Yep, VPOTUS is an important office

Jeffrey Frank’s essay in The New Yorker lays it out clearly.

The office of vice president of the United States is the second-most important office in the country, if not the world. It took the death of a president to make that fact abundantly clear.

Frank writes about Franklin Roosevelt’s death 70 years ago, on April 12, 1945. Vice President Harry Truman was told of FDR’s death in Georgia. He was rushed to the White House and sworn in as president.

It’s what President Truman didn’t know at the time that has been the subject of discussion ever since.

He didn’t know about the Manhattan Project, which produced the atomic bomb, which then ended World War II in August 1945.

Truman only that there was something afoot in New Mexico. Secretary of War Henry Stimson told the president he had something to tell him involving a top-secret project. He informed him of the bomb and said, in effect, that if we use this device it could end the war in a hurry.

The gist of Frank’s essay is that the vice presidency was fundamentally changed after FDR’s death. Presidents have had to rely on their No. 2 men, required to keep them briefed on everything of importance that goes in the government. Why? Well, as we’ve learned, presidents can leave office quickly and without warning.

President Kennedy was murdered in November 1963. President Nixon resigned in August 1974. Both men had selected steady and seasoned men as their vice presidents who could take over at a moment’s notice. Lyndon Johnson did so while the nation grieved JFK’s death and Gerald Ford took the oath after Nixon’s resignation and reassured us that “Our long, national nightmare is over. The Constitution works.”

Presidential nominees have picked well since FDR’s time. Some have chosen not so well, as Frank notes.

But the notion that vice presidency — in the (sanitized) words of Texan John Nance Garner — “isn’t worth a bucket of warm spit” was laid to rest forever when Harry Truman was handed the keys to the Oval Office.

We’ll be sure to keep this in mind when the next nominees for president pick their VPs.


Terrorists come in domestic forms, too

Americans have been focused intently since 9/11 on the dangers of foreign-born terrorists, or those who were born here but then renounced our country to take up arms against us.

We’ve managed to eradicate many of them. Others remain in the fight and we need to hunt them down, too.

Terror, though, can visit us at any moment, and it come from any source. Even home-grown, corn-fed, garden-variety Americans who have a particularly evil streak in their heart can bring untold sorrow and fear to their fellow Americans.

Remember the name Timothy McVeigh?

He decided 20 years ago — on April 19, 1995 — to blow up a federal office building in Oklahoma City. He killed 167 innocent people, including more than a dozen children who were enrolled in a day-care center at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

Children died at the hands of this monster.

Two decades ago Sunday, McVeigh parked a rental truck in front of the building, walked away and then listen to the blast that tore the front of the building away. He fled in a car, only to be captured by a sharp-eyed police officer several miles away.

Why the Murrah building? Why in Oklahoma City, in the nation’s heartland? McVeigh sympathies with the Branch Davidian cult members who died two years to the day prior in Waco. He wanted revenge against the federal agents that destroyed the cult’s compound.

McVeigh was tried in a Denver federal courtroom and convicted of murder. He then was executed for his crime.

He’s gone. Not forgotten.

The loved ones of those who died or who were injured seriously remember him. They loathe his memory. Heck, even those of us who only heard or read about the act loathe this terrorist.

This blog post I guess is just an excuse for me to vent my continuing rage at those Americans who would commit such evil acts. They are every bit as despicable as the foreigners with whom we are fighting. There are times when I wish that our military could use the same brute force on the homegrown terrorists as it does while waging war overseas.

Then my sense of citizenship kicks in, remembering that we must protect the civil liberties of all citizens, even those who spit in our faces by committing these heinous atrocities.

Timothy McVeigh received the ultimate punishment for his act of terror against his country. It was delivered by a justice system that we sometimes think is flawed. Maybe it is at some level.

However, it wasn’t on the day that McVeigh was convicted and sentenced for committing the most heinous act of domestic terrorism in our nation’s history.

So, as we look out there for those who would do us harm, let’s not forget to look over our shoulder and be vigilant against our fellow Americans who harbor hatred that goes beyond our understanding.


Estate tax is worth keeping on the books

Time for a confession, which some of you might already have suspected.

I used to write editorials for daily newspapers that ran counter to my own beliefs and principles. Why? Well, as a former colleague once told me: If you take the man’s money, you play by the man’s rules.

