Ukraine crisis takes ominous turn

President Obama said today there will be “costs” if Russia intervenes militarily in Ukraine’s civil unrest.

OK, at least the president didn’t draw a bright line.

http://www.politico.com/story/2014/02/barack-obama-russia-ukraine-104106.html?hp=f1

His comments today came as word arrived that Russian troops have been spotted inside Ukrainian territory. Ukraine’s president — a friend of Russia — is holed up on Moscow. Russian President Vladimir Putin is rattling swords. It’s turning now into another East-West confrontation that reminds some folks of, yep, another Cold War.

The United States, Europe, indeed the rest of the world will not dare to intervene militarily on behalf of Ukraine if Russia refuses to back off. So that leaves the question: How do you define “costs,” Mr. President?

Economic sanctions? Trade embargo? Blockade? Freezing of assets abroad?

This crisis underscores the frustration and the danger of trying to stare down a nation with substantial military muscle.

It almost goes without saying that the president is correct to assert that Ukraine must be allowed to decide its political future peacefully — and by itself. Its sovereignty must not be violated. Yes, Russia has a long-standing historical tie with Ukraine, given that Ukraine once was a satellite state of the former Soviet Union.

But that’s in the past. The present requires Russia to honor Ukraine’s internal wishes and it must not dictate its future the way the Soviet Union dictated civil unrest outcomes in Hungary (in 1956) and Czechoslovakia (in 1968) by use of brute force. The Soviet empire has been tossed into the trash heap.

The world is watching and waiting.

It’s starting to fly in Texas Senate District 31

Mike Canon apparently wants to be elected state senator from District 31 so badly that he’s willing to say anything to get the job done.

I thought better of the former Midland mayor until some TV ads began running that question whether the incumbent in that race, Sen. Kel Seliger, is “conservative” enough for West Texas.

He is.

Seliger is running for another term as state senator against someone whose campaign is being funded by what’s called “dark money,” which comes from anonymous donors who aren’t compelled to identify themselves, to hold themselves up for public inspection.

Canon’s latest gambit is to accuse Seliger of “siding with Wendy Davis,” the Democratic candidate for governor, in voting for a pay raise for legislators. Seliger’s response? “There were no such individual votes,” he asserts in a campaign push card.

Canon is seen as a tea party alternative to Seliger, meaning that the incumbent isn’t rabid enough in his support of issues near and dear to the far right wing of the Republican Party. The reality is that Seliger has become a nuanced politician able to understand the complexities of legislating and working with Democrats and Republicans to get something done for the state.

Canon, who is personally an engaging and charming gentleman, has fallen victim to the demagoguery that so often passes for political debate on the far right-wing fringes of his party.

Seliger need not make apologies for the way he has represented the sprawling Senate district.

I’m hoping he beats Canon like a drum next Tuesday. The man loves serving in the Texas Senate. He’s good at it. He needs to stay on the job.

Time for some more apologies?

The columnist Larry Elder has posed a fascinating — and quite appropriate — notion about political apologies.

He notes that Second Amendment firebrand Ted Nugent, the rocker who sort of apologized for calling President Obama a “subhuman mongrel” — was correct in offering up at least that tepid statement of regret. Although the one-time rock star didn’t actually apologize, he’s gotten his share of deserved media criticism over his many remarks about the president of the United States.

Elder then wonders whether it’s now time others on the left to say they’re sorry for the things they’ve said over the years.

He mentions film director Spike Lee — who, like Elder, is an African-American.

http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2014/02/27/ted_nugent_apologized_–_when_will_spike_lee_121737.html

Elder ticks off a list of some of Lee’s outrageous statements.

* Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam leader, was right to suggest that the George W. Bush administration deliberately blew up the levees and caused New Orleans to flood in 2005, affecting tens of thousands of African-American residents of that city.

* Someone should shoot National Rifle Association chairman Charlton Heston.

* Former U.S. Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., is a “card-carrying member of the Ku Klux Klan” because he said some kind things about one-time segregationist Sen. Strom Thurmond.

You know, Elder is spot on with his analysis of the political climate these days. In fact, I think a whole round of apologies would be in order in an effort to clear the air, let bygones be bygones and perhaps enable all sides to get back to discussing intelligently the pertinent issues of the day.

