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As the Supreme Court Turns

There was nothing on Thursday’s daytime soap operas remotely so compelling as the Senate judiciary committee’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing, which of course was what everyone was talking about.
In the unlikely event you weren’t watching on any of the various news channels, or haven’t already heard about it from multiple sources, California university professor Christine Blasey Ford gave a convincing account of how current Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh attempted to rape her when they were both high school students in the early ’80s, Kavanaugh gave a convincing denial of the charges, and pretty much everyone decided whom to believe based on their partisan prejudgments. Elsewhere in the news there are three other women accusing Kavanaugh of serious youthful sexual misbehavior, and some serious reasons the news media are very cautiously reporting their yet un-sworn testimony, along with plenty of circumstantial evidence that at the very least Kavanaugh wasn’t quite the straight-arrow high schooler he claimed to be on a unprecedented and ill-advised Fox News interview, and some witnesses on both sides that probably won’t be called to testify, but all that will also be probably judged according to partisan prejudgment.
These days we find ourselves on the political sidelines, with no real rooting interest in either party, so our best guess about the matter is based on more personal experience.
We’re as wary as ever of those damn Democrats, and especially their aversion to the originalist theory of constitutional interpretation that has always been the obvious primary reason they oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination. On the other hand we’re just as wary these days of the putatively Republican and legally embattled President Donald Trump who nominated Kavanaugh against his party’s advice, and we can’t shake a healthy suspicion he was nominated ahead of other impeccably originalist candidates because of some his previous writings in White House memory and law journal articles that a sitting president cannot be indicted or subpoenaed or even investigated. We’d still like the think that the Republicans could come up with a highly qualified and stridently originalist Supreme Court nominee who doesn’t face such credible charges of teenaged sexual assaults, as they did the last time around, perhaps with one of the several more-easily confirmable female candidates, but this is the hand America has been dealt.
None of that much matters in the current he-said and she-said context, though, and we’re left with the desultory task of choosing whom to believe. At one point in the proceedings Kavanaugh spoke movingly about his mother, who was one of Maryland’s first women prosecutors and judges, and how her “trademark line” was “Use your common sense. What rings true? What rings false?,” and that’s how we’ve always tried to decide these darned complicated matters. Unfortunately for the trailblazing Mrs. Kavanaugh’s undeniably accomplished son, that Ford woman’s testimony rings discordantly true to our ears.
Most of our lives have been more happily spent on apolitical pursuits, but that has included some intimate relationships with women who have convincingly and heartbreakingly told of us the sexual abuse they have suffered from more powerful men, and we didn’t doubt them at all, and Ford’s accounts seems to ring true in the same detailed way. Over the many years we went to high school and college and worked in offices we witnessed countless men behaving badly, ranging from geeky awkwardness to credible accusations of rape, and we’re hard-pressed to see why a California psychology professor with a little-known but well-regarded reputation and a nice quiet family life would invite death threats and the condemnation of a major political to tell a lie about something she claims happened decades ago.
Women do either misremember or lie about these things sometimes, of course. The left will well remember the case of the “Scottsboro Boys,” the nine black American men accused of raping two white women on a train rolling through Dixie in 1939, whose innocence was eventually conclusively proved by the undeniably Communist-linked Lawyers Guild. The right is as quick to recall the more case of the Duke lacrosse team, all privileged white boys at an elite college who were accused of gang rape by much of the faculty and indicted by a Democratic district attorney running for reelection in a mostly black district, but eventually exonerated by the traditional conservative press and some up-to-date DNA tests. One never knows about these things, no matter your partisan prejudgments, and the very lawyerly Kavanaugh undeniably made some compelling arguments during his star turn on the news channels.
Still, our long and desultory experience of these matters suggests that rapes and attempted rapes and lesser degrees of sexual misbehavior are committed by far more numerous than the false accusations of such crimes alleged by women, and we’d like to see the Republican majority on the Senate judiciary call some more witnesses and let the Federal Bureau of Investigation do some more investigating before the country reaches any conclusions.

— Bud Norman

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Wow, What a Press Conference

To his immense credit President Donald Trump frequently fields questions from the press, usually when he’s obliged to do so during a visit with a foreign head of state, or when the noise of the Marine One helicopter allows him to pretend not to hear the questions he’d rather not answer, but he rarely endures a solo press conference in front of the assembled television cameras and microphones. He gave one on Wednesday, however, and it was a nearly 90-minute-long doozy.
Despite the fingernails-on-a-chalkboard quality Trump’s rhetoric has to our sensitive ears, and the unpleasant effect his oleaginous appearance has on our sore eyes, we couldn’t stop watching and listening the press conference’s end. Trump was in true Trumpian form throughout, with the expected insult comic shtick about the “the failing New York Times” and the rest of the “fake news,” as well as the “low-lifes” and “big, fat con jobs” among his other critics, and the requisite amount of wildly exaggerated boasting. As usual, much of what he said was not only provably but quite obviously  untrue.
Trump talked up a major expansion of the American steel industry that isn’t happening. He claimed credit for the construction of that “big, beautiful” border wall he promised Mexico would pay for, even though the Mexican’s aren’t paying up, and he’s recently signed a spending resolution that will avert a pre-mid-term-election government shutdown but doesn’t include any money for any kind of wall, and it also  isn’t happening any time soon. He explained that all those international camera’s footage of the United Nations audience he’d addressed the day laughing at him was fake news, because of course they were appreciatively laughing with him when he opened his speech with the usual braggadocio. Once again he bragged about winning 52 percent of women’s votes in the presidential election, even though he only won 52 percent of the white women’s votes, and lost the overall women’s vote by a landslide, not to mention that Trump garnered only 48.2 percent of the overall popular vote and thus would would have lost all the men’s ballots to Democratic nominee “Crooked” Hillary Clinton by a landslide if that oft-repeated bast were actually true.
He also reiterated an earlier unsubstantiated claim that China is interfering in the mid-term elections to get Democrats elected because they’re so fearful of his trade war, and failed to answer a question about why he also claimed once again to be such good friends with China’s dictator.
Maybe it was because he had a rare open 90 minutes on his busy schedule, but our best guess is that Trump granted the rare press conference yesterday because he knew that today’s news will be mostly devoted to the testimony of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh before the Senate’s judiciary committee, and the testimony before the same committee California psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford, who alleges Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they both students at elite sexually-segregated prep schools in Maryland back in the early ’80s. The nationally-televised-on-several-channels testimony of what he said and she said will surely generate boffo ratings even by the Trump reality show’s standards — to put it in Trumpian terms, that much we can tell you, believe us, OK? — and by now we’ve noticed that Trump likes to get ahead of the next day’s stories.
By now this subplot of the Trump reality show is pretty darned complicated, though, and even for such a wily reality show star as Trump it’s a damned hard story to get in front of. By now another couple of women have come forward by name to accuse Kavanaugh of far-worse-than-boyish sexual behavior during late teens and early 20s, male and female classmates of Kavanaugh’s are telling the press that he wasn’t the choirboy he claimed during an unusual and ill-advised interview on Fox News, the Republicans on the legislative committee are reluctant to call Kavanaugh’s prep school friend Mark Judge, an alleged eyewitness to and participant in the sexual assault, who has since penned a roman a clef titled “Wasted: Tales of a a GenX Drunk,” which featured a drunken friend named “Bart O’Kavanaugh,” and the “fake news” has found some admittedly circumstantial but undeniably evidence in Kavanaugh’s prep school yearbook that the Supreme Court nominee was once upon a time a rather party-hearty kind of dude.
The two latest accusers are both being treated with more skepticism by most of the “fake news,” on the other hand, and the third comes courtesy of the same media-savvy lawyer who represents pornographic video performer and best-selling author Stormy Daniels, and it’s worth noting the “failing New York Times” declined an offer to report the third accuser’s accusations. Kavanaugh has an unchallenged record of sexual propriety since his early college days, and plenty of well-educated and well-respected former classmates who vouch for high moral character, and that’s also well worth taking into account.
Kavanaugh also has the whole-hearted backing of Trump, but it remains to be seen if that proves helpful. Trump has been accused of adult sexual misbehavior by more than a dozen women, and of course Trump was asked about that during the news conference, and he eventually conceded that as a result of his experience he tends to not believe women accusing men of sexual misbehavior. He misstated some key facts about a couple of his accusers, ignored the fact that another one of them has civil suit for slander still pending in the courts, didn’t bother to deny that his voice boasting about grabbing women by the pussy, and generally came across as the sexist pig that all the polls show even most white women regard him. Short of that Mark Judge fellow the Republicans won’t call testify, Trump is probably the least convincing character witness you’d want on your side if accused of sexual misbehavior.
Most people will judge today’s he said and she said testimony according to their political prejudices, but in the end we don’t think it will help the Republican party much with the upcoming mid-term women’s vote. We’ve seen polling that a slight majority of Republicans support Kavanaugh’s nomination even if the appalling allegations are proved true, and the Senate majority leader has pledged to “plow” Kavanaugh’s nomination through no matter what is revealed today, and we can’t blame any woman voter we know for resenting that.

