These Scary Times

Having survived the swine flu and the bird flu and AIDS and SARs and the Ebola virus and all the other pandemics that were supposed to wipe out humankind, we’ve been feeling pretty cocky about our chances of surviving this newfangled coronavirus. After what happened on Wall Street on Monday, however, we’re at less a wee bit nervous.
News that the coronavirus has spread from China to South Korea, Iran and Italy renewed concerns that it will further disrupt the international trade system and the many gazillions of money that it generates, which has already seen much global several business with the gargantuan Chinese economy brought to a screeching halt. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped a jaw-dropping 1031 points, which is a jaw-dropping 3.6 percent, and the Standard & Poor and NASDAQ suffered even worse percentage losses, and for now all the smart money seems scared.
Aside from the already horrific death toll and severe economic consequences from the coronavirus, there are also political implications. President Donald Trump can’t plausibly be blamed for the coronavirus and the resulting stock markets, but he always implausibly claimed full credit for all the impressive stock market gains during his administration and has thus tied his political fortunes to the latest indexes. Decisive presidential leadership is called for, but at this point there’s not much Trump or any possible president might do.
The White House has requested congress to pass a $1.8 billion emergency spending bill to bring the total of spending on the coronavirus to $2.5 billion, which is a good idea that will probably win bipartisan approval, but by Washington standards that’s a relatively puny amount of money to throw at a problem of this size. There are many very smart people in America’s scientific community, but for now the smart money is betting that they won’t have this problem solved by election day, which seems a smart bet to us.
Trump is also calling on the Federal Reserve and the rest of the world’s central banks to reassure the world markets with a fresh infusion of that sweet opium of newly-printed cash, but at this point there’s not much more they can do. Several of the world’s biggest economies are offering below zero interest rates, which is every bit as stupid as it sounds, and despite what Trump has called the best American economy ever the Federal Reserve has been setting interest rates historically close to zero and the budget deficit is over a trillion dollars. A debt-ridden America and the rest of the debt-ridden world are ill-prepared to deal with one of those occasional Black Swan events, as the smarty-pants economists call it.
Which is not to say that any of those damned Democrats running for the presidency have any solutions. Self-described socialist and current Democratic front-runner Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders will have a a harder time paying for his all his trillions of dollars of spending on all of America’s problems if there’s an economic downturn. The relatively sane and centrist Democratic candidates also don’t have any answers, and we frankly admit that neither nor do we few remaining NeverTrump Republicans,
Pretty much everyone anti-Trump will get their digs in, though. Trump has taken his usual position against foreigners entering the country, but some very quarantined cases of the virus have come in, and Trump’s skepticism about fancy pants scientists seems to have decimated the government agencies charged with dealing with pandemics. Trump has questioned the scientific community’s assessments of global climate change and the quality of America’s air and water and the cancerous effects of wind turbines, and he’ll probably soon ask you to believe that he knows more about the coronavirus than anyone.
Even so, we expect to eventually die from something other than the coronavirus, and to survive whatever political and economic upheavals it might bring. Which is not to say it will be a happy ending for anybody.

