Tag Archives: Charlie Wilson

Firepower galore

Just how much firepower has the U.S. Navy assembled off the coast of Israel to aid that country in its fight against the terrorist cabal called Hamas?

The skipper of a nuclear-powered aircraft once told a visiting party off the California coast — of which I was a member — the amount of juice contained in a single carrier battle group.

Navy Capt. John Payne commanded the USS Carl Vinson in the early 1990s when I and several others joined the late U.S. Rep. Charles Wilson for a factfinding tour of the ship. Wilson, an East Texas Democrat, wanted to tour the Vinson and express his unwavering support for the men and women who defend this country from its enemy.

Payne told us that a single battle group — comprising an aircraft carrier, several cruisers, frigates, destroyers, submarines — contains more “explosive firepower” than all the bombs dropped in all the theaters of operation during World War II, which ran from 1939 until 1945.

The Navy has deployed two such battle groups: the USS Gerald R. Ford and the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower.

I cannot fathom either of these groups firing all its ordnance on targets inside Gaza. Still, I trust the terrorists know the dire peril they face if they refuse to cease their hideous acts against civilians.

Recalling an expert on Afghanistan

Charles Nesbitt Wilson’s name isn’t likely to pique many people’s interest.

If you say “Good Time Charlie,” or just plain ol’ “Charlie Wilson,” then we’re talking. I am thinking of Charlie Wilson today as the nation watches its longest war end in Afghanistan.

U.S. Rep. Charlie Wilson was a Texas Democrat and a bona fide expert on Afghanistan, its politics, its people and its struggles against foreign powers. He died in February 2010 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

I knew Wilson because of my work from 1984 until 1995 as editorial page editor of the Beaumont Enterprise. Wilson represented the Second Congressional District, which at the time included vast stretches of Deep East Texas territory where the newspaper circulated. Thus, he was one of our sources for issues relating to Congress. He and I knew each other well. I respected him greatly; I hope he thought well of the work I did on behalf of our readers.

Before he died, and before he retired from Congress in 1996, Wilson spent much of his career in public life seeking federal assistance to fighters seeking to rid themselves of Soviet domination of Afghanistan.

Wilson rode donkeys through the Khyber Pass with fighters who — regrettably — became the precursors to al-Qaeda. They were called the mujahadeen. They wrote a book and later produced a film called “Charlie Wilson’s War”; indeed, Wilson told me he was thrilled to be portrayed by Tom Hanks in the title role.

In the days after 9/11, I called Wilson at his East Texas home to get his reaction to what happened to us on that terrible day. We spoke for a long time over the phone and Wilson warned me at the time that we were in for the fight of our lives if we chose to go to war in Afghanistan. He knew of which he spoke. He sought congressional aid for the fighters doing battle against Soviet soldiers who invaded their country to prop up the Marxist government.

What might he say about the end of our war in Afghanistan? I am guessing he wouldn’t be shy about saying something like: I told you so. I told you it would be a hard fight. I told you that the Taliban wouldn’t just surrender and disappear from face of the planet.

Charlie Wilson wasn’t particularly bashful about imparting the knowledge he accrued over his years in Congress. I bear him no ill will. As far as Afghanistan is concerned, Rep. Wilson earned the right to rub our noses in it.


Tom Hanks: Man of many IDs

Tom Hanks has become the go-to actor to portray historical — even iconic — figures.

I heard today he’s been cast in the role of Fred “Mister” Rogers in a new biopic that tells the story of how the late Presbyterian minister rose to fame as a children’s storyteller.

It’s clear to me that Hanks has emerged as the preeminent male actor of our time, or perhaps of any time.

Look at the record.

The guy has won two best-actor Oscars. Back to back!

Get a load of this, too: He’s portrayed the late U.S. Rep. Charles Wilson, with whom I became acquainted while covering him in East Texas; Chesley “Sulley” Sullenberger, the “hero of the Hudson River,” the jetliner captain who made that astonishing landing in New York — on the water; the late Ben Bradlee, the famed editor of The Washington Post; Jim Lovell, the commander of Apollo 13, the space flight known for the dramatic rescue of the three-man crew after an in-flight explosion on its way to the moon.

