N. Korean strongman nuts, but not stupid

You know what makes North Korea’s president for life Kim Jong Un so dangerous?

It’s not the weapons that he possesses. Nor is it the knowledge he surely must have that if he does something stupid that he’ll face the world’s remaining superpower’s extreme anger.

He is dangerous because he doesn’t seem to care what happens to his country.


I am not a student of Korean geopolitical history. I’ve just watched a succession of crazy men come and go in the North Korean regime during virtually my entire lifetime. And they all seem to have one thing in common – apart from being of the same bloodline. It is that they act irrationally. And irrational behavior can produce some very difficult results.

When the Korean Peninsula was divided after World War II, with the communists running the northern half and the our allies running the southern half, the North decided it wanted all of it, so it invaded the South. It precipitated the Korean War that was joined by the U.S.-led force of United Nations troops; China eventually entered on the other side and about 50,000 U.S. servicemen were killed in the three years of warfare.

The shooting stopped with an armistice. North and South Korea never signed a peace treaty. The United States has retained a force of some 40,000 troops there, ready for anything.

North Korea now claims to have nuclear weapons. They also think they have missiles to deliver them. Maybe they do, or they don’t. But the U.S. understanding all along has been that any attack on our allies from North Korea would be seen as an attack on the United States.

Is there any question, then, about why the U.S. flew B-2 Stealth bombers near the 38th parallel recently just to give Kim Jong Un a tiny sample of what he would face if he launched an attack?

Kim’s regime may be secretive. He seems more than a little loopy. Kim, though, knows what awaits him if he does something he surely must know he’ll regret.

Our concern ought to be that he doesn’t care.

Joblessness up slightly in Texas … who gets blame?

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has been quite fond in recent times of touting his economic policies for putting Texans to work while so many Americans elsewhere were struggling to find jobs.

Now we hear that the jobless rate in Texas has ticked up a bit. Who is responsible for that? Is it even worth worrying about?


The national figures in recent years has shown unemployment at 7.6 to 8.5 percent. When it ticked up, we hear from President Obama’s critics that his policies are the reason Americans can’t find work. Chief among those critics has been Gov. Perry, who’s taken to trumpeting Texas’s low-tax, pro-business climate as a reason for businesses to relocate to the Lone Star State.

He’s right about the state’s pro-business environment. But the silence when not-so-good news arrives on our doorstep is equally instructive.

I must ask: If the feds deserve blame for the bad news, don’t they deserve credit for the good news? And if the state is going to take credit for its own good news, isn’t there room for criticism when the jobless rate goes in the wrong direction?

Just wondering …

Cheating is bad, but disappearing is worse

Mark Sanford is being called out on the infamous extramarital affair he had while serving as South Carolina’s Republican governor.

He now wants to return to Congress, representing his state in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he served before becoming governor. Sanford is facing Curtis Bostic in the state GOP primary runoff on Tuesday.

Bostic calls Sanford a “compromised candidate” because of his affair. I hereby submit that the affair – by itself – wasn’t Sanford’s worse transgression as a public official.


Yes, breaking his sacred marital vow is an egregious sin. He promised his wife, Jenny, to be faithful for as long as they both lived. He broke that promise. Shame on him for that.

But the worse thing he did was to disappear from public view for days. You’ll recall that over Mothers Day 2009 his publicly paid staff put the word out that he was “hiking the Appalachian Trail” when, in fact, he was way down yonder – in Argentina – cavorting with his mistress.

How does someone justify duping the public in such a manner? Whether he instructed his staff to lie to the public or whether he lied to his staff is immaterial. The fact is that Sanford broke the trust – not only of his wife – but of the public that paid his salary.

Either one of those foul-ups should be a deal breaker. But both of them? At the same time?

And to think this guy actually is favored to win that runoff next week. Incredible.

Senate is being run by tyrants

So … you thought the U.S. Senate was some sort of bastion of democracy, where elected representatives perform the will of the people?

Think again.

Five senators, all of them Republicans, have decided that the body shall not vote on whether to approve legislation that its sponsors think would curtail gun violence in the United States. And this procedural blockage is being done against the will of people who polls indicate support overwhelmingly a law that requires universal background checks on anyone seeking to purchase a firearm.

Some polls put that approval number at around 90 percent. President Obama said the other day that 90 percent is about as “close to unanimity” as you’ll get in this country on any issue.

But the Senate isn’t going to vote on this package because these five GOP yahoos won’t allow it. They are: Marco Rubio of Florida, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ted Cruz of Texas, Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma and Mike Lee of Utah. The first three are possible presidential candidates in 2016 and they are tea party golden boys. I don’t know much about Lee. Inhofe is just a contrarian.

The Filibustering Five are going to block with a procedural motion disguised as a filibuster, except they won’t block it using the talk-til-you-drop method, which Paul used to argue recently against U.S. drone policy. No, these guys just won’t allow a vote. The Democratic majority needs 60 votes to break the so-called filibuster, but they don’t have it. Thus, these five senators are going to stop the entire chamber from doing the people’s business.