— Bud Norman

A Big Day in the Nevada Casinos

The state of Nevada hosted a couple of noteworthy on contests on Saturday, with a rematch between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder that was the biggest heavyweight championship boxing bout in the past few decades and the Nevada caucus being the third contest in what’s looking like a knock-down drag-out contest for the Democratic presidential nomination.
The clear winner of the Nevada caucus, which is arguably the more important outcome of the night, was self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. He didn’t get a majority of the vote but his sizable plurality of the vote gave him 13 of the state’s 16 delegates, and after his arguably first-place finish in the Iowa caucus and inarguably first-place finish in the New Hampshire primary he’s the darling of of Democrat’s loony left and and clearly the party’s front-runner.
There are still several territories and 42 states to go, and the next one is South Carolina, where the Democratic electorate is mostly black and a thus a very moderating influence on the party, what with its religiosity and disproportionate military experience and entrepreneurial bent and all that compared to white Democrats. So there’s a good chance that former Vice President to first black President Barack Obama and relatively sane centrist Joe Biden will get back in the race after a couple of disappointing finishes. Biden came in a respectable second in the vote count, which might allow him to eliminate a couple of pesky competitors for the relatively sane centrist portion of the Democratic partying the upcoming Super Tuesday states, which might or might not be sufficient to win him the Democratic nomination at the end of what could well be a long, tough fight between the Democrats.
Which is good news for President Donald Trump and his unified Republican party, at least for now, but we’d advise them to not get too cocky about it. Trump lost the last popular vote by three million to the worst possible relatively sane centrist candidate they could have come up with, and for now he’s trailing both Sanders and Biden in the polls in the swing states that narrowly won him an Electoral College majority.
We’re not the betting type, and won’t take any wagers on how it all turns out, but we don’t expect any happy outcomes. Trump would do better against a divided Democratic party, but he’s never been all the popular himself, and given the divided state of the union and how much all of the the Democrats and most of the independents and a few stubborn Republicans such as ourselves dislike Trump it looks to be another close call in the Electoral College and another blow-out in the popular vote.
Meanwhile in Nevada, the Irish-British-Roma Tyson “Gypsy King” Fury won his rematch of a much disputed contest against the ferocious American Deontay Wilder with a seventh-round technical knock-out, which still leaves the heavyweight division in disarray. The chiseled black-British champion Anthony Joshua lost a heavyweight bout against by technical knock-out to the pudgy but tough and surprisingly quick Mexican-American champ Louis Ruiz but regained his three titles by a clear majority-decision in the rematch, and the next big heavyweight fight is clearly Fury versus Joshua. We have no idea how that might turn out, no more than we have any idea how the fate of the country comes out in the next election, but as much as we detest heard-injury sports it will all be well worth watching and hard and hard to turn away from.

— Bud Norman

Have a Happy Weekend, Despite it All

Every day we scour the news for something to write about other than President Donald Trump, and after Wednesday’s primary debate we we took the opportunity to take a day off on Thursday to write about what an awful state the opposition Democratic party is in, but as bad as the Democrats are most days we winding up choosing the worst thing Trump said or did.
On Thursday Trump announced that his acting director of national intelligence, overseen the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Central Intelligence Agency and all the various military intelligence-gathing agencies, will be Richard Grenell, who has no military or intelligence experience on his resume. He does have foreign service credentials as Trump’s ambassador to Germany, where our top diplomat has been very irritating to our German ally but quite loyal to Trump. He’s also gained a reputation as an “internet troll” on Trump’s behalf, but those are not the credentials that any Republican or Democratic president in our lifetimes or historical readings would have relied on.
This comes at a time when the same national intelligence community that still insists Russia meddled on Trump’s behalf in the last election is now warning they plan to do so in the next race. Some Trump apologists on Fox News and other Trump-supportive media are saying the president is appalled by the suggestion of Russian interference on his behalf, but he’s always denied the possibility the Russians would da such a thing and has appointed someone who will back him up, no matter what that smarty-pants and “deep state” national intelligence community might conclude. We can’t say the damned Democrats would do any better, but it still looks awful to us.
Also on Thursday, long time Trump friend and advisor Roger Stone, who’s been proudly infamous since his days as one of President Richard Nixon’s self-described “rat fuckers,” was sentenced to more than three years in prison for perjury and witness intimidation during a special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing.” Trump didn’t get impeached for it, but it looked awful, and he’s survived an impeachment trial on an even more clear-cut matter involving the Russian beset-Ukrainian government, but if he winds up pardoning Stone, as looks likely, that will also look bad.
On the other hand, the Wichita State University won a gimme basketball  game at home against the University of South Florida Bull, giving the ‘Shocks their eleventh straight season of 20 wins, putting them in such elite company as Kansas, Duke and North Carolina. They’re still in contention for a top two or three finish in the tough American conference and a slot in the national championship, too.
We don’t have much other good news to offer, but have a good weekend.

