Category Archives: national security

Memories of JFK’s death came pouring forth

DALLAS — Exhibits such as the one my brother-in-law saw today have this way of triggering so many memories.

We ventured to the Sixth Floor Museum, the one overlooking Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas, where the 35th president of the United States, John F. Kennedy, was murdered in front of the world.

The exhibit has been improved greatly since first time my wife and I visited it in the mid-1980s. It contains many more pictorial displays, more text, a wonderful audio tour, film and, of course, the window where the gunman fired on the president and Texas Gov. John Connally.

I was struck by the amount of attention paid at this museum to the slew of conspiracy theories that have kicked around since the Warren Commission filed its report in 1964. The new president, Lyndon Johnson, appointed Chief Justice Earl Warren to lead the panel to examine every detail it could about the assassination.

It returned with what I believe is the soundest plausible explanation: Lee Harvey Oswald, the disgruntled Marxist, sat in the window on the sixth floor of the Book Depository Building and fired three rounds from a bolt-action rifle, killing the president and wounding the Texas governor.

I was not quite 14 years of age when the world got the news.

My own theory in the moment was cut and dried: The Russians killed the president and were going to attack and invade the United States at any moment. That was how a 13-year-old mind worked in real time way back then. I guess I forgot that we would have a new president within minutes of the 35th president’s declaration of death. That’s what happened aboard Air Force One, when U.S. District Judge Sarah Hughes swore in President Johnson, who then asked for strength and prayers from the nation he was about to lead through this horrific tragedy.

I never have paid attentin to the idiotic conspiracy theories. I don’t believe any of them. I have retained faith in the commission headed by the nation’s chief justice.

Still, I was impressed to realize that the museum organizers saw fit at least to give many of those conspiracies a sufficient airing to at least present the many “other sides” of this most intriguing tragedy.

I remain convinced today, though, that Lee Harvey Oswald pulled the trigger … and that he did it all by himself.

How on Earth does this POTUS do the right thing?

U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe’s decision to pull out of the director of national intelligence job puts Donald John Trump squarely in the middle of a quandary he seems to have no interest in solving.

Trump selected the toadie Ratcliffe — a Northeast Texas congressman — to succeed Dan Coats as DNI, only to face a storm of criticism over Ratcliffe’s partisan leanings and allegations that he embellished his resume. Trump blamed the media for doing their job in “vetting” this individual.

Ratcliffe is out. Coats will be gone Aug. 15. Who will fill the vital job as head of the nation’s intelligence network? How in the world does this president do the right thing and find someone who (a) is willing to work for Donald Trump and (b) would provide Trump with the critical analysis of the existential security threats to the nation.

More to the point, how does Trump resist the impulse to rely on those who tell him what he wants to hear and ignores what he needs to hear?

Coats and other intelligence chiefs said the same thing: Russia attacked our election in 2016. Trump has dismissed them. Indeed, just this week he said former special counsel Robert Mueller — who said yet again that the Russians posed a serious threat to our electoral system — didn’t know what he was talking about.

The heads of the CIA, FBI, National Security Agency, the Joint Chiefs of Staff all have said the same thing: The Russians attacked us.

Coats spoke “truth to power.” Ratcliffe spoke quite the opposite.

What in the world is Donald Trump going to do to fill this job? He needs critical thinking. He needs to hear the truth. He needs to be told where the threats exist and he needs to consider strategies to protect our system against further assaults from Russia and perhaps other hostile powers.

Who in the world is willing to provide what the president of the United States won’t accept?

OK, Mr. President, look for a legitimate DNI nominee

Donald J. Trump has yanked John Ratcliffe’s name from consideration as the next Director of National Intelligence.

Ratcliffe, the congressman from Northeast Texas who also happens to be a staunch — damn near rabid — Trump supporter, had no business being considered for the top job in our nation’s vast intelligence-gathering and analysis network.

Why? Because he demonstrated a palpable disregard for the work done by Robert Mueller, the former special counsel who has said categorically that Russians attacked our electoral system in  2016 and were poised to do it again in 2020.

Ratcliffe, moreover, reportedly embellished his resume, suggesting he had taken part in anti-terror operations while serving as U.S. attorney in East Texas when he did no such thing.

