Wandering Eye: 'Inside the Kremlin's Hall of Mirrors,' the Pentagon's policy on transgender personnel, and more

As Rand Paul makes his inevitable Libertarian-ish presidential run official, it's time for some big thinking on the optimal size of the federal government. Paul will say it ought to be no bigger than a toy poodle—perhaps an unweaned kitten—so that when the time is right it can be conveniently drowned in a laundry sink. But what if he's wrong? The economist Brad DeLong has drafted a counterfactual claiming that, contrary to common belief, North Atlantic federal governments (like the U.S.'s) ought to be much larger than they have traditionally been, and carry much higher debt. The trouble is in the parameters. It has been held that governments ought to police contracts and defend the nation; everything else is overreach. But as DeLong sees it, times have changed. Modern people need better education and a social safety net—including the provision of a pension—for starters. And then he attacks the foundation of America's beliefs: "It makes no microeconomic sense at all for services like those provided by Google to be funded and incentivized by how much money can be raised not off of the value of the services but off of the fumes rising from Google's ability to sell the eyeballs of the users to advertisers as an intermediate good," DeLong writes. "Infrastructure and R&D. Enough said." Well, there is more. (Edward Ericson Jr.)


Russian media is like the demon spawn of Fox News and InfoWars, jacked on amphetamines, and The Guardian shows you how and maybe why in a long exposé titled "Inside the Kremlin's Hall of Mirrors." The story asks if Vladimir Putin's propaganda campaigns since his invasion of Ukraine have morphed into something like psychological warfare against a whole planet—including Russia itself. It focuses on Margo Gontar, who works with a Russian media watchdog website called StopFake: "Russian media had begun to cite StopFake in their own reports—but would make it look like Gontar was presenting the falsified story as truth, rather than debunking it. It was like seeing herself reflected in a mirror upside down." Western media, of course, continue to give bogus stories ("Ukrainian nationalists are fascists!") their due so as to remain "objective." But, of course, that behavior is so easily predicted, why wouldn't Russian intelligence use western media's "objectivity" to its advantage? Particularly if the "narrative landscape" were the main battlefield? Enter RT, the Kremlin's own $230 million-a-year video news service, whose work you've probably already seen linked in your Twitter stream and Facebook page. Like the old "AIDS is a CIA plot to kill black people" stories, RT specializes in madcap conspiracy. "Disinformation and psychological operations are as old as the Trojan horse," the authors write. "But what distinguished the Kremlin's approach from that of its western rivals was this new stress on the 'psychosphere' as the theatre of conflict. The information operation was no longer auxiliary to some physical struggle or military invasion: now it had become an end in itself." Instant, constant, endless: The new Russian propaganda machine attacks the very idea of "fact." It's designed to render argument and logic obsolete. (Edward Ericson Jr.)


The Washington Post has an interesting story on how the Pentagon handles the estimated 15,500 transgender service members in the military. Meet Shane Ortega, who was assigned female at birth but wants to serve the rest of his military career as a man. "He holds a man's military travel passport, based on the new Social Security card he received when he changed his name. But he is still identified as female in the military's official computer system. He must wear a woman's 'dress blues' for official occasions," the story says. The military's policy, which classifies being transgender as a mental disorder, has led to the discharge of at least a dozen transgender personnel in the last six months, according to a legal group that studies the issue. According to Joshua Block, the ACLU attorney representing Ortega, "Although the Army appears to have temporarily halted the process of kicking trans people out, the policy still declares that they are unfit. That puts service members and their commanders in an untenable situation. It's the policy itself that's interfering with the military's ability to do the job, not service members like Shane." (Brandon Weigel)

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