Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Did Manafort's participation in the Trump campaign shape Donald Trump's views on foreign policy?

Today the Manafort trial begins. Whether or not he is found guilty of money laundering and tax evasion may not directly lead to Donald Trump. However, Manafort when he joined the campaign in 2016, there was a marked change in Donald Trump's Russian policy, from just a bromance and love of strong men changed to specific policies regarding NATO and and other issues which began to echo Russian foreign policy. For tracking that change, see a prior posting which was also published in the Sky Hi News in October 2017:

"Back in scrutiny is whether Manafort caused the GOP platform to be changed regarding Ukraine and arming the opposition to Russian backed rebels. http://www.clarionledger.com/story/opinion/columnists/2017/11/03/investigation-trump-campaigns-russia-collusion-may-focus-ukraine-connection/829702001/

Revelations from  Congressional hearings  into  Russian use of social media to influence the 2016 elections , Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s indictments of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and  associate  Rick  Gates,  and the guilty plea of George Papadopoulos  have been eye opening. Aside from the  implications for  the integrity of future elections  or charges of collusion is whether  the Russian connections  permeating Donald Trump’s campaign and his White House administration shaped Trump’s US foreign policy toward Russia.   The case could be made that Trump  was a willing dupe of Russian influence. The timing of campaign pronouncements that became foreign policy specific coincided with Russian connected staff and volunteers  joining the campaign  in the Spring of 2016.

Before Manafort and  Mike Flynn became key players in Trump’s presidential campaign, Trump was focused on admiration of Putin’s strong man management style. Many were calling this a “bromance”.  Trump has never  uttered one word  of criticism of  President Vladimir Putin. This has been an eyebrow raiser, to say the least.
In  the early months  of 2016,   when  Manafort and company and Mike Flynn came on board the campaign, Trump’s bromance with Putin’s autocratic style  of governing morphed into policy specifics which were similar to  Russia’s policy goals.   Manafort  joined the Trump campaign in March 2016 and was named campaign chair in April, resigning in August because his Russian ties had become more public.  Beginning in March 2016  Trump  on the stump began his anti-NATO crusade.  Putin saw the NATO mutual defense treaty as a barrier to expansion into NATO member countries such as the Baltics and Poland.  Lifting US sanctions against Russia and Putin’s  oligarch friends enacted  in retaliation to Russian takeover of  Crimea and Eastern Ukraine and interference in 2016 elections is believed to be Putin’s  goal.  Flynn resigned as White House adviser  when he was caught fibbing about  conversations with Russians about  sanctions.

Gen. Mike  Flynn , who had appeared  seated near Putin in a Russian Television  (RT) anniversary celebration,  became famous in Trump rallies for his  attacks on Hillary Clinton’s character  with his “lock her up” chant.  There is plenty of evidence that Putin also wanted Clinton to lose and  had blamed her for drumming up anti Putin sentiment in his  prior reelection campaign while she was Secretary of State.

In other policy pronouncements from spring 2016 through inauguration, Trump  supported  foreign policies that dovetailed neatly with Russia's, considering recognizing as legitimate the Russian grab of the Crimea, lifting sanctions against Russia,  calling NATO obsolete as a military defense alliance, demanding members pay more,  and  being fuzzy about whether Russia's ally Assad in Syria must go. None of those policies are in America's or our allies' interests since it weakens US allies’ ability to check Russian land grabs  in the Baltics and Balkans and increased Russian involvement in Syria on behalf of Assad. Later as President , Trump refused to back NATO’s stated purpose  to come to the defense when  NATO  member nations were attacked . He was forced to backtrack that as President. Likewise, his policy evolved  to stronger support of the pro west Ukraine government. Nonetheless, so alarmed was Congress that  President Trump would  lift  sanctions against Russia ,  this summer , 2017, Congress enacted legislation to prevent the lifting of sanctions and increasing them. .Trump signed the bill,  it but he  has ignored and  missed the  implementation deadline."

Playing fair with the American people

A revised and condensed version was published in the Sky Hi News August 7-8, 2018

The other day  my son asked," I know the Democrats  are against Trump, but what are the Democrats for?   I can run off Trump's campaign slogans by heart, but I can't think of one for the Democrats."  My first response," I can't name what the Democratic Party stands for either."  Even worse, I opined, Democrats, are about to blow a blue  wave if they get themselves tied up in this progressive v liberal v socialist stuff . Whatever they do, we do not want to make the same mistake the Trump people are doing,  only appealing to a narrow  base and hope they can frighten, fool voters with false facts, and bully the middle.  The overall message can have a theme, but the the message should be broad, positive and flexible enough to be tailor made and adapted to individual legislative races, since each district has its own particular makeup.

Giving it some thought, I noticed the issues supported by Democrats all have something in common: treating people fairly:  "Playing fair with the American people" could  meet those criteria I set up for myself.  It is not only the underlying foundation of Democrats' thought, but being fair is a better angel of American nature, a positive value  in sports and in life. Democrats should fight for fair and secure elections, promoting  economic policies that improve standards of living and quality of life for many, not a few, fairly complying with the rule of law and being truthful in  communications,   promoting opportunity and respect for others, and a foreign policy that is fair to our own national security interests, not others'.

While the nation is waiting for Mueller to finish his investigation and make his recommendations, this is a good time to formulate a message. Like it or not, the next two years will be determined by the Mueller findings, and if indeed what he finds about Trump himself  is no there there , where will the Democrats be? On the other hand, voters like to compare and make choices, too,  and if they find what the Democrats propose to be worse than what they have with Trump, that may lose elections.. The current Democratic party slogan, "A better deal", is absolutely non inspiring when no one knows what the deal will be or can even repeat it in a few words.. A deal that is nothing but a shopping list  to appeal to certain demographics and special interests is no inspiration.  The Democrats need to have a theme that puts their message in a context that is easy to grasp by the 60% who have been left out in the cold  and harmed by Trumpism.

 What is a given is that  the economy is appearing indeed strong in spite of storm clouds on the horizon of inflation, fall out from trade wars that will ripple across all sectors, and the debt that was increased to feather the nests of  the already rich and powerful. The beneficiaries have been spotty and the middle class is wising up they are not the ones who benefit and find they are paying more for health care and education, eating up  any minor gains in take home pay. For many, the impact of the tariffs is and will be felt from construction, manufacturing, and agriculture..   Resentment is already building  as shown in some key  state polls. Eleven days before the November elections will be the release of the third  economic quarter report and we are not sure what impact that will have. One thing is sure, the benefits of the economic growth have not been distributed fairly.

(Two points added to the Sky Hi News  published version that do not appear in this version published above on the blog;"There is an attack flipside to the slogan, too. For example: It "isn't fair" the President lies about the facts to persuade you he is right. It "isn't fair" he makes our health insurance more expensive and wants to make pre-existing coverage unaffordable. It "isn't fair "he drives us into debt by giving tax breaks to those who do not need it. Donald Trump claiming it isn't fair that media criticizes and fact checks him is the cry of a wannabe dictator, not the cry of someone concerned about fairness."....
"There is a looming danger for Democrats, too, Democrats, are about to blow a blue wave if they get themselves tied up in this progressive v liberal v socialist knots. There is no better way to shoot themselves in the foot and there is no better way for the GOP helped by Russian interference to pull the trigger than to stir the pot of Democratic divisions. Democrats need to emphasize what binds all factions of the party while respecting there are various ways to achieve the same results."

 Here is an example of   stump speech that might work.

The campaign slogan: Playing fair with the American people.: Democrats  will fight for ....

1. Fair and secure elections
        ( free from foreign manipulation; American elections for Americans
         hardened cyber and voting systems
         end political gerrymandering
         make it more convenient  for voter participation
         respect press freedom)
2. Fair economic policy  to improve  standard of living and quality of life for many, not a few
        ( affordable quality  health insurance
         protection of medicare, medicaid and social security benefits
          science based environmental protection policies
         tax policy that directly helps the middle class;
         wage increases
         trade policies that help, not hurt Americans
          relief for student loans
         affordable access to post high school education and  career training )

3. Fairly promote opportunity for all
        (civil and human rights
         humane immigration policy
         respect  women and their choices
         comprehensive immigration policy reform while securing borders)

4. A Foreign policy and national security that is fair to  American interest  but does not enable competitors or antagonists' interests.. It is not fair to Americans to go it alone without support of allies and alliances.
       ( Strengthen alliances
        support our intelligence services
        wise use of defense dollars)

5. Playing fair with the rule of law and being truthful in communications
      (Not fair to claim to be above the law but others must comply,  or obstructing justice, or lying to the public when facts are politically inconvenient)


Saturday, July 28, 2018

Why I am worried about American Democracy's future

A version of this was published in the Sky Hi News July 31-Aug 1, 2018

Thirteen years after World War II ended I spent my university junior year abroad in Berlin. It was a heady time for a US political science major wondering why what had happened. The Wall had not yet been built. I had conversations with survivors of the Nazi regime that seized control of democratic government with populist support and violence and now it lay in ruins. I saw first
hand how the Soviets used propaganda and violence  to consolidate control of their conquered once democratic eastern Europe.  I married a medical student from Yugoslavia, then a communist country headed by dictator Tito who had both popular support and who used brute force. We settled in the US, he became a US citizen, a respected doctor in private practice, active in civic and political affairs, and never taking for granted the freedom to pursue his dreams. We first visited Yugoslavia and his family in 1972 when the country began to allow  refugees to visit. We returned about every two years until mid-2015, when he passed away. I experienced Yugoslavia in their brutal Stalinist era, fear of a late-night knock at the door, their period of a more benign dictatorship that still forbad dissent, and their civil war for independence. Today Croatia is democratic and a member of the EU and NATO. 

I wish such painful histories on no one. Modern autocrats like Putin of Russia and Erdogan of Turkey have used some of the same techniques 20th century dictators used to turn democracies into dictatorships.  Donald Trump admires them. and adopts and tolerates some of their media and election tactics. 

Fair elections are the very foundation of American democracy. Media free both to criticize and to validate is one key. Security of election systems is another.  An informed electorate that will and can listen to all sides of public debate, sorts truth from fiction, and then votes while trusting the integrity of election systems can nip wannabe despots in the bud, allowing democracy to

Like his “strong men” idols, Donald Trump is no fan of freedom of the press or an advocate of elections secure from foreign manipulation. Instead he frequently denies Russians meddled on his behalf in 2016 and favors and consults with media who support his views. In October he threatened to yank NBC’s broadcast licenses whose news reports also include news and data unfavorable to him. He calls media "enemies of the people”, tags reports he dislikes as” dishonest”,” “fake “, lies, while fact checkers work overtime exposing his playing loose with facts.  Just last week he told a VFW audience, “what you are seeing and what you are reading is not what’s happening…Just stick with us.” 
He continued to call contrary reports, "crap".. Claiming there are no credible facts except those presented by the Leader (Hitler called contrary press, the lying press..Lugenpresse) is a tool wannabe dictators  have used to destroy freedom of the press. In fact, at campaign rallies some of Trump supporters aggressively chanted "Lugenpresse" at reporters.

He banned a CNN reporter from the White House for asking tough questions, said he was yanking security clearances of former intelligence officials who criticized him, and initially left out of official Helsinki transcripts Putin admitting he wanted Trump to win in 2016. 

We know from Mueller’s indictment texts, Russians in 2016 used many media platforms to intensify racial and ideological divisions to help Trump. They hacked into state election systems and political party sites, showing an ability to manipulate future election outcomes.

So why am I worried about American democracy's future?  So many do not care. A July 17 Atlantic/PRRI poll found only 22% of Republicans thought influence from foreign government in our elections was a major problem versus 68% Democrats; 40% independents and a subservient GOP House just voted down funding for hardening state elections systems’ cyber security.   Democracy is fragile, and its survival depends upon the dedicated support of the governed.  That support is weak and fractured.

A worrisome poll:

40% of GOP members are OK with Russian meddling; 11% welcome it. https://www.yahoo.com/finance/news/republicans-want-russia-influence-us-elections-202847050.html

Freedom of the press, concern about the rule of law, abiding by the Constitution, do not even turn up as a blip on polls of top voters' issues: .https://www.vox.com/.../2018-midterm-polls-policy...

A frightening poll;   https://www.esquire.com/news-politics/a22600827/donald-trump-supporters-believe-the-media/




Saturday, July 21, 2018

Trump dances to the Russian foreign policy tune on Montenegro

A version of this was published in the Sky Hi Daily News, July 25, 2018, https://www.skyhinews.com/news/opinion/muftic-trump-dances-to-the-russian-tune-on-montenegro/
Update: Jan 3, 2019
Rachel Maddow added two more examples of Donald Trump dancing to the Russian propaganda lines, as well as repeating the Trump remarks about Montenegro.  The two new examples are Trump repeating the Russian line attempting to create a fiction that Poland was going to invade Belarus and that Russians invaded Afghanistand because of terrorism, also fiction.  The Montenegro background is below.

Trump dances to the Russian foreign policy tune one again, this time immediately after the Helsinki one on one meeting with Vladimir Putin.  In an interview with Tucker Carlson on Fox, July 17, 2018, Trump said that NATO member Montenegro is an “aggressive” nation and he tried   to scare his listeners to believe it is a flashpoint for World War. III.. The implication is that the US should not come to its defense if attacked by Russia.   What a dangerous and ignorant position. "Aggressive Montenegro" has 625,000 inhabitants, less than the size of the City and County of Denver.  Its 2000 person army is only 500 more than Denver's police force. What they have is a fjord, the Bay of Kotor, the deepest and best warm water haven for submarines and military fleets in the Mediterranean area. Russians has tried throughout history to control it, including an attempted coup in October 2016 as Russia tried to thwart Montenegro’s membership application to NATO.  This spooked the US. National defense officials so much that the Senate approved their admission to NATO in 2017 to block Russian control of it.

The only flashpoint to World War III is if Russia took it over by force or by a coup. (it is far away from Russia' borders) in order to control the fjord. They tried and failed in 2016 and Montenegro saw its future in the West and sought NATO membership.  The only deterrent to that is NATO membership that would trigger a  response.. The aggressor is Russia, not Montenegro.  The best deterrent is NATO's pledge to respond and Russia's fear that we would.  Weakening that pledge would only invite Russia's attempt once again to grab the country and control the fjord. 

This is more evidence of Trump’s continued lock step support of Russia’s foreign policy goal to cripple NATO and to give the green light for Russia to march or sneak into Baltic and Balkan members of NATO as they did in Crimea, Eastern Ukraine, and Georgia. What national security interests do we have in the Baltics and Balkans? Those tiny countries, once part of the Soviet empire or sphere of influence, have warm water ports giving all weather direct access to the Atlantic and /or the Mediterranean. The Baltics with NATO troops at Russia’s border irritate Putin, too. If NATO falls apart, Russia can invade or stealthily take them over without fear that other NATO nations would defend them.

 Let us hope that this was not one of the topics Trump and Putin discussed in their Helsinki closed meeting. Did Trump promise Putin he would not invoke Article Five if Russia tried to take over Montenegro? The timing is highly suspicious since Trump had never raised the specter of his objections to defending Montenegro until just after this secretive meeting with Putin. For Trump to consider modern Russia under Putin to be our friend and not our foe is outright stupid and dangerous given Russia’s attack on our 2016 elections and their stealth or outright military takeover of eastern Ukraine, Crimea and Georgia. This is why what happened in Helsinki shouldn’t stay in Helsinki.

At stake is NATO and the reason for its being. is Article Five. A mutual defense treaty that declares an attack against one NATO member is considered as an attack against all allies and allies should rally in defense of their defiled member. Trump has gone out of his way to avoid pledging support of Article Five whenever he has been asked directly about it. That is extremely troubling.  He has fomented in his rhetoric and statements from campaign time until now the false notion that NATO is not important to the security of the US, and especially unworthy of our defense are the tiny countries of the Baltics and the Balkans. According to him, NATO only exists for the safety of Europe and we are doing them an expensive favor.   Our defense alliance with Europe has bought us seventy years of peace. Our isolationism from Europe bought us World War II. Our national security and Europe’s are still entwined.

The number of accusations thrown at Trump in the wake of Helsinki are many. Looking at the total picture of Trump's foreign policy that often advances Russian national security interests (breaking up NATO, trashing and refusing to commit to mutual defense of the Baltics and Balkans, and denying and obstructing investigations into Russian meddling and hacking into US democracy), I will add mine to the list: Putin's enabler. Whether that is treason, or Putin has a compromat on him, or he is Putin's useful idiot, a Putin puppet , a collaborator, a colluder, a conspirator, a traitor, much of that rests on the findings of Mueller. For now it is fair to say that he is an enabler of Russian security interests that rarely coincide with ours. Whatever we call him, we can be sure that this will fall on deaf ears of the lower 40% polled who still approve of him who forgive him of any transgressions and we can only hope that the rest of the voters are paying attention with open minds and wide open eyes focused on national security concerns and the preservation of American democracy.





There is a history that includes Paul Manfort and Montenegro.  Below is a blog post of March 2017 during the debate of whether Montenegro should be admitted to NATO. Pay attention to the Balkan Reports description of the strategic position of the Bay of Kotor and Russian designs on controlling it...far more important to them than grabbing Crimea.
The posts:

Update 4/12/2017: Pres. Trump agreed to admit Montenegro into NATO, expanding NATO.

There is a Russian/Manafort connection with Montenegro dating years ago, but before NATO is an application for membership.  At their first  NATO meeting during the time of the Trump administration,
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will not attend and will be in Moscow instead.  The Russian interest in Montenegro is historic.  Sen. McCain has been interested and knowledgeable about Montenegro and got embroiled over a spat with Libertarian isolationist Rand Paul. The spat got personal.  The following post is from a facebook posting recently.  The Manafort Russian connection is most likely the subject of the FBI investigation into Russian influence in the US Presidential Elections in 2016.

Per Balkan Reports, the impression of those in the Balkans is that Secretary of State Tillerson supports Montenegro's membership in NATO.  The entire Balkans are concerned with Russia's increasing influence and presence in their region and look at this as a way to counter this.

The Manafort/Russian/McCain issue  connection was described in https://www.thenation.com/article/mccains-kremlin-ties/

 The Bay of Kotor in Montenegro. that is one of the best in the Mediterranean which Russia has coveted for centuries. It is particularly suited for submarines.It is located directly across the narrow Adriatic sea from Italy. Russia had tried to stealth take over Montenegro by huge investments in real estate and energy. However, the situation is not simple in politics there, but bringing Montenegro into NATO is a historical opportunity to block Russia's attempt to grab the port there. It is far more important to US strategic interest because of the port than even the Ukraine or Georgia. Paul is the one looking unhinged; not McCain. So important is that port to Russia that recently uncovered was an attempt to assassinate the PM of Montenegro who was advocating joining NATO. Russia was using Serbian operatives.



Strategic importance of Montenegro to NATO, NATO wants to control the Adriatic and maybe in the future use it as a naval base

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.


Update: Jan 3, 2019  https://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow/watch/trump-curiously-well-versed-in-specific-russian-talking-points-1419581507654

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. https://www.factcheck.org/2018/07/calls-to-abolish-ice-not-open-borders/


https://www.eenews.net/assets/2018/05/11/document_gw_06.pdf    (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 factcheck.org. 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.