Trump, though, said the media would “slander and libel” him, and suggested that Ratcliffe remain in Congress.

Hey, here’s an idea for the president to consider. He ought to find someone with the gravitas of the outgoing DNI, former U.S. Sen. Dan Coats, who is leaving because he and Trump had disagreements over the very thing we’ve been discussing here: the Russian threat to our democratic process. Coats blames the Russians for behaving with evil intent; Trump sides with the Russians. Game over for DNI Coats.

Oh, wait! Just how does the president find a grownup such as Coats to take over the DNI job if he’s going to insist that the intelligence presented to him is phony, that it’s wrong and that the Russians aren’t doing what the spooks are telling him?

Ratcliffe wasn’t qualified for the DNI job, the alleged embellishment notwithstanding. The POTUS needs a DNI to tell him what he needs to hear, not what he wants to hear.

As for the media that did their job, they performed a valuable public service in outing Ratcliffe as a Donald Trump toadie who wasn’t up to the job.

Trump can’t stomach being told the truth

Donald Trump’s decision to nominate John Ratcliffe as the country’s next Director of National Intelligence reveals a frightening, outrageous aspect of how the president wants to run our national security network … as if we didn’t see this already.

Ratcliffe is a congressman from Northeast Texas, representing a district once represented by the late, great Sam Rayburn. Ratcliffe would succeed Dan Coats as DNI and would be charged — according to the playbook — with providing the president unvarnished analysis of the threats to the nation’s security.

Ratcliffe is not wired that way. Coats has done it, as have many of the preceding DNIs who have held the office.

Trump wants a “loyalist,” someone who likely adheres to his own idiotic view that the Russian hack of our 2016 election is a “hoax” cooked up by the “fake news” and Democratic opponents.

Can there be anything more inherently frightening than to have a DNI who cannot or will not tell the president the truth? More to the point, can there be anything more dangerous to the nation to have a president who won’t hear the truth?

Rep. Ratcliffe showed his partisan stripes while questioning former special counsel Robert Mueller this past week. He challenged Mueller’s probe into the Russian electoral attack. As some commentators have noted, Ratcliffe appeared to be auditioning for the nomination once it became known that DNI Coats would be “stepping down.”

For the ever-lovin’ life of me I cannot grasp how this president continues to lie, deceive and flim-flam his way through the duties to which he has been charged. Even more astonishing is how he manages to cling to that 38 to 40 percent core of Americans who insist he is “telling it like it is” and speaks for them.

John Ratcliffe comes from that fervent base of Trump supporters. The nation does not need a Trump lackey in the post of DNI, which requires someone who is unafraid to tell the president the hard truth about the existential threats that put this country in danger.

If the president has a vast reservoir of talent waiting for the call to come to work in the White House — which he boasts of having — he can do a lot better than John Ratcliffe as head of the nation’s intelligence apparatus.

My fear, though, is that he doesn’t care about quality. It’s all about political loyalty.

Dangerous.

Gun violence now crosses a second issue of the day

When gun violence erupts in this country, Americans naturally get drawn into the ongoing debate over how to stem the scourge of such insane acts.

More gun control? More guns? Longer waiting periods? No waiting periods? 

Now, though, the issue has crossed another issue line of demarcation.

How would building a wall along our nation’s southern border stop home-grown terrorists from erupting?

A corn-fed young American man killed three people at a food festival in Gilroy, Calif.; one of the victims was a 6-year-old boy, another was a teenage girl. Twelve more were injured in the melee. The shooter — whom the police shot to death — was not from south of the border. He wasn’t a Mexican gang member, nor did he hail from Central America. The shooter was far from the kind of individual that Donald Trump once said is being “sent” into our country “by Mexico.”

This lunatic was one of ours. He was one of us. He was just like any one of the other home-grown idiots who decide to open fire with an “assault weapon.”

These political calculations are becoming too complex for many of us. Count me as one who is getting mighty confused over how to handle this latest tragedy.

DNI Dan Coats on his way out? That, too, is a shame

Donald Trump reportedly is preparing to rid his administration of yet another seasoned political professional, someone with experience, knowledge and credibility in the job he is doing on our behalf.

