Author Archives: mjohnson

Good Way To Reform Government: Move It

BY MICHAEL S. JOHNSON  |  JUN 23, 2019

Back in January 2016, the FBI was searching Maryland and Virginia for a new location for its Pennsylvania Ave. headquarters and I wondered why the search did not include North Carolina, Kentucky, or any of the other many states in which the Bureau could be housed less expensively and more efficiently.

Moving more of the Federal bureaucracy out of Washington is not a new idea. Legislators had been musing about it for years and legislation to explore the prospect was actually introduced in the last Congress by former Congressmen Jason Chaffetz of Utah and Luke Messer of Indiana. Continue reading

Senior Citizenship

BY RICH GALEN
APR 15, 2019 | Reprinted from Mullings.com

I know today is tax day. Last week, in the wake of the Great Tax Cut Act of 2017, we wrote the largest check to the People of the United States in our long history of paying taxes.

You’re welcome.

But that’s not what I want to talk to you about.

There was a fascinating article in the Sunday Washington Post about what happens as we age. And when I write “we,” I mean me.

This is timely (see what I did there?) because of the age disparity among Democratic candidates. And because Donald Trump is about my age. Continue reading

Mueller Findings’ Blow to Media Worth Its Own Probe: Part II

BY MICHAEL S. JOHNSON  |  APR 1, 2019

“The end of the collusion illusion should also cause the media to do some soul searching about rushes to judgment. For two years, with the help of ex-Obama officials, they spun anecdotes of contacts between Russians and Trump campaign advisors into a conspiracy. With few exceptions they went well beyond First Amendment oversight into anti-Trump advocacy. But it was always odd that those individual Russia-Trump contacts never added up to anything or went anywhere, which is why we warned about waiting for the facts.”
Wall Street Journal Editorial, March 25

The initial wave of reaction to the Mueller investigation has produced a powerful undertow of criticism over the performance of the press. It should be addressed forthrightly, introspectively, and very thoroughly. Public trust in one of our most vital institutions and the ability of that institution to meet its constitutional obligation as a reliable witness to history are at stake.

The media are in a state of denial of any lapse in their professional judgment or work product. It’s an easy state to be in when the face of the criticism is President Donald Trump. Credible critics have difficulty being taken seriously because, until now, they have been branded as pro-Trump and dismissed as defenders of his faith and creed. Continue reading

Mueller Investigation is Over, But Never Over: Part I

BY MICHAEL S. JOHNSON  |  MAR 27, 2019

President Donald Trump must have choked on his Big Mac this week while watching his favorite Fox cartoons and reading his favorite comic book, the Washington Post.

We know from the media that Trump spends his mornings in “executive time” watching television in the residence, after he’s done tweeting. But I digress.

The headline was the one he had been waiting for.

No, not that one. This one:  “Attorney Michael Avenatti arrested, charged with trying to extort Nike.”

Avenatti, a darling of the media—according to Brit Hume of Fox, he appeared on just CNN and MSNBC 108 times over two months—and a seemingly prolific “anonymous source” for most major media, is accused of extortion on one coast and wire fraud on the other.

This good news for Trump, enjoying his two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, and a sesame seed bun, came shortly after his other gratifying headline: “Mueller Finds No Conspiracy. Continue reading

Institutions Part V: News Media Lapses in Modern Times

BY MICHAEL S. JOHNSON  |  JAN 28, 2019

The news media in America are spinning out of control, caught up in a powerful funnel cloud of self-righteousness, self-interest, a loss of journalistic identity, and wild-eyed illusions of grandeur about saving the planet from evil.

The media are not the enemy of the people; not by a long shot; but they are their own worst enemy, exhausting their credibility and abandoning the character and measured judgment that not too long ago was the hallmark of American journalism.

The free press is just one of several institutions absolutely fundamental to our system of self-government and our open society experiencing decline, from the Legislative and Executive branches of government to public and private education, organized religion, community, charity, and the family unit. Continue reading

Shutdown Show Should be Cancelled

BY MICHAEL S. JOHNSON  |  JAN 15, 2019

When we were little, my brother and sister and I would sit on the braided living room rug to watch shows on our Admiral TV. Some of the shows had names you could cut and paste onto the reality TV theater ‘now live on our stage’ in Washington: The Twilight Zone, What’s My Line?, Who Do You Trust?, The Show of Shows, and my favorite, Howdy Doody.

Playing now is the gridlocked immigration feud that has resulted in the closure of parts of the Federal Government. This extended shutdown is raising havoc with the economy, federal programs and most critically, the lives of hundreds of thousands workers, contractors, and program beneficiaries, from park visitors, to homeowners, and small businesses. Continue reading

The 116th Congress and What Lies Beyond

BY MICHAEL S. JOHNSON  |  JAN 7, 2019

The convening of the 116th Congress at noon on January 3, was a portal into America’s past 230 years, a reminder that our Constitution is still the longest living charter of its kind in the world. This ingeniously devised Republic is still a system of governance that is, as it was two centuries ago, a beacon of hope for those millions upon millions still suffering from authoritarian, and in some cases barbaric, rule, despite the eternal internal drumbeat of disillusionment and lost faith that dominates our discourse, and to an extent, rightly so.

We were reminded of our resiliency and continuous evolution as a Republic when the first Republican woman ever to serve as Clerk of the House presided over the parliamentary procedures, and the proletarian pageantry that led up to the swearing in of the country’s first woman Speaker. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi of California, succeeds 53 male predecessors, and today presides over a body of more women than any time in history, one hundred years after women’s suffrage. Continue reading

116th Congress Ushers in New Class, New Start, New Dawn

BY MICHAEL S. JOHNSON  |  JAN 4, 2019

“When our new members take the oath, our Congress will be refreshed, and our Democracy will be strengthened by the optimism, idealism, and patriotism of this transformative freshman class.”
— Newly elected Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi

“We’re going to impeach that motherfu—er”
— Newly elected Congresswoman Rashida Tiaib, D-MI, to a crowd of cheering supporters

Okay, then.

Continue reading

Making Bush Legacy More Than A Day

BY MICHAEL S. JOHNSON  |  DEC 6, 2018

My education in politics and government began in earnest working at the White House and mostly on Capitol Hill in the generational orbit of Presidents Ford, Carter, Reagan, and Bush 41 and Congressional leaders Rhodes, Michel, O’Neill, Foley, Wright, Baker, Byrd, and Dole, all of the “greatest generation.”

Seven of them served in the military during World War II, three of them—Dole, Michel, and Bush—had harrowing experiences in combat that shaped the rest of their lives.

What distinguished them from generations to follow was that most of them—but not all—had in common a strong belief that governing could only be effective in an atmosphere civil enough for opposing sides to reach consensus. They relished vigorous and contentious debate, but never let it get personal, and they engaged in tactics that would have passed muster with the Marquess of Queensberry. They knew when to put down the swords and lift the plowshares. Continue reading

Institutions IV: Electoral Process Victim of Anger, Isolation, Negativity

BY MICHAEL S. JOHNSON  |  NOV 5, 2018

Up in North Dakota, Senator Heidi Heitkamp, in an uphill battle to keep her seat, personally apologized to women whose names were used in a campaign piece, which identified them as victims of “domestic violence, sexual assault, or rape.” Some on the list were not. Others had not given her campaign permission to expose them in that manner.

Out West in Southern California, Congressman Duncan Hunter was under heavy criticism for an ad that ties his opponent, Ammar Campa-Najjar, to terrorists. Campa-Najjar’s grandfather, Muhammad Youssef al-Najjar, was involved in the plans to murder Israeli athletes at the Olympic Games in Germany in 1972. But Campa-Najjar is a Christian, son of a Mexican mother; he was a former White House aide, who had a security clearance from the Secret Service. He has denounced his grandfather’s actions, all according to the New York Times.

These are just a couple of the negative ads, which ran across the country in this campaign season, by Republicans and Democrats and everyone in-between. It has been estimated that negative ads increased by 60 percent in this cycle. Continue reading

Mighty Sears is No More

BY MICHAEL S. JOHNSON  |  OCT 16, 2018

“Let’s celebrate! Put on your Sunday best. We’re going to Sears!”
Mike Brady (actor Robert Reed), dad on the sitcom The Brady Bunch

I still remember our Mom taking us to the Sears store on East 10th Street in Sioux Falls, SD. It was back in the days of Ozzie and Harriett and Wally and the Beaver. We went shopping there for clothes, sheets and towels, and other of life’s essentials, but we got to look at the toys, too.

Our Mother, Marge, had only two hands (a lot of times as a single Mom, it seemed like she had more), so given there were three of us pests, one got to roam free like a loose puppy in a store full of bones. It was usually our sister, Carol, because Mom liked her best.

The Sioux Falls Sears store was a giant place, far from home in the North end of town. The ceilings went up to the sky and the aisles were wide and endless. People smiled and there was always a friendly Ajax-clean motherly clerk in a dress or a fatherly type in a razor-thin tie around every corner to show you the goods, and ring up your cash or check. Continue reading

Governing Bar So Low You Could Trip Over It

BY MICHAEL S. JOHNSON  |  OCT 10, 2018

The Senate confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court was a new low in American politics and jurisprudence. The bar was set so low you could trip over it.

Senators on both sides of the partisan divide thought so, too, and said so publicly. Senator John Cornyn of Texas said on the Senate Floor we could not take a lower road, because we were already on the lowest. Democratic leader Chuck Schumer called it a new low in American history. Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a North Dakota Democrat, said “both sides horribly handled the process around this nomination.”

Maine Senator Susan Collins, said we had reached ‘rock bottom’. Cover-up and whitewash, liar, con artist, the decline in decency were a few of the terms used to describe the participants and events.

There were breathtaking invasions of privacy, unspeakable expressions of anger and hatred, ugly protests and vicious death threats. Senator Cory Gardner revealed that his wife received a graphic text of a beheading after the vote. Kavanaugh’s wife received threatening emails with incredibly vile language. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford got the same treatment and ultimately was forced from her home because of threats. Continue reading

Congress: When Success Is Still Failure

BY MICHAEL S. JOHNSON  |  OCT 5, 2018

The movement to reform the U.S. Congress is like a G-rated flick that would make Walt Disney yawn. There’s no sex, no violence, no scandal, no crime, comparatively little political intrigue, and no big-time stars, just a lot of risqué talk about filibustering the motion to proceed.

It is doubtful the subject will come up in campaigns, either, beyond the patronizing and often hypocritical blather about running against Washington.

Several weeks ago the House Rules Committee held a hearing on about 40 reforms that members wanted to see brought up on the opening day of the next Congress in January 2019. The attention to it was, as you would expect, silence.

There wasn’t any news coverage, except from Paul Krawzak at Congressional Quarterly, who understands the subject matter.

The need for reform couldn’t be clearer, or more critical, or more timely.

Continue reading

Are We Better Than This? Prove It. Deal With It.

BY MICHAEL S. JOHNSON  |  SEP 15, 2018

“John’s voice will always come as a whisper over our shoulder: ‘We are better than this; America is better than this.’” — Eulogy for the late Senator John McCain at funeral services in the National Cathedral by former President George W. Bush

John McCain wasn’t alone wanting our politics to be better than this. It would do all of us some good to keep his memory alive more than a couple of weeks, despite what’s going on around us.

We know what ‘this’ is. It only took a few days for McCain’s legacy to turn to dust, replaced with more anger, distrust, dishonesty, hyperventilation, vulgarity, and incivility, and that, exclusive of President Donald Trump’s behavior.

The “this” has continued the erosion of American institutions and the abandonment of American values. I believe the vast majority of Americans agreed with McCain and are fed up with “this.” McCain preached the politics of inclusion and the personal behavior of courage and civility. He didn’t always succeed in putting them into practice, but they were among the values he considered critical to the survival of our grand experiment in self-governance.

Continue reading

Institutions and Values Part III: Lies and Damn Lies

BY MICHAEL S. JOHNSON  |  AUG 7, 2018

Within the currency of American values, none has been devalued more than honesty. It’s become okay to lie, especially within one of America’s great institutions, our political process.

Definition of Lie_Merriam WebsterA lie, according to Merriam Webster, is to “make an untrue statement with the intent to deceive.”

A scholarly analysis of lying produced at Michigan State University cited this definition:

“Simply and broadly lying occurs when a communicator seeks knowingly and intentionally to mislead others….” and another conclusion: “Thus it is not sufficient that something is false for it to be a lie; it is the intent that distinguishes the lie.”

But in politics, as in life today, lying is becoming commonplace.

Continue reading

Institutions and Values Part II: The Pyrite Rule

BY MICHAEL S. JOHNSON  |  JUL 16, 2018

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”
Bible, (Matt. 7:12)

It was taught to my siblings and me by my mother back in the 1950s, but the Golden Rule or versions of it have been a lantern for life’s journey for 2000 years or more, a version of which was propounded by the Greek philosopher Aristotle, according to an Internet search. I am not sure if my mother read Aristotle. She was probably introduced to the Rule by Catholic nuns who schooled generations of us back in South Dakota, but who often let it lapse in their own behavior in the classroom where weapons-grade yardsticks were always close at hand. Continue reading

Trump Time Out To Restore Values, Institutions

BY MICHAEL S. JOHNSON  |  JUN 2, 2018

We are a nation being consumed by our own anger, anxieties, disillusionment, and alienation from one another.

They are emotions widely exploited by a vast media empire that employs everyone from late night comedians to early morning news anchors. They are manifest in our tribal politics and social behavior. They are also, of course, manifest in the persona and politics of our President, who rubs them raw when he should be applying soothing salves.

It is Donald Trump, on whom we place much of the blame for this current condition, but the truth is he is not the cause; he is only the result. Continue reading

Dinner in Praise of Press? Not Really

BY MICHAEL S. JOHNSON  |  MAY 3, 2018

Her monologue was repugnant, full of vitriol and vulgarity, a slew of lewd terms most of the audience would never repeat in front of their parents or children.

Yet Comedian Michelle Wolf got some laughs anyway. She was performing at the fundraising dinner for the White House Correspondents Association (WHCA) last week.

Something she said, however, got no laughs, only deafening silence. In the avalanche of coverage following the event, there was scarce mention of her closing words, except in Politico and by the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake, who honed his craft at the Minneapolis Tribune. Wolf talked about what Blake called the media’s “codependent relationship” with President Trump. Continue reading

News is Entertainment and Entertainment is News

BY MICHAEL S. JOHNSON  |  APR 13, 2018

This is an expanded and updated version of an article published in The Hill on 4/9/18.

The United Nations described it as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing,” the military offensive that led to the exodus of Rohingya Muslims in the Myanmar province of Rakhine. Almost a half-million men, women, and children have fled persecution or death in the region over the past year, crossing the border to Bangladesh or climbing into small boats for the trip to Thailand and Malaysia. One refugee called the slaughter in Rakhine “house-to-house killing.”

CBS brought the horrible situation back to center stage on Sunday, March 25, with a show focusing on the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar, noting in particular the plight of children and the cries of the people facing gruesome government hostility. It is a newsworthy story, with so many aspects that could be reported on weekly, along with all other stories of global consequence.

Instead, the broadcast highlighted a classic problem with the U.S. news media. You see, the broadcast didn’t run on CBS News. It was a storyline on a CBS Entertainment series, “Madam Secretary.” Continue reading

Making Congress Work

BY MICHAEL S. JOHNSON  |  FEB 13, 2018

Congress was burning the midnight oil once again last week, rushing to pass a resolution extending federal spending for only another month. It was the fourth time legislators have had to do that in as many months.

In Washington, that’s good news. The alternative was to shutter some government agencies until the money could be restored. It is a shame, isn’t it? Dysfunction is the norm.

Taxpayers pay a heavy price for the dysfunction of their government. It runs into the billions upon billions of dollars, mind-numbing figures to average taxpayers who clip dollar-off coupons every Saturday. The most recent extended shutdown—there have been four in the last 10 years—was in 2013 and lasted 14 days, costing taxpayers an estimated $2 billion. Continue reading