— Bud Norman

The Damned Democrats’ Debate

The six candidates who still have a plausible shot at winning the Democratic party’s presidential nomination had a debate Wednesday night in Nevada, which is having one of those weird caucus rituals on Saturday, and it was a raucous affair. All of the contenders spent so much bashing one another they had little time left to bash President Donald Trump, who surely enjoyed the show.
According to the latest polls  the clear frontrunner in the race is Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-described socialist and the darling of the loony left portion of the Democratic party, which is plenty big enough to give a him a 32 point plurality in the crowded field, with fellow loony lefty Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren fading into fourth at 12 percent. Former Vice President and former frontrunner Joe Biden, who is courting the party’s relatively sane centrists, is in second with 16 percent, but that’s barely ahead of the 14 percent by billionaire media mogul and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is courting the same votes. South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar have 8 and 7 percent respectively, which also come from the relatively sane centrist faction.
All of which led to Wednesday’s brass knuckle free-for-all, with the relatively sane centrists attacking one another as well as the loony left contenders, and the loony left contenders also firing in every direction. As best as we can score the bout, Bloomberg got by far the worst of it.
Bloomberg skipped the opening contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, and has carefully avoided any public appearances or interviews with the media, so his recent rapid rise in the polls is entirely due to the $50 million of his own money that he’s poured into national advertising on radio and television and the internet, and one big question was how he’d fare on his first debate stage since his mayoral campaigns. Not vey well, as it turns out.
Everyone in the Democratic party and most of the independents they’ll need to win in November have by now had their fill of New York City billionaires, so all the other candidates gleefully piled on. Warren blasted Bloomberg’s longstanding reputation for saying outrageously things in public and the numerous lawsuits brought by women against his company for fostering a hostile workplace and having women bound by nondisclosure agreements, which seems to be what New York City billionaires do, and Warren succinctly summarized his response as “Well, I’ve been nice to some women.”
Klobuchar criticized Bloomberg’s failure to release his tax returns, another one of those thing New York City billionaires seem to do, and although he promised he’d get around to it soon his explanation for the delay only emphasized that he’s suspiciously rich. Sanders whole platform is anti-billionaires in general, so he further demonized Bloomberg to his fans. Others on both the left and center criticized the “stop and frisk” policing policies aimed mostly at minorities that Bloomberg championed as New York mayor, and although Bloomberg has fulsomely apologized for it that probably won’t do him much good in the largely-Latino Nevada caucus or the majority-black South Carolina primary that’s coming up next.
Everyone but Warren argued that Sanders’ self-described socialism might render him unelectable in a country that’s still mostly center-right, and was forced by the centrists to defend the economic feasibility of his pie-in-the-sky health care proposals, but Bloomberg drew a gasp an then boos when he accused Sanders of being a communist. The 78-year-old Sanders recently suffered a heart attack and was roundly criticized for failing to keep a promise to release his full medical records, and he offered the same explanation that Trump did about his undeniably grueling campaign schedule, but he didn’t seem on his game.</div div style=”text-indent:20px;”>Biden went largely unscathed, but the lack of attacks seemed to emphasize his slow decline into irrelevance, which will rapidly accelerate if he doesn’t do very well in Nevada and then South Carolina, and he still not much of a campaigner and didn’t do much on Wednesday to turn things around. That’s good news for Buttigieg and Klobuchar, who could now overtake both Biden and Bloomberg for those relatively sane centrist Democratic voters. Buttigieg criticized Klobuchar for failing to remember the name of the Mexican president during a recent interview, but she admitted to the understandable momentary lack of memory and made Buttigieg look rather pedantic. On the whole, we think she got the better of it.
Sanders has run afoul of the hotel and casino and restaurant workers union that is largely Latino and a huge chunk of the Nevada caucus-goers, who don’t like his plan to take away their hard-earned health benefits package as part of his single-payer “Medicare for all” plan, which gives the relatively sane centrists a chance at a much-needed win. As bad as Bloomberg was in his first public appearance he probably won’t be the beneficiary, no matter how much money he spends, and we expect Biden to continue underperforming, so that’s an opportunity for either Buttigieg or Klobuchar.
Buttigieg is openly homosexual, and although that didn’t matter to the voters in Iowa and New Hampshire and doesn’t offend our old-fashioned sensibilities any more than Trump’s tawdry sexual history, the largely Latino voters in Nevada and the black majority of voters in South Carolina might not be so open-minded, and even in this day and age it eventually will raise unavoidable questions about his electability, a sanely centrist with impressive military experience though he might be. Which is good news for Klobuchar, a happily married heterosexual woman and mother who has won every race she’s ever run even in Minnesota’s most Republican districts, and can brag of the bills she’s written that got passed and signed even in this polarized age, and she doesn’t want to take away anyone’s private health insurance.
As we scored the free-for-all cage match Klobuchar had a pretty good night, which is the only bad news of the evening for Trump. Eventually Warren will drop out and her 12 percent will join Sanders’ 32 percent, but if Klobuchar is the last relatively sane centrist standing she could have 45 percent of the party on her side, and even more if the Democrats decide that their socialist utopia can wait another four years and beating Trump is the party’s top priority. Trump will come up with some taunting nickname to tar Klobuchar as a loony leftist, and he won’t be able to resist making some outrageously sexist comment about her less-than-beauty-queen looks, but that won’t endear him to the educated suburban Republican women he have left the party in droves over the past three years, and we think she’d be a formidable foe. She also punches back, and she’s pretty darned good at it.
There are still 48 states and all those territories to go, though, and a big chunk of the Democrat party is clearly intent on leaping off that loony left cliff, so we’ll see how it turns out. The scariest part is that even the looniest left Democratic nominee could come up with a bigger plurality in this polarized nation than Trump.

