Roosevelt Arch at the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park (Photo: David Offutt 2015)

Roosevelt Arch at the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park (Photo: David Offutt 2015)

August 25 is the 100th birthday of our National Park Service, signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916. There are more than 400 national treasures included in the system owned by the American public so that generations to come will be able to enjoy them by either being able to visit them and/or being confident that they are secure from destruction.

 

I’ve been to our first national park, Yellowstone, three times – most recently in June 2015. I was looking forward to finally seeing the Roosevelt Arch, dedicated by TR in 1903, only to find it unapproachable. All around it was a huge construction site, so I had to settle on a distant view. They were sprucing up the northern entrance to the park to be ready for a ceremony this August 25. Engraved on the arch are the words “For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People.” I was really glad to see its surroundings being refurbished.

 

The Roosevelt Arch, June 2015, with construction taking place to improve the appearance of Yellowstone's northern entrance (Photo: David Offutt)

The Roosevelt Arch, June 2015, with construction taking place to improve the appearance of Yellowstone’s northern entrance (Photo: David Offutt)

In the late ‘70s when I began visiting a lot of national sites, I had been impressed at what a great job the park service did. That was before the Reagan Administration initiated major budget, personnel, and maintenance cuts that have been ongoing for 35 years. Throughout the ‘80s, I was always seeing embarrassing signs like those in park restrooms apologizing for not keeping them clean due to the lack of funds.  Slough Creek Campground, where I had camped on my first visit to Yellowstone in 1980, had to be closed for a while in the ‘80s because of insufficient personnel. I don’t know when it reopened. I planned to camp there last summer, but it was full-up. I had to settle on a national forest campground outside the park, which was fine.

 

David Offutt at Slough Creek Campground in Yellowstone National Park, June 1980

David Offutt at Slough Creek Campground in Yellowstone National Park, June 1980: Due to funding and personnel cuts, this campground was closed for a while during the Reagan Era.

All of our parks are essentially showplaces for who we are and what we stand for, and we need to fund them properly. The “greatest” and “richest” country in the world can do it if it has the moral will to do so. Every dollar spent by the federal government on the park service generates ten dollars in revenue on the state and local levels: visitor spending, job creation, taxes paid. Even Congress’s birthday appropriations for our parks this year left the parks with $12 billion of unfunded backlog maintenance, and there’s no excuse for this. Our parks must be included in future major funding for renovations to our national infrastructure that’s been neglected for 35 years.

 

We all get interested in our parks for different reasons. My father, an electrical contractor, never wanted to be away from work, so my first real vacation was during the summer of 1968 after my sophomore year at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. My Uncle Harper asked me to go with him on a trip to California. His wife had recently died, and some old friends in Los Angeles had asked him to come for a visit. He needed someone to share the driving and expenses – my father agreed to pay my share. To entice me, he mapped out two great routes from El Dorado to L.A. and back. Using Interstate 10 on the way out and Interstate 40 coming back, he planned many side trips including Tombstone, Ariz., and the Grand Canyon.

 

Harper Nixon, summer 1968, at a rest stop near El Paso, Tex. My uncle was one of my mother's (Foster Nixon Offutt) older brothers. On the way home from Los Angeles, he suggested that since the Grand Canyon was so far out of the way that we should skip our plans to see it. I reminded him that we were also going to visit Old Oraibi, one of the oldest continually inhabited villages in the U.S, in the Hopi Reservation to the east of the canyon. (Photo: David Offutt)

Harper Nixon, summer 1968, at a rest stop near El Paso, Tex. My uncle was one of my mother’s (Foster Nixon Offutt) older brothers. On the way home from Los Angeles, he suggested that since the Grand Canyon was so far out of the way that we should skip our plans to see it. I reminded him that we were also going to visit Old Oraibi, Ariz., one of the oldest continually inhabited villages in the U.S, in the Hopi Reservation  east of the national park. (Photo: David Offutt)

Our first side trip was to Carlsbad Caverns, and that’s when I discovered what kind of vacation this was going to be. Driving into the parking area, he said that we didn’t want to stay very long: “We just want to be able to say ‘I’ve been there.’” I couldn’t believe he didn’t want to tour the caverns. He even offered to wait on me if I insisted. Not wanting him to wait, I consented to leave. And that was the way it was for the rest of the trip, although there were times I made him wait, like at the replica of Independence Hall at Knott’s Berry Farm.

 

Nobody believed that we went to so many places in such a short time! It became known in the family as the “notorious ten-day trip.” We even got stopped for speeding by a park ranger in the Petrified Forest. Harper was trying to not stop at all the scenic turnoffs and, if he drove fast enough, was hoping I might miss some of the signs. My brother John once said that he always felt sorry for Harper because he was the only one in the family with money, but he never knew how to enjoy it.

 

Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico, summer 1968: My uncle paid these boys 25 cents each to pose beside this oven. (Photo: David Offutt)

Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico, summer 1968: My uncle paid these boys 25 cents each to pose beside this oven. Ever distrustful of native Americans, when Harper saw two older Zuni men on the bridge coming our way, he said, “Hurry up, David, we’ve got to go.” (Photo: David Offutt)

Nevertheless, that was the trip that got me hooked on wanting to see this beautiful country. I was later inspired by Alistair Cooke’s 1974 13-part TV series “America”, which was an early 200th birthday present to the United States. I began taking annual summer trips in the mid-1970s and have never stopped. And I eventually returned to all the places my uncle and I sped through.

 

There are national monuments, historic sites, battlefields, wildlife refuges, forests, lakeshores, rivers, and recreational areas; but only 59 are specifically designated as national parks. It would take a lot of effort to count how many of the others I’ve been to, but I know I’ve been to 38 national parks. Using Kodachrome slide film on most of my 20th century travels, I shared my photos with my students whenever appropriate. My American history students used to say that there was nothing we could study that I couldn’t show them.  That was an exaggeration, but not because I didn’t try.

By David Offutt

A version of this essay was published August 13, 2016, in the El Dorado News-Times as a guest column.

Posted by: David Offutt | July 27, 2016

Il Duce Trump to the Rescue

Benito Mussolini, known as Il Duce, was the Fascist dictator of Italy who allied with Adolf Hitler in World War II. Donald J. Trump is the plutocratic businessman who has taken control of the G.O.P.

Benito Mussolini, known as Il Duce, was the Fascist dictator of Italy who allied with Adolf Hitler in World War II. Donald J. Trump is the plutocratic businessman who has taken control of the G.O.P.

Ever since the G.O.P. essentially became the Fox-Republican-TEA Party, its membership and voters have become almost exclusively reactionary, right-wing extremists.  Its goal is to turn back the clock to the good old days when the plutocracy – those with great wealth – ruled the country ostensibly for the white majority of citizens.

 

Moderates were mostly purged from the party during the Reagan presidency and Newt Gingrich’s tenure as Speaker of the House (Sen. Susan Collins of Maine may be the lone survivor).  Conservatives have been a dying breed since the neo-conservative takeover during the Bush-Cheney Era and the arrival of the Koch brothers’ TEA Party (even pundit George Will recently resigned from the party).

 

Ever since World War II, demagogues like Sen. Joe McCarthy (Wis.), Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan have come and gone as the party’s leaders. They all appealed to the paranoid side of voters, but – other than McCarthy – they also addressed our better instincts and did some good things. Sadly, the movement of the party, step by step, has been farther to the dark side, and now a large number of their voters seem perfectly willing to support a fascist nominee for president.

 

Andy Warhol's 1972 portrait of Richard Nixon that hangs in the Whitney Museum in NYC. Nixon defeated George McGovern in a landslide. Then the American people began to understand what kind of man they had elected. Nixon became the first president to resign from office.

Andy Warhol’s 1972 portrait of Richard Nixon that hangs in the Whitney Museum in NYC. Nixon defeated George McGovern in a landslide. Then the American people began to understand what kind of man they had re-elected. Nixon became the first president to resign from office.

Nixon’s southern strategy and Reagan’s “welfare queen” speeches gave a wink and a nod to racism and let voters know where they stood without being blatant about it. No more mealy mouthing around: the party’s recent nominee makes no doubt about who or what he is. Donald J. Trump has made no secret of his racism, bigotry, and misogyny (contempt for women – except for the beautiful women in his life) and made them staples of his campaign – you’ve heard him and read what he’s said ad nauseam.

 

Some insight on how we’ve come to this point and where it might lead can be found in the 1936 novel “It Can’t Happen Here” by Sinclair Lewis. The main character, Doremus Jessup, a newspaper editor, warned some friends against a presidential nominee, “Wait till Buzz (Windrip) takes charge of us. A real fascist dictatorship!” “Nonsense! Nonsense!” snorted Tasbrough. “That couldn’t happen here in America, not possibly. We’re a country of freemen!”

