All posts by kanelis2012

Professor Lugar lands new gig

I almost wish I could attend school next year at the University of Indianapolis.

Why? The U of I has a new professor by the name of Richard Lugar. At the end of the year he’ll be stepping down from his U.S. Senate seat. He’ll be teaching students about history and politics, the mix of the two, and perhaps he might be able to tell them what has happened to a once-great political party.

Lugar is a proud Republican. President Nixon once called Lugar his “favorite mayor,” who at the time was mayor of Indianapolis. He left city hall for the Senate in the 1970s and forged a career as a great statesman and GOP wise man. Lugar ran for president in 1996, but fell far short of being nominated. I had the pleasure of shaking his hand at a conference I attended in D.C. early in that election year.

But the Republican Party to which he belongs has become something quite different. Lugar lost his party’s primary this year to a guy named Richard Mourdock, a favorite of the tea party wing of the Republican Party. Mourdock said he didn’t care to work with Democrats, thinking that the only “compromise” he favored would be if the Dems saw the world the way he saw it.Then Mourdock declared it to be “God’s will” if a woman got pregnant while being raped.

Mourdock lost the election in November to a Democrat. Thank goodness.

Lugar has plenty of knowledge to pass on to young students attending the University of Indianapolis. I urge him to explain to them what has become of a great political party, which gave the nation the likes of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower. I’d throw Ronald Reagan into that mix as well, given that I am not sure The Gipper would like what has become of the party that its current leaders keep invoking his memory.

Rock-solid mainstream conservatives no longer seem welcome in the Grand Old Party, which has been hijacked by its lunatic fringe. I hope Professor Lugar is ready to trace that journey to young minds willing to listen to his wisdom.

Thank them for their service

I feel this overpowering need to say something nice about police officers.

I’ve known many cops over the years. I haven’t liked all of them personally. As with any profession, law enforcement has its bad actors serving alongside the overwhelming majority of people who go out of their way to do good things.

When I was a working daily journalist, I came to understand that police officers have this mistrust of media types. We’re too nosey for our own good, some of the police would think to themselves – if not say it out loud. My response to that view? Too bad. That’s what reporters and editors get paid to do. They get paid to be inquisitive and ask questions Joe and Jane Sixpack can’t ask themselves.

I’ve long admired the work that cops do. I’ve tried whenever possible to say so publicly. I’ll do so right here, once again.

Some years ago, I got a peek into police life as a member of the Amarillo Citizens Police Academy. How did I get that gig? I wrote a column that was mildly critical of some police officers. One of the department’s top brass called me out on that, telling me – in effect – that I didn’t know what I was talking about. He invited me to apply for the next Citizens Police Academy class. I did. I got accepted and then spent one night a week for 11 weeks seeing how the cops do their job.

We learned about such things as crime scene investigations, dispatching officers to trouble spots, how drug-sniffing dogs do their job, what happens when you get hit with a Taser. We fired weapons at the shooting range and got to ride along with an officer on patrol.

APD didn’t tell us everything. But we got enough of a look to understand more fully about the dangers that cops must face every time they report for work. “Routine traffic stops” do not exist, as they can erupt into violent confrontations without warning. “Domestic beefs” are the worst of all, the police will tell you. Emotions run white hot and those events, too, can end badly.

But perhaps the biggest takeaway I got from that academy session was the idea that police officers spend a huge amount of their time helping people. Their workday doesn’t comprise non-stop confrontation with bad guys. They are trained to lend comfort when the need arises. I’ve seen them do it and I appreciate that side of police work as much as I appreciate their apprehension of criminals.

Thank you for your service.

A great political party goes bonkers

A great political party has been hijacked by a cabal of lunatics.

The latest example occurred the other day on the floor of the U.S. Senate, the place once known as the “World’s Greatest Deliberative Body.” It now should be called as the “World’s Greatest Loony Bin.”

Senate Republicans blocked enactment of a United Nations treaty designed to guarantee human rights for people with disabilities. Thirty-eight GOP senators voted “no” on the treaty, apparently believing that the U.N. was seeking to usurp American sovereignty. This is all part of the tea party wing of the GOP’s pitch to those with an irrational fear of the United Nations.

The convention wouldn’t require a change in U.S. law. It merely allows the United States to say that it thinks the U.N. convention is a good idea.

The Senate vote featured a rare appearance by a true American hero, Bob Dole, the former Republican senator from Kansas, who sat in a wheelchair on the Senate floor to make the case in favor of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. Dole was injured grievously during World War II, recovered and went on to serve with great honor and distinction in the Senate. He was the GOP’s presidential nominee in 1996. He, along with Sens. John McCain and Dick Lugar support the convention, as well as Senate Democrats and eight “renegade” Republicans who joined in voting in favor of the convention.

But 38 hard-core fear-mongers – all Republicans – held firm and denied the convention the two-thirds supermajority it needed to pass.

And for the record, Texas’ two GOP senators, John Cornyn and lame-duck Kay Bailey Hutchison, voted “nay” on the measure. Shame on both of them.

RIP, Sweet Old Brooks

Of all the political/public figures I’ve met over the past 40 years of my working life, none – absolutely no one – came close to the unique qualities that embodied one Jack Brooks.

