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All eyes on Justice Kennedy?

Anthony Kennedy is going to be the man on the hot seat Monday.

You can rest assured the U.S. Supreme Court associate justice knows it, too.

It’s the final day of the court’s current term. Justice Kennedy has been on the high court bench for 29 years. He’s the senior member of the court.

There’s some chatter around Washington, D.C., that Kennedy is going to announce his retirement from the bench on Monday. It’s reported that there will be a reunion of Kennedy’s law clerks on Monday; they’ll sit around, slap each other on the back and swap memories of working for the justice.

If he does retire, and it’s not altogether certain he will, you can bet that the fight to succeed will make the Neil Gorsuch battle look like a day at the beach in comparison.

What sometimes gets lost in discussions about Kennedy is that he wasn’t President Reagan’s first choice for the high court appointment; he wasn’t even the Gipper’s second choice. The first pick, Robert Bork, was rejected by the U.S. Senate after a bitter confirmation hearing and debate; the second choice, Douglas Ginsburg, withdrew his name from consideration after he admitted smoking marijuana while in college.

Along came Anthony Kennedy, who the president hoped would be a stellar conservative on the court. Justice Kennedy has turned out to be a centrist, a swing vote, someone who’s sided with liberal justices as well as conservatives on key decisions.

And therein lies the crux of the battle that would consume the nation’s capital if Kennedy decides to hang up his robe.

Justice Gorsuch replaced a conservative on the court, the late Antonin Scalia. Yet that fight proved to be consequential, too. The reasons why escape me, given that Donald Trump replaced a known conservative justice with someone believed to be from the same stripe … although Justice Gorsuch has yet to demonstrate that he is as strictly conservative as Scalia.

The day a swing justice or a liberal justice retires or is otherwise unable to serve is the day all hell will break loose as long as Donald Trump is president of the United States.

Mueller’s job appears safe … for now

I am going to give Donald John Trump the benefit of the doubt on what’s being reported about special counsel Robert Mueller’s immediate future.

Mueller will continue his probe of the president’s campaign and its alleged contact with Russian government goons/hackers who sought to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.

Trump has decided — as I understand it — that he won’t ask a deputy U.S. attorney general to fire Mueller.

Did sanity overcome the president? Has he been infected with the “sound judgment bug” required for those who occupy the highest office in America? Did someone tell him about the horrendous political consequences were he to engineer Mueller’s ouster?

Trump’s staff reportedly talked him out any cockamamie notion of firing Mueller. He’s already canned the FBI director, James Comey. The Justice Department picked Mueller to provide a semblance of integrity to an investigation that needs to be done thoroughly.

Mueller’s on the job

I continue to be utterly flabbergasted at the president’s inability to control the messages that pour out of the White House. What’s more, he cannot find capable, competent staff members to operate his White House communications department.

These reports get leaked out about the president considering a patently and profoundly stupid act … which would be firing the special counsel.

Democrats and Republicans all over Washington are highly complimentary of Mueller, his reputation, his record and his dedication to detail.

Let the man do his job, already!

Where do the recruiting limits exist?

Lane Kiffin is the head football coach at Florida Atlantic University and he’s had his share of controversy over many years involved with intercollegiate football.

Now come reports that Kiffin is robbing the cradle in search of football players.

He reportedly is going after middle school students. One of them is reported to be a — sheesh! — sixth-grader.

Kiffin has been known in football circles as a hothead and a loudmouth. He coached the Oakland Raiders; he was head coach at the University of Tennessee; he ventured to the University of Southern California as head coach; then he wound up as an offensive coordinator at the University of Alabama. All along the way he managed to anger folks with whom he was associated.

Robbing the cradle

Someone might have to explain to me: How does a college football coach know what kind of player a sixth-grader is going to be when he comes of age?

Maybe more to the point is this query: Why can’t an intercollegiate football coach let a kid be a kid without exerting recruitment pressure on him?

I will concede that there’s a lot about football recruitment I don’t understand. What I’ll never get is why a college coach would spend time recruiting someone who is barely pubescent.

Happy Trails, Part 20

SAYRE, Okla. — We have discovered a feature of RV travel that we didn’t expect to find.

It’s called “Public RV” camping.

We discovered it in this community that sits precisely midway between Amarillo and Oklahoma City. We camped at a city-run park that just happens to have about 60 RV campsites. Some of them are pull-through sites, which is our strongly preferred type; they have water and electricity; we get decent antenna TV reception.

And we paid all of $12 for our overnight stay. Twelve whole American dollars! 

We have discovered this form of RV camping while scouring through our huge directory of campsites across the country.

My wife and I have made pact that we’re going to look for this kind of campsite as we continue our trek across North America.

We aren’t too big into those fancy-schmancy RV “resorts.” People are packed too tightly into some of them we’ve seen. We prefer a more “rustic” setting to park our fifth wheel.

We do use our Texas state park pass that gets into our state’s parks for free; sure, we pay for nightly use, but the pass waives our entry fee.

Sayre’s park is actually quite nice. It’s clean, well-manicured, well-lit, pet-friendly.

It’s also inexpensive. We fixed-income travelers appreciate that aspect of “public RV” camping most of all.

The WH shakeup has begun

Mike Dubke is out as White House communications director.

Sean Spicer won’t be meeting face to face as often with the White House media as press secretary.

A fiery former Donald J. Trump campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, might be returning to the inner circle, which reportedly might trigger more departures from the White House.

And all the while, the president of the United States insists that the White House is running like a “fine-tuned machine.” All cylinders are firing as they should. The president hit a “home run,” he said, on his first foreign trip.

I’ll stick with what former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — and one-time GOP presidential rival — said about Trump.

He ran as a “chaos candidate” and is governing as a “chaos president.”

Another prime al-Qaeda target emerges

Welcome to the world of most wanted public enemies, young man.

I refer to the son of Osama bin Laden, a fellow named Hamza bin Laden, a 28-year-old terrorist with visions of walking along his late father’s blood-soaked trail.

The young bin Laden has declared that he wants to rekindle al-Qaeda as a terrorist force, a force for evil.

OK, then. Here’s a thought for Donald Trump’s national security team.

You’ve got a professed killer on the loose with the stated aim of juicing up a bloodthirsty terrorist organization. That means he has declared himself to be an enemy of the United States of America.
What does this mean? It means the young man is fair game. He’s a target for our special ops forces, our CIA spooks and those who might be close to him who could help guide our personnel toward a hit in the manner of the mission that took out Osama bin Laden in May 2011.

The president has a first-rate national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, on the job. His homeland security secretary, John Kelly, also is a competent former Marine general. They have the best military apparatus ever assembled at their disposal; indeed, former Marine Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis has emerged as a serious-minded secretary of defense. They also have the best intelligence-gatherers available to them as well — no matter what the president might think of them.

Let’s get busy and find this guy.

I think they ought to commence — if they haven’t already — a “search and destroy” mission to rid the world of Osama bin Laden’s son.

Good hunting. We’ll await your report.

Russians able to declare victory?

If you assume — as I do — that Russian spooks intended to disrupt the American political system by their hacking and disseminating “fake news,” then isn’t it fair to presume that they can declare victory?

Or, to put it another way: Mission accomplished.

I mean, think of it.

The Russians interfered in our electoral system. U.S. intelligence agencies have determined that to be a fact. All of them concur that Russia sought to disrupt our electoral process.

It’s not yet clear just how they intended to swing the election to Donald J. Trump’s favor. Trump won. He hasn’t spoken angrily about Russia. Or about Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Meanwhile, congressional investigators are turning themselves inside out trying to find out about the “Russia thing.” The Department of Justice has appointed special counsel Robert Mueller to lead the FBI investigation. Our attorney general has had to recuse himself from anything to do with Russia.

Congressional Democrats are talking now openly about impeaching the president. The FBI is looking at whether the Trump campaign “colluded” with Russian government operatives.

And the president’s legislative agenda — health care overhaul, tax reform, building that damn wall — is stalled completely. None of it is likely to get advanced.

Do you get my drift? The Russians have succeeded, actually, in accomplishing what they intended when they got involved in our electoral process in the first place.

Now, let’s all wait for the president to possibly, potentially lessen those sanctions we leveled against the Russians for their aggression in Ukraine.

Is that a crazy notion? Not even …

Trump visits Yad Vashem, and then …

I cannot shake this feeling that the president of the United States cannot be moved by artifacts intended to stir the human soul.

Donald Trump has departed Israel. He made the usual stops at the Western Wall, called on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then visited Yad Vashem, the Israelis’ memorial to the Holocaust.

He left a short note in the remembrance book at the museum on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

It was brief. He wrote of being there among “friends” and finished with “never forget.”

Yad Vashem is a stirring reminder of just how cruel human beings can be toward one another. I wrote about my own visit there in June 2009 and about the visit that the president’s immediate predecessor, Barack Obama, made there in 2013.