 

Jessup responded: “The answer to that…is ‘the hell it can’t!’ Why there’s no country in the world that can get more hysterical … than America.  Look how Huey Long became absolute monarch over Louisiana…Why, where in all history has there ever been a people so ripe for a dictatorship as ours!” Hopefully, Lewis’s literary work is not prophetic because that’s precisely what happened in his book.

 

While the Donald represents most traditional Republican policies, he's not considered a true conservative: he doesn't advocate destroying Social Security and Medicare, and he opposes Citizens United which ruled that money is free speech and the Pacific Trade Agreement.

While the Donald represents most traditional Republican policies, he’s too up-front about them and he’s not considered a true conservative: he doesn’t advocate destroying Social Security and Medicare, and he opposes the Pacific Trade Agreement. (Photo: Nati Harnak, AP)

Il Duce Trump saw the fear that white Americans (workers and middle class) see in the continuous evolution of American society. He saw their fear of losing their jobs and losing their formerly privileged racial status.

 

He realized the rise of ISIS and the increase of seemingly routine mass murders added to their fears. He recognized that his own xenophobia (fear of foreigners), nativism, contempt for the rule of law, and anti-environmentalism jibed with the G.O.P.’s implied, and sometimes explicit, policies.

 

He was also aware that these issues were red meat to scared voters, so he played the role of their savior to the hilt. At the convention, as on the campaign trail, the Donald mugged his best Mussolini imitation, thrusting his jaw forward after his every lie or exaggeration to hear the roar of the crowd.

 

Il Duce was popular after he came to power in 1922 because he got the trains running on time. He said, "Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power."

Il Duce was popular after he came to power in 1922 because he got the trains running on time. He said, “Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power.”

Trump’s frightening emphasis on “law and order” was reminiscent of Adolf Hitler and Richard Nixon. His campaign even admitted his studying Nixon’s convention speech on “law and order.” The only way that he can attempt to accomplish his promises is to establish a police state, with him as the supreme dictator.  Hitler used the Hitler Youth, the Gestapo, the S.S., and concentration camps to maintain order. Nixon had dirty tricksters, the Watergate burglars, the “Plumbers,” and attempted to use agencies of the government “to get his political enemies.”

 

Harry Truman said that even if Nixon could tell the truth, he would still lie just to stay in practice. Reagan’s administration, supposedly without his understanding, attempted to establish the Enterprise Corporation to secretly fund presidential wars without Congress’s authorization. Reagan’s people also sold missiles to Iran to get money to buy Soviet weapons to supply the Contra rebellion in Nicaragua. George W. Bush had Attorney General Alberto Gonzales turn the Department of Justice into a tool of the Republican Party, and his administration used a documented 950 lies to justify his invasion of Iraq. We can only imagine what Trump will do.

 

Vladimir Putin and ISIS will both benefit from a Trump victory. Putin and Trump are mutual admirers, and Trump’s opposition to NATO must be music to the Russian strong man’s ears.  Trump’s anti-Muslim tirades certainly reinforce the ISIS propaganda that all Americans are enemies of all Muslims. Even if he doesn’t win, the more votes Trump gets, the more new recruits ISIS will get. If he does win, more Americans will accept the “temporary” necessity of a U.S. police state because they will fear that all American Muslims will join ISIS.

 

The Donald may be a bloviating clown, but it’s possible that we may elect him as our “entertainer-in-chief,” as Chris Christie said of him. The former wrestler, reality TV host, and real estate developer has been described by his own party members in many ways. Marco Rubio has called him “a con artist.” Lindsay Graham said he’s “a religious bigot. The one who summed him up the best was Tony Schwartz, who was the ghostwriter for Trump’s book “The Art of the Deal.” He said that he was terrified of Trump because he’s “a sociopath.”

 

Beware of Trump’s saying “Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.” That translates as a plan to make the voters, the Congress, the courts, and the Constitution irrelevant.

 

And whenever I hear the Donald say, “I’m smart,” or “I have a good brain,” I’m immediately reminded of what I call “Peck’s Law.” When the Oscar-winning actor Gregory Peck was asked why he didn’t tell a maitre d’ who he was, he answered, “If you have to tell someone who you are, you aren’t.”

David Offutt at the Ronald Reagan deification shrine in Simi Valley, Calif: At his presidential library, the dark side of Reagan's presidency mostly ignored - the Iran-Contra affair is only briefly glossed over. Worshippers come in large numbers to hear his inspirational speeches.

David Offutt at the Ronald Reagan deification shrine in Simi Valley, Calif: At his presidential library, the dark side of Reagan’s presidency is mostly ignored – the Iran-Contra affair, which nearly destroyed his presidency, is briefly glossed over. Worshipers come in large numbers to hear his inspirational speeches.

By David Offutt

A version of this essay was published July 27, 2016, in the El Dorado News-Times as a letter to the editor.

Posted by: David Offutt | June 11, 2016

Antonin Scalia as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Frederic March earned his first of two Academy Awards for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932).

Frederic March earned his first of two Academy Awards for Best Actor as “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (1932).

President Ronald Reagan pointed out in 1987 that “every day that passes with the Supreme Court below full strength impairs the people’s business in that crucially important body.”  This, of course, is why after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February President Barack Obama dutifully nominated Judge Merrick Garland to replace him. Even if Garland recused himself from voting on cases this summer, he would be ready for the new court season in October.

 

Mr. Obama clearly selected Judge Merrick because he was non-controversial and should have been easily confirmed after only a few weeks of interviews and hearings. Obviously, radicals on the left and reactionaries on the right would be unhappy, but all others would have no valid complaint against him. However, for purely political and ideological reasons, the Republican Senate majority has refused to consider the nomination. Apparently, no president who can no longer be re-elected should be allowed to do his job.

 

Judge Merrick Garland and President Barack Obama (March 16, 2016) [Photo by Reuters/ Kevin Lemarque]

Judge Merrick Garland and President Barack Obama (March 2016) [Photo by Reuters/ Kevin Lemarque]

This summer, we must be prepared for potential 4-4 decisions – or non-decisions – and expect more of the same for the next year or several years. Hopefully, the court will go out of its way to avoid that type of ruling, but that may mean that serious issues will have to be avoided by the court, and we will have to accept that what is legal or illegal may depend on where you live, wrecking havoc on national unity.

 

The Fox-Republican-TEA Party’s nearly eight-year strategy of “obstruct and sabotage” against President Obama has finally led to probable gridlock on the Supreme Court. An explanation for this may come from understanding the persona of Justice Scalia and his importance to the advancement of the Republican Party.  Or, to put it another way, why will the Senate majority accept only a Scalia clone as his replacement?

 

Author Robert Louis Stevenson can help us understand Antonin Scalia. The justice was certainly reminiscent of “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Without his court robe, he was a “buddy” to Ruth Bader Ginsberg and a hunting companion to Sonia Sotomayor, both moderate-left justices. In 1987, I witnessed an admirable Scalia at a forum at Tulane University in New Orleans on the topic of “Our Individual Rights: Protected or Threatened.” Reagan had appointed Scalia to the U.S. Supreme Court the year before, but on that night, he wasn’t wearing his robe.

 

Associate Justice Antonin Scalia as Dr. Jekyll

Associate Justice Antonin Scalia as Dr. Jekyll (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images)

Fred Friendly was the moderator and is often remembered for his collaboration with the great journalist Edward R. Murrow. My memory of the details of that evening fails, but what was unforgettable was that nothing Justice Scalia said was what I, nor probably anyone else, expected him to say. Mr. Friendly confessed at the end of the program that he was pleasantly surprised at the positions Scalia had taken and said that he had shown open-mindedness and empathy to individual rights that he had not expected based on Scalia’s rulings as a judge. (By the way, Justice Ginsberg was also on that panel discussion, but she was on the District of Columbia Court of Appeals at that time.)

 

Two years later, Mr. Friendly produced his 10-part PBS series “Ethics in America,” and once again he included Scalia among the participants. Also again, people like Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings, and Colin Powell took positions that you would expect them to take based on what you knew of them before, but Scalia’s responses were diametrically opposed to what you would expect from his votes on the Supreme Court. He was the perfect Dr. Jekyll.

 

(In fairness to Scalia, there was one other frequent participant in those forums who also displayed a Dr. Jekyll side that contrasted his Mr. Hyde official self: Newt Gingrich, who had gained the moniker “Gingrich Khan” as the House Republican minority leader and then later as Speaker of the House. Absent his minority leader role or the speaker’s gavel, he was a totally different person.)

 

Associate Justice Antonin Scalia as Mr. Hyde (Photo by Mark Avery/Orange County Register/ZUMA Press)

Associate Justice Antonin Scalia as Mr. Hyde (Photo by Mark Avery/Orange County Register/ZUMA Press)

Once Scalia put on that robe, he became Mr. Hyde, a man who would politicize and subvert the court to do the bidding of the plutocracy and Republican Party. This is why John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Donald Trump said that they would appoint people like Scalia and his marionette Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court if they were elected president. Scalia was not just one of the reactionaries on the court: he was their leader.

 

The case of Gore v. Bush (2000) is a perfect example. Scalia was among the five Republican appointees who stopped the vote count in Florida and appointed George W. Bush as president. Unlike the others, Scalia later boasted, “I was glad to be able to do it.”

 

The Citizens United v. FEC (2010) 5-4 ruling was intended to ensure the future election of Republican presidents. Although it didn’t work in 2012, it caused/causes a flood of money into state and local elections as well and has replaced our democratic-republic with a plutocracy. The bizarre ruling that money is speech has corrupted our election system. The wording of the ruling was designed to obscure its intent. The ruling stated that Congress still had the power to require that the names of “dark money” donors be made public, knowing full-well that a Republican majority in either house would never let that happen – nor would a Republican minority in the Senate because of the filibuster.

 

In Shelby County v. Holder (2013), another 5-4 ruling struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 so that states would be able to pass laws to restrict voting rights. Because of demographic changes in the American electorate, the larger the voter turnout, the more likely Democrats will get elected; the smaller the turnout the more likely Republicans will get elected. Again, the ruling tried to disguise its purpose by allowing the Congress to redraw the map of states, cities, and counties that were likely to discriminate against voters, again knowing that Republican congressmen would never allow that to happen.

 

The Senate Republicans are only going to accept another Jekyll and Hyde: someone like Scalia who is known as a good and decent man who knows right from wrong but who will remember that his appointment is based on his willingness to cater to the needs of the plutocracy and his party. If they can’t get someone to complement Thomas, Samuel Alito, and usually John Roberts, it’s likely that we won’t see any new faces on the Supreme Court for some time to come.

By David Offutt

A version of this essay was published June 11, 2016, in the El Dorado News-Times as a guest column.

Posted by: David Offutt | May 8, 2016

The Buffalo National River, Scarface, and a Pet Wolf

Canoeing the Buffalo National River (Photo: David Offutt)

Canoeing the Buffalo National River (Photo: David Offutt)

Earth Day, April 22, is behind us, and this summer’s celebration of the 100th birthday of our National Park System is coming on August 25. So, I thought this would be an appropriate time to make some observations on the current threat to one of Arkansas’s treasures, to comment on our loss of a Yellowstone icon, and to reflect on an old friend and the fate of his kind.

 

The future of the Buffalo National River in northern Arkansas is still being threatened by a large factory farm on a tributary to the river. The C&H Farm, a CAFO (confined animal feeding operation), sprays untreated hog waste on fields beside Big Creek jeopardizing both surface and ground water. Big Creek flows into the Buffalo at Carver, a popular swimming hole and landing spot for canoe and kayak enthusiasts. Having begun canoeing the Buffalo in 1970, I’ve perceived this whole factory-farm endeavor an embarrassing and unthinkable nightmare – one that should have been prevented and still can be corrected.

 

The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) has been considered something of a joke ever since it quickly approved the permit for the farm in 2013, and its reputation isn’t getting any better. The National Park Service, this October, asked the ADEQ to declare “impaired” Big Creek and two other Buffalo River tributaries (Mill Springs and Bear Creek) because they are too polluted or degraded to meet state water standards. No action was taken. Also, the C&H’s Pollution Discharge and Elimination System permit is up for renewal this year. You would think that this would be a good time to make right the original misguided wrong. Tragically, the ADEQ has indicated its intention to renew the permit.

 

On the Buffalo National River in northern Arkansas

On the Buffalo National River in northern Arkansas (Photo: David Offutt)

Earlier, there had been some hope for the revocation of the loan guarantee for the farm by the U.S. Farm Services Administration and the Small Business Administration.  The agencies had been court-ordered to do a new Environmental Assessment, but the finding incredibly ignored geological evidence that had been provided by both agencies and by hydrogeologists. Although their evidence showed that the millions of gallons of hog waste would negatively impact the river, the park visitors, and the wildlife, the assessment resulted in a “Finding of No Significant Impact,” and the loan was restored in March 2016.

 

Today, the best hope may come from an April 29 meeting of the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission. Richard Mays, representing the Buffalo River Coalition, presented additional evidence obtained by Dr. Todd Halihan of Oklahoma State University in March 2015. Halihan used electrical resistivity imaging, and his studies indicate contamination as deep as 120 feet underneath the factory itself and 40 to 90 feet beneath the holding ponds and surrounding areas. A decision is pending.

 

Now, farewell to Scarface – Yellowstone’s Grand Old Man.  He was a 25-year-old grizzly bear – a threatened species – and was a popular attraction in Yellowstone National Park. I was honored to see him last July. He was having lunch on berries among shrubs down a slope from the park roadway. I had stopped to find out what the crowd was looking at, cars were parked on the side of the road for as far as I could see. Everyone was thrilled. One elderly couple told me that had seen him an hour earlier while they were having lunch at a picnic spot – he had circled the ridge above them, but they could see his descriptive scar on the right side of his face. They were so proud to have seen him a second time.

 

Scarface in the Yellowstone National Park in July 2015 four months before he was killed at age 25 (Photo: David Offutt)

Scarface in the Yellowstone National Park in July 2015 four months before he was killed at age 25 (Photo: David Offutt)

A ranger said the park service wasn’t sure Scarface would make it through the winter: he was getting so old and was down to 338 pounds from 600. I suspected the old boy would do just fine. Not to be. A hunter shot him in November.  The hunter claims it was a confrontational event, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is investigating.  Future visitors to the park have been deprived of a wonderful experience. I guess I should feel fortunate to have been among the last to see him before a killer took that right away.  I’m only sad.

 

David Offutt and Pavi, a Rocky Mountain gray wolf on a backpacking-camping-trout fishing venture along Canones Creek in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico with my brother and sister-in-law in July 1988 (Photo: John Offutt)

David Offutt and Pavi, a Rocky Mountain gray wolf on a backpacking-camping-trout fishing venture along Canones Creek in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico with my brother and sister-in-law in July 1988 (Photo: John Offutt)

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in July 2015, refused to reclassify gray wolves as a threatened species. Consequently, the fate of the national recovery of the species is largely in the hands of states, which, like Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana, may be particularly hostile to their survival. Idaho officials actually funded an aerial gunning operation that recently killed 20 wolves, using the ruse of trying to boost the elk population to satisfy hunters. This, of course, ignores the ecological fact that a healthy wolf population assures a healthy elk population. Some humans just can’t stand to see animals existing in the wild. It’s just something for them to kill for the fun of it.

 

On the bright side, in June 2014, the California Fish and Game Commission voted to protect gray wolves under the state’s Endangered Species Act. The result has been that a “Shasta Wolf Pack” has been found living successfully for a year in northern California. That state had not had a wolf pack for 91 years. Hopefully, other states will follow their lead.

 

Whenever a wolf is needlessly killed, I always think of an old friend, Pavi. Years ago, my sister-in-law Beth found a starving dog on the streets of Oakland, Calif. She brought it home, and she and my brother John nursed him back to health. They always thought that Pavi – they named him after the tenor Pavarotti – was a strange dog, never acting like a “regular dog.” Once they found he was a full-blooded Rocky Mountain gray wolf, his behavior made sense.

 

David Offutt and Pavi John and Beth Offutt's backyard in Santa Fe, NM, in July 1987 (Photo: John Offutt)

David Offutt and Pavi  in John and Beth Offutt’s backyard in Santa Fe, NM, July 1987 (Photo: John Offutt)

Someone had probably found him as a pup and thought he would make a good pet. When that didn’t work out, Pavi was just dumped for someone else to deal with. As a rule, wolves don’t make good pets, but, fortunately, my brother was good dog handler and became the “leader” of Pavi’s pack. John said that if he ever got attacked by someone, Pavi wouldn’t do anything until John was down – then the attacker would have deal with Pavi. John added, “Woe be he who tries to mug Beth: Pavi’s a woman’s dog.”

 

Once, when the three of them came to El Dorado, Ark., to visit our father J.C. Offutt, John and Beth went to Logoly State Park to do a day hike on one of the trails and left Pavi with Dad. Pavi kept standing by the back door and whining. Dad told him to settle down, “You’re not a baby. Come in here and lie down.” He did. John was more like our father than either Don (our oldest brother) or I. Pavi picked up on that.

 

Pavi lived happily to a ripe old age. John and Beth, tearfully, had him put to sleep in the early ‘90s. John passed away last December, and his ashes will be mixed with Pavi’s, and Beth will scatter them somewhere in the Arizona desert near their latest home.

By David Offutt

A version of this essay was published May 10, 2016, in the El Dorado News-Times as a letter to the editor.

Posted by: David Offutt | March 19, 2016

A Lame Duck Nominates a Supreme Court Justice

David Offutt at the U.S. Supreme Court (August 2015)

David Offutt at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, DC (August 2015)

When Associate Justice Antonin Scalia passed away, the Senate Republicans, who have majority control, and all the remaining Republican candidates for president at that time did what we’ve come to expect from them at every crisis or significant event: they went straight into panic mode. The U.S. Supreme Court had been under reactionary-conservative control for 44 years and that was about to change! Even before we learned of Scalia’s cause of death, the Fox-Republican-TEA Party announced it would not do its constitutional duty to consider any replacement nominated by President Barack Obama.

 

Merrick Garland: His addition to the Supreme Court would give the moderates a 5-vote majority on the court.

Merrick Garland: His addition to the Supreme Court would give the moderates a 5-vote majority.

On Wednesday, March 16, 2016, Mr. Obama did his duty and nominated Merrick Garland, the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit. Judge Garland is a centrist who is highly respected by conservatives, moderates, and liberals, as well as Republicans, independents, and Democrats.  Mr. Obama has ten more months in office, which is much too long to wait for his successor to make an appointment. Mr. Garland should be easily confirmed in short order by a unanimous vote in the Senate, so that he could take his seat on the court on the first Monday in October. The G.O.P. could care less.

 

Prior to that, on Monday, March 14, 2016, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas told reporters than any Obama nominee to replace Scalia “will bear some resemblance to a piñata.” In other words, the majority party plans to put on blindfolds and start swinging at him until he’s bloody and destroyed.  Whether, the nominee is well-qualified for the job seems to be totally irrelevant. What’s going on here?

 

Sen. John Cornyn (R.-TX) said any Obama nominee to the Supreme Court would feel like a piñata.

Sen. John Cornyn (R.-TX) said any Obama nominee to the Supreme Court would feel like a piñata.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky professed his party’s primary goal was to make Barack Obama a one-term president. The poor man has never recovered from, nor accepted, the people’s majority vote to re-elect Mr. Obama.  Now, Mr. McConnell says we must wait for the people to decide again in November and wait until January for a nominee. He apparently is hoping for someone in his party to be elected, although very few in his party can stomach either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, the two demagogues who are leading in their presidential race. If a Democrat is elected, will McConnell accept the legitimacy of that person? Doubtful.

 

Left to Right: Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and John Roberts: The four reactionaries (extreme right-wingers) are now missing Scalia. Roberts sometimes joins the moderates, but only rarely.

Left to Right: Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Chief Justice John Roberts: The three remaining reactionaries (extreme right-wingers) are now missing their leader Scalia. Roberts joined the moderates two times to uphold the Affordable Care Act, so he is not a strict partisan – that may be very important in the next year or two.

Everyone in the Fox-Republican-TEA Party is always posturing about Mr. Obama’s “executive overreach.“ They often are pretending that he uses executive orders too much, even though he rarely uses them and has done so far fewer times than other presidents.  He uses them reluctantly and only when it becomes obvious that the Republican Congress will refuse to act or is not capable of doing its job – his executive order on immigration is an obvious example. The majority party doesn’t dare lie about his obligation to appoint a replacement for Scalia as being “executive overreach.” That’s part of the president’s job description in the U.S. Constitution.  They only want to prevent him from doing his job.

 

Left to right: Justices Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Stephen Breyer, and Kagan: The court's four moderates are usually labeled liberals because they are so far to the left of the reactionaries.

Left to right: Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Elena Kagan: The court’s four moderates are usually labeled liberals because they are so far to the left of the reactionaries.

Presidents are elected for 4-year terms, not 3. The problem, of course, is the 22nd Amendment which limits a president to two full terms or a maximum of 10 years in case he succeeds to the presidency due to the death of the incumbent. It was a Republican proposal intended to prevent another Franklin Roosevelt – a Democrat who was elected 4 times. It was introduced in 1947 and ratified in 1951. Thereafter, every president who gets re-elected becomes a lame-duck president for the next four years, thereby weakening his/her negotiating position with both supporters and opponents.

 

Under the 22nd Amendment, lame-duck presidencies have rarely been good, but they occasionally worked whenever our two-party system consisted of loyal oppositions. There were threats to our national unity from the Republican right wing during the McCarthy Era, which peaked in 1954, and from the insurgency of Barry Goldwater in the early 1960s, but neither of those occurred during a lame duck presidency.  And after each of those times, the Republicans returned to being a loyal opposition.

 

Justice Anthony Kennedy: The court's lone conservative who often sides with the moderates. It's his court now more than ever before - as he goes, so goes the court. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Justice Anthony Kennedy: The court’s lone conservative who usually sides with the reactionaries but sometimes joins the moderates. It’s his court now more than ever before – as he goes, so goes the court. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Sadly, that began to change when the Republicans took control of the Senate during the Reagan years and began to purge the party of its moderates. Next, Newt Gingrich (Khan) and his Republican horde took over the House of Representatives and the Senate in 1995 and turned the G.O.P. into an exclusively conservative party.  Since then, it rapidly moved to being the extremist, reactionary party that is today’s Fox-Republican-TEA Party. They don’t believe in loyal oppositions.

 

Bill Clinton’s lame-duck term resulted in a ridiculous impeachment trial simply because Republican right-wingers were determined to do it for whatever excuse they could find. Mr. Clinton, like President Obama, had to deal with a malicious Congress for 6 of his 8 years in office. When Mr. Obama was re-elected in 2012, the Republicans decided to just run out the clock: continue their first-term policy of obstruct and sabotage and don’t let him get anything done for the next four years – and that includes Supreme Court appointments. That’s why Mr. Obama finally resorted to executive orders and executive agreements, no matter how much he clearly hates to use them.

 

Whenever I hear or read about lame-duck presidencies, I always think about Sleeping Duck Rock in the Canyon De Chelly National Monument in Arizona. Years ago I took a horseback ride with a Navajo guide and came upon a fascinating, lengthy rock on the floor of the canyon. My guide pointed it out and laughed, saying, “It looks like a dead duck to me.” I agreed. And that is precisely how congressional Republicans viewed Mr. Obama’s re-election. Just as the voters were wrong in 2008, so were they wrong in 2012 – this man is not our president. He might as well be a dead duck.

David Offutt at the Sleeping Duck Rock in Canyon De Chelly National Monument, Ariz. (1979)

David Offutt at the Sleeping Duck Rock in Canyon De Chelly National Monument, Ariz. (Summer 1983) [photo was taken by my Navajo guide]

The last lame-duck president to appoint a Supreme Court justice in his final year of office was Ronald Reagan, who appointed Anthony Kennedy in 1988. The Democrats controlled the Senate that year and the vote to confirm him was 97-0. Is there any chance the current Republicans will equally rise to the occasion and confirm Judge Garland? I see no indication that they will change their 7-year strategy of obstruct and sabotage, but I hope I’m wrong.

By David Offutt

A version of this essay was published March 20, 2016, in the El Dorado News-Times as a letter to the editor.

Posted by: David Offutt | February 15, 2016

Presidents’ Day and the 2016 GOP Candidates for President

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (President 1933-45). He successfully got us through the Great Depression and WWII. However, he also authorized the Japanese-American Re-location Camps.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (President 1933-45). He successfully got us through the Great Depression and WWII. However, he also authorized the Japanese-American Re-location Camps. [Photo: detail of Douglas Chandor’s 1945 portrait in the National Portrait Gallery]

We are now involved in another presidential campaign, and Presidents’ Day is upon us again. That’s the day we honor all those who served as our chief executive officer whether they are remembered fondly or not, and most Americans have little knowledge of most of them.  Nearly all are familiar with the giants, those I call the Great Triumvirate: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt. We were fortunate to have had them steering our ship of state during turbulent and trying times, and they got us through and left us a better nation than they inherited.

 

The most important thing to realize is that every president has probably done the best job he was capable of doing. Warren G. Harding (Rep.) admitted that he never fully grasped the fact that he was the President of the United States. Ulysses S. Grant (Rep.), a brilliant former general who was aware that he was the least president up to his time, wanted a third term just to prove he could do a good job. Nevertheless, none of our presidents set out to deliberately do a bad job.

 

Warren G. Harding (President 1921-23): He appointed dishonest cronies to public office and the scandals destroyed his reputation. However, he commuted the 10-year jail sentence of the socialist Eugene V. Debs in Dec. 1921 - Debs has been convicted in 1918 for criticizing American involvement in WWI. [Photo: detail of portrait by Margaret Lindsay Williams (1923) in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC]

Warren G. Harding (President 1921-23): He appointed dishonest cronies to public office and the scandals destroyed his reputation. However, he commuted the 10-year jail sentence of the socialist Eugene V. Debs in Dec. 1921 – Debs had been convicted in 1918 for criticizing American involvement in WWI. [Photo: detail of Margaret Lindsay Williams’ 1923 portrait in the National Portrait Gallery]

Even the three Nixonians who brought on major constitutional crises did some good things while in office: 1. Richard (Watergate) Nixon (Rep.) created the Environmental Protection Agency, signed a Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty with the Soviet Union, and went to China. 2. Ronald (Iran-Contra) Reagan (Rep.) was persuaded not to destroy Social Security, and he signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Mikhail Gorbachev. 3. George W. (950-lies-to-invade-Iraq) Bush (Rep.) insisted after 9/11 that all Muslim peoples were not our enemies, and he provided badly needed aid to fight HIV-AIDS in Africa.

 

Harry S. Truman (Dem.) said that he spent most of his time trying to get Congress to do what it should do without his having to ask. Barack Obama could certainly relate to that. “Give ‘em Hell” Harry also said that any time a president asked what his options were, he was trying to do something other than the right thing. Theoretically, that may be the case, but in a democracy it is important for a president to represent all the people. He must be willing to give something to his loyal opposition to get something that his country needs or that he was elected to deliver.

 

John F. Kennedy (Dem.), the author of Profiles in Courage and A Nation of Immigrants, was asked by historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., to participate in his historians’ poll on “Presidential Greatness” in 1962. JFK declined the offer. He knew the records of his previous presidents, but confessed he wasn’t completely familiar with the alternatives they had. Did they do things that were bad because the other options were even worse, or did they concede something bad to get something else that was good? He wanted to look into that, presumably in his post-presidency, which was not to be.

 

Ulysses S. Grant (President 1869-77): Surrounded himself with friends that led to the Whiskey Ring Scandal among others. However, he signed the bill that created the first national park - Yellowstone. [Photo: detail of portrait by Thomas McClear (1880) in the National Portrait Gallery]

Ulysses S. Grant (President 1869-77): Surrounded himself with friends that gave us the Whiskey Ring Scandal and many others. However, he signed the bill that created the first national park – Yellowstone. [Photo: detail of Thomas McClear’s 1880 portrait in the National Portrait Gallery]

The current contests to choose our next presidential contenders have been quite surprising. On the Democratic side, the challenge of Bernie Sanders to Hillary Clinton has made that a race instead of a coronation. On the other side, it’s been downright maddening. During the 2012 campaign, the GOP candidates were described as being like the cast in the bar scene in the first Star Wars film. This time the GOP started out with something like 17 contenders so that they were described as being a clown car from the circus being driven by the Donald. Voters in Iowa and New Hampshire helped reduce the number to 6 so that now an SUV should be able to transport them.

 

As Abraham Lincoln (Rep.) said, “We are now engaged in a great civil war….” Two outsiders (Trump and Carson) are running against two TEA Party senators (Cruz and Rubio), one Neo-Con ex-governor (Bush) and one semi-establishment incumbent governor (Kasich). It’s no surprise that the so-called GOP establishment can’t find anyone to rally behind – The Neo-Cons, the TEA Party, and Fox “News” have essentially become the establishment.

 

George W. Bush (President 2001-09): What would his presidency been without his "co-president" Dick Cheney and Cheney's Neo-Cons advising him?

George W. Bush (President 2001-09): Would his disastrous presidency have been  better had he not had his “co-president” Dick Cheney and Cheney’s Neo-Cons “advising” him? [Photo: detail of Robert Anderson’s 2008 portrait in the National Art Gallery]

What used to be the old Republican Party has been taken over by extremists. Fox “News” was established as a propaganda tool for the GOP, but now the GOP tailors its message to satisfy Rupert Murdoch and company.  The Koch brothers created the TEA Party to promote small government and the belief that the rich are Taxed Enough Already. The Neo-Cons took control during the Bush-Cheney years to promote perpetual warfare in the Middle East.

 

All the candidates for the Fox-Republican-TEA Party are essentially the same: 1. Xenophobic – particularly fearing all Muslims and illegal immigrants. 2. Plutocratic – supporting tax cuts for the rich as basic economic policy. 3. Big government – dictating restrictions on women’s rights and gay rights. 4. Small government – de-regulating Big Business to weaken protections for workers, consumers, and the environment. 5. Anti-government – hatred of programs that work well for everyday Americans (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act). And 6. Climate-change deniers – and/or oppose government action to remedy climate change.

 

Lincoln also said, “If you look for the bad in people, you will surely find it.” Therefore, I propose to follow the lesson taught by the mother of Thumper the rabbit in Bambi: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.” So let’s look at the current GOP contenders to see what positions set them apart from each other and indicate a possibility of contributing at least one positive accomplishment if he becomes the President of the United States.

 

Harry S. Truman (President 1945-53): He is remembered for his Fair Deal and his feistiness against the do-nothing 80th Congress. However, he authorized the dropping of atomic bombs on civilian populations. [Photo: detail of Greta Kempton's 1970 portrait in the National Portrait Gallery]

Harry S. Truman (President 1945-53): He is remembered for his Fair Deal and his feistiness against the do-nothing 80th Congress. However, he authorized the dropping of atomic bombs on civilian populations. [Photo: detail of Greta Kempton’s 1970 portrait in the National Portrait Gallery]

Only Donald Trump supports continuing the current Social Security and Medicare, supports lifting the embargo on Cuba, opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Agreement, and opposes the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that opened the floodgates of corporate and plutocratic money into campaigns. Trump and John Kasich support colleges and universities being able to use affirmative action for admissions. Trump and Marco Rubio support the use of marijuana as a legal medical option.

 

Only Kasich, Rubio, and Jeb Bush support undocumented immigrants in the U.S. being allowed to become legal residents and oppose a flat tax on incomes. Only Bush and Ben Carson support an independent Palestinian state. And only Carson and Ted Cruz oppose the collection of phone and Email mega data of U.S. citizens being collected by the National Security Agency.

 

Just to keep score, that’s 6 admirable positions for Trump; 3 for Kasich, Bush, and Rubio; 2 for Carson; and 1 for Cruz. One of these guys will have a 50-50 chance of being elected president in November. Unless, of course, they have a brokered convention. That may resurrect Mitt Romney because there is no one else to turn to. Unfortunately for the GOP, Mr. Romney’s finest hour as governor of Massachusetts was Romneycare, the model for the Affordable Care Act.

David Offutt and Jaimie Wyeth's 1967 portrait of John Fitzgerald Kennedy (Pres. 1961-63): During my Thanksgiving dinner (2015), I gave thanks that none of the 2016 GOP presidential candidates were in the Oval Office during the Cuban Missile Crisis. My guests nor I would probably be alive today. [Photo by Gene Dunnuck at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, AR]

David Offutt and Jaimie Wyeth’s 1967 portrait of John Fitzgerald Kennedy (President 1961-63): During my Thanksgiving dinner (2015), I gave thanks that none of the 2016 GOP presidential candidates were in the Oval Office during the Cuban Missile Crisis. None of my guests nor I would probably be alive. [Photo by Gene Dunnuck at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, AR]

Happy Presidents’ Day

By David Offutt

A version of this essay was published February 14, 2016, in the El Dorado News-Times as a letter to the editor.

Posted by: David Offutt | January 22, 2016

Plutocracy, the GOP, and Climate Change

The David E. Koch Hall of Human Origins is a permanent exhibit in the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History. It's premise is that great advances in the evolution of humankind have come in times of significant natural changes in the climate.

The David E. Koch Hall of Human Origins is an excellent permanent exhibit in the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History. It’s premise is that great advances in the evolution of humankind have come in times of significant natural changes in the climate.

Laury Hamburg, a retired college professor from Chicago who resides in Smackover, Ark., told me a story the other day when we had lunch together. It seems that a pirate ship was on the verge of sinking. It was in sight of land but couldn’t reach it. The pirate captain told his men that they would all have to risk swimming to shore if they wanted to live. However, he didn’t want to abandon the stolen treasure they had on board. He told the crewmen that they were welcome to keep as much treasure as they could pocket or pack before swimming ashore. Heavily laden with treasure, not one was able to reach land, nor was any one of them willing to empty his pockets so as to save his life. That story is also pertinent to the issue of climate change.

 

In his last – and best – State of the Union address, President Barack Obama challenged his opponents: “Look, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it. You’ll be pretty lonely because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it.”

 

The question is this: Who are these lonely people and why are they denying common sense and the scientific data? Specifically, the “who” are those in the Fox-Republican- TEA Party who currently control both houses of Congress. Many of them are themselves members of the plutocracy, while others are merely mercenaries of the extremely rich.

 

The “why” is purely greed, and this leads to anarchistic and sociopathic behavior. Everything they do seems to promote one major cause: to live in the past – the past of the late 19th century, the Gilded Age, when profiteers from the fossil fuel industries (oil and coal) and financiers “owned” our Congress, paid no income taxes, and faced no regulations to protect the common good.  The GOP has become the Guardian of Polluters and/or the Guardian of Privilege. This helps explain the GOP’s 7-year policy to obstruct and sabotage virtually anything Obama was elected to do – except free-trade deals, of course.

 

This graph is one of the panels displayed in the David E. Koch Hall of Human Origins. It shows the correlation of the Earth's temperature to the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

This graph is one of the panels displayed in the David E. Koch Hall of Human Origins. It shows the correlation of the Earth’s temperature to the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from 400,000 years ago to today. Notice the drastic increase in carbon dioxide on the far right (Today).

In 1977, a time when we believed we would soon run out of oil resources, Exxon’s own scientists discovered that burning fossil fuels was heating up the planet and that there was only a short window – about 5 years – before the impact would begin to become very serious. With the Industrial Revolution expanding after 1860, the amount of carbon dioxide we put into the atmosphere began increasing at alarming rates. Other than the obvious smokestack pollution, it went unnoticed for years.

 

Unfortunately, once it was realized that we were not going to run out of oil anytime soon, Exxon silenced its scientists and began a campaign of climate-change denial to create public doubt. We can all understand why scientists who work for fossil fuel industries might be among the meager 3% of scientists who deny man-made climate change – their jobs depend on it.

 

Another panel in the David E. Koch exhibit in Washington, DC

Another panel in the David E. Koch exhibit in Washington, DC

Now that their cover-up has become public knowledge, the now ExxonMobil is once again admitting that climate change is occurring and is caused by our burning fossil fuels. The industrial giant is also quietly recommending a carbon tax on polluters such as themselves to partly address the issue.

 

The real test of sincerity for ExxonMobil will be this: Will they stop contributing to politicians who make sure that nothing or very little is done to remedy the problem. Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) is known as “the senator from ExxonMobil” and is the guy who threw a snowball in the Senate to prove there’s no such thing as global warming. Believe it or not, he’s the chairman of the Committee on Environment and Public Works. Will Big Oil stop financing his campaigns or persuade him to change his positions on climate change? We’ll see, but don’t hold your breath.

 

The Koch brothers, David and Charles, inherited their fortunes and increased them to mega-billions thanks to fossil fuels. I have contended that the main purpose of the David E. Koch Hall of Human Origins at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History is to make visitors presume that the current climate change is a natural occurrence like the earlier climate changes.

 

The Kochs are also determined to continue turning the GOP into a subsidiary of Koch Industries. They and their like-thinking plutocrats have pledged nearly a billion dollars to spend on the GOP’s presidential nominee and effectively buy a “Republican” president who will do their bidding. (That is – someone who will ignore climate change, accelerate income inequality, weaken or kill the social safety net, and eliminate regulatory standards.) That will double what the Republican National Committee will spend in the 2016 campaign. You can see why GOP candidates audition for the Koch brothers’ support every chance they get.

 

Among the current horde of GOP presidential contenders, only two even recognize the reality of climate change. Nevertheless, Gov. John Kasich (R-OH) objected to the December agreement in Paris because it was not in the form of a treaty which would have to be ratified by the GOP-controlled Senate – that means he wants to make sure that nothing is done. And as for Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), he doesn’t believe that our government should take any action – and this guy comes from a state which will be mostly underwater as the oceans rise.

 

Mr. Koch's exhibit makes no effort to explain the extreme increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. He apparently hopes that visitors will not connect it to the Industrial Revolution.

Mr. Koch’s exhibit makes no effort to explain the extreme increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. He apparently hopes that visitors will not connect it to the Industrial Revolution.

I have previously contended that the GOP pretends that climate science is a religion that can be believed in or not.  Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who is a climate-change denier like the rest of the GOP presidential field, came right out and said it: “Climate change is a religion.” He realizes that 60% of GOP voters in Iowa and South Carolina are evangelicals, so he’s hoping to get their anti-science vote.  And he’s giving the other demagogue – the Donald – a serious challenge.

 

So, will we allow plutocratic greed and the political greed for campaign financing replicate the fate of that pirate captain and his crew? Hopefully, we will vote to rid ourselves of the excess carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, decrease our emissions of greenhouse gases, increase our development of renewable energy, and try to save our planet. Elections really do have consequences.

By David Offutt

A version of this essay was published January 22, 2016, in the El Dorado News-Times as a letter to the editor.

Posted by: David Offutt | December 11, 2015

GOP Panic Mode and the Dark Side

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America and Americans definitely have a dark side.  Our history is laced with hatreds, fears, and prejudices that resulted in acts that embarrass us today – and that’s our saving grace. We try to recognize those errors of judgment and actions so as to not repeat them.

 

The Native Americans confronted an invasion of English immigrants that resulted in their land being taken from them. The English colonists even paid bounties for Indian scalps. The great Civil War cavalry officer Philip Sheridan said that the only good Indian he ever saw was dead.  The genocide of our original inhabitants haunts us still.

 

(Click on the photo to enlarge)

(Click on the photo to enlarge)

The peculiar institution of slavery, which contradicted our birthday document written by slave owner Thomas Jefferson, was based on a racism that we still have not entirely conquered even though we elected a black man as President of the United States.  I know several people who have never accepted Barack Obama as their president simply because he’s black. You probably know some, too.

 

After Pearl Harbor, the hatred of Japan led to the fear of Japanese-Americans – whether naturalized citizens or born in the U.S. With no evidence of treason and no conviction of crimes, they were rounded up, deprived of their professions and property, and placed in internment camps. True, they were not placed in slave labor or extermination camps, but they were interned nevertheless.  And this injustice was approved by one of our three greatest presidents, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

 

The spiral staircase leading to the crown of Lady Liberty (Click on photo to enlarge)

The fear of communism dominated the first ten years after WWII.  Republican control of Congress led to the witch-hunts for communists by the House Un-American Activities Committee and Joe McCarthy’s Senate sub-committee.  Movie actors, writers, and directors who were involved in movies depicting topics of anti-war, racism, or injustice in America were investigated. The Hollywood Ten went to prison and were blacklisted for refusing to testify. McCarthyism came to mean “guilt by association.” Since McCarthy never found a communist in colleges or in the state and defense departments, he destroyed his victims by connecting them to friends, acquaintances, publications, or organizations that were suspect. This relentless assault on the Bill of Rights was one of the darkest and scariest times for all our citizens.

 

David Offutt in front of the Great Hall at the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration

David Offutt in front of the Great Hall at the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration. Between 1892 and the 1920s, over 17 million immigrants passed through here and helped make America.

 

 

 

 

 

Prejudice against gays and lesbians has been a more recent example of a particular segment of our society being targeted for legalized discrimination. The Defense of Marriage Act, Don’t Ask – Don’t Tell, and anti-same-sex marriage amendments to state constitutions established restrictions to the rights of specific American citizens who posed no threat to others.

 

After 9/11, Vice President Dick Cheney, appropriately known as Darth Vader, publicly stated that our dark side was needed to deal with terrorism. He used our fear and hatred to justify the use of waterboarding, secret CIA sites in countries that would use torture, and indefinite imprisonment of suspected terrorists at Guantanamo.  The Bush-Cheney administration also used 950 documented lies to frighten the Congress and public into approving the invasion of Iraq.

 

All of the above are ostensibly against everything we claim to stand for: liberty and justice for all.

 

Ellis Island in front of the NYC skyline as seen from the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty (Click on the photo to enlarge)

Ellis Island in front of the NYC skyline as seen from the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty (Click on the photo to enlarge)

Now, because of ISIS, al-Qaida, Boko Haram, domestic terrorism, and the refugee flight from Syria, we see a backlash against Muslim-Americans and Muslims in general – not only against the bloodthirsty extremists. The game plan of ISIS is to get American leaders and their followers to target all Muslims’ rights so that ISIS looks better to other Muslims than we do.

