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Guest: George Beebe of the Quincy Inst. for Responsible Statecraft...
By Brad Friedman on 8/2/2022 5:58pm PT  

While voters were at the polls for primary elections in six states (Arizona, Kansas, Ohio, Michigan, Missouri and Washington) on Tuesday, we take the moment to turn to foreign affairs for a hot minute on today's BradCast.

Happily, few problems were reported for voters at the polls in those six states --- at least that we could find so far today --- beyond another predictable failure of electronic poll books, this time across Mohave County, AZ, for about six hours when polls opened. More issues may reveal themselves before tomorrow, or thereafter, of course. Meanwhile, there are a whole bunch of far-right, Trump-backed, 2020 election deniers on the ballot today, with several running for critical offices such as Governor, Sec. of State and the U.S. Senate. All of which, if those candidates win on Tuesday and again this November, could cause very serious problems for democracy itself in 2024. We'll pick all of that up on tomorrow's show, with whatever noteworthy reported results may be available by then.

But today, we had the opportunity circle back to Russia's ongoing war with it's sovereign neighbor Ukraine, now entering it's sixth horrific month following Russia's invasion on February 24. If you follow most Western media, Ukraine's military is making valiant if deadly headway in pushing back at over-extended and exhausted Russian troops in the South, while Russia presses its offensive in the East.

If you follow Kremlin-controlled media, this is a war special military operation that can never be won by Ukraine, and continues to threaten expansion into a global conflict, including the use of nuclear weapons, as Russia takes great pains to note --- on an alarmingly regular basis.

But, it's not only Russian-controlled media suggesting the war is ultimately unwinnable for Ukraine. A number of foreign policy-centered Western media outlets and think-tanks have long argued similarly in a push for peace talks and a ceasefire in the now war-torn nation of Ukraine.

There was some good news this week, in that an agreement brokered by Turkey and the U.N. between the two warring nations last month has resulted in ships carrying Ukrainian grain finally able to leave port to deliver food around the world. Russian ships will also be allowed to do so through safe corridors established amid mined waters in the Black Sea. If the agreement holds, millions of tons of grain and other agricultural products will finally be able to flow from "the breadbasket of Europe" to help ease rising global food prices and the threat of hunger and political instability in developing nations.

The first ship to leave port on Monday was "loaded with two commodities in short supply: corn and hope," as U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described it. Beyond that, there is not much to be hopeful about in the protracted conflict.

Writing at The National Interest over the weekend, veteran foreign policy experts and former U.S. National Security officials Steven Simon and Jonathon Stevenson made the case for diplomacy. They called on the U.S. to help encourage a negotiated settlement by making clear to Ukraine that "Neither side can fulfill its maximal war aims" and they must find opportunities for peace talks and, if possible, a cessation of hostilities, despite Vladimir Putin's apparent disinclination to negotiate.

"It is well and good for the United States and its NATO allies to keep arming Ukraine. But it is also time to encourage both sides to start exploring possibilities for a political solution before escalation puts diplomacy even farther from reach," the pair conclude. "And unless the United States and NATO condition military assistance on Ukraine’s constructive political engagement, they will lack the leverage to work effectively towards a stable objective."

But is such a demand appropriate or even possible under the current conditions in the war torn nation? Isn't it up to Ukraine --- which has lost so much in blood, treasure and sovereign territory --- not the U.S. or NATO, to decide when and if Ukraine is ready to negotiate an end to the war?

Those are just some of the difficult and nuanced questions we discuss with our guest today, GEORGE BEEBE, Director of Grand Strategy (yes, I know, an ominous sounding title!) at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, one of our go-to think-tanks for smart, no-nonsense foreign policy solutions.

Beebe's is the author of 2019's The Russia Trap: How Our Shadow War with Russia Could Spiral into Nuclear Catastrophe. He served over two decades in the U.S. government as an intelligence analyst, diplomat, and policy advisor, including as director of the CIA’s Russia analysis and as an advisor on Russia to Vice President Dick Cheney. (Yes, we discuss both of those ominous matters --- his work with the CIA and for Cheney --- as well!)

