Russia, Russia, Russia

I’ve written a number of posts over the years decrying the malign behavior of Russia. They have interfered in elections in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and other countries, poisoned and killed Russian dissidents at home and abroad, jailed people on trumped up charges, invaded and taken land from Ukraine, used fossil fuels as a weapon, corruptly concentrated wealth in the hands of a few oligarchs while their population as a whole suffers, hacked into computer systems, and spread disinformation and dissension across the globe.

The US has placed sanctions against Russia in the past. There have also been charges filed against Russian operatives, including over a dozen resulting from the Mueller investigation. Russian personnel have been expelled.

The former administration was not very robust in carrying out sanctions against Russia that had passed through Congress, but the Biden administration did take action in the past week, sanctioning Russian individuals and companies, prohibiting US banks from trading in Russian bonds, expelling personnel, and strengthening cybersecurity. It’s also possible that other measures were taken that are not being announced publicly. This sometimes happen, especially in cyberspace.

Interestingly, the administration acknowledged something that had been suspected but never so clearly stated by the government. A Treasury Department statement on the sanctions states:

Konstantin Kilimnik (Kilimnik) is a Russian and Ukrainian political consultant and known Russian Intelligence Services agent implementing influence operations on their behalf. During the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign, Kilimnik provided the Russian Intelligence Services with sensitive information on polling and campaign strategy. Additionally, Kilimnik sought to promote the narrative that Ukraine, not Russia, had interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Kilimnik was an associate of Paul Manafort, who was one of Donald Trump’s campaign managers in 2016. He gave internal campaign polling data to Kilimnik. This is the first time that there has been official acknowledgement from the government that that information was given to the Russian Intelligence Services. It’s already known that the Russians targeted certain groups and localities in their 2016 election interference operations. This data would increased their effectiveness, especially in an election where Trump lost the popular vote by a significant margin but won the electoral college by winning in a few key districts in three states.

This is what most people would call “collusion” between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Although I wish Russia and Kilimnick had been held to account more vigorously and much sooner, I’m grateful that more is now being done. I also hope that the American people will be more attentive to the veracity of what they see on social media and even what they hear from some politicians who have spouted some of the lies that Russia planted.

The Russians want to divide the people of the United States. We must not let them do that. President Biden is trying to help all Americans to come together after the upheaval of the pandemic, its economic impacts, centuries-old racial/ethnic/religious divides, and environmental degradation. He is the duly elected president. There was not widespread fraud in the election. COVID-19 is a serious public health threat that has killed over half a million Americans, but we can fight it with masks, distancing, vaccines, therapeutics, and other public health measures. Climate change is real and needs to be addressed quickly and decisively to contain the worst impacts.

Don’t let Russia tell you otherwise.

Russia – again

People sometimes describe the torrent of daily news in the US as “trying to drink from a fire hose.” Last week, there was deservedly a lot of focus on the Democratic National Convention that officially nominated Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to run for president and vice president in November.

I want to highlight a news story that is extremely important, but that did not get as much attention as it deserved. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence published a one-thousand(!) page, bipartisan report on “Russian Active Measures Campaigns and Interference in the 2016 U.S. Election Volume 5: Counterintelligence Threats and Vulnerabilities“. Yes, the link is to the actual report, just in case anyone is in the mood for a political horror story…

The report details dozens of links between Trump associates and Russian intelligence, including the relationship between one of Trump’s 2016 campaign manager Paul Manafort and Russian operative Konstantin Kilimnik. It makes clear that Russia interfered extensively in the election to aid Trump and that the Trump campaign knew it and aided in various ways.

It’s not that there wasn’t plenty of evidence in public before this. Prior investigations, reports, and court documents had already established the Russian interference, but this new report reveals even more, albeit with some redactions.

It still sickens me that the 2016 election was tainted by foreign interference, but I wish this report had been available sooner. Here we are, with the 2020 election only two months and a bit away, facing the continuing danger of Russian interference, as well as influence from other foreign countries. The US electorate expects our elections to be fair and free, yet we face foreign attacks as well as domestic shenanigans.

I hope that all US voters will take their responsibilities seriously. We need to make sure that we are receiving reliable, truthful information and that we cast our ballots in a safe and timely way. We must have this election be one of integrity so that everyone can honor the results.

fears realized

Like me, many people feared the president’s reaction to the impeachment trial vote to leave him in office.

We were not wrong to be apprehensive.

The president has removed numerous people from their posts because they dared to do their duty and tell the truth. I can barely believe that he dismissed the Director of National Intelligence because a member of his staff briefed the House Intelligence committee on Russian interference with the 2020 election. These briefings are required, not optional.

Worse, the president is denying that Russia is interfering in this election and that they interfered in the 2016 election. The 2016 election interference is well-documented and resulted in indictments of over a dozen Russian GRU officers. The conclusion on Russian meddling in 2016 is supported by all the US intelligence agencies, the Democratic-led House Intelligence committee, the Republican-led Senate Intelligence committee, the first volume of the Mueller report, and the Mueller grand jury that handed down the indictments. We ought to have been preparing since 2016 to better secure our campaigning and election security, but the denial by the administration has kept Congress from passing needed legislation.

It’s terrifying.

The new acting Director of National Intelligence has no intelligence experience and is keeping his current job as ambassador to Germany. Meanwhile, the president has assigned his former bodyman to clear out appointees in various departments and agencies who he feels are not sufficiently loyal to him.

Civil servants and elected officials do not swear an oath to obey the president. They swear to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the United States.

Of all people, the Attorney General should know this, but he has been undermining the work of his own department.

There are many people of good will and good morals who are trying very hard to ensure that the election is fair and that our government returns to respecting the rule of law and human rights. I hope we succeed, but, until it happens, I will be very afraid.

 

 

political parallels?

We were in London when the United Kingdom had their election in December, so we saw some of the television coverage of it.

As we know, the Tories (Conservatives) won, Boris Johnson retains his post as prime minister, and, at midnight tonight Brussels time, the UK will officially leave the European Union, a process shorthanded as Brexit.

Right after the election, some pundits who were looking at this as possibly predictive of the upcoming United States elections later this year, posited that the lesson learned was that you can’t have a very liberal person representing the opposing political party.

That was not my takeaway from the situation. I was, instead, stuck by the parallels between UK and US politics, despite the differences in our governmental systems.

First, you have a similar urban/rural divide. In the US, the Democrats are stronger in urban areas and are represented by blue on electoral maps. The Republicans are stronger in rural areas and states and are represented by red. In the UK, the divide between Labor and Tories is similar, but the map colors are reversed.

Of course, the electoral map in the UK is much more complicated as there are more parties involved, such as the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Nationalists. There is a real danger that Scotland and Northern Ireland, who do not want to leave the European Union, may in the future vote to leave the United Kingdom. The United States is not about to break apart depending on the outcome of elections.

Another similarity is that the pivotal elections that brought us to this point were influenced by the Russians. Both the Brexit vote four years ago and the 2016 presidential election won by Trump are known to have suffered interference by Russian operatives. A number of GRU officers have been indicted in the United States for their election interference. (The GRU is the main intelligence agency in Russia.) Both the Brexit vote and the 2016 presidential election were close votes. There is no way to quantify the influence of the foreign interference, but it does call into question, in such close votes, if foreign interference tipped the scales.

Both the UK Tories and the US Republicans are historically conservative parties. They had certain principles that they held for decades. They have both turned away from those principles to follow an unconventional leader. In the US, this is sometimes referred to as a “cult of personality.” Any party member who disagrees with the leader is either badgered into falling back in the party line or leaving the party or not running for reelection.

I was also struck by how often Johnson and Trump are called out for lying. This is very distressing. In the US, it has led to some people denying facts in order to believe the lies. Some people even contend that there are no such things as facts or truth. This is dangerous, not only in politics but also in other topics. “Believing” something does not make facts disappear.

No one knows what will happen next in either nation. The UK leaves the European Union tonight, but there are no permanent plans in place for what that looks like. As I write this, I’m listening to the arguments for and against subpoenaing witnesses and documents in Trump’s impeachment trial. Even though most people think they know how the trial will turn out, no one knows what additional facts will surface and how the public will react.

Uncertainty seems the only constant.
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Blowout by Rachel Maddow

One of the most impressive parts of Rachel Maddow’s book Blowout is the end. No, not the index, but the twenty pages of “Notes on Sources.” I had often found myself thinking as I read the text, “How could she possibly know this level of detail?” but I know that Rachel Maddow and her staff are very dedicated to research and accuracy, so I didn’t doubt the veracity of the stories she was relating. I was pleased to see the “Notes on Sources” because she lists the books, papers, interviews, news stories, videos, magazines, etc. that she had used to find the facts, giving readers a chance to learn more and showing that she and her staff had, indeed, been diligent in their research.

