Let’s start with this extraordinary story:
A woman burst onto the set of Russian state TV’s flagship evening news program Monday, chanting “stop the war” and denouncing government “propaganda” — a striking moment of public protest as the Kremlin cracks down on any criticism of its invasion in Ukraine.
The sign she is holding reads:
“Stop the war
Don’t believe propaganda
They’re lying to you”
Before her dramatic appearance, Ovsyannikova recorded a video message:
Here’s a translation from one of our readers:
This is, of course, what courage looks like. And it may carry a steep price.
A day after she burst onto a live news broadcast on Russian state television holding a sign denouncing the war in Ukraine, lawyers with human rights groups told The Washington Post they are unable to locate producer Marina Ovsyannikova, more than 12 hours after she was detained.
Speaking of courage…. Bonus:
The leaders of Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia traveled to Kyiv on Tuesday to express solidarity toward Ukraine and present “a broad package of support” from the European Union, in a visit that was kept secret until the last minute as fighting rages around the Ukrainian capital.
A Refresher on Trump/Ukraine
The House Impeachment 1.0 Report is a useful reminder of just how worried Ukraine was that Trump’s actions would embolden Russia. (Hat tip Asha Rangappa)
Here’s a short excerpt to refresh your memory.
On August 28, Politico published a story revealing President Trump’s weeks-long hold on U.S. military assistance to Ukraine. Senior Ukrainian officials expressed grave concern, deeply worried about the practical impact on their efforts to fight Russian aggression, but also about the public message it sent to the Russian government, which would almost certainly seek to exploit any real or perceived crack in U.S. resolve toward Ukraine.
On August 29, at the urging of National Security Advisor Bolton, Ambassador Taylor wrote a first-person cable to Secretary Pompeo. This was the only first-person cable the Ambassador had ever sent in his decades of government service. He explained the “folly” of withholding security assistance to Ukraine as it fought a hot war against Russia on its borders. He wrote that he “could not and would not defend such a policy.” Ambassador Taylor stated that Secretary Pompeo may have carried the cable with him to a meeting at the White House.
The same day that Ambassador Taylor sent his cable, President Trump cancelled his planned trip to Warsaw for a World War II commemoration event, where he was scheduled to meet with President Zelensky. Vice President Pence traveled in his place. Ambassador Sondland also traveled to Warsaw and, at a pre-briefing discussion with the Vice President before he met President Zelensky, Ambassador Sondland raised the issue of the hold on security assistance. He told Vice President Pence that he was concerned that the security assistance “had become tied to the issue of investigations” and that “everything is being held up until these statements get made.” Vice President Pence nodded in response, apparently expressing neither surprise nor dismay at the linkage between the two.
At the meeting, President Zelensky expressed concern that even an appearance of wavering support from the United States for Ukraine could embolden Russia….
How a Lie Goes Viral
This thread from NBC’s Ben Collins is a remarkable chronicle of how disinformation spreads through the far-right ecosystem:
I’ve unrolled the thread:
First off, Russia has always claimed its adversaries were the ones using biological weapons when they were about to use them. But they didn’t use it to justify the Ukraine invasion until last week. Putin gave an ambling speech before the invasion. Never mentioned biolabs.
"Biolabs" weren't a talking point until Russia's first line of propaganda—about Zelensky being a “nazi”—failed spectacularly. Here's a striking chart from the data company Pyrra, tracking “biolabs” on 15 influential far-right social networks. That jump? The day of the invasion.
So what made the “biolabs” conspiracy theory take off on the day of the invasion? It was a Twitter thread from a now-banned account called @WarClandestine. The account was previously a QAnon account that had been evading bans with new names.
WarClandestine’s "biolabs" thread spread like wildfire across the right on Rumble and the QAnon forum TheGreatAwakening. It got a massive push by TheDonald, now called PatriotsDotWin. You might remember TheDonald because its users posted literal battle plans before January 6th.
But let’s dive deeper into where @WarClandestine got his insider info about the Ukrainian biolabs. Where did he get that map of Ukrainian biolabs for his viral tweet? From an antivaxx Gab user eight days prior. It had 3 comments. It just wasn't part of the talking points yet.
Once @WarClandestine’s post took off among right-wing influencers, it was everywhere on the English-language far-right. Pro-Trump and Q forums had been uneasy rooting against Putin. The “biolabs” allowed them to refocus on their major enemies: the Bidens and Anthony Fauci.
By Tuesday, China’s foreign affairs ministry started pushing the conspiracy theory, de facto aligning with Russia. On Wednesday, Tucker Carlson led his show claiming the “Biden administration was funding secret biolabs in Ukraine.”
After failing for two full weeks, Russian propaganda finally had its line that resonated with the global far-right: The reason they invaded is now the biolabs, despite not mentioning that before invading.
Here’s a jarring chart from Zignal Labs. The “bioweapons” were an English-language (green) conspiracy theory until last week. Now, most posts about it are in Russian (blue). Russia finally found a pretext—well, posttext—for the Ukraine war, a gift from the American far-right.
Via CBS: “In private speech, Romney warns of "extraordinary challenge" to preserve American democracy.”
At Monday night's event, which raised over $526,000 for Cheney, Romney framed the survival of American democracy as a battle on two fronts, with the possibility of significant erosion unless leaders are vigilant.
Abroad, he said, it faces threats from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is following an authoritarian playbook "rehearsed time and time again, over the many thousands of years of world history."
At home, Romney said, "what has kept us from falling in with the same kind of authoritarian leader as Vladimir Putin are the strengths of our institutions, the rule of law, our courts, Congress, and so forth."
"People of character and courage," Romney said, "have stood up for right at times when others want to look away. Such a person is Liz Cheney."
The crowd roared its approval, attendees said.
1. Trouble for Trump in S.C.?
Interesting take from the once Trump-curious Henry Olsen: “Trump’s endorsements in South Carolina are showcasing his weakness.”
The former president’s foray into the Palmetto State again demonstrates that he aims to build a party of sycophants parroting whatever line comes down from Mar-a-Lago. His speech was, as always, focused on himself. In his telling, he won the 2020 election and his personality is what kept the United States out of war. His beefs with the supposedly renegade Reps. Nancy Mace and Tom Rice have nothing to do with policy. He opposes them because Mace strongly criticized him over the Jan. 6 riot he instigated and Rice voted for Trump’s impeachment….
But Rice and Mace are standing their ground and firing back — and they have a real shot to win.
Trump is taking a massive gamble this cycle by spreading his political capital far and wide. He’ll have his share of wins, but failing to knock off high-profile targets such as Mace or Rice would do significant damage to his standing. Russia’s stalled military campaign in Ukraine shows that if you try to seize all your objectives at once, you risk not getting any of them. Trump’s reckless, spite-filled intraparty campaign might just suffer the same fate.
2. Code Red on the Democratic Brand
John Halpin in the Liberal Patriot:
[The] WSJ poll breaks down which party voters think would best handle a variety of important issues. On almost all of them—save health care, Covid, and prescription drug costs—Republicans are favored over Democrats often by double-digit margins: +8 on having a better economic plan to make life easier; +8 on keeping children in school; +13 on rebuilding the economy; +15 on holding the line on taxes; +17 on getting inflation under control; +20 on reducing crime; and +26 on securing the border.
Democrats cannot expect to hold Congress, or even keep their losses reasonable, if Republicans are viewed as better on nearly every issue of concern to voters. Biden is doing relatively well in voters’ minds on the war in Ukraine, even as Republicans maintain an edge on which party is best able to handle the situation in Ukraine and foreign policy generally. But other domestic issues centered on the economy and inflation are more immediate concerns for voters.
If the President and Democrats in Congress can’t put aside other legislative desires to rebuild trust on the national economy and household costs—and connect the state of the economy to wider geopolitical conflict in a credible manner—voters will likely turn to a Republican Party that is not wildly popular by any means.
3. Putin Killed Trump’s ‘America First’ Movement
Matt K. Lewis in the Daily Beast:
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, there’s no going back to “America First” as it was. That’s not to say the public is clamoring for a war with Russia. But the Trumpian worldview that embraced Vladimir Putin and threatened to abandon NATO has, for now, been repudiated. Republicans with their ears closest to the ground already know this.
Not today, Tucker. Not ever.
Got two issues for on this one, Charlie. First, Matt Lewis, while a smart guy, is not someone who has any sense in terms of what anyone wants. He's perpetually wrong, not because he's not smart, but because what he wants always guides what he sees. 'America First' isn't dead, not by a long shot. What it's going to pivot to, mark my words, is that the rest of the world perpetually draws in the US to fight their battles and their wars. They might not talk up Putin as much, but as lockdowns in China increase inflation, expect them to increasingly describe the world as an anchor around America's neck. America First isn't dead, because America First is just a name we give a general sensibility about things; it's neither a coherent political movement nor a coherent ideology.
The second one is bigger. What exactly do you want Democrats to do? I ask this, because you say that democrats need to put aside their pet projects. You know what "put aside other legislative desires to rebuild trust on the national economy and household costs" looks like? It looks like passing something like Build Back Better, something you opposed! In fact, you spend the majority of it cheerleading Sinema and Manchin, who torpedoed the entire thing.
I've said this before, but there's really only two sides now, the Trumpist GOP and the Democratic Party. Because if you want the former to fail, you have to want the latter to succeed, since the latter failing results in the former succeeding. I know this is hard for a lot of conservatives, but that's the state of play we're currently in. There's no outcome where the Democrats fail and the old GOP returns. We know this, because despite Romney and Cheney crowing about how much they hated Trump, they voted and supported all his initiatives. In other words, they were more than happy to let him succeed.
The core challenge for the Democratic party is that voters don't seem to have any clear idea about what they want or what causes what. They seem to trust the GOP on the economy, despite the past two presidents of the GOP left their terms with the country in a downward spiral. Bush gave us the Great Recession, and Trump gave us the covid recession, because he refused to take it seriously. Obama and Biden, whatever their personal quirks you dislike, ended their presidencies with great economies.
But for some reason, people think that we're in a recession when the economy is great right now. If you want a job, there are more jobs than workers. Inflation is growing, but this is because of Covid, and it's going to be the new normal. The only way to actually handle this problem is either to raise the minimum wage to like $15 an hour, something which would obviously have lots of down stream effects, or you have to ride it out until demand decreases. But there's no way to actually combat these problems without either letting the economy implode or asking for more direct action in the market by government.
Which, if you're a conservative, you're going to have to ask if you're okay with that. Which brings me back around again to asking: do you actually want democrats to succeed? Because their success is directly linked to Trumpism failing. If you don't want them to succeed, then you want the GOP to succeed, because those are the only two options. And if you want the democrats to succeed, you need to stop cheerleading people like Manchin and Sinema, two people who have done more to torpedo the democratic agenda, which would do things like stabilize the economy, than anyone else.
I'm not calling you out for being a conservative, Charlie. I'm calling you out for being incoherent. You can't be like 'Democrats have a problem! they need to succeed!' and then turn around and argue against everything they try to do, because they don't match the GOP's desires. If you truly believe, as I do, that the only way to stop Trumpism is for Democrats to succeed so that Trumpism fails, then you have to actually want them to succeed. You can't both want Trumpism to fail and for Democrats to fail, because that's not an option. That leaves you with Trumpism succeeding.
This biolabs conspiracy is a textbook encapsulation of the rot in the rightwing media ecosystem today. A loony theory pops up on the fringes of the rightwing dark web, it gradually propagates itself to the daylight as more mainstream rightwing outlets latch on to it, and throughout its improbable journey no one along the line attempts to fact check, vet, or debunk it, everyone just rolls with it because it speaks to something that, deep down, they just know has to be true. It's how so much daft rubbish ends up on Tucker Carlson; there are no guardrails in rightwing media. It's all a rotten, stupid propaganda factory meant to stoke those who are predisposed to believe the worst about those with whom they disagree.