It’s ‘Secretary,’ not ‘General’ Mattis, Mr. President

I’ve made this point already, but I feel the need to restate it.

Donald J. Trump once again referred to the secretary of defense as “Gen. Mattis.” Yes, James “Mad Dog” Mattis — one of my favorite Trump Cabinet appointees — is a retired Marine Corps general. He’s got four stars on his epaulets.

But that was then. Today, the here and now, Mad Dog Mattis is a civilian, just like the president is a civilian.

Trump’s reference to “Gen. Mattis” came as he was announcing his decision to sh**can the planned June 12 summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. The president, naturally, followed that reference with a statement that the U.S. military is the strongest in the world and that it is ready to act if the need arises.

Oh, brother, man!

Mr. President, we assign these Cabinet posts to civilians. It’s a time-honored tradition that civilians control the military. President Truman had to remind Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur of that fact when he relieved him of his Korean War command in the early 1950s.

I know it’s a semantics issue. It just bothers the daylights out of me that the commander in chief cannot honor the long-standing tradition of the office with a simple reference to the defense boss as “Secretary” James Mattis.

Get with the program, Mr. President.

Is Trump responsible for gas price hikes?

I believe it was around 2011. Gasoline prices were spiking.

Republicans were aghast at the fuel prices. They couldn’t understand why the president at the time, Democrat Barack Obama, wasn’t doing something about it.

I don’t know what the president can do, short of imposing some sort of price control. That’s been tried. It didn’t work in the 1970s.

So now the price of motor vehicle fuel is climbing steadily. I thought we had a “surplus” of fossil fuels, given that we were using more alternative energy sources, driving more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Oh, no. I guess that was a mirage. Right?

The national average price of a gallon of gasoline is up about 12 cents during the past two weeks.

Hey, where’s the outrage now? Why aren’t we yammering at Obama’s successor, Donald J. Trump?

The president cannot do anything now any more than any president can limit the price of a market-driving commodity.

But … the silence is rather deafening this time.

No Peace Prize for POTUS this year

Well, there goes the Nobel Peace Prize for Donald John Trump.

Some folks had been beating the Peace Prize drum for the president on the basis of a proposed summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. Then the North Korean despot began talking negatively about Donald Trump, the United States, South Korea … you name it.

Now the summit is a goner. It won’t happen as planned on June 12 in Singapore. Will it be revived? Who knows?

I was one who had some hope that it could produce a breakthrough in U.S.-North Korea relations. It won’t.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the president’s announcement that the summit had been canceled was his return to the tough-guy rhetoric that mentions the immense power of the U.S. nuclear weaponry. As CNN reported: And he renewed his boasts of America’s nuclear weapons, which he called “so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used.” 

Then he added this in a statement from the Roosevelt Room in the White House: “Our military, which is by far the most powerful anywhere in the world — that has been greatly enhanced recently, as we all know — is ready as necessary.”

It makes me respond: Duh!

The entire world knows this already, Mr. President. Including Kim Jong Un. There was some thought expressed that Trump’s in-your-face rhetoric about the size of his nuclear arsenal brought about the prospects of the summit in the first place.

I hope we’re not headed back to Square One with Kim Jong Un.

Today, though, was a serious setback in the quest for peace on the Korean Peninsula.

It’s the intent that matters

James Clapper is the expert on national security and matters relating to deep-cover operations.

I am not.

Still, I want to take issue with an assertion that the former director of national intelligence has said about the Russian meddling in our 2016 presidential election. Clapper has said the Russians actually tilted the election in Donald John Trump’s favor; he said their attack on our electoral process was decisive that Trump essentially is an illegitimate president.

I have trouble buying into that assumption.

Clapper says the Russians targeted three states that Trump won over Hillary Clinton: Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Trump won those states by a grand total of 77,000 votes; their electoral vote count put him over the top and, thus, he was elected president.

My own view — albeit from afar — is that Clinton’s last-minute strategy backfired. She didn’t visit Wisconsin after being nominated by the Democrats. She paid only cursory attention to Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Having said that, I want to make an assertion of my own, which is that the Russians’ intention to swing the election toward Trump is grievous enough on its own.

Clapper is far from alone in his belief that the Russians actually meddled, that they attacked our electoral system. Every national security chieftain on board now or who was aboard during the 2016 election have said the same thing. Even the president’s own team has acknowledged as much; and I include the current secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, who was CIA director when he told a congressional committee that he had no doubt the Russians meddled.

Trump’s response has been shameful in its negligence. He continues to spread the blame around to others who “might” have interfered. He fails to acknowledge publicly that Russian strongman/president Vladimir Putin was involved, which is another assertion that the intelligence committee has made.

James Clapper, a retired Air Force general, is an intelligence professional. He brings strong credibility to any argument about the integrity of the 2016 election. I am just unwilling to buy totally into the idea that Russian meddling actually turned the tide in Trump’s favor.

What matters as much — if not more — is that they intended to sow discord and mistrust in our electoral process.

The Russians have succeeded.

If only the president would acknowledge it, too.

Spygate? Clever, Mr. POTUS

Good grief, Mr. President.

You now have done what every cheap-seat pundit does when a controversy begins to rise to the level of a serious constitutional crisis, one that actually happened and toppled a sitting president of the United States.

You’ve attached the “gate” suffix to something that has yet to be determined to have any legs at all.

“Spygate” might go nowhere, Mr. President. In fact, it looks to me as though you have concocted something out of nothing.

Mr. President, you accuse the FBI of planting a “spy” in your 2016 presidential campaign. You imply that the FBI acted on the direction of someone within the Barack Obama administration. You offer the usual “I hope it’s not the case,” but then you say that if it’s true, we have the biggest scandal in this country since Watergate.

Holy crap, Mr. President! Why don’t you leave the “gate” reference out of it? Watergate stands on its own as the worst of the worst scandals. You might not recall these events, sir, but President Nixon’s coverup of the original crime — a so-called “third rate burglary” — was what did him in. I’ll accept that you weren’t all that interested in politics and public policy at that time; you were just coming out of college and preparing to parlay your father’s stake into a billion-dollar enterprise.

Do I need to remind you, Mr. President, that you haven’t yet produced a shred of evidence that someone “spied” on your campaign for “political purposes.”

And for crying out loud, if you’re so damn concerned about the integrity of the 2016 presidential election, why don’t you give at least a nod to the nation’s network of actual spies and intelligence experts that the Russians attacked our electoral process?

Now you’re calling it “spygate.” Give me a break.

Guns make us bite our tongue

WICHITA FALLS, Texas — A long time passed from when the Texas Legislature voted to allow open carry of firearms before I saw someone actually packing a pistol on his hip.

My wife and I were returning to Fairview today after spending some time in our RV in Amarillo when we walked into one of our favorite eating places in Wichita Falls. We wanted to grab a quick bite before heading on down the highway toward home.

A couple was disciplining a youngster a few tables away. The gentleman was particularly loud in seeking to get the boy to settle down. He has one of those annoying voices that we would have heard even if the eatery was packed wall to wall with customers.

I mentioned the grating sound of the guy’s voice to my wife, who then informed me, “Yes, and he’s carrying a gun, too.”

I shot a glance over my shoulder at the guy. Sure enough, there it was. In plain sight. Some kind of high-caliber semi-automatic pistol.

Then it occurred to me: Just as concealed carry laws have made motor vehicle drivers a bit more circumspect with other drivers who cut them off in traffic — at least that’s my view — open carry laws damn sure would prevent someone from speaking out against someone who, um, is bellowing to a youngster.

I didn’t think of saying anything to this guy. But what if someone else on the other side of the table heard him and decided to confront him over the tone of voice he was using to calm the little boy down?

Having seen the firearm on this guy’s hip, I know I’d never say a word to the guy.

As for whether my wife and I will frequent this eating establishment in the future, that’s another matter altogether. I prefer to enjoy a meal in an establishment where guns are prohibited.

Trump wages war on wrong foe

While the Russians are attacking our nation’s electoral process and the media report on it, who does the president of the United States declare to be the “enemy of the American people”?

The media. The folks who are doing their job. The individuals and their organizations that take their mission seriously.

A cable news network today ran a compilation of the various times Donald J. Trump disparaged the media. He calls reporters “dishonest,” he assails them for fomenting “fake news,” he said journalists don’t love their country.

The president’s scorched-Earth policy against the media has continued at a breakneck pace ever since he took office. You’ll recall how former White House press secretary Sean Spicer conducted his first press briefing by excoriating the media for way they reported on the size of the inaugural crowd that heard Donald J. Trump paint a grim picture of the nation he was elected to lead.

It’s been going downhill ever since.

For the ever-lovin’ life of me I cannot understand the president’s fixation with demonizing the media. All forms of media gave this clown a pass time and time again during the initial stages of his presidential campaign. Much of the media was complicit in allowing Trump to continue to lie through his teeth. They didn’t call him out.

Now that the media have awakened to the kind of man he always has been — a self-aggrandizing narcissist — they have done their job.

Trump’s response? He has launched a full-scale frontal assault on the organizations that almost all of his predecessors have recognized as being vital to the good health of a representative democracy.

The media aren’t the “enemy of the American people.” The real enemy — apart from the Russians who meddled in our election — is the president who seeks to discredit them.

Here’s your dismal voter turnout

You want ridiculous voter turnouts? I’ve got it for you right here.

Potter County Republicans today had to decide three key judgeships in runoff contests. The runoff election attracted a “whopping” 6.8 percent of registered voters. Pam Sirmon was elected to the 320th State District Court bench, while Walt Weaver and Matt Hand were elected to the county’s two Court at Law benches.

Important? Yes! But not so much that it would attract more than a tiny sliver of the GOP voters who cast ballots this past March in the party primary.

Hey, it gets worse!

In neighboring Randall County, a grand total of 1 percent of the voters took part in the runoff election. Why only 1 percent? Well, there were no local runoffs.

But, hey, the county’s few Democrats got to vote for their party’s nominee for governor. Randall County Democrats “poured” out, with just 474 ballots cast. I addressed this issue already in an earlier blog post. I didn’t vote in the Randall County runoff because the one GOP race that interested me — the Texas Senate District 31 contest — was decided in the primary. I couldn’t vote in the Democratic runoff for governor because I didn’t vote in the Democratic primary in March.

So I understand why the turnout in Randall County was so pitiful.

Still, with just 474 votes cast in the entire county that has more than 85,000 registered voters, I am left to ask: Is this the best we can do?

This kid is going to pay for the rest of his life

A 15-year-old boy from Vancouver, Wash., decided in 2017 to toss a firecracker into a forest along a scenic Oregon hiking trail.

What happened next was stunning in its scope. The kid started a fire that roared through the Columbia River Gorge, one of America’s true scenic wonders.

Well, there’s justice. The boy has been handed a $36 million fine by a judge. He has received a sentence that he’ll never pay off, but he damn sure should be forced to contribute money for the rest of his life for restitution to the damage he caused.

The blaze became known as the Eagle Creek Fire. It torched tens of thousands of timber land along Eagle Creek, which becomes Multnomah Falls, one of the Gorge’s scenic jewels. Wind blew embers across the Columbia River and into Washington, scorching more valuable land.

The kid who started the fire won’t be identified in the media, because he is a minor. A part of me wishes to know the kid’s name, but I understand why we won’t know — at least for the foreseeable future.

The fire choked the sky with smoke and ash, which blanketed Portland about 40 miles west of where the blaze began.

I have a keen interest in this story. I grew up in Portland. I have hiked along Eagle Creek. I have peered over the top of Multnomah Falls, which cascades more than 600 feet into an estuary pool next to the mighty Columbia River.

It sickened when I heard about the fire. I ventured to Oregon this past October, but was unable to see too much damage, given that it never stopped raining while I was there; the weather restricted a lot of local sightseeing.

The fire starter’s mother said the event produced a lot of “trauma” for the boy. Good. It should have.

According to the Washington Post: “Every day I think about this terrible decision and its awful consequences,” said the boy, who was identified by the judge only by his initials, A.B. “I know I will have to live with my bad decision for the rest of my life.”

And now, he must pay.

His attorneys have said that the $36 million restitution amount is steep, arguing that such a number violated the U.S. and Oregon constitutions, believing the amount to be “cruel and unusual punishment,” according to court records. But (Hood River County Circuit Judge John A.) Olson in his opinion wrote the restitution was “clearly proportionate to the offense because it does not exceed the financial damages caused by the youth.”

I happen to agree with the judge on this one. The kid has to pay for what he did.

Let’s not get physical with the media

Here’s yet another twist in the Trump administration’s ongoing conflict with the media. This one is a beaut.

Environmental Protection Agency officials forcibly escorted reporters from CNN and The Associated Press from a meeting room, barring them from covering a public event to discuss harmful chemicals in water.

EPA officials said there was a shortage of seats in the room. Reports indicate there were empty seats when EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt spoke to the group gathered.

What’s going on here? Please tell me the Trump administration isn’t going to start kicking reporters out of these events because of some perceive “negative coverage” he might get.

According to CNN.com: Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, addressed the matter at the daily briefing. Sanders said the White House would “certainly” look into the matter, but said for now she would refer reporters to the EPA’s statement, explaining that she could not “speak to a situation that I don’t have a lot of visibility into.” 

Yes, Ms. Sanders, the White House needs to “look into the matter.” It also needs to allow the media unfettered access to events of public concern for all Americans.

There’s that thing called the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, too, that guarantees “freedom of the press.” Let ’em report … freely!