Russia in the Crosshairs: Are We Sure We Want to Do This?

Mike Pence, Russia, Russian Probe
Are you sure you want to make this man president? That’s what will happen if Trump is impeached. (Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr. Some rights reserved.)

Last week, I discussed why there is an ongoing investigations that Russia. I went over the proof that supports the investigation while remaining as objective as possible. In this post, I will explain why I never believed these claims. And I would like to send a message to Democrats, as a concerned citizen.


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Reasons Why I Doubt Russia Rigged Our Elections

Since the late spring in 2016, accusations have been flying that Russia was behind the leaks from the DNC and John Podesta. As more information came out, experts, including most of our intelligence agencies, concurred that Russia was indeed behind the leaks and was engaging in an influence campaign. And as I mentioned in the previous post on this subject, some people (like Donna Brazile) even speculated that the information in the emails was forged.

First of all, if the victims of the leaks wanted us to know the information was forged, that should have been the first thing out of their mouths. Their first reactions are telling. In fact, American intelligence agencies have all but confirmed the information in the emails is authentic.

Also, none of the other speculation has actually been corroborated by intelligence agencies despite the “proof” they say they have. There are other experts who question what our intelligence agencies are telling us.

Additionally, we need to consider the capabilities of the United States as it pertains to cyber-espionage.

Evidence

When we first heard of an investigation by the U.S. intelligence community

The evidence the FBI had was extremely limited. And it might have been based on reports agents found via the Internet because the DNC did not allow the FBI to inspect the organization’s server. How can a full investigation be done regardless?

And what about the DNC hired to investigate the hacks into its servers (CrowdStrike)? Well, it turns out Crowdstrike published a post about a completely fabricated cyber-attack on Ukraine’s artillery app to buttress its DNC claims. It later went back and altered its original post on the matter.

Also, Jeffrey Carr, a skeptic, had more information about the DNC leaks. It turns out the DNC, DCCC, and other American targets may have been part of a phishing scam. The malware used could have been reengineered by anyone, in Russia or elsewhere.

Additionally, Carr asks, like other intelligence experts, “Where’s the proof?”

If the White House had unclassified evidence that tied officials in the Russian government to the DNC attack, they would have presented it by now. The fact that they didn’t means either that the evidence doesn’t exist or that it is classified.

If it’s classified, an independent commission should review it because this entire assignment of blame against the Russian government is looking more and more like a domestic political operation run by the White House that relied heavily on questionable intelligence generated by a for-profit cybersecurity firm with a vested interest in selling “attribution-as-a-service”.

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Intelligence Agencies

Should we immediately trust the intelligence agencies CIA? In short, no we shouldn’t.

The CIA has lied to us before. It lied about there being weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. It lied about torturing prisoners. And it is part of the “assassination complex” in the Middle East, calling for drone strikes in war-torn countries.

The NSA has lied to us before. First, its agents told us they were not spying on American citizens. Then they told us they were not stealing our most private information. Then it turned out they had the capabilities to take our emails and texts.

These agencies could definitely be lying about the links to Russia.

Additionally, you read this articles closely, you will find that those pointing toward Russia do it will no real proof. Right now, it’s hearsay. Experts believe there are patterns with Russian hackers, but they have no definitive proof that the Russian government is behind this.

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U.S Capabilities

Speaking of the NSA: Edward Snowden revealed how the NSA was working with the GCHQ could watch data on a global level with signals intelligence (SIGINT). Spies could see the transfer of information and even watch other spies take information. Countries can also take information from third parties.

The US was able to trace hacks to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. Using information found on hackers’ computers, the U.S. found specific individuals and publicly released their pictures in order to change their behavior.

It was easier for the United States to find out that North Korea hacked Sony in 2014 since the hackers involved in that information heist were sloppy and often used IP’s connected to the country.

It seems as if the U.S might have been capable of tracking possible hacking attempts from Russian actors (and possibly linking them to the government).

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What I Think a Thorough Investigation Might Really Find

Donald Trump does need to be investigated. If done right, this investigation might find some Russian ties. But he might not be connected to Russia in the way you think.

Personal Corruption on Trump’s Part

Donald Trump is corrupt individual. You can see it by the number of bankruptcies he has, how he is using his official business to bring more attention to his resorts and other branded properties, and how he is allowing family members to have a role in his administration. The Trumps are profiting off his position and what they’re doing should be considered impeachable offenses.

That said, do I think any Russian ties could also be damning? Of course, but what would we find?

First starters, Trump’s bankruptcies destroyed his credit rating in the United States. There were few banks in the world that would give him loans. Deutsche Bank, which has been heavily fined, particularly by the U.S., was one bank that did give loans to Trump.

Speaking of Deutsche, there are some Russian ties there. As I was reading the article about Wilbur Ross, I found just how deep the financial corruption goes.

Now, no information on Trump could be complete without an examination of his tax returns. If Trump is in the clear — at least where Russia is concerned — he could clear up quite a bit by showing his returns from the last 3 or so years. We might learn he made far less money than he wants us to believe or we might just learn that he avoided paying taxes altogether. But if he’s (relatively) clean, what’s the problem?

Notice how this is similar to the DNC server argument.

Members of congress need to look at that in order to determine if there are holdings and business dealings with Russia … or if Trump needs loans from foreign powers, including Russia.

Is Trump willing to sell away Americans for Russian financial help? Oh, I bet he is.

And Trump’s noncompliance only adds to our suspicions.

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More Corruption from Trump and His Team

Mike Flynn is no longer an official part of Trump’s team, but his case should serve as a guide for future investigations. After it was revealed he was being dismissed, we learned more about Flynn’s work as a foreign agent. We are still finding more out.

Rex Tillerson and Wilbur Ross should be watched closely, too, because they have real ties to Russia.

In his capacity as CEO of Exxon-Mobil, Tillerson worked on deals involving Rosaprom, an energy company mainly owned by the Russia government. Also, Tillerson has a close relationship with Igor Sechin, a close Putin aide.

Ross is still on the board of the Bank of Cyprus, a financial institution in the mold of Deutsche which is patronized and controlled by Russian oligarchs. Ross also put Joseph Ackerman, the former head of Deutsche, as chairman of the board in Cyprus.

Deutsche had to pay out $7.2 billion in a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department for the issuance of fraudulent mortgage-backed securities during the 2008 financial crisis. Ackerman was the CEO of the bank during that time.

Despite all this information, Ross was still confirmed as Trump’s Commerce Secretary.

There’s your corruption. That’s where the members of Congress should look.

Additionally, Trump could declassify recordings of his transition team’s communications with Russian operatives. It there is nothing incriminating there, I see no problem.

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The Implications of Proof

What if it turns out I’m wrong and Russia was part of an influence campaign to sway the election in Trump’s favor? What if Russia literally “hacked” into our election and did more than just influence American voters? What should be done?

Should We Put More Sanctions on Russia?

I do agree with sanctions. It’s one of our best options. Money talks and hampering a country’s business in our country sends a powerful message. And if it turns out Russia was in fact out to sway the elections, we should definitely keep the ones we already have in place indefinitely.

In January, Obama placed a number of tough sanctions on Russia for its suspected role on our election. Before, he had placed sanctions on Russia for its actions in Crimea.

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Should We Actually Go to War with Russia?

What type of war would it be? Would we attack their computer systems?

No war option is optimal. For one thing, if we engage in a cyber-war, it will have far-reaching implications and put our systems in danger.

In the last post on the subject, I talked about the hack of the Estonian power grid. It turns out their systems were a little bit better than ours. If we were hit in such a way, we have no manual override mechanism to restore a basic level of power. We seriously need to work on our infrastructure and that includes our power grid.

Also, I’ll let it be known I am against more conventional wars. As I pointed out in my post about Syria, the United States is already engaged in at least five countries. The Iraq War along cost us over $1 trillion dollars and led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, including our armed forces and Iraqi civilians. In the month of March, American strikes led to the deaths of 300 civilians.

And don’t forget: Russia is also a nuclear power. In fact, it has more nuclear warheads (7,300; 2,600 are strategic)than the United States does (4,500; 1,500 are strategic). This is a case of mutually assured destruction.

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Here’s What I Know

American authorities should think long and hard about what they want to do and choose the best option moving forward. But they also need to examine the things the American government has done to make us less safe, especially in regards to Russia.

And it’s not pretty. In fact, some of it undermines the entire Russia argument.

Addressing Putin

Now, don’t get me wrong. Putin is a former KGB agent and he has spent the years after the fall of the Soviet Union consolidating power. I, like many others, suspect he wants to rebuild the Soviet Union anew with him as dictator. This was made clear after Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

This is the man who has had political enemies locked up and/or killed. I remember about Alexander Litvinenko, the former spy who was killed by the Kremlin in London. And I know about he had Anna Politkóvskaya killed in 2006, after another assassination attempt in 2004.

