You Might Be a “Useful Idiot” of Russia

  • The New York attack as a Russian shiny-object distraction?
  • Here we go again: Agora Financial editor slimed as Russia’s “useful idiot”
  • Are you politically active? You might be a useful idiot, too!
  • Russian “collusion,” er, “meddling,” uhh, “fomenting discord”
  • Why the Trump-Russia thing is more about Russia than about Trump
  • What if Trump had to launch a nuclear war to preserve his credibility?

Just wow…

Kal Penn tweet

Oh, but it’s not just actors in stoner movies (he was Kumar in the Harold & Kumar series) suggesting a Russian role in the New York truck attack yesterday that killed eight people.

Indeed much of liberal Twitter goes further — convinced the whole thing was engineered by PUTIN! as a shiny object to distract the American people from his best bud Trump’s many scandals.

Today we’re compelled to tug at several Russia threads. At first, they might not seem relevant to your life or the economy or your investments. But we ask your patience as we dive into a rare single-theme episode of The 5. There’s nothing urgent happening in the markets or the economy that can’t wait till tomorrow.

Alas, there’s a new blacklist smearing one of our contributors as a “useful idiot” of the Russkies.

Around Thanksgiving last year, a shadowy and anonymous bunch calling itself PropOrNot (as in “propaganda”) managed to thrust itself onto the front page of The Washington Post with allegations of “a sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign that created and spread misleading articles online with the goal of punishing Democrat Hillary Clinton, helping Republican Donald Trump and undermining faith in American democracy.”

PropOrNot assembled a blacklist of 200 websites supposedly disseminating “fake news” and toeing the Russian line. They did not have to be Russian propaganda outlets, nor did they have to have an agenda of aiding the Kremlin; merely saying something that might be convenient or helpful for the Russian government was enough to merit inclusion.

Among the websites listed was Contra Corner, a project of the former investment banker and White House budget director David Stockman.

Around here we took this rather personally, seeing as David was one of our editors. (David and Agora Financial have since parted ways; the split was amicable and David will always be a friend of The 5.)

Now it’s Jim Rickards’ turn to get the “Russian stooge” treatment.

Jim turns up in a report called “The Kremlin’s Platform for ‘Useful Idiots’ in the West.” It comes from a think tank called European Values, which is funded by George Soros (of course).

Says the report’s author Monika Richter, “We should not abide ‘useful idiots’ who legitimize RT by appearing on its shows and newscasts.”

If you don’t already know, RT — it used to be called “Russia Today” — is a state-funded 24/7 news channel.

RT is one of many English-language news outlets operated by governments around the globe — like BBC World, Al-Jazeera, China’s CGTN and France 24. Your editor monitors all of them during the day for a ground-truth perspective on the news and the markets in other countries, mindful there’s always a government agenda in the background.

Compared with the others, RT tends to be more in-your-face with an editorial stance that puts American institutions in an unfavorable light. But if you’re of a certain age and you picked up Radio Moscow on a shortwave radio set during Cold War days, there’s nothing on RT you’d find particularly shocking.

The West somehow weathered the onslaught of Soviet propaganda churned out by Radio Moscow… but the “European Values” report portrays RT as part of wider campaign that’s *this* close to destroying civilization as we know it.

RT’s raison d’être is to denigrate the West at all costs and undermine public confidence in the viability of liberal democracy,” says the report.

“On these grounds, RT categorically qualifies as a Kremlin disinformation outfit and, more specifically, as an instrument of ‘hostile foreign influence.’”

Oooh — better look for reds under the bed!

The report includes a spreadsheet listing 2,326 people who’ve appeared on RT shows in recent years. “These appearances amount to complicity with and legitimization of the Russian propaganda machine.”

In one sense, the list is ridiculous. Among the people who’ve been interviewed by RT at least once are Michelle Obama, Dick Cheney, Harrison Ford and the Dalai Lama. But if you drill down the list, you see Jim Rickards has been on RT 65 times going back to 2010 — a figure exceeded only by the Australian economist Steve Keen.

Jim Rickards

Jim Rickards, acting on behalf of a “hostile foreign power”

Heh… It’s apparent the “European Values” folks are unaware of Jim’s connections inside the Pentagon and the U.S. Intelligence Community… or else the report would have screamed bloody murder about a Kremlin mole who’s burrowed deep into the foundations of “liberal democracy.”

“The list is so lengthy and includes so many highly respected people that I doubt including will hurt them in any way,” writes Yves Smith of the left-leaning Naked Capitalism blog — who’s appeared on RT three times.

But that’s not the point, says Ed Harrison of the Credit Writedowns website — who at one time was a producer and fill-in host for RT’s daily business show Boom Bust.

“Even if we expose this move for the McCarthyism it is,” he says, “the blacklist will still have its intended impact by putting a chill on RT’s ability to get guests. EVERYONE will think twice before appearing on the network. The damage has been done.”

Jim Rickards is in Australia this week; we’re unable to reach him and ask if the “European Values” report will change his practices when it comes to media appearances. Somehow, we doubt it.

As for the legitimate question of why he’d appear on little-watched RT when he already gets a regular platform on mainstream outlets like CNBC and Fox Business… we’re reasonably sure Jim would tell you it’s because the interviews are longer and there’s more opportunity to explore big ideas. Compared with a rat-a-tat-tat three minutes with Stuart Varney on Fox Business, a freewheeling 10 or 12 minutes with Max Keiser on RT is more enlightening — and more fun.

If you think none of this is relevant to your own life because you’ll never be contacted by RT for an interview, we implore you to read on.

The “European Values” report is coming to light the same week Congress is holding hand-wringing hearings into Russian Facebook bots and Twitter trolls, which are supposedly “fomenting discord” and undermining American unity.