I understand what’s going on. The National Rifle Association has argued forcefully – and apparently persuasively – against these limitations, even the universal background check provision, which the NRA used to support.

The NRA has targeted – no pun intended … really – lawmakers who oppose them on gun control. Members of the Senate are frightened at the political price they would pay if they support background checks or other sensible restrictions that do not violate the Constitution’s Second Amendment that guarantees Americans the right to “keep and bear arms.”

The issue really so much about whether gun-control legislation should become law. It’s about whether a small minority of lawmakers can gum up the legislative system the way it’s being done by these five nimrods. Senate rules allow them to do it. That is to the shame of the body and those run the place.

Barack Obama said during his State of the Union speech in January that the victims of gun violence “deserve a vote” on this legislation. The public agrees with him. The five senators who are blocking that effort need to listen to the public – not the deep-pocketed special interest group that has terrorized them.

Dr. Carson speaks, uh, inelegantly

Ben Carson is a brilliant neurosurgeon and medical professor. He’s also becoming a rising political star. But first, doc, you need to learn how to speak with nuance and precision.

He recently spoke with conservative commentator Sean Hannity about gay marriage. Dr. Carson opposes it, he says, for Biblical reasons.

Then he began to ramble a bit about gay marriage and, while stringing together a list of collective associations, said that marriage is a “a well-established, fundamental pillar of society and no group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA, be they people who believe in bestiality — it doesn’t matter what they are, they don’t get to change the definition.”


Critics jumped all over the good doctor, saying he was “equating” gay individuals with those who practice bestiality. He said his comments were “taken out of context.” I don’t know about the “context” argument, Dr. Carson. Those comments seem pretty self-evident to me.

But whether they reflect the view his critics contend they do or not, Carson could have been a bit more, shall we say, discreet in his comparisons. He could have stopped at “be they gays,” and called it good.

But he didn’t. He talked a little too freely with his pal Hannity.

Carson is being talked about now as a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2016. He has said he will consider it in due course, once he quits his medical practice, which he’s already said he’ll do.

A word of caution, doctor: This political world into which you may enter is full of traps, which politicians are known to spring all by themselves with their own careless utterances.

GOP rips congressman’s remarks

National Republican Party leaders are nothing if not astute observers of the political trends that have damaged their party’s brand.

Witness the instant – and welcomed – lambasting of U.S. Rep. Don Young’s racial slur against Mexican-Americans.


Young, an Alaska Republican and the second-most senior member of the House of Representatives, referred to migrant workers recently as “wetbacks” while recalling his childhood growing up in central California.

Speaker John Boehner called the remark “beneath the dignity” of Young’s office. Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus, according to The Hill, “sought to distance Young from his party,” which is trying desperately to build some kind of link with ethnic minorities, such as Hispanics who voted nearly 3-to-1 in favor of President Obama in last year’s presidential campaign.

“My father had a ranch. We used to have 50 to 60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes,” young told an Alaska radio station. “It takes two people to pick the same tomatoes now. It’s all done by machine.”

Young did apologize immediately for his remark. But it might not be enough to assuage the outward anger of Republican leaders who must be fuming at their colleague while they are trying to make inroads with the very people Young has just insulted.

“During a sit down interview with Ketchikan Public Radio this week, I used a term that was commonly used during my days growing up on a farm in central California. I know that this term is not used in the same way nowadays and I meant no disrespect,” Young said.

You know, the more I look at Young’s apology, the more it reads like one of those “If I offended anyone …” non-apologies.

Oh, the danger of speaking from one’s heart and mind.

End in sight for Perry era?

Alexander Burns, writing in Politico.com, posits an interesting theory about Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

The end of his political career may be at hand, given the absence of who he calls the “political knife fighters” who helped him become Texas’s longest-serving governor.


If only …

Perry’s spectacularly brief foray into national politics in late 2011 and early 2012 gave rise to a lot of questions about the product of Haskell County, Texas. Those questions centered on just how it is that he became such a political force in Texas while proving to be such a profound embarrassment beyond our state’s borders.

He entered the 2012 Republican primary contest and became an instant favorite to win his party’s nomination. But it all came crashing down in January 2012 when, after a series of amazing stumbles, gaffes and ghastly pronouncements, he dropped out of the contest.

Perry is now trying to decide whether run for an umpteenth term as governor and whether – and this one is beyond belief – whether he wants to make another run for president in 2016.

But as Burns points out, the hired hands who’ve been Perry’s brain trust have bailed on him. One of them, Burns reports, is former campaign manager Dave Carney, who reportedly has met with Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who’s considering a run for governor himself in 2014. He might even challenge Perry in the primary if Gov. Goodhair (to borrow the late columnist Molly Ivins’s legendary label) decides to seek another term.

