The Philadelphia Inquirer

“They are laughing their asses off in Moscow.” That was one of President Trump’s responses to the 16 indictments returned in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

He’s right. Russian President Vladimir Putin likely is laughing – at Trump. The American president is so caught up in denying any suggestion that his campaign colluded with the Russians that he ignores the gravity of the situation, whether his campaign colluded or not.

Trump should be reading the riot act to Putin. Mueller uncovered clear evidence that led to Friday’s indictment of three Russian companies and 13 Russian nationals for conspiring to defraud the United States. Instead, the U.S. president continues to act like a fawning puppy at the mention of the Russian despot’s name. Why?

Trump has no problem criticizing President Barack Obama for not stopping the Russians from meddling. But not only did Obama in September 2016 warn Putin to “cut it out,” he followed up the threat with economic sanctions. Obama should have done more, but Trump has yet to challenge Putin at all.

The American president’s voice has been conspicuously absent as Putin helps Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad annihilate innocent people thrown into a civil war. Another tragedy like the mass deaths in Aleppo is possible in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, where dozens of women and children have been killed so far this month during Russian-aided bombing attacks that Assad says are antiterrorist operations.

What is Trump’s Syrian strategy? Who knows? Most days he’s too busy tweeting defenses of his election campaign to talk about any foreign policy other than his push for construction of a bigger wall on the Mexican border.

Trump has yet to show that he is a president capable of focusing on a multitude of concerns. Near the top of his to-do list must be this country’s relationship with Russia and making it unequivocally clear to Putin that no amount of interference in our democracy will be tolerated.

Why does Trump act as if Putin has the upper hand? Russia’s shattered economy has made it vulnerable. Earlier sanctions and crashing oil prices pushed the country into a recession in 2015 and it has yet to fully recover. Economists say it won’t so long as Putin, who resists fiscal reforms, is in charge.

The best way for Trump to prove there was never any collusion between his campaign and the Russian meddlers into the U.S. election is to come out strongly for more economic sanctions to be imposed on Russia. Mueller has provided credible evidence to act. Nothing happens in Russia without Putin’s personal approval. Trump needs to say very forcefully to Putin that his administration won’t tolerate the Russian’s aggression.

The American people expect their presidents to stand up when attacked, whether by cyber means or otherwise. When is Trump going to deliver more than tweets about being a strong leader? Unless Putin is put on notice now, U.S. voters can expect similar attempts by the Russians to influence the outcome of the midterm elections later this year. That must not happen.

Facebook, Twitter failing to combat foreign meddling

The Mercury News

Last week’s news shows Facebook, Twitter and other social media companies aren’t doing nearly enough to combat foreign meddling in their platforms.

On Friday, special prosecutor Robert Mueller charged 13 Russians and three foreign companies with using social media to subvert the 2016 U.S. presidential election and support the Donald Trump campaign.

But the charges aren’t slowing the Russians. In the wake of the tragic Parkland, Fla., school shootings, Russian social media accounts immediately began spewing inflammatory rhetoric designed to further divide Americans.

Facebook, Twitter, et al, are failing to take meaningful steps to stop it.

It’s a matter of trust and accountability. If Americans can’t count on the likes of Facebook and Twitter to be responsible managers of their sites, users should go elsewhere. And advertisers should follow.

Unilever, maker of more than 1,000 brands worldwide, is already threatening to pull its $9 billion in advertising from the likes of Facebook, Google and Twitter over fake news, hate speech and abusive comment.

Nothing less than the sovereignty of our nation is at stake. Yet, despite the charges filed by Mueller, Facebook still doesn’t get it. Its vice president of advertising, Rob Goldman, on Friday tweeted that “I have seen all of the Russian ads and I can say very definitively that swaying the election was “NOT” the main goal.”

Goldman had to apologize and walk back his comments after President Trump used Goldman’s comments to buttress his own misguided perspective. “The Fake News Media never fails,” Trump tweeted. “Hard to ignore this fact from the Vice President of Face Book Ads, Rob Goldman!”

With that mindset in Washington, it’s unlikely the president or Congress can fix the problem. They can’t even pass an online consumer Bill of Rights, much less successfully navigate a tech issue of this complexity.

It’s up to the industry to police itself, and show real leadership, if it hopes to avoid a massive consumer backlash. They certainly have the resources.

Facebook posted $15.9 billion in profits in 2017, up from the $10.2 billion in profits it collected in 2016, the year Donald Trump was elected and the issue first surfaced. For the sake of its financial future, Facebook and other social media companies have an obligation to devote sufficient resources to preserve the integrity of their sites.

Facebook, with its 2 billion monthly users, last year implemented a new mission statement to “Give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.” CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in announcing the change that “We have a responsibility to do more.”

He’s right. But all the evidence to date shows Facebook, Twitter and other social media companies only dividing us further.

Trump’s budget doesn’t reflect nation’s values

The Seattle Times

A president’s budget often has less to do with what Congress might be willing to pass, and more to do with the greater message our nation’s leader wants to send.

Unbound by political realities, such spending plans make clear statements about an administration’s priorities, vision and values.

Sadly, when it comes to President Donald Trump’s latest budget proposal, the message it sends is disappointingly unpresidential.

A president’s goals should include standing up for the least fortunate among us, while thinking ahead toward the world we want to leave for future generations. Yet Trump’s budget largely does the opposite.

His spending plan would cut funding for food stamps, officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, by $17.2 billion in 2019. That amount equates to 22 percent of the program’s total cost last year, according to The Washington Post. Some of the cost savings would come from sending boxes of nonperishable food, including shelf-stable milk, to SNAP recipients, stripping them of the basic dignity of being able to go to a store and select the foods that best meet their families’ needs.

The president’s budget goes even further by once again pushing Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act, along with the corresponding Medicaid expansions adopted by nearly three dozen states — a move that could leave millions uninsured. Trump’s spending plan would also cut about $1 billion from low-income housing vouchers next year, while aiming to slash hundreds of billions of dollars from Medicare over the next decade.

At the same time, the president’s proposal would add about $1 trillion annually to the federal deficit, creating a greater burden on all Americans down the road. Environmental programs geared toward preserving natural resources for future generations and curtailing climate change also end up on the president’s chopping block.

These proposed cuts came the same week the president took days to begrudgingly speak out against domestic violence, after initially defending a former aide accused of abusing two ex-wives. They came a day before Trump’s personal lawyer admitted to paying a porn star $130,000 to keep her alleged affair with Trump under wraps.

On Presidents Day, we honor George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and some of our country’s greatest leaders, many of whom helped steer our nation onto better paths.

Between his immoral budget and his weekly scandals, Trump is time and time again showing himself to be unworthy of the same admiration.

Don’t dismiss ‘Black Panther’ as just another superhero movie

The Dallas Morning News

If ever there was a time when this bone-weary country needed the empowering “Black Panther” movie, this is it.

We realize this Disney/Marvel tale is all fantasy entertainment based on a comic book superhero, but this film cuts against the negative cultural forces we often feel so powerless to combat. And who couldn’t use a little uplifting these days?

No wonder folks of all races and creeds — Marvel fans and not — are packing movie houses in record-breaking numbers to see it. They’re connecting to its universal message of embracing your power and using it for good.

Then there is a cultural bonus: its featuring of a rare black superhero. How often do children get to see a black champion flying through the air dodging blasts? It’s the reason thousands of dollars are being raised to send groups of young people to see it.

For those living under a rock, the plot:

Prince T’Challa returns home to Wakanda after the death of his father. The prince finds himself fighting for his crown, his country and his life when a series of adversaries arrive seeking vibranium, an alien metal that powers everything in the African nation.

It celebrates a proud Afro-centric worldview (whole families of moviegoers are showing up in African attire) without shying away from complicated issues of race, class and gender.

And here are some reasons to plunk down your $12:

Women are elevated and empowered.

Sure, it’s a movie about a king coming into his own, but women are front and center. They aren’t portrayed as defenseless victims or accessories. They’re fierce warriors who serve as the security force for a nation against every adversary — and kick major butt.

It makes girls’ passion for science and technology cool.

It’s the king’s genius sister, Shuri, who designs and builds the technological advances and spectacular gadgets featured in the story. The superhero has no protective armor suit without this girl. What a boost toward getting more girls interested and involved in STEM careers.

It busts stereotypes.

This ridiculous notion of Africa as poor Third World countries is turned on its head. All countries on Earth believe Wakanda to be so, but it secretly hides the most advanced technological society on the planet — a secret it guards to prevent its technology and weaponry from falling into the wrong hands.

We’re not naïve to think that one movie can help solve the thorny issues that ail us in this country. But we can hold out hope that this fun joy ride causes folks to think a little differently about them.