— Bud Norman

Begging the President’s Pardon

Back when President Donald Trump was running against “Crooked” Hillary Clinton he always got big cheers at the rally by promising to “drain the swamp. He’d openly boasted about buying off politicians to benefit his businesses, but people bought the argument that made him an expert on fixing the problem of political corruption.
So far that hasn’t worked out well, with Trump using his office to benefit his still wholly-owned business in various ways, and his reputation as a corruption fighter suffered further on Tuesday when he issued pardons to or commuted the sentences of 11 notorious swamp creatures.
Trump gave a get-out-of-jail-free card to former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was about halfway into a 14-year sentence for several several corruption convictions. The Federal Bureau of Investigation had him on wire-tapped tape profanely stating his intention to sell the Senate seat President Barack Obama had vacated by going to the White House, and he was also caught trying to shake down a children’s cancer hospital for a $50,000 campaign donation in exchange for signing a bill that would have spent millions on pediatric care.
That’s brazenly corrupt abuse of office even by Illinois standards, but Trump said the 14-year sentence “was a tremendously powerful, ridiculous sentence in my opinion and in the opinion of many others.” We’re not sure who the many others are, but they apparently include Blagojevich’s wife, whose teary pleas on her husband behalf were frequently aired on Fox News. Blagojevich had also been a contestant on Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice” reality show during his trial, but Trump insists he hardly knows the guy, so surely that as nothing to do with it.
A pardon was also handed to Michael Milken, the “Junk Bond King” who pleaded guilty in 1990 to six felony counts including securities fraud, mail fraud and filing a fraudulent tax return. Milken was considered the villainous exemplar of the “decade of greed” in the ’80s, and was the inspiration for the Gordon Gekko character in the movie “Wall Street” who had the oft-quoted line that “greed is good,” but times have changed. Among those advocating for Milken’s pardon were Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, the wife of Senate majority leader and loyal Trump ally Mitch McConnell, deep-pocketed political donor Sheldon Adelson, and House minority leader Kevin McCarthy.
Trump was also merciful to former New York City police chief Bernard Kerik, who served during the mayoralty of Trump lawyer Rudy Guiliani, and was convicted of tax fraud while a partner in Guiliani’s security business, and is now a regular at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. Edward DeBartolo Jr., a former owner of the National Football League franchise San Francisco ’49ers who pleaded guilty charge of conspiring with the corrupt and eventually convicted Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards, was forgiven as well.
The rest of the beneficiaries of Trump’s mercy are people we’ve never previously heard of, but they all seem to have some connection to Trump or his cronies. Trump has also commuted the sentence of an aging black woman who was convicted of a non-violent drug offense, but that was for laundering the money she’d earned from running a multi-million-dollar crack cocaine ring that surely committed some violent offense or other, and she was distantly related to the husband of reality show star Kim Kardashian, who vouched for her character in a White House meeting with Trump.
Which leads many people to conclude that the fewer degrees of separation between a convict and Trump increases the convict’s chances of a presidential pardon. Two of Trump’s erstwhile associates, national security advisor Michael Flynn and longtime friend and advisor Roger Stone, are both awaiting sentencing following their convictions of violating federal law, and former campaign manager Paul Manafort is currently in prison, and all three are probably heartened by Tuesday’s news. In the opinion of many people, including ourselves, this looks awfully swampy.
More frightening is the possibility that Trump doesn’t see anything wrong about what Blagojevich or Milken or Kerik or DeBartolo did. He’d still like to lock up “Crooked” Hillary Clinton for whatever she did, which we vaguely recall had something to do with using non-governmental e-mails and cell phones the same way Trump and his daughter and White House advisor have done, and the rally crowds are chanting “Lock her up” at every mention of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s name, for reasons no one can explain. Abuses of power and paying or taking brides or cheating on tax returns or lying one’s way out of a jam are another matter, as far as Trump is concerned.
The same fervent fans who chanted “Drain the swamp” at the rallies won’t mind. Everyone does it, they’ll tell you.

— Bud Norman</div<

In the Interest Of Full Disclosure

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-described socialist and the current frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, is 78 years old and has recently suffered a heart attack. Voters should know everything that can be known about his physical fitness for the hardest job in the world, but Sanders hasyt yet kept a promise to release his medical records to public scrutiny.
Sanders’ many avid fans won’t mind, as they don’t question anything he does or doesn’t or do, and the equally unquestioning fans of President Donald Trump won’t have any standing to complain.
During the last presidential election Trump only released a short letter from his hippie gastroenterologist attesting to his excellent health in such hyperbolic and non-medical terms that it was obvious that Trump had written it himself, as the hippie gastroenterologist later admitted to the press. Since becoming president Trump has submitted to annual physical examinations by White House physicians, but the announced results have been vague and clearly overstated Trump’s height and understated his weight, and one of the most enthused physicians was offered the job of Secretary of Veterans Affairs despite any lack of experience running a vast bureaucracy.
Trump has been similarly opaque about his tax returns and ongoing business dealings and educational records and lack of any military record at all in a time of war, as well as his dealings with foreign leaders and other presidential actions. There’s nothing written in law that requires Trump or any other president to divulge any of this vital information to American voters, but over the past many decades it’s become one of those norms the public has come to expect. Alas, the norms we once relied on are no longer operative.
President Barack Obama arguably started it all when he declined to release his academic records, even though he was indisputably a graduate of prestigious Columbia University and had been the first black editor of the Harvard Law School’s Review while graduating with honors from that very prestigious program. At the time pretty much every Republican including ourselves and the soon-to-be Republican Trump and all of his fans found this quite suspicious, suspecting he had benefited from some affirmative action programs. Trump has gone to even more extraordinary lengths to prevent his educational records from being released, however, with his now-imprisoned personal lawyer threatening lawsuits against any school Trump ever attended if they ever released anything about his school days, and we can’t blame any damned Democrat for suspecting that Trump got into the relative minor leagues of the Ivy League and was graduated without any honors solely because of his rich father’s affirmative actions.
Obama also delayed release of his birth certificate, which Trump and his fans found very suspicious. but when he did even Republican nominee Trump told his followers that “President Obama was born in America, period, which pretty much settled that matter. As far we’re concerned there are far better reasons to oppose Sanders’ candidacy than his advanced age and questionable physical fitness, most prominent being his self-described social\ ism, and we hol out faint hope that the Democratic primary electorate and the rest of the republic will hopefully take that all into account. Even as the Democratic party veers crazy left, though, the Republicans are all in with an obviously obese and aged and suspiciously wealthy president who won’t reveal anything about his still wholly owned businesses or tax returns, and we can’t entirely blame any damned Democrat for violating the norms we once relied on.

≤div style=”text-indent:>20px;‘No matter how it turns out, w{e’ll be hoping for a return to the decades-old norms of full disclosure from our awful presidential choices, but for now neither side is playing by the good old rules.

