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The Post-Gutenberg, Post-Truth Era

The Pew Research Center has released its annual assessment of the state of the news media, and it should come as a surprise to no one that it finds the news business in sorry shape.
Newspaper circulation is down to the lowest level since 1940, which was when they started keeping track and there were 200 million fewer people in America, and naturally revenues are also falling. Viewership of local television newscasts and the over-the-air network broadcasts are also down, although revenues have somehow improved. Cable news viewership and revenue rose, but only slightly.
There’s no reason to expect any improvement in the near future, as by now the decline seems self-perpetuating and accelerating. Lower revenues lead to smaller newsrooms putting together less news, usually at a steeper subscription price, which in turn leads to further declines in readership and more layoffs and even less news. There are already large American cities such as Pittsburgh and Birmingham that have no major newspapers at all, and we expect there will be more of them in the next few years.
Those who regard the media as enemies of the people might be pleased to hear it, but they should be careful what they wish for. With no one keeping a close eye on your city hall and county building and state capitol the people inside will probably be more tempted by whatever corrupt bargains come their way, and you won’t be able to object to their dumbest decisions until after they’re a done deal. You’ll cast your votes to replace the bums without knowing much about who you’re putting in. Like it or not, you need the news, and you’ll miss it when it’s not around.
Go ahead and say the news media is in decline because of its dishonest “fake news” ways, and figure you can get your information straight from President Donald Trump’s “twitter” feed, but that’s bunk. Most people who go into journalism are left-leaning, to be sure, and that sometimes affects their reporting in infuriating ways, but they very rarely just make things up, are usually quickly caught by their colleagues when they do, and an astute reader can discern the double-sourced facts according to their own bias. In most cases, it’s more reliable than Trump’s “tweets.” The rapid decline in journalism’s fortunes, we believe, mostly isn’t the journalists’ fault.
Way back in the Gutenberg era when we broke into the newspaper racket as college dropout copy boys, newspapers were thick and cost a mere 25 cents, and it was a grand and essential bargain at that price. Your daily newspaper was the only way to know where your favorite baseball team was in the standings, how that hot stock pick you bought into fared on the markets, what the weekly weather forecast was forecasting, and there was “Peanuts” and “Blondie” and crossword puzzles and coupons worth well more than 25 cents. Newspapers were black and white and read all over, even by those apolitical types who don’t much care what’s going on at City Hall or in Washington, D.C., although they’d occasional read the stories as well.
This infernal internet machine changed all that, for both better and worse. It provides access to The Wall Street Journal and New York Times and Washington Post and a wide variety of publications closest to whatever local story has become national news, and you can read well considered opinions worth considering from across the political spectrum, along with all sorts of far-right and far-left conspiracy theorizing that might just turn about to be true, but the marketplace is so widely dispersed that profits are hard to come by for even the best of the news providers. There will always be a certain demand to know what’s going on, but it’s hard to build a business model on it.
We’ve also noticed there’s less demand to know what’s going on in the big, wide world. People seem more interested in what’s on their text messages and the Facebook pages they’re constantly looking at on their hand-held mesmerizers, and care less than ever about what’s going at city hall or the county building or in Washington, D.C.  Even talk radio is seeing a decline in ratings, and Trump is fuming that that his “Twitter” following has been cut down by the period attempts to eliminate “bots.” Perhaps that has something to do with the rather dull prose and apparent biases of so many journalists, but it’s also a failure of America’s educational system and our self-absorbed culture, and the politicians who encourage cynicism about the very possibility of objective truth aren’t helping.
Keep your eye on the news, we urge, and don’t be such a cheapskate that you won’t pay an inflation-adjusted price to keep it going. Be skeptical about whatever you read, whether it’s in a newspaper or internet publication or a presidential “tweet.”

— Bud Norman

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Robert Mueller’s Graceful Bow from the Public Stage, and Its Aftermath

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony before two congressional committees on Wednesday was one of the most highly anticipated episodes in President Donald Trump’s long-running reality show, but it proved anticlimactic. No matter which side you’re rooting for in this tawdry spectacle, you probably didn’t get what you were hoping for.
Trump’s tormenters in the Democratic party were mostly disappointed that Mueller stubbornly refused to add anything juicy to what’s in the 480-page report his exhaustive investigation into the “Russia thing” provided. There’s plenty in the report that looks very, very bad for Trump, but it’s a long and tough read that most Americans haven’t perused, and much of the country is willing to go with Attorney General Robert Barr’s four-page summary that there’s nothing in it that looks at all bad for Trump, so the Democrats were hoping that Mueller would make it more vivid, which his very carefully chosen words didn’t do.
On the other hand, Trump and his die-hard supporters in the Republican party didn’t get what they wanted. They’ve been claiming that the report completely exonerates Trump of any wrongdoing, and Mueller reiterated the report’s carefully chosen and clearly stated words that it “does not exonerate the president.” Even as Trump and his die-hard supporters claim that Mueller did exonerate the president, they’re also claiming that Mueller is a “deep state” conspirator who launched a treasonous “witch hunt” into a “total hoax” about Russian interference on Trump’s behalf in the last presidential election, and they didn’t make much headway with that alternative argument.
On the whole, we’d say that Trump and his die-hard supporters got slightly the worst of it.
In his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee Mueller reiterated his investigation’s finding that Russia did indeed interfere on Trump’s behalf in various ways during the last election, a claim that all of America’s intelligence agencies confirm is not a hoax, with Trump’s Secretary of State and Central Intelligence Agency director and National Security and Director of National Security Director in agreement. Trump is still inclined to take Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s word for it that Russia would never think of doing any such thing, and has taken no action to prevent from doing so in the future, and any fair-minded American who’s still paying attention to Mueller’s carefully chosen words about this stuff should be concerned about that.
Mueller also reiterated his investigation’s conclusion that it could not charge Trump or his campaign with criminally conspiring with the Russians, which seems to be the “total exoneration” that Trump crows about, but of course it’s more complicated that. The investigation found Trump campaign officials were fully aware of Russia’s efforts and had numerous and Russian officials, proved that Trump was lying when he assured the Republican primary electorate he wasn’t pursuing any business deals in Russia, and has won indictments and guilty pleas and convictions against such high-ranking Trump associates as longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen and campaign manager Paul Manafort and national security advisor Mike Flynn. Another case against longtime Trump friend and advisor Roger Stone is currently being adjudicated, but Mueller carefully avoided commenting on that, or any of the other many criminal cases his investigation referred to other jurisdictions.
The House Judiciary Committee was naturally more interested in the part of Mueller’s report that outlined ten instances where Trump sought to thwart the investigation, but Mueller disappointed the Democrats by artfully dodging questions about whether he would have charged Trump with obstruction of justice if Trump weren’t the president of the United States. There’s a Watergate-era opinion from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel that says you can’t charge a sitting president for a felony, which the report seems to imply is the sole reason no charges were brought, and the seasoned Mueller was craftily coy in dodging questions about whether he’d meant to imply that, but we figure any fair-minded observer still paying attention to this arcane stuff could probably read between the lines.
The Republican attacks on the character and credibility of the man they simultaneously claim has completely exonerated Trump looked ridiculous, of course. If you’ve been following this soap opera on right wing talk radio and through Trump’s “tweets” you know that Mueller and the Hillary Clinton-loving and Trump-hating “13 Angry Democrats” he assembled for his investigation were intent on a coup d’tat against a duly elected American president, but despite their best efforts the Republican interrogators failed to make a convincing case. Trump has “tweeted” that Mueller only investigated him because Mueller was “best friends” with fired Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey, Trump didn’t appoint Mueller to a a third term as FBI director, and because of some long-ago dispute about greens fees at a Trump-owned golf course, but that was all the more ridiculous.
Mueller is a bona fide Eagle Scout, a veteran of the Vietnam War decorated with a Bronze Star and Purple Heart, a star student at three of America’s most elite universities, a longtime prosecutor against America’s most dangerous criminals whose reputation for by-the-book integrity earned him a nomination to head the FBI by a Republican president and a nomination to serve a rare second term by a Democratic president, with both appointments confirmed by landslide and bipartisan votes in the Senate. His reputation for honesty and integrity and patriotism is far better than Trump’s, by any fair-minded assessment, and it’s hard to believe he’d toss away his hard-earned fawning footnote in America’s history because of a collegial professional relationship with Comey or a third term at the FBI he swore under oath he did not apply for, much less some petty dispute over greens fees that only the likes of Trump would make a big deal about.
That Mueller disappointed by the Democrats by declining to sensationalize the more damning parts of his report makes the Republican arguments that he’s a treasonous “deep state” conspirator all the more unconvincing. So far as we can tell from our reading of Mueller’s report the Trump campaign cooperated with Russia’s interference in the election, and the Trump administration sought to prevent efforts to find out about it, and while it’s outside Mueller’s jurisdiction he stuck to rules as he reads them and he figures it’s up to Congress to decide if that amounts to the “high crimes and misdemeanors” that are impeachable offenses. We’re sure Mueller has some private opinion about how Congress should proceed, but he’s a stickler for the rules ,and one of those rare Washington figures who doesn’t think everything’s all about him, and is still willing to let his private opinions remain private, so as disappointed as we are our old-school Republican souls admire his old-school reticence.
Which is more than we can say for Trump. At what he surely hopes is the end of a long and distinguished career of public service Mueller has once again provided the American public with the facts of the matter at hand, as best as he could, and according to the rules he has once again humbly and wisely decided to let the rest of us sort it all out. We’ll hold out hope, as we’re sure Mueller will do, that whatever the hell the truth is it will ultimately prevail.