I spoke with Rep. Wilson not long after the 9/11 attack. I called him for some perspective on al-Qaeda, given that he worked to supply arms to the mujahadeen in their fight against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Wilson was damn-near giddy at the news that Tom Hanks had agreed to portray “Good Time Charlie” in the film titled “Charlie Wilson’s War.”

I never met Bradlee and I don’t know Lovell or Sulley.

Still … I give Hanks huge props for landing this opportunity to portray yet another American icon.

I am sure Mister Rogers would applaud this bit of casting.

C-SPAN worked miracles with this spot


I want to share a moment regarding my one direct contact with the Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network . . . aka C-SPAN.

I’ve already sung the praises of Brian Lamb, the founder of the one national network that covers politics and policy without a hint of bias.

Take another look.

But the folks who put together their video presentations are masters of editing, cutting, pasting and making subjects look a whole lot smarter than they really are. In my case, that’s not all that difficult.

I arrived in the Texas Panhandle in January 1995 to take my post as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News.

That spring, C-SPAN embarked on a project called the “School Bus Tour.” It was sending a yellow bus to every congressional district in the United States. All 435 of them would get a visit from the C-SPAN school bus. Its intent was to educate viewers on the members of Congress representing their constituents living in each of those districts.

The 1991 Texas Legislature had gerrymandered the congressional map in Texas to give Amarillo two House members. The 13th Congressional District comprised the northern portion of the city; the 19th District comprised the southern portion.

The lines were drawn that way to protect the Democrat — Bill Sarpalius — who represented the 13th District. Democrats controlled the Legislature back then, so they sought to rig the lineup to protect their own. The tactic worked until the 1994 election, when Republican Mac Thornberry upset Sarpalius.

But the 19th District remained strongly Republican and was represented by U.S. Rep. Larry Combest of Lubbock.

C-SPAN called one day and wanted to know if I would be willing to be interviewed by the network about the 19th District. I was to talk about Combest and the district he had represented for the past decade.

Holy crap! I thought. I didn’t know much about the district, or about Combest. I was brand new here. I’d lived for the 11 previous years in the Golden Triangle region of Texas, which was represented in the House by Democrats Jack Brooks of Beaumont and Charlie Wilson of Lufkin.

I accepted the offer, then cracked the books to learn more about the 19th Congressional District and about Rep. Combest.

C-SPAN’s school bus crew met me at the newspaper office one Saturday morning and I talked for about 30 minutes or so with a camera rolling. I stuttered, stammered, paused, stopped-and-started my way through it. Hey, I’m not a TV guy.

I was frightened by the prospect of how it would look on TV. The producer assured me, “Don’t worry. You did just fine. We’ll take good care of you.”

Well, they shot their B-roll video, showing scenes of feed lots, ranch land, wind mills and such from around the sprawling district, which stretched from Amarillo all the way to Lubbock, about 120 miles south of us.

They told me when the segment would air.

I waited for it. Sure enough, they managed to make me sound a whole lot more polished than I really am.

What’s more — and this is the real beauty of this kind of skill — they preserved the essence of every comment I made. There was not a single phrase that was airedĀ during the three-minute segment that was out of context or didn’t convey my intended message.

I would have a similar experience later, during the 2008 presidential campaign, with National Public Radio. NPR wanted to interview two journalists about the state of that campaign between Barack Obama and John McCain. I learned once again about the talent and skill it takes to edit someone’s spoken words while preserving the integrity of what one says.

Believe me, it’s a remarkable skill, indeed.


Did Obama have a hand in North Korea blackout?

North Korea’s Internet service went dark for nine hours on Monday.

President Obama had threatened to retaliate against the nutty nation after he reportedly hacked into Sony Pictures’ email service to get back at the company for a film depicting the attempted killing of North Korean loony dictator Kim Jong-Un.

Did the president order the Internet attack on the communists? He’s not saying. Nor should he.

It reminds me a bit of something that occurred in the early 1990s. It involvedĀ a veteran member of Congress and an overly zealous challenger.

