Monday, December 31, 2018

Trump Nation can't see out its own windows

            Fifty years ago, just before he became the first man to plant his feet on an astral plane, Neil Armstrong wrote that from space, one perceives "a much bigger universe than we can normally see from the front porch."

            "Perhaps going to the moon and back isn't that important," he wrote. "But it is a big enough step to give people a new dimension in their thinking – a sort of enlightenment."

            From space, all that is petty and provincial becomes microscopic. Southern California and South Carolina are of the same kernel. A big, beautiful border wall wouldn't rival a cat's whisker.

            As we enter a new year, more Americans understand that to yield to the petty is not what we as a nation are about. Not that the national mood is reflected in a cloistered chief executive holding the government as his very own hostage.

            Make America great again? What Donald Trump makes America out to be isn't that. Rather than the brawny hero of the downtrodden, his America is cramped, crouched and crochety.

            Forget Liberty's lamp. What Trump and his supporters envision is dimly lit: bars over opaque windows, narrow rows of limited goods inside, a faded '60s-vintage sign above the cash register pronouncing, "We reserve the right to refuse service."

            The America of Ellis Island embraced opportunity and diversity. The driving impetus of Trump's America is to plant a boot on an immigrant's hind side.

            Trump believes he speaks for America on these matters. Not even close. A solid majority of Americans – 58 percent according to a Harvard CAPS/Harris poll -- opposes his shutting down government to get funds for his border wall.

            It's curious to ponder those who think the wall is worth national paralysis. Who are they? Most are detached from a world of difference, living in rural areas and least likely to encounter "illegals."

            Look at the reds and blues of the presidential map and see that the most Trump supporters are where the least people are. Hmmm.

            They may be remote-minded, but they can still get Fox News on their satellite dishes and Rush Limbaugh on their A.M. dials. They live the very same drum-drum fear-beat that caused Trump to backtrack on a unanimous Senate resolution to fund government before the end of the year.

            The other day Trump and the Fox News fear merchants found something to justify their pitch: the tragic slaying of a California police officer, the suspect having fled Mexico.

           Imagine how much safer we might be if Republicans showed as much concern about the legally armed monsters who have cut down so many in schools, churches, synagogues, concert venues and more. But in the narrow rows of the cloistered shop that is Trump's America, the sale of firearms is always robust.

            The Limbaughs, the Laura Ingrahams, the Tucker Carlsons of the broadcast world want you to fear immigrants. Sorry, but all I can think of is the Spanish-chattering fellows hired by the roofing company to spend sweltering hours on my Texas roof one storm season as they worked to keep the next rain off my brow.

            Fifty years ago, with the space program, Americans had the opportunity to think bigger than this. Neil Armstrong hoped for a future of loftier intentions.

            "Hopefully, by getting a little farther away, both in the real sense and the figurative sense, we'll be able to make people step back and consider their mission in the universe."

             His musings had the ring of songwriter Julie Gold's "From a Distance":

            "From a distance there is harmony and it echoes through the land. And it's the hope of hopes; it's the love of loves; it's the heart of every man."

            Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

How Russian trolls toiled for Trump

            This certainly gives a new definition to "red state."

            A Senate report on Russia's pro-Donald Trump disinformation campaign reveals something so vast that its tentacles reached into places where, seemingly, no slimy caress was necessary.

            Like Texas.

            Submitted: A Russian-created Facebook page named "Heart of Texas" to facilitate foment among angry Texans, and to plug Vladimir Putin's favorite presidential candidate.

            That was just one parcel in a stunning social media tour de force whose influence spread from sea to shining sea.

            We speak of the Russian spawn called the Russian Internet Agency. The Senate report details how the troll factory set out, even before Donald Trump was nominated, to make him our president.

            No small enterprise: Try more than a thousand employees and a budget of $25 million.

            The Senate report details efforts aimed at encouraging Trump supporters to vote through a vast array of social media schemes, while discouraging and disillusioning others, particularly black voters.

            This included calculated posts to make on-the-fences voters think twice about supporting Trump's opponents, or voting at all. African-Americans were a key target.

            Whatever the cause, Trump had this to say about that about black voters:

            "They didn't come out. They didn't come out to vote for Hillary. And that was big."

            So, how did the trolls help? They created dozens of apparent African-American web sites and populated them with messages to encourage black voters to stay away from the polls.

            Meanwhile, says the Senate report, the Russians provided online messaging aimed at motivating progressives to vote for the third-party mirage that was Jill Stein. The trolls did not miss a trick.

            The report shows that the Russians' propaganda efforts floated past the eyes of some 120 million Facebook users

            Just as important were the 20 million Gen X, Y and Z users of Instagram it reached, according to the report. We'll never know to what extent guileful geopolitical players got young Americans to "vote for nobody" with messaging meant to tie their brains in knots.

            For those who might think the Russians sided with Trump only after he became their vessel to challenge Clinton, the report points to efforts to others in the GOP primary.

            A trademark meme of this effort was several posts identifying then-Trump rival for the GOP nod, Ted Cruz, as a "Trojan horse of the establishment."

            Oh, and the Russian trolls didn't stop their efforts after Putin's man was elected president. As soon as Robert Mueller set out to investigate Trump's connections to the Mother Country, the Russian Internet Agency set out to use its means to discredit him.

            This included bogus accounts that Mueller had ties to radical Islam (whoo, boy) and the Democratic Party, which is some trick, because Mueller is a Republican.

            Yes, this is what one calls actual, bona fide, certifiable fake news, as opposed to what Putin's choice, the Electoral College king, deems it.

            Back to the Russian trolls' involvement in things Texan: It's a little hard to figure out. As Texas Monthly's R.G. Ratcliffe explains, apparently the Russians thought that Texas was in play in 2016. Not exactly. But with that budget, why not?

            Regardless, the Russians mastered the language of Texas conservatives even before the 2016 campaign, with "Heart of Texas" calling for a ban on Muslim immigrants and the Texas' secession from the Land of Obama.

            As to why Russia sided with Trump to such a degree, and vice versa, maybe Robert Mueller can help us understand.

            Regardless, as Ratcliffe writes, the whole of the trolls' effort was to "reinforce tribalism, to polarize and divide, and to normalize points of view strategically advantageous to the Russian government."

            To this let us say, "Mission accomplished." In Russian: "Missiya vypolnena."

             Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:


Monday, December 17, 2018

Mr. President: How do you spell 'crock'?

           Similarities between Watergate and the slime-storm swirling around Donald Trump continue to stack up.

            It was there in the Dec. 10 tweet from the misspeller-in-chief: "No Smocking Gun. No collusion."

            Highly reminiscent, this is, of Richard Nixon's Nov. 17, 1973 claim, "I am not a crock."

            (OK. Let's not defame the dead. Nixon was a crook, but at least he could spell the word.)

            Yes, the Watergate parallels are staggering – starting with respective break-ins to steal from the Democratic National Committee – one with screwdrivers, one with Russian hackers.

            Then there were firings and intimidation to thwart a criminal investigation. Although Nixon never went around intimating pardons for those who didn't sing to prosecutors.

            Then there were the lies. Oh, and the supporters who didn't want to hear the truth.

            One who listened intently during the Watergate episode heard Nixon supporters in full throat for a time, ultimately resigned to mumbling about plots by liberals and, of course, the cursed media.

            Sen. Orrin Hatch most assuredly was one then. Now he makes a reprise in his depiction of blind loyalty:

            "The Democrats will do anything to hurt this president," he told a CNN interviewer.

            When the interviewer pointed out that Democrats aren't behind the criminal probes bearing down on Trump, Hatch said, "OK, but I don't care. All I can say is he's doing a good job as president."

            Mumble, mumble.

            Hatch speaks for many, of course. I'm going to ask those Americans if it was they of whom Trump was speaking when he said he could stand on Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and not lose their support.

            Those people today are saying that a man who worked for Trump for 10 years, Michael Cohen, doesn't know what he's talking about when letting us know what Trump knows and does.

            "No collusion," says Trump.

            "Nothing at the Trump organization was ever done unless it was run through Mr. Trump," says Cohen. Believe him.

            That would include the Trump Tower meeting with Russians. That would include Michael Flynn's pre-election promise to ease sanctions on Russia. That would include non-traceable hush money and "catch and kill" arrangements with a tabloid.

            As with Watergate, we even have tapes to affirm some suspicions.

            Yet, the rationalizations, echoes of Nixon-supporter grumbles, continue.

            How foolish Nixon's spokespersons look in hindsight, Ron Ziegler classifying Watergate as a "third-rate burglary" and the Washington Post of trying to "stretch (the burglary) beyond what it is."

            Yes, the enemy of the people – truth.

            Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Kellyanne Conway – the Disinformation Sisters – have lined themselves up to be remembered in history books in ways they don't desire.

            Non-Trump-aligned observers wonder, "How can they do it?"

            Good question. But the same question applies to all Americans who recite the Hatch oath each morning in the bathroom mirror: "I don't care. He's doing a good job."

            When it comes to lying, Trump is proving Nixon to be a piker. Indeed, he is executing a master strategy in which he makes falsehoods so plentiful as to cause minds to shut down.

            "Textbook Trump," explains a Washington Post commentary: "Tell one version of events until it falls apart, then tell a new version and so on – until the danger passes."

            Fortunately for the country, the brain-shutdown effect has not impaired Robert Mueller's team or the federal investigators in New York's Southern District.

            It's staggering. We now have investigations into Trump's campaign, his transition team, his foundation, inaugural committee and his presidency.

            And as Don Jr. knows full well, if he lied to Congress (what are the odds?), add the president's family to the list.

            Again, Sen. Hatch, the Democrats in Congress have had no hand in this. They will be in a position to lend a hand soon, however.

            Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Monday, December 10, 2018

Vote suppression: It's what Republicans do

            "Voter fraud is a felony!"

            So says the mega-decibel warning (did President Trump provide the punctuation?) posted in black and red in minority communities across the country.

            The billboards show how serious the Republicans who paid for them are about this stuff, more or less.

            We say "more or less," because when clear evidence of actual voter fraud presented itself months ago in a North Carolina congressional primary, Associated Press reported, "GOP officials did little to scrutinize the results."

            Now a whole election in a North Carolina congressional race in that same district may get tossed into the Dumpster over the very same concerns.

            The allegation is that GOP-hired operatives were going to the homes of absentee voters who hadn't turned in their ballots, offering to deliver them to polling locations and either trashing or altering them. The ballots, not surprisingly, were from largely minority communities.

            Another day, another scheme by Republicans to trash the vote.

            If that sounds broad-brush, it's because broad-brush tactics by Republicans have become so common in suppressing the vote, with people of color targeted.

            Such was the case when Brian Kemp, running for governor of Georgia while oh-so-conveniently also running the election as secretary of state, put in doubt the voting statuses of thousands of voters, the preponderance of them having black or brown skin.

            On and on it goes, this pernicious, anti-democratic gambit.

            Such was the case in North Dakota when Republicans made it difficult to impossible for Native Americans to vote due to the lack of street addresses in the reservation residences.

            Such was the case in Latino-majority Dodge City, Kan., where Republican officials moved the city's one polling place – that's just one place for a population of 27,000 – outside the city. (The average elsewhere in Kansas is one polling place per 1,200 voters).

            Such has been the case in state after state with restrictive laws that judge after judge has deemed to be targeted at people of color.

            One tactic the GOP likes is to limit the time voters have to get to the polls. The better to marginalize the working poor and those without transportation.

            Hence, among its grab-bag of power-grab efforts before a Democratic governor took office, one thing the Republican-controlled Wisconsin legislature did was pass a law to slash early voting schedules.

            The most abominable feature of all of these efforts is that they harm the constitutional rights of poor people, particularly people of color, and the Republicans know it. Indeed, they appear to thirst for it, though many colors are the future of the American electorate.

            The GOP, writes Jamil Smith in Rolling Stone, "has only one demonstrated strategy for competing in a browning America: Whiten it, physically and electorally."

            Harrumph if you will, but no one should be fooled by GOP vote-suppression tactics.

             Federal Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos was not fooled. She ruled that Texas' voter I.D. law, which is basically like so many GOP-written laws of its ilk, had the clear and tactical intent of discriminating against black and Hispanic voters.

            The law survived later appeals (another favorite tactic being to appeal and re-appeal rulings while elections continue to happen year after year) but no one should be fooled about its political designs.

            It's beyond ironic, now, that a party whose standard-bearer came into office squawking, without a shred of evidence, about illegal votes, now is embroiled in an actual vote-fraud imbroglio in North Carolina.

            As Paul Waldman writes in the Washington Post, reasonable people should all hope that in light of these matters, Republicans will "give up their repulsively disingenuous claim that their vote suppression measures are actually about 'voter fraud' and 'the integrity of the ballot' and just say, forthrightly, they don't actually care about voter fraud."

            Now, that would make a great billboard, with an exclamation point.

            Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:


Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Trump's intriguing definition of 'zero'

           "For the record, I have ZERO investments in Russia," said Donald Trump on July 26, 2016.

            That "the record" on which he swore was Twitter rather than, say, before congressional investigators, ultimately may prove beside the point.

            Trump was lying to the constituents he sought to serve as president.

            A question from a constituent: Why lie?

            As many a fact-checker attests, when Trump's lips are moving, untruth generally emanates. Some lies, however, are of more consequence than others.

            This whopper now has Trump "fixer" Michael Cohen pleading guilty to lying to Congress. Cohen, who was negotiating with Russian interests about building a Trump tower in Moscow (to be named Zero Investments Tower?), acknowledged misrepresenting the extent to which he and his boss were working with Russian interests on the matter.

            If Ken Starr went after Bill Clinton for the definition of "is," Robert Mueller now is interested in Donald Trump's definition of "zero." As every American should be.

            More important is for us all to understand why Trump would lie about it.

            After Cohen's guilty plea, Trump said of his Moscow dealings that "everybody knew. I mean, we were very open about it."

            You mean the Russian empire-building designs of which there were "zero"?

            Cohen admitted that the Trump Organization was pursuing the project as late as June 2016, the same month of the Trump Tower meeting with Russians meant to share "dirt" on Hillary Clinton.

            In written responses to questions from Robert Mueller, Trump has said he didn't know about that meeting.

            In his tower. Attended by his son. Attended by his son-in-law. Attended by his campaign manager.

            Trump didn't "know" about this – zero knowledge – until he dictated, aboard Air Force One, a letter providing a contemptuous story that the meeting was to discuss the adoption of Russian children – a tale that Donald Jr. later admitted wasn't true.

            Regardless, Trump has said that it isn't a crime to get dirt on an opponent.

            So why didn't he simply insert himself into the meeting, maybe have the speaker phone squawking? Did he have "Fox and Friends" to watch?

            Following this train of thought: If someone far away, on some couch somewhere, hacked into the Democratic National Committee's computer system, who wouldn't use dirt that emerged against the nasty, rotten Dems?

            Richard Nixon's boys were asking the same back before there were emails to hack.

            Trump biographer Tim O'Brien says that with Trump's trail of deception, "the unforgiving force of the U.S. justice system, which (Trump) has tried to undermine since becoming president, is encircling him." Mueller appears to have locked in, writes O'Brien, on the "fact pattern" of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

            This could include the apparent engagement of two key Trump insiders, Roger Stone and Jerome Corsi, with Wikileaks, the vessel for the sharing of those hacked DNC emails.

            Then there were Hillary Clinton's emails.

            "Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing," Trump said in a July 2016 press conference.

            That same month, Mueller asserts in the indictment of Russian hackers, those clandestine figures attempted to "spearphish" email accounts at a domain used for Clinton's personal emails.

            It's significant that the Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee has already wrapped up its investigation and concluded that, as Trump says, there was "no collusion."

            Democrats who will run that show in 2019 have more questions, though. One person they want to testify is the now-forthcoming Michael Cohen.

            Can Cohen be trusted? Here's what Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said, "Obviously, you have to be a little bit ginger with anybody who's been lying for a long time," while calling him now, "a truth-telling refugee in Trump world." Call him Patient Zero.

            Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: