Mourn on the Fourth of July, 2017

For security reasons, the section of Pennsylva...
For security reasons, the section of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House is now closed to all vehicular traffic, except government officials. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I visited Washington, DC for the first time in 1980. I was 13. Jimmy Carter was the president.

My family only had one day to see the sights. As I remember it, we went through what seemed a somewhat sketchy  neighborhood (I was a country boy, so it may have just been nerves about The Big City), turned onto Pennsylvania Avenue, and drove past the White House and Capitol before taking in selected bits of the Smithsonian and visiting Arlington National Cemetery. Then we proceeded to Andrews Air Force Base, where my brother was stationed, and just for fun drove past Air Force One.

I saw a lot of really neat stuff that day, but right now I’m thinking about the stuff I didn’t see, or at least didn’t notice.

I don’t recall seeing a single police officer anywhere, although I’m sure I must have. The only man with a gun I noticed at Andrews was the gate guard, who checked my brother’s ID and waved us through. Nobody seemed to give us a second glance as we passed within a few hundred feet of the president’s plane. I don’t recall any security checkpoints, barricades or traffic barriers along Pennsylvania Avenue, and I think I would have remembered those.

This was in the middle of the Iran hostage crisis and only a few months after the Unabomber’s attack on American Airlines Flight 444 as it flew into DC from Chicago. Central America was in the throes of successful and unsuccessful revolutions and the US wasn’t terribly popular there. Carter was preparing to re-institute draft registration in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

And yet (aside from a surplus of marble monuments), Washington seemed on the whole to be a normal, American city.

When did the East Germans take over?

You can’t drive past the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue today. It was “temporarily” closed to motorized traffic after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 and that closure was officially made permanent after 9/11. Seldom a week passes without breathless reports of a “security incident.” Someone touched the White House fence (everyone panic!) or was shot to death by police after making a wrong turn or panicking at a random roadblock. Air Force One? You can still see it. On TV, anyway.

You can still visit Washington, but if you plan to fly in, count on multiple instances of being required to show your papers and get felt up at the airports. My own kids can’t remember a time without metal detectors, bag searches and dire warnings even at the entrances to such attractions as the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.

I guess every generation of adults feels like things have gone downhill since they were kids. But as someone a little too young to have understood Vietnam or Watergate and just exactly old enough to have exuberantly celebrated the  nation’s bicentennial, these days I find each 4th of July to surpass the last as an occasion for mourning an America that no longer exists.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter:[email protected]) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

PUBLICATION  HISTORY

What The Deep State Is

Deep Well (from RGBStock.com)

Buzzwords come and buzzwords go. Lately, a trending buzzword — or, I guess, buzz phrase — among the politically inclined is “Deep State.” Google News returns 127,000 recent media uses of the phrase.

Every time US president Donald Trump finds himself under attack or just stymied in one of his policy initiatives, his supporters blame the Deep State. The Deep State is behind the “Russiagate” probes. The Deep State doesn’t like his Muslim travel ban or his ObamaCare replacement bill. The Deep State keeps forcing him to break his campaign promises of a less misadventurous US foreign policy. I’m expecting reports, any day now, that the Deep State stole his limo keys and left the toilet seats up in the residence area of the White House.

So what, precisely, is the Deep State? There’s actually both more and less to it than you might think.

In a recent Bloomberg column, former Obama administration regulatory czar Cass Sunstein defines the Deep State as merely “the talented professionals who serve both Democratic and Republican administrations, and who are civil servants rather than political appointees.” While not incorrect as such, that definition is superficial and not especially informative.

Others identify the Deep State as residing completely or nearly completely in the US “intelligence community” specifically and the Military-Industrial Complex in general, or in Washington’s sprawling regulatory apparatus.

It’s in the intel/military definition that the  idea tends to take on a more active, sinister connotations: Spies and generals conspiring to put over a coup of some sort, if necessary maybe even handing giving inconvenient political figures the JFK treatment. Without discounting that possibility, let me propose that while individuals acting in knowing concert might be a minor feature of the Deep State, they aren’t its essence.

In high school civics class theory, elections are meaningful and political government is a highly developed, well-oiled, deliberative decision-making machine in which ideas matter and the best ones win out, to the benefit of all.

In fact, it is in the nature of political government to put its own needs first, and its corps of unelected workers (greatly outnumbering the politicians who have to explain themselves to voters) closely identify its needs with their needs and vice versa.

The aggregate actions of long-term state functionaries will always tend to maximize the state’s growth and their own discretionary power.  Not because they are venal or corrupt (although some certainly are), nor because they necessarily subscribe to some particular ideology (although some certainly do), but because like their actions, they themselves are an aggregate whose parts will overwhelmingly respond to the same incentives in the same ways.

You’ll never walk into a hotel and see a sign in the lobby announcing “Welcome Deep State, Conference Room 3A.” The Deep State isn’t a conscious conspiracy, even if there are conscious conspirators within it. The Deep State is a large mass with no guiding intellect. Its inertia tends to hold it in one place and/or to carry most of its members in the same direction.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter:[email protected]) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

PUBLICATION  HISTORY

Everyone Should be Listening to Nobody Speak

wrestling legend hulk hogan
Hulk Hogan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Terry Bollea, aka Hulk Hogan, sued Gawker Media for invasion of privacy, infringement of personality rights, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, the suit’s chief effect was to amplify the “news” that Bollea had been caught on video having sex with another man’s wife. Par for the course as salacious popular culture goes, and most of us treated it that way: As something of a joke.

The laughter came to an abrupt halt when a jury found in Bollea’s favor, bankrupting Gawker with judgments totaling $140 million. In his new film, Nobody Speak, director Brian Knappenberger delves into the case and what it portends for the future of a free press in America. If you subscribe to Netflix, you need to watch this documentary. If you don’t, the film is worth your first month’s subscription fee (no, I don’t work for or own stock in Netflix).

A few key facts that should whet your interest:

The truth of the Gawker “story” was never at issue. Bollea did, in fact, have sex with Heather Clem (wife of entertainment personality Tod Alan “Bubba the Love Sponge” Clem). That the encounter happened and that the video of it was authentic was not something Bollea ever disputed.

Nor, so far as I can tell, did Bollea ever claim that Gawker commissioned the video in advance, or sought after it once it was made. Gawker received it, found it “newsworthy” by their standards (not an unreasonable finding given the site’s focus and audience), and ran with it.

Bollea’s legal argument boiled down to “my feelings are hurt — don’t let Gawker get away with telling the truth.”

For this, he was awarded $115 million in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages (he “only” received $31 million — Gawker declared bankruptcy and sold off its assets to pay him that much).

But there’s more: It turns out that Bollea’s lawsuit had an angel investor, someone willing to pay for his lawyers with the express intent of killing Gawker. That investor was Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel, who had a similar bone to pick with Gawker. They’d told the truth about him, too — that he is a gay man — and his feelings, like Bollea’s, were hurt.

Nobody Speak segues, perhaps a bit strangely, from the Bollea/Thiel/Gawker fight to casino magnate Sheldon Adelson’s 2015 takeover of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, a newspaper with a record of writing critically about his business and political ventures. The connecting thread between the two sections of the film is the threat that personal wealth might represent to press freedom. I found the latter topic less compelling. Your mileage may vary.

There are lessons to be learned from Nobody Speaks. If we learn them, Terry Bollea and Peter Thiel will go down in history not as a well-known entertainment figure and a successful tech innovator, but rather as two evildoers who manipulated the legal system to punish the publication of true and accurate information. That portends a fight the public can’t afford to lose. Watch the film.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter:[email protected]) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

PUBLICATION  HISTORY