49 years later, the day remains as vivid as ever

Forty-nine years ago today, I said so long to my father, piled into a car with my mother and drove into downtown Portland, Ore., to begin two of the most important years of my life.

I was about to be inducted into the U.S. Army. I kissed Mom goodbye and reported to the induction station near the Greyhound bus stop. I took the oath, gathered my belongings and rode about three hours north to Fort Lewis, Wash.

I completed basic training nine weeks later and got my orders for where I would report for my advanced individual training: Fort Eustis, Va., where the Army would turn me into an aircraft mechanic.

We boarded a plane after graduation from basic and flew to Richmond, Va. En route from Boeing Field to Richmond, I chatted with one of the flight attendants.

“You must dread these flights with a bunch of military guys,” I said to her. “Oh, you guys are angels,” she replied. “The last military charter flight I worked carried a plane full of sailors who’d been on a submarine for six months.” I got the picture.

Sixteen weeks after arriving in Fort Eustis, I completed by training and then awaited my orders: Vietnam.

This is my segue into my discussion topic for the next brief period: The Ken Burns-Lynn Novick documentary film on “The Vietnam War” that will air on Panhandle PBS beginning Sept. 17. It’s a must-watch TV event. At least it is for me.

***

I arrived in-country at Bien Hoa Air Base, South Vietnam in the spring of 1969 and was bused immediately to Long Binh, the huge logistics center near Saigon. I was there only for about four days before I got my orders for Marble Mountain, a secure base just south of Da Nang. While at Long Binh, though, I had to perform some of the usual duties assigned to newly arrived soldiers, such as burning fecal matter from the latrines scattered throughout the sprawling compound.

I flew to Da Nang aboard a C-130 transport plane and reported for duty.

I was what the grunts called a REMF, which stood for “rear echelon mother-f*****.” I didn’t take it personally. I knew we were doing important work there. Our task was to keep OV-1 Mohawk reconnaissance planes in flying condition to perform their duty. Later, I would be assigned to another station at the I Corps Tactical Operations Center, where I became a “flight operations specialist”; my task there was to communicate with aircraft — and to scramble missions on an as-needed basis.

My time in Vietnam was largely uneventful, although we weren’t entirely immune from occasional mortar and rocket barrages from the bad guys camped inside Marble Mountain.

I served and then came home. I remained somewhat confused about a couple of aspects of that conflict in which I participated.

What were we doing there? And for what purpose?

The PBS documentary I hope helps resolve some of that confusion for me. That’s my goal in my plan to watch every single moment of it. I suspect as well that many millions of other fellows my age will want to understand that period of our nation’s history.

I hope Burns and Novick provide us all with the understanding we want — and which some of us need.

The Vietnam War will be told through rare archival film, interviews with those on both sides of the conflict — and through some of the coolest music ever recorded.

I am waiting with bated breath.

How many more ‘worst weeks’ can POTUS endure?

It’s been said over the past couple of days that Donald J. Trump’s list of “worst weeks of his presidency” has become too numerous to count. Suffice to say that the week just past likely qualifies as his last “worst week.”

They rioted in Charlottesville, Va., over a Confederate statue. A young woman — someone who was there to protest the neo-Nazi/Klan/white supremacists who objected to the removal of the statue — was run over in what has been called an act of “domestic terrorism.” The president first blamed “many sides” for the violence; then he blamed the KKK and neo-Nazis for it; then he blamed “both sides” and accused the “alt-left” of provoking an angry response from the Nazis/KKK.

It got real crappy for the president.

A new week is about to convene for the commander in chief and he’s got a chance — or so it appears — to do something right. He’s going to speak to the nation at 8 p.m. (CDT) Monday to announce a new “strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia.”

We’ve been at war in Afghanistan for 16 years, the longest stretch of open warfare in the nation’s history. The 9/11 terrorists declared war on the United States and President Bush responded quickly. The war continued through his two terms and through two terms of Barack Obama’s presidency.

