Like a rotten mackerel ...

Published by James O'Toole on .

                                                   By James M. Perry

David Brat, the right-wing economist from Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va., not far from Richmond, who defeated Eric Cantor, No. 2 Republican in the House in one of the greatest primary upsets in American history, will run this fall against another professor from tiny Randolph-Macon, Jack Trammell. 

Not many people know very much about 50-year-old Jack Trammell, who teaches sociology at Randolph-Macon, an old school (founded in 1830 by Methodists), but presumably he's a reasonably moderate Democrat who never actually believed he had any sort of chance to defeat Cantor and take his seat in the House. Now, he may believe he has an opening, a very slight one, against David Brat. 

It is only fitting that Brat, who is 49, teaches at Randolph-Macon, with its tiny student body of 1,300 men and women, for it is named for two of the 19th Century's most famous political cranks, John Randolph of Roanoke and Nathaniel Macon of North Carolina. They both served in the House and the Senate and supported many of the same causes that motivate tea-party Republicans, such as Brat, today.  

Randolph and Macon were both "Quids," (from the Latin, Tertium quid, meaning "a third something"), a right-wing, tea party-like faction within the Democratic-Republican party that was dedicated to shrinking the federal government. Quids believed, Randolph said, in "love of peace; hatred of offensive war; jealousy of the state government toward the general government; a dread of standing armies; a loathing of public debts, taxes, and excises; and Argus-eyed jealously of the patronage of the President."

"The old Republican Party," he said (meaning the party of Thomas Jefferson), "is already ruined, past redemption."   

He had a nasty tongue, perhaps inspired by smoking opium and guzzling corn whiskey. His opponent, Edward Livingston, he said, "shines and stinks, like a rotten mackerel by moonlight." I doubt today's demagogues could top that. 

Randolph, if nothing else, was an intriguing, eccentric character, claiming descent from the Indian princess Pocahontas.  He stipulated in his will that his slaves -- he owned hundreds of them -- should be freed upon his death, and he provided money for them to settle in Ohio. 

Macon, the sixth Speaker of the House, was a slave-owning tobacco farmer, just like Randolph, but on a much smaller scale. He would have been an almost perfect match for today's tea-party Republicans, for he didn't trust the federal government and opposed spending money to support it. One of his contemporaries said that during his years in the House Macon cast ten times the number of negative votes as his closest negative-minded colleague. "Negation was his ward and arm," one of them said. "His economy of the public money was the severest, sharpest, most stringent and constant refusal of almost any grant that could be proposed.  Not only was parsimony the best subsidy, but the only one."  

I simply can't pass up one story about Nathaniel Macon. It is said that he fell in love with Hannah Plummer, only to discover the young lady fancied another young man as well. Macon proposed the two rivals for Miss Plummer's hand play cards, the winner to take the hand of Miss Plummer. Macon, it is said, lost, but married Miss Plummer anyway. 

I feel certain that Randolph-Macon College's David Brat, heir to those two grand old cranks, would appreciate what Randolph said about John Quincy Adams. "It is my duty to leave nothing undone that I may lawfully do, to pull down this administration."   


So much for unity

Published by James O'Toole on .

On the Friday after Tom Wolf's big May 20 win in the Democratic primary for governor, he joined his fellow candidates and other members of the party hierarchy in a "unity breakfast'' hosted by U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, the Philadelphia Party chairman.

Among the party honchos chowing down at a South Philadelphia diner were Katie McGinty, one of Mr. Wolf's vanquished primary rivals, and James Burn, the state Democratic Committee chairman.   Their unity didn't last long.

On Wednesday, Mr. Wolf sent an email to the Democratic committee members announcing his support for Ms. McGinty as chair, and state Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Hill District, as vice chair of the party organization.  Ms. McGinty sent a separate email announcing her candidacy and expressing her eagerness to work with the committee members, who are elected from state Senate districts across the commonwealth.  The offices will be on the ballot at the DSC's summer meeting next week.  Mr. Burn isn't ready to go quietly, however.

He said yesterday that he thought the last four years were successful ones for the party organization.  Despite Mr. Wolf's preference, he said he planned to fight for re-election with his committee colleages.  The North Side Democrat, a former member of the Allegheny County Council, said that while he admired and supported Mr. Wolf as a candidate for governor, he would frame his re-election bid as a vehicle for the committee's grass roots to make their choice.  


Toomey backs bipartisan VA fix

Published by Tracie Mauriello on .

Last week Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey introduced a bill aimed at resolving systemic problems that led to long wait times at medical facilities run by the Veterans Administration, but today he instead threw his weight behind a different bipartisan VA-fix sponsored by Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders and Arizona Republican John McCain.

The Sanders-McCain bill includes a central provision of the Toomey plan – one that would make it easier to fire VA staffers for wrongdoing.

The bipartisan effort also would provide funding to open 26 additional medical facilities in 18 states where veterans had been waiting months for appointments, and Mr. Toomey, a fiscal conservative, says he can get behind that, too. While those facilities are being constructed the bill would require the federal government to pay non-VA providers to care for veterans who otherwise would have to wait more than 14 days for an appointment or who live more than 40 miles from a VA facility.

Lawmakers attention is on the centers because of revelations at VA employees were falsifying records to conceal long wait lists.

The House on Tuesday approved its own fix but it is unclear whether Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, will allow a vote in his chamber.

“Our veterans deserve solutions, not more partisanship in Washington,” Mr. Toomey said Monday in announcing he would support the Sanders-McCain bill.