The full title of the book is Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth. That industry is, of course, the oil and gas industry.

Because of my many years in the anti-fracking and climate justice movements, I was familiar with the broad outlines of much of the oil and gas industry story. I appreciated the abundance of details on topics such as Oklahoma, the depths to which it rises or falls on fossil fuel dollars, earthquakes and induced seismicity, and the rise of Oklahoma City, including its entance into the world of big-league sports. I knew that Russia used its fossil fuel exports as a cudgel and that Putin and his oligarchs ran roughshod over whomever stood in their way, but hadn’t realized all the factors involved, including the immensity of the impact of US sanctions that stopped Rex Tillerson’s ExxonMobil from assisting Russian Arctic drilling and spearheaded Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election.

I was less familiar with the expressions of the “resource curse” in other parts of the world, such as Equatorial Guinea. These stories illustrate how the proceeds of the oil and gas industry flow to the already powerful leaders of government and industry and not to the general populations of the countries, who often remain mired in poverty and ecological devastation.

While I brought a considerable amount of personal background/geekery to my reading, the book is equally as enjoyable and informative for those who know little of the industry. Maddow’s writing is clear and compelling. Much of the book reads like literature, with compelling, recurring characters, rich details, and unexpected plot twists. That the stories are all true heightens their impact.

That we are continuing to deal with the repercussions of the events in this book makes reading it that much more important.
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on both sides of the pond

This is a politically eventful week for both the US and the UK.

I just finished reading the articles of impeachment against Donald Trump. I was a bit surprised that there are only two, given that there is also a body of evidence to support obstruction of justice regarding the 2016 election interference investigation and an emoluments case. The emoluments case is wending its way through the judicial system. The obstruction of justice cases could be brought under a different attorney general at any point within the five year statute of limitations. The thinking of the House Judiciary Committee majority seems to be to keep the articles narrowly focused to be able to present a more concentrated set of facts for the impeachment vote in the House, which is like an indictment, and for the trial in the Senate. The second article of impeachment is obstruction of Congress. Given that this is ongoing. blatant, and unprecedented in scope – and clearly a breach of Constitutional separation of powers – it is going to look as though senators who vote against that article are not taking their own Constitutional role as jurors seriously.

Meanwhile, in the UK, where I happen to be at the moment visiting family, the airwaves are filled with news of the UK Parliamentary election, which could well determine if and how the exit of the UK from the European Union happens. It is a mess, given that Russia also interfered in the Brexit vote, so it is not necessarily reflective of the will of the people. It is even more complicated in that the United Kingdom might itself break apart in the aftermath of leaving the EU. Scotland and Northern Ireland, and even Wales, could well vote to succeed, leaving England on its own and no United Kingdom at all.

I know I keep saying “Yikes!” in my posts, but it bears repeating.

Yikes!

evidence

Since I wrote this post, more and more evidence has become public about how President Trump tried to enlist foreign leaders in discrediting rival politicians and then to restrict access to the reports and hide the evidence in a super-secret computer. In the coming weeks, it is likely that more information will be forthcoming as the House Intelligence Committee holds hearings and as more investigative reporting appears in national newspapers. Among the other people already implicated are Attorney General Barr, Secretary of State Pompeo, and the president’s personal attorney Rudolph Giuliani. Besides Ukraine, it appears contacts were made with Australia, Italy, and Great Britain in attempts to undermine the work of the US intelligence organizations. All of these actions are related in some way or another to Russia, who we know interfered in the US elections in 2016. It also appears that United States pressure has resulted in Ukraine agreeing to have elections in the eastern part of the country where insurgents backed by Russia have been fighting for several years. Ostensibly, this could lead to that region being given special status and would then officially ally itself with Russia, who would ask to have the international sanctions against them lifted, which is what they have been trying to do since Trump’s election.

If the current public information is corroborated with testimony, documents, and other evidence, it would be very grave. To make matters worse, the administration is continuing to say that its employees may not testify or turn over documents. This seems to also be obstructive behavior.

Now, the Inspector General of the State Department has asked for an urgent meeting with several Congressional committees on October 2nd, tomorrow as I write this. I am filled with trepidation, but grateful that the Inspector General is independent of the State Department and can’t be blocked from bringing information to Congress.