What is the current president going to tell us? Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis would reveal it. He chose wisely to leave it to the president to make his own announcement.

What should Trump do? My sincere hope was that we could end the contest in Afghanistan. That won’t happen. The war we’ve fought there hasn’t produced the ironclad strength in the government we installed when we threw the Taliban out of power in 2001.

The nation will wait to hear from the president about how he intends to continue prosecuting this war. That’s his call.

I’ll just ask one favor: Please, Mr. President, stick to the issue at hand and spare us yet another boasting of how smart you are, how rich you are, how many “really smart people” surround you, and how you won the presidency against all odds.

We’ve got young Americans in harm’s way, Mr. President, and now is the time to present yourself as a commander in chief who knows what the hell he’s doing.

Alt-right = white supremacists

This well might be the final time I’ll refer to the term “alt-right” in a manner other than to quote someone else’s statement about it.

You may count me, therefore, as one who wants to cease euphemizing what I believe the term really means: white supremacists, racist, bigots.

It has emerged in recent years as a term to define those on the far-right fringe of the political/ideological spectrum. As the events in Charlottesville, Va. — not to mention other communities that have been victimized by spasms of race-related violence — have shown us, the term “alt-right” has focused on a specific brand of political protest.

It has come to represent the views of those who support racist, bigoted ideologies. The term “far right” has taken on an ugly, evil identity. Perhaps it’s because what we used to know as the “conservative movement” has itself moved far past the midway point. To be called a conservative these days seems to mean something different than it did during the day of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan.

Donald J. Trump used the term “alt-right” to turn on what he called the “alt-left,” the counter protesters who clashed in Charlottesville with the neo-Nazis and KKK members who gathered to protest the taking down of that statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Here again, we saw the president seek to place the hate groups on equal footing with those who protested against them.

As for the term “alt-right,” consider me to be among those who no longer prefers to see it used other than to make sure we know what it represents.

It represents hatred and bigotry.

There. I’m done with that word.

‘Alt-right’ becomes euphemism for something ugly

Bannon’s gone, but is he … really?

Stephen K. Bannon’s departure from the West Wing of the White House has been hailed as a victory for sanity and reason.

But is he gone? Really gone? Will the alt-right guru disappear into the mist, or into the swamp? Don’t hold your breath, dear reader.

Bannon served as “senior strategist” for Donald Trump. He is an avid “anti-globalist.” He takes pride in steering the president toward his decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord and for terminating the Trans Pacific Partnership.

Bannon also has been waging a feud with the reasonable elements of the Trump administration. He and national security adviser H.R. McMaster didn’t get along. It then fell to White House chief of staff John Kelly — like McMaster, a general-grade military man — to engineer Bannon’s departure.

So, he’s no longer checking in at the White House.

Bannon has returned his former post, as editor of Breitbart News, the far-right media organ. You now are allowed to bet the farm that Bannon is going to use his new/old job to undermine McMaster some more, only from outside the White House grounds. Bannon said in an interview after his departure that the presidency for which he fought is now “over,” meaning that in Bannon’s view the president has pivoted toward the “globalist” wing within his inner circle.

Bannon is having none of it, vowing to “fight for” Donald Trump, suggesting he’s going to use Breitbart to push an agenda at odds with the likes of Gens. Kelly and McMaster as well as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis.

I believe the president needs to keep cleaning house. He needs to show other alt-right devotees — such as speechwriter Stephen Miller and supposed “terrorism expert” Sebastian Gorka — the way out the door.

As for Bannon, suffice to say this guy looks ready to exact some revenge against those who got him tossed.

Do you think this means the end of chaos in the White House? Umm, I’m thinking we’ve got a lot more of it in store.

‘All men are created equal … ‘

I hope the debate over the nation’s founding documents continues for a good while. We need, as Americans, to remind ourselves of what the founders wrote and try to parse what they meant when they wrote these words.

While steering away from specific mention of the current controversy swirling around the nation, I feel a need to examine briefly this particular passage from the Declaration of Independence.

“All men are created equal.” 

I suppose you can look at that phrase and take it one of several ways. Yes, all “men” were “endowed with … certain unalienable rights.” That, of course, excludes women, who were left out of that formula. They couldn’t vote; indeed, it took the United States of America until the early 20th century to get around to granting women that right.

There’s a discrepancy worth noting here. “All men” didn’t really mean “all.” You see, we had this portion of our population at the time the Declaration of Independence was written that wasn’t even considered fully human. They were the slaves. They were kept in bondage by many of the men responsible for founding the nation.

I will try to insert myself into Thomas Jefferson’s skull for a moment. The principal author of the Declaration perhaps intended for it to mean “all.” Whatever his intent or his idea at the time he put that thought down on paper, it doesn’t negate for one instant its fundamental truth.

All men — and eventually all women — are endowed by the rights laid out in the Declaration of Independence.

Fast-forwarding to the 21st century, it is preposterous in the extreme to accept the presence of those who pretend to be members of a “superior race” of human beings.

We’re in the midst of yet another national discussion about hate groups, about so-called “white supremacists” and those who adhere to a political philosophy against which we entered a world war. 

They will insist that they are the patriots among us. That they know the meaning of our nation’s founding.

They … know … nothing.

The founders didn’t get everything quite right when they penned those cherished words. Those who came along later have sought to amend and improve that high-minded language.

We’re not quite at the point of pure perfection. But we’re a lot closer to it now than we were at our nation’s beginning.

The preamble to the U.S. Constitution declares our intention to “form a more perfect Union.” I read that to mean that we’ll never quite reach the finish line. That does not mean we should stop reaching for it.

GOP senators lose patience with RINO in chief

Donald John (RINO in chief) Trump’s lack of any association with the Republican political machine may be starting to take its toll on the man’s presidency.

Actual Republican senators are standing up to the man who bills himself as a member of the GOP, but who in reality is a Republican In Name Only.

GOP U.S. senators are now tweeting, writing essays and saying things out loud that suggest that the president’s “agenda,” whatever the hell it is, appears to be teetering on the brink of oblivion.

The president keeps attacking his “fellow Republicans.” He called Sen. Jeff Flake, author of a new book that tears into Trump, a “toxic” lawmaker; moreover, Trump has hailed the GOP primary challenger who has emerged to take on Flake.

The president’s attack on the Arizonan has prompted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to stand squarely behind Flake.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said publicly at a Rotary meeting in Chattanooga that he wonders if Trump is “competent” to continue as president.

Senate GOP gangs up on Trump

Then we have the usual cast of Trump critics within the GOP — Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — continuing to oppose him on policy matters as well as chastising him for his hideous conduct in the wake of the Charlottesville riot.

This is what happens when you get a president with no political history, no public service record on which to draw, no demonstrable commitment to understanding how government works.

It’s as if — as some have suggested — that we have formed a third major political party: We have Democrats, Republicans and the Trump Party, which feeds off the cult of personality developed by the “party” leader, Donald John Trump Sr.

If the president is going to insist that he’s a real, actual Republican, then I am among those who will wait with bated breath for the Goldwater Moment to arrive. As the late Sen. Barry Goldwater was able in 1974 to deliver the sobering news to President Nixon that the president had no support in the Senate and that impeachment would surely result in his removal from office, is there someone to deliver the same kind of news to the current president?

Donald Trump needs to shape up, get rid of the white supremacists/alt-right clowns remaining in his administration and start acting like the Leader of the Free World.

If he doesn’t, his presidency is going nowhere but straight into the trash heap … which wouldn’t be a bad outcome. I fear the collateral damage this RINO in chief is going to inflict along the way.

Ex-Trump flack made the case against armchair diagnoses

Katrina Pierson? Where are you?

The former flack for the Donald J. Trump presidential campaign has been hiding somewhere since his election.  I wrote about her a year ago after she delivered an armchair medical diagnosis on Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Here’s what I wrote:

She plays a doctor on TV news shows

Pierson isn’t a medical doctor. She is — or was — a TEA Party activist and political communications consultant who lives in the Dallas area.

Why bring this individual up again?

She demonstrated the danger of trying to psychoanalyze her former boss’s performance as president from a distance. The president is behaving badly at almost every turn these days. His idiotic tweets seemingly reveal a distasteful juvenile quality in the man’s personality, not to mention an absolute ignorance of the office he inherited when he won the Electoral College vote this past November.

The long-distance diagnoses are starting to creep into the national discussion of Trump’s performance as president. Is he unstable? Is he sufficiently “competent” to do the job? Is there something medically wrong with a man who simply cannot change his method of operation?

Let’s not go there.

Pierson, wherever she is, should have taught us all a lesson — bigly! It is that it is inherently dangerous to pretend to be something or someone we are not.

I’m planning to just watch the president flail and flounder his way, albeit with just a touch of glee. It would serve us all well to avoid falling into the trap that ensnared Katrina Pierson when she sought to talk about something about which she knows not a damn thing.

Trump seeks to keep defying laws of political gravity

Color me baffled. Or mortified. Or, oh, maybe even bamboozled.

Donald John Trump’s latest outrage — where he equated Nazis and Klansmen with those who oppose them — would seem to the final “last straw” that sends his cadre of supporters scurrying elsewhere.

Hah! Hardly, according to a fascinating New York Times article profiling the Republican Party “base” that continues to hang with the president of the United States.

Here is the article.

Trump’s response to the Charlottesville mayhem has fallen along largely partisan lines, according to the Times. Most Republicans support the GOP president; only 10 percent of Democrats do.

Yes, there are signs that Trump’s GOP base is showing stress fractures, that it might be beginning to slip away. There remains, though, this hard-core base of supporters who stand with him. Why? He continues to stick it in the establishment’s eye. He talks plainly and with politically correct pretense, they say.

According to the Times: “It’s an indication of what now seems an almost immutable law of the Trump presidency. There are signs that Mr. Trump’s support among Republican leaders and some Republican voters is weakening. But in an increasingly tribal America, with people on the left and the right getting information from different sources and seeing the same facts in different ways, it reflects the way Mr. Trump has become in many ways both symbol and chief agitator of a divided nation.”

I’ll concede yet again that I’m a member of the “tribe” that has opposed Trump from the very beginning. He presents not a single redeeming quality to public life. He’s immoral and amoral at the same time. He has no ideology. His life is crammed full of examples of how his No. 1 objective has been geared toward personal enrichment.

Thus, when he denigrated Sen. John McCain’s military service, disparaged a Gold Star family, mocked a reporter’s physical disability and boasted about grabbing women by their private parts, this individual only reinforced every single negative impression I had of him. Accordingly, it has amazed me in the extreme that his political base has held together as firmly as it has … to date.

Again, from the Times: “Larry Laughlin, a retired businessman from a Minneapolis suburb, compares Mr. Trump to a high school senior who could ‘walk up to the table with the jocks and the cheerleaders and put them in their place.’ That is something that the ‘nerds and the losers, whose dads are unemployed and moms are working in the cafeteria,’ could never do. Mr. Trump may be rich, he said, but actually belonged at the nerd table.

“’The guys who wouldn’t like me wouldn’t like Trump,’ he said. ‘The guys who were condescending to him were condescending to me.'”

The president is counting on those folks to see him through this latest “last straw.” I’ll concede this point: When Trump said during the campaign that he could “shoot someone on Fifth Avenue” and retain his political core of support, he proved to be more correct than most of us ever imagined.

A glimpse of Amarillo’s future?

I acknowledge readily that I don’t get out as much as I should.

Retirement has turned me into a bit of a homebody, except when my wife and I hitch up our RV to the back of our pickup and hit the road for points hither and yon.

Today, we did venture out. We went downtown. We met our son at Amarillo’s Community Market that was up and running in front of the Chamber of Commerce building at 10th Avenue and Polk Street.

I have high hope that today we might have gotten a glimpse of Amarillo’s future. It’s one that bodes well for the city’s health.

They’re going to break ground pretty soon on that ballpark/multipurpose event venue across the street from City Hall. The MPEV will need to get done in a hurry, in time for the 2019 minor-league baseball season. They’ll toss out the first pitch in April 2019 when the city’s new AA baseball team takes the field.

What’s in store for the future of the city? The MPEV won’t just be a ballpark. The “multipurpose” element of the structure tells me they have plans to play host to events such as, oh, the Community Market and other events where folks from Amarillo and points beyond can enjoy themselves.

As we meandered around the downtown area today we noticed lots and lots and lots of construction under way. A bit north on Polk, they’ve gutted an old retail store to make room for new shops. Farther west on 10th we noticed the old Firestone structure has been gutted out, too, in anticipation of more loft dwellings.

Yes, we have that Embassy Suites hotel about to open. The parking garage is all but done.

The hundreds of folks with whom we mingled today ought to be sure to keep coming back downtown once all those projects are completed.

I’ve said before in this blog that downtown Amarillo bears little resemblance to the district my wife and I first saw when we arrived here in early 1995. Indeed, the central district on this day looks a bit more spry than it did just two or three years ago.

The not-so-good news for us is that we likely won’t be Amarillo residents when all this work is done. We plan to relocate downstate. It’s not all bad as far as we’re concerned. That RV we own travels pretty well in this direction and we intend to be frequent visitors to the city we’ve called “home” for the past two-plus decades.

We believe we got a glimpse of what lies ahead for the city’s downtown district — and we are going to look forward to seeing it come to pass.

‘Free’ speech gets drowned out … good!

They called themselves the “Free Speech Movement.” They planned to stage a big rally in Boston, but got drowned out by others who were having none of what this movement had to say.

The “Free Speech” folks said they disavowed the hate speech that’s become the talk of the nation. But thousands of counter protesters showed up to swallow up the “Free Speech” crowd.

It appears that advance knowledge of some of the speakers slated to talk alarmed community residents, which triggered the big counter protest. They were concerned about what they considered to be “veiled bigotry.” One big difference between this gathering and the one that erupted in Charlottesville this past weekend is that no one got hurt; there was no riot.

This all sounds familiar to yours truly.

In 2006, the Ku Klux Klan came to Amarillo to have a rally in front of City Hall. The city granted the KKK the permit they needed. The police came out in force. Amarillo PD deployed many officers, as did the Potter County Sheriff’s Office and the Texas Department of Public Safety. The police set up an effective barrier that kept the crowd of onlookers away from the Klansmen.

At the moment the Klan leaders were set to start addressing the gathering in front of City Hall, a parade of counter protesters came marching onto the parking lot. They were loud, man! They were banging cymbals, blowing horns, beating drums, yelling at the top of their lungs.

I don’t recall, 11 years later, what the Klan’s message was on that warm summer day. The haters couldn’t get a word in edgewise.

I couldn’t have been prouder of the way our community reacted to the Klan’s presence in our midst.

The most fascinating encounter I witnessed occurred right next to me. It involved then-Amarillo Police Chief Jerry Neal and a Klan member. Neal was there in full cop regalia: dress blues and all the hardware that beat cops wear when they’re on patrol … if you get my drift. The Klansman asked the chief, “Can I ask you something?”

Neal’s response was brusque and right to the point: “No. You can’t. Now, get away from me.”

What happened today in Boston had plenty of precedent. It should continue for as long as hate groups — or those aligned with them — believe they have license to spread their bigoted message.

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