In short, we can’t. Voting for policies rather than for politicians is called direct democracy, and there are currently no functioning direct democracies in the world. They are all, including the political system of the United States of America, representative.
Until we build an anarcho-communist utopia where every single person can equally participate in every single decision that can affect their life, we have to work with the tools we have. And all we have today is representatives and the ways to nominate them, elect them, and, in some — way too exceptional — circumstances, recall or impeach them.
A representative is more than the sum of their policies and campaign promises, they are a person of their own free will with a mandate to make decisions on our behalf that we don’t get to overrule. When you vote for a politician, you accept the risk that they will not always do what you want them to do, along with the responsibility for the consequences of their actions.
You don’t get to say “I couldn’t know they would do that,” it is on you to research before you vote. Blinding yourself to everything there is to know about a candidate other than their policy proposals is not a mature way to fulfill that responsibility.
So when a campaign for the most powerful office in the country and — until recently — the world tells you to not look beyond their candidate’s policies, your first question shouldn’t be “fine, let’s look at the policies,” the question you should ask yourself first should be “where exactly don’t they want me to look?”
What Can Possibly Go Wrong?
1. Split vote. Yes, I hate the misogynistic abuse of the word “electability”, and I know enough about ranked choice to understand that there are ways to make tactical voting unnecessary (https://medium.com/@angdraug/ranked-choice-shows-what-democrats-want-in-2020-c4c68974b3a9). But we’re not in that utopia, either. We don’t have ranked choice in United States, what we have instead is 40% of the country cheering for slavery and genocide. In 2016, a vote for Jill Stein was not a vote for the environment, it was a vote for white supremacy, and it was as obvious at the time as it is now.
2. Incompetence. Even the best policy proposal made with the best of intentions is worth nothing if it never gets implemented. What’s worse, a failure can discredit the whole idea and bring setbacks instead of progress. When a politician leans on excuses, demonstrates inability to learn, evades accountability, takes credit for other people’s work, and engages in blame assignment and finger pointing, that’s usually because their own history of accomplishment is short and sparse. A vote wasted on a well-intentioned incompetent is a luxury the less privileged of us cannot afford.
3. Collateral damage. Always choose kindness, a kind person will always be mindful of consequences. The world is connected, human development stands on many interdependent pillars, and no solution is ever without trade-offs, hidden or externalized costs. No matter how much you want to solve your most important problem, if you trust the solution to a person without compassion and remorse, and let them ram it through at the expense of everything and everyone else, the damage they cause to other pillars is going to undermine the overall result.
4. Lies. All politicians bend the truth to present themselves in a better light. Some lie more than others. If their primary objective is to obtain power at any cost, they will tell you whatever they think you want to hear, with no intent to make good on their promises, no concern for how realistic those promises are. That is the kind of politician who will abuse power once they obtain it, and who will stop at nothing to keep it. A vote for a populist is a vote for authoritarianism.
When you vote for “just the policies,” you vote for all of the above.
Democracy is People
Isn’t a mature democracy resilient against abuse of power? Yes, but there are limits to everything.
Any institution, democracy more than any other, is nothing without the people who make it work. What good was the declaration of freedom of speech in the Soviet Constitution to the people who were sent to the Gulags for speaking up? What good is a right to vote when you get murdered trying to exercise it, when your voter registration is taken away, when your vote is erased by electronic voting machines and corrupt election officials?
It’s not enough to only evaluate policies, if you want results you need good people to implement them, and you need to keep bad people away from power.
White supremacists, incels, and religious fanatics recognized Donald Trump as one of their own years before his own racism and sexism became obvious to all. His own eager acceptance of dictators and rejection of experts and journalists told us everything we needed to know about what kind of person he is and what kind of ruler he wants to become.
People are everything. Show me who your friends are, and I’ll tell you all about yourself. Evaluating personal qualities of the representatives we elect to implement our democracy is our most essential responsibility as citizens.
Looking at their policies is only one part of that: all it tells you is how well a politician understands our needs and desires. Understanding is not enough to get things done: they should also be sincere in their desire to help you, open-minded enough to learn and adapt to new challenges, and able to surround themselves with good people worth learning from.