The tone of these comments — and I’ll include Nugent’s among them — disgrace the right of free speech. Yes, the Constitution gives citizens the right to speak their minds.

With that right, though, ought to come some sense that citizens are contributing constructively to whatever debate we’re having.

Well, Mr. Lee, how about an apology? It’ll be good for your soul. Besides, it might start a cleansing process.

First birthdays are the most important

In just a few days, the youngest member of our family is going to enjoy a very big day.

Emma Nicole Kanelis will turn a year old. It’s the first of many birthdays that will come along for this little pumpkin. However, as the saying goes about only getting one chance to make a first impression — you only get one chance at celebrating your first birthday.

It’s a big deal for her paternal grandparents, for sure. Check that. It’s a huge deal for us.

I’ve noted before the joys of welcoming a granddaughter into our world. As every grandparent knows, there can be nothing like the joy one feels when holding your child’s child in your arms. Your memory flashes back to that moment when you held your child for the first time.

Indeed, we’ve regaled both of our sons with memories of those moments — perhaps a little more often than either of them would like. My answer to that simply is: Too bad; we’re entitled to share our joy whenever, wherever and with whomever we wish.

So little Emma will get to smear a birthday cake all over herself. Maybe she’ll eat a bite of two of it. She’ll open presents — no doubt with help with her adoring brothers.

Her parents will look on at all this and wonder, “Where has the time gone?”

I’ve been fond of responding to that question offered by young parents by answering, “Talk to me in 20 or 30 years.” Yes, time has a way of getting away from us.

Now, though, I have relearned how they feel. We had the same wonderment many years ago when our sons celebrated their first birthdays. Then their second, third and all the subsequent birthdays.

That sense of wonder and amazement is back now that our little Emma is about to celebrate her first birthday.

Where has the time gone?

Stock index sets record, but no one’s cheering?

The Standard and Poor’s index closed at a record high today.

Wall Street’s indices all have recovered what they lost during the Great Recession of 2008-09 — and then some.

And yet …

We keep hearing from the chronic naysayers that the economy is in the tank. They bemoan the economic stimulus enacted shortly after Barack Obama became president. They decry the slowness of job growth. They ignore the other indicators that are blaring loudly and clearly that the economy is on its way back.

http://money.cnn.com/2014/02/27/investing/stocks-markets/index.html

Why is that?

Oh, silly me. It’s politics. I forget sometimes that in the political world, reality often takes a back seat to people’s ambition, which they usually promote at others’ expense.

I am heartened that my own retirement account hasn’t been flushed permanently down the toilet. I had some concerns when the market was collapsing, losing nearly half of its value. My financial guru told my wife and me not to sweat it. “Think long term,” we were told. We have but we’ve also been grateful that it didn’t all that long for our retirement account to recover its losses.

The S&P’s record is just one more indicator that investors seem confident in the future.

If only they could persuade the political chattering class.

Clinton star power shows itself in Kentucky

Who’s the biggest political star in the Democratic Party?

Hint: It ain’t the guy who occupies the White House.

It’s the guy who served two presidencies prior to Barack Obama’s arrival in January 2009.

William Jefferson Clinton packed ’em in at a fundraiser this week in Louisville, Ky., on behalf of Allison Lundergan Grimes, who’s running for the U.S. Senate seat occupied by Republican Mitch McConnell.

http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/senate-races/199419-clinton-raises-700k-for-grimes

The 42nd president raised $700,000 for Grimes’s campaign. He bowled over the audience in a state that voted against Obama twice in 2008 and 2012, but which Clinton won in 1992 and 1996.

This shouldn’t be a big surprise. Bill Clinton brought his towering presence to an even more anti-Democrat region back in 2008.

He came to Amarillo that year to campaign for his wife, the then-U.S. senator from New York, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was locked in a tough primary campaign against then-Sen. Obama.

How did Bill Clinton fare when he showed up at the Grand Plaza Ballroom at the Amarillo Civic Center? He filled the place. It was an overflow crowd that, interestingly, included a lot of leading local Republicans who showed up just to hear Clinton’s remarks on behalf of his wife.

