Thursday, March 29, 2018

Creepy ways bad actors use the internet to influence your vote

A version of this was published in the Sky Hi News April 2-4, 2018

Update: Data breach affected 87 , not 50, million and Facebook will begin informing all customers whose data was shared with Cambridge Analytica.

In the text released   by Special Counsel Robert Mueller  of the indictment of the thirteen Russians who conducted active measures to influence  the 2016 US elections lay the kernel of a solution to a mystery that has been bugging me. The disclosure of the  use of Facebook by the British firm Cambridge Analytics is also illuminating. Both shed insights into how our social media  postings and email messaging are used by US adversaries and campaign strategists to target their bots, blogs, trolls, advertising,  fundraising, and effective comments to achieve their goals of increasing political divisions or to support their preferred candidates in America.  They have our thought profiles pegged and it is a darn creepy way to manipulate us.

I have a good friend who is not active politically, but she follows the news both on television and in  “news” that pops up when she is using email on her PC. During the 2016 election period she was getting advertisements or news reports that were very different from what I was receiving. I recall specifically a report that Hillary Clinton had conspired to do something quite outrageous sexually and I had never heard of such off the wall accusations anywhere.  How was it she was getting “news” I was not? Having been active in politics for sometime, my reaction was that she had been identified as a person who might believe this conspiracy theory or maybe it was to trick her to take the bait with her clicks to reveal or propagate her preference for president. She was being trolled.

Targeting individuals, party affiliation,  and certain members of demographic groups for messages to motivate them to act on behalf of a candidate or political organization is a long old practice, but  using social media and internet advertising has carried this art into a higher level , allowing political operatives more specifically to target those they want to reach.

The British firm Cambridge Analytica has been accused of  taking demographic data and examining psychological and ideological (psychographic) profiles from at least 50 million US Facebook account holders in 2016 to tailor make messages.The Mueller probe is investigating whether their information may have been shared with Russians and may into the Trump campaign's possible collusion.  The indicted Russians and their organizations were hacking and using social media in the US to better influence your vote or to get you to act on their behalf.    The Special Counsel indictment reported the Russian based Internet Research Agency wrote fake news articles and impersonated Americans on social media to manipulate people to  promote their agendas. Computational Social Scientists at the University of Southern California reported that American conservatives shared tweets and content from Russian trolls about 30 times more often than liberals right before the 2016 election.

Congress is calling the CEO’s of social media, especially Facebook, back to the Hill to testify to see if there is some sort of regulation that could keep your personal information and your thought processes revealed through  internet use more private.

Even in my blog, I have seen a dramatic uptick from questionable visitors to my pages. The Google based blog system I use tells me from which country my page visitor comes and what links were used to find the blog postings .  Last week my greatest “fans “were from Russia and Ukraine, equal each to my US visitors. That is a trend that has become more intense over the past three years. Most of my “fans” and visitors see my Facebook postings that link them to the blog with a simple click. Mystery solved.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

How Russia knows so much about America's politics

A version in this was revised, updated, and condensed in a later posting...Creepy ways bad actors use the internet to influence voters.......
In the   text released   by Special Counsel Robert Mueller  of the indictment of the thirteen Russians who conducted active measures  in the 2016 elections lay the kernal of a solution to a mystery that has been bugging me. The use of Facebook by the British firm Cambridge Analytics is also illuminating.  Both shed insights into how Facebook postings are used by active measure initiative and campaign strategists and spies to target their bots, blogs, advertising, and comments to achieve their goals of increasing political divisions or to  support their preferred candidates in America.

In addition to the column, I have a blog on which I post both the column and a much wordier draft/post from which I often edit,  update and use when I condense the column to approximately 550 words to be published in the Sky Hi News.

The blog site I use is a google based one which gives the me sources of my “fans” (site visitors) and the country from which the “fan” comes.    It also tells me what is the referring URL. Almost all of my “fans” come to the blog via Facebook postings. I have been blogging for several years and the top sources come from the United States, followed by Russia and the Ukraine and in the past month the Russian origination of those visiting my pages have nearly surpassed my US “fans”. Added to  the Ukraine fans (which could be either Western leaning East Ukraine Russian controlled West Ukraine) the Russian/Ukraine totals were nearly double the US page viewers. That is a trend I have noticed incrasing since 2016 and in the past couple of years, not an unusual happening. Most URL referrals are from Facebook postings. In short: my Facebook postings are being followed by Russians and Ukraine intelligence services. I do not have many Facebook friends with Russian names and  identified origins.