Allowing a politician who is opposite of all that to gain power can be disastrous. Instead of advancing the interdependent goals of peace, democracy, health care, education, and prosperity, they will undo decades of progress through divisiveness and incompetence.
This is why we have to have a talk about the problematic people in American politics. And not just the basket of deplorables who have declared unwavering allegiance to the proto-fascist government of Donald Trump. We need to talk about the parasites who pretend to be on our side.
Even before Tad Devine’s and his partner Paul Manafort’s connection to Russian mafia state has become public knowledge, Devine’s record has been nothing but troubling. Over the last 40 years, he was involved in presidential campaigns of eight Democrats. The only two Democratic nominees who refused his services were also the only two who won: Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
This is not a statistically insignificant aberration: from Carter’s loss to Reagan in 1980, to Clinton’s loss to Trump in 2016, many of these were unexpected upsets that had disastrous consequences for the country, and Devine had a part in all of them.
This is not incompetence, either: many other candidates he worked for at home and abroad have won, it was only his presidential candidates in United States that kept losing.
Devine’s record of success abroad is just as troubling as his record of failure in US. The most recent example, Viktor Yanukovich, is a career criminal closely aligned with Russian mafia state who locked up his political opponent and is now wanted in Ukraine for mass murder, and he’s not even the worst.
Immediately preceding his first engagement with Viktor Yanukovich in 2006, Devine helped install four presidents in Latin America: Andres Pastrana in Colombia in 1998, Alejandro Toledo in Peru in 2001, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada in Bolivia in 2002, and Manuel Zelaya in Honduras in 2005. The first three of these countries are, in that order, the top producers of cocaine in the world; the fourth is a key drug trafficking transit point.
This is enough of a coincidence to deserve a closer look, but before we go there we need to take a detour. It’s a wild ride, but I promise you it is related to both Devine and Yanukovich.
In December 2016, Argentine police found 389 kilograms of cocaine packed into 12 suitcases on the grounds of the Russian Embassy in Buenos Aires, in the school for children of embassy workers that, according to one of the parents, was guarded 24/7 by FSB.
The police replaced cocaine with flour and planted a GPS tracker. In February 2018, the suitcases were loaded onto a brand new Il-96 tail number 96023 carrying the former head of FSB and current Secretary of Putin’s Security Council Nikolai Patrushev, and were delivered to Moscow (https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/28/europe/russia-drug-smuggling-argentina-intl/index.html).
In February 2018, Russian activist video-blogger Alexei Navalny drew world’s attention to Belarusian escort Anastasia “Rybka” Vashukevich and her Instagram post from August 2016 with a video of Oleg Deripaska and Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko talking about foreign policy, Victoria Nuland, and US presidential elections.
Two weeks later, Vashukevich was arrested in Thailand. Next day, the same Il-96 tail number 96023 brought Patrushev to Bangkok. The day after, Vashukevich smuggled out a video asking US for help in exchange for information about Russian interference in the 2016 elections. FBI was not allowed to interview her, and Trump appointee Kirstjen Nielsen rejected her request for asylum. In January 2019, Thai authorities deported her to Belarus by putting her on a flight that connected via Moscow. Naturally, FSB grabbed her in Sheremetyevo and relieved her of her recordings of Deripaska.
These two incidents weren’t the first time Patrushev was involved in international damage control: British investigators connected him to the polonium poisoning of an FSB defector Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006. Litvinenko was assassinated for documenting the connections between Putin and the Mogilevich criminal syndicate, uncovering FSB’s false flag terrorist operations in Russia used as pretext for the Second Chechen War, and for investigating the assassination of Putin’s most prominent critic at the time, Anna Politkovskaya.
Americans and most other people outside Russia don’t appreciate how deeply its government is integrated with organized crime. There aren’t “ties” between Putin and oligarchs. There is no “conspiracy” between oligarchs and crime bosses. There isn’t even a revolving door between the government, the business, and the mob. All three are the same people.
It is all one organization, “The Organization” as they used to call it: a chimera formed when the operatives orphaned by the disbanded KGB sold their skills to organized crime groups, helped their bosses pillage billions in the chaos of privatization, and over the course of less than a decade hijacked Russia’s young and naive democracy. Russia isn’t a “gas station with a foreign policy.” Putin’s Russia is an international gang with nukes.
There is no public record of what Patrushev was doing between being recruited into KGB in 1975 and the disbandment of KGB in 1991. But he was there in 1982 when Soviet Union started training FARC guerrillas: a relationship that survived the breakdown of Soviet Union and gave the Russian mafia state an opening into the cocaine trade in Latin America.
And that brings us back to Devine and his clients.
Andres Pastrana rode into presidency on the “Narcocassettes” kompromat that linked his opponent to the Cali Cartel and triggered a scandal that eventually brought down that cartel and cleared the cocaine market in Colombia for FARC. Pastrana then signed a peace agreement with FARC, giving them room to graduate from merely taxing coca farmers to selling cocaine for weapons.
Alejandro Toledo shielded Peruvian coca farmers from international pressure and resumed the program of buying military helicopters and fighter jets from Russia that his predecessor Alberto Fujimori has suspended.
Sánchez de Lozada was set to win his 2002 election by a landslide, until Devine convinced the US ambassador to make a public statement against his coca- and Russia-friendly opponent Evo Morales three days before the vote.
This triggered a wave of anti-US sentiment that boosted Morales to a close second place, and gave him enough influence to bury de Lozada’s attempt to turn Bolivia into a natural gas exporter. Morales has been the president of Bolivia since 2006, and Bolivian natural gas remains in the ground, which benefits both the planet and major exporters of natural gas elsewhere in the world, including Russia.
Manuel Zelaya made Honduras a member of ALBA, an alliance led by Russia’s key partners in the region: Cuba and Venezuela.
What connects Devine’s clients in Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, and Honduras is more than just corruption and cocaine. Pat Devine systematically cleared the path for Russia’s foreign policy priorities in the region: taking over production and transit of cocaine, selling weapons, installing presidents who like Russia and dislike US — in that order.
Putin was so impressed with Devine’s results that he trusted him with the country that has been at the time and remains to this day at the very top of Russia’s foreign policy priorities. In 2006, Devine started to work for Viktor Yanukovich.
Wait, isn’t United States at the top of Putin’s priorities? No, not since 2004. The geographical and cultural distance between United States and Russia makes it easy to mythologize and dismiss the freedom and economic prosperity enjoyed by American people. Not so easy to dismiss a country next door that speaks a language Russians can understand and that was the second most populous republic in USSR.
Having that country as an example of what life can be like in a democracy integrated into European Union and protected by NATO would be a bigger threat to Putin’s control over his people than the bloody consequences of his colonial wars. When in the Orange Revolution of 2004 people of Ukraine have rejected Putin’s plant Viktor Yanukovich for the first time, that threat has become imminent.
But even though United States stopped being his biggest worry, it remained a close second. He was deeply shaken by the fate of Saddam Hussein, and believed that US is going to come for him next. The defensive strategy of installing a friendly and thoroughly corrupt president in Ukraine wasn’t enough, he had to take this to the enemy turf, and get involved in American politics.
So he did, and he tapped Devine and Manafort for that part, too.
To be continued.
Freedom of speech protections in Soviet Constitution:
List of political campaigns consulted and managed by Tad Devine:
Early criminal records of Viktor Yanukovich:
Electoral fraud in the 2004 Ukrainian presidential election:
Devine continued to work for Yanukovich’s campaign and other Manafort’s projects in Ukraine in 2012–2014 even after he claimed to have stopped working for Yanukovich in 2010 after Yanukovich imprisoned his political opponent Yulia Tymoshenko:
Yanukovich party’s black ledger that exposed deals between Deripaska and Manafort linked to a journalist assassination in Kiev:
The cocaine suitcases found in Russian embassy in Buenos Aires went to Moscow on Patrushev’s diplomatic airplane:
Vashukevich and Patrushev overlap in Thailand:
Litvinenko’s murder was an FSB operation probably personally approved by Putin and Patrushev:
FARC fighters received military training in Vietnam and Soviet Union:
Pastrana’s ceasefire with FARC:
FARC trading cocaine for weapons:
Peru resumed buying weapons from Russia:
US ambassador’s public statement causes a surge in popularity for Evo Morales: