Thursday, July 19, 2018

What was it like to be a visitor in a a country where Putin was once a KGB officer

A powerful post by my daughter Tanya Muftic in comment about travel guru Rick Steves's Facebook posting.:

When I read this exceptional post, I am reminded how glad I am that I have lived abroad and studied history. I was fortunate to study at Heidelberg University and was a Fulbright scholar in Vienna, Austria. I also traveled extensively behind the Iron Curtain in the 1980’s.
I don’t talk about my experience in East Germany much in 1983. It brings back horrible memories. But, it has shaped my world view. I was detained in DDR at a checkpoint in Berlin. Strip searched, interrogated, and barred from entering the country again (like I ever wanted to). My crime? I don’t really know. I know that I got asked about each entry in my address book. I was grilled for hours on why I spoke German, Croatian, French, and Spanish. I was yelled at and left alone in a room for hours with no idea what was happening. In my backpack I had a copy of Time magazine. That was a federal offense. I was eventually driven to the wall and escorted by Stasi to the border. Then I was forced to walk into West Berlin. I was crying the whole time. I was so afraid to speak of it. I think I became paranoid and always looked over my shoulder when in Germany.
The comments posted by Americans who refuse to take one of his tours should be ashamed. Why travel if you cannot open your mind? They are white privileged rich people is my only explanation for such ignorance. When our POTUS is the ugly American.. well you get my point.
We need to know the dark side of history. Rick Steve’s... I personally wouldn’t take one of your tours with such white privileged Trump supporters. I travel on my own. I am woke. I thank you for your comments.
Tanya Marie Muftic and 2 others shared a video.


KGB Prisons, Putin, and Trump
Rick Steves — at Gedenk- und Begegnungsstätte Leistikowstrasse Potsdam.
I was just all alone in a secret KGB prison outside of Berlin with ghosts of people once held there. If someone is held in a KGB prison, it’s probably because they are a good person, not a bad person. Alone in that prison, I couldn’t help but think of two presidents, Putin and Trump, talking privately for two hours about their power and how to wield it.
In the 1980s, a young Vladimir Putin was a rising star in the KGB, working right there in Germany when this prison was full of unjustly incarcerated people. Now, he’s Mr. Make Russia Great Again. He’s leading his country — with a cunning ruthlessness that impresses both his people and our president — back to a position of global strength after its fall with the implosion of the USSR.
Pondering photos of people broken here, solitary confinement cells, and what it takes to rule a people who are not really free, I wondered what motivates our president to admire autocrats across the globe. Fighting for democracy and civil liberties is messy and frustrating I’m sure. Perhaps brutal measures by autocrats who have unbridled power are more rewarding. People don’t get in your way. You see results strong and fast.
Putin helped run and organize a system of prisons like this back then and he runs his country with a similar heartlessness today. The cost is real lives. Broken lives. This prison is silent today, but its ghosts spoke to me. Its inmates were silenced by isolation. They could do nothing.
But we are not isolated. We can make a difference. Silence on our part, as our president cozies up to autocracy, is a choice.
If ever you’re in Berlin, and you need a little such inspiration, here’s my entry for this sight from my Berlin guidebook:
—KGB Prison Memorial at Leistikowstrasse, Potsdam—
Standing in stark contrast to all of Potsdam’s pretty palaces and Hohenzollern bombast, this crumbling concrete prison has been turned into a memorial and documentation center to the Cold War victims of USSR “counterintelligence” (free, Tue-Sun 14:00-18:00, closed Mon).
On the nondescript Leistikowstrasse, a few steps from the lakeside park, the KGB established a base in August 1945 (mere days after the Potsdam Conference), which remained active until the fall of the USSR in 1991. The centerpiece of their “secret city” was this transit prison in which enemies of the Soviet regime were held and punished in horrible conditions before entering the USSR “justice” system — to be tried, executed, or shipped off to the notorious gulag labor camps. While most prisoners were Russian citizens, until 1955 the prison also held Germans who were essentially kidnapped by the USSR in retribution for their wartime activities.
From the blocky modern reception building, you’ll enter the complex. In the yard find the model illustrating how this was just the inner core of a walled secret city which until 1991 was technically Soviet territory and run by the KGB. Then head inside the prison, where the hallways and cells are an eerie world of peeling paint, faded linoleum, and rusted hinges. The two floors host a well-presented exhibit in English, explaining the history of the building and profiling many of the individuals who were held here.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Trump's threat to NATO and its impact on Grand County 2016 and again in 2018

A version of this was published in the Sky Hi News, July 18, 2018.