Yad Vashem stands as testament to human cruelty

I don’t know what strikes Donald Trump’s heart, what makes it beat a little more quickly. I cannot pretend to understand this billionaire’s thinking and what moves him deeply. He once said famously that he’s never asked for God’s forgiveness. Goodness, gracious.

That is what sticks my craw today as I watch the president travel through and then exit the Holy Land en route to his next stop: a visit in the Vatican with the head of the Catholic Church.

I concluded my own blog post about President Obama’s visit to Yad Vashem this way: “Indeed, a tour of Yad Vashem ought to be required of every head of state who takes an oath to preserve the peace.”

At least Donald Trump went there. I hope — I pray — it moved him.

President redefines ‘populism’

I would venture a guess that if one were to ask Donald J. Trump to define “populism” off the cuff that he would say something like: It’s the philosophy on which I campaigned successfully for the presidency of the United States.

Translation: He likely doesn’t understand a philosophy aimed at taking power away from big corporations and the rich folks who run them.

This billionaire real estate mogul and TV celebrity campaigned as a populist, declaring his intention to tear up the North American Free Trade Agreement, pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and “work for you, the people.” He would surround himself with the “best people” to run the government and would “drain the swam” of the corporate corruption he said has infected American politics since the beginning of the Industrial Age.

He is governing, though, as anything but a populist.

The president did sign the executive order that took the United States out of TPP. NAFTA? Well, in the span of just a few days he said he would consider pulling out; then he said he wouldn’t after talking to the leaders of Mexico and Canada; then he said he would like to “renegotiate” the treaty. The “best people” surrounding him include a healthy cadre of executives from Goldman Sachs, the big-time investment outfit he criticized freely during the campaign. The “swamp”? It’s still full of muck.

I want to focus for a moment on NAFTA. Free trade is an example of orthodox Republican philosophy with which I agree. I dislike artificial barriers, such as import taxes and tariffs, that inhibit trade, particularly among bordering nations. NAFTA’s intent is to open markets throughout three major nations: the United States, Canada and Mexico. Is it perfect? No. Is it as flawed and “disastrous” as the president has contended? No to that, too.

It has fostered a freer flow of goods across the borders of all three nations and has been a significant net plus for their economies.

I am heartened to sense the president is beginning to understand that campaign rhetoric often must differ with the way one actually governs.

NAFTA is not the bogeyman that Trump called it while winning the presidency.

As for whether he can govern as the populist he portrayed himself as being, I only can point to the weekend lifestyle he still enjoys as he jets off to Mar-a-Lago, his glitzy, glamorous and posh resort in southern Florida.

His attachment to all the decadence associated with it suggests to me that the president is a populist in name only. Hey, maybe we can create a new acronym: PINO.

Students kick new life into gumshoe journalism

Pittsburg, Kan., has become the print journalism capital of America.

It’s because a group of high school students demonstrated to a local school board and the school system’s superintendent that they didn’t do their due diligence in hiring a school administrator.

Man, I love this story.

Six students at Pittsburg High School, who happen to serve on the staff of The Booster Redux — the school newspaper — managed to dig out the truth about the resume presented by the school’s new principal.

Amy Robertson was hired as the principal. Then the students begin sniffing around about the school Robertson had listed on her credentials. It turns out that Corllins University — which Robertson listed as where she earned her masters and doctoral degrees — is nothing more than a degree mill. It ain’t accredited, or legit, the students learned.

Students show up their elders

The students, though some vigorous gumshoe reporting — and the help of the Internet doing basic Google searches — managed to show up the school board and the superintendent, who should have vetted the principal properly before hiring her.

And what, in this instance, constitutes proper vetting? Nothing more than checking to determine the quality of the school that Robertson had listed as providing her education.

The students did the school board’s and superintendent’s job for them.

Get this from the Kansas City Star: “On Wednesday, Destry Brown, the Pittsburg schools superintendent, said the district was reposting the job and from now on will be doing a background check and vetting credentials before any candidate is hired.”

Background check and vetting credentials? No spit, folks.

What gives this story its additional legs is that the student  reporters employed basic journalism principles in rooting out an important story. It gives some of us old-school journalism dinosaurs hope that the profession is about to jump off its death bed before it is overcome by “click-bait journalism” preferred by too many publishers these days as they stagger away from traditional print journalism to something called “the digital product.”

The students didn’t expect this kind of attention. The national media have jumped on this story, I believe, because it speaks to old-school journalism values exhibited by a group of young people who — one might surmise — are more attuned to social media and other 21st-century technology.

Nice going, students. You have made many of your journalism elders — including yours truly — quite proud of you.