David Offutt at the African Burial Ground National Monument (Oct. 2012): President George W. Bush broke a Republican tradition of nearly fifty years and used the Antiquities Act of 1906 to proclaim six national monuments. This one is in New York City.

Earth Day 2018

Part 2 of 3: The GOP-Trumpistas versus Environmental Presidents

What did Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama have in common? They were all “moderate Republicans,” which was a breed that began dying out with the rise of the extreme right-wing Barry Goldwater, the Republican nominee for president in 1964. Nixon was primarily a Nixonian – not a Republican. Carter, Clinton, and Obama ran as Democrats but ruled as the last vestiges of the moderate Republicans, who were effectively extinct by the time Obama came along.

Also, while none were perfect, they were our last environmental presidents, and this is what made them despised by plutocratic, anti-tax, anti-regulation extremists, like Charles and David Koch, who have brilliantly and systematically taken ownership of the old Republican Party – which now rejects all their three great presidents – Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Eisenhower, and everything they stood for.

Donald J. Trump has made the old G.O.P. into his own Trumpista Party, and he knows that he can stay in power as long as he remains hostile to the environment. He can’t anger the polluter-side of his base, like the Koch brothers. He also has to remain hostile toward minorities and immigrants so as not to lose any other part of his voting base, especially angry white males. No matter what he does, or did, his enablers in Congress and Fox “News” will give him a pass. He was completely correct when he said he could shoot someone in front of witnesses in Times Square and not lose a single one of his supporters.

Richard M. Nixon (Pres. 1969-1974) became the only president to resign from office because he lost all of his defenders in Congress (Photo: a detail of Norman Rockwell’s painting of Nixon in the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC; David Offutt, Aug. 2015)

Richard Nixon is a perfect example of what can happen when you stab your supporters in the back. When Nixon announced his resignation as President, what reason did he give? It was not that he got caught on tape authorizing the cover-up of the Watergate crimes – the proverbial “smoking gun” tape. He said the reason for his departure was that he had lost his base of support in the U.S. Congress.

The good things Nixon did as President were absolutely anathema for his Republican base. He was establishing détente with the Soviet Union! He and Leonid Brezhnev signed a Strategic Arms Limitations Treaty! He went to China! He made a deal with North Vietnam and ended our involvement in the Vietnam War! Two of the unifying factors of the Republican Party since WWII had been its support of perpetual warfare and its obsession with anti-communism.

However, there was something even more distasteful that caused him lose his base of support: his environmental actions. He signed the Clean Air Act! He vetoed the Clean Water Act, but it was so popular with American voters that even Republicans joined Democrats to over-ride the veto. But his greatest crime to his base was his creation of the Environment Protection Agency! Its first director, William Ruckelshaus, knew that Nixon was no true environmentalist.  He also knew that Nixon would never ask what he was doing, so he never bothered to tell him. It’s taken over 45 years to get a saboteur like Scott Pruitt to dismantle the agency.

When it looked like the House was going to impeach him, Nixon realized that that he had lost his base, which would rather have Vice President Gerald Ford, a true conservative, than him, an FDR-type “progressive.” Donald Trump realizes that he’s only a bloviating demagogue while Vice President Mike Pence is a true believer of ultra-conservative causes. Trump isn’t about to do anything that will cost him his “populist” base.  The Trumpistas in Congress don’t want to lose those voters.

Jimmy Carter (president 1977-81) should have won the Nobel Peace Prize while he was in office, but he had to wait until 2002. (Photo: detail of Robert Templeton’s 1980 painting of Carter in the National Portrait Gallery; David Offutt, Aug. 2015)

Jimmy Carter was the first Democrat of the 20th century to favor de-regulation of some industries, so you would think that the G.O.P. and its plutocratic constituents could relate to him. But, remember, Carter was a peanut farmer from Georgia, so he really wasn’t entitled to be President. Also, Carter’s obsession with human rights issues not only drove the Russians, Chinese, and other authoritarian governments up the wall, it practically drove the Republican Party insane. His other obsessions with peace and correcting old wrongs, like the Camp David Accords and the Panama Canal Treaty, only exacerbated the tensions between the rising right-wing extremists in the party and the old guard.

The tipping point against Carter, I suggest, was his signing into law the bipartisan National Parks and Recreation Act of 1978, and his creation of 15 national monuments – such as Denali in Alaska.  Preserving these lands and preventing them from being developed into Disneylands or mining or fossil-fuel fields was really the last straw. After his defeat in 1980, the moderate Republicans who voted with him were targeted for extinction during the Reagan Era. Carter has been demonized as one of our worst presidents ever since, which was far from the truth.

Bill Clinton (president 1993-2001) was impeached by a hostile Republican House that knew there was no chance of conviction in the Senate. The last thing Republicans wanted was for Al Gore to run in 2000 as an incumbent. (Photo: Chuck Close’s 2006 painting of Clinton in the National Portrait Gallery; David Offutt Aug. 2015)

Bill Clinton was a hick from the inconsequential state of Arkansas – my home state – so the Republican Party never accepted his legitimacy as President. When Newt Gingrich “Khan” and his gang of right-wingers took control of the House, Clinton was declared to be “irrelevant.”

Nevertheless, Clinton outfoxed them at every turn and became the best “Republican” president since Reagan blew up the deficit.  Clinton signed – and got credit for – numerous Republican bills and programs: (1) NAFTA, (2) welfare reform or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families that replaced the more helpful Aid to Families with Dependent Children, (3) the Crime Bill of 1994 which included the notorious “three strikes and you’re out,” (4) the repeal of Glass-Steagall which eventually gave us the Great Recession, (5) three balanced budgets, and (6) the Telecommunications Act of 1996 which ultimately gave us a flood of right-wing talk radio.

So why was he so hated and harassed by the Republican Congress? Yes, there was his effort to get universal health care, but that went nowhere early on. Again, I contend, it was the environment. Clinton was concerned about global warming/climate change. His vice president was Al Gore, who had been addressing the climate issue in Congress for several years – George H.W. Bush even derided him with the moniker “Ozone Man.” The Kyoto Protocol of 1997 to address Anthropomorphic Climate Disruption was adopted by most nations, but our Republican Congress, of course, never signed on.

Clinton also used the Antiquities Act of 1906, which always infuriates Republicans who always favor development and drilling over preservation. George W. Bush is the only Republican president since Eisenhower in the 1950s to use it (6 times). So there is quite a backlog of sites that concerned citizens and organizations are trying to preserve for the public. Clinton used it 19 times to create national monuments – such as Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah.

Barack Obama (president 2009-2017) was unable to work with a hostile Congress, so he had fun creating national monuments. (Photo: a detail of Kehinde Wiley’s 2018 portrait of Obama in the National Portrait Gallery)

For all its faults, the Affordable Care Act was Barack Obama’s landmark achievement. Ever since its passage, the G.O.P. and now the Trumpistas have been trying to get rid of it without a viable replacement. The irony is that “Obamacare” is essentially a conservative Republican plan. The Heritage Foundation, an ultra conservative think-tank, proposed a similar plan using private insurance companies as an alternative to one being proposed by Clinton in the early ‘90s. Then Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, successfully implemented it in Massachusetts.

As far as the G.O.P. was concerned, Barack Obama was never considered a legitimate American president from the moment of his inauguration, if not before. So it’s not surprising they would not want him to have any successes and to erase any successes he did have (the Moses Syndrome). But there was one other area that he was interested in that absolutely drove the Republicans nuts: the environment.

Obama and the United States took a leadership role in Paris Climate Agreement of 2015. As expected, Trump has taken the U.S. out of the agreement. Obama also created 26 national monuments – such as the Katahdin Woods and Waters in Maine. Trump ordeed his anti-environment secretary of interior, Ryan Zinke, to do a survey to see which national monuments could be eliminated or reduced in size. His findings will be contested because they probably violate the Antiquities Act of 1906.

(To Be Continued)

Part 3: An Update on the Buffalo National River  (soon – maybe Friday, April 27)

Advertisements
Posted by: David Offutt | April 24, 2018

Earth Day 2018: Part 1 – Anthropomorphic Climate Disruption

David Offutt in Everglades National Park, Florida (early January 1979) – The Everglades are among the numerous public properties that are threatened by rising sea levels due to Anthropomorphic Climate Disruption.

Earth Day, April 22, occurred on Sunday this year. The date should be changed in such a way that it will always be on a school day. After all, that was one of the reasons it was created in 1970. It was to be a national teach-in day to discuss ways to save the planet. Anyway, Earth Day ought to be everyday. In that spirit, I thought I would devote three days this week to make some observations.