Because that’s what the whole Trump-Russia thing has been reduced to now.

Remember the storm of outrage earlier this year over “collusion” between Trump and Russia to steal the election? In the absence of evidence, that was downgraded by the summer to Russian “meddling” in the election on Trump’s behalf.

Now it’s been downgraded further, per testimony to Congress yesterday: According to Politico, “Top lawyers from Facebook and Twitter said Tuesday that Russian-linked posts and advertisements placed on the social networks after Election Day sought to sow doubt about President Donald Trump’s victory.

“Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch told a Senate Judiciary panel that content generated by a Russian troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency after Nov. 8 centered on ‘fomenting discord about the validity of [Trump’s] election.’”

So we’ve gone from “collusion” to “meddling” to “fomenting discord.” Which actually is more dangerous if you have opinions to express anywhere other than the ballot box once every four years.

A Wall Street Journal story on Monday described some of this alleged “fomenting discord” activity: “Workers behind Russian-linked Facebook Inc. accounts helped organize or finance real-life events before and after the 2016 election, often working directly with U.S. activists and playing both sides of the same hot-button issue — even on the same day.

“In July 2016, as outrage swelled over fatal shootings in Dallas and Minneapolis, alleged social-media agitators tied to Russia worked quickly to capitalize on the emotionally charged atmosphere.

“Workers linked to a Russia-based firm organized two gatherings, both for July 10: In Dallas, a ‘Blue Lives Matter’ rally honored the five police officers slain there on July 7; and near Minneapolis, nearly 300 people rallied in support of Philando Castile, a man fatally shot by a police officer during a traffic stop.”

Please ponder the chilling implications for a moment: If you engage in any political activism, on whatever side of a “hot-button” issue, you now risk being dismissed as a tool of the Russians.

Progressive, conservative, libertarian — doesn’t matter. If your cause doesn’t fall within the slender range of acceptable opinion defined by Hillary Clinton on the left and Jeb Bush on the right… well, you might be a useful idiot.

Imagine how quickly the Tea Party movement in 2010–11 would have been strangled in its crib if establishment types could simply write off its followers as stooges for “Russian-tied social-media agitators.”

Understand this: For America’s power elite, or the Deep State, or whatever you want to call it… sliming Trump is only a means to an end. And the end is a new Cold War with Russia.

When the first Cold War ended, Washington and Wall Street wasted no time teaming up with a handful of native oligarchs to pillage Russia. President Boris Yeltsin did their bidding. He did such a good job of it that the Clinton administration dispatched campaign advisers to Moscow to ensure his re-election in 1996.

Yes, the U.S. government “meddled” in a Russian election — an act memorialized on the cover of Time magazine, and later an HBO movie with Jeff Goldblum called Spinning Boris.

Time magazine cover

Yeltsin stepped down at the end of 1999, and Vladimir Putin won election in early 2000. To the consternation of Washington and Wall Street, Putin did not snap to their tune.

Meanwhile, the military-industrial complex was licking its chops at the prospect of weapons sales to formerly communist countries. A Lockheed executive named Bruce Jackson formed the “Committee to Expand NATO.” It didn’t matter that the first Bush administration made a solemn (though unwritten) promise to the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev: Gorbachev agreed to the reunification of Germany as long as the NATO alliance didn’t expand eastward.

The Clinton administration broke that promise, and NATO absorbed the Warsaw Pact nations. The second Bush administration broke it further, and NATO absorbed the Baltic states that were part of the USSR.

Not surprisingly, Putin worried his country was being encircled.

Now, unlike in Soviet days, there is no “buffer” between NATO territory and the Russian homeland.

By the end of the Obama administration, NATO artillery was within firing range of Saint Petersburg. And under the Trump administration, U.S. troops are now, for the first time, permanently based on Russia’s borders.

What happened to Trump’s promises about a rapprochement with Russia? Well, all of the Trump-Russia innuendo that’s been dredged up since the summer of 2016 has had the effect of cowing him. He’s continued and even deepened the New Cold War. For the Deep State, it’s mission accomplished — whether Trump stays in office or not.

The problem now is that “there has never been such an amassing of hostile military force on Russia’s Western frontiers since June 1941 when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union and that’s the way the Russians see it,” the distinguished Russia scholar Stephen F. Cohen said earlier this year.

That leaves precious little margin for error in the event of a “misunderstanding.”

Cohen has pointed out that if President Kennedy had lived under the cloud of “Russian collusion,” he never could have reached a deal with Khrushchev to head off the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. Faced with a similar scenario, Trump would have no choice but to launch nuclear war to preserve his credibility as a leader.

In late September 2016, as the Russia panic was steadily consuming all the oxygen in the presidential campaign, the following email landed in The 5s inbox: “Dave, curious to know why you are a Russophile.

“Are you or your ancestry from Russia, or are you married to a Russian lass?”

The answer, then and now, is no. Not a Russophile, although I’m partial to the music of Rachmaninov. No Russian blood. Ditto for my wife. Never visited Russia. Don’t own any Russian stocks, either, other than perhaps some microscopic portion of a gold-miner mutual fund.

But I did reveal, in the interest of full disclosure, that I have an immense aversion to being vaporized in a nuclear war.

“Given the massive arsenals on hair triggers still possessed by Washington and Moscow,” I said, “U.S.-Russia relations are the paramount issue; the markets and the economy become rather secondary matters if the Earth is pockmarked with smoldering radioactive craters.”

That is still the case more than a year later. Only now the stakes are higher.

Best regards,

Dave Gonigam
The 5 Min. Forecast

Dave Gonigam

Dave Gonigam

Dave Gonigam has been managing editor of The 5 Min. Forecast since September 2010. Before joining the research and writing team at Agora Financial in 2007, he worked for 20 years as an Emmy award-winning television news producer.

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