“I have said repeatedly that the VA secretary should be able to fire employees whose job performance is unsatisfactory. I have also long held that vets should have the option to obtain care from a private-sector health care provider,” Mr. Toomey said in a written statement. “While this bill is not perfect, I appreciate that these two reforms have been included and am pleased to join Sens. Sanders and McCain.”


Regiments and history

Published by James O'Toole on .

                                                        By James M. Perry
Bowe Bergdahl, recently repatriated from Afghanistan, served at the time he fell into the Taliban's hands in June of 2009 as a private first class in the Second Platoon, Blackfoot Company, First Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment. The platoon, the New York Times reported Sunday, was "raggedy," without explaining just what it meant by that.  Soldiers in the platoon -- about 42 of them, normally -- did, the story says, wear bandanas and T-shirts.
The Times report, by Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Eric Schmitt, says "an internal Army investigation into the episode concluded that the platoon suffered from lapses in discipline and security" in the period before Sergeant Bergdahl disappeared into isolated Paktika Province (he was promoted to sergeant while in enemy hands).  
The platoon, probably a little raggedy to begin with, "was sent to a remote location with too few troops to seriously confront an increasingly aggressive insurgency, which controlled many villages in the region."  It was lonely, dangerous work, and the platoon commander, probably a second lieutenant, "less than inspiring," was relieved weeks into the deployment and replaced by the platoon's top sergeant, but he too was relieved when Army brass was shown photos of his soldiers in those non-regulation bandannas and T-shirts.
It seems to have been the kind of standard SNAFU that has bedeviled every army in history at one time or another -- incompetent generals, poorly disciplined troops, lax security.

The 501st Regiment was not an elite unit. It is, in fact, a little difficult to say exactly what it is. The First Battalion, supposedly, is located in Fort Richardson, Alaska, and is part of the 25th Infantry Division, with headquarters in the Schofield Barracks in Hawaii, made famous in James Jones's classic novel, “From Here to Eternity.’’  The division's Second Battalion, for reasons known only to the Army, is assigned to the 82d Airborne Division. During World War II and the war in Vietnam, the 501st was part of the 101st Airborne.
The problem with so many units in the American army is that their histories are so convoluted that it is almost impossible to develop unit cohesion or unit morale.  
One of my favorite Army regiments is the 164th, activated early in World War II from the North Dakota National Guard. The regiment showed up in New Caledonia to join two other National Guard regiments and win designation as the Americal Division. Early on, its National Guard commanding officer was replaced by Colonel Bryant E. Moore, a West Pointer, and a first-class soldier. The 164th arrived on Guadalcanal ahead of the rest of the division in October of 1942 and was soon fighting side by side with exhausted Marines.
The Marines were so impressed they called the unit the 164th Marines, and one of its battalion commanders was awarded a Navy Cross.
So what happened to the glorious 164th? It was de-activated from federal service and reassigned to the North Dakota National Guard.  It seems to me outstanding units such as the 164th should be treasured by the Army, not routinely deactivated.
Great Britain has done a lot scaling back the size of its army in recent years, but it has kept at least a vestige of its old regiments. There is, for example, only one Scottish regiment these days, the Royal Regiment of Scotland, but its battalions carry the names of Scotland's old regiments. The legendary Black Watch, for example, is now the Royal Regiment's Third Battalion. The Royal Regiment has its own band, its own distinctive uniform, its own Parachute Display Team, and (according to Wikipedia) its own Scots Shinty Club that plays a game somewhat akin to field hockey.
Britain's oldest regiment, the Coldstream Guards, has been in continuous service in the British army since 1650.
Sergeant Bergdahl's 501st Regiment was activated in 1942, disbanded in 1945, activated in 1946, inactivated in 1948, activated in 1951, deactivated in 1954, and activated in bits and pieces ever since. That's no way to run an army.

James M. Perry, a prominent veteran political reporter, is contributing regular observations for Mr. Perry was the chief political correspondent of The Wall Street Journal until his retirement. Prior to that, he covered national politics for the Dow Jones weekly, The National Observer.


Clinton strong in Pa 2016 polls

Published by James O'Toole on .

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s potential presidential candidacy attracted strong support from Pennsylvania voters in two early tests of the speculative 2016 field.
She was the overwhelming choice of the state’s Democratic voters as their nominee in a survey by Public Policy Polling, and she topped every Republican candidate tested in separate trial heats conducted by PPP, and the Quinnipiac University poll.

Despite the controversy over his associates’s roles in the notorious George Washington Bridge lane closings, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie won the most support among GOP voters although no Republican enjoyed the dominant position of the former First Lady.

President Barack Obama, who twice captured the state’s electoral votes by big margins, may be glad not to have to face the state’s voters a third time. In the Quinnipiac University survey, only 44 percent of the state’s voters approved of the way he is handling his job, while 53 percent disapproved. There was a predictable Republican-Democratic contrast in views of the president, but a strong majority of independents, who broke his way in 2008 and 20012 in Pennsylvania, expressed disapproval, by a margin of 63 percent to 32 percent.

The state’s U.S. senators, Democrat Bob Casey and Republican Pat Toomey, received middling grades from the voters. Mr. Casey’s approval rating was 44 percent, while 27 percent disapproved. Mr. Toomey, whose seat will be on the 2016 ballot, got a positive rating of 41 percent, with 27 percent disapproving.