Influence of Hostile Foreign Powers
We have previously posted lots of words about the anechoic effect: the lack of echoes produced by seemingly important stories about health care dysfunction. It seemed as if such stories were taboo, presumably because even discussing them was seen as a threat to the rich and powerful who increasingly run health care. Those involved in the leadership and governance of health care organizations and their cronies also have considerable power to damp down any public discussion that might cause them displeasure. In particular, we have seen how those who attempt to blow the whistle on what really causes health care dysfunction may be persecuted.
But as we discussed here, the major issues we discussed prior to 2015 gave way to a new normal with the advent of Trump as a presidential candidate and the MAGA movement as a major force in US politics. In that 2020 discussion, we noted how the Trump administration acted to squelch discussion of scientific topics that did not fit in with its ideology, despite constitutional guarantees of speech and press free from government control (look here).
Now it appears that the most striking example of the anechoic effect involves discussion of the underlying causes of the anti-democratic turn in the US that threatens the system that permits public discussion, and the possibility of reforming health care dysfunction among other issues. We continue to see bits of evidence made public about how democracy is threatened by the influence of hostile foreign powers, especially Russia, on US politics, especially elections. Yet the evidence produces few echoes.
Here are some of the more striking bits of evidence that appeared in just the last two weeks about Russia's malign influence on US democracy.
Russia's Malign Strategy and Tactics
-The April 2023 Indictment for Russian Election Interference and Threats to U.S. Democracy "The Kremlin’s Strategy: Exploiting far left and far right fringes; Exploiting the racial divide; Going local"
Racism as a National Security Threat "the one big thru-line from the Cold War to today in terms of the most exploitable vulnerability Russia can weaponize against us: America’s racial divisions"
Evidence of widespread Russian election meddling in other countries: "Kemal Kilicdaroglu, main challenger of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, said ... his party has concrete evidence of Russia's responsibility for the release of 'deep fake' online content"
Linkages of Trump and Supporters to Russia
US Trumpists are increasingly part of a new global fascist axis:
"far-right populism of Hungary’s prime minister is helping to inspire
U.S. Republicans' agenda for 2024, a game plan that targets
immigration, LGBTQ rights and... the war in Ukraine"
Reminder that Trump "is Putin's puppet": He was "repeatedly asked by CNN host Kaitlan Collins if he backed Ukraine in its 15-month conflict with Vladimir Putin’s forces, and repeatedly dodged the question"
Follow the money: Trump Media got financing from Paxum Bank, which "promoted itself...as a way for video streamers of adult content to coordinate financial transactions across international borders" and is owned by a sketchy Russian businessman
[Another Trump-Russia connection?] FBI agents raid condo unit owned by Russians at Trump Towers in Sunny Isles
The FBI raided a condo in Trump Tower III in Sunny Isles Beach, FL because its "owner was being arrested... on charges of illegally selling airplane parts to Russian airline companies"
Putting another Russian asset in the WH: In call to ReAwaken America rally, Trump said he would give Michael Flynn a WH position. Flynn "entered, then withdrew, a guilty plea of making false statements to the F.B.I" and hung out with Putin in Russia
Reminder: "next to Putin at the head table, in the seat of honor, was an American. Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who would later become Donald Trump's national security adviser"
Trump and Supporters' Techniques to Downplay their Connections to Russia: The Durham Investigation
It was supposed to show how the investigation of Trump/Russia was a witch hunt. It didn't
Not with a bang.... Trump fans hyped the Durham investigation. Trump fans will likely keep spinning it, but it "delivered underwhelming results... securing a guilty plea from a little-known FBI employee [and] ...losing ...2 criminal cases"
"Durham’s...report revealed little substantial new information about the inquiry...failed to produce the kinds of blockbuster revelations... that...Trump and his allies suggested Mr. Durham would uncover"
"Durham...scolded the F.B.I. but failed to... uncover a politically motivated 'deep state' conspiracy.... charged no high-level F.B.I. or intelligence official with a crime and acknowledged...Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign did nothing prosecutable"
Despite the failure of the Durham investigation to find any important misconduct much less "deep state" politicization of the Trump-Russia investigation, to Trump fans it "was Watergate times 10, or 100"
Russia, Trump and the 2016 election "Russia tried to swing the 2016 election to Trump; FBI had reason to investigate a tip suggesting Trump campaign involvement; Trump campaign welcomed help from Russia: ‘Steele dossier’ proved to be a red herring"
Russian Propaganda and Disinformation
"hate crimes in America are often influenced by online chatter that's
increasingly linked to Russian sites or pro-Russian narratives on more
obscure parts of the internet. The Kremlin doesn't seem to mind"
Conflicts of Interest, Corruption, Crime
Since 2015, we have asked (here) how the US (and the world) can possibly reduce health care corruption, a major cause of global health care dysfunction, under a thoroughly conflicted and corrupt Trump administration. Since the end of that administration, Trump has campaigned to be president again. Meanwhile, the evidence of his and his supporters' conflicts of interest, corruption, and criminality continue to grow. Recent examples include:
Trump's Conflicts, Crimes, and Corruption
Jury finds Trump liable for sexual abuse, awards accuser $5M [When real, reasonable people get to review Trump's conduct while free of his intimidation and bluster they may tend to do so harshly]
"Trump admitted more directly than before on Wednesday that he knowingly removed government records from the White House and claimed that he was allowed to take anything he wanted with him as personal records" Confessing to a crime?
