Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Facebook employees were embedded in the Trump Campaign

I remember it was disclosed that Facebook provided employees to help the Trump campaign make the most of Facebook's tools for targeting and reaching voters.  This wasn't scandalous because it's the kind of support that Facebook would provide to any big advertiser.  However, it would seem worth mentioning in the current context, don't you think?

Trump's Tax Returns

I don't understand why no one in the media (as far as I know) has asked Trump the following question:

"Okay, you won't release your 2017 tax return because it is being audited, but why won't you release the most recent tax return that is past audit?  Surely your 2014, 2015 and 2016 tax returns aren't under audit, or are they?"

Friday, November 16, 2018

Yes, the Russians Wanted Trump Over Hillary, But Their Real Goal Is to Divide Americans

Prompted by last week’s election results and the firing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, I’m taking a break once again from writing about real estate to write about politics. But my intention is to be more educational than partisan. Once again, as in my June 26th column, I am speaking only for myself and not for Golden Real Estate or its wonderful — and largely apolitical — broker associates.
As a professional journalist myself (trained at the Washington Post during the turbulent summer of 1968) and educated about the Soviet Union in boarding school as a student of the Russian language, I know something about what led up to the 2016 election that I don’t feel has been adequately conveyed by the media.
In addition to learning the Russian language from my prep school teacher, a Dutchman, I also learned about how the Soviets used information to control their own population, and how they used it to influence people of other nations. My education even included subscribing to the Soviet newspaper Izvestia, which probably put me on a CIA watch list back in the 1960s.  I also traveled to the Soviet Union in 1978 as a tourist and again in the 1980s three times as part of “citizen diplomacy” groups sponsored by the Center for Soviet-American Dialogue in Bellingham, Washington. After the fall of the Soviet Union, I made one additional visit to Russia, this time as a tourist, to Vladivostok, the Pacific naval port which is also the terminus of the famed Trans-Siberian Railroad.
From these and other experiences, I learned about the KGB, in which Vladimir Putin served with distinction, leading to his selection to succeed Boris Yeltsin as President of Russia. I’m speaking up now, because, unless you watched the excellent 2-part series “Putin’s Revenge” on the PBS program Frontline (Google it), you may not fully comprehend how the Russians impacted the 2016 election or recognize the activities they continue to engage in today.
I never worried that Russians colluded with the Trump campaign or tried to hack actual voting, because I knew that their tactic is to manipulate minds. It was the Russians who invented the terms “disinformation” and “kompromat” (compromising material).  I learned those terms in Russian class in the 1960s.
The widespread adoption of social media, such as Facebook, supercharged the Russians’ ability to influence “low information voters” — voters who aren’t well enough informed to detect fake stories intended to influence their beliefs and voting behavior.
The Frontline program showed how Russia’s Internet Research Agency has used social media to fire up both sides of any issue which has the potential of creating social and political division in America. They would seize on issues and events that were already dividing America, such as the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, and create social media posts both promoting and attacking what was happening.
Think about any event that happened in the past several years — such as the killings of blacks by white police officers, but also anything that would stir up the far right and/or liberals — and you can be sure that some of the social media postings appealing to each extreme were created by Russians working in the St. Petersburg, Russia, office of the Internet Research Agency.  Such postings then triggered other events — think mass casualty events — which in turn were exploited using additional postings. It’s a never-ending vicious circle. The Frontline program gave examples.
America is not the only target of Russia’s meddling with public perceptions and opinions. Russians are even more keen on breaking up the European Union and NATO.  Without a doubt, they did the same kind of meddling in European countries to stir up, for example, division over the influx of Syrian refugees.
The Brexit vote in England was probably influenced by a Russian disinformation campaign in that country.  And that makes sense, because what would Russia like more, given Putin’s commitment to making Russia great again, than to see the European Union weakened? Russia’s Internet Research Agency is probably at work stirring up nationalist feelings in every European country. Promotion of nationalism in America also serves Russia’s interest because it serves to weaken NATO and draw us out of other international agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
The bottom line, as I see it so clearly, is that President Trump has served as a useful tool — without actual “collusion” — for the aggrandizement of the new Russia under Vladimir Putin. And everything that Trump does to further divide Americans against each other, whether promoted or not by the Internet Research Agency, serves to weaken the United States’ position in the world, which, almost by definition, strengthens Russia’s position in the world.
In one of my “citizen diplomat” trips to the Soviet Union, I was struck by the fact that attractive young women were inexplicably introduced into some of the social events for our largely male delegation. When I heard about the “dossier” with compromising videos of Donald Trump the businessman with prostitutes — for whom I’d wager he did not pay — I suspected immediately that it was true. This and other “kompromat” could serve to keep our President from doing anything adverse to the Russian government.
It doesn’t matter whether the campaign to weaken the First Amendment by creating mistrust of mainstream media with the “fake news” label is inspired or promoted by the Russians. Trump is doing a good enough job at that, and it does indeed weaken our society and ultimately our standing in the world, which must warm the hearts of our adversaries. The trade war with our allies and other countries — except Russia, it should be noted — can’t hurt in that respect, either.
Ultimately, I have great faith in America, and I am heartened that one house of Congress will soon be under Democratic control, providing a check on the Republican Senate and the Trump administration. A crucial role of Congress is to provide oversight of every department and agency and to hold the administration accountable — something that the Republican Congress has declined to do lest it impact their individual political futures. Impeachment of President Trump is not necessary, however deserved it might be on constitutional grounds. It is sufficient just to have one house of Congress holding the rest of our government accountable for its actions.
Changing topics, it is common knowledge that more than 80% of the tax breaks in the Trump tax bill went to the very rich, with some relief to the middle class thrown in to garner popular support. Overlooked, however, is the impact on the non-profit sector. I’m concerned that Americans will donate less money to worthy charities as we approach the holiday season because of the doubling of the standard deduction. That one provision takes away the tax advantage of supporting charitable causes for a large number of taxpayers, but it is not being discussed.
I’m not letting it affect my own giving, but I worry that it could affect others’ giving, and I’m looking forward to some entity doing a statistical analysis of the tax bill’s effect on charitable giving this year and next.

New York Times 3-part series addresses origin of "disinformation" by Russians

Operation Infektion: A three-part video series on Russian disinformation

Russian Disinformation: From Cold War to Kanye
The New York Times

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Integrity in Politics -- Becoming an Oxymoron?

In this week's Real Estate Today column, which you can read at, I wrote about Golden Real Estate's commitment to "Hometown Service Delivered With Integrity." It was hard to stay away from making the point that one of President Trump's most negative impacts on society has been making political dishonesty "normal."

The biggest and most painful lie Trump tells is everytime he uses the phrase "fake news" to color news that is true but he doesn't like. One has to wonder how long-term the effect of his presidency will be.  We must return to honest discourse by our leaders and to honest appreciation of the hard-working mainstream media.

Another particularly painful development is how all those "Never Trump" incumbents fell right in line with him after the election.  Why? The simple answer is that they put their re-election above what they already knew was the right and honest thing to do.  An example is our own Colorado congressman, Mike Coffman, who vowed to "stand up to Trump" if he were elected. Not a chance.

In my column I spoke fondly about Rotary's Four-Way Test, but many Rotarians who recite the Four-Way Test at the beginning of every meeting support President Trump.  In my opinion, no self-respecting Rotarian who sincerely believes in and promotes the Four-Way Test could support Donald Trump -- just like no self-respecting Evangelical could... but they do!

Let's talk about climate change.  It is clearly the number one issue facing the world today, and its impacts are playing out with each new 500-year flood, out-of-control wildfire, or devastating hurricane.  Meanwhile, the EPA administrator has ordered the phrase "climate change" purged from the EPA website and has fired his science advisor.  How appalling is that?

It is evident that major damage has been done well beyond the walls of the White House in every agency of government.  It may take decades to recover from the Trump Administration, no matter how short we're able to make it with our votes in the mid-terms and in 2020.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Unemployment hits 49-year low, as ICE continues to deport tax-paying laborers

I keep waiting for the media or politicians to link these two issues. Back in January I reported economist Elliot Eisenberg's opinion that we can't grow the country's economy without more workers. It is short-sighted to take working people and force them out of the country.  These people, because they are working, are paying taxes -- including Medicare taxes that you and I benefit from and they'll never benefit from -- yet the Trump administration is deporting them, often leaving their American citizen children without their family's main financial support and depriving us all of needed service workers.  I'd like to see someone beside myself (and Mr. Eisenberg) point this out!

Meanwhile, our government allows foreigners to get student Visas so they can earn PhD's from MIT and elsewhere, then force them to take their knowledge and skills back to their home country.  I like the proposal of "stapling a green card to their diplomas!"

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Three points the media and politicians seem to have missed about Kavenaugh/Ford

Why are these things being overlooked or not followed up?

1) Kavenaugh said he didn't watch Ford's testimony but was "preparing his own testimony."  WHAT???  He was responding to testimony and the subsequent Q&A without watching it?  Inexcusable! The chairman should have adjourned the committee meeting until Kavenaugh had watched it.

2) In response to the idea that Ford's allegations were a fabricated political hit, isn't it interesting that Mark Judge's named was invoked by Ford? Sure, Ford knew Kavenaugh's name, but she also knew this person's name and that he was with Kavenaugh.  That adds to her credibility about the event.

3) The women allegedly targeted for sex by these Roman Catholics preppies were themselves Roman Catholic preppies, whose chastity was so important.  They didn't want to come forward at the time to say they were molested because to do so would have admitted that they had lost their chastity.  Losing their chastity was something that they, to a greater extent than with other women, could not bring themselves to admit.

Also, it should be noted that Ford was never active in a partisan way (or surely the Republicans would have pounced on that to say she was being used politically), so why would she subject herself to the death threats and other costs of persisting in her "civic duty"?  (Ditto for Anita Hill.)

Personally, I would feel better about Kavenaugh if he admitted to his teenage misdeeds and said, "That's not the man I have been since."  But here's a man whose job is to cherish and demand the truth.  He is wlling to lie under oath instead of admit the truth and ask for redemption as a judge with an unblemished professional background.  That is a current offense that should disqualify him from a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.