Monday, February 24, 2020

Will internet army save Putin's Pet troll?

             This just in: Another Trump administration official has been fired for committing truth.
            Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire has joined the ranks of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland, two FBI directors (Comey and McCabe) and enough diplomatic and intelligence officials to add a new wing onto Guantanamo.
            The thing is, Maguire was fired for sharing with Congress something we already knew: Russia has not retracted its oily tentacles from our elections in its bid to help Donald Trump.
            Yes, we already knew this. Or at least Robert Mueller knew it.
            "They're doing it as we sit here," Mueller told the House Intelligence Committee last July of Russia's attack on our democracy. "And they expect to do it during the next campaign."
            "It" includes hack-fishing for dirt about Trump's critics and political foes, efforts to infiltrate state voting systems, and a whole lot of disinformation to benefit Trump and Republicans through social media.
            It's interesting that Trump fired Maguire reportedly because the information shared by intelligence would be "weaponized" by Democrats.
            Interesting because the word "weaponization" is in the title of an important book about what Russia is doing: P.W. Singer's and Emerson Brooking's "LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media."
            Singer and Brooking describe Russia's exploiting a virtual world where "credibility doesn't matter" when people glom onto to information, and how Russian propagandists "drown their opponents in a firehose of falsehoods."
            These efforts are the fruits of the 1,000-employee Internet Research Agency operating out of the Kremlin.
            Don't assume that's the extent of Vladimir Putin's psy-ops army, for it contracts with people around the globe to click away just like any old Joe stirring the pot on social media.
            Those are the trolls employed by the agency. Then there are the internet bots, not people but auto-tweeters and Facebook auto-posters churning out messages micro-targeted at audiences deemed susceptible to 24-hour fakery.
            One target in 2016: black voters, the objective being to promote distrust in Hillary Clinton and stir the ambivalence to keep them away from the polls.
            Another device is so-called sock puppets, Russian-constructed Twitter accounts that look like just any old legitimate presence on social media.
            One such Russian sock puppet, a site called @Ten_GOP, identified itself as the "unofficial Twitter account of Tennessee Republicans." It featured 3,107 messages which, thanks largely to sharing by Trump, were retweeted 1,213,506 times during the 2016 campaign.
            Yes, well, they're back -- the Russian bots and puppets, trundling like tanks outside of Prague. They are back to help rescue the presidency of America's chief troll.
            Trump says this is all just Hoax City.
            Considering how conclusive the evidence is, it is just one more example of what criminologists call consciousness of guilt – when a suspect refuses to acknowledge stuff clearly affirmed by evidence and which points in his or her direction.
            Ah, but Trump knows how to change the subject, and will do so adroitly by the time you read these words.
            Since first taking to Twitter to tout "The Apprentice" and delighting at the attention-getting potential of social media trolling, Trump has issued more than 40,000 tweets, wedging his way into the public conscience as the Great Distractor.  
            Take it from a Republican media strategist, Kevin Madden, quoted in "LikeWar":
            "Trump understands one important dynamic: In a world where there is a wealth of information, there is always a poverty of attention, and he has this ability to generate four of five storylines a day. He's always in control."
            Voters must take control back in November.
            Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

Sunday, February 16, 2020

‘Tick-tock,’ says the Trump Corruption Clock

            I'm not one to judge body parts. Purportedly, however, Donald Trump has small extremities.

            Hands, particularly.

            Now, picture a clock: the Donald Trump Corruption Clock. The white-gloved hands – one bigger, one just small -- always point away from himself.

            Such busy hands. Tick-tock. Even the second hand comes into play. For in the Trump White House, corruption never sleeps.

            The Trump Corruption Clock will be useful over the next months as the hands tick down all the ways the most corrupt president in American history continues to cheat fate and evade the law.

            If Trump is not breaking the law himself, he's devoting his efforts to his covey of law-breaking chums.

            Most recently it was Roger Stone, the unrepentant Nixon Dirty Trickster who, like Trump, was tutored in crookedness at the knee of famed Joe McCarthy henchman Roy Cohn.

            Oh-oh, Roger. Did we hear that you were facing a richly earned seven-to-nine in federal prison? Well not so fast, people. To the rescue comes the chief executive with what he does best, a tweet-pout.

            Suddenly the Justice Department is backtracking, causing the Stone prosecution team to resign en masse.

            I invite any Trump booster to rationalize this end-run on the court system and the independence of federal prosecutors. You can't.

            This president has abused his office repeatedly to go after political enemies. Now he uses it to bail out his buds.

            This should not surprise anyone. Remember when Attorney General William Barr sought to undermine the work of Robert Mueller? That's when it became apparent that Trump had set dynamite to the fire wall between justice and petty politics.

            It was telling for Trump to depict Stone's crimes like the latter had been caught dropping a candy wrapper in the park. Telling because those offenses are Trump's as well.

            Stone, prosecutors say, conducted a "brazen attack on the rule of law" and "consciously, repeatedly and flagrantly" obstructed a federal investigation.

            Did someone hear an echo? Robert Mueller did.

            By review, investigators zeroed in on Stone as a go-between for the Trump campaign for damaging emails that Wikileaks obtained from Russian hackers.

            Does anyone think Stone wouldn't share this information directly with Trump? I didn't think so. After all, Trump openly pleaded, "Russia, if you're listening," about those emails.

            Now behold Michael Flynn, the man who wasn't even employed by you and me when he was negotiating with Russian emissaries about relieving the Kremlin of U.S. sanctions -- the first quid pro quo from a criminal cadre about to take over our government.

            Flynn, a hiccup served as Trump's national security advisor, faces potential prison time for lying to federal prosecutors. Don't blink. Barr has said the Justice Department will reconsider federal prosecutors' case against him.

            The bigger-picture matter -- Flynn's underlying offense against you and me -- was that his actions in dealing with Russians before Trump took office were illegal under the Logan Act, which prohibits private citizens from engaging in diplomacy.

            Again, anyone think Trump didn't know that Flynn was talking on behalf of and at the direction of the president-elect?

            Sen. Elizabeth Warren calls Trump "corruption in the flesh." Ah, but Sen. Susan Collins said she's confident Trump has learned his lesson after his impeachment.

            It's clear that Trump will use every second remaining in his presidency proving Collins wrong and Warren right.

            I always believed that the criminal justice system would have its way with Trump before the political system -- impeachment -- ever held him accountable.

            It is a blistering mark on this presidency to have been indicted by Congress on charges Senate Republicans didn't even bother to refute. However, what the criminal justice system has in store for Trump may be his career coda. Tick tock.

            Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:


Monday, February 10, 2020

What Trump can't stand about NPR: truth

           Mary Louise Kelly is the enemy of America, and Rush Limbaugh gets the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Yep.

            We can all play that game. OK, I'll try. Florence Nightingale was a serial killer. Idi Amin was a humanitarian. Now, you try.

            Not surprising that Donald Trump would use the State of the Union to award America's top civilian honor to a man who, among other things, fought with every membrane to convince listeners that, per industry dictates, cigarettes couldn't be blamed for cancer.

            I know, it's still just a theory.

            Limbaugh won his right-wing merit badge as a racist folk hero, with comments like calling Barack Obama a "halfrican-American" and telling an African-American caller to "take the bone out of your nose."

            By contrast, NPR reporter Mary Louise Kelly, a standard of expert and probing journalism, is the enemy – OK, the "f-ing" enemy. So said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in an eruption apparently fit for a rubber room.

            This came after the celebrated interview in which Kelly actually had the temerity to ask about what her listeners wanted to know – Team Trump's doings regarding Ukraine. This apparently did not comport with specifications laid out by the head snowflake in the State Department.

            The denunciation of Kelly and NPR, of course – guilty of pursuing facts -- is roundly supported by a president whose every day is a lather of lies.

            So of course he would retweet a conservative commentator's, "Why do we still have NPR?"

            Because Trump and NPR are in diametrically opposite businesses. NPR is about informing people in the public interest. Trump is about misleading people in his self-interest.

            Here's another reason why NPR still exists: Because people support it. And no, not just with the relative pittance of tax dollars it receives. NPR gets less than 1 percent of its funding from the federal Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The rest, as NPR says, is from its listeners and underwriters.

            Some background: The Corporation for Public Broadcasting was created in the '60s as a parcel of the Great Society anti-poverty programs, which included a multi-media educational component aimed at uplifting the masses.

            From this we have events, live-streamed or on television and radio. Jewels such as travel, gardening and news programs:  "Sesame Street," "American Experience," "All Things Considered," "Science Friday," and "Prairie Home Companion." All told, a shower of riches.

            Among those offerings: unblinking coverage and analysis of the impeachment proceedings.

            Republicans have consistently voted to defund NPR and PBS sometimes criticizing them as liberalism incarnate and otherwise saying we can't afford them. Ahem. The entire Corporation for Public Broadcasting's federal allocation of $445 million last year wouldn't pay for one-fourth of a stealth bomber.

            Opponents of taxpayer dollars going to NPR and PBS say they can support themselves. No doubt they could. But their essence would be altered to the great detriment of consumers of information they can trust and a wide range of other listening and viewing pleasures.

            Back to Pompeo, who reportedly asked Kelly, "How many Americans do you really think care about Ukraine?" (We can think of at least 230 of them serving in the House of Representatives and 48 in the Senate.)

            For some reason, though supposedly Americans don't care about Ukraine, right as Trump dodged history's noose in the Senate, Pompeo headed on a mission there, taking care to bar any reporter from NPR from accompanying him on the trip.

            We understand. Trump's accomplices will do anything to keep the public in the dark and peddle self-serving falsehoods while telling us -- as we try to keep up with the news -- that everyone else is lying.

            If truth is your preference, dear listener, vote these con men out.

            And support NPR and PBS.

            Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:


Sunday, February 2, 2020

Donald Trump: loser

            He won an election -- with 3 million fewer votes than his opponent.

            He got a tax cut that made filthy-rich people feel filthier so.

            He got those two Supreme Court justices, one squeaking by with a Senate GOP margin sliced to a hairpin by voters revolted by his oafishness.

            Since all that winning, though, Donald Trump has been one big loser.

            He lost the House. He lost governors' races. He lost in his bid to dynamite the Affordable Care Act legislatively (though still helping to harpoon it in court).

            Now he's an impeached loser. Enablers in the Senate cannot remove that stain.

            When Mitch and the Marionettes finalize their genuflection to corruption and to Trump, he'll trumpet his vindication. Acquitted! Affirmed -- the case against him was a sham, a hoax.

            Americans will know the only sham was the Senate trial.

            Acquitted? Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said the offenses in question were impeachable, but to remove Donald Trump from office would harm the nation.

            Acquitted? Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander essentially acknowledged that Trump did exactly what he said he didn't do, but – heh – it wasn't that bad.

            Acquitted? Pleading Trump's case, attorney Alan Dershowitz delivered what should forever be known as the "duh"-fense against impeachment: If the president did all that's alleged (wink, wink) he did it in what's in the nation's interest.

            Professor Dershowitz, you need to get a few better studio photos out to publishing houses ASAP -- the pics with more hair -- because the history books are making note of you.

            So, what was it about the evidence, Republicans? A sham? A hoax? Or all true, but no big deal? If no big deal, why fight any presentation thereof?

            In the span of a month, the story went from "completely innocent," to "flimsy evidence," to, "You won't get me alive, coppers."

            What else could Republicans claim after what we already know and what we continue to find out almost daily?

            The shakedown of Ukraine for political purposes wasn't just one phone call. It was a dogged, concerted effort over several months in which every key figure in the administration was involved.

            It wasn't about "corruption in the Ukraine." It was about knee-capping Joe Biden.

            And, yes – a thousand times yes, just ask John Bolton – there was a quid pro quo.

            One of the most stunning revelations of the House hearings: The release of aid to Ukraine wasn't contingent on an actual investigation into the Bidens but on Ukraine's president making an on-air statement that one would ensue. A sham statement about a sham investigation would do.

            I wonder how many devotees of Fox News know that.

            It looked like Trump was going to get this until Politico reported the freeze on aid and members of Congress asked for answers.

            "The truth will get out," said House impeachment manager Adam Schiff, who needs no retakes for his place in history.

            The Senate trial wasn't about the truth. It was no trial at all.

            As Schiff said, "the result was baked into the process."

            "What is a trial except for the quest for the truth?" Schiff asked.

            Republicans, led by this president, have proceeded since the beginning of Trump's term as if Americans don't care about truth at all. The "acquittal" of Trump with no witnesses, no documents, is the ultimate manifestation of that.

            No matter what he says about his total, absolute and unconditional vindication, Trump is the loser here. "Impeached" is not something you scrub from your resume.

            Impeached, with pluralities of Americans consistently supporting your removal from office.

            It's one thing to have a disapproval rating in the mid-50s throughout most of his term. It's another to have nearly that many Americans unwilling to wait for the next election to have him removed.

            Yes, Trump got off in a precooked trial, but the story of his corruption is not done being told.

            Investigators continue to probe allegations of tax, insurance and bank fraud.

            So, too, with that hush-money matter and separate allegations of sexual assault.

            The prospect of all of us getting to see Trump's tax returns remains active.

            Let's see how many other juries he can cook.

            Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: