Sunday, April 23, 2017

Resistant to facts on climate? Wait – we have pictures

The word is that Donald Trump isn't much of a reader.

Former "Saturday Night Live" cast member Taran Killam affirms this – that then-candidate Trump "struggled to read" when preparing for a dismal guest-hosting of SNL last year.

That's OK, Mr. President. Research finds a broad swath of our population, up to half of us, is what University of Indiana researcher Larry Mikulecky first termed "aliterate" – able to read, but having no interest in it.

So, let's assume not that our president can't read, just that for him it is unnecessary.

Reportedly he isn't interested in long reports. He demands Twitter-sized explanations with lots of pictures and charts.

Granted, not every picture will prove illustrative to the reluctant reader in the Oval Office.

No doubt he saw pictures of the rivers of humanity on Earth Day -- hundreds of thousands -- protesting his anti-science, anti-environmental policies. (Sample sign: "I can't believe I'm marching for facts.")

Professional marchers, you know. Sad.

Women's March. Tax Day "Show Us Your Returns" March. March for Science. Next up: People's Climate March. Millions of people, all told. All pros, apparently.

Fortunately, we have other visual cues that might seem more compelling. If we could get them before Trump's nose, he might be a changed man.

Consider some before-after photos distributed by Associated Press showing now-decimated glaciers – among them the Trift in the Swiss Alps and the Mendenhall in Alaska. Ice built up over generations has vanished in the veritable blink of an eye: 10 years.

The same applies to glaciers around the world.

Depletion of the Gangotri Glacier in the Himalayas may be the planet's most grave matter. It is a key source of water for the Ganges River, which sustains more people than any river anywhere -- roughly a billion in India and Bangladesh.

I realize Trump believes this global warming stuff is a hoax, but something is melting those ice fields. Maybe the big-government climate cabal is sending professional defrosting teams up in the hills with hair dryers.

So what if global warming is happening? If it is, says Trump's anti-science brain-trust, just wear polyester instead of wool, and turn up the A/C. Also, wear scuba suits on the nation's coasts.

OK, so how about some other pictures? Let's try charts.

The publication Anthropocene Review charts side-by-side the respective acceleration of various earthly quantities – most prominently carbon dioxide levels – along with such things as ocean acidification, population, fertilizer consumption and water use. Every one shows a gradual incline until late in the 20th Century. Then, in great rapidity, the up slope is beyond dramatic.

And guess what? That stunning slope just about tracks the trajectory of Earth's surface temperatures in the same time period.

You may wonder what "anthropocene" means. It means that mankind is making a mess of things. For the last 12,000 years or so, we've lived in what scientists call a climatological sweet spot, the Holocene epoch, which followed the Pleistocene, when the planet's last ice age occurred.

Many who study natural history assert that with increased pollution and development, we have moved out of the Holocene into something they call the Anthropocene – "anthropo" for "man" -- an epoch in which human activities warp, degrade and dictate earthly conditions.

Yes: conditions no longer dictated by nature but by human nature.

Speaking of glaciers and those photographs that we want President Trump to see:

We can talk numbers, said American James Balog, who photographed the devastation, but nothing "touches the heart more profoundly (than) when you see it in pictures."

            All of which, of course, requires that one have a heart to be touched.

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

 

Monday, April 17, 2017

Fox News, the official state propaganda arm

It's a tradition in many militarized cultures, like turkey and cranberry sauce. First comes the military show of force. Then come the goose-stepping troops.

You may think this to be a reference to the goons of North Korea, or the vipers of Syria. It is. It's also a reference to "Fox and Friends."

First, Syria: Did you notice that Bashar al-Assad's air force was flying missions almost immediately from the airfield supposedly crippled by President Trump and 59 Tomahawk missiles? Actually, they barely dented the runway from whence Syrian planes fly.

And North Korea: What a spectacle. At every opportunity, Kim Jong Un demonstrates that "ineptitude" is the same in any language.

So, what's this got to do with "Fox and Friends"? Well, whatever Trump does, especially if it involves bombs, Fox News will salute with heels high and legs unbent.

Late-night host Seth Meyers, whose "Closer Look" segment is among the best and most informative commentary on the planet, said that with its sycophantic treatment of Trump, Fox News is "the closest thing we have to state TV."

Trump has tweeted plugs for Fox News shows and, without an ounce of vetting, passed on bogus claims voiced by specious Fox News "experts."

Then there's Trump's buddy Bill O'Reilly. Here's a man who, like Trump, knows that lies and bluster are how to build his base.

Two years ago NBC News banished Brian Williams from its lead anchor position for twisting the truth about his reporting exploits. That's what an actual news organization does when a matter of credibility becomes a distraction.

By contrast, O'Reilly missed not a second of face time when caught lying around the same time, saying he had reported in combat, which he had not, unless one considers combat to be trooping around with DEA agents in South America.

And now we know that Fox News dished out $13 million to women who claimed sexual harassment by O'Reilly. Having seen how Fox News founder Roger Ailes did the same in a spirit of entitled creep-itude, maybe O'Reilly believes that abusing women is the Fox News route to upward mobility.

Ah, but who should come to O'Reilly's defense but Donald Trump. Brothers in arms, with smallish, roaming hands.

Well, of course, he'd come to O'Reilly's aid. The man holding the early distinction as the most unpopular president ever has to be comforted by a 24-hour TV channel that affirms every offensive notion and every untruth he might utter.

The other day Trump invited his pals at "Fox and Friends" on a fawning White House tour, then praised them on the air.

When Trump took office, there was talk that the administration might expel the media from the traditional White House press room. This hasn't happened -- yet.

However, with the president assailing the rest of media as the "enemy of the people" while plugging Fox News at every turn, it might be efficient for Trump to kick 'em all out and invite Fox News to relocate its studios to the space and place from where an independent press historically has covered presidents.

Take another cue from Vladimir Putin, Mr. President. Russia has state-owned agencies like TASS and Ministry of Defense-run Zvezda television. They make sure that the people know what Putin most wants them to know.

The day after Trump did the only thing imaginable to improve his public standing -- drop the biggest non-nuclear bomb ever -- "Fox and Friends" led off with Toby Keith's "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue" while the detonation played in black and white.

Zvezda couldn't have done it better.

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Launching missiles from 'Oppositeville'

Wilbur Ross was misinformed, and he was sitting right next to the guy.

To watch the missiles fly, Donald Trump had assembled his inner circle to a cramped room that looked like a banquet nook at Benihana. Please pass the sak√©.

It was Mar-a-Lago, actually. Being at the new nerve center of western civilization, you'd have thought those assembled would get an accurate picture.

Ross, our new commerce secretary, was in the room. Here's what he said: The Missiles of April had taken out 20 percent of Syria's air capability.

Maybe the commerce guy doesn't have to be a numbers guy in this administration.

Because, it appears we took out not even one operative warplane with our 59 Tomahawks. We did, however, send several structures to Quonset hut heaven.

Indeed, the reports two days after the attack had Syria launching flights once again from the stricken airfield.

OK, it was for show. Apparently of the eight people we killed, none was Russian. Whew. This is because we warned Russia, which warned Syria.

Say what you will about what it will accomplish. John Kerry applauded it. He and President Obama had asked Congress for authorization to do it. Congress refused.

Among those urging Congress to refuse was Citizen Donald Trump. Over and over, he tweeted we shouldn't do exactly what President Donald Trump ordered, along with the chicken chou mein.

What a fine state of affairs. The least credible, most ethically bereft individual ever to have such authority now finds flinging missiles at sovereign nations to his liking, and the liking of cable news.

Months ago Citizen Trump said Obama should ask Congress to do exactly what Trump did without asking Congress. He didn't consult with other nations, either, except to advise that it would be done.

Boston Globe columnist Indira Kakshaman uses the term "Oppositeville," for the region between Trump's two ears. Saying one thing, doing the opposite.