So, there you have it. I was getting paid to write editorials for newspapers that had different slants than mine, so I wrote the words, gritted my teeth on occasion — and then accepted the paycheck.

One issue with which I had a disagreement with our newspaper’s editorial policy was the estate tax, or “death tax,” as some have called it. My bosses wanted it repealed. My former publisher at the Amarillo Globe-News (not the guy who runs the place now, but his predecessor) was adamant that we repeal the estate tax. Why punish heirs to estates, he argued, when the person who built the wealth wants to be able to hand it down to his or her heirs?

I’m sure my ex-boss is happy with the U.S. House of Representatives voting this week to repeal the estate tax.

I am not.

As Paul Waldman writes in the Washington Post: “Republicans say that they aren’t really trying to help wealthy heirs; instead, this is motivated by their deep concern for the fate of family farms and small businesses. But today, the first $5.43 million of any estate is exempt from taxes. That’s the single most important fact to understand about this tax.”

Did you get that? Nearly $5.5 million of any estate is tax exempt!

My congressman, Mac Thornberry, R-Clarendon, Texas, has been at the forefront of the estate tax repeal effort since joining Congress in 1995. He’s got a dog in that hunt. His family owns a lot of ranch land in Donley County and he doesn’t want any of it taxed when the day comes to hand it over to his heirs. I understand Thornberry’s interest in repealing the estate tax.

Here’s a bit more from Waldman: “According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, ‘In 2013, the most recent year for which final numbers are available, there were 2.6 million deaths in the United States, and 4,700 estate tax returns reporting some tax liability were filed. Thus, taxable estate tax returns represented approximately one-fifth of one percent of deaths in 2013.’”

One-fifth of one percent!

Is that enough of a tax to call for its outright repeal? If yes, then who benefits from it? I reckon it’s the extremely wealthy who have estates valued at far more than $5.43 million, which already is exempt from taxes. Remember?

What will be the fate of this repeal effort? If the Senate approves it as well, President Obama will veto it.


Pets can prove their intuitive qualities

Pet owners know this.

It is that your pet — dog or cat — know when you’re hurting.

My wife and I are the proud “parents” of a 13-year-old cat, Mittens, and a year-old pooch, Toby. But until this past November, we owned two cats. Mittens had a brother we adopted along with her from the ASPCA in the summer of 2002. His name was Socks.

One early evening, without warning, Socks went to one of his favorite sleeping places, curled up — and died. Just like that, he was gone. It devastated my wife and me.

We loved Socks very much and those of our friends and family who met this big brute of a cat understand why. He was absolutely the most lovable kitty I’ve ever seen, let alone taken into our family.

I miss him every day.

What’s the point here?

Well, I think his sister, Mittens, misses him, too. In fact, I believe Mittens has been demonstrating in recent months a keen intuition about us and the grief we’re still feeling.

She’s gone through a bit of a personality change since her brother died.

Of the two cats, Mittens was by far the shy one. She wasn’t nearly as demonstrative in her affection toward my wife and me as Socks. Sure, she’d like to be around us, but she was far more reserved.

To this day, she still doesn’t come out when company is in the house. She hides. When the coast is clear, then she shows herself, nibbles on her food, answers nature’s call … all the things cats do.

Of late, though, she’s becoming far more affectionate toward her “mother” and me. She nuzzles constantly. She demands attention from us. She is more vocal than before. When I climb into bed, usually to read a little before nodding off, Mittens jumps up, nudges my hands, snuggles against my cheek and neck and seems to say “I love you” as she purrs loudly in my ear.

I am no animal psychologist, obviously. My wife and I have owned cats almost throughout our 43-plus years of marriage. Toby the pooch is a new experience for us, but we’re getting along quite well with our Chihuahua mix. He’s adorable, smart and quite well-behaved. Does he miss Socks? Hardly.

However, Mittens is showing signs of recognition of the loss we have suffered and I believe she wants us to know that she loves us, too.

Now I know why pets can be so therapeutic.


Constitution trumps jail security

Score one for the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

A district judge has ruled that the Roosevelt County, N.M., policy restricting jail inmates’ visitation with their attorneys is unconstitutional.

The policy was enacted after some inmate escapes at the Portales lockup. Sheriff’s department officials restricted the days and times attorneys could visit their clients. State District Judge Donna Mowrer said the restrictions violated constitutional guarantees that inmates were entitled to meet with their attorneys whenever they wished.

The county said the restrictions were enacted out of security and staffing concerns.

I’m with the judge on this one.

Inmates mustn’t be denied access to their lawyers, who in some cases are the only people in their lives.

A lawyer, Eric Dixon, protested the restrictions, citing an occasional inability to visit clients incarcerated because his weekday work schedule prevented him from getting to the jail until after hours.

Constitutional protections should be honored whenever possible. It seems to be the Roosevelt County jail administration is in a position to follow the tenets set forth in our nation’s founding document.


Julian Castro: right pick for HRC’s ticket?

OK, here’s the deal.

I’ve already noted that it is absurd to try handicapping who will be the Republican and Democratic vice-presidential running mates next year. It’s still absurd to try to look so far in advance.

That all said, one name keeps popping up on the Democratic side that’s beginning to make some sense.

Let’s assume a couple of things.

One is that Hillary Rodham Clinton will be the Democrats’ presidential nominee. Another is that Democrats are going to seek to tighten their grip on the Latino vote. Still another — and this remains a long shot — is that Texas, of all places, might be brought into play as the major party candidates fight for enough electoral votes to put one of them over the top.

Here’s a name to consider: Julian Castro.

This does originate with this blog post. Others have said Castro would be a nearly ideal choice for Clinton.

He’s currently the secretary of housing and urban development. Before that he was mayor of San Antonio. He has an identical twin, Joaquin, who serves in Congress.

Why should Clinton pick this young man? Well, he’s a handsome fellow. He speaks Spanish fluently; he also speaks English just as fluently. His story is compelling: raised by a single mother, graduated from Stanford University and Harvard Law. He’s an up-by-bootstraps kind of man.

Democrats have done well in recent election cycles with Latino voters. Republican President George W. Bush made serious inroads with that demographic group in 2000 and 2004, but it’s gone downhill ever since.

Clinton could cement the Democratic hold on Latino voters by putting Castro on the ticket.

As for Texas? Well, let’s just say that the hill for Democrats in Castro’s home state remains quite steep. The state remains heavily Republican and at this moment I cannot see how a Democratic presidential ticket — even one with a Latino in one of the spots — carries the state in 2016. Maybe in 2020.

Castro, though, could make the state competitive, forcing Republicans to invest campaign money in a place that since the 1980 election has been a shoo-in for the GOP.

Am I predicting Clinton will select Castro? Come on. Give me some credit. I’ve said it’s too early to make that call.

However, it wouldn’t surprise me.



Reid to go ‘nuclear’ on Lynch nomination?

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid is a lame-duck Democrat in a body controlled by Republicans.

He’s not going back into private life without a fight. He’s picked a doozy to wage with his GOP colleagues.

Frankly, it’s a fight worth having.

Reid wants to force the Senate to vote on the nomination of Loretta Lynch to be the nation’s next attorney general. She’s been waiting seemingly since The Flood to get a vote by the full Senate, but Majority Leader Mitch McConnell keeps digging in, resisting the vote for this reason and that reason — none of which has any bearing on Lynch’s qualifications for the job to which she’s been nominated by President Obama.

She is highly qualified. She has deserved a full vote since the Senate Judiciary Committee recommended her appointment.

McConnell, though, is holding her hostage to other legislation.

Reid’s role as minority leader is supposed to put him in a subordinate capacity. However, he said this week that if he gets 51 senators to sign on, he can call for a full Senate vote and circumvent the authority reserved customarily for the majority leader.

He’s going to enrage McConnell if he manages to schedule the vote. A majority of senators already has said they plan to confirm Lynch as AG. The trick, then, is to get a majority to agree simply to a vote.

Lynch would succeed Eric Holder at Justice. Republicans already detest Holder. Every day Lynch is delayed from taking her job is a day that Holder remains at his post. Why in the world, if you’re a Senate Republican, do you want to keep someone on the job that you cannot stand?

Senate protocol and decorum are supposed to inviolable. A lot of it has been tossed aside in recent years as the parties have fought tooth-and-nail with each other. Democrats changed the filibuster rules in the previous Congress. And just recently, a group of Republicans sent a letter to the Iranian mullahs telling them the nuclear deal worked out could be tossed aside when the next president takes office in January 2017.

Decorum? Protocol? It’s gone, mostly.

Harry Reid’s set to play some hardball. If it gets Loretta Lynch confirmed as the next attorney general, well, let him throw the first pitch.