 

Republican presidential candidates and 27 governors (26 Republicans and 1 Democrat) stampeded into panic mode by appealing to our dark side. Consequently, their Muslim xenophobia is reacting right into the hands of ISIS. Effectively, they are helping ISIS recruit more terrorists.

 

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(Click on photos to enlarge)

(Click on photos to enlarge)

The 27 governors announced that they wanted no Syrian refugees relocated in their states. I’m sorry to say, this includes my state of Arkansas’s Asa Hutchinson. Marco Rubio thinks we should shut down all Muslim cafés and diners. He also has said that the fight against ISIS is a “clash of civilizations” –western civilization v. Islamic civilization. Jeb! Bush wants to restrict refugees to only those who are Christian. John Kasich wants to create a federal agency that will promote Judeo-Christian western values.

 

The worst, of course, are the two demagogues: Ted Cruz – who resembles Joe McCarthy – and Donald Trump – an apparent fascist who sounds like Hitler and, without the hair, would look like Mussolini. Sen. Cruz wants to carpet bomb Iraq and Syria with no regard for civilian casualties! The Donald wants to shut down U.S. mosques or at least place them under surveillance, require registration of our 3 million Muslims and require them to carry an ID denoting their religion, and prevent all Muslims from entering the country.

 

None of them are suggesting anything that might have a positive effect: (1) closing Guantanamo, which is a primary recruiting tool for terrorists and (2) making it illegal for those on the terrorist watch list to buy guns – between 2004 and 2014, 2000 suspects did so.

 

On the street level of most tenements were shops, eateries, and bars.

David Offutt (reflected) in front of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum: On the street level of most tenements were shops, eateries, and bars.

These governors and candidates have forgotten who we are and the diversity from which we come.  I suggest they do as I did last summer: Go to New York City. Take the ferry out to the Statue of Liberty. Read the poem by Emma Lazarus. Climb the narrow, spiral staircase to the crown (I took one step at a time, grabbing the rail with both hands and eventually pulling my way to the top). Re-board the ferry and get off at Ellis Island where millions of Americans can trace their ancestry. Visit the Lower East Side Tenement Museum and see how immigrants lived and worked (I took three different tours).

 

I also suggest they go see the new Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens. I know these presidential hopefuls and 27 governors probably rooted for Darth Vader and the dark side of the Force in the previous six installments, but, just maybe, they might be converted this time. Besides, since the original stars are back, this episode might even be as entertaining as the three original episodes were 30-40 years ago.

By David Offutt

A version of this essay was published December 11, 2015, in the El Dorado News-Times as a letter to the editor.

Posted by: David Offutt | November 7, 2015

Boehner Leaves – Zip-a-dee-doo-dah

Brer Rabbit and Uncle Remus (actor James Basket) in Walt Disney's Song of the South

Brer Rabbit and Uncle Remus (actor James Basket) in Walt Disney’s Song of the South

Nothing ever became John Boehner as Speaker of the House as the way he left it. It probably won’t prevent him from being considered the worst Speaker in congressional history, but at least he made an effort to clean out some of the you-know-what from the barn before his departure.

I’ve always thought you couldn’t shame the shameless, but I never considered the impact that Pope Francis would have on Mr. Boehner. The Speaker seemed genuinely embarrassed over his performance since he took the gavel in January 2011 and decided to do the right thing in spite of his fractured party’s wishes. But to do it, he had to resign.

Poster - Song of the South_03For the first time, when Mr. Boehner came to the microphone singing “Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay,” I found a reason to actually like the man. The song continues, “My, oh, my, what a wonderful day. Plenty of sunshine headin’ my way.” Anyone could plainly see that he was glad to say “good riddance” to a job that his party had made impossible.

(Sadly, many younger Americans haven’t seen “Song of the South,” the 1946 movie from which the Oscar-winning song came. Disney doesn’t re-release it anymore and hasn’t made it available on DVD in the United States. By a one-time fluke, I was able to get it on eBay, and I watch it every couple of years to keep my spirits up and my standards high. The Speaker couldn’t have picked a more appropriate song to bid us farewell.)

Speaker of the House John Boehner resigned and then saved his party from itself by avoiding a federal shutdown and debt default.

Speaker of the House John Boehner resigned and then saved his party from itself by avoiding a federal shutdown and debt default.

Mr. Boehner’s last act and finest hour was his bringing a bipartisan two-year budget-debt bill to the floor for a vote. There was some fear that 32-needed Republican votes would not be found (they were necessary to join the Democrats to pass the bill), but the bill passed easily with a 266-167 vote. For the sake of the nation, over 70 Republicans risked being exiled or being primaried by radical-reactionary TEA Party types.

Steve Womack (R-Ark.) was the one bright light in Arkansas's 6-man congressional delegation. The others supported

Steve Womack (R-Ark.- Dist. 3) was the one bright light in Arkansas’s 6-man congressional delegation. The others supported “obstruct and sabotage.”

Embarrassingly, only one of four representatives in my home state of Arkansas, Steve Womack of District 3, voted for it. The other three (Rick Crawford, French Hill, and Bruce Westerman) voted with the Anarchist-Kamikaze-Deadbeats that hoped to shutdown the U.S. government, not pay our bills, and wreck havoc on the world economy. The bill was sent to the Senate where it passed 64-35. Predictably, my senators (John Boozman and Tom Cotton) were among the 35 Anarchist-Kamikaze-Deadbeats.

Mr. Boehner entered the House in 1991, a time when the old GOP was already fading into history. When he finally became the Speaker in 2011, he had to contend with and be a part of the new Fox-Republican-TEA Party. This new phenomenon was a product of the plutocracy (the few who are rich – the 1%) which tolerates no compromises with the masses (the poor and the middle class – the 99%). If you believe in democracy, you have to believe in compromise. If you do, you may find yourself unwanted in the Fox-Republican-TEA Party. Boehner knew that, so he became part of the problem in order to survive. At the end, he couldn’t continue and changed.

To pass the vital budget/debt bill, Mr. Boehner suspended the odious Hastert Rule, which prevents any bill, no matter how popular or necessary, from coming to a vote unless a majority of the Republicans support it. Dennis Hastert initiated the rule after he replaced Speaker Newt Gingrich, who resigned after the 1998 elections. The rule entrenches the concept of tyranny by the minority and discourages anything resembling democracy, compromise, and bi-partisanship. The Hastert Rule is the father of gridlock.

The new Speaker of the House is Paul Ryan. I won’t say he is the worst possible choice because I know of no good choices among Republicans in the House. Even Sen. Cotton recognized that dilemma when he suggested the House elect Dick Cheney to be the Speaker, a position that can be held by a non-member. However, as you would expect from Mr. Cotton, Mr. Cheney would absolutely be the worst possible choice.

Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) didn't want the speaker's job because he wanted to spend more time with his kids. He probably changed his mind when he saw the schedule for the House in 2016. Only 111 workdays! They can waste 50 of those days repealing Obamacare.

Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) didn’t want the speaker’s job because he wanted to spend more time with his kids. He probably changed his mind when he saw the schedule for the House in 2016. Only 111 workdays! They can waste 50 of those days repealing Obamacare. By rushing off after a 3-day workweek to get back home to Wisconsin, he can keep from getting to know his colleagues on the other side of aisle and continue the gridlock.

Mr. Ryan was a member of the 15 Republicans who met at the elite Caucus Room Restaurant on President Obama’s first inauguration day. They all agreed their party would obstruct anything the new president was elected to do and then to sabotage anything he did get passed. Like the Affordable Care Act, it didn’t matter whether a bill was one of their own Republican ideas or not, they would oppose everything.¹ Most importantly, they had to prevent a quick economic recovery from the Great Recession hoping that voters would blame Obama. As Pete Sessions (R-TX) boasted, they became be the “Taliban insurgency.”

Initially, there was some hope because John Boehner, then-Republican minority leader in the House, and Mitch McConnell, then-Republican mnority leader in the Senate, refused to attend the Caucus Room Restaurant meeting: neither had any use for Frank Luntz, the Republican strategist who masterminded the plot. Unfortunately, both of them fell in line with the “obstruct and sabotage” strategy. McConnell publicly announced that the goal of the his party was to make Obama a one-term president.  Boehner proclaimed his party to be the party of “Hell No!”

Pope Francis may deserve credit for saving the U.S. from its first debt default.

Pope Francis may deserve credit for saving the U.S. from its first debt default.

