Now the fun really begins

Texas Gov. Rick Perry cannot get enough rowdiness in the Legislature, which must be his rationale for calling a second special session as the state is still reeling from the near-brawl in the Texas Senate this week.

The second special session gets under way July 1, the day Perry is supposed to reveal his future political plans.

“Texans value life and want to protect women and the unborn. Texans want a transportation system that keeps them moving. Texans want a court system that is fair and just. We will not allow the breakdown of decorum and decency to prevent us from doing what the people of this state hired us to do,” Perry said in calling legislators back to work.

There you have it. Abortion, transportation and the courts will be on the agenda.

I have to differ with one of the governor’s points. “Texans value life and want to protect women and the unborn,” Perry said. I’ll agree with him as far as that statement goes. I do not believe Texans want legislators to enact punitive legislation that makes abortion a criminal act. Texans have joined the rest of America in supporting a woman’s right to reproductive independence. Yet, Perry is listening to the conservative base within his party by demanding the Legislature mandate a law that tells a woman she must carry a pregnancy to full term.

The filibuster – led by state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth – that brought the previous special session to a raucous end on Tuesday is going to commence once the defeated abortion bill hits the Senate floor. Also, look for the crowds to return to the Senate gallery – once they catch their breath from all the yelling they did to disrupt the proceedings the other day.

Here’s hoping they return in full-throated form to stop this punitive bill.

Abortion bill talked to death … good deal

Wendy Davis has become the new poster child for women’s reproductive rights.

I trust the Fort Worth Democratic state senator will wear the label proudly – as she should.

Davis talked a punitive abortion bill to death overnight, filibustering Texas Senate Bill 5 past the time it could become law.

The special session of the Texas Legislature had been called to repair the state’s congressional and redistricting issue, but was expanded to include abortion restrictions when Gov. Rick Perry added that poison pill to the session’s call.

SB 5 would have made any abortion past the 20th week of pregnancy illegal. Many observers have labeled the bill the toughest in the nation. It would have required doctors who perform abortions to have hospital admitting privileges within 30 miles of an abortion clinic and would have required doctors to administer abortion-inducing drugs.

What makes Davis’s victory so interesting is that she filibustered the bill the old-fashioned way. She stood on the Senate floor and talked for 13 hours. Some Senate Republicans tried to rule her out of order because – and this is rich – she was reading a prepared document instead of speaking extemporaneously. This was no procedural filibuster. Davis talked and talked and talked.

The filibuster drew national attention, with the proceedings being broadcast live into homes all across the land.

My applause at the end – for now – of Senate Bill 5 is not an endorsement of abortion. It is an endorsement instead of preserving a woman’s right to make this difficult decision rather than criminalizing it.

Sen. Davis and her Texas Democratic colleagues have performed a valuable public service.

And if you thought the session in the Texas Senate chamber was raucous, just wait to see what happens if Rick Perry calls yet another special session to try to ram this legislation into law.

Snowden has done his country wrong

I keep resisting the urge to call Edward Snowden a traitor to his country, or otherwise convicting him before he’s even been tried in a courtroom.

Still, I cannot stop believing that the former National Security Agency employee has committed some serious wrongdoing by leaking national security secrets. He’s on the lam, apparently hiding in a transit room at Moscow’s airport. The Russians say they won’t extradite him to the United States.

This young man is in serious trouble and is seeking asylum, reportedly, in Ecuador, a country run by a government with a known hatred toward the media – to whom Snowden leaked the secrets.

This story is giving me a slight case of heartburn, but it’s relenting somewhat as I’m finally believing that Snowden, at minimum, violated an oath he took when he went to work for NSA. The oath no doubt called for a vow of confidentiality, that he would protect the secrets to which he had access.

Has this fellow committed an act of treason? A court ought to determine whether he’s guilty of the espionage for which the government has charged him.

Edward Snowden is no hero, despite what some on the left suggest. He’s accused of committing several serious crimes against the nation. He needs to be brought home to stand trial, where he can mount whatever defense he has in a public courtroom.

Conservatives have their own judicial activists

My friend and columnist Rick Horowitz noted this morning on Facebook that he’s awaiting “conservative outrage over activist judges” overturning a federal law that had the full approval of Congress.

The outrage, were it to come, would be in response to the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision overturning a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The anger, of course, won’t come from the right side of the political aisle. Conservative judicial activism doesn’t count in conservative political circles. Activist judges in that context are, um, “following the law.”

The court said in its narrow ruling that Congress now must revise the law to ensure that it measures up to constitutional scrutiny.

The court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which sets a government formula for determining which states and counties are subject to continued federal oversight. The country has changed and the formula is now unworkable, said Chief Justice John Roberts in his majority opinion.

Horowitz’s point, though, is an interesting one. Congress enacted the law 48 years ago after vigorous national debate. There were no hidden agendas or secret provisions. It said the law is firm and should be obeyed. Now, nearly five decades later, a new court has said the law no longer applies. The court, in effect, has written a new law from the bench.

