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.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Retirement of Judge Kennedy: Democrats should go ahead and make a big stink.

The retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy and filling the vacancy will shape critical judicial decisions for decades. Senate Democrats have a choice: whine  their votes are not a big  enough stick to influence the outcome or to make a big stink. Making a big stink has some advantages for Democrats in November 2018 even if they fail to slow down replacement confirmation.  

At stake are Roe v Wade, affirmative action, campaign finance,  same sex marriage, and voter suppression, but whether the President can be above the law is the most critical issue the new court could decide. If Kennedy had an ideological center, he was a mild libertarian on social issues. Who replaces him is likely to be a hard line  right winger  on social issues, given GOP and Trump campaign promises. The list from which the Trump administration is drawing for their nominees has already been vetted for ideological and Trump support acceptability.. Every single one on that list is pro life ,very conservative, a Trump loyalist,  and young enough to tilt the court to the right for thirty years  since they can occupy that seat for their lifetime.

To get Neil Gorsuch through a closely divided Senate, filibuster was ended by the Republican majority during his vacancy filling  and a simply majority is all that is now needed  for the Senate to confirm..For the GOP this  opportunity to push forward to fill the Kennedy vacancy is  the icing on the Gorsuch cake. It explains why the Evangelicals have supported  the most immoral, dishonest , and inept president in our history.for their opportunity to guarantee  a socially conservative Supreme Court for decades to come. Expect the GOP Senate to push through the confirmation process as quickly as possible to act while  they have the upper hand with the votes.

Will fighting a losing fight be good for the Democrats?   On the balance, yes. While  their votes are not a big stick to affect the  GOP confirmation strategy, they can still make a big stink. The stink will certainly help Democrats in  state legislature races since strike down of Rove v Wade or all of the other liberal issues including gay rights, will put more  focus on  state legislatures and state houses.  If it increases Democrat's turnout, already polling as more enthusiastic than the GOP at this stage, it could help. However, it could also raise the turnout of social conservatives and the GOP and erase the Democratic enthusiasm turnout advantage. If Roe v Wade is the single focus issue,  Democrats should be cautious and tailor the fight to local circumstances.  On the other hand, support of Roe v Wade is so popular, that position could backfire on the GOP and intensify Democratic turnout  by women even more up and down the November ballot. 70% of Americans oppose overturning Roe v Wade and that is a fact  the Democrats can use to their big advantage.

 The   potential issue most  critical  to our democracy is what happens with Court rulings on  the Mueller investigation and whether Trump can be above the law. Donald Trump contends he can pardon himself or others in advance or refuse to appear and testify when subpoenaed.and  that he cannot be accused of collusion, either.  Those are fundamental  Constitutional issues. . By Senate approval  of a replacement to Kennedy with someone whose loyalty and ideology has already been vetted, means that the president in effect has chosen a juror loyal to him. That is the Democrat's best argument for delaying confirmation until after the November 2018 election  and the outrage of the majority will have a chance to be expressed up and down the ballot.Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) will be asking the nominee to recuse himself if these issues of presidential power come before the Court.

   How Democrats could move the court to the center to offset court stacking by Trump loyalists and extreme ideologues is to do what has been done in the past: increase the seats on the Supreme Court (FDR failed in his attempt for lack of support from his own party,  but others in our history have succeeded. )   In order to do this, Democrats must capture the White House and both houses of Congress in 2020. That backlash could  possibly succeed  if the GOP pushes through extremist ideologues or the court becomes their  6-3, 7-2  Court.  The GOP  devotees should be careful what they wish. A court so out of the mainstream of popular support of issues will be open to that threat. 
Top among those issues: gay rights and choice;both very popular with the majority of voters.  What wil become top of the issue list will be if the new court rules Donald Trump is above the law in issues of self pardon, immunity from criminal prosecution, and complying with the emoluments clause of the Constitution. At the very least, the revolt against such an extremist court would spread to elected officials running for office up  and down the ballot in 2018 and 2020.

I cannot conceal my bitterness at the Democrats who sat on their hands at home in November 2016 or voted for a third party because they just "didn't like either candidate". Fools. At best, this whole exercise should be a painful lesson for them. Elections have consequences.

On the 4th of July. Remembering why we celebrate it.

A verson of this was published in the Sky Hi News July 3-4, 2018

It is the 4th of July time.  Remember why we celebrate it? We are on the verge of undermining  the very essence of the reason it was declared, freedom from foreign interference and the right to control our own destiny without some foreigners telling us what to do.

 We fought the Revolutionary war, the war of 1812 to rid us of British control. We fought World War I and World War II to save us from German and Nazi control. We fought the cold war with the USSR to keep us from communism’s control,  and a hot war in Viet Nam. and Korea, too. But now, there is a very significant body of voters who do not care, welcome it because it helps their cause,  or are in denial of evidence that  Russians effectively interfered in the 2016 presidential election to help Donald Trump win.

. Only 43% of Republicans polled  in January  2018  believed Russians interfered in the 2016 elections.. A plurality of all voters surveyed  by Yougov in June 2018  called the Independent Counsel Mueller investigation  into Trump campaign ties with Russia  a  ""politically motivated witch hunt." Per  a Navigator research poll  May, 23, 2018,  59% of Americans did not know that Mueller has already obtained five guilty pleas and 17 criminal indictments. His final report has not been issued nor  has his indictment activities been completed. 

 Every director of our intelligence agencies  now  and previously in  office is warning us about  what Russia is doing to interfere in our election process, and is continuing to do so. It is the old divide and conquer strategy, using modern techniques and  technology, social media, the internet,  and disinformation to  intensify ethnic and racial hatred and political divisions within  a country. They hope to weaken western style democracies. Why?  Russia's reasoning: it would increase Russia's power and help them reestablish  control of  neighbors .Putin sees his national interests as threatened  or blocked by  expansion of  NATO and economic alliances and he supports  those who oppose such alliances. He views western democracies as weak and vulnerable to his manipulations.  There is plenty of evidence that Russia also interfered in recent European elections and the Brexit vote using the same techniques they employed to interfere in the US 2016 elections. 

Russian techniques and methods  were detailed publicly  in Mueller's indictment of thirteen Russians and organizations who conducted  active measures to interfere in the 2016 campaign. In summary, here is how they did it:  Russians  posed as Americans to operate bogus social media accounts, buy advertisements and stage political rallies. They stole the identities of real people in the US to post online and built computer systems in the US to hide the Russian origin of their activity. Tweets , false stories, and ads were  carefully targeted to those they identified as gullible and then retweeted, shared,  and resent  to millions in our country by unsuspecting US citizens who thought they seemed plausible and substantiated  to their own views. Their techniques were clever, cheap, and effective.  For those who would like to "consider the source" as a way to dismiss these charges and evidence , I challenge them to read the text of the indictments themselves at           .
It will be very illuminating.
As always, sources and reports are footnoted and listed at



Monday, June 11, 2018

A potential hammer against press freedom

So what will they use this data base for? Or will this become another Nixon enemies list. This is not an idle fear and the list can be used to protect us and it stands on the ready should some wannabe autocrat want to use it for his benefit. This calls for Congressional oversight, but that is a laugh given the GOP sucking up to Trump at every opportunity. It certainly will not be used to protect us from  Russian interference in elections since Trump sucks up to the Russians at all times. The U.S. ranks 43 of 180 countries based on press freedom, survey conducted by the non profit Reporters Without Borders.“ A media-bashing enthusiast, Trump has referred to reporters as ‘enemies of the people,’ ...has attempted to block White House access to multiple media outlets, routinely uses the term ‘fake news’in retaliation for critical reporting, and has called for revoking certain media outlets’ broadcasting licenses.”

Homeland Security is seeking a contractor to compile a list of both professional journalists and "top media influencers," which would likely include bloggers and podcasters, and monitor the "sentiment" they're putting out in public.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Why Spygate became Liegate

This is  revision of an earlier posting on the subject:

A version of this was published in the Sky Hi News, May 30, 2018

Update: June 8, 2018:
agrees: no spies...per Paul Ryan.

Last week Donald Trump lit a firecracker in the media, claiming the FBI had planted a spy in his campaign during the 2016 campaign and called it "Spygate, a scandal worse than Watergate". Spygate became Trump's lie- gate, Democrats charged, with good reason.
The challenge was for the Trumpsters  to prove there was a spy embedded in the campaign..just as they were challenged to prove that Trump Tower was wired by the FBI (still waiting) for political reasons. For that reason the White House called a meeting of its most devoted Congressional partisans, Rep. Devin Nunes and  Rep. Trey  Gowdy, to meet with the FBI and Department of Justice to get the evidence they thought would  justify Pres. Trump's inflammatory claims and to unmask the informant. After a great deal of feathers flying, eventually an established select group, "the gang of eight" security cleared bi-partisan Congressional  members, were invited for a second sit-down.
Spygate has turned out to be a farce after the bi-partisan group listened to the details of the FBI' s use of an informant, an American professor in England, to have conversations  in England with  Americans  about whom they already had evidence of connections to both  Russians and the Trump campaign during 2016. There was no FBI embed in the Trump campaign headquarters or staff. The purpose of the informant's use was part of the then ongoing investigation into the Russians' activities. The use of clandestine informants is a fundamental, common practice of our intelligence services and in the case part of an authorized investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign. 
The President tied this accusation about a spy in his midst  to his rhetoric that it was  being undertaken by "a criminal deep state"  and  his charges were quickly embraced and promoted  by his loyal  one-sided media brigades.  However, even those he appointed in the position to know, Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State and recently director of the CIA, said there is no such thing  as deep state in the State Department or the CIA  in testimony before Congress last week.  
That such a charge can be easily believed  by the public without any evidence is not surprising.  A large bipartisan majority feels that national policy is being manipulated or directed by a “Deep State” of unelected government officials, a recent Monmouth poll concluded. There is always been a wariness of the power of the federal government among citizens  in this country, as that same poll found.  
 But now we have reached the unhealthy stage of paranoia with many  ready to believe  the slightest bit of  unproved evidence  to confirm our worst fears or support Donald Trump.  This is  thanks to Donald Trump's demagogic  playing on these fears to protect himself when he is the subject  of a criminal investigation.  He had demanded  unmasking of the  informant and the disclosure of evidence uncovered in Mueller’s investigation of the investigators of him, the investigation’s subject. This is the mother of all mothers of  conflict of interests, because it could be used  to  get his supporters' stories in sync  in testimony  before a grand jury, or to prepare his defense. These demands  took place in the midst of an ongoing investigation  that flies in the face of every norm and rule in criminal cases. Such "disclosure" takes place after an indictment, not before.   As a sop to  put off Trump’s threats of firing Mueller and his boss,  Assistant Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, critics charge Rosenstein agreed to the White House demands for the  meeting and to order an inspector general’s investigation of whether  Department of Justice improperly surveilled the Trump campaign in 2016 for political reasons..