John Boehner had been around Congress long enough to understand what a loyal opposition is and to know that he was supposed to be a public servant.  Under the mantras of “obstruct and sabotage” and “plutocrats and party first,” he wasn’t able to be either. Meeting Pope Francis reminded him.

By the way, don’t get excited too soon about the House functioning properly. Mr. Ryan is more devoutly loyal to “obstruct and sabotage” and “plutocrats and party first” than Mr. Boehner, and Pope Francis had no conversion effect on him at all.

By David Offutt

A version of this essay was published November 18, 2015, in the El Dorado News-Times as a letter to the editor.

¹ A conspicuous except to the Republican opposition to everything Obama is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and that should tell voters how bad the TPP really is. Written largely by corporate executives and lobbyists – Republican donors, the TPP is essentially a Republican document that undermines the environment, workers’ wages and rights, food inspections, and more. This trade treaty also undermines much of what Mr. Obama professes to stand for.

Posted by: David Offutt | October 4, 2015

Fracking Near the Theodore Roosevelt National Park

David Offutt on Spy (1980) on a guided tour in the Little Missouri National Grasslands where a young Theodore Roosevelt on rode the range.

David Offutt on Spy (1980) on a guided tour in the Little Missouri National Grasslands where a young Theodore Roosevelt rode the range in 1883-84.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is the number one method being used today to extract oil and gas.  Consequently, we must be careful not to allow the drilling rigs, natural gas flares, and 18-wheelers disturb our national parks and other public lands. The current boom in the Bakken Formation in western North Dakota is jeopardizing the integrity of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. I first visited the park in 1980 when it was still possible to get a good feel of what attracted the future president to that place. This summer I made a point to revisit the park on my 16-day camping trip that culminated in northern Yellowstone.

Adrian Lamb's portrait of President Theodore Roosevelt in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC: After Lincoln, TR was the other great Republican president. The GOP has successfully avoided nominating anyone of his caliber since.

Adrian Lamb’s portrait of President Theodore Roosevelt in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC: After Lincoln, TR was the other great Republican president. The GOP has successfully avoided nominating anyone of his caliber since.

Medora, ND, was a sleepy little town when I first knew it, but that was 35 years ago. Now the town is bustling. The town’s formerly relaxing, quiet campground was next door to the park entrance and seemed to be part of the park itself.  I remembered it as being better than the park’s Cottonwood campground only because it had a swimming pool and electricity at some of the sites – and now it has WiFi – so I planned to pitch my tent there again. Unfortunately, it was completely booked and noisy. I wisely settled on staying in the park, and it was fine. I could recharge my smartphone and camera battery in the nearby restroom.

Fracking has made the difference. There is more money there now, and the town can afford to advertise for more tourism, and there is even a second campground in town – packed like a sardine can. Fracking provides good-paying jobs – North Dakota’s unemployment rate is somewhere around 2%! Farmers lease some of their land to oil companies and can afford to keep on farming around the drilling sites.

President Obama’s policy of encouraging all forms of energy certainly contradicts the environmental legacy he hopes to leave. Nevertheless, Fracking has allowed the U.S. to become so nearly self-sufficient in oil that there’s talk of our exporting our oil again, which has been illegal since the oil shortages of the 1970s. Natural gas has become so abundant that its price has dropped, and since it emits less carbon dioxide than coal, it’s a logical fuel for future power plants.

The fracking method was patented by Halliburton in 1947. It requires millions of gallons of water, sand, and a top-secret mixture of chemicals (presumably highly toxic) to be blasted into the ground to crack open the earth’s rock formations. Previously, oil and gas trapped in shale were inaccessible. However, because of its obvious negative health and environmental impacts, it was illegal to be used under the Safe Drinking Water Act (1974).

Drilling site among the canola fields along Highway 85 between the North and South Units of the TR National Park

Drilling site among the canola fields along Highway 85 between the North and South Units of the TR National Park

Hence, when companies like Exxon learned in 1977 that burning fossil fuels was causing climate change and since there was a finite amount of accessible oil by affordable, traditiional drilling anyway, oil companies began investing in renewable fuels like wind and solar. Exxon even published the global warming studies its own researchers had confirmed. Sadly, during the “Greed is Good” Reagan Era, with knowledge of the potential of fracking, Exxon became obsessed with promoting climate-change denial.

Early during the George W. Bush administration, his co-president/  president de facto, Dick Cheney, created an Energy Task Force, holding secret meetings with secret participants. Mr. Cheney had been the CEO of Halliburton and had probably been waiting for this opportunity. The task force created the “Halliburton Waiver” that allowed gas companies to use the fracking method, exempting fracking from key provisions in most of our federal environmental laws.

TR was appalled by the damaged being done to the badlands and its wildlife: the bison herds were gone and cattle were overgrazing the grasslands.

TR was appalled by the damage being done to the badlands and its wildlife: the bison herds were gone and cattle were overgrazing the grasslands. Conservation became his greatest legacy.

“Fraccidents” are common: wastewater spillage containing toxic chemicals destroys croplands for years; surface water contamination affects livestock and other animals; fish are killed where wastewater is discharged;  private well water gets polluted;  and, of course, earthquakes, which “officially” aren’t related to fracking.

There other major problems with fracking. With climate change, we are seeing areas with prolonged drought. Regardless, we still see states like California, which is an environmental leader, irresponsibly approving fracking permits, which will result in millions of gallons of water being wasted. Only Vermont and New York have banned fracking. Wells for natural gas are notorious for leaking methane into the atmosphere, and methane is worse than carbon dioxide in causing the greenhouse effect. Also, the increased number trains carrying flammable fuels endanger cities and communities whenever accidents occur.

There are no fracking rigs inside the park, but I wondered if any were visible from within the park. In other words, were there any unnatural eyesores that would distract from the beauty or uniqueness for which the park exists? From the Medora Visitor Center in the park’s South Unit, I drove the paved 36-mile Scenic Drive Loop and never saw one drilling site. I even hiked up Buck Hill, the farthest and highest point on the drive and still no rigs. I was quite pleased.

David Offutt on Buck Hill in the South Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park

David Offutt on Buck Hill in the South Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park  (June 27, 2015)

To get to the North Unit, I had to drive east on I-94 and exit to go north on US-85 (total about 70 miles). It was along 85 where I saw drilling sites, on private land – not public. None were what I would call eyesores, no more so than grain silos or service stations.

A sign by Whiting Oil

A sign by Whiting Oil at a drilling site

Drilling rigs and canola field

Drilling rigs and rapeseed field

I even turned off the highway several times to get a closer look. The gravel roads were well-maintained and the sites were immaculate: no trash or oil spills. The oil/gas companies posted signs, “NO LITTERING – MAKE SURE ALL TRASH IS SECURED IN VEHICLE.” Some sites were almost picturesque, being contrasted by the surrounding fields of gorgeous yellow canola. (A park ranger told me that canola was actually rapeseed but its name was changed for marketing purposes – Canola Oil sounds better than … well, it just sounds better.)

Drilling site barely visible from the North Unit's Scenic Drive. Photographed with the zoom on my Canon PowerShot.

Drilling site barely visible from the North Unit’s Scenic Drive. Photographed with the zoom on my Canon PowerShot camera.

In the North Unit, I took the paved 14-Mile Scenic Drive. As I neared the end of the road at Oxbow Overlook, I finally spotted a drilling site. It was on top of a ridge outside the park and far to the west. So far away, that if I hadn’t been looking for it, I probably wouldn’t have noticed it.

For reasons of time, I didn’t get off the paved routes – no long hikes into the badlands. In 1980, I took a horseback ride to see the bison, but that was in the contiguous Little Missouri National Grassland, and I know I would have been disappointed if I had done it again: there is a drilling rig 100 feet from the site of TR’s Elkhorn Ranch, which is in the badlands between the N and S Units. But from the paved scenic routes that most tourists use, the park has yet to be compromised, and there is no valid reason for that to change.

As president (1901-1909), TR signed the Antiquities Act of 1906 - under it, he proclaimed 18 national monuments. He got Congress to create 5 national parks and 51 wildlife refuges. This park honors his memory.

As president (1901-1909), TR signed the Antiquities Act of 1906 – under it, he proclaimed 18 national monuments. He got Congress to create 5 national parks and 51 wildlife refuges. This park honors his memory.

The general scientific consensus is that we must leave 80% of all known oil reserves in the ground to head off catastrophic climate change. Burning any oil beyond 20%, we “burn ourselves up.” So there is definitely no excuse to allow fracking permits or any other drilling permits to endanger any of our national parks, monuments, wildlife refuges, forests, or grasslands. They should be permanently off limits.

By David Offutt

A version of this essay was published October 4, 2015, in the El Dorado News-Times as a Special to the News-Times.

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