He just can't help himself: in his CNN Town Hall appearance, Trump appeared to defame E Jean Carroll again, just days after she won a lawsuit against him for his previous defamation
[Even more accusations of sexual misconduct by Trump, even involving his own White House staff] Top aides reveal Trump’s alleged inappropriate conduct towards female staffers
Attacking the rule of law, eve obstruction of justice? - Trump fan politicians go after prosecutors who are investigating or otherwise legally pursuing Trump, including Manhattan DA Bragg, Special Counsel Smith, Fulton County GA DA Willis
There is apparently evidence that Trump knew he was committing a crime by walking off with classified presidential records despite his later claims that doing so was legal
The Conflicts, Crimes and Corruption of Trumpist and/or Far Right Politicians
[Noticing this glaring conflict of interest] Judge to order Wisconsin Elections Commission to reconsider fake elector complaint without the commissioner who joined the scheme
Are they all sleazy or criminal? Republican "Rep. Bryan Slaton resigned from the Texas House on Monday after an investigation determined that he had an inappropriate sexual relationship with a 19-year-old woman on his staff"
TX rep Slaton "proposed banning children from attending drag shows to supposedly shield them from being groomed... resigned after he was found to have engaged in inappopriate sexual conduct with a 19-year-old intern" Fake morality of the culture warriors
[Again, are they all crooks?] Rep Santos [(R-NY) is accused of using illicit campaign contributions for personal expenses "indictment accusing him of wire fraud, money laundering, stealing public funds and lying in federal disclosure forms"
Rep George Santos confesses to theft in Brazil to avoid prosecution
Follow the money: "conservative operatives using sophisticated robocalls raised millions of dollars from donors using pro-police and pro-veteran messages.... nearly all the money went to pay the firms making the calls and the operatives themselves"
[And now reports of sexual misconduct by Trump's lawyer Giuliani] Rudy Giuliani accused of sexual harassment by ex-employee
[Are they all thugs, if not crooks?- Louisiana] GOP Rep Clay Higgins filmed shoving activist who questioned Lauren Boebert’s divorce
Propaganda, Disinformation, Deception
We used to write about propaganda and disinformation used to promote health care goods and services (stealth marketing campaigns), and advocate for policies favorable to private health care organizations (stealth health policy advocacy and stealth lobbying). Some stealth marketing, lobbying and policy advocacy campaigns encompass not just propaganda, but disinformation. For example, consider the health insurance company campaign to derail the Clinton administration's attempt at health reform as described by Wendell Potter in Deadly Spin (look here). The tactics employed in that campaign included: use of front groups and third parties (useful idiots?); use of spies; distractions to make important issues anechoic; message discipline; and entrapment (double-think).
But back in the day, the notion of propaganda and disinformation as a real threat to health care, much less our democratic process and society as a whole, was pretty radical. That was then. By 2019 we were writing about a a new (ab)normal that includes propaganda and disinformation in the service of hostile authoritarian foreign states meant to disrupt more democratic governments, whatever the cost in human health and lives.
It is important to better understand the techniques of the propagandists and disinformationists, so:
Propagandists' and Disinformationists' Toolbox
Reflexive control "Using the name scholars have given to this area of research to frame the debate baits Rufo’s opponents into arguing about what CRT is and isn’t, which... keeps the exact three words he wants (and their attendant connotations) in circulation"
"How can we really engage in these conversations, when the tension is there before you even pick up the book and open the topic?" [It's hard to have a rational argument when fanatics are screaming at you]
The Flood the Zone with BS Technique:
[The old-time fast talking snake oil salesman in the internet age] Donald Trump steamrolls CNN’s town hall [It's easier to lie than to rebut a lie. If someone lies very quickly, you can't respond in real time]
'"You can’t keep saying that all night long'....[so one] can rebut him, correct him, interrupt him and otherwise battle with him over every point, but that’s no match for ceaseless mendacity....'We don’t have time to fact-check every lie'"
It's the old Steve Bannon (and Russian) tactic: flood the zone with BS. "CNN hasn’t figured this thing out, and it’s a good bet its competitors have no better ideas" It's clear society needs a better solution to the flood the zone tactic.
"fear is weaponized even more than hate by leaders who seek to spark violence. Hate is often part of the equation...but fear is almost always the key ingredient when people feel they must lash out to defend themselves.
Ways to Combat Propaganda and Disinformation
Ending false equivalence in choice of editorial voices: "will the newspaper raise the bar for those local or syndicated [supposedly conservative] voices — i.e., requiring the commentary to actually engage in a truthful semblance of a given issue?
How the media can cover Trump better this time "Focus on 'the stakes' of the 2024 election, not 'the odds'; Explain Trump’s probable agenda; Don’t make getting access to Republican politicians or projecting 'neutrality and 'objectivity' a main goal"
Christian Nationalism Threatens Health Care Professionals, Medicine, Health Care, and Public Health
Much of the "culture war" is about attacking particular patient groups (eg, transgender patients, women seeking abortions, needing birth control or care for such conditions as ectopic pregnancy and miscarriage) and the health care professionals who care for them, or about attacking public health professionals (eg, those involved in pandemic policy) or creating phony public health problems, eg, pornography.
Furthermore, while these attacks are often framed in a biomedical, health care or public health context, the motivation behind them seems to come from extreme sectarianism, particularly Christian nationalism.
Leaked data on right-wing physicians group shows its support of extreme sectarian religious beliefs, recruiting "doctors and medical school students seen as holding Christian views," returning US to a time when "evangelical Christian beliefs" were favored
The state's near-total abortion ban is forcing providers to leave the state "she had to tell a patient that her pregnancy had a significant fetal abnormality.... her hands were tied. She couldn’t offer any more care- they had to go elsewhere"
[Attempting intimidation for taking care of patients] Texas AG Ken Paxton probing Austin children’s hospital [but] "It’s not clear what law Paxton believes Dell Children’s has broken; Texas does not currently have age limits on gender-affirming care"
Fearing legal repercussions, doctors in Texas say they are risking grave patient harm to comply with new abortion restrictions [abortion bans' adverse effects: Extreme sectarian based medicine hurts patients]
Reminder that movement against abortion imposes extreme sectarian religious beliefs on those of other faiths: "Jewish law dating back to the Torah has established that abortion is not murder."
Confluence of far-right politics and health care nonsense: After DeSantis' coup, New College will host Dr Scott Atlas as commencement speaker. He was a member of the Trump administration who promoted herd immunity as solution to COVID
[How sectarianism and superstition creeps into public health] Ladapo's wife who "studied traditional naturopathy, plant and herbal medicine, and shamanism" convinced Ladapo to go to counseling that that caused him to believe he was following "God’s plan"
[More threats to health care] Abortion Clinics Are Dealing with More Arson, Stalking, and Anthrax Threats Now- Abortion providers feared they’d see an increase in harassment and threats if Roe v Wade was overturned. They were right.
[Turning sexual hangups into policy? Theocrats go after porn as a public health threat, and...] There’s ‘nothing more timid’ than a man watching porn, Josh Hawley says "There is no risk involved, no exposure to hardship or danger in the least" Promoting sex and relationships that are risky, difficult, dangerous?
KS Republican county chair says LGBTQ friendly pastors "signed a contract with Satan," plans to "make it hostile to that group of people...small sliver of society...have them move elsewhere, that does a huge amount to shut this down,”
Apparently afraid of prosecution under anti-abortion laws, doctors told patient threatened with a miscarriage "at high risk of life-threatening complications" they could do nothing. Violating law requiring hospitals to treat patients in emergencies?
So anti-abortion laws make doctors damned if they do (abort pregnancy for patient facing high risk of severe complications) and damned if they don't (by failing to provide emergent care).
[More physicians driven away by bans on caring for patients demonized by sectarian extremists] Austin doctors who treated trans kids leaving Dell Children’s clinic after AG Paxton announces investigation
After quacky COVID herd immunity proponent and former Trump administration staffer Dr Scott Atlas invited to speak at DeSantis transformed New College commencement, students raise money to support alternative event
Doctors forced out by laws restricting treatment of patients with pregnancy complications pushed by extreme sectarians: "Doctors... fleeing the state due to new abortion restrictions....[fearing] 'Being tried as a felon simply for saving someone’s life'"
[Reminder: laws based on extreme sectarian religious views impose them on those of other faiths, and harm doctors and patients] Texas doctors depart as attorney general investigates hospital’s gender-affirming care
Follow the Money: Who Funds Attacks on Democracy
It's not just Russia and hostile foreign powers who threaten democracy behind the scenes. Domestic greed is still a factor.
Another example of how big national right-wing dark money came to small town to finance local school board candidates who wanted to ban books. We need to figure out who is paying for this, and what's in it for them
"Republicans...play this...game of supporting the wealthy and big business behind the scenes... but making it appear...that they're on the side of the little person....going after the wokeness is a good way to do it...that's not a bread and butter issue"
[One big corporation refuses to bow down to DeSantis' anti-woke threats. Will others realize pumping money into extremists' political coffers is bad for business?] Disney Pulls Plug on $1 Billion Development in Florida