The congressman was the late Democratic incumbentĀ Charlie Wilson of Lufkin. The challenger was a Republican former Army officer named Donna Peterson of Orange.

Peterson began running some highly negative campaign ads criticizing Wilson for his lifestyle, which included Wilson’s enjoying the company of lovely women. Wilson acknowledged his lifestyle. Indeed, he once said his East Texas constituents were proud of him for it, saying they didn’t want to be represented “by a constipated hound dog.”

Wilson came to the Beaumont Enterprise, where I worked at the time, and told us that he “never initiated” a negative campaign, but said if Peterson persisted, he’d be prepared to “respond accordingly.” She kept up the attack.

Shortly after that visit, an audio cassette arrived at the newspaper. It contained a recording of Peterson — who was campaigning as a high-minded, morally righteous individual — arguing with her married campaign finance manager over his refusal to divorce his wife and marry her, the candidate. The only conclusion one could draw was that the two of them were having an affair.

We asked Wilson point-blank: Did you record this telephone conversation? He denied having any “direct knowledge” of it.

Did we believe the congressman —Ā who at the time served on the House Select Committee on Intelligence? Well, what do you think?

Still, he ended up trouncing his opponent, who hasn’t been seen or heard from since.

The Internet blackout kind of has the same feel —Ā to me, at least —Ā as the mystery tape that materialized in the heat of a negative campaign for Congress.

HRC's second-most surprising comment …

Having already declared surprise that the Benghazi flap would encourage Hillary Clinton to run for president, I’ve found perhaps the second-most interesting thing she said in that TV interview that aired Monday night.

It’s what she didn’t say.


ABC News’s Diane Sawyer asked Clinton about a comment she made about Monica Lewinsky — you remember, yes? — in which she was quoted as calling “that woman” a “narcissistic loony tune.” Clinton’s response? “I am not going to comment on what I said or didn’t say in the late 1990s,” she said.

There it is. She said it.

Frankly, I have to agree with that description … not that it excuses her husband’s behavior, and that’s all I’ll say about that.

Sawyer then noted that Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has said that the Lewinsky scandal that resulted in the impeachment of President Clinton is fair game if Hillary Clinton runs for president in two years.

“You know, he can talk about what he wants to talk about. And if he decides to run, heā€™ll be fair game too for everybody,” she said. I’m reminded a bit of what the late U.S. Rep. Charlie Wilson, D-Lufkin, once said about an opponent who kept bringing up negative aspects of Wilson’s admittedly flamboyant lifestyle. “I have never initiated a negative campaign,” Wilson told me, “but if my opponent keeps saying those things, I’ll be prepared to respond.” Brother, did he ever.

Message to Sen. Paul? Be very careful if you intend to go there.

Charlie ‘did it,’ all right


My brother-in-law posted this picture from the Texas State Cemetery.

It speaks to the courage of someone I used to know fairly well, but in a mostly professional way. The late Charles Wilson was an East Texas congressman whose district was part of the region our newspaper circulated back in the old days.

He was a tiger, a fierce defender of freedom against tyranny. He had his flaws, such as his partying ways — but he never apologized publicly for the lifestyle he led.

When he wasn’t carousing — which occupied little of his time — he served his Second Congressional District constituents honorably. He also was a friend of the Afghan freedom fighters known back in those days as the mujahedeen. They were the ferocious partisans who fought the Red Army that had invaded Afghanistan in 1979. Charlie saw it as his mission to arm the mujahedeen with modern weapons, Stinger missiles the fighters could use to shoot down Soviet helicopters.

Wilson persuaded his colleagues in the House of Representatives to pony up the money to pay for the weapons.

The weaponry worked. The Soviets were driven out of Afghanistan. Two years after their defeat, the Soviet Union vanished from the face of the planet.

Charlie Wilson was one of those Texas Democrats who managed to work across the aisle with his Republican colleagues. In this polarized era today, it’s not likely Wilson could get nominated by his own party any more than a moderate Republican can get elected from within his or her own party.

But guys like Charlie knew how to legislate. They knew how government worked.

Charlie Wilson died in 2010. The more I see the dysfunction that passes for government today in Washington, the more I miss him.