I’m so hoping that Perry has had enough. He’s been governor long enough, since December 2000, when he succeeded George W. Bush after Bush’s election to the presidency. That’s 13-plus years.

I keep remembering the comments I heard from many of my Republican friends when Perry entered the 2012 GOP presidential primary campaign. They told me they were pulling for him to win the presidency “if only to get him out of Texas.”

And this, mind you, came from those who live and work in the heart of Rick Perry’s Republican base.

Divided government looms larger

I’m beginning to think the U.S. Senate Democratic majority is slipping away … and rapidly.

A number of Senate Democrats are announcing their retirements after the 2014 mid-term election. And a good number of those Democrats come from Republican-leading states. Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., was just the latest. He joins Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., in saying he won’t seek re-election next year. Plus, you have liberal lion Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, bailing out next year – but that seat could stay in Democratic hands if Republicans nominate one of their fruitcakes, such as Rep. Steve “Birther” King to run for the seat.

Other Democratic senators may be facing trouble in states such as Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina.


But the question is this: Is that a bad thing for the country? Possibly no.

I recall in 1995 when the entire Congress flipped from Democratic to Republican control, while the White House remained in Democratic hands. Bill Clinton, who had been elected president two years earlier, learned quickly to work with Republican leaders in both congressional houses and managed to craft some good legislation into law involving welfare reform and tax policy.

If the Senate flips next year and the GOP holds its House majority, that will leave President Obama with the prospect of dealing even more directly with the “loyal opposition.” Can he do it? Will he do it? Like all second-term presidents, Barack Obama is hoping to build a legacy and that must mean finding even more ways to compromise.

Republicans already have shown their hand. They ain’t in the mood for compromise and with a stronger legislative position possible after 2014, they’ll dig in their heels even more.

Obama has several templates from which to work. The Clinton model is one. So, too, is the one that Republican George W. Bush faced when he became Texas governor in 1995, He had a Democratic majority in both legislative chambers but found a way to work hand in hand with a crusty Democratic lieutenant governor, the late Bob Bullock, and Democratic House Speaker Pete Laney, a son of the Texas Panhandle.

The Democrats’ political hand in D.C., though, isn’t looking so strong these days as we move toward the next off-year elections. President Obama had better start planning now for ways to turn bad political news into a positive policy development.

So much for all for one

CNN has been all over a story regarding the May 2011 commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

It involves an apparent dispute over which of the SEALs fired the shots that took out the world’s most notorious terrorist.


Perhaps the most amazing aspect of this story is that it’s even taking place. Whatever happened to espirit de corps? We are now being treated to an exhibition of dueling accounts regarding the top-secret mission by a team of the world’s most elite fighting units. Frankly, I find the whole thing disgraceful.

Bin Laden’s death was conducted in the dead of night by a combined force of Navy SEALs, CIA operatives and Army Special Forces pilots. I always had understood that the men who took part in that raid lived by a code, that the team did the job and that none of them would take individual credit for firing the fatal shots.

Indeed, a lengthy article in The New Yorker not long after the raid told of President Obama’s visit with SEAL Team 6 at Fort Campbell, Ky., and how the men who met the president wouldn’t tell him who did the deed. The story told of how the Secret Service advised the president not to ask the question. He didn’t. Instead, he thanked every member of the team collectively for completing the harrowing mission successfully.

Now comes a member of the SEAL team saying in a recently published book that he fired the shot that killed bin Laden. Others are disputing the claim, saying that someone else did it.

As much as I would love one day to shake the hand of the man who put bin Laden out of our misery, there are some things none of us needs to know.

All that matters is Osama bin Laden is dead. Each of the SEALs who stormed bin Laden’s residence is a hero.

Not a real Longhorn?

I might have a theory on why the University of Texas System regents can’t keep their hands off UT-Austin’s administrative tasks.

Could it be that the guy who runs the system’s flagship campus, Bill Powers, isn’t a true-blue Longhorn?

I looked it up. Powers received his undergraduate degree in chemistry from the University of California-Berkeley. He then earned his law degree from Harvard University. Both are fine institutions, two of the best in the world. However, it now seems that the regents – who are tasked with setting broad university policy – can’t seem to quit meddling in what ought to be Powers’s administrative purview.

Down the road, in College Station, the Texas A&M University System is being run by a bona fide Aggie, former Texas Comptroller/Railroad Commissioner/state Sen. John Sharp. I guess Sharp is fluent in Aggiespeak, enabling him to avoid the trouble that has befallen Powers over at UT-Austin.

I think the Dallas Morning News editorial board has it right in calling for the UT regents to let the man do his job.


I realize that Sharp’s role as A&M chancellor is a bit different from Powers’s role as president of the UT-Austin campus. They don’t share the same standing on their respective systems’ organizational charts.

But they both have key administrative roles to play in each institution.

My own advice to the UT board? Butt out.