Make no mistake about what that 2008 appearance said about the former president’s magnetism. It’s real and can become a decisive asset for whoever the Democrats nominate as their presidential candidate in 2016.

Any bets that Democrats are going to nominate someone other than Hillary?

Comedic actor fights for serious cause

First, allow me this acknowledgment.

I know little about Seth Rogen’s professional life, other than he’s a comedic actor who starred in the film “Knocked Up.”

After Wednesday, though, I now perceive him as a courageous young man who’s trying to raise awareness of an affliction with which my family and I have intimate knowledge: Alzheimer’s disease.

Rogen sat before a U.S. Senate Appropriations subcommittee Wednesday and told a heartbreaking story of his mother-in-law.

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/seth-rogen-promotes-alzheimer-awareness-article-1.1703206

She’s now in her early 60s. Rogen’s mother-in-law cannot speak; she cannot feed or bathe herself; she barely can walk and is confined mostly to a wheelchair; she doesn’t recognize anyone outwardly. She was diagnosed about seven years ago — when she was just 55 — with early-onset Alzheimer’s.

Rogen is trying to raise awareness and I must presume raise the interest of lawmakers who control the federal purse to put more money into Alzheimer’s research. He’s founded an organization, Hilarity for Charity, to help educate young Americans about the disease.

Oh, brother, I feel the young man’s pain.

As he spoke to the mostly empty chairs that should have been filled by senators, Rogen’s testimony reminded me of my own late mother’s affliction. She died in 1984 at the age of 61. A doctor issued an official diagnosis of her condition in 1980, but in truth she had been showing signs of profound personality change for years prior to that.

We watched her disappear before our eyes. Her body was present, but the woman we knew was long gone. At the end, she couldn’t speak or feed herself or bathe — just like Seth Rogen’s mother-in-law.

My heart hurt listening to him.

Later that evening, on Chris Matthews’s cable talk show “Hardball,” Rogen took note of the shameful lack of attention given by the committee members. Only two of them attended the entire hearing: Democratic chairman Tom Harken of Iowa and Republican ranking member Jerry Moran of Kansas.

Rogen didn’t express outward anger at the lack of attendance by the rest of the panel. I’ll express it for him.

It is shameful that the committee didn’t bother to listen to all that Rogen had to tell them. They needed to be there, even if they had heard it all before. They needed to hear the testimony of someone who’s emotional heartache is as real as it gets — as he is speaking for millions of other Americans who have gone through, or who are going through right now, the agony of watching a loved one waste away.

Alzheimer’s disease afflicts roughly 5 million Americans. The reality, though, is that it causes pain to many times more than that number. It inflicts pain on family members who have to endure what Seth Rogan and his wife are experiencing. Those numbers will climb as the nation continues to age and as more Americans fall victim to Alzheimer’s cruelty.

I hope Rogen keeps up the fight. He is delivering an important message that needs to be heard.

‘This isn’t Rocky IV’

The last time Secretary of State John Kerry used a “Rocky IV” reference in public was at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.

Then, he was poking fun at Republican presidential nominee’s assertion that Russia was this nation’s most dangerous “geopolitical foe.” Kerry, then a U.S. senator from Massachusetts, declared that Romney’s view of Russia was more like the “Rocky IV” film that became a silly metaphor for the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

It drew huge applause and laughter at the DNC’s final night in September 2012.

It’s not a laugh line in today’s context.

http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/ukraine-crisis/kerry-russia-must-be-very-careful-judgments-ukraine-n39236

Kerry has warned Russian President Vladimir Putin about rekindling the Cold War by threatening Ukraine, a neighboring country — and former Soviet state — with military exercises.

Ukraine has just ousted its Russia-friendly president amid terrible street violence in cities throughout that country. Putin’s decision to activate the military has forced Kerry to issue some stern warnings on behalf of the United States.

He told NBC News: “I think Russia needs to be very careful in the judgments that it makes going forward here. We are not looking for confrontation. But we are making it clear that every country should respect the territorial integrity here, the sovereignty of Ukraine. Russia has said it would do that and we think it’s important that Russia keeps its word.”

According to NBC.com, Kerry also said that “Russian President Vladimir Putin should ‘listen carefully to Ukrainians who have voiced their desire for change,’ repeating that the United States does not view its relationship with Russia as a ‘sort of continuation of the Cold War.’”

Are we going to war with Russia if the Russians intervene militarily? Of course not. However, memories of the long-simmering rivalry between the nations ought to be as long in Russia as they are in this country.

We won the Cold War. Putin ought to think carefully about how it turned out for his side if he intends to start a new one.

Pragmatism drives Brewer veto of SB 1062

Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona is nothing if not a pragmatist.

The Republican showed the world this evening that money speaks volumes when a state’s economic recovery is at stake.

http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/arizona-bill-controversy/arizona-governor-jan-brewer-vetoes-anti-gay-bill-n39666

Brewer vetoed Senate Bill 1062, the hastily drawn legislation that would have enabled businesses to deny service to people on the basis of their sexual orientation. Someone could refuse to serve a meal to a gay couple, for example. SB 1062 proponents said it protected people’s religious liberty by enabling them to invoke their faith as a reason to discriminate against gay people.

Brewer’s veto came with a few words about how this bill would create more problems than it purports to solve.

She didn’t invoke some belief in “marriage equality,” which is short hand for supporting the rights of people to marry others of the same sex. No, she instead spoke to the problems that would rain down on Arizona if forces conspired to derail the state’s recovering economy.

Major League Baseball and the National Football League were two of the heavy hitters that threatened some form of economic sanction against the state if SB 1062 became law. That, I submit, is the message that Brewer heeded today with her veto.

That’s all right with me. SB 1062’s major aim was to impose a discriminatory policy.

I understand and totally endorse the concept of religious liberty and the freedom to practice one’s faith. However, embracing religious freedom shouldn’t result in others losing their rights as citizens. SB 1062 sought to deny the rights of others simply on the basis of their sexual orientation. It was wrong.

Gov. Brewer did the right thing today by vetoing it.

Texas gay-marriage ban struck down

Was there ever any doubt that the federal judiciary would catch up with Texas’s ban on same-sex marriage?

It did so in equally conservative states such as Oklahoma and Utah. Now it has happened in Texas.

The sea change is now lapping at our front door.

http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/federal-judge-strikes-down-texas-gay-marriage-ban-n39466

U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia struck down the same-sex marriage ban — which voters approved by an overwhelming majority in a 2005 election to amend the Texas Constitution. Garcia ruled in favor of a gay couple that wanted to be married in Texas, but couldn’t given the state’s prohibition.

The ruling has been put on hold pending a sure-fire appeal by the state. Gov. Rick Perry vows to fight the ruling, as will Attorney General Greg Abbott (who wants to be the next governor).

It seems increasingly inevitable that the federal courts are going to uphold citizens’ rights, under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, to “equal protection of the laws.” By “equal,” gay-rights advocates and their political allies argue persuasively that bans on gay citizens’ right to marry the person they love deprives them of the rights of full citizenship granted to them by the Constitution.

Governors such as Perry, however, argue that the 10th Amendment carries greater weight, that the states have the constitutional right to enact their own laws that aren’t in direct conflict with federal law.

Let’s have this debate.

Setting aside my own personal qualms about redefining the term marriage — which my American Heritage Dictionary says is “The legal union of a man and a woman as husband and wife” — I totally understand why this issue is turning the nation upside-down.

Judges are looking at this issue from a constitutional standpoint and determining that the Constitution is unambiguous about who gets all the rights of citizenship. There cannot be a separate standard for people of certain sexual orientations. In a way that I am still trying to understand more clearly in my head and my heart, I get how the judges are ruling on this matter.

What’s more, the radio talk-show blowhards and others on the right and far right should not even try to suggest that we elect the federal judiciary, or that we put term limits on these individuals, or that we somehow water down the power of presidents to appoint these jurists. The system works just fine the way it’s set up. Leave it alone and debate these issues on their merits.

So now the fight has come to Texas. The state is going to take this matter to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Stay tuned. This fight is going to get very interesting.