Earth Day 2018

Part 1 of 3: Anthropomorphic Climate Disruption (ACD)

Noam Chomsky, the legendary linguist and peace activist, has identified America’s Republican Party as the most dangerous organization in the world today. By that, he is not dismissing the violence and threats presented by hate group organizations like neo-Nazis or terrorists like ISIS. He’s simply pointing out that the only organization in the world that actively seeks the destruction of life as we know it on planet Earth is the Republican Party, what I now call the Trumpista Party – that name separates it from the former G.O.P. and is a more honest assessment of the party’s evolution.

Anthropomorphic Climate Disruption (ACD) is quite a mouthful, so that term is rarely used publicly by politicians or other public servants. It translates as human-caused climate change which is universally recognized as the greatest threat to the planet by virtually all scientists and all governments throughout the world except for the Republican Party – the Trumpistas – in the United States. Therefore, since the Trumpistas control the executive and legislative branches of the U. S. government and most of the state governments, they are actively seeking to increase the burning of fossil fuels and prevent as many remedial actions as possible.

The U.S. National Park Service recently issued a report on the effects of the rise of sea levels and storm surges on our national parks and public lands. The Antarctic ice is melting faster than anticipated and may overtake the melting of Greenland. Obviously, actions need to be taken to prevent the loss of our national treasures. However, Trump’s secretary of interior, Ryan Zinke, had all references of humans’ role in ACD deleted from the report. This is a deliberate effort to prevent the public from being informed of the causes of environmental disasters. It’s also a premeditated effort to do nothing to prevent the devastation that’s pending. It’s not just Liberty and Ellis Islands, the Everglades and other low-lying public areas that are threatened – New York City, Miami, other heavily populated cities are vulnerable, too.

Trump’s scandal-prone director of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, has been able to keep his job by doing everything he can to emasculate the efficiency of his agency. As the attorney general of Oklahoma, he was always bringing lawsuits against the EPA, and he’s still doing the bidding of the fossil fuel industry. Even though Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP, and Shell have admitted to a federal judge that humans play a role in climate change, Pruitt has directed his staff to downplay the role of humans in increasing world temperatures. He is also planning to roll back requirements that automobiles be cleaner and more fuel efficient.

The fossil-fuel lackey Pruitt was also a strong supporter of Donald Trump’s rejection of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. The agreement itself is only a modest commencement to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. Had it been done 30-40 years ago, we may have gotten a good start heading off many of the disasters that have become commonplace and that will be getting worse: tornados, hurricanes, droughts, floods, forest fires – all will increase in intensity.  There is a multiplying effect that will be getting worse: We put carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the Arctic permafrost melts and releases methane which is worse than CO2; drought results in forest fires which release more CO2 – well, you get the idea.

Thanks to the Donald, the world will continue to fight the ever-increasing crisis without U.S. leadership – at least through 2020.  The Trumpistas hope to counteract the efforts of all the other nations. The Moses Syndrome – the mindless obsession to erase the name of Obama from anything he did – has resulted in a path to planetary suicide.

David Offutt in Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park and Glacier National Park, Montana (July 1985) – Due to man-made climate change, the glaciers in this park are rapidly retreating. This is a view from the Going-to-the-Sun Road that divides the two parks.

Probably the most ridiculous and malicious scheme is the Trumpistas’ promotion to burn more coal. The plot to eliminate the Clean Power Plan makes no sense at all and fortunately won’t work for purely economic reasons. The Clean Power Plan was the Obama flagship program to meet U.S. goals as agreed to in the modest Paris accord. Energy companies know that not only is coal detrimental to the future of the planet but it’s also more expensive than better alternatives.

I want to end on another positive note.

My home state Arkansas, since the nomination of a black man for president, has turned into a solid red state, with a complete takeover by the Trumpistas of our state government. Our attorney general, Leslie Rutledge, endorsed Trump at the Republican Convention in 2016. She is actively trying to kill the Clean Power Plan, apparently for no other reason than she suffers from the Moses Syndrome. Arkansas – we like to call it The Natural State – is one of the most polluted states in the union, so it has a higher standard to reach than most other states to clean up its power stations. Ironically, Arkansas will probably meet those standards in spite of Ms. Rutledge. The energy companies in Arkansas already have plans to reduce the use of coal, and it would be financially irresponsible to cancel them.

(To be continued)

Part 2: The GOP-Trumpistas versus Environmental Presidents (Wed. April 25, 2018)

Posted by: David Offutt | April 20, 2018

Teachers Should Not Have Guns

On March 14, 2018, students nation-wide staged walkouts to draw attention to gun-safety. (Photo: Reuters)

Part One: Introduction

I’ve really been proud of the teenagers of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and all the others around the country who have demanded sensible gun-safety legislation. They still are not likely to have any success with the Republican-controlled Congress, which is owned lock, stock, and barrel by the National Rifle Association, the lobbying arm of the munitions industry. Nevertheless, there seems to be hope for reasonable policies by retailers, large corporations, and incremental steps by some state legislatures.

Discontinuing the sales of assault weapons is a no-brainer. Their sole purpose is to kill as many people as possible in the shortest length of time. I had a two-hour ride in a tow truck several weeks ago with a driver who bragged about how the police always came to his house every time his neighbors complained that he fired one of his guns. He then bragged about owning 40 assault rifles and insisted over and over that he didn’t have them to kill people. I spoke as little as possible. This guy didn’t seem to be playing with a full deck, and I wanted to get home alive.

However, our raising the age of purchasing guns from 18 to 21 is problematic: How do you deny anyone who can vote and who can fight and be willing to die in the military from being able to purchase a hunting rifle. Universal background checks is also a no-brainer and might resolve the age issue.

The worst suggestion on how to limit mass shootings in the schools is the one about arming teachers. Not surprisingly, President Donald J. Trump has endorsed this proposal, and that ought to sound alarm bells. You certainly don’t want students to bring guns to school. As a teacher of history for 20 years in public and private high schools and a teacher in adult education for an additional 20 years, I only took a gun – a pistol – away from a student one time. I saw it and asked for it, and he handed it to me. That was in a high school near Austin, Tex., in 1990, but I don’t know how that would work out today.

The very last thing anyone should want is for a teacher to have a weapon in a classroom. Teaching can be fun and a very rewarding personal experience, and I can personally attest to that.  However, it is also a very exhausting, stressful, underpaid, and underappreciated profession. Much of the work a teacher does is done at home and without pay.

One goes into teaching because one enjoys it, wants to make a difference, and wants to instill knowledge in the nation’s youth. One does not go into education to accumulate great wealth.  This means that most public and private school teachers work for modest salaries in return for Social Security, Medicare, and state teacher pensions in their retirement. According to the philosophy of Ayn Rand, an icon of the old Republican Party and of the current Trumpistas, that means that teachers are “losers, leeches, and moochers” who take from the “worthy” people to survive.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida – On February 14, 2018, 17 people were killed and 17 more were wounded.  (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Part Two: The Situation

Let me tell you about the worst school where I ever tried to teach and endured the most miserable single semester of my life.  This should give you a good idea why you do not want any teacher to have a gun in the classroom.

I won’t identify the town or high school because this was in the mid-1970s and things may not be the same there now. But I will say that I lived in Fayetteville, Ark., and the one-way commute with heavy two-lane traffic took about 30 minutes. The superintendent and principal hired me because they wanted an experienced history teacher to build a viable social studies program, which the school was conspicuously lacking. There was some selfishness involved because each of them had homes in the community and their own children were approaching the high school level.  They wanted a school that could provide a good college preparatory education. I was really impressed and took the job. Sadly, neither the superintendent nor the principal had consulted the powers-that-be in the community, so I was in for a rude awakening.

In fairness, I should point out that the only mean-spirited class was my first period, 11th grade U.S. history class. The obvious problem was that I was put in a bad mood for the rest of the day. My 9th grade civics class, my 10th grade world history class, and my other 11th grade U.S. history class were all fine, with students who not only didn’t mind learning but most were glad for the opportunity. There was one other 12th grade current events class, but I have no memories of it at all.

I also will admit that my subconscious has successfully suppressed all the destructive and nerve-wrecking antics that those first period juniors displayed, and I have no intention of undergoing psychoanalysis to restore those memories. What follows may give you an idea.

