State of the Union: a most political event

I am inclined to tell my friends who are fans of Donald J. Trump to settle down. Chill out. Take a breather. Don’t get so upset that congressional Democrats didn’t stand and cheer along with their Republican “friends.”

Trust me on this: Given that I live in the heart of Trump Country, my list of friends and acquaintances is full of Trumpkins. I don’t begrudge them for their political loyalty. I also hope they don’t begrudge me for mine.

One friend — and he’s an actual “friend” — has been ranting on social media about how the Democrats sat on their hands during Trump’s State of the Union speech Tuesday night. He is just insulted that they would disrespect the president in such a disgraceful manner. How dare they do such a thing!

My friend has been around long enough to know how this game is played. Republican presidents usually get the proverbial stiff-arm from Democrats in the House of Representatives hall. Here’s the deal, though: Democratic presidents get the same treatment from Republicans when it’s their opportunity to deliver State of the Union speeches.

It goes with the territory, folks.

I don’t like it, either. I would rather the “loyal opposition” would show respect for the presidency, even if they dislike the individual who is occupying the office in the moment.

I need not remind my friend, moreover, about how Republicans treated President Barack H. Obama when he delivered his speeches to Congress. However, if he is reading this blog post, I’ll remind him of how GOP U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson shouted “You lie!” during one of Obama’s speeches before a joint congressional session.

By my reckoning, that outburst was far more disrespectful than anything we saw this week.

I’m not worried in the least about how Democrats behaved while the Republican president stood before them. They did what members of the “opposing” party always do.

Do I wish they would behave better? Sure. I also wish the same of Republicans the next time we elect a Democratic president.

Grandpa would have been proud

I watched Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech Tuesday night.

Then I listened to some of the analysis of it. A few minutes later, I listened with equal intensity to the Democratic Party’s designated respondent to the president’s speech. A young member of Congress, Joseph P. Kennedy III, D-Mass., offered the response.

I listened to Rep. Kennedy with more than just a touch of wistfulness. The young man is the grandson of my first political idol. You’ve heard of him, too: Robert F. Kennedy.

I wrote once about an astonishing Bobby Kennedy Moment that occurred in my life. Here is what I wrote in June 2015:

A bullet changed history 47 years ago today

I have shared with you over the years I’ve written this blog about the astonishing array of public figures whose paths crossed with mine.

My brief encounter with Robert Kennedy ranks at the very top of the long list of distinguished individuals I’ve had the honor of meeting.

Get this, though: My meeting with RFK occurred one year after my graduation from high school. It happened on the eve of a 1968 presidential primary election in my home state of Oregon.

I had no possible idea in that moment that my political idol would die one week later after he scored the biggest political victory of his life. RFK had won the California Democratic primary. He thanked his supporters and then said, “On to Chicago and let’s win there.”

He never got to his party’s nominating convention in Chicago. He walked through a kitchen pantry in Los Angeles and was gunned down by Sirhan B. Sirhan.

When I saw the young man deliver his party’s response to the president’s speech last night, I only could imagine how proud he would have made the grandfather he never knew.

At least Joe Kennedy knows of the impact his grandpa had on millions of Americans — such as yours truly — who came of political age in the most turbulent of times.

Here is an example of drought severity

You almost have to squint your eyes to see the water in this picture.

I snapped this shot this morning at MediPark Lake in far west Amarillo. The last time we visited this site — about four months ago — that large expanse of rocky terrain was under about six feet of water.

Not now!

I guess I wanted to share this view just to illustrate a concern I have about the lack of surface water in Amarillo. I believe we’re at the 108-day mark with zero measurable precipitation. The all-time record is approaching quickly and according to my trusty Weather Channel app on my “smart phone,” it looks we’ll break that record in less than a week.

Oh, did I mention that the dry-spell record was set in 1902? There. I just did.

It’s not fun watching the surface water disappear before our eyes. Oh, Medi Park is still full of ducks and Canada geese. Indeed, this morning we witnessed large flights of geese take off and return to what’s left of the lake. I do enjoy watching those birds take flight.

I have no particular point to make with this blog post, other than to alert my Texas Panhandle friends and fellow travelers what they already know: We need to be careful with our water use.

Porn queen playing media as fools

I have a suggestion for these talk show hosts who are inviting porn actress Stormy Daniels to their shows.

Disinvite her.

Or at least disinvite her until she decides to stop playing these stupid mind games with the American public.

It has been reported that Daniels allegedly engaged in a sexual relationship in 2006 with Donald J. Trump, who at the time was newly married to his third wife, the first lady of the United States. The talk show hosts ask her: Did you have an affair with the future president of the United States? She dummies up.

It also has been reported that Trump paid her $130,000 to be quiet about the affair. The hosts ask her: Did you get hush money from Trump?

Again … she ain’t talking.

My question is this: What the hell is the point of bringing this individual to your show if she’s going to play footsie with the questioners?

What about ‘Russia,’ Mr. President?

I didn’t expect Donald Trump to bring up “the Russia thing” during his State of the Union speech Tuesday night.

It would have required a suspension of disbelief to assume the president would say that a “year of the Russia probe is enough.” He wasn’t about to elevate special counsel Robert Mueller’s accelerated investigation into alleged collusion with Russian hackers by the Trump presidential campaign.

But I was hoping at some level that the president might bring up Russia’s interference in our 2016 presidential election at some level. Perhaps he could have at least pledged to protect our electoral process against actual or perceived foreign meddling, against those who would hack into our process and seek to determine an outcome they preferred.

He didn’t even have to acknowledge what the U.S. intelligence community has determined — that Russia did meddle in our 2016 election.

Contrary to the assertions of the White House press office, the Russia meddling is on the minds of millions of Americans who are concerned about what effect it might have had on the outcome. I am not yet convinced that the Russian hacking into our system was decisive, that they actually tilted the election in Trump’s favor.

Whether the Russians succeeded in their aim, though, misses the point. The point — as I get it — is that they did what they did and put the integrity of our system of “free and fair elections” in jeopardy.

That amounts to an act of open hostility by our nation’s preeminent international adversary.

And isn’t the president supposed to protect us against such assaults on our democratic system? Shouldn’t the president declare his intention to stop such interference in the future? And shouldn’t he put the international perpetrators on notice?

Donald Trump was silent on that matter.


Didn’t hear much ‘unity,’ Mr. President

I awoke this morning during a lunar eclipse. But the sun rose in the east — just as it has done since the beginning of time.

However, I don’t believe I awoke to a country more “unified” after last night’s presidential State of the Union speech, which I watched from start to finish.

The president said his speech would “unify” the nation. Judging from what I witnessed on my TV screen, I didn’t see a unified joint congressional session. Republicans stood repeatedly. Democrats sat on their hands.

Is that somehow different? Is it unique to this president in this time? Not at all! Republicans sat on their hands when Presidents Clinton and Obama spoke to them, just as Democrats did during President Bush’s two terms (the president’s post-9/11 speech notwithstanding, when everyone was cheering his rallying cry to a grieving nation).

Donald Trump’s urging of unity was supplanted by mentioning tax cuts, the repealing of the mandates required by the Affordable Care Act, the battle over immigration and construction of “the wall,” the appointment of a new Supreme Court justice. Divisiveness, anyone?

The president took office in the aftermath of arguably the most contentious, bitter campaigns in the past century. He took charge of a nation divided sharply over his election — and it hasn’t gotten any less divided in the year since he took office.

If the congressional response we witnessed Tuesday night on Capitol Hill is indicative of the nation those men and women represent, well, the president has a lot more work ahead of him.

‘Big-city liberals’ do what, Lt. Gov. Patrick?

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has been running a TV ad that makes an accusation that offends me to my core.

The Republican is running for re-election and he is proclaiming how tough he is on illegal immigration. Then he declares: “Big-city liberals favor open borders.”

To which I say, “Huh? What? Are you serious?” Well, sure he’s serious. Because he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

You see, what Patrick is saying suggests that “big-city liberals” want no controls on immigration. That they want to allow everyone into this country, regardless of their standing. They “welcome” illegal immigrants who might have criminal intent.

That is the rhetoric of a blatant demagogue.

I am no “big-city” liberal. I live in a moderately sized city in the Texas Panhandle, where most of my neighbors are likely to vote for Patrick later this year.

I also believe in stricter enforcement of our immigration policies. I am willing to pay for more Border Patrol personnel, for more electronic security/surveillance equipment.

However, I part company with Patrick and others on construction of a wall across our southern border. Furthermore, I am pretty damn sure that my own beliefs don’t make me someone who favors “open borders.” My strong hunch, too, is that other liberals would object to the “open borders” canard that comes from the lieutenant governor’s mouth.

Deficit hawks have taken a powder

You have heard it said — I am quite certain — that “we ought to run the government like we run a business.”

I ask: How many businesses do you know operate on deficits approaching the scale of what we’ve had in the federal government?

None. Right? Of course!

But now we have the Business Mogul in Chief as president of the United States and those federal budget deficits are approaching $1 trillion annually, a figure not seen since early in the Obama administration.

I should remind you that Barack Obama took office in January 2009 with the economy in free fall. He pushed through some ambitious rescue plans that included tax increases to help pay for the significant boost in public spending to help failing businesses.

The result over President Obama’s two terms was a serious reduction in the annual budget deficit; it shrank annually by about two-thirds.

It’s now heading back up. Congress keeps spending while approving big tax cuts. I believe that’s a recipe for increasing budget deficits, which in turn pile on more money onto the national debt that now stands at a cool $20 trillion.

Deficit mounts

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin now wants Congress to boost the nation’s borrowing capacity to pay for all this spending.

Just wondering: Isn’t the Republican Party the party of fiscal responsibility? What’s more: How many businesses would survive such exorbitant spending?

Waiting for big ceremony downtown

I accepted an invitation today.

It wasn’t an exclusive invitation, as I’m sure the folks who extended it want as many folks as they can find to attend.

They’re going to break ground Thursday on the, um, multipurpose event venue on Buchanan Street in downtown Amarillo, Texas.

The MPEV, aka The Ballpark, will be completed in time for the 2019 AA minor-league baseball season. It will cost an estimated $45 million. It will seat around 4,500 fans for baseball and a lot more for other community events that proponents hope will be part of the venue’s agenda.

This is a big deal, folks! The MPEV reached this point after countless public hearings, serious public debate, two contentious City Council elections and a citywide referendum that voters approved by a narrow margin in November 2015.

I’ve long supported the concept of the MPEV and I want this ballpark built on time and hopefully under budget.

The promise of the MPEV brought a shiny new hotel across the street from the Civic Center. They’ve built a parking garage as well, with ground-floor space set aside for retail establishments; to date, those floors remain dark, but there’s considerable promise that outlets will move in once the MPEV gets much closer to completion.

The groundbreaking event will be for symbolic purposes only. A group of dignitaries will line up with shovels under foot. They might make some remarks. They’ll smile for the cameras, push the shovels into the dirt, shake hands, pat each other on the back and then go back to their day jobs.

Then the real work will begin.

My confidence that the MPEV would become a reality for Amarillo went through its share of ups and downs. The City Council seemed to waffle on it after the 2015 municipal election. Then it sent the matter to a “non-binding” vote in that referendum later that year. The MPEV became the subject of sometimes-heated community debate. Then it passed. The city wasn’t obligated to abide by the result, but the council did the right thing and proceeded forward.

So, here we are. Amarillo is on the cusp of a new era. They’ll break ground on property just south of City Hall.

I’ll be there to watch the new era begin.

Then I will cheer when the era arrives. Who knows? I might even be in the stands to watch ’em toss out the first pitch.

Cyber security remains a (pipe) dream

CIA Director Mike Pompeo has issued a dire warning, which is that it is a near certainty that Russia is going to try meddling in our 2018 midterm election.

Yep, just like they did in the 2016 presidential election, the event that the president of the United States — Donald John Trump Sr. — keeps denying publicly.

Mr. President, please talk to the CIA boss. He knows more about this stuff than you do.

However, I keep circling back to an initiative that was launched in 2011 in Congress. It was designed to improve cyber security and was to be led by my own member of Congress, Republican U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry.

House Speaker John Boehner appointed Thornberry to lead a select committee to iron out the wrinkles in our nation’s cyber security system. It’s interesting to me that this was a GOP-only panel, comprising just Republican members of the House. I guess Thornberry and Boehner didn’t think there were any Democrats who could contribute to what ought to be a bipartisan/non-partisan concern.

Thornberry said in a statement after the panel’s work was done:

Cyber is deeply ingrained in virtually every facet of our lives.  We are very dependent upon it, which means that we are very vulnerable to disruptions and attacks.  Cyber threats pose a significant risk to our national security as well as to our economy and jobs.

At least 85 percent of what must be protected is owned and operated by the private sector.  Government must tread carefully in this area or risk damaging one of our greatest strengths — dynamic, innovate companies and businesses that are the key to our economy and to cybersecurity advances.

A “significant threat to our national security.” Yep, Rep. Thornberry, that is so very correct.

That threat presented itself in the 2016 election. There remain myriad questions about whether the Donald Trump campaign played a role in that threat. We’ll know the answer in due course, once the special counsel, Robert Mueller, finishes his work.

However, I do believe it’s fair to wonder: With all the work that Rep. Thornberry’s committee did to improve cybersecurity, did it do enough to protect our electoral system from the hanky-panky that came from this country’s preeminent foreign adversary?

I do not believe it did.