Writes David Frum in The Atlantic, many will call Trump a hypocrite for this, but that's not accurate. The situation is far worse. A hypocrite says one thing "while inwardly believing another." Trump's words, he said, are "no guide" whatsoever to what Trump means.

Trump ran as an isolationist who railed against overseas military encumbrances. The problem for inflamed alt-right followers at the moment is that they listened to him.

In less than three months in office, Trump has ramped up bombing in Yemen after a botched raid involving special forces in which a Navy SEAL and dozens of civilians died. He's increased troop levels in Iraq and Syria.

Forget what he said. He has lethal toys, and he likes them.

Observed Phyllis Bennis, analyst for the Institute for Public Policy, Trump is an "interventionalist-isolationist" now.

The obvious contradiction in terms isn't what she means. She means that Trump is inclined to do his interventions in isolation. Solo. No diplomacy, no working with Congress or the United Nations or NATO. That's what she means.

Maybe we can hope henceforth that Trump will be consistent in a Trump way, reversing course: turning the Trump Wall into open space, welcoming desperate Muslim families to our shores, and finding room in his budget and his heart for things that actually help people not in his own income bracket.

As it is, we are to assume that massive cuts in environmental protection, transportation, the national parks, schools, climate science and medical science – all are money the military needs.

Maybe he has a point. The 59 missiles fired to destroy almost nothing cost $60 million, which is roughly a third of what Trump says we can't afford ($1.6 billion) for after-school programs for the nation's children.

Once again, however, we could all hope that we're being misinformed as to what the man is doing, like those in the room with him.

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

 

Monday, April 3, 2017

Democrats' obligation: Fight like hell

It's about the public record now.

It's about Coretta Scott King speaking from the grave to remind us how one-time judge and now Attorney General Jeff Sessions winked in approval from the bench at racist schemes to keep black people from the polls.

It's about our new Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos showing how little she knows about public education.

It's about the man charged with protecting the environment, new EPA chief Scott Pruitt, asserting that his chief role is to protect polluters.

All of these things, and more, we have learned in the hearings on Donald Trump's horrific personnel choices.

From them we have on the record the dubious thoughts of those dangerously positioned to harm their respective arms of our government.

For this reason -- although Judge Neil Gorsuch is a cut above, by Trump's abominable appointment standards -- the Democrats must fight his nomination with every ounce of their being.

They owe it to us all to have a long-needed conversation about two institutions in question, our highest court and our Constitution.

We know now how Gorsuch sided with a trucking firm that fired a driver for leaving his unworking rig while waiting hours for company help. His other option was freezing to death inside the cab.

We know Gorsuch sided with Hobby Lobby in its refusal to provide coverage for something its owners considered immoral – birth control – under the Affordable Care Act.

We know Gorsuch opposed the landmark Supreme Court ruling that caused one of the last great edifices of bigotry and discrimination -- state prohibitions on same-sex marriage -- to crumble.

Granted, Gorsuch is intelligent. He and has a commendable temperament. Trump could have chosen worse.

And that is completely beside the point.

The Democrats have to fight like hell, delay with every day, because the longer this matter is digested by the public, the more it will be aware of the stakes.

The last time the nation was riveted to matters like these was during the 1987 hearings for Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, rejected by the Senate. The proceedings provided a magnificent and compelling lesson in judicial philosophy. At issue was the same "strict constructionism" that makes Gorsuch a favorite of hard-right players like the Federalist Society.

In the Bork hearings, we found out that the right of privacy upheld for decades by way of the 14th Amendment's "liberty" clause causes many strict constructionists to break out in hives.

We also found out that these people hold the "equal protection" clause of the same amendment to apply only to the emancipated slaves that the authors had in mind, and not today to women, gays and lesbians, the transgendered, Latinos, Muslims or any other marginalized group.

If this stone-age philosophy does not apply to Gorsuch, he should disavow it. Does the Constitution mean "equal protection" for only a few? That how the Federalist Society reads it.

Keep talking, Dems. Keep resisting.

Remind Americans, particularly the nearly 60 percent who are offended by the Trump presidency, that the only reason the seat in question is vacant is because Republicans in the Senate subverted the very Constitution they venerate when refusing to have hearings for Barack Obama's choice, Judge Merrick Garland.

Democrats have to fight with every step and every breath the reign of the man who placed second in the popular vote and says he won by a landslide. Any mandate he claims is less than microscopic. They have to fight because in congressional district after congressional district, state after state, angry constituents are demanding that they not roll over and play dead.

With their calls and emails and letters to members of Congress, with their protests and marches, these constituents have gone on the record. We must put the Trump administration on the record at every opportunity, so no one will forget at the next opportunity to choose new leadership.

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

 

 

Monday, March 27, 2017

This health care stuff was gonna be sooooo easy

Act 1 of Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice" features a put-down of a hollow braggart who "speaks an infinite deal of nothing."

Sort of reminds of the merchant of Mar-a-Lago and his first act as a legislative mastermind.

"On my very first day in office," said Donald Trump in October, in full bray about the Affordable Care Act, "I'm going to ask Congress to put a bill on my desk to replace this disastrous law. And it's gonna be so easy."

Last week? "I never said repealing and replacing Obamacare would be easy."

Talk about the art of the deal -- an infinite deal of nothing.

How big a disaster was the attempted launch of the airship Trumpcare? Truly Hindenburg-style, just without, "Oh, the humanity."

Twenty-four million Americans now won't lose their health coverage, and in too many cases, their lives. I know, that's a bad, sad deal for all those people who have everything they need. If you don't have a gated, beachfront haven, get one.

Paul Ryan walks away, sullen, shaken, "so close" to the tantalizing prospect of tossing all those sorry sorts to the winds of the magical free market – winds from which the ACA rescued them.

The "so close" that President Trump depicted as enough to count on two small hands? It was closer to three dozen votes shy of passage -- this in a chamber firmly dominated by people who voted more than 50 times to abolish the ACA.

With utter consistency, all those times Ryan and Co. said they had a viable alternative for when President Obama could not spike their designs.

It turns out that the alternative they had for said occasion was a football-field-length rubberized bag of nitrogen.

Oh, the humility.

Ah, but none of that from Captain Trump. Climbing into the driver's seat, this "big law" stuff was basically confined to tooting a horn – his horn.

Reports had Republican congressmen tearing their hair out over his lack of involvement in the crafting of the legislation.

On CNN, Poppy Harlow and Chris Cuomo had David Jolly, a former Republican congressman from Florida, offer his thoughts on Trump's command of the details of the leaden flying craft that carried his name.

He told Harlow, "I think [Trump is] learning about his own health care bill listening to you and Chris in the morning."

Trump -- "I'm a very smart man" -- had an amazingly dumb observation when all went down in flames. Not a single Democrat, he complained, had voted to board his craft. Imagine that. The naiveté is, if we are permitted to use Trump's favorite Twitter lament, "sad."

Now he offers to the nation leadership in these statesmanlike terms: "The best thing is for Obamacare to explode."

How so? How about sabotage emanating from new Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price when he sees to what extent he can cripple the ACA?

And the Congress can make the ACA misfire by doing such things as it did in 2015 when Republicans snuck a measure into a spending bill to gut so-called risk corridor payments to insurers which kept them in the game of insuring high-risk Americans. This may be as much to blame for insurers' pulling out of the ACA as any functional flaw the GOP has assailed in asserting that it isn't sustainable.

They say the ACA can't work. Face it: It's done an amazing job, considering that for seven years Republicans in Congress have labored to keep it from working.

Disastrous debut aside, the hollow braggart and his kin are not done taking away Americans' health care, not by a long shot.

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Blind fury: F-rating for wreckage from Trumpcare

The Fujita scale is the "F" by which weather people rate tornadoes.

F-1: a carport down. F-5: whole city blocks reduced to grout.

We now lean on such comparisons in assessing the shades of disaster that would emanate from Trumpcare, especially compared with what Donald Trump claimed would happen.

Trump the campaigner said his plan would provide "insurance for everyone."

The Congressional Budget Office says that with this plan he would be off by only 24 million or so.

"I'm going to take care of everybody," said Trump regarding health coverage. "I don't care if it costs me votes or not."

No biggie here – only the difference between sunshine, lollipops and rainbows, and, oh, an F5 hellhound ripping whole houses off their foundations.

At this point we are way past assuming this president will say only what he knows to be true. But you would think the people he hires -- you know, his experts -- would.

And yet there was Gary Cohn, Trump's chief economist, telling Fox News, "If you're on Medicaid, you're going to stay on Medicaid."

That is only true if this monster of a policy shift can be blunted in the Senate. This seems increasingly likely.

A key reason is that some Republicans in states that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act won't consent to telling hundreds of thousands of their constituents to take a flying leap.

The same goes for senators in states that have considerable success with their health exchanges and where the ACA is working as designed.

Over the weekend, Trump was negotiating with the hardest of the hard in his party in making it more difficult for Medicaid recipients to receive the care they need.

Twenty-four million? Forty-eight million? Is matters not to the merciless. What the tea party wing wants is to wind the clock back to before a Congress and a president did something that actually helped working Americans of meager means.

Paul Ryan has spoken to the hearts of the heartless (always massaging that base) in explaining that the "fatal conceit" of the ACA is that it requires the healthy (and wealthy) to help insure the less healthy.

Yes, and that's what health insurance does in every case. The only difference is that, before ACA, insurers could refuse to cover the least healthy.

Another "fatal conceit" is that ACA requires all to participate – not like, say, insurance to get a home loan, insurance to own and operate a car, flood insurance in a flood plain, liability insurance to start a business. Yes, mandatory insurance.

Oh, by the way, some of that very same "conceit" is built into Ryan's plan, as insurers would be empowered to stick people with higher rates if they let coverage lapse.

Effectively there's no difference between that and the tax penalties for those opting out of ACA, except that the money goes to insurers and not to helping pay to cover people who need it. 

Here's something else that this ruthless storm force would extract: Damage to Medicare.

Take it away, AARP:

"Trumpcare raids Medicare to the tune of $275 billion and gives drug companies a $25 billion tax break – part of a $465 billion tax handout to the wealthy and health-care companies."

Medicare is one of those things Trump said he'd not touch, along with Social Security.

Of course, as with all those health-insured Americans he would blow off, we can expect the hardest of the hard in Congress to press for the diminishing of Social Security and Medicare benefits before their reign is through.

Forces of moderation must win in the Senate on Trumpcare. Then alarmed voters must work on ending the GOP reign in Congress in 2018.

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

Monday, March 13, 2017

From the mind of Steve Bannon? No, Mel Brooks

"My, how presidential."

For all those, including the reputedly lucid, who said Donald Trump "turned a new page" with a "presidential" State of the Union, the next page he turned was a bucket of brine right in the kisser.

You know now that as he left the House chamber his face turned south from what he'd just said, like a months-old infant getting that first taste of grapefruit.

Yecchh. Statesmanship tastes like death.

To cleanse his pallet: Almost as soon as the new, presidential-like Trump reached his porcelain throne for a Twitter break, he accused his predecessor of the crime of wiretapping him.

Later he would accuse President Obama of springing dozens of terrorists on the planet from Gitmo releases, though almost all of the releases in question came under George W. Bush's watch.

The "new, more presidential" Trump did these thing based on the kind of information children used to glean from the back of a box of Wheat Chex -- which is pretty much how he's been briefing himself throughout.

All of this brings into question the role of Steve Bannon. He's supposedly a smart guy. But nothing Trump has done as president emits anything that could be called smart.

Bannon's out as Trump's brain. Mel Brooks is in.

Trump clearly is doing what the movie-maker envisioned in "The Producers," in which two corrupt individuals try to make a quick buck by staging a play certain to fail.

Increasingly, we can be confident that this is exactly what Trump intends. The idea: be president just long enough to ramp up the price of his properties, ensure the economic future of his bumbling sons, sell Ivanka products, and bail out of Air Force One somewhere over the Arizona desert with a briefcase full of cash.

Yes, Trump is in a hurry to make things fail. Every appointee he's chosen is sworn to destroy the department from within. It's like the army enlisted in Brooks' "Blazing Saddles" to rough up the town of Rock Ridge.

Trump's taste and haste for wreckage is evident in what the House has proposed, and he's blessed, in dynamiting the Affordable Care Act, leaving millions of Americans strapped again to Big Insurance's railroad tracks.

Paul Ryan is in a bigly hurry offering something, anything, to set this plot in motion.

Hence, we see such commissary leftovers as health-care savings accounts, which are basically great for anyone with lots of money to save. This entree calls to the GOP buffet line like a filmy slab of lime-green Jell-0.

            This is bad policy that only exists because Republicans, who don't believe they should do anything whatsoever to help the poor, want to say they, in fact, are doing something. And this way they won't.

So, too, with Trump. He couldn't care less about the result. He couldn't care less about the losers at the raw end of a very raw deal.

Like the politically ambitious Hedley Lamarr in "Blazing Saddles," Trump is on the great ego trip. He wants to be famous, to be all-powerful, and the only way to do that is through destruction.

Blow it all up, man. Then you can retire on your riches and bask in acclaim from your kin.

We can see Trump inspiring his heinous appointees, and Congressman Ryan, and Sen. McConnell, with these immortal words from Mr. Lamarr:

"Men, you are about to embark on a great crusade to stamp out runaway decency in the West. Now, you men will only be risking your lives, whilst I will be risking an almost certain Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor."

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

Monday, March 6, 2017

'Flash! Russki device saps Team Trump of memories'

It looks like a simple fountain pen, but then: A flash of hyper-light in the eyes renders a person blissfully ignorant of what he did moments before -- remembering nothing. In the movie "Men in Black," it was called a neuralyzer.

Is that the kind of technology the Russians deployed to drain members of Team Trump of their memories? I'm thinking so.

Something sapped Michael Flynn of his memory. The ex-national security adviser foggily acknowledged meeting with Russian Ambassador Sergey I. Kislyak, but couldn't recall if they talked about lifting sanctions President Obama slapped on Russia for meddling in our elections.

Amnesia was the case, too, with Jeff Sessions. Under oath he said that, no, not once did he meet with that Russian before the election. Except, yeah, he did, at least twice.

At this point, reports are that at least five Team Trump members communicated with the Russian government before they had any authority (our authority) to represent the United States.

Even more eerie: In July Donald Trump said he'd never spoken with Vladimir Putin. Except he did that very thing in 2014, unless we can't believe the Donald Trump who bragged about meeting with Putin then.

Flash: Memories gone.

Many have theorized as to why Trump has a highly unnatural facial skin tone. The explanation could be repeated radial blasts from a diabolical memory-sapping Russian device: the nyet-ralyzer.

A lot is being made this week of what Sessions knew and when he knew it. That remains relevant, as the FBI is under him and all. However, the bigger story isn't over at the Justice Department.

The bigger story is in the memory of Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law who's in Trump's innermost circle. According to reports the president has not disputed, Kushner was at Trump Tower when Flynn met with Ambassador Kislyak. (In December, yes, before Team Trump was employed by you and me.) The Logan Act prohibits diplomacy by civilians on our behalf.

What did they discuss? I'm imagining that Kushner can't recall.

Did the president know about this meeting in the very tower in which he was preparing to transition to president? Might the president have moseyed down the elevator or into the next-door suite to exchange a congratulatory bear hug?

In the language of Twitter: This Kushner thing. Very big.

In the nomenclature of Watergate, this is Haldeman and Ehrlichman big.

As close as Kushner is to the president, for him to engage with the Russians illegally is like Pat Nixon sending the Watergate burglars on their rounds with cookies and finger sandwiches.

Now, if you are, say, Sen. Ted Cruz -- who uses his own food analogy for all this, calling this all a "nothingburger" -- you may be saying, "Hey, this Logan Act stuff is trivial. It's not a high crime. It's not even a misdemeanor."

Right.

Watergate started out with what then White House spokesman Ron Ziegler -- the Sean Spicer of the era -- called a "third-rate burglary." How, then, did it bring down a president? Mostly of a whole bunch of lies.

Here's what Trump said Feb. 16: "I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does."

As reports of actual involvement gurgled forth like a mountain spring, he intimated that anything to the contrary was "fake news."

Then when actual revelations and actual back-tracking by people like Flynn and Sessions came to light, he said the problem was leaks, and – this just in from Brietbart News Service -- wiretaps ordered by President Obama.

Be smart, Mr. President. Blame it on the Russians and their memory-sapping technology.

Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

 

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Big Faker and his big date with Big Data

Steve Bannon, the white supremacist-turned-squatter-on-a-president's-shoulder, says the Trump administration's war with the news media has only just begun, and it's "going to get worse."

Right you are, Steve. You just don't understand which side of the conflict will get the worst of it.

Donald Trump doesn't understand. Otherwise, he would cease using pimply-faced laments to explain away his problems.

He shrinks in the public estimation every time he uses the term "fake news."

Yes, every time a little more helium escapes from the polyurethane construct that he is.

Each time he says "fake news," he reminds skeptical Americans of how small he is, seeing the presidency as a battle royal in the sea of balls.

He thinks he is brand the press in his a childishly churlish way. Wrong. He is branding himself. "Fake news" is his baby, his trademark. It's the only coin that will ever bear this president's face.

Fake news? Think back to the schoolyard phrase: "He who smelt it dealt it."

The comeback is too appropriate. If anything has been a purveyor of fakery, it has been the lie-filled Trump enterprise, possibly abetted in the campaign by some genuine geniuses about data mining.

Read all about it in Motherboard, the science-heavy online magazine affiliated with VICE.

The report http://tinyurl.com/gvmob69 concerns the frontier termed Big Data, and the firm Cambridge Analytica, pioneering the craft of reading the minds of social media users.

The game is psychometrics, which uses a psychological profile from one's preferences to ascertain with uncanny precision one's tendencies, including how one votes.

Swiss reporters Hannes Grassegger and Mikael Krogerus write that it's done by mining one's online activities to measure what's called the "big five" personality traits: openness to new experiences, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. ("Are you easily upset?")

Cambridge Analytica, the writers assert, could have been the Trump campaign's ace in the hole in targeted messages to likely Trump voters, and in targeted messages to discourage potential not-Trump voters, suppressing the vote – truly music to any Republican strategist's ears.

(A pelt on Cambridge's wall: its contractual role in the campaign to pull Great Britain from the European Union.)

One route to our brains can come by way of "dark posts" on social media seen only by the targeted users – information, true or false, that either would further the fury in those potential Trump or Brexit voters, or seed ambivalence in others. (Cambridge denies using Facebook or discouraging the vote.)

Hard to know exactly what was being shared, but we can trust that most of it was specious or completely bogus. Yes, fake news.

No wonder the Trump campaign paid Cambridge Analytica $15 million for its services.

Oh, and who got a cut out of all that action? Steve Bannon, who sits on the Cambridge board.

Now, we aren't going to credit these activities with all the bad information that circulated on the Internet in 2016 like a kindergarten classroom recycling the sniffles.

Regardless of where it emanated, the most-viewed piece of fake news, based on a compilation by CNBC, was the Facebook post, "Pope Francis shocks world, endorses Donald Trump for president." Yes, that would be a shock for anyone who has read the pope's lips since Trump's rise.

Also on the list: "WikiLeaks confirms Hillary sold weapons to ISIS" and "ISIS leader calls on American Muslim voters to support Hillary Clinton."

Trump, too, was targeted by false allegations online. However, for him to make fake news from anyone else an issue is like Pringles accusing Doritos of being junk food.

One last, and very disturbing, thought: Cambridge Analytica, founded by GOP mega-donor Robert Mercer, reportedly is angling for contracts with several overseas governments. Will U.S. taxpayers one day pay to have their minds read by Team Trump's Big Data team?

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.