Politkóskaya was a reporter for Novaya Gazeta, the independent newspaper that has been covering the humanitarian crisis in Chechnya. There, Putin’s hand-picked leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, is behind a purge of gay citizens. Putin is looking the other way.

On these grounds, I don’t feel the United States could really be friends with Russia. But we can ill afford to antagonize another U.N. Security Council Member and nuclear power.

Addressing Our Own Malfeasance

American authorities should think long and hard about what they want to do and choose the best option moving forward. But they also need to examine the things the American government has done to make us less safe, especially in regards to Russia. And it’s not pretty. In fact, it undermines the entire Russia argument.

This does not excuse anything Russia has done, but the United States government has done things to undermine democracy across the globe. This includes operatives and officials interfering with other governments and our own elections.

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Interfering with Other Democracies

In December 2016, National Public Radio uploaded audio from an interview between NPR’s Ari Shapiro and Carnegie Mellon University researcher Dov Levin. The two discussed the United States’ role in interfering with other nations’ leadership.

Based on Levin’s research, the United States intervened at least 80 times between 1946 and 2000. By contrast, the Soviet Union and Russia only intervened in about 36 foreign elections in that same time frame. However, Levin’s information focused strictly on democracies.

During the course of the interview Levin said not all the U.S. interventions were “morally” wrong. For instance, in 2000, the United States worked against Slobodan Milosevic by aiding his leading opponent, Vojislav Kostunica, in Yugoslavia’s presidential election. Milosevic was a brutal ruler who was eventually sentenced to death for his crimes against humanity.

However, there were many bad interventions carried out by the U.S., including one in Iran. In 1979 the U.S. replaced the Shah of Iran, a constitutional monarch. Although this wasn’t a democracy, the U.S. and Britain helped mullahs to remove a leader who was pro-West, pro-Israel, and who had sought to lift up women, foreigners, people of different faiths, and the average worker. Now there are people in the U.S. who Iran as a threat.

Another intervention involved Honduras. When the constitutional, liberal government of Zelaya was being overthrown in 2009, the State Department worked to undermine that government, and prop up the “de facto” government. This was done by dragging out the mediation process, moving deliberations from the Organization of American States (OAS) to the San Jose negotiation process in Costa Rica, and essentially putting the coup faction on equal footing as Zelaya’s government. Now, Honduras is mired in violence.

Btw, one U.S. intervention led to Boris Yeltzin’s ascension in Russia.

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Rigging Our Own Elections

We already rig our own elections yet on one responsible has been punished.

The issue is complex, but here are a few things the Republicans have done to undermine the voting process:

  • Voter ID laws. These especially hurt younger voters and black voters.
  • This hurts Latinos, Asian-Americans, and African-Americans more than white voters.
  • Contracting polling places, especially in districts where non-whites are the majority.

In Georgia, one polling place was moved close to a police station in order to intimidate black voters.

The Republicans were emboldened to do this crap after the Supreme Court repealed key provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act in 2013.

Both parties gerrymander districts. For instance, Massachusetts has more Republicans but more Democratic members of Congress emerge from that state. Republican-led states like North Carolina and Texas gerrymander their districts to undermine the influence of minorities.

In 2016 alone, there were numerous irregularities. There were multiple reports that hundreds of thousands of voters mysteriously had their voting registration changed during the primaries. In some cases, voters reported that their votes were flipped to candidates they did not vote for.

The lack of security with our machines should scare you. There have been reports of machines flipping votes in machines testers have confirmed could be hacked.

In Pennsylvania, the machines have no paper trail. That means anyone could hack those machines and there will be no proof of how people actually voted. Any individual, party, organization, or country could conspire to rig an election for their chosen candidate and we will be none the wiser outside of exit polls.

If Russia can hack into our systems, that should be the least of our worries. Yet the problem would be much worse than we thought.

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What Democrats Should Be Focusing On

Democrats need to consider the implications of impeaching Donald Trump. They should also think more about what they need to do to win back at least one house of Congress in 2018.

Now, I’ve said all these things because I want to persuade anyone who reads this. I also want to so this Russia thing is a distraction.

It’s a distraction because there is no way Trump will be impeached by this Republican Congress. And even if that happened, it could be the worst thing to happen to them and this country.

