John Paul Stevens, RIP

Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens died Tuesday at the age of 99, and although he’d only been retired for nine years he seemed a relic of a bygone era of American jurisprudence.
Stevens was another one of those many Republican-appointed Justices who turned out to be more liberal than most Republicans would prefer, but we expect that even the historians on the right will treat him respectfully. His 35 years on the Supreme Court made him the second longest-serving Justice, and during that long tenure he cast votes and wrote decisions and dissents that offended both sides of the political spectrum but always impressed almost everyone with their clear logic and factual underpinnings. He was also known for his bow ties and upbeat disposition, and during the summer we spent as teenaged messengers for the Supreme Court we noticed he was unfailingly nice to the help.
He also had an interesting 99 years of life, which began in his beloved Chicago in 1920. His father was a wealthy businessman and his mother was an English teacher, but the Great Depression cost his family its famously opulent downtown Chicago hotel, and his father was convicted of embezzlement in his attempts to save, although the conviction was later overturned by the Illinois Supreme Court. While his father worked at middle class job managing someone else’s hotel Stevens attended the University of Chicago, where he majored in English and edited the school newspaper and graduated in 1941 with the highest honors. Within a year he was serving in the Navy, stationed in Pearl Harbor and assigned to a unit of brainiacs charged with breaking Japanese codes, and at the end of the war he returned to civilian life with a Bronze Star.
Two older brothers were practicing lawyers, and Stevens’ family encouraged him to follow their path. He won admission to Northwestern University’s prestigious law school, where the brand-new G.I. Bill paid his tuition, and he was editor in chief of the law review and graduated first in his class with the highest grade point average in the school’s history. A Supreme Court clerkship to President Franklin Roosevelt’s last appointee followed, and then 22 years years of a lucrative law practice mostly devoted to defending big businesses against anti-trust suits and regulations. With a hard-earned reputation for integrity and such impeccably Republican credentials he was a natural choice by President Richard Nixon to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, based in Chicago, and in 1975 President Gerald Ford appointed him the Supreme Court.
The appointment was confirmed in the Senate by a vote of 98 to 0, which isn’t likely to ever happen again in our lifetimes, even with an appointee of Stevens’ undeniable qualifications, He was also the last Supreme Court appointee whose confirmation hearings weren’t televised, the last one who wasn’t questioned about his stand on the Roe v Wade decision that made first trimester abortions a constitutional right, and so far as we can tell he was the last Justice seated before the process became such a bloody political battlefield.
At first Stevens was pretty much what you’d expected from a Republican midwesterner with an anti-regulation and anti-anti-trust background, and joined with other Republican appointees in a narrow majority in the Bakke v University of Texas case that restricted but did not outright ban race-based admissions policies at the public universities, but over time he more often found himself siding with the more liberal Justices on matters ranging from the death penalty to abortion to the Bill of Right’s binding authority on the states to sex discrimination to even the authority of regulatory agencies. On each occasion we and the rest of the Republican right felt betrayed, but Stevens always had a better-educated and more clearly stated reason for his views, and by now most of his critics have mostly forgotten what all the hubbub was about, and in retrospect he think his views on the Bill of Rights applying to the states and not executing the mentally retarded were quite right. We still don’t like his vote on Chevron v Natural Resources Defense Council, which instructed lower courts to generally defer to a regulatory agency’s interpretation of federal statutes, but we wouldn’t have wanted to debate him about it in front of an audience.
Stevens stuck around long enough to annoy the libertarian left with a vote against the decision to protect flag-burning as free speeches and a vote for the decision that the federal government’s marijuana prohibition superseded the state’s right of California to to legalize it. He also annoyed the libertarian right by joining the majority Kelo v. City of New London that broadly extended local governments’ power of eminent domain, which we still hate, although once again we’d decline to debate him about it, and we note that the former real estate mogul and current Republican president is on the record saying he “loves” the Kelo decision.
As far as the purely partisan Republicans are concerned, perhaps his greatest betrayals were his dissenting opinion in the Bush v Gore case that resulted in President George W. Bush, and his resignation at the relatively tender age of 90 during the administration of Democratic President Barack Obama. That resulted in Justice Elena Kagan, who is further to the left than Stevens and far less grounded in all that old-fashioned facts and logic and the law stuff.
President Donald Trump has already appointed two Supreme Court Justices, both confirmed on strictly party lines, and he might yet get a third even without a second term. He left both choices to the conservative think-tank The Heritage Foundation and the conservative lawyer’s group The Federalist Society, and there’s little worry that either of Trump’s picks will “evolve” the way that the picks of Republican Presidents Eisenhower and Nixon and Ford and Reagan and George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush did. Our hope is that they remain true to their originalist and by-the-facts-and-letter-of-the-law beliefs, and are more loyal to that than they are to Trump when those congressional subpoenas the Trump administration is defying eventually reach the Supreme Court.
If the newest Justices are as smart and principled and humane as Justice John Paul Stevens, we’ll settle for that.

— Bud Norman

Love It, Leave It, or Stick Around and Try to Make It More Lovable

For the second day in a row all the news was about President Donald Trump’s controversial “tweet” that four minority Democratic congresswomen go back to the dysfunctional countries of their ancestors.
Pretty much every Democrat and most of the punditry continued to pile on criticisms, while most Republicans continued to politely refrain from commenting at all. Ohio’s white Republican Rep. Michael Turner called the “tweet” racist” and urged Trump to apologize, Texas’ black Republican Rep. Will Hurd called the comment “racist and xenophobic,” while the Republican party’s sole black Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina deplored the “unacceptable personal attacks and racial offensive language” and made the very same argument we made here yesterday that it distracted from “the Democratic party’s far-left, pro-socialist policies.”
Trump, of course, defiantly doubled down.
“It doesn’t concern me because many people agree with me,” Trump told an impromptu news conference when asked about the criticism, as if some people’s agreement settles the issue. “And all I’m saying: They want to leave, they can leave.” He added that “These are people who hate our country. They hate our country. They hate it, I think, with a passion.” He further reiterated that “If you’re not happy here, you can leave,” and then again that “As far as I’m concerned, if you hate our country, if you’re not happy here, you can leave.”
Which harkened back to our boyhood days in the late ’60s and early ’70s, when the hippies and the hard-hats and the hawks and the doves were fighting it out in the streets and “America, Love It or Leave It” was a popular bumper sticker. It wasn’t a particularly happy moment in American history, as we recall, but it had a lasting influence on our understanding of America’s politics and popular culture and all the disputes that have since occurred.
We disagreed with the hippies’ call for an ignominious retreat from the Vietnam War, and agreed with our parents and President Richard Nixon that the country should press on no matter how painfully for a “peace with honor.” The hippies also had all sorts of crazy ideas about free this and free that, too, which struck even our boyish sensibilities as pie-in-the-sky and ultimately disastrous. They had all sorts of other plans to disrupt the complicated social order we were just getting used to, as well, and negotiating our way through the new world they created proved even more vexing, but at no point did we ever wish they’d just go away.
At this late point in our lives both the hippies and the hard hats and the hawks and doves seem to have gotten some things right and some things wrong. The Vietnam War was ignominiously lost when a post-Watergate Democratic majority in Congress declined to enforce the more or less “Peace With Honor” that President Richard Nixon had negotiated, but more stable and less corrupt subsequent Republicans still wound up winning the broader Cold War, and by now the Republican President of the United States states is a Vietnam-era draft-dodger who says he was “never a big fan of the Vietnam War.”
Nixon created an Environmental Protection Agency and funded the Democrats’s “New Deal” and “Great Society” social programs with bigger bucks than his Democratic predecessosr, but subsequent Republicans reigned in the worst excesses while allowing the good works to go on. The “free love” that the hippies’ “sexual revolution” promised caused a lot of venereal disease and an epidemic of divorce that had a lasting painful effect on many of our friends, but we’re glad that our many homosexual friends don’t fear harassment by law enforcement. The civil rights movement the ’60s brought has resulted in a lot of politically correct silliness, to be sure, but we’re able to work all that out with our many black- and brown- and yellow- and red-skinned friends, and are glad they don’t have to endure the segregated society we were born into.
We never did think the hippies and doves hated America. They seemed to love the blues and jazz and country-and-western and rhythm-and-blues music that is America’s greatest gift to world culture, and came up with The Doors and Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Sir Douglas Quintet and numerous other long-haired groups that made it even greater. They so loved the natural beauty of the American landscape that they’d frolic naked in its mud. They fully embraced the great American bard Walt Whitman’s exhortation to “resist much, obey little.” They availed themselves of free speech and the right to petition for redress of grievances and participated in the country’s democratic systems, occasionally for the better if more often for the worse.
Neither do we think that the hard-hats and hawks ever hated America or its ideals. At this point there’s denying that many of them long for a whiter and more heterosexual time in America, but for the most part they only want to guiltlessly listen to their favorite music and enjoy a backyard beer and freely express themselves and petition for redress of grievances and participate in the democratic processes our forefathers created.
During the eight interminable years of President Barack Obama’s administration the thrice-married and proudly adulterous Trump claimed that the president was constitutionally illegitimate by virtue of his foreign birth, a claim Trump has since disavowed, and griped about “American carnage” and claimed that “the American dream is dead,” but he never did return to Scotland where his mother was born or Germany where he falsely claims his father was born, as he apparently didn’t believe that because he disagreed with the sitting president he was therefore obliged to leave the country. We have no affection for the four minority Democratic congresswomen that Trump is currently feuding with, whose far-left and pro-socialist politics the president’s equally insane “tweets” are drawing attention from, but we hew to a constitution that does not permit sending them back to where they came from, especially since three of the four came from the very states they’ve been elected to represent in Congress..
Anyone who loves America has surely noticed some very human flaws in the scheme, for all its high ideals, and wants to use its democratic processes to create a more perfect union, and no matter how cockamamie their ideas about how to achieve that he or she has every right to do so. America and its democratic processes have gotten us through the hippies and the hard hats and even the more deadly spat between the  Union and the Confederacy, so  we’ll put more faith in that than we do in either Trump or those similarly scary four minority Democratic congresswomen.

— Bud Norman

Back Where They Came From

Sunday was a slow news day, so naturally President Donald President gave all the media something to write and talk about with another controversial “tweet.” This time he suggested that four minority congresswomen should go back where they came from.
“So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run,” Trump “tweeted” in his usual idiosyncratic prose style. “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done.” He later added that “I’m sure Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!”
Trump was apparently referring to New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley, Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, and Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar. All four have lately been prominent in the news for their attempts to drag the Democratic further to the left, and their willingness to publicly criticize House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for her relatively centrist positions.
There’s some speculation in the media that Trump was attempting to further divide the Democratic party, but it had the effect of united Democrats in their condemnation of the “tweet.” Pelosi replied that Trump was trying to “make America white again,” all of the candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination denounced the “tweet” as racist and divisive, and the rest of the party piled on. Most of the media were similarly appalled.
There were no criticisms from congressional Republicans, but neither was anyone in the Grand Old Party offering praise. When acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection Mark Morgan was asked about it on “Face the Nation,” he said “You’re going to have to ask the president what he means by those specific ‘tweets.'”
The die-hard fans will surely love it, on the other hand. “Donald comes right and says what we’re all thinking,” the die-hard fans always say, and they’ve always thought that dark-hued people from “shit hole countries” should go back where they came from. There are excellent and not at all racist arguments for conservative stands on every issue from economics to border enforcement, and we miss a Republican party that used to make that case, but in the third year of the Trump administration the brazen appeals to prejudice are what fires up the base.
Which is not say anything nice about Representatives Ocasio-Cortez and Pressley and Tlaib and Omar. They’re all loony-left, as far as we’re concerned, to the point that our pre-Trump Republican selves and even Trump himself are in the unfamiliar and uncomfortable position of rooting for Pelosi. They all advocate a failed socialism and a radical environmentalism and a divisive ethnic identity politics, and their anti-western alliance foreign policy instincts are arguably worse than Trump’s.
An educated and articulate president would be able swat away such left-wing silliness with a few minutes of factual and logical rhetoric, but Trump is not at all that president. Tlaib and Omar have both made statements that even fellow Democrats considered anti-Jewish, but Trump’s denunciations made it clear he was anti-Muslim. As ridiculous as Ocasio-Cortez’ “New Green Deal” is, Trump made up things that aren’t in the plan to ridicule. We’re not sure what Trump’s beef with is Pressley, other than she’s black and a woman and liberal from Massachusetts, but that should suffice for Trump’s base to want her send her back with the rest of them to where she came from.
Unfortunately for Trump and the die-hard fans, Ocasio-Cortez comes from New York, Pressley comes from Massachusetts, and Tlaib comes from Michigan. Omar was born in Somalia, which was indeed a failed state even then, and was then a refugee for four years in Kenya, but she can hardly be blamed for that, and at the age of 10 she was granted asylum by a more welcoming America and became a naturalized citizen at the age of 17. She’s a hijab-wearing Muslim with crazy ideas about everything, but she’s a certifiable American citizen and duly elected member of the United States Congress, and for now there’s no sending her back where she came from.
Trump gave the die-hard fans something to cheer about, but we doubt he won any new fans in the process. He has more than year before the next election to woo those non-racist and mostly female educated suburban voters who used to vote Republican and are satisfied with the economy and relative lack of war but hate pretty much everything else about him, but Trump apparently believes he can win reelection with the “lock ’em up” and “send ’em back where they came from” vote.
Unless the likes of Ocasio-Cortez and Pressley and Tlaib and Omar get their way, it seems a long shot bet to us.

— Bud Norman

The New Trump Media vs. the Old Media

President Donald Trump continued his feud with the “fake news” media on Thursday, as he hosted many of the “bloggers” and “tweeters” and YouTube celebrities and talk radio talkers who are more inclined to praise him, and even the usually friendly Fox News called his “tweets” on the matter a “bizarre tirade.”
“Bizarre” seems an apt if slightly understated adjectives to describe Trump’s remarks to the nutcase conspiracy theorists and far-right race-baiters and unapologetic Trump apologists the president had assembled at the White House. Among the crowd were the editor of the conspiracy-theorizing Gateway Pundit web site, a fascist organization-affiliated defenestrated White House official and current talk radio show host, a guerrilla videographer whose “Project Veritas” has been caught several times editing its footage in dishonest ways, another talk radio talker who has recently accused Democratic presidential candidate and California Sen. Kamala of not being an “American black” because her naturalized citizen father is from Jamaica and her naturalized citizen mother is from India. Even Trump seemed to acknowledge it was a motley crew.
“Some of you are extraordinary. Can’t say everybody. The crap you come up with is unbelievable,” Trump said. Later he added that “Some of you guys are out there. I mean it’s genius, but it’s bad.”
Even so, Trump clearly preferred the crap some of his apologists come up with to the more critical coverage he gets from The New York Times and The Washington Post and the Cable New Network and the National Broadcasting Company and the rest of what used to be called mainstream media. He also asserted that the new social media had usurped the ancien regime in importance and influence, and boasted that his “tweets” alone have bested all the outdated print and broadcast and even cable news sources. He acknowledged that his “tweets” were often pockmarked with misspellings, but he explained that by saying “Really I’m actually a good speller, but everyone said the fingers aren’t as good as the brain.”
Trump didn’t acknowledge that his “tweets” also routinely have enough punctuation errors and random capitalizations and other offenses against the English language that any competent fourth-grade teacher would red-mark it to death, nor did he admit that many of them are downright untruthful, and he even bragged that his as-yet unverified claims that President Barack Obama put a “tapp” on his phones had “taken off like a rocket.” He even related a longtime boast in a “tweet” that all the big newspapers would wind up endorsing him and all the over-the-air and cable networks will lavish him with favorable coverage for fear they’d go out out of business without him. Trump truly seems to believe that the public will lose all interest in the news if his hit reality show is cancelled.
“That’s why they’ll all be Endorsing me at some point, one way or another,” Trump “tweeted.” “Could you imagine having Sleepy Joe Biden, or Alfred E. Newman …” We couldn’t find the rest of the “tweet,” but we assume he meant former Delaware Senator and Vice President and front-running Democratic presidential candidate Biden, and that the Alfred E. Newman was a reference to South Bend, Indiana, mayor and second-tier presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, who bears what Trump thinks is slight a resemblance to the mascot of the recently deceased Mad Magazine. Biden is currently leading Trump in head-to-head polls against Trump, and in the unlikely event that Buttigieg winds up as president he’d be the first openly homosexual person to occupy the White House, and in any case we can’t imagine the public will lose its longstanding preoccupation with the news if Trump’s reality show is cancelled.
Having grown up on Mad Magazine, we also note with great annoyance that Trump misspelled the hallowed name of Alfred E. Neuman.
Those ancien regime media are frequently wrong, to be sure, but they usually acknowledge their mistakes with embarrassing corrections and the occasional retractions, which Trump and his apologists never do, and for the most part they’re far more pristine in their use of the English language. Their batting average for the truth is better than Trump’s, too, even when you take into account their undeniable left-of-center bias, Trump has an undeniable ratings appeal, and lately the late night night television comics have feasted on his videotaped comments about the Moon being an important part of of Mars and the Continental Army seizing the airports during the Revolutionary War and the kidney being an important part of the heart. Even so, we’re sure people will stay tuned in for any dumb thing some damned Democrat might say if her or she is elected.
Trump parenthetically “tweeted” that he was “(just joking)” about winning a third or fourth term, but our guess is that for all its faults a free press and broadcast and cable media will outlast Trump, for better or worse. We also hold out hope that the truth, whatever it might be, will ultimately prevail.

— Bud Norman

The Next Big Debt-Ceiling Fight

Yet another fight over once again raising America’s debt ceiling is coming up, and we expect it will be even uglier than usual. For one thing the September deadline will come as the presidential and congressional primaries are heating up, which always complicates things, and for another thing the federal government is more dysfunctional than ever.
Treasury Secretary has met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi about the matter, but Pelosi is for now insisting on a two-year budget deal. Several Republican Senators also want an actual budget instead of yet another continuing resolution that provides at least two years off from these every six months or so squabbles, but that’s easier said than done.
There hasn’t been an actual budget passed by both chambers of Congress and signed into law by a president for more than a decade, and you have to go back to the days of President Bill Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich to find one that balanced. Since then both parties have waited until the last minute before the global economic catastrophe that would result from the government defaulting on its very large debt, playing brinksmanship to extract whatever concessions the parties could gain from another, and wound up a with a deficit-spending resolution that kicked the can another six months down the road. This time will probably be the same, but different.
This time the congressional Democrats are more restive than usual, with Pelosi publicly feuding with several recently famous freshman members of her caucus, and all the Democratic presidential contenders pushing the party further to the left. Not long ago Pelosi was the Republican party’s poster girl for San Francisco-style liberalism, but these days she’s the relatively sane center of the Democratic party, and she’s always been a pragmatic enough politician to cut those last minute deals that saved the global economy from catastrophe. For the moment she seems firmly in control of her party, but September’s a long time from now.
For the foreseeable future President Donald Trump is firmly in control of the Republican party, but that’s not reassuring. Trump ran on the argument that he’s history’s greatest master of the art of the deal, based on his business record, but so far he’s proved no more successful in negotiating deals with the congressional Democrats than he was with his six-times bankrupt casinos. While he “tweets” schoolyard taunts against Senate majority leader “Cryin'” Chuck Schumer and t”Nervous Nancy” Pelosi, he’s yet to best them in a political showdown on almost anything. He crashed claimed credit for the last of those occasional partial government showdowns, then blamed the Democrats when the shutdown didn’t poll well, and wound up signing off on another continuing resolution that fully funded lots of bleeding heart social programs beloved by the Democrats.
This time around should be the same. The talk radio talkers will grouse about Trump’s concessions, but they’ll quickly move on to what the damned Democrats did, and Trump’s die-hard fans will forgive him anything. There are also a few on-the-fence voters who will give him credit for his centrist pragmatism, nobody will be able to blame him for the default that brought down the global economy, and that this point nobody cares about those several Republican senators’ old-fashioned idea of getting back to passing budgets with bi-partisan support and a presidential signature. Trump’s position of strength gives him every incentive to cave.
At this point large portions of both parties only care about depriving the other party of any tangible victory, and won’t yield an inch toward any kind of national consensus about how to spend the public’s money. They wouldn’t mind a global economic catastrophe, either, so long as they could blame it on the other side. As the presidential and congressional primary races heat up, those elements will have some influence on the debate.
Still, we expect this time around will be largely the same as the last many times around. We no longer have much faith in the leaders of either party, but we retain a cynical and hopeful faith in human nature. None of our elected leaders want to have been around during a global economic catastrophe, if only because it’s a bad career move, even if they could plausibly blame it on the other side. At some point, according to our observation of recent politics and human nature, both sides will eventually blink, and both will get enough and give enough for their voters to brag and grouse about.
Which is about the best we can hope for these days. That idea Pelosi and those prominent Senate Republicans have about a two-year budget seems pretty far-fetched for the moment. The idea that it might be balanced is preposterous.

— Bud Norman

H. Ross Perot, RIP

H. Ross Perot died on Tuesday at age 89, and although one is always well advised not to speak ill of the dead we think he had a largely negative effect on the country’s history.
There was plenty to be said for the colorful character, and it should be acknowledged. Although he was the son of a prominent and politically-connected cotton trader in his beloved home state of Texas he became a multi-billionaire by his own considerable smarts and inexhaustible energy. After graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy he found himself bored with peacetime service, and left the Navy as soon as his Annapolis obligations had been met. He took a job as a salesman for the International Business Machines Corporation that then dominated the nascent computer industry, and was by all accounts extraordinarily successful at it, once meeting his yearly quota in three weeks. Perot stuck around IBM long enough to learn everything he needed to know about the computer biz, and in 1962 he left to start his own business.
Texas-based Electronic Data Systems proved a very profitable company, mostly from a number of sizable contracts with the federal government. He used much of his share of the profits to become an early and significant investor in what became Apple Computers, which proved even more profitable, and in 1988 he created Perot Systems Corporation, which further increased his multi-billion dollar wealth. He increased his already considerable fame after the Iranian Revolution of 1979 when he claimed to have raised a mercenary army to rescue to EDS employees who had been there working on a contract with overthrown Iranian government. The story was apocryphal, but was rivetingly told in the best-selling book “Wings of Angels” and then on a highly rated made-for-television movie.
Like so many other self-made men Perot eventually came to worship his creator, however, and by 1992 had decided that he was the best possible person to be President of the United States. He ran as an independent, with a small but enthusiastic following doing the legwork to get him enough signatures to be on the ballot in every state, and he was included on the televised debates with major party nominees, and he wound up winning 19 percent of the popular, the biggest share for a third-party candidate since former President Theodore Roosevelt and his Bull Moose party’s 27 percent in 1912.
Just as Roosevelt’s run wound costing the eminently conservative Republican William Howard Taff re-election and handed the White House over to prototypical progressive President Woodrow Wilson, Perot took enough votes from quintessentially establishment Republican President George H.W. Bush to give cleaned-up hippie Democratic President Bill Clinton the office with a mere plurality.
Perot’s platform called for higher taxes but huge cuts in social programs and promised balanced budgets and the full payment of the federal debt, which was at that time an obsession for most Republicans. He also ran on the argument that he was untainted by any previous political experience, and that the billions he had in the bank were proof he was smart enough to run anything, which then as now is somehow persuasive to a lot of Republicans. His foreign policy positions were more vague, and he’d been critical of the first Gulf War, although it was quickly won and established a Pax Americana in the Middle East that would last several years, but Reagan and Bush had won the Cold War and no one seemed to care much about foreign policy.
The first President Bush was known for his cautious if clumsy language and patrician bearing and impeccable public service credentials and stay-the-course leadership, but an increasingly rural and blue collar and anti-establishment Republican party was growing weary of all that, and with his cheap haircuts and jug ears and folksy language and authentic Texas twang Perot provided a stark contrast. He might have peeled off a few votes from Clinton, but we believed at the time and still do that most of his 19 percent would have won the Republicans a rare fourth presidential election victory.
Perot then transformed his ad hoc political organization into the Reform Party, which mostly attracted the sorts of Republicans who thought that the Republican party had become effete. The Grand Old Party had recently won the Cold War and created a large and long-lasting economic expansions, but then as now many Republicans felt it wasn’t protecting them from the oftentimes disruptive economic transformations that resulted from free trade and new technologies, and felt a sense that those establishment know-it-alls with the impeccable credentials didn’t identify with them, and they were looking to disrupt even the most venerable of America’s institutions.
Perot ran as the Reform Party nominee in ’96, but a truce between Clinton and the newly-installed House Speaker Newt Gingrich and his fellow firebrand Republicans installed in the mid-term elections resulted in a balanced budget, which deprived Perot of one of his signature issues. The second time around he finished with 8.4 percent of the vote, and although that probably didn’t cost Republican nominee Sen. Bob Dole the election it might have peeled off enough Democratic votes that Clinton had to settle for another plurality.
The Reform Party stuck around for a short while after Perot’s departure from public life, but long enough to do further damage. Former boa-clad professional wrestler and bona fide nutcase conspiracy theorist Jesse Ventura became governor of Minnesota for tumultuous turn  on the Reform Party ticket, and paleo-conservative Pat Buchanan used the party’s presidential nomination to spread his paranoid populism and his admittedly fascist-friendly “America First” foreign policy. Outright racists such as former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke and a large number of erstwhile Republicans with class and race resentments of an establishment they just knew was out to get them found a home there, and a brash self-proclaimed billionaire named Donald Trump made his first foray into politics when he sought the party’s nomination.
Perot was quite right to warn about the federal debt, and deserves credit for suggesting that an unpopular tax hike and painful spending cuts might be required to pay it off, but it doesn’t seem to have had any lasting influence on either party. We thought his xenophobic protectionism was wrong then and still think it’s wrong as President Donald Trump pursues it, and we retain the same opinion about both Perot’s and Trump’s isolationist foreign policy instincts.
We wish a Perot an eternally happy afterlife, and freely acknowledge he was one of those rare individuals who left his mark on history, but he always appreciated blunt talk, so we feel free to say he had a mostly corrosive influence. He not only got Clinton elected and helped him get reelected, but he fostered a paranoid and conspiracy-theorizing suspicion of well-credentialed public servants and venerable political and economic institutions that persists in the Republican party to this day. The Democrats have their own paranoid and conspiracy-theorizing elements with crazy protectionist and isolation ideas, on the other hand, so as we wish Perot a fond farewell we’ll be hoping the center still holds.

— Bud Norman

A Pervert and His Friends in High Places

Jeffrey Epstein pleaded guilty to felony solicitation charges involving minor girls back in 2007, and is currently in jail awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges involving at least a dozen minor girls, but he’s not your average sex offender. He’s a multi-billionaire investor, and has also been friends with former President Bill Clinton and current President Donald Trump.
Flight records confirm that Clinton took at least 26 trips to far-flung locations on Epstein’s private jet, dubbed “the Lolita Express” by the media, and ditched his security detail on at least five of the flights. Following Epstein’s most recent arrest a Clinton spokesman issued a statement which admitted the former president had traveled with Epstein on four different flights in 2002 and 2003, but denied press reports that he’d traveled to Epstein’s privately owned island. Clinton’s past relationship with a notorious ephebophile might have been a bigger issue in the last presidential race, when his long-suffering yet ever-protective was running as the Democratic nominee, but Trump had his own ties to Epstein.
Trump now flatly denies ever even knowing Epstein, but that’s another one of the lies he routinely tells. In 2002 Trump told New York Magazine that “I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy.” He could plausibly deny having any idea abut Epstein’s sexual predilections, but he also added that “He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful woman as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it, Jeffrey enjoys his social life.” There are also numerous accounts from numerous sources about Epstein’s frequent visits to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, which is near Epstein’s Palm Beach home, and two pictures in the Getty Archives of the two yukking it up together at the resort.
Both presidents seem to have kept their distance from Epstein since his arrest and guilty plea in ’07, and Trump reportedly had him banned from Mar-a-Lago around that time, but the Trump administration remains caught up in the scandal.
Epstein received an extraordinarily generous deal in exchange for his plea, getting only a one-year sentence for a crime that the federal guidelines say should have imprisoned him for life, and he was even able on six out of every seven days of the year to leave prison to work at his office. What’s more he and various friends who had allegedly joined in his underage orgies were given immunity. This sweetheart deal was negotiated by then-U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta, who is now Trump’s Secretary of Labor. The Democrat-run House Judiciary Committee is expected to have him under oath and before the cameras to further explain his decision, which will likely prove embarrassing to the administration, but for now Trump is insisting that Acosta is one of those very best people he promised to appoint.
Some leaked address books show Epstein not only had numerous telephone numbers to reach both Clinton and Trump, but also Britain’s Prince Andrew and several of Epstein’s fellow billionaires. There’s a popular conspiracy theory on the far-far-right that the world’s elites are all in on a global child sex ring, and although it’s far-fetched Epstein makes it seem slightly more plausible. The same conspiracy theorists theorize that the professors and reporters and business big wigs who oppose Trump do so because he’s going to expose the whole racket, but the whole Epstein affair and Acosta’s continued service in the cabinet make that even less plausible
At least since the days of the Roman Empire there’s been a suspicion among the common folk that the rich and powerful know-it-alls who run things are a decadent bunch, who get away with things poor perverts never would, and this is just further confirmation of that historical fact.

— Bud Norman

A Brief History Lesson for the Young Democratic Whippersnappers on the Other Side of the Generation Gap

Ryan Grim strikes us as another one of those wild-eyed liberals looking to take over the Democrat party, and the sort of revisionist young whippersnapper who still calls President Ronald Reagan “a C-list actor,” but we think his op-ed piece in Sunday’s Washington Post correctly identifies the current fissure among the Democrats as a generation gap.
So far as we can tell Grim is a bit too young remember the late ’60s and early ’70s when the hippies and the hard hats were fighting it out on the streets and “generation gap” was a familiar part of the political lexicon, but he’s familiar enough with Reagan’s landslide victories and the Republican party’s ascendancy in the ’80s to understand why some Democrats are still spooked by it. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and front-running Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden are all aged enough to remember how President Richard Nixon a landslide over the hippie favorite Democratic nominee Sen. George McGovern in ’72 despite an increasingly unpopular war in Vietnam. They remember that the carefully centrist President Jimmy Carter won office in ’76 only because of the Watergate scandal, but was decisively ousted four years later by Reagan, who won a record 49 states in his reelection bid.
They also well remember how many of their longstanding congressional colleagues were voted out along the way. Such liberal lions as McGovern and Sen. Frank Church and Birch Bayh and the most senior Sen. Warren Magnuson from the New Deal era were voted out during the ’70s, and the likes of wild-eyed conservative Rep. Newt Gingrich were voted in. Reagan won a third term of sorts when his Vice President George H.W. Bush, and any Democrat old enough to remember that still shudders at the thought. President Bill Clinton ended the Republicans’ 12-year White House reign in 92′ and won reelection in ’96, but he ran as a centrist and won by mere pluralities with considerable help from nutcase third-party populist candidate Ross Perot peeling off conservative votes. In ’94 the Republicans even took the House of Representatives after 40 years of Democratic control, a result of Clinton offending the public with such divisive ideas as allowing gays to serve in the military and the government taking a greater role in the health care system, but Clinton won reelection mostly because he and Gingrich had come up with a rare balanced budget and revived the Reagan economic expansion after a short and mild recession.
Republican President George W. Bush succeeded Clinton with a plurality and razor-then electoral majority and then won reelection with a slight majority of the popular, which drove all the Democrats crazy, even though the increasingly wild-eyed conservatives in the Republican party found both Bushes far too centrist for their tastes. President Barack Obama succeeded the second Bush and then easily won reelection, which drove all the Republicans crazy even if the younger of the increasingly wild-eyed Democrats now consider Obama far too centrist for their tastes. All of which explains why such liberal but seasoned septuagenarians as Pelosi and Schumer and Biden are reluctant to veer too far left of the center.
Much younger and less experienced and better-looking and more wild-eyed Democrats as New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke and Sen. Kamala Harris and New Jersey Sen. Corey Booker now have considerable sway in the Democratic party, and although the aging self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and ripened Massachusetts Sen. Warren are on their side Grim seems correct in surmising that a generation gap will be the story of the Democrats’ upcoming presidential primaries. Grim apparently believes that youthful idealism and its resulting recklessness will eventually overwhelm old age’s hard-earned experience and its resulting caution, and he seems to wish for it, and although we hope he’s wrong we worry he might be right.
At this point in our late middle age we must admit, however begrudgingly, that a lot has changed since Nixon won a landslide reelection but lost a popular culture back in ’72, and that things have changed far even more rapidly ever since. The “don’t ask, don’t tell” that allowed homosexuals to serve in the military so long as they remained closeted cost Clinton the House back in ’94, but it seems quaint in this age of constitutionally guaranteed same-sex marriage. The government intrusion into health care that Clinton’s wife proposed was less ambitious than what Obama wound up getting passed, and lately it polls well, and the Republicans couldn’t come with any alternative they could pass even when they held the White House and both chambers of Congress, so the crazy ideas that these young Democrats are proposing will have some appeal to a significant portion of the population. “Socialism” is no longer the damning term of opprobrium that it was during most of our lives, although it still should be, as far as we’re still concerned, and will probably get a lot more votes than Eugene Debs ever did back in a more sensible era of America.
Which is a shame, especially given the currently wild-eyed state of the Republican party in the era of President Donald Trump. It’s not the admirably wild-eyed conservatism of the Republican party that opposed the New Deal programs President Franklin Roosevelt wrought during his party’s six-decades dominance of American politics, nor is it the centrist and internationalist Republicanism of President Dwight Eisenhower that ended that long reign. It’s not the small government and free markets conservatism of Republican nominee Sen. Barry Goldwater, who lost by a landslide in ’64. Trump has the same tough-talking anti-hippie and pro-law-and-order rhetoric that Nixon won with in ’68, but Nixon won reelection after establishing the Environmental Protection Agency that Trump rails against and abandoning the Gold Standard monetary policy that Trump’s Federal Reserve Board appointees want to reinstate, and Trump has made his disdain Republican nominee back to Reagan quite clear.
Despite a pretty good economy America is adding the same trillion or so to the national debt that Obama was racking up in the wake of a deep and long lasting recession, The Repubicans’ big tax cut bill went mainly to the rich while the poor are probably paying even more for Trump’s tariffs every time they go to Wal-Mart. As bad as Obama was Trump has done even more to buddy up to dictatorships while undermining our the post-World War II military and trading alliances that Eisenhower and both Republican and Democratic presidents wisely established. We also note that his promise of proposing such a wonderful health care policy that your head will spin has not yet been kept.
On the other hand, Trump has outraged those damned Democrats even more than Nixon or Reagan or either of the Bushes ever did, and the more wild-eyed Republicans seem satisfied with that. He’s threatened governmental retribution against the free press and promised to lock up his political opponents, enforced our border laws with extreme cruelty and questioned the legitimacy of any federal judges of Latino heritage, has kinder words for the leaders of Russia and North Korea than he can must for our North Atlantic Treaty Organization partners, and is even coarser than Nixon ever was in his “twitter” denunciations of the damned hippies.
As much as the die-hard fans love it, it’s not at all the conservatism and Republican party we signed up with. With ur old-school sensibilities we’re free press absolutists, and we worry how that Third World “lock ’em up” stuff might play out if the damned Democrats control the White House and both chambers of Congress yet again. We have nothing against Latino citizens and legal immigrants, and rather enjoy their music and food and construction and road-paving efforts and occasional judicial opinions. We prefer our classically liberal democratic allies to the authoritarian populists popping up around the world, and by now we’re friends with a lot of dope-smoking hippies, and our hard=hat friends are also taking atoke  or two.
Which is not to say that we agree about anything with anyone on the left. Even the aged and relatively wised-up Democrats toward the center have always been too far left for our centrist tastes, and Grim’s favored youngsters strike us as at least as crazy as Trump.
There’s always some hope that the upcoming congressional impeachment investigations will result in some deus ex machina that delivers the Republican party some nominee other than Trump, and that the Democrats won’t go full-blown socialist. We can’t envision any scenario where the budget gets balanced, or any sort of budget actually gets passed and signed into law, or health care becomes universal and inexpensive, or all the ethnic and sexual groups learn to love another, but we hold out hope the center will hold and the republic will somehow persist.
When we were born Eisenhower had reconciled the Republicans with Social Security and most of the rest of Roosevelt’s New Deal,  and until recently the Democrats have only arguing about how much to tax the free markets that Goldwater and Reagan had championed, everyone more or less agreed on the post-war world order that Presidents Truman and Eisenhower and Kennedy and Nixon had sustained, and for the most part it worked out well enough. At this point in our late middle age we believe the sole purpose of the Democratic party is to keep the damned Republicans from imposing their worst ideas on a great nation, and that the Republicans exist solely to save the country from the Democrats dumbest ideas.
For now both parties are seized by a wild-eyed youthful idealism, which we’ve noticed from our reading of history is the most destructive force on the planet, but old age and experience and its resulting caution still stand a fighting chance. We’ll probably wind up casting another futile protest vote on some write-in candidate, but hope the rest of the country chooses as wisely as possible, given the circumstances..

— Bud Norman

Mad Magazine, RIP

We read that Mad Magazine has announced it will soon stop offering new content, and it’s perhaps the most disheartening obituary we’ve read in a while. As embarrassing as it is to admit, the “usual gang of idiots” at that comic book rag was one of the formative influences on our lives.
Back in the late ’60s and early ’70s when Mad was at its peak readership we were exactly the school age and exactly the pretentiously intellectual type that the magazine targeted. It was all cartoons and captions, except for the brilliant Cold War tale of “Spy vs. Spy” feature that had no words at all, but for a precocious sixth- or seventh-grader it was satisfyingly literary. The magazine lampooned the politics of the time, respectfully assuming its young readership was well-read enough to get the jokes, and did hilarious parodies of the vast wasteland of television as well as old movies we’d watch on late night TV and the new movies we weren’t allowed to see, and it generally conveyed a smart-alecky attitude about everything.
Some of our friends’ parents wouldn’t allow them to read Mad Magazine, as they considered it subversive, which it undeniably was, but our parents were always willing to pay the 50 cents or so per month to buy us a copy of the latest edition. They’re both big Bob and Ray and Coen brothers fans with sophisticated senses of humor, and they’re both inveterate readers who encouraged their children to read anything they might come across, and they also got an occasional chuckle from Mad.
It worked out well for us, as far as we’re concerned. Mad made satire our favorite literary genre, and we wound up reading Jonathon Swift and Mark Twain and Evelyn Waugh and all the great satirists of the English language, and writing our attempts at satire. Along with W.C. Fields and Jack Benny and the Marx Brothers and “Laugh-In” they formed our sense of humor, which has often come in handy in this world of troubles, and we think it makes us less susceptible to whatever nonsense the current politics and popular culture are peddling. These days there’s more than enough subversive satire around to jade any youngster, but that’s largely due to Mad magazine.
Before we hit high school we had graduated from Mad to the National Lampoon, which had the same subversive and sophisticated satire as Mad but also lots of words and complex sentences and gratuitous profanity and nudity that we’d have to hide from our parents. That led to Saturday Night Live and modern comedy, with the “Airplane!” movies and Mel Brooks spoofs mimicking Mad’s movie parodies, which we can’t say has worked out well, but we don’t blame Mad for that.
One way or another, we hope the youngsters will learn to read and get wise to all the nonsense that politics and popular culture are peddling.

— Bud Norman</p<

Happy Independence Day

Today is America’s birthday, and no time for any talk about what troubles it. Better to celebrate the high ideals of freedom and equality that make this nation great, and to put the rest of it off until tomorrow.
Set off some fireworks, fire up the grill, drink a beer, and fly a flag if the weather permits. Don’t start any arguments with any of those damned Democrats or damned Republicans, as we’re all Americans, and be grateful.

— Bud Norman