— Bud Norman

Kavanaugh’s Confirmation is Further Complicated

Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court was already in jeopardy after a woman came forward by name to accuse him of a sexual assault when he was a high schooler, and might be in further jeopardy yet now that another woman has come forward by name to accuse of him of indecent exposure while he was a college student. It’s all very complicated, though, and Kavanaugh might well be confirmed despite it all, but doubts will likely linger now matter how it all turns out.
After 37 years there’s no definitive corroborating evidence for California psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation that Kavanaugh held a hand over her mouth and nose as he pinned her against a bed and attempted to forcibly undress her during an drunken teenaged party near his elite prep school, but neither can he cite any definitive exculpatory evidence. He’s got plenty of credible character witnesses that vouch for his excellent character, but she’s got a similar number of friends who can’t believe that she’d sacrifice a quiet life in a picturesque college town and her own fine reputation and start getting death threats and talk radio vilification just to tell such a lie. After much news and difficult negotiations she’s scheduled to tell her story under oath to the Senate judiciary committee on Thursday, which will probably get bigger television ratings than the last episode of “M*A*S*H,” and he’ll give his account afterwards, and we expect most viewers will judge whom to believe to based entirely on their prejudgements.
The newer allegation by a Colorado resident named Deborah Ramirez that Kavanaugh exposed his penis and forced her to touch it during a drunken college party near Yale University will likely be similarly prejudged by the general public. Ramirez makes the allegation in an article in The New Yorker penned by Ronan Farrow, whose meticulous reporting on sexual misconduct stories has lately earned him a national reputation and brought down several famous entertainment and political figures, but she’s already being doubted by such equally respectable publications as The Washington Post. She freely admits she was quite drunk when the incident allegedly occurred, and that she only came forward at the urging of various reporters, and the Post’s sex-crime prosecutor sources cite other problems. On the other hand, that Farrow fellow claims to have supporting sources and has been libel-proof so far, and it is yet another woman coming forward by name to allege that Kavanaugh was less than a perfect gentleman in his youth and is lying about it in his maturity.
Kavanaugh’s confirmation was plenty complicated even before any of this popped up, given that he was nominated by the very divisive President Donald Trump, and has a record of law review articles stating that a sitting president cannot be indicted or subpoenaed or even investigated, and is reasonably suspected of being the potential decisive vote to overturn Roe v Wade and other Supreme Court precedents dear to liberal hearts.
We don’t care much about Roe v Wade, as we figure most of the state legislatures will eventually wind up retaining the status quo after yet another prolonged and acrimonious debate about abortion, and we generally agree with Kavanaugh’s originalist philosophy of interpreting the constitution, but we do worry about his views regarding what presidents should be able to get away with, and we haven’t yet reached any judgment about his behavior as a high school and college student and what he’s saying about it today. We’ll give him a fair hearing, as we know that women do sometimes make false accusations against men, but we’ll give his accusers the same fair hearing, as we know that it’s far more common for men to misbehave than it is for women to lie about it.
The decision about whether to confirm Kavanaugh’s nomination will probably come down to a couple of women Republican Senators who are pro-choice, along with a couple of male Republican Senators who have been known to buck the Trumpian line, and maybe a couple of red state Democratic Senators who are probably thinking they can now get away with a “no” vote on Kavanaugh. At this point we’ll let them decide the matter, and figure that no matter how it turns out doubts will linger.

— Bud Norman