Among the questions and issues Beebe speaks to today: His concern that there is no real exit plan for our current strategy, not unlike the lack of a U.S. plan when we launched the Iraq War in 2003; Is it true that there is no way for Ukraine to "win" this war? That the only way is via diplomacy?; Should it be up to the U.S. and NATO, who are supplying much-needed armaments to help Ukraine defend itself, to decide when Ukraine should negotiate towards a settlement? Or should that remain Ukraine's sole decision?; Does Russia even have an interest in negotiations?; What should we learn from their repeated reminders that a continuation of the war could lead to a potentially nuclear expansion?; And, since it's actually a somewhat related matter, what does Beebe make of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's controversial visit on Tuesday to Taiwan, and what effect is that likely to have on the Russia/Ukraine conflict?

"This is a very complex issue," Beebe tells me on the matter of the United States' own culpability in the matter. "Most foreign policy issues don't have single factor origins. They're usually the result of a confluence of different forces. What's happened in Russia's invasion of Ukraine is that it is the culmination of a series of developments, missteps on the part of a lot of different players over time, that all contributed to the situation that we're facing today."

"That doesn't excuse the Russians and it doesn't excuse Putin from making the choice to invade Ukraine. I think he is fully responsible for that choice, regardless of what preceded it. It didn't have to happen," he argues. But "Russia certainly has what I regard as understandable security concerns...That doesn't mean that the invasion was justified [or] that the manner in which this operation was carried out was at all justifiable."

"But I also would not say that Putin simply woke up in February and said, 'Hey, I would like to invade Ukraine.' There was a lot that went into shaping that decision, and I think a lot of blame on both the Russian and the Western sides."

As you can tell, there is much to discuss and try to make sense of with the Director of Grand Strategy at the Quincy Institute today. I hope you'll tune in for it!

Finally, Desi Doyen joins us today for our latest Green News Report, with more on the potentially "game changing" compromise bill hashed out by Senator Joe Manchin with Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer last week, to invest an historic $370 billion in incentives to help us move from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy in hopes of mitigating our worsening climate emergency; And, on the latest deadly costs of that ongoing emergency across the U.S., as Big Oil --- whose product, and decades of lies about it, are at the heart of the crisis --- declare their most profitable quarter in history...

CLICK TO LISTEN OR DOWNLOAD SHOW!...

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Guest: Dr. David Jefferson, formerly of Verified Voting, Livermore Nat'l Lab; Also: Biden on U.S. Taiwan policy; First Russian sentenced for war crimes; Russian diplomat resigns, 'ashamed' of nation's Ukraine lies...
By Brad Friedman on 5/23/2022 6:41pm PT  

On today's BradCast: You'd think by now they'd certainly have learned that insecure, un-overseeable (and thus, unverifiable) voting systems are a terrible idea in the age of phony claims of "Fraud!" by the MAGA Mob. But, apparently, Dems --- at least a bunch of them in the California state legislature --- never seem to learn.

First up today, however, a quick review of everything, happening everywhere, all at once. And specifically some critical news today from overseas. On that overseas news...

  • Joe Biden declared today in Japan that, "yes", the U.S. would intervene "militarily" if China were to invade Taiwan. That, he said, was a commitment made "even stronger" following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Other U.S. officials, however, say those comments do not reflect a change in U.S. policy. Okay...
  • In Ukraine, a 21-year old Russian soldier who says he was ordered several times by superiors to kill an unarmed civilian, before he finally did, was sentenced to life in prison on Monday. He admitted to the crime and apologized to the wife of the 62-year old man that he killed. In truth, he seems to be a young kid who had no idea he would end up in a hot war in Ukraine when he signed up for the military to help out his family. There are likely to be hundreds of more such trials in Ukraine given the number of documented war crimes we've seen over the past three months of this horrific war.
  • And, in what we hope is a blow to Russia's well-funded, worldwide propaganda regarding Ukraine, a veteran Russian diplomat at the U.N. office in Geneva, Boris Bondarev, resigned on Monday, declaring in a scathing letter to colleagues that "it is intolerable what my government is doing now." He describes how, over his 20-year diplomatic career for Russia, he has never been "so ashamed of my country", calling the invasion of Ukraine "not only a crime against the Ukrainian people, but also...against the people of Russia." He went on to deride "propaganda clichés in the spirit of Soviet newspapers of the 1930s" emanating from the Russian foreign ministry and charges that it is no longer "about diplomacy," but "all about warmongering, lies and hatred." This incredibly brave man concludes: "The Ministry has become my home and family. But I simply cannot any longer share in this bloody, witless and absolutely needless ignominy. Job offers are welcome..."

NEXT, in a whiplash inducing change of topic today, as primary season continues (with midterm elections on Tuesday in Alabama, Arkansas and Georgia --- and several important primary runoffs in Texas), we turn to the urgent matter of a new bill moving quickly through the California state legislature which would allow Internet Voting in the state --- or, as the bill deceptively describes it, "electronic Remote Accessible Vote by Mail" or "RAVBM".

The measure, Senate Bill 1480, sponsored by Bay Area Democratic state Senator Steve Glazer, is opposed by dozens of world class voting system and cybersecurity experts --- both groups and individuals --- and is supported only by a handful of groups, including Microsoft and a couple of disability rights organizations. Nonetheless, it passed out of California's Senate Appropriations Committee on Friday and will quickly receive a vote on the Senate floor as early as today, before moving to the state Assembly and on to the Governor for his signature, if it's adopted there.

Dangerous Internet Voting schemes have long been prohibited in California. But SB 1480 would remove that prohibition to allow it for use by "qualified disabled individuals" once the Secretary of State certifies an Internet Voting system. Until then, those individuals would be allowed to vote via fax, according to the measure. Opponents see the targeting of disabled voters as a first step toward broader implementation of Internet Voting schemes.

We're joined today to explain all of this by one of the nation's most prominent Internet Voting experts and opponents. DR. DAVID JEFFERSON is a veteran of Livermore National Lab, a former board member of VerifiedVoting.org, and a pioneer in research at the intersection of computing, the Internet, and elections for 20 years. He has also served as advisor to five successive Secretaries of State of California on technology-related issues, specifically on voting technology.

Jefferson explains today what a terrible idea SB 1480 is and why, detailing the many concerns about security of transmission over the Internet, lack of transparency, and how even fax transmissions now use the Internet to send and receive information which can be easily intercepted and changed during transit without either the voter or election officials having any idea that it happened.

The wording "electronic Remote Accessible Vote-by-Mail" in SB 1480 is, itself, "kind of a contradiction in terms," says Jefferson, "because you are no longer mailing a piece of paper back. After filling out the ballot on your computer screen or mobile device, you then click a button that says 'send back by fax' or some other electronic means. It inevitably travels over the Internet from the voter to the jurisdiction that is going to count it. So it's not a voter-verifiable ballot by the time it gets to the jurisdiction, and it's not meaningfully auditable because it's not voter-verified. It's subject to many, many cybersecurity hazards along the way."

"California has been a leader in not allowing any form of Internet voting. Some other states have copied that because they often look to California for leadership on technical issues," Jefferson observers, adding: "This would be, in my opinion, a giant step backwards."

"It's pretty clear to many of us that the long-term goal of some of the moneyed backers of bills like this --- and by the way, it's not just California, these bills pop up all over the country --- that their long-term goal is to open the door to Internet voting to all voters, if they can," he tells me. "They've tried before, and in some states they have succeeded, for some time, and it fortunately hasn't lasted. So yes, that's a realistic concern."

Bottom line, warns Jefferson: "If an election is attacked through the Internet, it's hard to even know that the attack has even occurred."

One would think CA Dems would know that by now, as they've tried over and over again (unsuccessfully, to date), to pass a measure that would lift the state's prohibition on using the Internet for voting or transmitting votes. SB 1480 is opposed by, among others, Brennan Center for Justice, California Voter Foundation, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Verified Voting, Public Citizen and some of our personal favorites like the Coalition for Good Governance, Free Speech for People, and Scrutineers.org, not to mention about a dozen grassroots "Indivisible" organizations and the Progressive Democrats of America. But, apparently, that hasn't yet been enough to slow down what will absolutely be a nightmare for California voters and others across the country, if this terrible idea becomes law.

The longtime election integrity advocates at Scrutineers.org have created an action page on SB 1480 at Scrutineers.org/California, with details on the legislation and steps you can take right now to let the state Senate, Assembly and Sec. of State know that this is a horrible idea for California, the rest of the nation, and secure, overseeable, verifiable American democracy itself...

CLICK TO LISTEN OR DOWNLOAD SHOW!...

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