— Bud Norman

Trump Takes on New York

President Donald Trump was born and reared in New York City, and has always associated himself with its glitz and glamour during his rise to fame, but he’s never been popular in his home state and no longer has any affection for it. He’s recently declared himself a citizen of income tax-free Florida, and has lately been playing hardball with all the citizens of New York.
The Trump administration had decreed that no one in New York is eligible for the federal government’s “Global Entry” and other “trusted traveler” programs that allow for faster border crossings and shorter airport lines. A few hours before meeting with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo about the matter Trump “tweeted” that it was for national security reasons, then added that “New York must stop all of its unnecessary lawsuits & harassment, start cleaning itself up, and lower taxes.”
The newfangled sorts of conservatives who are Trump fans in the other 49 states will probably be pleased that at least he fights, and there are probably even a few them in New York who rarely travel and appreciate the president’s effort to drain the state swamp and lower their taxes, but from our perspective on the political sidelines here in the middle of the country it looks just awful. As proud prairie people we take a backseat to no one in our resentment of the pointy-headed know-it-all types Back East, but we can’t imagine that everyone in New York poses a threat to the national security, and as old-fashioned states rights federalist conservatives we don’t like even a Republican president telling any sovereign state of the union how to run its business. That “twitter” line about “unnecessary law suit & harassment” is scarier yet.
New York’s justice system has already shut down the Trump Family Foundation and heavily fined it for such violations as ripping off a children’s cancer charity and contributing to the campaign of a Florida State Attorney General who then declined to join other states in prosecuting the clearly fraudulent Trump University, which has since shut down, and it’s currently pursuing access to Trump’s tax records and conducting investigations into Trump’s still wholly owned businesses. There’s reason to believe that might have more to do with Trump policy than the high state taxes Trump routinely avoids or the quid pro quo way of doing things he has boastfully exploited or everyone in the great state’s threat to the national security. So far we can tell he seems to be either using or abusing his presidential power — depending on your perspective — to obstruct a sovereign state’s lawful pursuit of justice.
At this point there’s not much to be done about it. All but one of the Senate Republicans have already agreed that Trump didn’t abuse his presidential powers by withholding congressionally approved aid from an an ally to extort its help in his reelection campaign, and all of them overlooked Trump’s out-in-the open efforts to obstruct Congress’ pursuit of justice, and most of them won’t mind the president strong-arming the very Democratic state of New York, which is going to vote Democratic in the next presidential election in any case, to get out of a jam. For now Trump can do as he pleases without regard for legal or constitutional or traditional norms, as is his wont.
For now that’s fine by Trump fans, but mostly they’ll return to their old-fashioned states rights federalist conservatism if an inevitable Democratic president tries the same sort of thing with one of those many red states they live in. They’ll be right to be outraged, but they’ll be hypocrites.

— Bud Norman

What Is Black and White but No Longer Read All Over?

The McClatchy Company, which owns 30 newspapers including the Kansas City Star and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Sacramento Bee and the Charlotte Observer and the Miami Herald, filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy Thursday. Which is perhaps the worst news any of those papers will report today.
For one thing, McClatchy owes us a pension for the 25 years we spent toiling at one of the newspapers it acquired when it bought out the once-formidable Knight-Ridder Company. McClatchy has more than pensioners for every active employee, which is one of the many reasons for its bankruptcy filing, but the plan is to have the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation take over most of its obligations, and although that’s in negotiations we’re hopeful it works out.
For another thing, and of more importance to the rest of the world, the bankruptcy is yet another sign of the rapid decline of American newspapers, and we’re not at all hopeful that will soon change. All of McClatchy’s newsrooms will continue to operate for now, with help from $50 million of financing from a company called Encina Business Credit, and if the courts agree they’ll eventually be owned by a hedge fund called Chatham Asset Management LLC, but they have no experience in newspapers and will surely find the business as difficult as McClatchy did.
Because of this newfangled internet machine your local newspaper no longer has the monopoly it once enjoyed on stock market listings and baseball standings and astrological forecasts and comic strips, and one can easily and inexpensively acquire the national and international news from such a wide range of choices you’ll be able to find one that only tells you what to hear. Worse yet, the internet has robbed newspapers of the classified advertising that used to be a lucrative revenue stream, and by now the internet knows enough about you that the big advertisers prefer to pay for ads that target the most likely customers. The business model that sustained American newspapers for centuries is suddenly obsolete.
This has resulted in severe downsizing at pretty much every newspaper in America, which has diminished the quality of the product even as its prices have steeply increased, and that naturally perpetuate and accelerates the industry’s decline. The mid-sized daily where we once toiled had about 150 newsroom employees when we started there, which wasn’t nearly enough to keep up with a mid-sized city such as Wichita, and these days they have about a dozen people on the job. They’re doing the best they can to be a watchdog, and have done some very fine work lately covering all the shenanigans that City Hall and County Hall are up to, but they’re getting most of their state news from the Kansas City Star, which used to be the rival they once competed with for statewide scoops, and most people aren’t willing to shell out a full dollar for local news, especially when the local sports news is a day old because the papers are being printed in Kansas City.
Since 2006 McClatchy’s advertising revenue fell by 80 percent and its print circulation dropped 58.6 percent, which is obviously the dire sort of thing that lands a company in bankruptcy court, and according to the Brookings Institute more than 2,000 newspapers have gone out of business in the last 15 years. There are cities larger than Wichita that don’t have a daily newspaper, here in Wichita the paper only comes out six days a week, and no one should think that it can’t happen where they are.
Some will cheer the demise of the “fake news” “enemies of the people” that told them so many things they didn’t want to hear, but they’ll miss it when its gone. City halls and county halls and state legislatures around the country will feel emboldened to pursue their shenanigans without a watchdog keeping an eye on them. The heroic exploits of your best local high school and collegiate athletes will go unsung, and the sorts of funny and touching human interest stories we used to write and the great photographs that went with them will go unpublished. The births and deaths of your fellow citizens and all sorts of public events will receive less notice, and your community will be poorer as a result.
There’s still a chance those newsrooms will somehow survive on the internet, but so far they haven’t figured out how to do that, as people don’t like to pay for content and advertisers are targeting very small markets among even a big-sized paper’s declining readership. The Salt Lake Tribune has recently been recognized as a nonprofit organization, and we expect other papers to follow, and several foundations have been funding journalism, which helps but also raises question about the foundations’ objectivity. For now its hard to find the proverbial silver lining on the metaphorical clouds that hang over the newspaper business.
There must be some civic-minded demand for local news though, and we’ll hope that the ingenious capitalist system will figure out some way to profitably supply the public. In any case, we’ll hope to at least get our pension for all the years of wretchedly ink-stained work we put in on a noble profession.

— Bud Norman

Stone Cold Justice

There’s a longstanding and time-honored tradition in America that the Department of Justice is independent and free from political influence, but President Donald Trump is the newfangled sort of conservative who cares little about longstanding and time-honored traditions. The latest example is Trump’s brazen efforts to secure a lighter sentence for Roger Stone, one of Trump’s several friends and associates who have been convicted in a court of law for serious felonies.
Stone has reveled in his infamy since the days of President Richard Nixon, when he was one of the Nixon reelection committee’s “rat fuckers” — their own chosen name, by the way, and not ours — and his entire career has been one of unabashed sleaziness. He was a partner with Trump campaign manager and convicted felon Paul Manafort in a lobbying firm that specialized in the lucrative business of representing the world’s most odious dictators, and he was found guilty of lying to Congress and intimidating a witness. The prosecutors recommended a sentence of seven to nine years in prison, which Trump has made clear in “tweets” and other public pronouncements he considers too harsh a sentence for his longtime friend and advisor.
Trump is entitled to his opinion, of course, but his opinion shouldn’t matter in the case any more than yours or ours, what with the justice system being a coequal branch of government according to the constitutional order that we more old-fashioned sorts of conservatives still revere. Attorney General William Barr has unsurprisingly ruled against the prosecutors’ recommendations, all four of the distinguished career prosecutors have resigned from the case in protest, with one resigning from the government altogether, and Trump’s opinion might well trump yours or mine or anyone else’s.
On the other hand, maybe it won’t. There’s still a constitutional order that makes the courts a coequal branch of government, and Stone’s fate is for now in the hands of Judge Amy Bergman Jackson, who has a reputation as a stubbornly independent jurist who has recently ruled in Trump’s favor on a lawsuit to compel the president to preserve records of his dealings with foreign governments but is unlikely to bow to presidential pressure for a lighter sentence. She might even choose to demonstrate her independence by throwing the book at Stone, and we wouldn’t blame her if she did.
There will be appeals, of course, as Stone is constitutionally entitled to, and he might well wind up before some Trump-appointed and more friendly judge, but he has been found guilty of serious felonies in a court of law and will likely face some prison time unless he gets a presidential pardon. That’s well within the realm of probability, and we wouldn’t be surprised if Manafort also gets a get-out-jail-free card, along with the other five people convicted of felonies in the wake of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
That investigation documented numerous contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russian government that it showed was working on the Trump campaign’s behalf, but did not find proof of any conspiracy, and declined to bring charges of obstruction of justice because of a justice department policy against bringing any sorts of charges against any sitting president, so the Trump position is that the investigation was invalid and so are any of the seven guilty verdicts that resulted. It’s an argument the Trump fans will surely buy, but it’s a hard sell to the rest of us,
Stone’s a Nixon-era old man, and nine years might well prove a death sentence, and for all his freely admitted sleazebaggery he’s only even threatened violence on one provable occasion, so maybe the prosecutors’ recommendation is a bit harsh. That’s just our opinion, though, and we think the matter its probably  best left to the long-standing and time-honored traditions of America’s independent justice system. Here’s hoping that’s how it works out.

