Archive for the ‘Government’ Category

Ingredients for Painful, Wasteful Conversations

©2017 By Bob Litton

Quandary over a visit

¶A former drinkin’ buddy and his wife, from Austin, are planning to be here next Frtday for a brief visit before they continue on to Nevada. We’ll share a supper together.
¶I must confess to a deepening sense of trepidation. You see, my friend is a Republican, while I generally vote for Democratic candidates. I have voted a slightly split ticket — back many years ago — when our two major parties’ offerings more nearly favored “Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee”. In those years, not knowing much about some of the statewide candidates, I relied on what they submitted as positions and qualifications to the League of Women Voters, a non-partisan organization whose main purpose was to encourage all citizens to participate in the electoral process. On a few occasions, the Republican candidate seemed to me to be more qualified. I don’t know if my friend ever voted for a Democrat.
¶As most North Americans are aware by now, our body politic has become more polarized over the past several decades: I would say since Ronald Reagan was first elected president. The polarization has intensified since Barach Obama’s and then The Creature’s (I can’t endure writing his name) elections. Now many of us cannot even discuss national politics civilly; and we often carelessly refer to those who voted opposite to us as “idiots”, “half-wits” or “numb-skulls”. (That is what is called the ad hominem argument or approach: attacking the person rather than the issue.) I’m not a professional historian; but, from the little I have read about our horrendously bloody Civil War, I believe our current dialectical dilemma parallels what happened back in the 1850s and 1860s, when fathers broke contact with sons and brothers shot at each other.
¶Over the past couple of weeks, I have pondered the options left to me when I meet my friend and his wife at a local Chinese restaurant. I would like to restrict our conversation to reminiscences of the years when we two university students went bar-hopping and of the adventures we had. However, that avenue is barred by the fact that my friends had not even met each other yet, much less become each other’s spouse; the wife would effectively be left out of the conversation, and that wouldn’t do.
¶We could talk about their continuing their journey after leaving Alpine. I wrote above that their destination is Nevada, but I am only assuming that on the basis of an email conversation we had a couple of months ago when he said they intend to go there so he could learn how to handle an AR-15 rifle. My fur bristled when I read that, and we had a brief email debate about whether an AR-15 had any use other than slaughtering people. It was a civil debate: How could it be anything else through emails? If we renew the topic at the restaurant, though, we might lose our control and resort to blows (or he might pull out his AR-15); and neither of us is any longer physically fit enough to engage in fisticuffs.
¶Perhaps I’ll end up just taking along a few poems to read at the supper table. No telling what kind of reaction that will arouse. But, regardless of what I do that night, here I will vent my political rage.

* * * * * *

Why we no longer can civilly argue

¶Valid exceptions can be pointed out regarding what I will say here. Exceptions can be made to virtually every generalization; that is an eternal fact of life. Still, such a case should not inhibit us from generalizing when the move is justifiable within the context of whatever subject we are discussing. And we should be prepared to respond with some specifics whenever our generalizations are challenged. This is one of the problems we encounter when trying to engage in any “civil” discussion about politics or religion.
¶I think that is why religion and politics are tacitly verboten in U.S. bars — in West Texas bars anyway. All you are likely to see on the TV’s in the taverns are athletic events, and all you are likely to hear is country-and-western music, either piped-in from the Internet or on a juke box. Nevertheless, last Friday I had an interesting conversation about politics in a local bar with a woman of about half my age whom I had seen there before but never met. I don’t recall how we managed to get on the topic, but we soon discovered that our attitudes were consonant, so we had no problem continuing our conversation without bristling. However, that, too, was a problem because, as I pointed out to her, we were “preaching to the choir”.
¶‟I should be talking about this with someone who doesn’t agree with me,” I said.
¶‟But they are in such a thick shell that they won’t listen to you,” she replied.
¶‟I know, so I am quiet and the bile builds up.”
¶Several of the national politicians, from Obama on down, have said we must try to regain civil discourse; but I am too affected by our situation to maintain my mental equilibrium; I am prone to fumble my facts or exaggerate my assertions when I get that way. And all of us humans, I believe, are too impatient with calm, deliberative, clearly reasoned argument to tolerate it for even a short period. We resort to “talking over” our interlocutor and wandering off in a huff, muttering epithets.

* * * * * *

The Creature in the White House

¶What my new acquaintance and I had been discussing, as you have probably discerned by now, was the Creature in the White House, which is what I prefer to call the being who can be found there when it’s time to sign illiterate Executive Orders in a photo op tableau. (Again, I cannot stand to write his name.) I read one newspaper article this morning that said the Creature left for his Mar-a-Lago mansion — which he has dubbed his “Winter White House” — shortly after signing one of those documents Friday or Saturday.
¶Reports from Politico, CNN and the Washington Post indicate that each of the Creature’s weekend jaunts to his southern castle costs U.S. taxpayers about $3 million dollars and he has made three trips there so far this year. The WP cited a tweet from Bruce Bartlett, a former aide to Ronald Reagan, who reportedly said that the Creature is on track to spend $1 billion in four years vacationing at Mar-a-Lago and housing his wife in New York City. The media report that protecting the wife and son in New York City is adding $1 million a day to the national bill. Back when the Creature was only the Republican nominee, the report was that the protection and traffic control in downtown Manhattan was costing the City $500,000. I don’t know if that $500,000 is part of the $1 million now cited by the national media or a separate expense item. I do know that many New Yorkers are not happy about their being held responsible for paying the bill; nor are the citizens of Palm Beach County, Florida, happy about their having to fork up part of the payment for hosting the Creature and his minions.
¶And all of this is being spotlighted at a time when it could not be more topical, for now the Congress and the American public have been flabbergasted by the Creature’s national budget proposal, which decimates many social, scientific, and arts programs in order to build a wall to nowhere and a wasteful military. Again, according to the WP article I read (March 18), the Congress could fund the U.S. Interagency on Homelessness for three years if the Creature had just stayed in the White House these past three months. The Creature’s PR aides and congressional henchmen are shuffling the budget proposal around like a pea shell during TV interviews, claiming we shouldn’t judge it yet because it’s only one leg of a three-legged stool (the other two legs will appear sometime in the future).
¶I wrote three letters to President Obama during his eight years in the White House. He, or perhaps one of his aides, replied to the first two, above his signature. I was not surprised that he did not reply to my third letter, because the election was over, he was about to move out and had a lot of last-minute business to attend to, and had solicited comments on his presidency from voters all around the country. The likelihood of his responding to all those letters was minimal.
¶But one paragraph of that third letter, dated Dec. 23, 2016, is pertinent here:

I know you have urged the citizenry not to despair but to remain hopeful, optimistic, and to give your successor a chance to do his best for the country. But what I have seen in the media the past few weeks indicates that is just not going to happen. The only possibly positive future I can foresee is one of these two scenarios, neither of which is initially positive: (1) your successor will be blocked by Congress or the Supreme Court from remaining in office because he will refuse to dispose of his enterprises, or because investigative reporting will reveal that he is guilty of some felony; (2) our government will collapse from the weight of the structure being eaten away by the worms your successor has nominated to “direct” its various departments. So, I am not optimistic, I am not hopeful, and the only thing I can even faintly wish for is that one of those two scenarios happens as soon as possible.

¶It is because I have begun to realize that only the second of the two scenarios described in my letter is likely to happen — because of the polarization and self-delusion of Congress — that I have returned to my blog posting. I don’t enjoy writing polemics, but I am an American who once loved my country. My country is being disemboweled and in other ways is being destroyed by a maniac in the White House, supported by a depressingly large number of other Americans. How can one love a pile of wreckage? I had to ventilate.


P.S. I don’t know if or when I will return to this blog. Take my word for what you think it’s worth.


The Death of Democracy

©2017 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

¶Last Friday (January 20), I published a post which I titled “A Morning for Mourning”. I did not write anything beneath the title but rather posted a photo of three funeral wreaths hanging on a door, and a quote from our nation’s second president John Adams’ inaugural speech.
¶I had been reading Adams’ turgid prose in preparation for a possible article about how the varying tenor of American society can be sensed by studying the inaugural speeches from George Washington to the present and how most of the subsequent addresses had followed the outline of Washington’s first. I was struck by four sentences in which Adams warned Americans about the possibility that the “purity” of our elections might be infected by a political party or by a foreign power. His remarks seemed prescient to me.
¶I drafted that post on January 19, but I postponed publishing it until a few minutes past 12 a.m. on January 20. Later, I watched that day’s episode of PBS News Hour with Judy Woodruff, and I was surprised (and a bit annoyed) by one of Ms. Woodruff’s guest’s remarks — a comment that seemed to me to be a reverse spin on my own.
¶Ms. Woodruff  had several guests that evening: New York Times columnist David Brooks; syndicated columnist Mark Shields; Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report; Barry Bennett, who had been an adviser for Ben Carson and, later, Donald Trump; political scientist Lara Brown of George Washington University; Karine Jean-Pierre, who had been a senior adviser to during the 2016 elections; and Mark Schlapp, chair of the American Conservative Union. (Don’t worry: I do not intend to quote all of these people, only a few briefly, particularly Mr. Schlapp.)
¶Ms. Woodruff  began the colloquium by asking “What is the main take-away from this day?”
¶Mr. Brooks said he had been wondering “How big is this nationalist moment?”
¶Mr. Shields remarked, “I just stand in the midnight in America, American carnage, which is, I think, soon to be a cancelled TV series, but I just have never heard language quite like it or a tone quite like it in an inaugural address.”
¶Mr. Schlapp, saying he wanted to respond to Mr. Shields’ remarks, commented, “I think the demonstration of the economic pain and the unrest and unease about what’s happening overseas is high. And, really, what struck me about the address — about the speech — is that he is connecting to the political moment. The political moment is not about morning. It’s about —a little bit about — M-O-U-R-N-I-N-G, and the fact that there is nothing wrong with a Republican connecting to the fact that a lot of Americans are hurting.”
¶I underlined some terms relating to “time” or, in this context, an “event in time”. Some people might think of it as a “trend” or even a “phenomenon”; Mr. Brooks went on to say that that was what he was trying to figure out.
¶Significant as that question is, however, my immediate interest in the time words is how Mr. Schlapp views the “moment” as a period of “mourning”. Now contrast his description of mourning the pain and unease with my implied reference to the impending death of democracy in America and, by extension, the rest of the globe.
¶I hope my readers can discern the reason I was surprised and a bit irritated upon hearing Mr. Schlapp’s comments. Certainly I am ready to acknowledge that a lot of people in the U.S. are unhappy with their lot, although I also believe that many of them are unhappy for the wrong reasons. For example, the shift away from coal to renewable energy sources has been apparent for decades now, yet many of the coal miners, instead of learning some new trade, keep holding onto the dream that their industry can be revived and sustained for decades more; they remind me of the buggy whip makers. But Mr. Schlapp primarily irritated me by his application of “mourning”; for, while he was suggesting that we should be mourning the loss of jobs, my intent had been that we should be mourning the day democracy died in America.
¶Thus, this post needed to be published.
Those of you who wish to see the video of the January 20 PBS broadcast can find it at this URL:


A Morning for Mourning: January 20, 2017


Artwork Credit:

“In the midst of these pleasing ideas we should be unfaithful to ourselves if we should ever lose sight of the danger to our liberties if anything partial or extraneous should infect the purity of our free, fair, virtuous, and independent elections. If an election is to be determined by a majority of a single vote, and that can be procured by a party through artifice or corruption, the Government may be the choice of a party for its own ends, not of the nation for the national good. If that solitary suffrage can be obtained by foreign nations by flattery or menaces, by fraud or violence, by terror, intrigue, or venality, the Government may not be the choice of the American people, but of foreign nations. It may be foreign nations who govern us, and not we, the people, who govern ourselves; and candid men will acknowledge that in such cases choice would have little advantage to boast of over lot or chance.”

—From  President John Adams’ inauguration speech in Philadelphia, March 4, 1797


A Prophet Already?

Dear friends —

Apparently, I have indeed become a prophet!

Just compare this report from the New York Daily News with my blog post of November 17, “What Price Glory?”

Merry Christmas and have a fun and Progressive New Year!


Idle Thoughts

©2016 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.
Recently, I told a friend I would try to compose a “cheerful” blog post, since the last few have been just a step or two above depressing. But it is difficult to write such a piece if one doesn’t feel cheery. Nevertheless, I’ve got to put something down, else people will think I’ve done myself in, and call out the police and the ambulance. So, even though the first few paragraphs are perhaps bland if not comforting, the last will invite you to see my favorite Christmas ecard, which I posted last year.

* * * * * *
¶Well, fall has come in and blown away rather quickly around here. Two weeks ago, the leaves on the non-bearing pear trees had just begun to change from green to red, yellow and brown, when a cold front blew in…and I mean blew in…and whirled many of those beauties to the ground. Why some remained on their twigs, I’ll never understand; but there hadn’t been enough anyway to compare favorably to last year’s crop. Did you see my blog post last year with the photo of the leaves I collected on my desk and had Chris photograph?  O, it was a beautiful scene outside for at least a week last year! I knew it wasn’t going to be as grand this season, because the apartment complex’s manager had a crew come over last summer to cut away a bunch of the trees’ limbs.
¶Still, I say, that wind was very unkind; and it was the same today, with gusts up to 60 mph rattling around my residence. I stayed in my apartment all day-long, watching old TV shows on the Internet, escaping into a fictional world. It wasn’t an escape into cheeriness, though, because one of the shows was ABC’s  “Body of Proof”, starring Dana Delaney as a brilliant medical examiner who solves many murder mysteries by examining rather horrifically beat-up, shot up, or burned up bodies, the sights of which viewers are not spared. Very gruesome show…but engrossing! That series lasted only three seasons (2011-213). The other show was “Commander-in-Chief”, also on ABC, starring Geena Davis as the first woman to become President, after her predecessor dies of an aneurysm. Donald Sutherland, as Speaker of the House, plays her nemesis; not a “villain” in the classic sense of the term, but a political ideologue whose own conception of the Constitution is so extremely opposed to this female upstart that he attempts to undermine her with some dirty tricks. That show lasted one season (2005-2006) but it is worth watching, especially at this time, because it resonates with our current real-life experience. I invite you to view it yourselves, and to help you do that I am including here the URL for reaching “Commander-in-Chief” on your computer:

* * * * * *
¶Now we can get to light stuff. Those of you who were reading my posts regularly for a good while might recall the ecard I posted last December 22: “A Christmas Tree”. Well, I’ve decided to send it again. Although I have drifted (or grown) far from Christian theological dogma, I still retain a strong fondness for its mythology and especially the older Christmas music; you know, the particular songs that make up the usual repertoire of carolers.
¶Note that this particular ecard requires that you click on the angel to get it started. I should also point out that sound is very integral to it, so activate your speaker or put your ear phones on first.


“What Price Glory?”

By Bob Litton

¶Returning to my keyboard for this brief post is very difficult for me: the lingering post-election depression is too heavy. I am here primarily to assure whatever regular readers remain that I am still alive and going through the daily motions. There are several topics I could write about, but I’m going to concentrate on just one and leave the others for another day…hopefully.
¶For the second time in sixteen years we Americans have desecrated the temple of democracy by falsely employing that antiquated device called “the Electoral College”. For those unaware of it, the Electoral College is a system for indirect voting, for choosing not the president but representatives who will presumably vote for the president at a later date; it is what makes our country a republic rather than a pure democracy.
¶Al Gore lost to George W. Bush in 2000 because of the “college”: Gore actually received the larger number of popular votes. This year, Hillary Clinton has apparently lost to Donald Trump in the same way. The popular votes are still being counted, believe it or not; as of today (November 17), four million votes remain to be counted in Michigan, Utah and the state of Washington. According to “International Business Times”, citing the independent “Cook Political Report”, Clinton leads Trump by more than a million votes and, judging by the trend in California, her margin of victory could eventually reach more than two million. Here are the current numbers: Clinton = 62,829, 832 / Trump = 61,488,190. Other than the snail’s pace in counting votes, the only problem is the Electoral College, for not all the electors are absolutely bound to vote for the candidate their constituencies have indicated. Democracy as a system of government has been tainted by these absurd results: Recall that Russia’s Vladimir Putin pointed to the 2000 election fiasco and declared democracy a nonsensical system if that was an example of how it works.
¶Yes, I hold the Electoral College system primarily responsible for Trump’s so-called “victory”, but there are other contributing causes. Clinton blames FBI director James Comey because he announced finding a new batch of emails belonging to Clinton’s campaign manager, some of which were to—or referred to—Clinton, a few weeks before Election Day. Other people blamed the pollsters, who kept publishing numbers indicating Clinton was in the lead (although slightly) up to the last minute; and they were all wrong; yet that supposed lead might have kept some Democrats away from the voting booths because of a false sense of certainty, and they might have spurred on some last-minute voting by sluggard Republicans and Independents. And lately, even Facebook has received some blame because it allowed false news reports to be disseminated across the nation and beyond. But let’s not forget the least forgivable contributor of all: a large body of stupid Trump followers who reportedly “took Trump seriously but not literally”. Yes, all of those other sources probably contributed, but I still maintain that the primary culprit is the Electoral College.
¶So, what are we left with?
¶Donald J. Trump as President-Elect.
¶All the negatives about Trump (I hate to even write his name)—his narcissism, his misogyny, his racism, his xenophobia, his bigotry, and his lying—have been reported ad nauseam, so I won’t delve into that. No, I consider his most dangerous feature is his belief in his exceptionalism, his sense of entitlement. The people and many in the press let him get by without the usual medical exam report and any release of his federal tax returns. Now he remains ensconced in his New York City hotel suite rather than taking up residence in Washington, D.C.—even though he recently cut the ribbon on a new hotel only blocks away from the White House—and has caused traffic snarls on Fifth Avenue because of security measures. (I can’t prove it, but I believe that Trump is roosting in NYC, his hometown, because he sees that as a way to punish the voters there who did not vote for him; more than 80 percent of them reportedly voted for Clinton).
¶And now he wants to have some of his progeny employed as his personal staff in D.C., a new craving that brings up the question of nepotism. He wants them all to be given security clearances. As of yet, very few in Congress or in the media have become alarmed by these extraordinary, self-centered moves of his. I personally think the fellow wants to establish a dynasty in the White House like the Kim family in North Korea or the Bush family here. He might even eventually seek to have himself crowned as our first monarch. Admittedly, Hillary in the White House would have constituted a quasi-dynasty also (a screwball lateral rather than a vertical one).
¶Trump has joined the club of the “Bully Boys” or the “New Strongmen” that has developed in Russia, China, North Korea, Turkey, and the Philippines. His slogan has been “Make America Great Again”, and the fools have lapped it up. But…What price glory?
¶I cannot stand to watch or listen to the man on TV. Even his demeanor (his Mussolini-like facial expressions and pinching fingers) are annoying. And how can anyone not discern the insincerity in his eyes and intonations? Despite Clinton’s and Obama’s urgings to accept the braggart as our “leader” and to give him a chance to prove himself worthy, I refuse to do so. Like all those other Americans marching in the streets of big cities across the country, I declare: He is not my President!

When “Principle” Becomes Treason

©2016 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

“You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” — An adage variously attributed to French Protestant apologist Jacques Abbadie (1684); Encyclpopédie editors Denis Diderot and Rond d’Alembert (1754); and American Prohibitionist William J. Groo (1885). Its attribution to Abraham Lincoln began in some late 19th century newspaper articles and is now considered questionable. But, whatever its original source, I deem its use in this epigram appropriate; and I certainly wish that the “some” of our generation were not so numerous.

¶A policeman many years ago said to me, “You can’t reason with a drunk any more than you can with a crazy person.” That remark, as well as its corollary—“preaching to the choir is a waste of time”—have largely kept me from engaging in political arguments over the years. Most Americans discuss serious topics, like politics and religion, only with people with values and attitudes like our own: a phenomenon known colloquially as “preaching to the choir”.  So, perhaps it is a sign of maturing in our national psyche that both tendencies have become fodder for sociologists and political columnists nowadays.  Thus, I suppose readers of the following commentary with any comprehension will be “choir members”. Despite the seeming pointlessness of engaging in that echo situation, I am publishing it anyway.
¶We have awakened to the dire reality that our self-governance has been strangled by self-interest and extreme political partisanship, and we are baffled by the absence of any certain way of breaking the chokehold. When, we wonder, did the ability to get things done in Congress begin to ossify? Was it the shameful period of Richard Nixon’s “enemies list” and Watergate and his resulting resignation? Was it the national fracturing during the extended war in Vietnam? Was it the confusing “rabbit trails” responses to 9-11 and the conflicts in the Middle East? Was it the sudden perception of corruption in our banks, religious institutions, schools, and other former pillars of society? Was it the contrasting perceptions of birth control and climate change? Was it the election of a man of mixed race to the presidency? Was it all of these events combined?
¶Personally, I think it was all of the above, but I would also add the overwhelming and exhausting rapidity of change, not just in the United States but in the world as a whole. And there is the major role—both positive and negative—played by “social media”. It is simply too much for us to cope with at once. Yet there is a sizable minority—approximately 30 to 40 percent—of our voting age population who believe we can return to the “good ol’ days” when the U.S. was the dominant center of manufacturing, when Caucasians constituted the majority of the population, when religious dogma dictated our home and sex lives, and when “people of color” knew their place…and stayed there.
¶I am more liberal than some people, more conservative than others. Although I lean mostly to the left, I think conservatives have had a very positive and necessary role to play in our political system. The problem is that too many modern “conservatives” are not what they claim to be: they instead are “reactionaries”. Let me clarify that remark by revealing my definition of a real conservative, i.e. one who believes nothing should be changed unless and until altered circumstances clearly warrant a change. A conservative capable of reasoning about disputed issues will know when to be adamant, when to compromise, and when to acknowledge his/her error. The goal of a conservative politician—and of a liberal politician as well—should always be the maintenance and improvement of his community’s well-being; it should not be the maintenance of his elected position and his party’s hardline agenda. Some degree of principle is necessary for good governance, but ideology should not be the basis of principle. The Constitution is a living guide, not a halter.
¶And now, since at the latest the surge of the Tea Party, we have had a breakdown in comity in the U.S., as exemplified by the Congress; with the expulsion of many of the moderate Republicans, little to nothing gets accomplished in Washington…unless you want to call forcing a shutdown of government and ignoring judgeship nominations “accomplishing something”. Sen. Mitch McConnell and former House Speaker John Boehner both announced early in President Barack Obama’s first term that they intended to make that term his only term. Near the end of Obama’s second term, McConnell declared that the Senate would not even allow a hearing for Obama’s nominee for a Supreme Court seat. And, confronted with the possibility that Hillary Clinton would succeed Obama, McConnell and his henchmen (Richard Burr (R-NC), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and John McCain (R-AZ) have vowed they would keep the Supreme Court count at eight seats for the next four years; that contradicts their previous rationale for prohibiting a judgeship hearing until after the election to allow “the people’s voice” in the choice of a judge. And now they and the  House Republicans are determined to block all initiatives President Clinton might propose. In other words, the Republicans are ready and willing, just because of their ideological halters, to prevent any legislation—laws, budgets and regulations—that would benefit the people . The Republicans also accused Obama of being ineffective as a leader and at the same time of being a dictator because he has used “executive actions” to get urgent matters resolved while they absented themselves from Washington. What hypocrites!
¶For the above and other reasons, I have developed a very negative view of Republicans overall. I hate to “paint with a broad brush”, but now I see Republicans as either con artists (if they know what is going on) or as willing gulls (if they don’t know what is going on). Some of their leaders, such as McConnell, Ted Cruz, and Richard Burr, I think should be tried for treason or at least for dereliction of duty. They are willing to destroy my country just because, for eight years, we had an African-American in the White House and might have a woman in the White House come January. Phooey!


%d bloggers like this: