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

By JIM SMITH
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

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/12/opinion/russia-meddling-disinformation-fake-news-elections.html?wpisrc=nl_fact&wpmm=1

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 www.GoldenREblog.com, 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.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

I'm drawn to post regularly about politics

I am recasting this blog as my personal blog, now that all my real estate postings are at www.GoldenREblog.com.  If you're not interested in what I have to say politically, you may want to unsubscribe!

The reason I feel the need to write about politics (and journalism) is that I don't feel that the Democrats and the media are doing a good job of providing perspective on what is happening, both within and about the Trump administration as well as other matters.

To give just one example, remember when Ford said they were going to stop making cars (except the Mustang) in America and concentrate on trucks and SUVs?  The media parroted that narrative, which might more accurately have been that "Ford is moving its car production to Mexico and elsewhere, except for the Mustang."  After all, I can't imagine that they won't manufacture such best sellers as the Taurus, Focus and Fiesta somewhere. The official narrative was probably designed to avoid criticism from Trump about moving manufacturing out of the country, and the media bought into it. The Democrats didn't pick up on it at all!

Regarding the Russia story, I have some background I can bring to bear, having studied Russian during the Cold War (in prep school), and having traveled to the Soviet Union four times - once in 1978 as a tourist with fellow MIT alumni, twice in the late 1980s as a "citizen diplomat" with the Center for Soviet-American Dialogue, and one more time as a businessman negotiating a joint venture with a Soviet ministry.  I have a perspective on the KGB's methodologies that many journalists lack.  I will be writing about disinformation then and now and even about sex as an espionage tool, similar to what was used against Trump during the Miss Universe event in Moscow.

So stay tuned.  I may be posting rather often, commenting on what's in the news -- and there's a lot in the news every day!

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

I Love to Write About Real Estate, But This Week It’s Personal

By JIM SMITH, Citizen
I’m writing this week’s column from the woods near Kalispell, Montana, where we are visiting Rita’s sister and her husband. Although I usually write about real estate, that topic is not top of mind for me this week. Instead, I’m going to write about what’s really top of mind for me these days — Donald Trump and the decline and fall of the America in which Rita and I grew up.
I’m paying for this ad space personally. That’s why I removed all branding in the printed versions.  The opinions I express herein are not those of the brokerage I own and manage.  None of my broker associates were consulted about its content and I know that at least one would disagree with what I write below.
What’s really on my mind as Rita and I take this 10-day road trip to Boise, Seattle and now Kalispell, listening to the national news and conversing with friends and relatives, is the sad state of our republic.
Since I am also writing this on Father’s Day, I’m also thinking about my late father, Abbott Smith, an old-school proper New Englander to whom integrity was everything. I can still hear Dad saying, “Just because other people steal apples doesn’t make it right for you to steal apples.”  I got my values from him.
Dad would be appalled that we have a president who, under the tutelage of his one-time lawyer, Roy Cohn, practices the principle that if you tell a lie long enough people will believe it. Also, that you should never admit you’re wrong. (Google the two names together or click here to learn about Cohn’s influence on Trump.)
Rita and I left on our vacation about the time that President Trump negotiated with his “new friend” Kim Jung Un after insulting his fellow G-7 leaders, including the prime minister of our country’s strongest ally and trading partner, Canada.
It was clear to me years ago that Donald Trump is a narcissist and bully, whose only interest is self aggrandizement and self promotion, even when it violates the emoluments provision of our Constitution. My lifelong Republican father would be turning over in his grave if he knew not only what Donald Trump is doing and saying but, worse, how the elected members of the “Grand Old Party” — most of whom at one time proclaimed “Never Trump!” (Google that phrase or click here to read the very long list) — have snapped into line with Trump because they think that’s how they can maintain what’s most important to them — their re-election.
How much further down this road must America go? The President, who says that military exercises with South Korea were “costing us a fortune,” ordered a military parade that will cost millions of taxpayer dollars that would be better spent on almost anything else. He was inspired by a parade in France, but such parades are really the trademark of Russia, China, North Korea and other dictatorships.  What’s next?  Oversized wall-mounted portraits of him in Washington DC?