The Prospect of a Pence Presidency

If you call yourself a liberal or a progressive the prospect of a Pence presidency should scare you. Do you honestly think Mike Pence would be better than Trump? He wouldn’t be. In fact, he would be far worse.

More Conservative Than Trump

For one thing, Pence is more of a conservative than Trump. The latter does not know how to govern and he is going with this right-wing agenda for the attention and approval. But Pence would does much of the same things and know what he was doing.

Pence promotes an anti-gay, anti-Planned Parenthood agenda. As the governor of Indiana, he signed a bill to allow private businesses to discriminate against their customers due to their religious beliefs. He also faced an HIV epidemic from 2014-2015 because he opposed setting up a needle-sharing program.

Pence Is Hawkish on the Budget … yet he is liberal when it comes to expanding the military budget. He is not against cutting funds for essential and important services. At the same time, he refused to cut the military budget, which would presumably be used for waging more wars and expanding others across the globe.

More Palatable Than Trump

Now, look at this video clip.

What does this tell you?

Pence is coherent and a great public speaker. And he is an Evangelical Christian. Conservatives could rally behind him and it will be hard to get rid of him, especially behind a Republican Congress.

You might not want to hear this, but keeping Trump in for the full four years may be the Democrats’ best chance to retake seats across the country.

You might despise this guy. He might make your skin crawl. You might even fantasize about putting him on a rocket and aiming that rocket at a meteor. But having Trump in the White House reminds the public of how bad his right-wing policies are.

Do you remember who was in Obama’s cabinet? How many of Trump’s appointments can you name? The truth is more people are paying attention now because they hate Trump that much.

The Democrats can get more people to unite against someone like Trump, who (to borrow a phrase from a TYT comedian), “Puts an ugly face on bad policies.”

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Democrats Need to Focus More Taking Back Seats in 2018

Another reason this Russian probe is a distraction is this: Democratics should be working on taking as many seats as they can from Republicans this year and the next. So far, there have been two special elections. One took place in Red-State Kansas. The other, in Georgia, will be decided in June.

So far, the Democrats have failed the test.

They paid little attention to the race in Kansas, where James Thompson lost after closing a 20-point gap against Ron Estes. Thompson received little attention and funding in that race.

In Georgia, the Democrats needed to win outright because June’s contest might be hard to predict.

And there are other problems the Democrats need to deal with. Right now, popularity for the Affordable Care Act (A.K.A. Obamacare) is at an all-time high, but more needs to be done to get more Americans cheaper, better health care coverage. There’s a bill in the House of Representatives and some of the party leaders do not want to sign onto it.

Health care has emerged as the number 1 issue in the country right now and some Democrats are ignoring the issue. That could be a mistake.

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Messaging

Beyond that, what is the Democrats’ message. They need to get behind a few issues (including health care, jobs, and net neutrality) and present a case for Americans to vote for them. What is the Democrats’ vision for America?

They need to say more than “I want to live in a country with equal opportunity” and say how they plan to pave the way for having equal opportunity.

For instance, I would like someone to address voter suppression and what we can do to stop it. Whether or not Russia directly interfered with our elections, the truth is the American election system is vulnerable and we need to fix it. Why aren’t we talking about that?

I would also like someone to address police brutality and what we can do to solve the systemic abuses in law enforcement. Should we decriminalize some drugs like marijuana and reduce sentences? What should we do to cops who abuse their power?

Another thing you can do is take the recording of Rand Paul saying it made no sense for Republicans to investigate other Republicans. Play that ad nauseum.

There you go, Democrats, those are some ideas. Was that hard? It’s not that hard. Go out and constantly talk to reporters to remind Americans of the dangerous policies being promoted by your GOP opponents. Also state what you plan to do to set things right.

Don’t just sit back and hope those Republican seats come back to you. Go out, talk to the people, listen to them, incorporate their best ideas, address their concerns, and seize the opportunity!

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Conclusion

I was always skeptical of the Russian allegations because of the implications and the empirical evidence. So far, there has not been enough shared evidence to sway me, especially where the U.S. intelligence community is concerned. And I suspect this narrative is being pushed by forces who long for another Cold War with Russia.

That said, a thorough investigation of Trump would definitely prove personal corruption on his part. I’m confident there will be more impeachable offenses uncovered. However, that impeachment is not a reality with this Republican Congress (at least at this juncture).

Beyond that, I need to see Democrats turn their anger and energy into fighting the Republican agenda. Americans are looking for good leadership and this is the best chance for Democrats to state their case. This Russia thing is distracting from that message.

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