— Bud Norman

After New Hampshire

The results of the New Hampshire Democratic presidential primary are in, and although we’re still not entirely sure how the Iowa caucuses turned out the race for the nomination is already starting to take shape. Only two of the 48 states and none of the territories have thus far weighed in, so there’s a long season of politics and plenty of plot twists ahead, but the New Hampshire results are nonetheless interesting.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders won a narrow victory over South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg, flipping the results of the inconclusive Iowa caucuses, and we don’t think that’s good news for the Democrats. Sanders is a self-described socialist, Buttigieg is a sensible centrist by Democratic standards but also openly homosexual, and although things are now very different from when we were young there’s still a huge chunk of the popular vote that would rather vote for the likes of President Donald Trump.
The better news for the Democrats, we think, was in the rest of the balloting. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a sensible centrist by Democratic standards and a married mother of a daughter to boot, came in five points behind for a  respectable third, which enhances her name recognition and helps her fundraising and gets her media coverage and makes her a viable contender in the upcoming races. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren was well behind in fourth place, and former Vice President Joe Biden came in at a desultory fifth place finish. Things can change over a long political season, but for now Warren can’t compete with Sanders for the crazy-left vote, and despite his putative front-runner status Biden is thus far struggling to win over the sane and sensibly centrist by Democratic standards vote.
The race now shifts to Nevada and then South Carolina, which could well provide very different results. Minorities are the majority of Democratic voters in each state, quite unlike both Iowa and New Hampshire, and although we don’t mind Sanders’ jewishness nor Buttigieg’s homosexuality nor Warren’s sex, and as much as we appreciate the cultural traditions of Latino and black voters, we’ll come right out and say that some Democrats aren’t so open-minded as we are. It’s early in the season, but we’ll cautiously prognosticate that Sanders ends up winning the crazy-left vote over Warren, and that Klobuchar soon emerges as the sane and sensibly centrist by Democratic standards alternative.
Which is probably best for the Democrats. Biden is a sensible centrist by the Democratic standards, and is associated with a President Barack Obama administration that saw more jobs created in its last three years than during than during the first three years of the Obama administration, but he’s a horrible campaigner and his son got inexplicably rich in Ukraine, even if he has a very complicated explanation for it all. Trump was acquitted by the Senate for his own Ukrainian dealings, and will have a field day with it.
Even Trump wouldn’t dare say anything about Buttigieg’s sexuality, at least not overtly, but his followers surely wlll, which makes Klobuchar the most appealing sane and sensible by Democratic standards for now. She’s never lost an election in the Republican areas of Minnesota where she’s run for various offices, she’s neither a self-described socialist nor an open homosexual, speaks in complete sentences, and seems to have no ties to Russia or Ukraine, so we figure she’d be a formidable opponent against Trump. Klobuchar is a woman, but is so more than half of the electorate, and last time around the worst woman in the world won three million more votes than Trump.
Some Republicans are hoping the Democrats will go crazy leftt, figuring that bolsters Trump’s reelection chances, but they should be careful what they wish for. Even the craziest left Democrat has a chance of beating Trump, and better it should be some sane and centrist by Democratic standards nominee who does the deed.

— Bud Norman