Rotary’s “4-Way Test”

Every Tuesday we begin our breakfast meeting at the Rotary Club of Golden by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by Rotary’s 4-Way Test. I can’t picture this president beginning cabinet meetings with this declaration of “the things we think, say or do”:
  • First, Is It the Truth?
  • Second, Is It Fair to All Concerned?
  • Third, Will It Build Goodwill and Better Friendships?
  • Fourth, Will It Be Beneficial to All Concerned?
 Try applying that test to such Trump policies as separating immigrant children from their parents, while falsely claiming the Democrats made him do it.   Or how about denying climate change and removing all use of that phrase from EPA documents on the subject? What about imposing tariffs on our closest trading partners, while claiming falsely that trade wars are “good” and “easy to win”?  It’s hard to think of any Trump policy for which any one of those four questions could be answered in the affirmative.
Well-intended policies often need to be reversed, but Trump, as taught by Roy Cohn, will never admit he’s wrong, so he allows bad policies to stay in place when they shouldn’t, just to avoid admitting a mistake.  That’s why he insists on keeping nonsensical campaign promises he made — such as bringing back coal, quitting the Paris Climate Accords, quitting the Trans-Pacific Partnership, exiting the Iran agreement, or abandoning NAFTA, among others.  (The list is pretty long!)
As offended as we have been by so many of this president’s words and deeds, we’re also saddened by the lack of an articulate opposition by both Democrats and those once-moderate never-Trump Republicans.
Also, as a professional journalist, I am saddened by the attacks on the mainstream media as the “enemy of the people” (a Stalinist term) and by the use of the phrase “fake news” to dismiss honest journalistic coverage. The complicity of Fox News in this process is disappointing to anyone who knows and appreciates real journalism.
So what can be done about this situation?  Below are two “modest proposals” that I’d like to advance.

A Couple Modest Proposals for Saving America

It’s easy to criticize President Trump and where he is leading us, but where are the proposals to remedy this situation? Here are mine.
The first is for the Democratic Party to create what the British Parliament has long had and which I learned about in the 7th and 8th grades — a “Shadow Cabinet.”  
Wikipedia describes this pillar of British government as follows:
The Shadow Cabinet is a feature of the Westminster system of government. It consists of a senior group of opposition spokespeople who, under the leadership of the Leader of the Opposition, form an alternative cabinet to that of the government, and whose members shadow or mirror the positions of each individual member of the Cabinet. It is the Shadow Cabinet’s responsibility to scrutinize the policies and actions of the government, as well to offer an alternative program.
In most countries, a member of the shadow cabinet is referred to as a Shadow Minister. In Canada, however, the term Opposition Critic is more common. In the United Kingdom’s House of Lords and in New Zealand, the term “spokesperson” is used instead of “shadow.”
I propose that the minority party (currently the Democratic Party) designate political leaders to serve as Shadow Secretaries for each Cabinet department.  (How cool would it be if they recited the 4-Way Test when they meet as a group?)  The Shadow EPA administrator could focus his or her attention on the unreported activities and pronouncements of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. The Shadow Secretary of Energy could monitor the actions and pronouncements of Secretary Rick Perry, and the Shadow Attorney General could do the same regarding Attorney General Jeff Sessions. And so forth for every other Cabinet member. Their press conferences would be covered, including by Fox News, and provide information which is currently only being provided by investigative reporters who are readily dismissed by the president as “fake news.”  Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi simply cannot provide this service or play this role. Good candidates for a current Shadow Cabinet would be former heads or deputies of those cabinet departments.
I wish the Republicans had had a Shadow Cabinet during the Obama administration for the same reasons.  All sides would benefit from the perspective provided by a Shadow Cabinet.  It would serve to keep the “real” Cabinet and the President honest.  The worst part of the current situation is how easily the President can dismiss investigative reporting that is critical of his administration. If, instead, the reporters were covering the informed statements of department experts, it wouldn’t be as convincing when that coverage is labeled “fake news.” 
My second proposal is that some newsworthy opponent of the current president (likely a Democrat) announce his or her candidacy for President now instead of next year. Doing so not only provides a mechanism for fundraising (which is working well for Trump), but it also makes it possible to have full-fledged rallies (also working well for Trump) that would garner coverage by all the media, providing yet another avenue for turning the mainstream media  into reporters covering newsmakers critical of the Trump administration instead of providing the analysis themselves, which has only made them vulnerable to charges of partisanship (aka “fake news”).
Lastly, I want to reiterate that these are my personal remarks and not those of my real estate brokerage or its broker associates. I’m not worried that speaking out on this subject will hurt my brokerage or me financially, but if it does, I am willing to pay that price, and I will understand if an agent wants to disassociate him or herself from what I have written and leave our brokerage. Our democracy, our country, our future as a nation are too important for me to remain silent any longer about this president, his denial of climate change, his assault on the free press, and his total disregard for telling the truth.