Panhandle might fall victim to intra-party squabble

Having taken note of the political demise of a soundly conservative lawmaker from East Texas to an even more conservative challenger, the thought occurred to me: Is the Texas Panhandle susceptible to this kind of intra-party insurrection?

State Sen. Bob Deuell is about to leave office after being defeated in the GOP primary by newcomer Bob Hall. As the Dallas Morning News columnist noted, the “farthest right” defeated the “far right.”

So, what does this mean for the Panhandle?

I’ll admit that the GOP primary contest for the Texas Senate seat held by Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, frightened the bejabbers out of me. Seliger almost got beat in the March primary by former Midland mayor Mike Canon, a nice guy who’s also a TEA party mouthpiece. Canon suggested during the campaign that Seliger, a mainstream Republican former Amarillo mayor, was somehow in cahoots with them crazy liberals in Austin.

The Panhandle, indeed all of West Texas, dodged a bullet by re-nominating Seliger in the primary and allowing him to coast to re-election in an uncontested race in November.

What does the future hold? What might occur if, say, state Rep. John Smithee, R-Amarillo, packs it in? Smithee has served in the Legislature since 1985 and has developed a reputation as one of the smartest, most legislatively savvy members of the Texas House.

Who’s lying in wait out there for a key retirement? Who’s waiting in the tall grass waiting to seize the moment to launch a sound-bite campaign the way Hall did against Deuell?

It happened in a Texas Senate district down yonder. It can happen here.


Another war is now over … more or less

The Afghan War has come to a close.

The United States has ended its combat role in one of the world’s most distressing places. However, our troop presence — unlike what occurred in Iraq — will remain, although at a much-reduced level.

Is this a good thing? I’m beginning, as of today, to hold my breath.

U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan topped out at 100,000 men and women. The United States began bombing Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorists less than a month after the 9/11 attacks. We threw out the Taliban in November 2001, but have been fighting them ever since, rooting out terrorist leaders, killing and/or capturing them.

All the while, the aim has been to build an Afghan army worthy and capable of taking the fight to the terrorists. That’s what the 10,800 U.S. troops will continue to assist them in doing after the first of the new year.

It is my sincere hope that this mission will succeed. The Iraq pullout hasn’t gone as planned. We sought to build an Iraqi army capable of defending the country. Islamic State fighters have seized much land from Iraqi forces, but in recent weeks the Iraq army and air force have managed — with U.S. air power assistance — to retake some key cities and regions from ISIL.

Our country is war-weary. It’s time to bring our combat role to an end.

The harder task will be to ensure the Afghans will be able to do what the Iraqis — to date — have been unable to do. That is to defend the hard-won victory over the Taliban.

This strategy has to work.


Now it's an AirAsia plane that's disappeared

What in the name of “safe” air travel is happening in Southeast Asian air space?

An AirAsia Airbus 320 has disappeared. Remember the Malaysian Air 370 tragedy this past March? And the Malaysian Air 17 plane that was shot down over Ukraine?

Now another Malaysia-based airliner is having to console family members until they can account for the whereabouts of an AirAsia Flight 8512 carrying 162 passengers and crew.

It’s impossible to understand any of this.

The Airbus was flying through apparently some horrific weather conditions en route from Indonesia to Singapore. It had been in the air about 42 minutes when it vanished. Pfftt! Just like that. Gone.

There was no pre-disappearance communication from the flight deck. Nothing was said. Ground crews had the plane on their radar screens. Then it was gone. Off the grid.

My heart breaks for those awaiting word on the whereabouts of the plane. It’s impossible to believe anything good can come from this — other than some closure for those who need to know the fate of this airplane.


'Toilet to tap' not so bad

WICHITA FALLS, Texas — Allow me this pithy observation about something most of us might not quite understand.

It is that treated toilet water doesn’t taste so bad.

How do I know this? We stopped over the weekend in Wichita Falls to eat lunch at a favorite restaurant. The waitress served us water. As I was sipping it, it hit me: The city is treating toilet water, blending it with reservoir water and is serving it to customers such as us: my wife, our son and me.

I had heard about this project about a year ago as the drought and the accompanying water shortage tightened its grip on Wichita Falls, which relies exclusively on two reservoirs that supply its water. No aquifer here. It’s all surface water.

The city has enacted serious water restrictions. No lawn watering. Limited car-washing.

And now it is blending toilet water with reservoir water to reduce its freshwater consumption by about half.

I’m telling ya, it doesn’t taste bad. Not at all.

Panhandle PBS, which employs me as a freelance blogger, did a comprehensive special on the Texas water crisis. It aired in October on several PBS affiliates throughout the state. One of the segments included a look at the Wichita Falls situation, which has gotten quite dire.

Ellen Green of Panhandle PBS interviewed Mayor Glen Barham about what she referred to as the “toilet to tap” program.

You can catch the interview at the 20-minute mark on the attached link.

The city claims good success with the program, which is monitored carefully by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to ensure that it meets state and federal health standards.

So here’s a thought.

Amarillo’s water future isn’t nearly as grim. The city is purchasing lots of groundwater rights and says it has enough water to last another 100 or so years. No one is talking seriously — yet — about water restrictions here.

But wouldn’t it be prudent to think, um, more strategically? I’m wondering if Amarillo would be wise to examine ways to treat our own wastewater into potable water well in advance of there being an actual need to use it.

I’ve long said that I didn’t want to know when I was drinking treated toilet water.

Consider it a change of heart, but having swilled some of it this weekend, my concern about drinking wastewater has vanished — more or less.


'Farthest right' defeats the far right

Bob Deuell might be the face of the changing Texas Republican Party.

He is a soon-to-be former state senator from East Texas. Deuell got beat by someone described by Dallas Morning News columnist Steve Blow who is “a virtual newcomer to Texas and politics.” The man who’s about to represent the east Dallas legislative district did it be “branding Deuell a liberal,” according to Blow.

What little I know about Deuell, a family physician, he is anything but the liberal that Sen..-elect Bob Hall described in his successful campaign.

Therein might get right to the core of what’s happened to the Texas Republican Party. It has become something that mainstream, establishment conservatives — such as Bob Deuell — no longer recognize.

“To call me a liberal? It’s just ridiculous,” Deuell told Blow, who described the lawmaker as “my senator.” Blow said he had a “front-row seat on this crazy battle between the far and farthest right.”

Blow said he laughed when he received “mailers at home with freaky colorized photos of Deuell and Barack Obama pasted together. ‘Stop Bob Deuell’s liberal agenda,’ they said,” Blow writes.

How did this novice defeat a reliably conservative 12-year veteran of the Texas Senate? Blow said “Hall’s TEA party base was simply more energized and engaged.”


According to Blow, Hall managed to cobble together a campaign of lies about Deuell’s support for needle exchanges for drug addicts. Deuell bucked his Republican colleagues in supporting the exchanges because of “clear medical evidence” that the exchanges decrease incidents of hepatitis and HIVA. “And 20 percent of the addicts who participated got into rehab programs. To me, it’s the fiscally conservative thing to do.”

Blow rights that Deuell couldn’t get other legislators to support the exchanges out of fear they would be “sound-bited on the issue.”

“Predictably,” Blow writes, “Hall did exactly that against Deuell, characterizing it as ‘free needles for drug addicts.'”

Deuell predicts a long and arduous legislative session.

After all, the state Senate will be led by a lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, who’s an expert at demagoguery and glib sound bites.

Welcome to the new Texas Republican Party.

Obama getting year-end poll bounce

What’s going on here? President Obama is getting a bump in the polls as the year ends.

How can this be? We keep reading about “plummeting” poll numbers. Republicans kept harping on that as they ran hard against Democratic incumbents in the mid-term election. The strategy worked. The GOP gained control of the U.S. Senate, strengthened its hold on the House and snatched away a couple more governors seats for good measure.

Well, it seems that Americans might be willing to give the president a final chance as he enters the last two years in the White House.

With Republicans now running all of one branch of government — not just half of it — they’ll need to produce some actual results rather than seeking to block everything Democrats, including Barack Obama, want to do.

The Real Clear Politics average of polls puts the president’s approval rating at 42.6 percent, which still isn’t great. But the margin between approval and disapproval is now less than 10 percent, which is another interesting indicator of what the public thinks about Obama’s standing.

I’m hoping for the best the next two years.

Split government isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The president will have to compromise — some more! — on some issues. As for Republicans, they too will need to show more of a willingness to bend a little. The president, after all, does have that “veto pen” and the GOP will need more than the margin it enjoys in Congress to override any presidential veto.

The end of the old year might produce a new beginning in the year coming up.

Eternal optimist that I am, I remain hopeful the federal government can do some good for the country it is designed to help.


Clinton's foreign policy far from 'feckless'

Rick Perry calls Hillary Clinton’ foreign policy record “feckless,” does he.

He doesn’t know feckless from freckles.

I would argue that the outgoing Texas governor needs to clarify his entire meaning.

He’s sounding more like a probable Republican presidential candidate in 2016. For that matter, Clinton is sounding more like a probable Democratic candidate in two years.

My own hunch is that the governor should concentrate on his potential GOP primary competition than worry too much just yet about how to take on the Democratic frontrunner.

As for his “feckless” comment, he’s joined the GOP echo chamber in brining up “Benghazi” as a sign that then-Secretary of State Clinton somehow botched the response to that terrible tragedy. I’m waiting — still — to understand precisely what Hillary Clinton her own self could have done differently to prevent the Sept. 11, 2012 siege that killed four Americans at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya.

Have there more attacks on U.S. soil by terrorists? No. Have we been killing the bad guys? Yes. Have we killed Osama bin Laden? Yes again. Did we rid Syria of chemical weapons? Yes. Have the economic sanctions leveled against Ukraine worked?

