No surprise that POTUS skips correspondents dinner

The White House Correspondents Association is having its annual dinner tonight.

One of the normal attendees is missing. That would be the president of the United States. Are you surprised? Me neither.

Donald J. Trump has declared the media to be the “enemy of the people.” He has accused the media of peddling “fake news.” He said just today that the media have “purposely” reported “negatively” his first 100 days in office.

Did anyone really expect the president to stand before a large banquet room full of media representatives, wisecrack his way through a routine, slap a few backs as if he really harbors no ill feelings toward the media? Of course not!

What the president has done, of course, is attack an institution that was guaranteed protection from government bullying and coercion. That guarantee is written explicitly in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That has not mattered to the president, who has banned certain media outlets access to his administration and scolded certain media members harshly in public for allegedly reporting falsehoods.

How ironic it is. You’ll recall that in 2011 Trump — then just a mere real estate mogul and reality TV celebrity — sat among the media at a White House correspondents dinner. That was the event in which President Barack Obama poked fun at Trump, needling him for promoting the “fake news” about the president’s place of birth and assorted other mistruths. He did all that, by the way, on the same day he ordered the CIA-Navy SEAL operation that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden.

Hey, maybe Donald Trump believes Barack Obama’s act is too difficult to follow, given the former president’s impeccable comic timing. Nah, probably not.

Maybe the president will bury the hatchet with the media and recognize publicly that the media have a job to do, which is to hold public officials — including the president of the United States — accountable for their actions and decisions.

EPA boss leaves big footprint at his agency

Scott Pruitt has wasted little time in making his imprint on the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA director has ordered the removal of the “climate change” link on the agency’s website. That’s right. There’s no mention now of the planet’s changing climate, apparently because Pruitt doesn’t believe it’s occurring, or that it’s somehow part of nature’s cycle that cannot be manipulated by human activity.

This is a clear and present danger to our world.

EPA no longer in the “protection” business?

The EPA was created during the Nixon administration in 1970 to do as its title says clearly: to “protect the environment.” Pruitt, though, is a former Oklahoma state attorney general who made quite a bit of noise suing the EPA multiple times for the rules and regulations it imposes on businesses in its effort to do as its title says.

Pruitt acts as if he is no friend of the environment, although he surely declares that he is.

Why remove the link on the EPA website?

“We want to eliminate confusion by removing outdated language first and making room to discuss how we’re protecting the environment and human health by partnering with states and working within the law,” J.P. Freire, the EPA’s associate administrator for public affairs, said in a statement.

The timing of its removal also is a bit ironic. It came just before this weekend’s series of marches regarding the climate.

I know it’s weird to be talking about climate change/global warming on a day when snow is falling in late April on the High Plains of Texas. This kind of weather anomaly gives grist to climate change deniers who no doubt are relishing the very notion of snowfall so late into spring.

Yes, Mr. Administrator, the climate is changing

Of course, the deniers ignore the findings and the theories of a vast majority of scientists and other environmental experts who contend that human activity has contributed greatly to the warming of the planet. Deforestation and carbon emissions created by burning of fossil fuels has been labeled as the cause.

Polar ice caps are shrinking, sea levels are rising, worldwide average temperatures are increasing. Is the planet in peril?

We can discuss the cause of the changing climate. I’m open to that. What I find discouraging — and shameful — is the elimination of source material from the EPA’s website that allows that discussion to occur.

Break up the 9th U.S. Circuit? C’mon, get real

Donald J. Trump keeps ratcheting up his open combat with the federal judicial system.

The president wants to break up the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals because — doggone it, anyway! — the judges keep issuing rulings with which he disagrees.

Poor guy. That’s how it goes sometimes, Mr. President.

The 9th Circuit has ruled against the president’s ban on refugees seeking entry into this country from majority-Muslim countries. That just won’t stand in Trump’s world. So his solution is to dismember the court, which is based in San Francisco and is considered to be arguably the most liberal appellate court in the federal judicial network.

He said lawyers shop for friendly judicial venues and the president believes the 9th Circuit is a favorite forum to hear cases pitting the federal government against anyone else.

Give me a break.

Conservative courts have ruled against liberal presidents. Indeed, liberal courts have ruled against conservative presidents as well. Have presidents of either stripe been so thin-skinned that they’ve sought to break up an appellate court? Not until this one took office.

Leave the court alone, Mr. President.

A better option for the president would be to craft laws that can withstand judicial challenge. Federal judges in Hawaii, Washington state and Maryland all have found sufficient fault with the Trump administration’s effort to ban refugees to rule against them. Appellate judges have upheld the lower court rulings.

In a strange way this kind of reminds me of when President Franklin Roosevelt sought to tinker with the federal judiciary by “packing” the U.S. Supreme Court with justices more to his liking; he sought to expand the number of justices on the nation’s highest court. He didn’t succeed — thank goodness.

To be sure, Trump isn’t the only recent president to bully the federal judiciary. Barack Obama called out the Supreme Court while delivering a State of the Union speech in 2010 over its Citizens United ruling that allowed unlimited political contributions by corporations. The president was wrong to do so — in that venue — with the justices sitting directly in front of him.

The nation’s founders sought to establish an independent federal judiciary that ostensibly should be immune from political pressure. The president is seeking to bully the court system through a number of methods: He calls out judges individually and criticizes the courts’ decisions openly and with extreme harshness.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals needs to remain intact and the president needs to live with the consequences of how it interprets the U.S. Constitution.

Gadflies have their place … but not always

I’ve known my share of gadflies in the communities where I have lived and worked.

You know what a gadfly is, yes? My trusty desk dictionary describes them as “persistent, irritating critics” and “one who provokes or goads”; the third definition describes a bug that bites livestock … which I guess is about as productive as the first two definitions.

Politics has its share of gadflies. Amarillo City Hall has had one among its City Council members for the past two years, but Randy Burkett has decided against seeking a second two-year term on the council.

Most of the candidates seeking spots on the new council are serious about public service. They are thoughtful and constructive in their approach to governance. I don’t claim to know all of them personally. I’ve met some of the candidates and I have a tiny bit of history with a couple of them.

But the city doesn’t need any gadflies sitting on the council, which is why I continue to support a particular slate of candidates and hope they get elected one week from today. Thus, I am hoping for a council that comprises Ginger Nelson as mayor, Elaine Hayes in Place 1, Freda Powell in Place 2, Eddy Sauer in Place 3 and Howard Smith in Place 4.

Political gadflies do perform a useful function in communities. They help officeholders stay focused on the issues. The tactic they employ is to gripe about what they consider to be wrong about certain public policy. Governing at every level — from City Hall, to the county courthouse, state capitol, the nation’s capitol and, yes, the presidency — require solutions. They require constructive — as well as critical — thinking.

That’s my hope for the next City Council. I want it to comprise individuals who are far more interested in pushing forward solutions than in looking exclusively for the things they believe need repair.

I want the council to comprise individuals with a demonstrated record of civic involvement.

Amarillo voters in 2015 experimented with significant “change” in city governing policy by electing three new guys to the council. One of them, Elisha Demerson, came to the job with prior governing experience, with service on the Potter County Commissioners Court. The other two were government novices.

But the council had a gadfly in its group. That would be Burkett. His presence on the council didn’t always work out. At least one of the challengers running this year qualifies as a gadfly. James Schenck, running for Place 2, keeps saying he knows what’s wrong with city government. I haven’t heard any solutions from him.

There need not be any more gadflies taking the oath of office after the ballots are counted next week. We need forward-thinking individuals who know how to govern as a unit.

I remain cautiously hopeful, moreover, in the collective wisdom of the city’s voters.

No, Mr. Trump, first 100 days not quite so good

Dear Mr. President,

I read your tweets this morning in which you excoriated the “mainstream fake media” for its reporting of your first 100 days as president of the United States.

With all due respect, sir, you are wrong, the media are correct.

Your first 100 days haven’t been the greatest in the history of the presidency as you have stated.

The attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act failed; your effort to ban entry for those from Muslim-majority countries has been struck down twice by the federal courts; you haven’t touched the North American Free Trade Agreement, which you vowed to repeal on “day one” of your presidency.

Sure, you’ve signed a ton of executive orders. But you seem to have ignored the criticism you leveled at Barack H. Obama for governing at times via executive fiat. His doing it was wrong, but your doing it is right? Are we supposed to believe that, sir?

You’ve gotten into those snits with our allies in Australia, Germany, Mexico and Canada. You’ve decided to launch a trade war — for crying out loud! — with Canada over milk and lumber imports. That leads to success? I don’t think so.

Don’t get me wrong, Mr. President. Your dismal first 100 days doesn’t mean you’re doomed to a failed presidency. You can still have success going on from here. I hope you do succeed, sir, but success in my view depends on whether you’re going to work with Democrats in Congress.

I’ve tried to drive home the point in this blog, sir, that governing is a bipartisan team sport. It is far different than campaigning for high office. Sure, your base still loves you. I am not one of those who voted for you. I wanted Hillary to win.

Here’s the thing: You’re my president, too. I consider you to be duly elected. However, I expect you to take my concerns under consideration as you decide which policies to push.

You vowed to “unite the country.” You haven’t done it, Mr. President.

So, please stop bragging via Twitter about your self-proclaimed fantastic success. You are imagining it, sir.

The reality out here is quite different. Many of us are frightened about what the immediate future might bring.

Listen to us as intently as you listen to those who continue to stand tall behind you.

Oh, and one more thing: Stop bragging about winning the 2016 election. We get it. True leaders look forward — to the future.

Stand tall, David Frum

David Frum has emerged as my newest favorite conservative thinker/writer/pundit/analyst.

I actually have become enamored over the years with a number of such folks: William F. Buckley, William Safire, Peggy Noonan, George F. Will, David Brooks, Kathleen Parker, Jennifer Rubin all come to mind. They are great thinkers, solid in their beliefs, but not crazy.

Now we have David Frum, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush. He’s also a persistent critic of Donald J. Trump, who’s come along to become president of the United States. He has been astonished — along with many of his fellow Americans — at how wholly unprepared Trump is to serve as president and commander in chief.

The president said in an interview with Reuters that the office to which was elected is tougher than he thought it would be.

Who knew?

Frum’s response — delivered in a series of tweets — is utterly classic.

Here it is.


President redefines ‘populism’

I would venture a guess that if one were to ask Donald J. Trump to define “populism” off the cuff that he would say something like: It’s the philosophy on which I campaigned successfully for the presidency of the United States.

Translation: He likely doesn’t understand a philosophy aimed at taking power away from big corporations and the rich folks who run them.

This billionaire real estate mogul and TV celebrity campaigned as a populist, declaring his intention to tear up the North American Free Trade Agreement, pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and “work for you, the people.” He would surround himself with the “best people” to run the government and would “drain the swam” of the corporate corruption he said has infected American politics since the beginning of the Industrial Age.

He is governing, though, as anything but a populist.

The president did sign the executive order that took the United States out of TPP. NAFTA? Well, in the span of just a few days he said he would consider pulling out; then he said he wouldn’t after talking to the leaders of Mexico and Canada; then he said he would like to “renegotiate” the treaty. The “best people” surrounding him include a healthy cadre of executives from Goldman Sachs, the big-time investment outfit he criticized freely during the campaign. The “swamp”? It’s still full of muck.

I want to focus for a moment on NAFTA. Free trade is an example of orthodox Republican philosophy with which I agree. I dislike artificial barriers, such as import taxes and tariffs, that inhibit trade, particularly among bordering nations. NAFTA’s intent is to open markets throughout three major nations: the United States, Canada and Mexico. Is it perfect? No. Is it as flawed and “disastrous” as the president has contended? No to that, too.

It has fostered a freer flow of goods across the borders of all three nations and has been a significant net plus for their economies.

I am heartened to sense the president is beginning to understand that campaign rhetoric often must differ with the way one actually governs.

NAFTA is not the bogeyman that Trump called it while winning the presidency.

As for whether he can govern as the populist he portrayed himself as being, I only can point to the weekend lifestyle he still enjoys as he jets off to Mar-a-Lago, his glitzy, glamorous and posh resort in southern Florida.

His attachment to all the decadence associated with it suggests to me that the president is a populist in name only. Hey, maybe we can create a new acronym: PINO.

Our attention span has its limitation

If Donald John Trump has succeeded at anything during his first 100 days as president of the United States, he has managed to wrench Americans’ attention away from some previously grievous international crises.

We’ve instead been fixated on the chaos that reins inside the White House, on the president’s continually clumsy statements about “major, major” conflicts with North Korea and other matters.

But just for the sake of remembering some of the issues that riveted our attention, if only for a brief period, let’s review them:

* Boko Haram. Do you remember when the Nigerian terrorists kidnapped those hundreds of women and girls, holding them somewhere deep in the forest? First lady Michelle Obama made it a serious public cause as she sought to rally international indignation over the hideous treatment.

* Under-age refugees. In 2015, the United States became a magnet for thousands of unaccompanied children fleeing repression in Central America. They came all the way through Mexico and entered this country illegally. We were outraged that so many of these children were being allowed to pass through Mexico; we wondered whether the Mexican government cared to stop the kids from entering the United States. There were calls to round them up and send them back.

* Haiti earthquake relief. The most impoverished nation in the Western Hemisphere was shattered in 2010 by a killer earthquake. The death toll reached into the hundreds of thousands. The world was stricken with horror and grief. President Obama dispatched his two immediate predecessors — Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush — to lead a task force to raise money for Haiti. Then word came back from the island nation that the money wasn’t being spent on restoration, that it was being siphoned off by corrupt government officials.

I ask about these events because there was well-meaning rhetoric from people in high places that the world must not forget these crises. They dominated news cycles for weeks on end. The world must keep them in its sights. It must be relentless in its pursuit to repair the damage done at all levels.

Then the world forgot about them.

These crises have been replaced by many others since then. The Arab Spring, the Syrian civil war, the Iran nuclear deal, North Korea’s saber-rattling, the Islamic State.

The presidential election occurred just a few months ago. Now we’re focusing on just how the new president intends to get his administration in order. If he’s able.

Meanwhile, the Nigerian women are still held captive, the children are still imperiled in Central America and Haiti remains a shattered nation.

We say we still care about these matters. Do we care enough?

President still in campaign mode … get over it, you won!

Donald J. Trump jetted off today to the National Rifle Association annual convention and then commenced to boast about something that is patently obvious.

He won the 2016 presidential election!

Yes, the president won. He captured more Electoral College votes than his opponent, Hillary Rodham Clinton. He won more than the majority he needed to become president. The president won those formerly Democratic-leaning states — Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa. We get it, Mr. President. Honest, we do.

Indeed, your audience in Atlanta damn sure knew you won. Most of those in the room voted for you, more than likely.

When is this guy going to cast his gaze exclusively forward? When will he stop reliving, in the words of the Bruce Springsteen song, the “glory days”?

We’re about to welcome the 100th day of the Trump administration. We haven’t yet seen a major legislative triumph logged by the president. He’s signed a mountain of executive orders, which he is entitled to do.

It’s time nevertheless to look ahead, perhaps to the next 100 days and beyond.

But today, he spent a lot of time telling the NRA audience what it already knew.

Perhaps, though, the NRA crowd forgot — if only for a moment — that the president promised to do a lot of things in those first 100 days. He said he would make a lot of things happen: NAFTA repeal, Affordable Care Act repeal and replacement, tax reform, final approval to build that “big, beautiful wall.” How’d he do? Not well.

If the president is going to look back on his election victory, then perhaps he ought to tell us some of the rest of the recent past, which isn’t quite so glorious.

So, enough of restating the obvious, Mr. President. Where do we go from here?

‘Ayatollah of Alabama’ seeks U.S. Senate seat

This ought to be fun to watch, even if it’s occurring way over yonder in Alabama.

The state has a vacant U.S. Senate seat, now that Jeff Sessions is serving as attorney general of the United States. That means the state has to conduct a special election to fill the seat.

A fellow named Roy Moore has just entered the contest.

Moore is the suspended Alabama Supreme Court chief justice who got himself into a jam because he told county clerks in his state that they didn’t have to abide by federal law and approve marriage licenses for gay couples.

Oops. Can’t do that!

Now he wants to run for the Senate. Why does this matter to people outside of Alabama? Well, if this guy is elected it means he’ll take part in making law for the rest of us. That includes those of us in the Texas Panhandle.

Moore is a fiery conservative. He once refused to remove a Ten Commandments tablet from the court grounds in Montgomery, Ala. He disagreed with decisions that the tablet violated the First Amendment rule prohibiting government sanctioning of religion.

“My position has always been God first, family, then country,” the Republican Moore said while announcing his candidacy for the Senate. OK, he’s a man of deep faith. I understand it. I have faith in God, too.

The Southern Poverty Law Center — which routinely battles with the judge over his rulings — calls Moore the “Ayatollah of Alabama.”

However, here’s the kicker: The oath he would take as a senator is a good bit like the one he took as a judge; it commits him to be faithful to the laws of the land, the U.S. Constitution, which — if you’ll pardon the pun — is the Bible of secular documents.

All I can assure anyone, though, is that the special election in Alabama is bound to be a hoot.

We’re about to see how it will affect the rest of the country.

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