That would be Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, one of the remaining adults working within the Trump administration.

I understand the president hasn’t gotten over the way Coats reacted to the surprise announcement that Trump was going to meet with Russian strongman Vladimir Putin in 2018. Coats was being interviewed by a network TV reporter when he got the news via Twitter that the president and Putin would meet.

“Isn’t that special?” Coats told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell.

Trump is seeking a DNI successor

Trump is supposedly conducting informal interviews with individuals who might succeed Coats as DNI, which I guess means that Trump has spilled the proverbial beans regarding Coats’ future.

I hate to see this happening. Dan Coats has done a credible and competent job as DNI, seeking to bring some semblance of order and discipline to the nation’s intelligence-gathering network. He has stood with other intelligence executives to declare, for instance, that the Russians indeed did attack our electoral system in 2016, a declaration that the president continues to dismiss.

The CIA, the FBI, the National Security Agency, the Joint Chiefs of Staff all have said the same thing: The Russians did it! Trump’s response? He has sided with Putin, who told him he didn’t do it.

I don’t want Dan Coats to leave his post. He is a solid public servant with many years of service behind him. Donald Trump needs more — not fewer — men and women of Coats’ caliber around him.

Of course, none of that matters to the man with the self-described “big brain.”

Trump makes ‘acting’ more fashionable?

Donald Trump’s administration has a revolving door the likes of which is virtually unprecedented in presidential history.

The nation’s acting defense secretary has pulled out. Patrick Shanahan has decided he doesn’t want to be considered for a permanent appointment.

Hey, no biggie, says the president. He thanked Shanahan for doing a “great job.” Now he’s got to look for another defense boss.

But the president who boasts about his administration being a “fine-tuned machine” has a lot of spots to fill. If he chooses to fill them.

According to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: Definitive listings of acting officials in Trump’s and other administrations are hard to come by because no agency keeps overall records. Yet Christina Kinane, an incoming political science professor at Yale, compiled data in her doctoral dissertation, “Control Without Confirmation: The Politics of Vacancies in Presidential Appointments.”

Kinane found that from 1977 through mid-April of this year — from the administration of President Jimmy Carter through the first half of Trump’s — 266 individuals held Cabinet posts. Seventy-nine of them held their jobs on an acting basis, or 3 in 10.

Under Trump, 22 of the 42 people in top Cabinet jobs have been acting, or just over half.

And though Trump’s presidency has spanned less than 5% of the years covered, his administration accounts for more than 27% of the acting officials tallied. Kinane’s figures include holdovers from previous administrations, some of whom serve for just days.

The bottom line is that Trump either cannot find qualified individuals to fill these posts on permanent bases, or he simply chooses not to take the time required to vet them properly.

It’s fair to wonder whether the nation is served well by so many “acting” top-level officials. How can they make serious administrative policy decisions? How does their staff take them totally seriously? In posts involving foreign policy, how do these interim appointments play in foreign capitals? How do our allies trust fully that these acting officials speak for the United States?

Trump has said he “likes” having acting top officials, saying something weird about how it gives him “flexibility.”

I happen to believe that the flexibility Trump relishes also breeds uncertainty. And confusion and chaos.

Trump promised to surround himself with the “best people.” He said he knows the “best words.” That he went to the “best schools.”

He also said that “I, alone can fix” the damage purportedly done to the country. Donald Trump’s inability or unwillingness to fill these posts might be good for his ego, but profoundly bad for the country.

Stand firm, FBI director Wray

I want to declare right here and right now my strong desire for FBI director Christopher Wray to stay where he is, in charge of the world’s premier law enforcement/investigative agency.

You see, Wray has just been undermined by the man who appointed him to his office, the president of the United States, Donald J. Trump.

Trump told ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos that he would accept information about a political foe presented to him by a foreign power, even a hostile foreign power, such as, oh, Russia.

Director Wray, though, has said specifically and categorically that any political candidate whose campaign receives such information must turn it over the FBI.

Trump said when reminded of Wray’s view by Stephanopoulos that “The FBI director is wrong.”

There you have it. The president once again is refusing directly to back the wisdom cited by the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Do not go anywhere, Christopher Wray.

