Let’s Go Bowling

It is college football bowl season. There are many reasons to find college football despicable, ridiculous, and ludicrous, and bowl games are one of them. The games are played when the football players either should be with family or studying for finals. Most of the games are unexciting, meaningless affairs between teams that have been mediocre in the already too long regular college football season. Of course, this year the games are being played in mostly empty stadiums, but that is often true in other years, too. The games generate so little enthusiasm that the stadiums were mostly empty in past seasons. Only a handful of the many bowls produce excitement and get crowds.

The games, however, generate money. They are televised and they also draw a sponsor whose name makes it into the title of the bowl making for some strange sounding contests. I was reminded of this early this bowl season when I was flicking through ESPN and saw that the RoofClaim.com Boca Raton Bowl was on. (I have no idea who the teams were or what the outcome was, and I am willing to bet none of you do either.) I had never heard of RoofClaim.com before, and I still don’t know what it is, but I assume, but do not know, that it has some connection with Boca Raton, Florida.

My impression is that there are fewer bowl games this season compared to years past, but we still have some intriguing bowl names that raise questions. For example, this year there will be a Cheez-It Bowl and a Duke’s Mayo Bowl. I assume there will be normal football games at these events, but the title makes it seem as if there will be something like mud wrestling where the football will be played in fields covered in a yellow snack or in one of carefully prepared pimiento cheese and other mayonnaise-based delicacies. They might be fun to watch.

We will have a PlayStation Fiesta Bowl, and I can’t help wonder if this will be a real head knocking game or a virtual event. The Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl seems to be working against itself. Should I eat a chicken sandwich or the fruit? Or is the chain marketing a new culinary creation? And what should I make of this year’s R + L Carrier New Orleans Bowl, the SERVPRO First Responders Bowl, the TransPerfect Music City Bowl, the Vrbo Citrus Bowl, and the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl.

These names may have some appeal, but to me they don’t match the titles from olden days, which in this case means a few years ago—real classics like the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl and the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl. And of course, that all-time favorite, the Poulan Weed-Eater Independence Bowl.

In today’s world, however, we need not just create new names for bowl games, we need to rethink them to make them more interesting. I have a few suggestions.

The Paul Manafort Ukraine Bowl. Instead of a fake-tasting sports drink, delicious borscht is poured over the head of the winning coach as  commentators read a lobbyist-written script, generating a huge bill, that Ukraine, not Russia, was the creator of the beet soup. At halftime, instead of marching bands, ostriches are paraded as well-connected people bid to have the best-looking birds made into jackets. The proceeds go to a “charity,” but no one knows what that means.

The Roger Stone WikiLeaks Bowl where it is mandatory to steal your opponent’s playbook. The game officials wear faux Saville Row clothes, and their every third pronouncement is a lie. The referee said it was a first down, but was it? Or was that a dirty trick?

The Rudy Giuliani Get-Even-Crazier Bowl. The teams get to make up their own rules for every play, but each is still doomed to failure. The field is delineated with hair dye, and the game is played in a warm climate. As the temperature begins to rise, the lines run and form Rorschach tests.

The Smartmatic Hugo Chavez Venezuela Bowl. Even though there is no such game, OAN, Newsmax, and Fox are heavily bidding on it with Fox planning on Maria Bartiromo doing the play by play, which would be her first real journalism in years.

The Dominion Voting Systems Bowl where 47.3% of the spectators believe that every time their team scores the scoreboard adds even more points to the opponent’s total.

The Donald Suck-Up Swamp Bowl. Played in a foul-smelling bog that many spectators pretend not to see or care about, each player drawing a penalty can beseech a man with orange hair sitting behind a tiny table by saying “Pardon me” in hopes of having the offense forgiven.

Justice Blinded

          The Department of Justice overrode a sentencing recommendation by its frontline prosecutors. The defendant was the politically connected and presidential friend Roger Stone. The four prosecutors resigned from the case as a result.

          The Department of Justice (finally) said that it would not prosecute an FBI agent involved in the Russian investigation even though the president has asserted, without giving supporting evidence, that Andrew McCabe should be prosecuted.

          The Attorney General has appointed a special counsel for the confessed criminal and politically connected Michael Flynn, who is awaiting sentence. Reports indicate that other criminals who are connected to the president may be in line for preferential treatment.

          Attorney General William Barr claims that the president has never told him how to handle any case, and Barr has said that it is impossible for him to do his job when the president tweets about individual Department of Justice cases. This complaint comes as a shock since Barr may believe in one-person (probably one-man rule) at least as much as the president does.

          Trump in response tweets that he has not interfered but that he has the absolute right to order how criminal cases should be handled. He is the chief law enforcement officer, he pronounces.

          An open letter signed by almost two thousand former prosecutors and Department of Justice officials say that Barr should resign. Bill Barr has not.

          Swamp creatures are pardoned and set free. Others are pardoned whose supporters have connections with the president. And now we wait to see if the sentenced, frog-like Stone will be able to bound back to his bog without prison for his crimes against America. Ribbit. Ribbit.

          Just another week in the modern United States. It is hard to assess whether all this is a big deal or not because we have all become desensitized to Donald Trump and those around him.

          The events highlight, however, how imperfect our government is. It makes us realize that much of our sense of good government depends on norms that have been established over the decades and not on the Constitution itself. The Constitution does not prevent a president from breaking the norms of impartial justice that seem essential to a fair America and thus, does not prevent a president from moving us towards autocracy. And the events, rather predictably, also bring misleading or ignorant statements by kneejerk defenders of whatever the president does.

          More than a few “distinguished” commentators and hosts on Fox News say that William Barr must follow the president’s directions “because the Attorney General works for the president.” Another objecting to a headline from a news organization said that “Bill Barr can’t ‘intervene’ in a Department of Justice matter because the prosecutors work for the Attorney General.” Such statements, both wrong about who employs Justice Department officials, indicate how far along the path of the cult of personality we have traveled.

          Our federal government is complicated, but one thing is clear: Our chief executive is not the equivalent of the chief executive of a family business. An Attorney General and other federal officials do not work for the president. He does not pay them, and no one in the government openly pledges fealty to the president. To take office, an attorney general and other federal officials must vow: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office. So help me God.”

          The Attorney General is supposed to work for all of us (we do pay his salary after all), not for the president alone. The lines of authority, however, are muddled. The president does have a power akin to an employer; he can remove an attorney general. Furthermore, since the president has been given the constitutional duty to “take Care the Laws be faithfully executed. . . .” he can set the priorities and policies for the Department of Justice and the Attorney General. There has been an established norm that a president should not dictate how a particular case must be handled, but the president has the constitutional authority to break that norm. Of course, if what is commanded is unconstitutional, the AG cannot–consistent with the oath of office–carry out the command, but if the directive is only unwise, the AG can be expected to be removed if she does not comply with the presidential wishes.

          The president can then seek a new attorney general, but that also is complicated. The Constitution does not give the president the power to appoint any Attorney General he wants. Instead, it says that the president “shall nominate” candidates to be federal officials, but the Constitution goes on to say, “and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint” the Attorney General and other federal officials. The appointment power is a joint one of the president and the Senate. The Constitution does not constrain the Senate in how it should use its power. It is only a norm or a convention that the Senate gives great deference to the presidential nominations. Nevertheless, the Senate has the right, for any reason it finds sufficient, to reject a particular person as Attorney General.

(Concluded February 24)