My carpool from Fayetteville to the school consisted of me and two other teachers. I will call the English teacher Edna and the math teacher Mike. Edna had already taught two or three years there – the first one being really bad with the students who were now in my first period; Mike had taught somewhere else before, but, like me, this was his first year here, and he hit the same obstructionism that I did.

I pointed out to Edna and Mike that my first period class was openly hostile and contemptuous and was planning as a group to get failing grades so as to blame me. Edna confessed that those same students had treated her in a similar way, but it had taken most of that year for her to realize what was going on. She said she went home every day and cried because she believed she was such a bad teacher. She had no previous teaching experience and didn’t pick up on what they doing as quickly as I did. Once those students moved on, her experience at the school improved immensely.

Mike, on the other hand, would hardly speak to us on our daily road trips. He silently dreaded each day, held his anger inside him, and really fumed on the way back home. He rarely spoke to us when he got out of the car. Occasionally he talked about how they needed to get rid of the bad students so he could teach the good ones, but no one in the administration would help him – but, as I said, he rarely spoke at all. Edna and I worried that he might own a gun. Every day we feared that he might very well get out of the car, go into his apartment, and blow his brains out. Even though he was not good company, we were relieved to see him each morning.

That was in the mid-1970s. Today, we would fear that Mike would do something else. If he had pistol, as soon as the tormentors started in on him, he’d go berserk, an pull out that gun and start blowing away as many of them as he could – the good kids would be unintended casualties as well. If he brought in an assault weapon, the carnage would be greater.

Fortunately, about six weeks into the school year, Mike simply gave the school a week’s notice that he was resigning and relieved our fears of his suicide. As I recall, the school never could find a replacement for him. All of his substitutes were offered a permanent job if they wanted it. All of them declined, saying that it was “impossible to teach those people.” That math position was a revolving door for the rest of the semester.

Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut – On December 14, 2012, 20 children between 6 and 7 years old and 6 adult staff members were killed. This led to a sensible gun-safety bill to be proposed on the national level, but the Republican-led Congress refused to pass it. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Part Three: The Debacle

In my case, after the mid-term grades went out, the school librarian stuck her head into my classroom before the first bell and said, “You didn’t check the social register before you recorded grades, did you?” It turned out that my troublemakers had been placed together whenever possible since elementary school, and the local teachers knew not to waste energy trying to teach them. They just recorded good grades and passed them on. The hostile students were the offspring of the powers-that-be in the community, and no one wanted to upset them. The librarian was right. Edna had told me part of the story, but nobody warned me about the parents. It’s what I call Offutt’s Law: the more important it is for you to know something, the less likely that information will be volunteered to you.

The principal approached me and said that “these people are coming up here, and we’re going to have to make some concessions to them.” He and the superintendent wanted to tell the parents that it was my suggestion that we wipe their mid-semester grades off the books and determine the fall semester grades solely on the second half. I agreed to let them say and do whatever they wanted because I realized that their jobs depended on placating the community leaders. I presumed that since this was something that should never be considered, let alone suggested, that they also understood that once they were off the hook I would resign and get the hell out of there.

When we met with the irate parents, I was confronted with one screwball accusation after another. The students apparently correctly believed that their parents would believe anything they told them. There was one parent who didn’t seem to belong there. Every time a false accusation was made, she would say, “Now do you really believe that?” When the kangaroo court ended, she introduced herself to me. She was the mother of the one student who never participated in the hostility: he never took notes, but always concentrated on my every word and made very good grades. She told me: “I asked my son, ‘What’s that man doing up there (in the classroom)?’ He said that you were very interesting and were trying to do a good job. But he told me, ‘Mother, they won’t let him.’ So I thought I should come up here and present another side to the story.” I thought that was pretty brave of her.

The other absurd concession we made to those parents was that I would no longer attempt to teach the class but would give them textbook assignments to do in class and as homework. One of the many problems with that was that the coach who had previously been the social studies teacher had picked a readings book instead of a textbook. It was intended to supplement some other textbook. That was fine with me because I didn’t need a textbook, but, now, the readings book wasn’t going to be supplementing anything. Anyway, the idea was that I would give them busy work to do and give them A grades on each assignment they turned in. That would be the basis of their course grades. I apologized to that one concerned parent and suggested her son transfer to the good U.S. history class. However, both of us agreed that because of peer pressure, that probably wouldn’t be a good idea.

What if I had broken down under the pressure of dealing with unruly students and unfriendly parents? What if I had been in possession of any firearm during any of these student/parent shenanigans? Any armed teacher could very well have blown away that first period class with a concealed assault weapon or shot selected students with a pistol. The same is true in a roomful of parents who clearly do not mean that teacher well. Considering any of the outrageous things and people that teachers have to endure, it’s hard to imagine anything involving gun-safety that’s stupider than deliberately putting armed weapons in their hands.

Columbine High School in Columbine, Colorado – On April 20, 1999, 12 students and 1 teacher were killed and 24 others were injured. (Photo: Reuters)

Part Four: Epilogue

The principal came to see me early in December to ask how things were going. I handed him my letter of resignation. He admitted, “I didn’t come in here to get this, but I’m not surprised.” I was the one who was surprised. I presumed that he expected to get that letter immediately after that parental meeting. After giving him notice, all the physical illnesses that I had mentally contracted since the first day of school vanished. I was suddenly healthy again, and I was fine for the rest of the semester.

Remember that Mike, the math teacher, had given the principal only a week’s notice, and I don’t recall his ever finding a permanent replacement for him. I gave him a month’s notice and a possible replacement. I had a friend at the University of Arkansas whom I had met in one or two of my history classes in 1974-75. He was in his fall, senior semester, had a wife and young daughter, and had uncertain employment prospects upon graduation in the spring. I told the principal that I had given my friend detailed information about the situation at the school and he’s still interested in taking my job. I asked, “Do you want his name?” The principal pulled out his pen and responded emphatically, “Yes. What is it?” My friend was hired for the spring semester, with the understanding that he would complete his degree during the summer.

I continued to prepare my friend. He, of course, knew not to hit a brick wall with that first period class, but I also wanted him to know what kind of community he would be dealing with. I told him about the girl in the civics class who was not allowed to take her books home from school. Her father insisted that boys did not want to marry girls who were smarter than they. He beat her for earning an A in a class, so the guidance counselor kept two sets of records for her: the report card that was sent home with Bs and Cs and the official record with her straight As.

I also told him about the father, the president of the largest bank in town, who spoke with me about his two daughters. One was earning an A in the good U.S. history class, but the younger one was a D student in my civics class – the only one in the class who wasn’t doing well. The father told me that he didn’t care about the A student because she was adopted. But he did care about the other one because she was his own flesh and blood. I don’t recall what I said to him, but I do remember that I held my tongue and did not tell him what I really thought: the problem was clearly genetics.

The school’s office manager eventually let me know something that I had not been told. She said that when the 4-weeks progress reports had been mailed to the parents, mine had not been sent. The office had sent a student to the post office to mail the letters, and he removed all of the ones that were addressed to the parents of my first period class. I let my friend and replacement know about this as well.

On my last day, the faculty and administrative staff gave me a going away party during the lunch period. They thanked me for what I did and for what I attempted do. They realized that I had been up against a stacked deck. My good U.S. history class also gave me a farewell party. They brought a cake that was decorated with a map of the 48 contiguous states.

I loved teaching and devoted 40 years to it, retiring in May 2014. Most teachers quit after only 3 years. There are many, many reasons why they leave the profession. If your state is among those that are thinking about arming teachers, please ask your state representatives to be rational and vote No.

Posted by: David Offutt | December 6, 2017

Plutocracy: The Trumpistas’ Gilded Age Tax Scheme

Typical representatives of whom the New Gilded Age tax bill is intended to benefit: The Trump family – Eric, Donald Jr., Ivanka, and Donald Sr. (Photo: Paul Morigi/Wireimage)

 

The Trumpista Party is frantically scheming to give the nation a Christmas present whether we want it or not. If it succeeds, we will remember 2017 to be the year the Grinch stole Christmas. It will be a feast-to-behold for the big corporations and extremely wealthy individuals and families; however, it will be a real turkey – in the worst sense of the word – for the rest of us and for the nation itself.

 

The notorious make-the-rich-richer “tax reform” bill that’s being steamrolled through Congress right now is justifiably an extremely unpopular concoction. While the vast majority of the American people believe that those in the upper income brackets should pay their fair share of taxes, the Trumpistas are determined to defy the public will and the public’s needs.