Yes, it likely will be a trying time for Wray as the 2020 presidential election gets into full swing. The Russians attacked our electoral system in 2016. Wray’s predecessor as FBI director, James Comey, began looking deeply into “The Russia Thing” and got fired by the president.

The FBI needs a strong leader. Christopher Wray appears to be a grownup and a law enforcement and legal pro. I realize that an ethical professional would find it trying, indeed, to work in a government administration led by someone without an scintilla of ethical understanding.

I just want to beseech Christopher Wray. The nation needs this man. Badly.

Tariffs punish U.S. consumers, won’t curb migration

Do I have this straight?

Donald Trump wants to impose tariffs on goods coming to the United States from Mexico until our southern neighbor ends illegal immigration from Mexico into the United States.

Is that what he wants to do?

Well, why is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, other business groups friendly to Republican politicians (such as the president), and GOP politicians (such as U.S. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas) so angry with Trump over the tariff threat?

Earth to POTUS: Tariffs don’t punish the countries that send goods into this country; they punish U.S. consumers who will pay more for those goods to cover the cost of the tariff.

The stock market took a header today. My retirement fund — not to mention the funds of millions of other Americans — also took a hit. Will it come back? I certainly hope so.

This tariff notion once again flies in the face of whatever passes for economic policy that emanates from the White House.

Donald Trump is conflating immigration policy with economic policy. He is seeking to damage one of this nation’s pre-eminent trading partners. Mexico clearly doesn’t want the tariff imposed, particularly since Mexico, the United States and Canada are supposedly set to agree to a new “free trade agreement” among the three nations.

It’s called the United States/Mexico/Canada Agreement, aka USMCA. It replaces the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Trump called one of the worst trade deals in human history … or words to that effect.

How in the world does this tariff play in the context of the pending USMCA?

My view? It doesn’t play well at all!

Meanwhile, U.S. consumers are going to be the primary victims of yet another scatter-shot presidential economic policy.

This is not how you “put America first,” Mr. President.

Infrastructure is too big to ignore

Of all the policy pronouncements that Donald Trump has made since becoming a politician, two of them ring true to me.

Yeah, I know. It’s just two. One of them involves judicial sentencing reform. The president is pitching the idea of getting rid of federal sentencing standards that too often, he says, send people into the federal prison for longer terms than they deserve.

However, I want to discuss briefly the other notion. Infrastructure repair, rehab, rebuilding, renovation.

He wants to spend a lot of money. What’s the cost? A trillion bucks? Two trillion? More than that?

The details of how much money it will cost or how the government will find the money to spend remain murky. We need to repair our bridges, our highways and our airports. Those are the three elements of our national infrastructure the president has mentioned specifically.

Yes, he is dealing with an extremely hostile Congress. The hostility runs red hot in the House of Representatives, which now is being run by Democrats. If you believe the media, you presume I suppose that every one of the 235 House Democrats detest Donald Trump deeply. They don’t want to do anything to advance a legislative agenda item. At one level, I cannot blame them, given the manner in which he “governs,” which is to say he doesn’t have a clue.

On another level, though, the nation needs to build things again. It needs to re-charge its energy level to improve the quality of our ground and air transportation.

I see studies almost weekly that tell us about crumbling bridges. In Texas, where I live, we are passionately in love with our motor vehicles. We need safe highways and bridges over which to drive from point to point.

The Texas Department of Transportation is hard at work rebuilding and renovating bridges and highways throughout our state.

However, TxDOT funds only go so far. We are part of the United States of America. Every state, even one as big and rich as Texas, ought to be able to lean on the federal government for funds to renovate part of the national infrastructure.

The president and congressional Democrats are supposed to meet this week to talk over the issue of how to come up with the money they might need to rebuild this essential element of life in our country. Don’t ask me for a clue. I have none.

I do know that life in 21st-century America requires enabling its citizens to get from point to point safely and without worrying whether the street or the bridge on which they are traveling won’t collapse under the weight of their vehicle. Airport service needs to be maintained at the highest level possible; currently, it isn’t.

How do we get there? From where I come from, I believe it’s called deploying “good government.”