— Bud Norman

“BoJo,” “Brexit,” and Trump

Over the past many decades there have often been intriguing similarities between America’s presidents and the United Kingdom’s prime ministers.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill was a conservative Tory and President Franklin Roosevelt a liberal Democrat, but both men came from aristocratic backgrounds and excellent educations and they shared an instinctive abhorrence of Nazism, and Churchill came to share the Cold War stage with President Dwight Eisenhower. Prime Minister Margaret “Iron Lady” Thatcher was an iconoclastic conservative Tory whose election paved the way for President Ronald Reagan’s equally iron-willed and controversial conservative Republicanism. Reagan was succeeded by the more cautiously conservative President George H.W. Bush at about the same time that was followed by Prime Minister John Major, a cautiously conservative tory with the same sort of establishment pedigree as his American counterpart. President Bill Clinton ended 12 years of Republican presidencies by promising a centrist “third way,” and he was soon joined by Prime Minister Tony Blair, who ended a long run of Tory residence at Number 10 Downing Street on a similar centrist platform.
Since then Republican presidents have sometimes had to get along with Labour Prime Ministers and Democrats have overlapped with Tories, but for the most part the Special Relationship persisted. Putatively Republican President Donald Trump often clashed with Tory Prime Minister Theresa May, who had a more refined style and didn’t share his nationalist instincts, but she’s lately been forced to resign, and will now be replaced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is about as close a copy of Trump as the United Kingdom can find.
Johnson has a longstanding reputation for making up facts that suit him and bluntly insulting anyone who disputes his version of the truth, he’s a Britain-first nationalist who shares Trump’s distrust of international alliances and institutions, he was born in New York City to a wealthy family, and he arguably has an even more ridiculous hair style than the American president. Trump had signaled he would have preferred the even more anti-European Union politician Nigel Farage, who campaigned for Trump during his presidential race, but we expect that he and Johnson will get along quite well at the upcoming economic summits.
Johnson first gained notice in Britain as a journalist, which is a marked contrast from Trump, but we think Trump would have liked his style. He was an anti-European Union crusader at a time when Britain’s entry into the economic alliance was a hotly debated issue. There were plenty of good reasons for Britain to retain its independence, including nosy regulations and open border policies and one-size-fits-all currency, but Johnson wasn’t satisfied with that and invented all sorts of fanciful tales about condom size regulations and other outrages, getting fired from the Times of London for falsifying a quote but later finding a home at the Tory-leaning Telegraph. He parlayed his popularity into eight controversial but not at all catastrophic years as Mayor of London, and then somehow wound in May’s cabinet as Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.
Britain’s limited involvement in the European Union remained a controversial issue, with the country eventually voting by a slim margin in a referendum to “Brexit” from the agreement. Negotiating the terms of the divorce proved difficult, however, and eventually brought an end to May’s prime ministership. The United Kingdom had wisely followed Thatcher’s advice to retain its Pound Sterling currency rather than accept the Euro that the poorer country’s were using to rack up ruinous debt and require huge bailouts, but it had agreed to accept some very stupid immigration rules and other annoying violations of its sovereignty, so there was ample reason to cut ties with the continent, but on the other hand EU membership also offered very lucrative free trade with the world’s third biggest economy. The EU naturally used that leverage to demand concessions that Johnson and Farage and Trump and other “hard Brexit” advocates resented, and May wound up resigning in frustration with her failure to please anyone.
Perhaps Johnson will have better luck with the negotiations, but the conventional wisdom of American and Fleet Street media is that he’ll have the same problems as May. His Conservative Party and the “Brexit” are both unpopular, Britain’s economy needs the EU more than the EU needs Britain, the country has lately been having its oil tankers seized and harassed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, a problem that will require North Atlantic Treaty Organization assistance, and much like Trump he’s widely regarded by the establishment types as a rank amateur who’s in over his ill-coiffed head. The anti-EU Trump has said he’ll reward Britain with a sweetheart trade deal if it makes a “Brexit,” but no matter how sweet it probably won’t be worth as much as free access to the far closer and nearly as large EU economy, and Johnson and Trump have some disagreements on matters ranging from the Iran nuclear deal to the importance of the NATO alliance.
Still, we wish “BoJo” and Trump the best of luck working it all out, as America and the United Kingdom have helped one another do ever since that unpleasantness back in 1812. In a couple of years there might a crazy left Democratic president and a crazy left Labourite prime minister who find themselves simpatico, and if so we’ll hold out work that doesn’t end badly.

— Bud Norman

The Art of the Budget Deal

The good news is that President Donald and the Republican and Democratic leaders have reached a deal, expected to be voted on and signed by the end of the week, which will avert a governmental default and the economic cataclysm that would surely follow. The bad news is that deal adds another couple trillion dollars to a national debt that sooner or later will be just as catastrophic.
For now, though, no one seems to care. The Democrats remain the party of big government, and realize that for the two years of the budget deal they are unlikely to get the big tax increases they want to address the deficit, and the agreement gives them a few hundred billion dollars more to spread around to their voters. The Republicans are no longer the party of fiscal responsibility but rather the party of Trump, the self-proclaimed “king of debt,” who told reporters on Monday that “We are, I think, doing very well on debt, if you look at debt limit, however you want to define that, but we’re doing very well on that and I think we’re doing well on a budget.”
We’ll leave it to Trump’s die-hard supporters to explain exactly what the heck that means, as they seem to speak his language better than we do, but the gist of it seems to be that he’s quite comfortable about another couple of years of trillion dollar deficits, and maybe four more after that if he gets reelected. He and his die-hard supporters will probably revert to the old-fashioned Republican outrage about fiscal irresponsibility as soon as another Democrat occupies the White House, but for now they’ll talk about the great deal he got.
The Democrats agreed to another big hike in defense spending, and Trump told reporters “Very important we take care of our military, our military was depleted and in the past two-and-a-half years we’ve undepleted it, okay, to put it mildly,” adding another Trump neologism to the language at no cost to the taxpayer. There’s no money for the big beautiful border wall that Trump the Mexicans pay for, but neither is there anything to prevent Trump from diverting funds from the military budget to build a mile or two. The Democratic leaders also gave oral assurances they wouldn’t complicate future budget negotiations with with any “riders” regarding abortion or other controversial issues, although it’s not clear how Trump will hold them to that.
The deal does allow a few hundred billion dollars more of discretionary spending, but for at least two years and maybe six that Democrats won’t have much say in how it’s spent, so a lot of Democratic congress members are publicly fuming, especially those newcomers that Trump has lately been urging to back where they came from.
The last of the old-school Republicans who really believed all that talk about limited government and fiscal responsibility and the looming were also disgruntled, with the president of the Committee for a Responsible Budget saying “It may end up being the worst budget agreement in our nation’s history.”
Despite all the grumbling on both sides of the aisle we expect the deal will be sealed by week’s end, when Congress takes it annual summer vacation. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer retain a fairly tight rein on their caucus, hardly anyone in the Republican party dales challenge Trump on anything, the entire political class seems to realize that few of us still care about about the looming debt catastrophe, and absolutely no believes that anyone in Washington, D.C., can come up with solution before vacation time.
The deal at least kicks the can of crisis a bit further down the road, and no one’s likely to have to run for reelection a year from next November explaining what they did the the global economic Armageddon happened, and they can all hope they’ll be dead or retired with a sufficient stash of gold and guns and canned food when the reckoning does come.
Addressing America’s debt will require tough talk and harsh medicine for the American people. The Democrats will have to acknowledge that their utopian dreams are for now too expensive, the Republicans will probably have to forgo another round of their beloved tax cuts, and both parties will have make unpopular changes in such popular programs as Social Security and Medicare and even our recently undepleted military. That kind of political courage is scarce these days in either party, though, and far scarcer than the deficit dollars the Fed will keep printing.