Stay tuned.

after the report

Nana is dozing in her recliner, so I thought I would try to do a quick post on my reactions so far to the redacted release of the Mueller report. With everything going on in my family life, I haven’t been able to read all 400+ pages, but have seen excerpts and analysis from lawyers and investigative/legal reporters, which I have found very helpful.

As longtime readers may recall, I was very concerned about Russian hacking and interference in the 2016 US presidential election, even before the voting took place, so volume one of the report, which details the Russian attacks, is chilling. It reveals how extensive the attack was, confirming that it reached millions of potential voters, some of whom were targeted with particular posts or ads because of where they lived, their race, and other personal factors. It also deals with the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and other campaign systems with release of materials to the public, as well as attempts to hack voting systems.

I am very concerned that Congress has not done enough to help the FBI and the states and localities identify potential weaknesses, especially in technology systems, and rectify them for the 2020 race, which has already started with many candidates declaring their intent to run in the party primaries. We need to be prepared for both similar attacks and for different kinds of attacks from Russia and from other countries. This should not be a partisan issue at all; people across the political spectrum should all be committed to protecting our national security and our freedoms.

The second part of the report is about possible obstruction of justice by the President. It makes it clear that no charges were filed because it is Justice Department policy not to indict a sitting president. Mueller also made it clear that he could not gather all the evidence needed, as the President and several other key figures were not able to be interviewed by the investigators. However, the report lays out details of possible counts of obstruction, which could be taken up by Congress as part of their investigations (which could lead to the filing of impeachment charges) or which could be charged by the courts after Trump leaves office. The statute of limitations for most of the actions taken by the president is five years, so if he leaves office during his first term or fails to win a second term, court charges could be brought for obstruction of justice.

The question of whether the House of Representatives will move toward impeachment is open. It’s complicated by the fact that the Mueller investigation was focused on Russian interference, but there are investigations on-going in other areas, among them illegal campaign contributions, emoluments, and financial crimes. Trump is trying to block them by ignoring subpoenas, not providing records, and not allowing even former staff to testify to Congress. It’s plausible that this could cause additional impeachment charges of obstruction for not cooperating with a Congressional investigation.

Additionally, people have to be aware that the standards for impeachment are different than they are for court trials. For example, one of the impeachment charges against President Nixon was lying to the American people. There isn’t a specific law against this, but it is considered a “high crime or misdemeanor,” which is the Constitutional impeachment criteria.

Some people say that Congress should just wait until the 2020 election, but I disagree. I’m afraid if these things aren’t investigated, with impeachment charges filed if found appropriate, it will look as though anyone who is elected president can get away with breaking laws and ethical codes for four years without consequence.

That is a terrible message to send. We, the People of the United States, deserve better.

Faceversary

Facebook helpfully told me today that I joined ten years ago.

I initially joined because the Smith College Alumnae Chorus was planning to use it as a primary means of communication among our far-flung membership. It didn’t work out that way, but it did get me to join.

I admit that some things about it really annoy me, especially that my newsfeed leaves out so many posts that I would like to see from my friends. I also, of course, am appalled that Facebook was co-opted in the misinformation attack by Russians and others in the lead-up to the 2016 US presidential election.

Still, I am sticking with it to stay connected to in-person friends and relatives and a handful of friends that I made through Facebook and feel close to, even though we have never met in person.

I also appreciate the chance to have a Facebook page for Top of JC’s Mind. I recently (finally) got to 100 likes. Okay, I only have 101 now, but I would appreciate some more if anyone wants to pop over there using the link. 😉

Will Facebook be around in another ten years? Will I still be a part of it if it is? No one knows…
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indictment of Russian military officers

I am appalled at DT siding with Putin against the very real evidence of crimes against the American people around the 2016 election by members of the Russian military.

The indictment is detailed and, of course, the grand jury, ordinary United States citizens doing their civic duty, saw the evidence behind the counts listed.

Russia will not extradite the officers to stand trial, so the trial will need to be held in absentia.

All members of Congress should speak up and support the Justice Department and courts as this process moves forward. They should also pass legislation to secure the 2018 and future elections.

They must also denounce the president for taking the side of Putin and Russia against the United States. I can barely believe the depths to which DT has sunk, as he denigrates our long-time allies while praising authoritarian leaders.

The Congressional oath of office begins, “I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic…” I call on all members of Congress to fulfill their oath and protect our democracy.