcelona will not result in an independent Catalonia. Madrid could, however, expand the region’s autonomy, he said.
Catalonia’s landmark referendum held October 1 saw the region overwhelmingly (over 90 percent) voting to break away from Spain. Fewer than 50 percent of those eligible to vote took part, with pro-independence supporters blaming Madrid’s crackdown, including blocking of polling stations and confiscation of votes, for the turnout.
Madrid called the vote illegal, and deployed thousands of extra officers from the National Police and Civil Guard ahead of referendum day. The Catalan health service later claimed that over 900 people in Barcelona and elsewhere in the region were injured, some of them seriously.
By Francis Dubois
The European Union is supporting Madrid’s imposition of Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution to impose a puppet government in Catalonia. Giving Madrid a blank check to turn back the clock to the authoritarian policies of the fascist regime led by Francisco Franco, which fell in 1978 amid mass struggles of the Spanish working class, the EU is shattering whatever pretenses remain that it is a force for democracy.
As Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy prepares to dissolve the Catalan parliament, seize control of the regional state apparatus, beginning with the security services and the ministries, and purge the public service, the EU is fully backing him. Rajoy’s Popular Party (PP) government, supported by Spain’s other bourgeois parties, has readied tens of thousands of Guardia Civiland soldiers to carry though its attack on Catalonia.
The workers of both Catalonia and the rest of Spain have been led into this perilous situation as a result of the treacherous right-wing policies of the supposed “left” of the bourgeois political establishment, the social democrats and Podemos, and the reactionary pro-capitalist and pro-European Union perspective of the Catalan nationalist parties. All of these parties have supported the brutal austerity policies imposed on workers across Spain since the 2008 financial crisis at the behest of the EU and the European and international banks.
Despite the sharp conflict between the Spanish bourgeoisie and its Catalan nationalist counterpart, they are united in their determination to make the working class pay for the crisis of Spanish and European capitalism.
Madrid has given the powers of the impeached premier of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, to Spanish Vice-Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaría, who is charged with running the province and overseeing snap elections unilaterally set by Madrid for December 21. This is a sign that Madrid is moving toward a return to dictatorship. Saenz de Santamaría comes from a family intimately connected to the repressive apparatus of the Francoite regime.
Her grandfather, General José Antonio Saenz de Santamaría, played a leading role in the Francoite security forces after the Civil War, up until 1996, two decades after Franco’s death.
The EU is now backing the return to a similarly undemocratically installed regime. “I have one person I talk to in Spain, that is Prime Minister Rajoy… He wants to respect [constitutional rules] and he has my full support,” French President Emmanuel Macron said on Sunday while on a voyage to Guyana. Macron’s foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, said he did not recognize Catalan independence and wanted a “strong and united” Spain.
Germany “refuses to recognize the independence of Catalonia,” declared German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who added that she fully supported Madrid. Her spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said that Berlin supports the “clear” position of Rajoy, “who aims to restore order and calm.”
Even as it temporarily grants asylum to the impeached Catalan Premier Carles Puigdemont, the Belgian government is also backing Madrid. Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel indirectly exhorted the Catalan population to accept a military-backed regime, saying, “The political crisis can be resolved only through dialog. We are calling for a pacific solution that respects the national and international order.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg wrote on Twitter: “The Catalan issue must be resolved within the constitutional order. Spain is a faithful ally that strongly contributes to our security.”
On Friday, EU Commissioner Carlos Moedas had said: “What is happening now is very hard for everyone involved, but we as the European Union must defend Spain’s constitutional order.”
The encouragement by European governments of the imposition of some form of police-military dictatorship in Catalonia—the prelude to the imposition of such a regime more broadly across Spain and Europe—is a warning to the working class. EU governments are reacting to the Catalan crisis as an opportunity to impose dictatorial regimes in countries across Europe.
This is the outcome of a quarter-century of mounting austerity and militarism in Europe since the Stalinist bureaucracy’s dissolution of the Soviet Union. As class tensions rise as a result of explosive levels of social inequality, mass unemployment and social attacks that are the greatest since the Great Depression of the 1930s, the ruling class is repudiating even the outer forms of democratic rule. It is moving back toward the bloody and authoritarian capitalist regimes of the middle of the 20th century in Europe.
An article in the daily L’Alsace titled “The Catalan powder keg” stated: “The government of Mariano Rajoy faces the difficulty of taking the reins in Catalonia without providing a pretext for opposition. The slightest excess, from one side or the other, could be the spark that sets off a situation ready to explode.”
Another regional French daily, Le Bien public, also called Catalonia “a powder keg” and concluded, “In such a very tense climate, violent excesses can never be excluded.”
It added, “Catalan nationalist militants, used to pacific resistance, will not let police arrest their leaders facing sedition charges and, in theory, up to 30 years in prison. Madrid can maintain its juridical firmness without committing the error of sending in the troops. But what no one can predict are the reactions of non-Catalan populations who make up entire suburbs of Barcelona and can be aggressive. ‘In meetings, in cafés, we avoid talking about it and that’s for the best. It’s a powder keg,’ said one social-democratic official from Barcelona.”
As the EU countries throw off the democratic mask, they are leaving the population no other future than a series of authoritarian police states, monitored by increasingly powerful police and surveillance forces capable of spying on all aspects of citizens’ lives.
In France, Macron is making permanent the state of emergency via the new antiterror law that creates a de facto police state. Another measure taken in parallel with this law is the creation of a planning staff bringing together the heads of the intelligence agencies and various security forces, which could lead to a police-military regime against social opposition.
Macron, who was marketed during this year’s presidential election as the democratic alternative to neofascist candidate Marine Le Pen, clearly signaled—by receiving Egyptian military dictator General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi a few days ago at the Elysée presidential palace—that he does not oppose dictatorship.
The only way forward is the independent political mobilization of the European working class in struggle against the reactionary measures of the Rajoy government and of the other EU states, demanding the withdrawal of Spanish troops from Catalonia and an end to the crackdown.
However, workers can carry out such a perspective only in opposition to the Catalan nationalists, whose perspective is to continue imposing austerity while building an independent Catalan capitalist state. This means as well a struggle against the pseudo-left parties, which either promote the Catalan bourgeois nationalists or defend the Spanish capitalist state, in both cases seeking to subordinate the working class to the European ruling classes. The way forward is the struggle to unite European workers under the banner of the United Socialist States of Europe.
The Catalan crisis has exposed the bankrupt and reactionary character of organizations such as Spain’s Podemos party and Unsubmissive France (LFI) of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, which are hostile to all appeals to mobilize the workers in struggle against state repression. Podemos has consistently used “appeals for dialog” to pose as a party capable of resolving the crisis while strangling social opposition. It has finally aligned itself with the Rajoy government by backing its call for December 21 elections in Catalonia, and thus the broader repression organized by Madrid.
The French ally of Podemos, LFI leader Mélenchon, after having appealed to Macron to intervene with Rajoy, has now declared his support for Rajoy’s fraudulent elections. “I don’t want anyone to simply declare independence like that nor to repress independence. People must vote,” he said this weekend.