Isn’t that the kind of activism that gets righties all riled up? Don’t they bristle when liberal judges interpret the law in such broad terms?

Where, indeed, is the outrage now?

Face of Texas is changing

Heard an interesting anecdote this morning. It goes something like this:

According to an out-of-town Texas journalist who was visiting Amarillo, the fastest-growing demographic group in the Texas Panhandle happens to be Latinos, the very folks who tend to vote Democratic. This journalist (who shall remain unidentified because he doesn’t know I’m writing about our conversation) said he heard it from a former senior member of the Texas House of Representatives.

What does this mean? It means that over time this staunchly Republican region is slated for some major changes. They won’t occur during the next election cycle, or even one or two after that. It’ll take some time because that particular demographic doesn’t vote in huge numbers the way, say, Anglo voters do.

The change that’s occurring here, as told to me, mirrors what’s happening in many other areas of the state. It’s also the kind of change that excited up-and-coming Democrats who are beginning to see a glimmer of hope that they make Texas a competitive two-party state.

I’m not yet holding my breath for that to occur. The next election cycle, in 2014, is likely to produce another Republican sweep of statewide offices. I’ll be watching, though, for the percentages rolled up by the winning GOP candidates and will look for any narrowing of the gap.

If Democrats can become competitive in races they used to surrender to Republicans, then I could become a believer in the impending demographic change in Texas.

When that change occurs, a lot of die-hard Panhandle Republicans are certain to suffer from some serious apoplexy.

Ban fireworks … period

I’m kind of a stick in the mud on this one.

Amarillo’s city ordinances prohibit the use of fireworks within the city limits. Good deal. Amarillo Police Cpl. Jerry Neufeld advises those who wish to pop them off during the Fourth of July celebration to take their fireworks into the unincorporated areas.

My reaction? The counties should ban them too, at least during this season of extreme drought.

The counties already have imposed – and then lifted – burn bans. First they’re on, then they’re off, depending on the amount of moisture we get from the sky. Personally, I’d rather see Randall and Potter counties impose uniform burn bans, keep them in place until we get substantial rainfall; and by substantial, I’m talking several inches, maybe 4 or 5 inches at a single dousing.

The same principle can apply to fireworks bans.

The practice of lighting off Roman candles or whatever rocket-launched fireworks is fraught with danger even without the threat of fire should something go terribly wrong. I won’t go so far as to call for their permanent ban. However, in this time of drought – the recent rain and hail notwithstanding – the exploding of fireworks is at the very least a foolish act.

The rain will come again … eventually. Until it does, keep the fireworks bottled up.

Snowden journey riddled with irony

I’m beginning to understand the term “irony” a bit more as I watch Edward Snowden’s attempt to escape the long of U.S. law.

Snowden is being charged with espionage in relation to his release of classified information from National Security Agency files. Snowden once worked for the NSA. Thus, he broke an oath he took to protect national security secrets, correct?

He claims to have done it in the interest of full disclosure, free speech and all that kind of thing.

But get this. Where has this man gone to escape the feds’ clutches?

Hong Kong, which is part of the People’s Republic of China; Moscow, the capital of the one-time Evil Empire, which has turned into a country, Russia, that doesn’t provide its citizens nearly the freedom that we enjoy here; he’s asking for asylum in Ecuador, another country hardly known for its freedom; and he’s now reportedly seeking entry into Cuba, one of two Marxist states in the Western Hemisphere.

What do all these places have in common? One thing that comes to mind is that if Snowden were a citizen of any of these countries, he would be arrested, locked up, tried, convicted and possibly executed for his crimes.

Ironic, don’t you think?

One of the greats is about to leave us

I am quite uneasy about writing a remembrance of someone who’s still with us.

But when Nelson Mandela’s daughter describes her father as being “at peace,” I translate that to mean the end is near.

A sad day for the world lies just ahead.

The former South African president and one-time political prisoner ranks at the top of the 20th century’s greatest figures. He withstood 27 years of prison, locked up by a government that accused him of treason merely for demanding equal rights for the country’s black population; I won’t call them “citizens” because until apartheid fell in 1990, they didn’t enjoy the rights of citizenship.

Mandela walked out of prison in 1990 free, proud and remarkably lacking in outward bitterness. Why be bitter? he asked rhetorically. To harbor anger and hatred toward his captors would be to deny the victory he had just won, Mandela said.

He went on to become the country’s first black president in 1994 and became arguably the world’s most overpowering presence.

Apartheid – the doctrine of separate and unequal societies in South Africa – became the bane of that country’s existence and Mandela became its most famous foe.


At the risk of sounding like a name-dropper, I’m going to tell of a brief moment I enjoyed being in Mandela’s presence. We didn’t speak. We didn’t shake hands. He didn’t even know I was in the same room with him.

It occurred in 2004 at the International Conference on AIDS, which took place in Bangkok, Thailand. Mandela was there to take up the cause for research into tuberculosis and other communicable diseases; Mandela contracted TB while in prison. I was in Bangkok as part of a delegation of editorial writers and editors on a three-nation tour examining the impact of AIDS in Asia. Our journey also would take us to Cambodia and India.

Conference organizers scheduled a brief public appearance by the great man in a meeting room. He would enter the room, speak for a few moments and then would leave. There would be no questions. What’s more, we were told, there should be no flashbulbs, as Mandela’s eyes were extremely sensitive to the light, given all the years he lived in total darkness while in prison. Of course, the nimrods in the room didn’t hear the no-flashbulb warning.

He entered the room. I stood in a crowd of other journalists about 40 feet away from him. I’ve had trouble over the years trying to describe the what it’s like to see someone who embodies such strength and character in the flesh. Words really do fail me. Suffice to say that Nelson Mandela, who isn’t a physically imposing man, simply took command of the entire room. I suspect he could have walked into a packed football stadium and had precisely the same impact on that crowd as he did on the gaggle of reporters packed into the meeting space.

Mandela spoke for about 10 minutes. Then he left. I stood there utterly mesmerized by what I had just witnessed. I cannot remember if others in the room felt the same way, as my mind was too busy trying to take it all in.

This great man was frail then. He needed assistance walking to and from the podium. His power, though, transcended any physical infirmity.

I am thinking that power will live well past Nelson Mandela’s time on Earth.

Immigration reform needs to occur

The momentum to approve immigration reform is taking on the characteristics of a runaway train.

U.S. Senate Democrats believe they have more than 60 votes to approve it, saying in fact that it might get 70 votes. That would mean fairly sweeping bipartisan support in the upper congressional chamber. It also would put enormous pressure on the Republican-controlled House of Representatives to follow suit, or else face the wrath of millions of people, U.S. citizens and non-citizens alike.

Immigration reform’s time has come.

The bill being discussed represents a classic case of compromise, the kind that makes government work. Liberals got their “path to citizenship” provision for those non-citizens who are here illegally; conservatives got their beefed-up border security with the addition of 20,000 border agents and construction of the wall across our nation’s southern border.

Still, some congressional Republicans are sticking to their opposition. They detest the so-called “amnesty” provision. To their credit, some key Republicans are backing the reform package – if only as a way to preserve the viability of their party. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., says the GOP is heading into a “demographic death spiral” if it keeps resisting immigration reform. The 2012 presidential election proves his point, with only 27 percent of Latinos voting for GOP nominee Mitt Romney, compared to 71 percent who voted for President Obama.

This is a wakeup call for national Republicans, and someone ought set the alarm for the likes of Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, among others, who continue to toe the hard line on immigration.

We can’t get rid of all those who are here illegally, folks. So let’s work with them, give those who have been here, worked hard, and sought to make a better life for themselves and their families some kind of a path toward U.S. citizenship.

Those who want it can obtain citizenship. Those who don’t can work toward becoming legal immigrants or … they know the way back home.

Obama acting like a leader

Barack Obama is acting very much these days like a president with no more campaigns to wage.

He intends this week to announce sweeping strategies to combat climate change, which he apparently believes is manmade.

This debate is sure to fuel even more heated rhetoric from the climate-change-denial crowd. In a way, I understand – even if I disagree with – their argument. They suggest that climate change is some kind of grand political hoax, a conspiracy designed to wreck the fossil fuel industry. Never mind the mountains of scientific evidence that suggest that the planet is warming up. To my mind, the debate should not center on whether Earth is warming, but merely why.

President Obama plans to institute some executive orders soon, starting with plans to require reductions in emissions. Given that he cannot get much done in a Congress dominated in one legislative chamber by Republicans who oppose every single initiative Obama favors, he is left to exercise his considerable executive authority. Since the Constitution grants him the authority, he ought to use it.

The political realities for a first-term president are quite different from those of a second-term president who’s just been re-elected by a fairly comfortable margin.

I totally get that climate change is one of those divisive issues that drives a wedge between big blocs of Americans. A president seeking to win a second term must consider the fierce opposition that would come his way were he tackle climate change in any kind of dramatic fashion. Now, though, that President Obama is officially a lame duck with only his legacy to worry about, he’s looking and sounding like someone who suddenly has found himself unafraid of potential political consequences.

Climate change is a big deal, even if it isn’t caused by human beings spewing too much carbon dioxide into the air. It’s a big deal because if the oceans keep rising, we keep wiping out forests, we exacerbate circumstances that melt the polar ice caps, then the very planet all 7 billion of us inhabit is in deep peril.

The leader of the world’s pre-eminent nation is seeking to throw that trend into reverse.

You go, Mr. President.