Yes. OK, so some of this occurred on John Kerry’s watch at State. The Texas governor, though, makes sure to equate our foreign policy with the president of the United States, who’s still on the job.

He compares her foreign policy record to California Gov. Jerry Brown’ record in handling the economy of his own state. Hmm. Actually, Gov. Perry, the California economy has rebounded right along with the rest of the country.

Well, the campaign is looking and sounding as if it’s beginning.

To think we’re still a whole year away from when it starts for real.

Yep, Lemon's been a lemon

Don Lemon hasn’t had a distinguished year in front of the CNN news camera.

Although I don’t like critiquing media “performances,” Lemon’s string of gaffes in 2014 is worth a brief comment.

Columbia Journalism Review has slung a barb at Lemon, one of CNN’s go-go guys, for his amazing string of terrible interviews. He made CJR’s “worst journalism” list for 2014.

They’ve made news in ways Lemon, or his bosses at CNN, ever would want.

He wondered aloud whether Malaysian Air Flight 370 vanished into a “black hole,” only to be reminded by the expert to whom he asked the question that a black hole would swallow the entire planet.

During the Bill Cosby controversy involving allegations of sexual assault, Lemon said on the air that there are ways to avoid performing oral sex, such as using one’s teeth.

While reporting from Ferguson, Mo., during the rioting in the wake of the grand jury decision to no-bill the officer who shot Michael Brown, Lemon reported he could “smell marijuana in the air,” as if that had any significance.

Good journalism requires an element of trust that must be built between the reporter and his audience, whether they’re readers or TV viewers.

Don Lemon has squandered a good bit of that trust.

Let’s hope the young man repairs it in 2015.


Officers' death 'touched soul of nation'

Vice President Joe Biden said this week that the deaths of two New York City police officers “touched the soul of the nation.”

I’m not entirely sure what he means by that, but the deaths did spark an additional — and much-needed — national conversation about the right and wrong ways to respond to controversy involving law enforcement.

The vice president attended the funeral of Rafael Ramos, one of two officers gunned down in Brooklyn the other day by a goon who was responding to the choking death of Eric Garner in a Staten Island confrontation with officers. Garner’s death and the grand jury decision not to indict the officer who choked Garner to death, coming on the heels of the Ferguson, Mo., shooting of Michael Brown, has contributed a lot of unrest, violence and further criminal activity.

Ramos’s death along with fellow officer Wenjian Liu has touched many Americans at many levels. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the shootings “an attack on all of us.”

There can be no silver lining to be found in this incident, other than to call attention to the lawless response to perceived wrongs done by the criminal justice system.

The grand jury — in my view — erred on not indicting the officer who choked Eric Garner to death. No responsible individual, though, responds by attacking other police officers in the cowardly manner that resulted in the deaths of Ramos and Liu.

It does my heart some measure of good to see these officers honored. They were heroes of the first order. And yes, their deaths have touched our soul.


Hold torturers to account

The New York Times is no friend of political conservatives. Thus, it shouldn’t surprise the reading public that the newspaper editorial board would jump down the throats of those who were responsible for employing torture techniques on prisoners taken right after the 9/11 attacks.

The Times did so in an editorial published this past Sunday.

It wants the government to investigate and prosecute those responsible for what it contends are illegal acts committed against suspected terrorists.

Of all the officials named, the one that stands out is former Vice President Richard B. Cheney, who’s been out front and vocal in his criticism of a Senate Intelligence Committee report contending that the Bush administration acted illegally when it subjected detainees to what’s euphemistically called “enhanced interrogation techniques.” (Let’s call ’em EITs to save space, shall we?)

Here’s the key question: Suppose prosecutors are able to convict Dick Cheney of wrongdoing? What then? Throw him in federal prison?

I’m not opposed to clearing the air on what the vice president ordered, what he knew and when he knew it. Nor am I opposed to putting it all on the record, into the public domain to let the public hash out what’s legitimate and what’s not.

As the Times noted, Republicans — except for one high-profile official — have been quiet about all of this: “One would expect Republicans who have gone hoarse braying about Mr. Obama’s executive overreach to be the first to demand accountability, but with one notable exception, Senator John McCain, they have either fallen silent or actively defended the indefensible. They cannot even point to any results: Contrary to repeated claims by the C.I.A., the report concluded that “at no time” did any of these techniques yield intelligence that averted a terror attack. And at least 26 detainees were later determined to have been “wrongfully held.”

Here is where a presidential pardon could be used.

I don’t want to see Cheney locked up. He does, though, need to be taken down a peg or two by a tough-minded independent prosecutor who could convince a jury that what the Bush administration did to those detainees violated federal law. Cheney has said he’d use the EITs again “in a minute.” The Senate report, issued by Democrats, reflects a different view.

Who’s right? Who’s wrong?

Let’s get to the bottom of it.