 

The trickle-down economic policy that this bill endorses has historically never benefitted anyone but corporations and those whom George W. Bush called the “haves and have-mores.” It doesn’t increase investments, jobs, or salaries. However, it does expand income inequality – the gap between the upper one-tenth of one percent and everyone else. It also increases the deficit, requiring extensive borrowing and paying greater interest on the debt, which benefits the financial community but not taxpayers. So why do the Trumpistas pretend to be incapable of learning from history?

 

In one of the most quoted explanations and probably the most honest, New York Representative Chris Collins said it best: “My donors are basically saying ‘get it done or don’t ever call me again.’”

 

What he means is that Koch brothers’ operations like Americans for Prosperity and the Club for Growth will stop contributing to his campaign and start funding an even more reactionary opponent in the next primary. It will be to someone who will not only promise to deliver the goods to the plutocrats but will do it. The checks from the Kochs, Sheldon Adelson, Robert Mercer, and their fellow multimillionaire donors will go to someone else in the next election.

 

Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch with the man who appointed him, Donald Trump: The Republican majority in the Senate refused to hold hearings on Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court so that someone recommended by the Federalist Society could get the seat. The Federalist Society hopes to return the U.S. to what it believes to be its greatest era – the Gilded Age. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

These plutocrats are so close to a full return to the Gilded Age of the latter part of the 19th century that they can taste it. They spent a lot of money to put their people in the presidency and the Congress. As a result, with the recent addition of Neil Gorsuch they still control a slim majority on the U.S. Supreme Court. But they want much more than that.  As I’ve written before, they want “to return to a time when there was no income tax, no regulation of business practices, and no protections for labor, the consumers, the unemployed, the elderly, or the environment.” And if the Trumpistas can get the national debt to increase because of huge tax cuts, they will be able to cut spending later by putting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid on the chopping block – the plutocrats they represent don’t need these programs and don’t want to pay into them.

 

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan: Described by economics Nobel laureate Paul Krugman as “the flim-flam man,” Ryan has been introducing relief bills for the plutocracy for years. This time he may pull it off. (Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Dick Cheney, Ayn Rand, and Grover Norquist can also provide motivations of the Trumpistas. (1) Mr. Cheney observed that the voters did not hold Ronald Reagan accountable after he lowered taxes on the wealthy and tripled the federal debt. As vice president when W. Bush wanted to cut taxes on the wealthy again, Cheney proclaimed, “Deficits don’t matter.” (2) Ayn Rand, the author of The Virtue of Selfishness and Atlas Shrugged and a patron saint of the Trumpistas,  insists that the extremely wealthy should not be required to assist “parasites, moochers, looters, brutes, and thugs” without their personal consent.  The “parasites” who would be hurt by spending cuts caused by the increased deficit are primarily children, the elderly, the disabled, and those who work hard (often more than one job) whose low salaries don’t make ends meet. (3) Grover Norquist, founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform, gets virtually every candidate who runs as a Republican to sign an oath promising to oppose any tax increases. He laments “We just need a president to sign this stuff. We don’t need someone to think it up or design it.”

 

Norquist got his wish in 2016 – with a vengeance. Being consumed with obstruction and sabotage during the 16 years of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and, in between, playing deaf, dumb and blind during the Bush-Cheney Era, the G.O.P. has now decided to cash in on the ambitions of Donald J. Trump to finally achieve their longtime goal of establishing a government of the people, by the plutocracy, and for the plutocracy. Once you consent to use the vices of someone like Trump to achieve your goals, you no longer have the right to criticize that someone for those vices. In fact, you own him.  That’s why I’m now referring to the former G.O.P. as the Trumpista Party.  Also, I can retire my other, accurate but longer and ponderous name for the G.O.P. – the Fox-Republican-TEA Party.

 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: He rammed through a quickly improvised tax bill with no meaningful hearings and with no Democratic input and no debate – certainly one of the Senate’s most shameful performances. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The Trumpistas haven’t really forgotten how Congress is supposed to work. It’s just that they are so obsessed with replacing our democratic-republic with a plutocracy that they just don’t care anymore how blatantly they trample our constitutional system. Before you legislate, you must investigate. That means that pertinent committees should hold public hearings, listening to and asking questions to various experts, authorities of affected businesses and organizations, and concerned individuals. Studies need to be used to evaluate the costs and effects of all proposals.

 

The Trumpistas have held no meaningful hearings on this tax scheme and all the studies have shown it to increase the deficit and ultimately raise taxes on the middle class. They’ve only used closed-door writing sessions attended by members of only one party: the Trumpistas – this means that the citizens of California and New York were totally unrepresented.

 

One of the most important things that responsible, bi-partisan committees should be scrutinizing is the cumulative tax records of Donald J. Trump. How will this tax bill affect the man who will sign it into law? I continue to presume that the primary reason that Mr. Trump ran for office was for the financial gain he could reap for himself and his family. I can safely say that anyone in Congress who votes for any tax bill without knowing how it will affect the man who signs it is guilty of incompetence, irresponsibility, and maliciousness.

 

Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark): A Trump loyalist and a recipient of aid from the Club for Growth. He once skipped a traditional campaign event at a popular Arkansas festival so that he could audition for the support of the Koch brothers. He’s a solid supporter of plutocratic rule. (Photo: Andrew Harrer – Bloomberg/Getty Images)

I regret to say that in my own home state of Arkansas, all of our congressmen have opposed amendments to require Mr. Trump to release his tax records. That’s Representatives Rick Crawford, French Hill, Steve Womack, and Bruce Westerman and Senators John Boozman and Tom Cotton. All six have voted to approve their respective trickle-down tax bills. These congressmen will probably support a final, strictly partisan bill based on their ignorance of what it will do for Trump and their apathy toward its negative impacts on “we the people.” If so, we must hope that voters in Arkansas and elsewhere will eventually hold each member of their congressional delegations accountable.

Posted by: David Offutt | October 23, 2017

The Moses Syndrome of Trump and the G.O.P.

Michelangelo’s Moses (1513-1515) in the church of San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome, Italy [Photo by David Offutt, Nov. 2012]

President Donald J. Trump and the congressional Republicans may not like each other but they share several dominating characteristics: incompetence, irresponsibility, and maliciousness. In direct connection with flouting those traits, they all suffer from the Moses Syndrome. It is this that unites them in a common cause.

 

Sir Cedric Hardwicke as Pharaoh Seti I, or Sethos (1956)

Most are probably familiar with the Book of Exodus in the Old Testament and the 1956 epic film “The Ten Commandments.” In the movie, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, as Pharaoh Seti I, delivers the following decree: “Let the name of Moses be stricken from every book and tablet, stricken from all pylons and obelisks, stricken from every monument of Egypt. Let the name of Moses be unheard and unspoken, erased from the memory of men for all time.”

 

And who is it today that they’ve equated or confused with Moses? Whose presidency did the Republican leadership pledge to obstruct and sabotage on his first inauguration day when they met at the Caucus Room Restaurant? Whose legacies are they trying to remove from our collective memory? Could his name be Obama?

 

Charlton Heston as Moses (1956) – historically, the soldier Horemheb attempted to remove the name of Akhenaton, the adopted name of Amenhotep IV, from Egyptian records.

There are clear similarities in the story of Egypt’s eradication of the name of Moses and of Trump and the G.O.P’s obsession to eliminate anything that might be considered a positive achievement by President Barack Obama. Moses was born a Hebrew slave but was raised by the pharaoh’s daughter to be a prince of Egypt by keeping his origins secret. Once his true identity was discovered, he was deemed unqualified and unfit, was banished from Egypt, and his name was removed from all his accomplishments and from all records.  Barack Obama was our first black president, which clearly made him unacceptable to a large number of voters. He was also deemed to be an illegitimate/unqualified president because many wanted to believe him to be a Muslim born in Kenya – Mr. Trump rose to political infamy by questioning Obama’s claim to be born in Hawaii.

 

However, there are also some differences. The Egyptians chose not to destroy the cities, temples, monuments, roads or whatever Moses was accredited with. They just wanted his name removed from them so that a Hebrew couldn’t get credit for designing or supervising anything that benefited the Egyptians.  On the other hand, Trump and the G.O.P. can’t easily erase the name of Obama from history. (Although, it’s conceivable that the influential state of Texas will try to do just that in purchasing future editions of their public schools’ history textbooks – what Texas wants included or excluded gets sold nationwide.) These people are determined to destroy what Obama did with nothing better to replace them.

 

Michelangelo depicted Moses with horns, an anti-Semitic stereotype that Jews have horns. (Photo by David Offutt)

Even though the Affordable Care Act has done exactly what it was designed to do, Trump and the G.O.P must destroy the ACA, regardless of how many millions get hurt.  Because they named it “Obamacare,” it’s the one and only way they can immediately erase his name from our lexicon. Poor Trump. He may have naively thought his adopted Republican Party, after years of voting to repeal it, had a better replacement for it. He obviously hadn’t been paying attention to what they were really doing.

 

When Trump promised to provide cheaper and better health care for everybody, somebody no doubt informed him that he was talking about “Medicare for everyone” – and his adopted party has opposed Medicare since its inception. The sole Republican mission is to reduce taxes on the millionaires and billionaires, which are vital to making Obamacare work. That’s something Trump can certainly relate to. He’s now willing to sign any repeal no matter how mean-spirited it is. Since the ACA was so carefully constructed and consequently works quite well, Trump has figured out the only way to get rid of it is to give up on legislation and to personally sabotage it.

 

That “horns protruded from his head” as Moses descended from Mount Sinai is based on an early mistranslation that was used during the Renaissance. A more accurate translation is “rays of light protruded from his face.” (Photo by David Offutt)

The same could be said of other targets that are in his crosshairs. There is nothing inherently wrong with the Iran nuclear deal, the Paris climate agreement, or the protection of “dreamers” whose parents brought them into the U.S. when they were kids. While none are perfect, they all are beneficial and no serious effort has been made to improve any of them. The only reasons for sabotaging them are that they were done on Obama’s watch and Trump campaigned on a promise to end them – and a minority of voters was eager to see him do it.

 

It’s reminiscent of South Carolina’s secession from the Union in 1860. South Carolina said it would secede if “that abolitionist Lincoln gets elected.” Lincoln wasn’t an abolitionist at the time, and the only way the South could continue to keep slavery was to stay in the Union. But South Carolina said it would secede if Lincoln were elected, so they did, and other southern states followed. The result was that more Americans died in the Civil War than in any other war. Trump, likewise, is keeping promises to his base with no regard for the consequences to them or the rest of us. Keeping campaign promises might be good but not if they appealed to the voters’ worst instincts. History has shown where that can lead.

 

Yul Brynner as Pharaoh Ramses II (1956) – historically, it is more likely that Merneptah was Egypt’s pharaoh at the time of the exodus.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman recently identified the Trump Doctrine as “Obama built it. I broke it. You (Congress) fix it.” Nothing Trump does is based on information, consideration of the consequences, or having any preconceived plans for improvement.  For eight years, Republicans in Congress practiced “obstruct and sabotage” to limit Obama’s success as president. Now, President Trump is using the same strategy in the White House, knowing full well – by now – that his G.O.P. congressional majority is hardly capable of fixing anything.

 

Meanwhile, the Moses Syndrome afflicts every legislative and/or executive move. Last summer’s transcontinental eclipse was timely and symptomatic of the ever-increasing darkness that’s sweeping our land.

 

“So it shall be written. So it shall be done.” – Yul Brynner as Pharaoh Ramses II in “The Ten Commandments”

Posted by: David Offutt | September 18, 2017

Constitution and Citizenship Day: Our Native Americans

David Offutt at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument in Montana (1980) – There are markers like this one scattered over the park indicating where the participants were at different times of the battle.

 

September 17 was Constitution and Citizenship Day. As I have written in past years, it usually comes and goes without most people knowing about it. How we treat everyone within our society is a way we judge the success and evolution of the ideals within the Constitution of the United States, which was signed on that day in 1787 (230 years ago). It was not DOA (Dead on Arrival) as senators like Florida’s Marco Rubio have insisted. It was intended as, and has been, a living, breathing document that has incrementally been incorporating more and more of our citizens and residents under its ideals, even those we used to call American Indians.

 

On preserving our admittedly shady history with the Native Americans, there are numerous protected, replicated, or restored cultural and battlefield sites from coast to coast that can be visited. However, I have selected two to feature here: The Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument in Montana and the Fort Buford State Historic Site in North Dakota.

 

We can’t escape the fact that our nation was founded on two dark, original sins: slavery and the conquest and removal of the Native Americans. The crime committed by those who lived here first was, of course, that they were simply in the way. Our westward expansion was at their expense.

 

Portrait of George Washington (1789) by Christian Gullager: (Located in the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston, Mass. – The president sat for this portrait for 2 hours while on an official visit to Boston; it was considered by Bostonians to be the best likeness of the great man up to that time. – When it came to treaties with the Indians, it seems that Mr. Washington could indeed tell a lie. [Photo by David Offutt, 2017]

For most of my teaching career, I taught honors U.S. history in public and college prep private schools. I always began by populating the future continental United States with the different “Indian” cultures that were already here before the Spanish, French, and English arrived. I’ll never forget the time in eastern Arkansas at Wynne High School when the principal asked me, “Are you teaching about Indians in your honors class?” – implying that I shouldn’t be doing that. At first I thought he was kidding, but it turned out that the department head had been complaining that I wasn’t teaching the course as she had taught it in previous years. I continued to teach the students as I always had.

 

Our Constitution gives the executive branch the power to make treaties with the advice and consent of the Senate. George Washington took that literally and appeared on the floor of the Senate to determine what the senators wanted in the Indian treaties that were in the works. He got the silent treatment and swore never to do that again. Since then, presidents have made treaties in advance and then sent them to the Senate for advice and consent. Unfortunately, it seems that Indian treaties were made to be broken. We were “Indian givers.” Whatever we gave them, we eventually took back.

 

I selected the Little Bighorn Battlefield because it was the site of one of the few tactical victories the Native Americans had. When I was there in 1980, the park rangers presented the conflict as a struggle between two cultures, which was appropriate. One culture was respectful of nature, and the other wanted to conquer it. Gold had been discovered in the Black Hills, which was sacred “Indian” ground and was supposed to be off limits to settlers and prospectors. Greed almost always trumps all, so the U.S. Army supported the prospectors. In 1876 George Armstrong Custer got his 7th Cavalry surrounded by seemingly all the Indians in the world near the Little Bighorn River. The national battlefield preserves the locations of the participants at various times.

 

The Standing Rock Sioux gained another tactical victory 140 years later. The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) was supposed to cross the Missouri River just north of Bismarck, ND. Fearing the probability that its water supply would eventually be contaminated, the city got the pipeline location moved to the south of the city and to the north of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. That way, any oil spill would primarily impact Native Americans, and, historically, concern for their welfare has never been a high priority.

 

Faced with protests from environmentalists and thousands of Native Americans who gathered to block the construction, and faced with his own record of fighting global warming and promoting clean energy, President Barack Obama stopped the building of the pipeline in 2016.

 

David Offutt at the Fort Buford State Historic Site in North Dakota (1985): Sitting Bull surrendered here in 1881, effectively ending the Indian Wars in the U.S.

 

I chose Fort Buford because this is where Sitting Bull and some 200 “hostile” stragglers surrendered in 1881 and effectively ended the Indian Wars in the United States. Crazy Horse’s annihilation of Custer’s 7th Cavalry ultimately didn’t help the cause of the Native Americans. The warrior Crazy Horse and medicine man Sitting Bull didn’t hold any ground to defend, and the American public was aroused to support retribution for the “atrocity” at Little Bighorn by an “abominable” enemy.

 

Even Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce in the Northwest was imprisoned at Fort Buford for a time after he tired of being chased by the U.S. Cavalry. He surrendered in 1877. It’s in a desolate area that was actually suitable for nomadic Indians who followed the buffalo until Gen. Philip Sheridan pointed out that if you exterminate the buffalo, you can also exterminate the Indian. Not much remains of the old fort, but the better preserved Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site is nearby.

 

David Offutt and General Philip Sheridan in Washington, DC (2015) – This is considered one of the best equestrian statues ever made because it looks good from every angle. Sheridan is the one who said, “The only good Indian I ever saw was dead.” However, his reputation was made as a skillful Union cavalry officer during the Civil War.

 

Just as Little Bighorn was all for naught, so too was the victory against DAPL. President Donald Trump was already known as a sympathizer of white supremacists (even before Charlottesville), a hater of Obama, a lover of fossil fuels, an opponent of the environment, and a denier of climate change. He found it very easy to overturn Obama’s executive order and allow the pipeline to jeopardize the land of the Sioux and the rest of the planet. Would he have done it if the pipeline still threatened the mostly white population of North Dakota’s capital city?

 

The Crawford brothers (Robert on the left and Johnny) in “Indian Paint” (1964). At least Jay Silverhills, a true Native American, played their father in this tale of Indian life on the plains.

 

Today, possibly the most noticeable advance in the treatment of our Native Americans can be seen on television and in the movies. Ever since Kevin Costner’s “Dances with Wolves” in 1990, we’ve come to expect Native Americans to play Native Americans in our films.

 

I grew up watching Burt Lancaster play “Jim Thorpe,” the Olympic champion; Jeff Chandler play Cochise in “Broken Arrow”; Rock Hudson play “Taza, Son of Cochise”; Victor Jory play Injun Joe in  “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”; Tony Curtis play Ira Hayes, one of the Marines who raised the flag on Iwo Jima, in “The Outsider”;  and Johnny Crawford (Emmy-nominee as Mark on TV’s “The Rifleman”) and his older brother Robert (Emmy-nominee for “Child of Our Time” on Playhouse 90) play Indian youths in “Indian Paint.”

 

David Offutt at the Iwo Jima U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial near Arlington Cemetery across from Washington, DC, in Virginia (2015) – Two Marines are raising flags to fly over the monument; each flag will be sent to any eligible person who requests such a flag. Ira Hayes is one of the Marines depicted in the statue. Sadly, while intoxicated, he died of exposure to cold and alcohol poisoning on his Pima reservation in 1955.

 

Charles Bronson, Chuck Connors, Sal Mineo, Michael Landon, and many other non-Native Americans also played Indians in our films and on TV. The idea was to increase viewers and box office receipts by using popular or known actors. However, is there any one of us today who would consider it acceptable not to use a true Native American in those roles in future films?

 

 

 

 

Posted by: David Offutt | August 31, 2017

Plutocracy: Ayn Rand and the G.O.P.

Ayn Rand, author and founder the Objectivism philosophy, probably articulates the plutocracy’s agenda better than anyone else.

 

There are three characteristics that are continually demonstrated by the Republican majority in the U.S. Congress and the quasi-Republican administration in the White House: incompetence, irresponsibility, and maliciousness.  To understand why Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, President Donald J. Trump, and their accomplices consider these traits to be positive, it is important to be familiar with the philosophy of one of their patron saints: Ayn Rand.

 

This is the book that contain’s the speech by the fictitious John Galt who epitomizes the positions of the billionaire Koch brothers and much of the other upper 1%.

Two of Ms. Rand’s novels are practically required reading for any true believer in the Republican-plutocratic agenda: “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead.” They will even argue over which one should be read first.  “Atlas…” usually wins out because it contains the long speech delivered by its fictitious hero, John Galt, who defines modern-day Republicanism and its emphasis on establishing a true plutocracy – rule by the very wealthy.

 

If you really want to understand today’s G.O.P., I suggest that you skip both novels. My copy of “The Fountainhead” – donated by The Ayn Rand Institute to high schools – is 694 pages! “Atlas…” is lengthy, too, and you would be hard pressed to find any book reviewer or scholar who would consider either to be great literature. It might be best to just Google “John Galt’s speech” and fight your way through that. It’s the G.O.P.’s alternative to Jesus’s  “The Sermon on the Mount,” which they soundly reject.

 

This is the other contender as a must-read book by extreme right-wingers. It was turned into a rather mediocre movie which, unfortunately, had two great stars: Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal.

House speaker Paul Ryan used to admit that he was primarily influenced by Ayn Rand, but somebody pointed out to him that Ms. Rand was a devout atheist. That doesn’t set well with the G.O.P.’s evangelical base. He doesn’t mention her name anymore, but his take-from-the-poor and give-to-the-rich annual proposed “budgets,” his opposition to spending on infrastructure, and his reflexive opposition to health care for 20 million American citizens are all pure Ayn Rand.

 

Even Mr. Trump claims to admire Rand’s ideas. Someone probably briefed him on her ideas, which he could easily relate to. (According to Jane Mayer of the “New Yorker,” Tony Schwartz, the ghostwriter for Trump’s “Art of the Deal,” believes the Donald has never read a book in his life and thinks a better title for his book would have been “The Sociopath.”)

 

Instead of those two novels, I strongly recommend a collection of essays that articulate the ethics of objectivism, which is the name Ms. Rand gave to her philosophy. It is in book form of only 144 pages. It’s written mostly by her with additional essays by Nathaniel Brandon, who collaborated with her on “The Objectivist Newsletter.” She and Mr. Brandon frequently use the John Galt’s speech as a reference in defense of their positions. The 1961 book’s title is, appropriately, “The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism.”

 

This is a series of essays that, essentially, explains why greed is good and altruism is bad.

Ms. Rand defended the title of her book by declaring that “the exact meaning and dictionary definition of the word ‘selfishness’ is: ‘concern with one’s own interests.’” She had total contempt for altruism. The idea that one should live one’s life by doing good things for others was absolute anathema to her.  She blamed people’s belief in altruism on mysticism, which was her word for “religion.” She insists, “Altruism is incompatible with freedom, with capitalism, and with individual rights.”

 

Ms. Rand explained, “The basic social principle of the Objectivist ethics is that just as life is an end in itself, so every living human being is an end in himself, not the means to the ends or the welfare of others – and, therefore, that man must live for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. To live for his own sake means that the achievement of his own happiness is man’s highest moral purpose.”

 

She also explains: “The only proper moral purpose of a government is to protect man’s rights, which means: to protect him from physical violence – to protect his right to his own life, to his own liberty, to his own property and to the pursuit to his own happiness.”  According to Ms. Rand, the only three things that government should provide are (1) a military to prevent invasion (she is correct in the fact that war is initiated as organized theft), (2) a court system to protect property rights, and (3) a police force to protect one’s person and property.

 

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Ayn Rand in a composite photo illustration showing how closely connected they are in political and economic philosophy. Ryan didn’t realize she was an atheist when he bragged about how influential she was to him. (Photos by Charlie Neibergall/AP and Oscar White/Corbis)

Therefore, all public works by government are pure “evil.” Social Security, health care, minimum wages, worker’s compensations, schools, and infrastructure (highways, bridges, et al.) should not be the role of government. Why? Because, as Ms. Rand writes, “Who would pay for it?” The answer, of course, is those with the most money, and it will be done without each one’s personal, individual consent.

 

Who benefits from public works initiatives? “Parasites, moochers, looters, brutes and thugs,” those who are “incapable of survival, who exist by destroying those who ARE capable….” Those who earned their wealth would be forced to help those who didn’t. Mitt Romney was recorded saying essentially the same thing during the 2012 presidential campaign, and he still received 47 percent of the popular vote.

 

Once you understand the influence of Ann Rand’s “sermons” validating long-held beliefs of the party of big business, you can see why it’s so hard to get Republicans to do anything that benefits the majority of the people and the nation as a whole. All you get from them is incompetence, irresponsibility, and maliciousness. It doesn’t come from stupidity: it comes from the intent to protect the downtrodden, wealthy elite from being abused by the rest of us.

Posted by: David Offutt | June 23, 2017

Impeachment Problems: What to Do about Trump

Multiple lawsuits against President Trump, numerous investigations involving the president, the rejections of traditional American values, the decline of U.S. leadership and prestige abroad, the denial of climate change, and the pending dismantlement of the U.S. government and the social safety of the American people have raised urgent questions about what to do about The Donald. (Photo: Matt Dunham/AP images)

 

 

In his perceptive memoir “The Last Time I Saw Paris” (1942), Elliot Paul included a commentary on France’s fledgling Communist Party during the 1920s. He wrote that “…it is impossible for them to keep their traps shut when discretion would be the better part, not only of valour, but of strategy and tactics as well. “ The same could be said today of President Donald R. Trump, who seems determined to inspire more and more investigations and talks of his possible removal from office.

 

None of his tweets, speeches, and actions do him any good except with his base and only raise more suspicions on multiple fronts: His seemingly clear violation of our constitution’s emoluments clause involving his profiting from receiving payments from foreign powers; his campaign’s possible collusion with the Russians in influencing our 2016 elections; his firing of former FBI director James Comey and his appearance of obstructing justice; and his refusal to share his tax returns, which begs misgivings about multiple conflicts of interest.

 

The problem, of course, is that the results of the 2016 elections placed us in such a position that nothing good can come from.

 

President Trump listens to his accolades from each of his cabinet members. Fortunately, some were more subdued than most.

First of all, under current circumstances we can forget about using the 25th Amendment. No matter how ignorant, incompetent, irresponsible, and malicious he may appear to be, Trump’s ego would never allow him to admit that he’s not up to the job and let the vice president become Acting President.  Neither is there a chance that his vice president and a majority of his cabinet will declare Trump to be “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”

 

At the first full cabinet meeting, Trump essentially turned it into a personal fan club and listened to most of them swear fealty to his lordship. Very few of them would have ever been considered by any other president from either party for their present positions: Rick Perry at energy, Jeff Sessions at justice, Tom Price at health and human services, Ben Carson at housing and urban development, Betsy DeVos at education, Scott Pruitt at the EPA, and Mick Mulvaney as budget director. We can fully expect these people to turn their agencies into Orwellian departments contrary to their purpose. They’re highly unlikely to consider what’s best for the nation.

 

As for impeachment, no matter how convincing the evidence may be – and we won’t know until Special Counsel Robert Mueller completes his investigations – what is the likelihood that a House of Representatives controlled by Republicans would indict a sitting president of their own party? None whatsoever. Remember that the makeup of the G.O.P. since the advent of Newt Gingrich “Khan” as Speaker of the House in January 1995 bears no resemblance to those in the party at the time of Richard Nixon when he resigned in 1974.

 

President Trump is not threatening to gun down Vice President Pence. He’s only pointing out the man whom he placed a heartbeat away from the presidency. Having Pence next in line is the best insurance for survival that Trump has. (Photo: Mary Altaffer/AP)

Another problem is the man who is next in line of succession – if by some remote chance Trump is impeached and then convicted in the Senate by a two-thirds vote.  The vice president is Mike Pence, a former U.S. representative and later governor of Indiana. Mr. Pence was an anti-government extremist years before the billionaire Koch brothers invented the TEA Party to prevent the rich from being taxed for health care reform.  He is also an avowed supporter of fundamentalist/evangelical culture warriors who know how everyone else should live his or her life. Mr. Trump uses anti-government and evangelical spiels for personal gain but we don’t know what he really believes from one day to the next. Mr. Pence, however, is a true believer.

 

V.P. Pence is already lawyering-up. It’s going to be hard for anyone close to President Trump from being contaminated and swept up in Mueller’s investigations, which may lead in all sorts of directions. In the unlikely event that Pence has to resign or is also impeached, who’s next in line to the presidency? It’s Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. And that’s another problem.

 

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, second in line of succession to the presidency, hopes to use Trump to cut taxes on the wealthy and undermine the social safety net of the American people. (Photo: RadarOnline.com)

Paul Ryan of Wisconsin is widely revered as the Republican Party’s man of ideas. He’s always coming up with repetitive budget proposals that cut taxes on the wealthy while miraculously raising revenue only by the resulting economic growth – which historically doesn’t happen – and by cutting unspecified government programs that presumably don’t directly benefit the wealthy. Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman has described Speaker Ryan as “the flim-flam man.” Ryan’s a follower of Grover Norquist, who wants to cut taxes on the wealthy so as to drown the government of the United States of America in a bathtub. Ryan is also a devotee of Ayn Rand, whose philosophy she explained in her book “The Virtue of Selfishness – A New Concept of Egoism.”

 

Vice President Spiro Agnew and President Richard Nixon in prison strips. Neither went to jail, but both resigned from their offices. (Photo: from Lead Pipe Posters/published by Yippy Inc.)

We need to recall that what allowed us to get rid of Richard Nixon was not only the “smoking gun” tape that proved conclusively that he was guilty of planning to obstruct justice.  As long as Spiro Agnew was vice president, Nixon’s job was secure. Agnew as president was unthinkable. When Agnew pleaded no contest to bribery charges, Nixon tried to save himself by picking the mediocre Michigan U.S. representative Gerald Ford as his new vice president. However, the lightweight Ford was known to be honest and likeable – Nixon was neither and that’s what made his removal possible.  He resigned to avoid impeachment, conviction, and losing his pension.

 

Ryan’s defense of The Donald is probably the best there is: Trump’s never been in government before, so he simply doesn’t know what he’s doing. The disease of Trump, an apparent con artist and pathological liar, is scary and embarrassing, but the cure of Pence or Ryan would be even worse. As long as we understand that he primarily wants to use his office to increase his family’s wealth and the wealth of his fellow plutocrats, we can try to check him accordingly. His and his congressional allies’ incompetence may prevent their irresponsibility and maliciousness from doing us lasting harm. It won’t be easy, but we need to plan on staying the present course of enduring and resisting over the next three and a half years. ensuring there’s then enough left of our nation to restore.

Posted by: David Offutt | May 25, 2017

Donald Trump as the Manchurian Candidate/President

(Photo from Kurt Eichenwald/InsideHoops.com)

 

As we’ve come to expect, President Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey seemed to have been orchestrated by the Keystone Cops. Vice President Mike Pence and White House spokesman Sean Spicer did their bit trying to gaslight us with claims that Comey was fired for his deplorable handling of the Clinton emails at election time.  Trump’s Orwellian “Justice” department was used for cover:  Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the once-respected Deputy Attorney General Rob Rosenstein showed their loyalty to The Donald by recommending the firing because of the Clinton matter.

 

Eventually, Mr. Trump fessed up, admitting that he had long planned to fire Comey because of his FBI probe into the possible collaboration between the Trump campaign and Putin’s Russia to affect the outcome of our 2016 presidential election.  Our president is known to be a pathological liar, but, in this case, we can probably believe him. Mr. Comey reportedly refused to swear fealty to Lord Trump, was asked by Trump to drop the Michael Flynn investigation, and recently asked for more resources to investigate the Trump campaign and “this Russia thing.”

 

(Photo from mythandhope.blogspot.com)

 

The Donald is known for “Your fired” and not for his loyalty to sycophants.  The president was probably very appreciative of Comey’s incompetent, irresponsible, and malicious announcement about Hillary’s emails just days before the election.  Those negative descriptions of that specific act are adjectives that I routinely have attributed to congressional Republicans ever since Newt Gingrich brought them to power in January 1995. This act was more an aberration from a man who has otherwise been a fine public servant.  I suspect his kiss off from Trump came when Mr. Comey testified before a congressional committee saying that he felt “nauseous” that his actions probably made Trump the President of the United States. Comey was toast from that moment on.

 

Mr. Rosenstein has since redeemed himself by appointing former FBI director Robert Mueller as a special independent counsel to investigate whether there was any collaboration between Trump’s campaign and the Russian intervention.  This is going to get into Trump’s too-long suppressed tax records and his possible obstruction of justice – among other things.

 

Eleven years ago (Oct. 6, 2006), I contributed a column to this newspaper about how Bush/Cheney and  the G.O.P used 9/11 and the fear of terrorism to gain popular support for autocratic powers, and I compared them to the classic 1962 film The Manchurian Candidate. The movie was about a senator who pretended to be a super American patriot and fanatic anti-communist so as to be elected president and assume autocratic powers “that will make martial law seem like anarchy. “ The senator was, of course, a Russian agent being groomed by the Kremlin to replace the constitutional American republic with a dictatorship.

 

Needless to say, I was not suggesting that Bush/Cheney and their majority congressional Republicans were working for the Russians or for any other foreign power. I was merely pointing out that their lies used to justify the invasion of Iraq, their illegal wiretapping at home, their official sanction of torture, et al. were contrary to what the U.S. was supposed to stand for.

 

Mr. Trump, on the other hand, has gone out of his way to invite a direct comparison. His infatuation with the power of Vladimir Putin and his contempt for President Barack Obama were hallmarks of his campaign. His aides and advisors have had questionable contacts with the Russians: family members, Flynn, Jeff Sessions, Paul Manafort, Carter Page, and Roger Stone. He fired Comey and the next day he met with the Russian foreign minister, the Russian ambassador, and a Tass photographer in the Oval Office with no American news media present – and divulged classified information to them. The Republican House majority leader Kevin McCarthy even said in June 2016 that he believed that Putin was paying Trump. All of this may be only coincidental, but if it’s not, we need to know.

 

Our three previous Nixonian presidents all came to power under devious circumstances. (1) In 1968, Richard Nixon’s campaign sabotaged the Paris Peace Talks by persuading South Vietnam to oppose the settlement that was imminent. Nixon didn’t want Lyndon Johnson to end the war before the election. LBJ knew what Nixon had done, was furious, but did nothing about it.