— Bud Norman

Build that Wall!

Say what you want about The Washington Examiner, but it’s not one of those far-left liberal “fake news” rags. It’s not quite up to the standards of the late and much lamented Washington Star, but it’s the factual and conservative alternative to the factual and left-leaning Washington Post. We therefore tend to believe its front page report that President Donald Trump hasn’t yet built a single mile of the big and beautiful and sea-to-shining-sea border wall on the southern border that he promised his supporters.
By all accounts there have been repairs and upgrades to the fences that previous Democratic and Republican congresses and presidents agreed to, but by no account has Mexico gladly paid for any of it, as Trump promised his supporters. At this point, though, no one much cares.
The Trump skeptics never believed for a moment that he was going to build a big beautiful wall along the southern border, much less that Mexico would gladly pay for it, but the true believers were well satisfied that he’d at least make such preposterous promises. Take Trump seriously but not literally, they’d say, and for the most part they’ve been right about that. Trump hasn’t built a single mile of border wall, but he’s enforcing border laws as cruelly as he can get can get away with, and his supporters rightly figure that’s a figurative if not literal sort of wall. The courts haven’t allowed the complete ban on Muslims entering the country that Trump promised, but he’s done his best to make the mostly law-abiding Muslims who are currently here feel uncomfortable, which should placate the fans.
There’s no telling how the next presidential election might turn out, but we will predict that it won’t result in a big and beautiful sea-to-shining-sea southern border wall that Mexico happily pays for.

— Bud Norman

Daddy Pa, the Moon, and the Brave New World

Tomorrow marks the 50th anniversary of an American spacecraft landing on the moon, and Neil Armstrong becoming the first man step foot on its surface, which thankfully gives us something to write about other than President Donald Trump.
We retain a vivid memory of watching it on a grainy black-and-white television at our grandparents’ home in Oklahoma City, and realizing what an extraordinary achievement it was. What a brave new world we would grow up in, we clearly remember thinking, and our nine-year-old imaginations envisioned that by now we’d be flying around in one of those space cars that George Jetson drove to work at Spacely Sprockets.
As it turns out we’re getting around town in an aging Chrysler Sebring, but the top comes down at the push of a button, and when we get home there’s a computer and internet and microwave oven and all manner of technological marvels, while our aging parents are getting health care their parents never did and have machines that will answer any question they ask and change the channel on their high-definition television and play any song they want to hear at spoken request. It’s a brave new world after all, the current lack of flying cars notwithstanding, and the still-remarkable feat of landing a man on the moon was one of the milestones that made it seem possible.
Our beloved maternal grandfather, known as “Bud” to his friends and “Daddy Pa” to his nine grandchildren, didn’t know what to make of it. He was born in the Oklahoma Territory, and in a covered wagon according to family legend, and he couldn’t be fully convinced that he’d lived long enough to watch a man walk on the moon. In any case he didn’t believe that people had any business walking around on the moon. He thought it was the same sort of hubris that brought down the Tower of Babel and sank The Titanic, and he firmly believed in a more down-to-Earth way of living. Still, he let us stay up long past our bedtimes to watch the moon landing live on the newfangled television machine.
We’ve largely inherited Daddy Pa’s luddite instincts, and eschew those smart phones and smart-alecky machines that answer all your questions and turn all your appliances on and off, and still have a nagging worry that eventually technology will turn on us like that HAL computer in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and when we try to step outside into the open air of actual rather than virtual reality it will say “Sorry, Bud, but I can’t let you do that.” With all the considerable respect due to Daddy Pa, however, we think he failed to fully appreciate one of the most remarkable moments of his extraordinary life.
America landed on the Moon on because it had run out of the North American space that was its Manifest Density, with even the Oklahoma Territory admitted to the union as a fully-fledged state, and there’s something in the American nature that constantly wants to peacefully expand its boundaries. The moon mission was driven by a desire to go farther than man had gone before, prove that even the most implausible tasks are possible, and to learn more than was previously known, which ranks right up there with humility and compassion among the very best traits of our flawed human species.
Daddy Pa would be pleased that modern medical technology has kept his third daughter alive for more years than he enjoyed down here on Earth, and impressed that she can hear his beloved Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys’ western swing music any time she asks her know-it-all machine for it, and he’d probably admit that it wasn’t the end of the world when a man walked on the Moon. We’ll try to keep our place in the old world he so dearly loved, but we’ll do our best to help along this brave new world.