No one can mistake my opinions of not  being Russian friendly; I probably fall more into the hard line category.  However, I also write more about domestic politics and I have a policy on the blog also listing all sources of media or pollsters that I draw upon.  That, too, mght be of interest to anyone who would like to know what is influencing my thoughts.

If that kind of interest is shown in what I from a swing state, rural/resort small county, is thinking , it certainly is not because of the opinions I am expressing influences  so many votes. It is because they are interested in what someone like me with my background who lives in this kind of state thinks. I am a demographic member of the Silent Generation on the cusp with the Viet Nam protest era, but not necessarily one that always conforms to my age group.  My “hard line” on Russia is based on my experience of having married an East European refugee in the early 1960s and I spent a year in Berlin in studying there 12 years after the end of World War II shortly before the Soviets erected the Berlin Wall. I know dictatorships first hand and it has made me even more dedicated to protecting our American form of government.  My education as a political science major, combined with first hand experience with the alternatives, have made me even alarmed and more critical of the Trump administration and his autocratic tendencies than those less attuned.

I am writing this as a warning to those posting political comments on the Facebook.  You are being watched, not just by Cambridge Analytica but also by others. They may be targeting you
with fake news or any other view shaping postings.  The answer until Facebook starts naming the sources of advertsing and news postings on Facebook , know that whatever you write or post on Facebook is not kept private and could figure into other couintries’  intelligence services. It could also result in what kind of news you get posted on Facebook and how it is slanted.

Footnote: 3/26/18

Because of the misuse of Facebook by Russian trolls, scanners, and bots , I will begin only sharing with Facebook friends and not with the public. I will also no longer post on G+.  If you want to continue to receive my Muftic Forum and political postings, make sure you are listed as my Friends. Friend me. As an alternative, you can also be asked to be put on my muftic forum email distribution and do that by requesting it at .These are mostly columns and blog postings , but I am not forwarding other information or what I am sharing on Facebook.  If you want to receive my blog postings, go to and sign up. I just want to know who is receiving my postings and Facebook messages. You do not have to agree with me to be Friended or to have access to  the blog. Out of country USA "friends" are welcome, too. Unforutnately, other services from our allied nations may also be affected by my new policy.
I just want to know who is listening. I do occasionally use Twitter to alert those who receive my tweets that there is a new posting and a link but that is hit or miss.

What prompted this is a recent dramatic uptick in Russian and Ukranian visitors to the blog that have the source as Facebook and link to the blog that way. I do not know who they are. I do not mind to have them friend me. I just want to know who they are and how many. Also, there are many dropping Facebook for personal information security reasons. I am not one of those. My policy has always been if I do not want my personal information shared with the public, I do not post it on Facebook. I do want my political views and postings shared.

If this policy of no longer sharing with the public, but only with friends  reduces the number of my Russian and Ukrainian “fans”, I will know for sure that Facebook is how they tap into my thoughts. It is also possible that some of my friends are from those countries and share with  their compatriots. It will be interesting to see how this “experiment” changes the relative sources of my “fans”.

Last 30 days of blog page visitors:
Russia comprised 31% of blog visitors, mostly via Facebook links
United States, 30%

Ukraine, 25%

From the indictment of 13 Russians:

6. Defendant ORGANIZATION had a strategic goal to sow discord in the U.S. political system, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Defendants posted derogatory information about a number of candidates, and by early to mid-2016, Defendants’ operations included supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump (“Trump Campaign”) and disparaging Hillary Clinton. Defendants made various expenditures to carry out those activities, including buying political advertisements on social media in the names of U.S. persons and entities. Defendants also staged political rallies inside the United States, and while posing as U.S. grassroots entities and U.S. persons, and without revealing their Russian identities and ORGANIZATION affiliation, solicited and compensated real U.S. persons to promote or disparage candidates. Some Defendants, posing as U.S. persons and without revealing their Russian association, communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities. 7. In order to carry out their activities to interfere in U.S. political and electoral processes
28. The conspiracy had as its object impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful governmental functions of the United States by dishonest means in order to enable the Defendants to interfere with U.S. political and electoral processes, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Manner and Means of the Conspiracy Intelligence-Gathering to Inform U.S. Operations 29. Starting at least in or around 2014, Defendants and their co-conspirators began to track and study groups on U.S. social media sites dedicated to U.S. politics and social issues. In order to gauge the performance of various groups on social media sites, the ORGANIZATION tracked certain metrics like the group’s size, the frequency of content placed by the group, and the level of audience engagement with that content, such as the average number of comments or responses to a post. 30. Defendants and their co-conspirators also traveled, and attempted to travel, to the United States under false pretenses in order to collect intelligence for their interference operations

Sunday, March 25, 2018

The old order changeth, yielding place to new

A version of this was published in the Sky Hi News March 28, 2018

“The old order changeth, yielding place to new”

In Alfred Lord Tennyson’s classic poem Morte d'Arthur, these dying  words of King Arthur are his realization that there will be a change in generations with views different from his. This is what is  happening before our very eyes for this is the long term significance of the movement to which the Parkland kids have contributed. The kickoff event was March 24, 2018  March for our Lives. There are good reasons to believe the movement against gun violence begun by the Parkland students will have long term staying power beyond the 2018 and 2020 elections.These are troubling  implications for a GOP that yearns to return to the past.

The impressive turnout, very sophisticated political awareness,  and skills of the speakers left pundits scrambling to predict the near  term effect of the event. Was this the beginning of a movement that would change the makeup of Congress in 2018 or the White House in in 2020, or was it just a flash in the pan that would fizzle? There is a case to be made that this is a contuing  of generational changes and that in the very long term the color of American politics will turn bluer and bluer. The generation that the Parkland kids represent and the ones just two generations older, the millennials, and the Gen Xers, have much in common in their social and political values. They have bucked prior trends to become more conservative as voters  got older. Instead, they have remained or have become more liberal. Older, more conservative generations are dying off.

I am from the cusp between the generation born before World War II and the generation that experienced the cultural revolt of young people against the old order. The Vietnam War protests of the 1960’s  led to the embrace of the multi cultural vibrancy of the civil rights movement , of tolerance and inclusiveness of “others”, economic populism, environmentalism, the feminist movement, and a dedication to peace instead of war.

Like the Parkland kids, the Vietnam War  generation’s participation in politics was sparked  initially by self interest in a single issue. They did not want to be drafted .The Parkland kids are motivated by their experience of finding themselves at the  business end of an AR 15 and grieving for those they knew who met a violent, senseless death they themselves narrowly escaped. They helped the rest of their generation realize that all kids could also be in the same danger unless this epidemic of school shootings and gun violence  was stopped.

The millennial and Gen Xers are showing  no signs of becoming more conservative as they get older, per a recent PEW poll. The millennials had added more respect of gender diversities  to the trends. The more liberal values of inclusiveness and anti-violence were on display in the multi-cultural, gender diverse, and racial participants of this newest generation in the Saturday march event . Parkland students  were aware they were suburban kids of privilege but that the issues of urban gun violence in Chicago and other cities were closely related. They joined the two together, urban, suburban, in powerful statements, eliminating class, racial  and partisan divisions in a common cause.

Because of the kind of education they had received, training in media, journalism, debate, and stage performance, and their generation’s expertise in the use of social media, the Parkland students had the tools to carry  off the marches. They built on the organizational template of the women’s marches and the protest traditions of Martin Luther King. Their generation has unprecedented skills and experience that will translate into effective political leadership down the road and the continuation of political trends they represent.

Morte d'Arthur
“The oldest voters are the most conservative, white, and Republican, and the Just 27% of Millennials approve of Trump’s job performance, while 65% disapprove, according to Pew Research Center surveys conducted in Trump’s first year as president. Among Gen Xers, 36% approve and 57% disapprove. In Obama’s first year, 64% of Millennials and 55% of Gen Xers approved of the way the former president was handling his job as president.youngest voters the most liberal, racially diverse, and Democratic. There is absolutely no sign the dynamic is abating during the Trump years. If anything, it is accelerating.
“The most recent Pew Research Survey has more detail about the generational divide. It shows that the old saw that young people would naturally grow more conservative as they age, or that their Democratic loyalties were an idiosyncratic response to Barack Obama’s unique personal appeal, has not held. Younger voters have distinctly more liberal views than older voters...”

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Donald Trump has lowered the bar for future presidential candidates

. A version of this was published in the Sky Hi News March 19-21 2018

Donald Trump has lowered the standards for President of the US to such a degree,  any similar shortcomings of those who run for that office in the future will no longer seem so  important.

Before Watergate and muckraking investigative reporting, the personal sex life  of FDR , Dwight Eisenhower and JFK were not reported publicly until later by historians,  though their indiscretions were hardly secret among those in their closer circles. I live within two miles of Ike’s summer White House and locals  kept rumors to themselves.

I  remember painfully the ignominy  saint- like Jimmy Carter suffered when he admitted he had “lust in his  heart”. The cries of hypocrite ran out in then. How quaint that seems today.  In his memoirs of his early life I read Carter appeared to be a red blooded American young man like any other until he met the love of his life Rosalynn. They have been  married nearly 72 years.

Now running on cable is a story of my  once local Colorado idol, Sen. Gary Hart, a candidate for president who  was caught with a lovely on his lap on a boat named Monkey Business. I was disappointed and angry with him.   He had just deprived the United States of a very bright mind with great political judgment because his reputation of personal judgment  and his candidacy were flushed down the toilet. Ye gads, loyal wife Lee Hart and I had met while carpooling our children to kindergarten.

Ronald Reagan, movie star and America’s first divorced president,  was devoted to Nancy, his second wife .The Bushes, the Fords, and the  Obamas were beyond reproach.

Bill Clinton was another story, but even his dalliance with an intern  that got him impeached appears petty compared with the hijinks of Donald Trump and Stormy, Access Hollywood, and sixteen  witnesses attesting his grabbing habits were not an empty locker room boast. Even salacious unverified parts of the Steele dossier did not make a dent.  Any candidate who follows him will be immunized by comparison from accusations of having more than a wandering eye .

Usually a president represents a person who some young person can aspire to be. Ask yourself. Would you want your child or  grandchild to grow up to be like Donald Trump?

Donald Trump has lowered the bar on more than just  character standards for president. Any GOP candidate who dares use the the argument that such and such a social program cannot be enacted because it would create a deficit will not longer be able to  make that argument stick. Donald Trump in his second year in office has run up the budget deficit , highest since 2009 right after the great recession. He signed the bill into law when the GOP threw an additional  1.7 trillion dollars into the deficit hole with the tax cut to the wealthy. Try making that argument again. The guffaws from the left will drown them out.

It is no wonder in polls conducted by NBC/WSJ in January  that the most frequent words associated with Donald Trump were ’ disgusted” (38%), “scared” ( 24%  ), “angry” (11%), and that was before the Stormy saga.

The puzzle  is that somewhere between 35% to 40% of Americans  forgive him of his trespasses so long as he supports their social and cultural agenda, appoints fellow ideological travelers  to judicial vacancies, and satisfies political contributors. Per U Gov poll March 13, only one half thought Trump's Stormy affair was immoral. I imagine President Trump will weather Stormy, too.

Update: April 26, 2018
Especially forgiving his trespasses are the Evangelicals who have a great sense of their own righteousness. They, too, have lowered the bar for future candidates.…/why-evangelicals-still-support…/
In taking this stance,any future outrage by Evangelicals at an immoral, unethical, bully Democrat that does not support their agenda will not carry much weight or will not be taken very seriously. Imagine some candidate/l President, like Bill Clinton, who was
basically impeached for immoral behavior, would be attacked in the future for such behavior...the Evangelicals will be exposed as the ultimate hypocrites ..