It is rare that I repeat a column, but in the wake of Donald Trump's attempt to wreck NATO, leaving open the question of whether the United States would come to the aid of a country attacked by Russia, and his attempt to blame Obama for Russian hacking of the DNC, I am doing it.
This column was published in Sky-Hi News on June 24, 2016. It could have been written this month.
To update: In July 2016, an Australian diplomat warned the FBI of Russian hacking and the FBI opened an investigation. In mid-August 2016, Trump's campaign manager Paul Manafort was forced to resign because his Russian ties had become too public. He sits in jail now. In September 2016, President Obama ordered the FBI to launch a formal investigation, which the FBI kept secret until spring 2017.

(Update #2 July 18, 2018 from my Facebook powting:.not appearing in the Sky Hi News (yet)
This was posted before Donald Trump's meeting with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. We have no idea what he promised in that one on one meeting, but if it had something to do with NATO and US refusal to come to the aid of fellow NATO nation being attacked, heaven help us. There is also a current flap over letting Montenegro into NATO and a misconsception it is
a tiny worthless nation not deserving our protection.Don't be stupid. Montenegro posses a huge fjord that is a perfect warm water ship and submarine base in the Mediterranean, historically coveted by the Russians and is the entry way into Bosnia whose independence the US fought to preserve in 1991-5. Russians have already been reported to have interfered in their elections, too, and they have a large number of Serbian sympathizers in the northern part of Bosnia.).
The June 2016 column:
There are many in Grand County who have more than a passing interest in what happens to NATO. They still have family in eastern European countries that are current members of NATO and were once Soviet satellites. Lithuanians and Poles have settled here and have become respected members of our community. Those countries belong to NATO. Other Eastern European settlers in Grand County from countries not in NATO are Russians and Moldovans.
Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians (the three Baltic States) and Poles in particular must be looking at alarming statements from Donald Trump for his comments that "We don't really need NATO in its current form. NATO is obsolete … if we have to walk, we walk." Many look with raised eyebrows at the sometimes called "bromance" with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin called Trump "a brighter person, talented without a doubt." Putin reiterated has admiration of Donald Trump June 19 on Fareed Zakaria's CNN program, as well as asking why the West still needs NATO.
Trump's public assertion that not only is NATO obsolete, but their members are not living up to their promises to contribute. There is far more at stake than money.
"Russia is on the march in a seeming attempt to reassemble former Soviet satellites, restoring past glories. Russians also resent and fear their former neighboring buffer states becoming NATO members and permitting missile defense installations (even if the defense systems are turned toward the Middle East). Their grabbing or helping surrogates grab parts of non NATO members of Georgia, the Crimea and eastern Ukraine has been seen as a threat in particular to the NATO member Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. NATO was quick to move more forces to the Baltics in response as a warning to Russia not to mess with members of NATO. Without NATO, the small Baltic states in particular would be vulnerable to a Crimea and Ukraine like grabs, making Poland and Romania especially at risk. In his June CNN comments, Putin slyly ignored Russia's land grabs which would have answered his question of Why NATO?
There may not be a conspiracy involved, just a case of Trump's ignorance or isolationist advocacy or wanting to make a deal with Russia, but there is an interesting connection with his most inner advisor. It is his campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who was a political consultant to once president of the Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych. Yanukovych was attempting to stop some in his country who wanted greater trade ties with the West, while he was closely connected to Russia and wanted his country to be more connected to them. A revolution followed in 2014. During that revolution, Yanukovych fled first to the eastern Ukraine and now resides in exile in Russia.
Many in the United States' foreign relations community on both sides of the aisle look at Donald Trump's foreign policy with alarm. A particularly large howl was raised in a March open letter by 121 GOP national security leaders. George W. Bush's Secretary of State, Richard Armitage, announced this month, June 2016, he would vote for Hillary Clinton.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

The power of the unaffiliated is working for Democrats in 2018

A version of this was published in the Sky Hi News  July 11, 2018

Update July 11, 2018:When you hear Trump has 90% of affiliated Republican's support, he has 90% of a shrinking party..part of a trend but more dramatically since his election. GOP loss iof
their younger voters. Democratic Party affiliation has also dropped, but not to the extent of the GOP. Where did all the voters go? Unaffiliated. They rule.

Colorado just had its first "open primary", permitting unaffiliated to vote in a party primary of their choice. It benefited the Democratic Party turnout and gives  a preview of  the November 2018 outcome when all House of Representative and numerous  statehouse legislative  seats, some state and local officials,  and the governor are up for a vote. Our purple state appears to be turning  bluer.

 Nearly 38% of all voters in Colorado are registered unaffiliated and the rest are split somewhat evenly between Republicans and Democrats, with Democrats having a slight edge. What the unaffiliated do in November is key to the results. Many register unaffiliated because they are not very  loyal to one party or another.  The unaffiliated polled are  leaning more heavily Democratic.. The Democratic  party is relatively unified. There was no cross the board ideological sweep by  either progressives or more traditional Democrats, with both factions winning individual  state wide primary races in June.   There were issue  nuances, especially in education  (charter v public) and in  methods  and degrees of health care insurance access.   If the GOP in Colorado was hoping for an ideological split in the Democratic party to  give them a chance to waltz into the statehouse and local government, they will be disappointed.             .
What was very significant was the relative numbers of turnout  of those who voted in either party primary.  It indicates a greater degree of enthusiasm of Democrats and unaffiliated leaning Democratic in November. . A poll of 600 likely Colorado voters by Alabama based Republican firm Cygnal Research found that unaffiliated voters in June  planned to vote in the Democratic primary "in sharply high numbers than the Republican primary."  and had a negative view of Donald Trump. Unaffiliated voters also favor leading Democrats for governor than leading Republican candidates  in November 2018.  (Source: Durango Herald, June 26, 2018.)  Colorado based pollster Floyd Ciruli reported  in a recent Facebook posting "Democrats attracted 119,000 more voters than Republicans, and importantly, 65,000 more unaffiliated voters."

Our own Grand County voter registration by party affiliation is 22% Democratic, 38% Republican, 37% unaffiliated, the rest minor parties. This is a very red county. Since unaffiliated could vote in the primary of the party they chose , Grand County Democratic primary voters for governor comprised  45% of the total primary turnout. In comparison to the 2016 presidential election, 39% voted for Hillary Clinton. It appears that in June Democrats outperformed by 6% relative to 2016.. This shows Democrats turned out in greater numbers and/or more of the unaffiliated chose to vote in the Democratic party primary in June.

This should be a warning to both political parties in crafting their campaign messages it they want to appeal to the unaffiliated in the November midterms.  Do not be so extreme on issues you are out of tune with those who are not party loyal.   Nationwide, 70% do not want Roe v Wade overturned. That has implications for any GOP candidates who are voting to confirm a Supreme Court nominees. For those chanting abolish ICE, it sounds like they want us to  have open borders and no restriction on immigration (which is not what they mean: they do propose  kinder, gentler replacements), yet a January  2018 poll conducted by Harvard found that 80% of all voters said US needs secure borders.    (poll of Colorado voters January 2018)

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

On fact checking; "consider the source" is not an intelligent response to a fact check you do not like.

I have all kinds of Facebook friends, domestic and abroad, left and some
on the right. I often share fact checkers findings.and especially those from
both Pulitzer winning Politifact and a non partison university affiliated one at the U of Penn.
the Annenberg Foundation's Both are about as independent as I can find, calling out
both sides of the political divide, though the numbers of mistatements and fact twisting from the mouth of Trump are epic, and provide more fodder for fact checkers to ask: "is that really true?".
Fact checkers often cause me to alter my own conclusions in writing my columns and blog posts.
.My response to those who dismiss all fact checkers outright as biased is to challenge them
to present facts to the contrary with their own set and credible data sources and to practice critical thinking
Indeed, that is a distinct challenge for those who dismiss all facts as fake that are contrary to their beliefs. It takes effort. Too often
they resort to name calling and belittling the writer or speaker. "Consider the source" is not an intelligent response to a fact check you do not like.
. Debate the facts and present contrary arguments. That is the essence of good public discourse. I welcome such dialogue and the Facebook comment section provides that opportunity. .
All of my blog postings and columns are footnoted and sources of data and analyses I drew on to write these opinion pieces are linked to their web sites following the posting  with title similar to the column caption.
You are able to consider my sources there and you will find them eclectic, varied, and abundant.