— Bud Norman

Partying with Cheerleaders

These are the lazy, hazy days of summertime, when the cotton is high and the living is easy and the news cycle usually slows down. In the age of President Donald Trump there’s always something to talk about, however, and on Wednesday it was some old footage from the National Broadcasting Company of the future president indulging in what looked to be a pretty wild party at his Mar-a-Lago estate with a bevy of National Football League cheerleaders.
There’s nothing on the tape that would justify Trump’s impeachment, and his apologists can rightly argue that cameras might have caught such Presidents Clinton and Kennedy and Harding behaving just as badly if the media had been as nosy, but it doesn’t look good. Trump is once on again on tape assessing women’s worth by his scale-of-one-to-ten ratings of their physical attractiveness, and pulling women by the waist and patting their derrieres and forcing kisses and stopping just short of grabbing them by the pussy. He’s also seen yukking it up and comparing notes on the assembled pulchritude with fellow Palm Beach billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, who is now a convicted sex offender and currently resides in a federal jail awaiting trial on more charges of exploiting underage women, and is someone Trump now claims he never liked.
The footage is from a 1992 segment on NBC’s talk show “A Closer Look,” hosted by Faith Daniels, who recalls that Trump forced a kiss on her while her husband’s head was turned, which the videotape confirms. At the time Trump was newly-divorced from his first wife and not yet married to the mistress who would become his second wife, and a recently bankrupt real estate and casino mogul who was known for calling all the New York City tabloids to boast of his sexual exploits. He clearly relished his reputation as the playboy of the western world, and was eager to play the part before NBC’s cameras.
These days Trump has a third wife and is the darling of the “family values” religious right wing of the Republican party, and swears he doesn’t have a sexist bone in his body, but he’s probably unconcerned about the footage. On our drive home from a northeast side dive we heard one of the right-wing talk radio talkers talking about how everyone already knew that Trump was a hound dog and he became president anyway, and the die-hard fans seem to take his pussy-grabbing tendencies as further proof that he’s the sort of dominating alpha male we need to make America great again.
Trump credibly claims to have had no contact with Epstein since the sex crime conviction, and has defenestrated the Secretary of Labor who gave Epstein a sweetheart deal back when he was a U.S. Attorney, and former President Bill Clinton was also a pal of Epstein, so Trump should also survive his past friendship with the world’s most notorious sex offender.
In the long run it’s just one of those aged filler stories that the media need to fill a slow summer news day, but we still say it doesn’t look good. That America has elected two different presidents who were once pals of Epstein troubles us, and there’s no telling what Epstein’s upcoming will reveal. We never did like any of those guys we grew up with who rated women by their looks and pulled waists and forced kisses and grabbed pussies, and we still believe that more thoughtful and respectful types are needed to sustain American greatness.

— Bud Norman

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