 

(2) In 1980, Ronald Reagan’s campaign is alleged to have made a deal with Iran not to release the American hostages in Tehran until after the election.  Iranian agents didn’t admit to the deal until after Reagan began shipping supplies to Iran after his inauguration. Congressional hearings were held, but former President Jimmy Carter encouraged them to not pursue the issue because of the possible further demoralization of the American people so soon after Watergate.

 

(3) In 2000, based on exit polls, Al Gore was projected the winner of the Florida popular and electoral votes. But then weird things occurred throwing the vote count into question. George W. Bush’s brother (Jeb Bush) was governor of the state and Florida’s secretary of state, who was in charge of the state election precincts, was W. Bush’s state campaign manager. The five Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices ended the vote count and gave the election to Bush. Knowing how bad this case and their ruling looked, they insisted that the decision in Gore v. Bush never be used as a precedent in any future ruling.

 

Frank Sinatra as the U.S. Army officer assigned to find out what the Russians have brainwashed ex-Army officer Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) to do. (Photo: AP/Richard Shiro)

 

If none of this had happened, the American people may have been spared the Watergate scandals and four more years of the Vietnam War, the Iran-Contra affair and anti-government austerity, and the never-ending Iraq War and the Great Recession. We don’t know what fate awaits us under Trump, but so far nothing looks good. To re-phrase Bette Davis in All about Eve – Fasten your seat belts everybody, we’re in for a bumpy ride.

 

We don’t know who or what to blame for the Trump tragedy. James Comey and the Russian intervention by hacking and releasing emails are the most obvious but not the only culprits. It may also have been Hillary Clinton’s lack of charisma on the campaign trail, Bernie Sander’s surprisingly popular challenge to Hillary, the voters who decided to stay home, the voters who decided to punish the Democrats for not creating a sufficient infrastructure jobs-creating program, the Democrats for taking their traditional supporters for granted, the Republican Party that nominated him, the Electoral College that embarrassed the Founding Fathers, and/or the news media that found Trump to be entertaining and profitable for selling ads. But it may well have been because of a coordinated effort between Trump’s and Putin’s people. Regardless, each of us could say to all of these suspects the same thing Oliver Hardy used to tell Stan Laurel: “Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into!”

Slapstick comedians Oliver Hardy and Stan Laurel were popular from the late 1920s into the mid-1940s. They were known as “Laurel and Hardy.”

By David Offutt

Posted by: David Offutt | April 22, 2017

Earth Day 2017 and Thomas Cole’s “The Course of Empire”

Thomas Cole’s “The Savage State” (1834)

Earth Day is upon us again. It’s intended as a national day of service, for discussions and for learning about what we need to do preserve our environment for the sake of all living plants and creatures. Unfortunately, April 22 falls on a Saturday, so that means that the schools will surely plan accordingly and participate on the previous Friday or later Monday.

Don’t expect much mention of Earth Day from the Trump Administration or from the Republican congressional leadership. Both are stacked with strong opponents of the environment and are determined to reduce regulations that protect the quality of our air and water and are obsessed with doing nothing about climate change. They want to protect polluters instead of consumers, workers, and future generations. They also caused me to reflect recently on a series of five paintings that I finally got to see in northwest Arkansas.

My first visit to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville was in late July 2012 – the hottest month on record at that time. I made a point to go that summer because of a special exhibit organized by the New York Historical Society – The Hudson River School: Nature and the American Vision. I knew that several paintings by one of my favorite artists, Thomas Cole, would be there, but I never dreamed that I would see The Course of Empire (1834-1836).

Thomas Cole’s “The Arcadian or Pastoral State” (1834)

Cole imagined a grand landscape that included a harbor and a mountain peak and used it from different angles and perspectives in each painting. The first in the series is The Savage State: Nature dominates, and a hunter and canoeist share the wilderness. The second is The Arcadian or Pastoral State: Nature is being tamed; there’s a permanent temple; there’s farming and shepherding; and there’s leisure time for dancing, painting, and thinking. Next is Consummation of Empire:  Nature is gone; the peak is barely visible; the harbor is full of commerce; a Greco-Roman city dominates the landscape with thousands of people overcrowding the streets. The fourth is Destruction: Nature returns in the forms of barbarians who rape and pillage the once mighty city and a storm that wrecks havoc in the harbor. Finally, there is Desolation: No humans exist; nature is triumphant and reclaims the landscape; the moon casts its reflection over a tranquil harbor; there’s a face in the moon, and he is smiling.

Doing post-graduate work in the mid-seventies, I spent many hours and days in various libraries at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville searching books and magazines for reprints of Cole’s The Course of Empire series. As I found each one, I took photos of them with the old Kodachrome slide film to use in my history classes. Today, of course, you can instantly find them on Google Images. It seems hardly fair.

Thomas Cole’s “Consummation of Empire” (1835-36)

The first time I used them was in my 12th grade humanities class at the American School of Quito, Ecuador.  When I projected the first painting onto the screen in front of the classroom, I heard a collective “Wow!” I hadn’t expected how awed and overwhelmed my students would be. I experienced varying degrees of that excitement from my students over the years in all my U. S. history and world history classes.

I utilized Cole’s paintings in conjunction with teaching historian Arnold Toynbee’s cyclical concept of the rise and fall of civilizations: 1. Primitive State, 2. Creative Period, 3. Time of Troubles, 4. Universal State, 5. Fall of the State, and 6. Successor State(s). Historically, the life of the various civilizations has averaged about 200 years.

Cole was clearly influenced by Edward Gibbons’ The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776). But he was also influenced by what he saw during his visit to Europe. Activities such as the building of ships from ancient Rome to the British Empire and the Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries had decimated the forests and natural landscape of much of Europe. Ruins of the past Roman civilization were evident through much of the continent. Cole feared the same thing would happen in the ever-expanding and ever-developing United States.

Thomas Cole’s “Destruction” (1836)

It is easy to see why my students of the 1970s and 1980s could relate to Cole’s masterpieces and especially Destruction and Desolation. It was a time when we were not only aware of what we were doing to the planet but actually wanted to do something about it: Lake Erie died and the Hudson River caught on fire. It was also the time of the Cold War in which both the United States and the Soviet Union were gambling that neither of us would commit suicide and wipe out the other guy at the same time. “Mutually assured destruction” was the motive behind the escalation of our nuclear arsenals.

Here in the 21st century, nuclear power surfaced again as a self-inflicted source of potential Armageddon, making Cole’s Destruction and Desolation relevant once again. We are aware that some of the former Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons are unaccounted for. At the same time, our planet is plagued by assorted terrorists who seem to think nothing of committing suicide if it gives them a chance to murder large numbers of innocent people. The earthquake and tsunami that recently brought nuclear tragedy to Japan has also reminded us that we still have no realistic idea as to what to do with the nuclear waste that’s produced by nuclear power plants.

As in Cole’s paintings, nature is reacting and seemingly reaping revenge for decades of abuse by humans.  Ever since the 1860s we’ve increasingly relied on fossil fuels such as oil and coal. The result, of course, has been an unnatural increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and a corresponding increase in the earth’s temperature. The repercussions have been the ever-increasing intensities of tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, melting ice caps, rising ocean levels, floods, droughts, and forest fires.

Thomas Cole’s “Desolation” (1836)

And don’t forget that the multiplying effect is causing the earth to heat up faster than many imagined. As we continue to heat the earth by burning fossil fuels, the thawing of the Arctic tundra releases methane into the atmosphere, and methane is an even greater greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.  And consequently, as snow and ice melts in the Arctic and Antarctic, there is less snow and ice to reflect the sun’s heat and it gets ever warmer. Dead forests don’t inhale carbon dioxide – they exhale it. Nature reacts to what we do.

The climate pact agreed to in Paris in December 2015 would have been a commendable first step 35 years ago. Unfortunately, the nations of the world have procrastinated so long that emergency actions are surely going to be necessary in the not-to-distant future.

Without leadership from our current national executive and legislative branches, hopefully, the states, localities, individuals, power companies and other industries will rise to the occasion to try to save our planet. We can’t just give up and hope the rest of the world will do enough to save us.

by David Offutt

A version of this essay was published April 22, 2017, in the El Dorado News-Times.

Note: A previous version of this essay – https://davidoffutt.wordpress.com/2012/08/15/crystal-bridges-and-the-course-of-empire/ – was published on this website August 15, 2012, and published in the Arkansas Times on August 22, 2012.

Older Posts »

Categories