I know what you may be thinking: The term “unique” encompasses a wide range of feelings and emotions. Well, Jack was difficult to pigeonhole.

He died last night at a Beaumont hospital. He was around 90, but it seemed like he was 90 forever. He seemed almost that old when our paths crossed when I was a journalist working in the southeastern corner of Texas, which Brooks represented in Congress for four decades until losing his re-election bid in 1994. I had thought back then that if Brooks lost his Ninth Congressional District seat – which included one of the remaining yellow-dog Democratic voting blocs in Texas – there would be no way the Dems could hold on to the House of Reps. He lost, the Democrats lost the House and the Senate that year and Jack Brooks went quietly into retirement.

He chaired the House Judiciary Committee at the time. He despised Republicans. He was irascible, grouchy, profane, smelled of cigars and generally was known as one of the fiercest partisan gut-fighters in Congress. He also was a champion of the blue-collar Democrats who kept sending him back to the House every other year. He fought for their interests and was a friend of the African-American community that comprises such a large portion of the voting population in Southeast Texas.

How did I get along with him? OK … I guess. He didn’t seem to care much for media types. I couldn’t pick up the phone and call him the way I could, say, the late “Good Time Charlie” Wilson, Brooks’ Democratic House colleague who represented the neighboring Second District, and with whom I had a much better working relationship. I also enjoyed better relations with Republican U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry of Clarendon.

Once, after authoring an editorial that endorsed the guy who ran against Brooks in his campaign for the House, Jack told my editor that I needed to take a “permanent vacation.” And he meant it.

Brooks was one of a kind. He was a throwback. He represented the old Texas Democratic establishment that produced Sam Rayburn, John Connally, Lyndon Johnson and Jim Wright.

It might be that Brooks’ most endearing quality was a form of self-deprecation. He knew what people thought of his gruff demeanor. He didn’t shy away from it. He was proud of his image.

His self-titled nickname said it all: Sweet Old Brooks. He might have been an SOB, but he was our SOB.

Rest in peace, Jack.

Slackers take over U.S. House

This item just slays me.

The Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives is going to essentially work part-time in 2013. House leaders announced they plan to work only 15 Fridays next year. It amounts to a 30 percent decrease from the previous year.

Let’s ponder this for a moment. These are the folks who bemoan the slackers who refuse to put their shoulder to the wheel and work ‘til they drop. I think I actually have heard some of these individuals say words to that effect. Yet here they are, drawing six-figure salaries – that you and I pay – and they’re now saying they plan to be on the job four days a week for almost the entire upcoming calendar year.

And that doesn’t count the extended time off from debating, deliberating, conferencing and voting on policy matters on Capitol Hill. They’ll be taking time off from all that drudgery ostensibly to talk to constituents back home, collecting facts and opinions from their “bosses” – the people who pay the freight.

Let us not forget the myriad “factfinding” junkets, er, trips they’ll make to places overseas that may – or may not – be of vital national concern.

I know what you might be thinking. These folks work hard for their salary. It’s a thankless job, what with all the grief they have to endure while wrestling with troublesome issues. We voters don’t appreciate them, you might suggest.

I appreciate my member of Congress very much. Mac Thornberry, a Republican who took office within days of my arrival in the Texas Panhandle in early 1995, is a stand-up guy. He’s also a member of the party that runs the House of Reps and who goes along with the lightened workload. I don’t recall Mac ever talking badly about those allegedly lazy bums who refuse to work hard. But some of his fellow Republicans have said pretty distasteful things about their fellow Americans.

Last time I checked, the nation had some serious matters to resolve. The budget? Our long-term financial condition? Ongoing national security concerns? These matters require lots of attention and they should compel lawmakers to be on the job working non-stop until they’re all fixed.

What has become of leading by example?

‘47 percent’ lives on in results


U.S. Sen.-elect Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has declared that Mitt Romney’s infamous “47 percent” remarks – which he made to campaign donors in Florida this past spring – was the major reason he lost the presidential race to Barack Obama.

That statement, Cruz said, hurt him more with Hispanic voters than his “self-deportation” view on illegal immigration. So many gaffes, it’s becoming hard to keep track of which ones hurt more than others.

Romney told the fat cats that 47 percent of American voters would favor President Obama no matter what. Why? Because, he said, those folks are on government assistance and feel “entitled” to any help the government should provide them. Romney said there was nothing he could say to those folks to persuade them to vote for him.

But there’s an interesting symmetry between that remark and the results of the election.

Romney’s share of the popular vote, with the late ballots still being counted, has dipped to – are you ready? – to slightly more than 47 percent. 

The latest unofficial total shows Obama with 51 percent, Romney with 47. Romney’s percentage of the total doesn’t figure to drop below 47 when all the ballots are counted.

What does this mean? Probably nothing other than the symbolism it represents. Perhaps it will haunt the Republican nominee forever and remind him of how badly stated opinions have this way of leaving indelible marks.

Heading for the cliff? Let’s hope not

Elections have consequences. Isn’t that what they say?

So, President Obama gets re-elected with a substantial Electoral College majority – as well as a growing popular vote majority. Republicans lose some of their grip on the House of Reps; Democrats cement their hold on the Senate. And now both sides are facing the so-called “fiscal cliff” at the end of the year, unless they come up with a budget reduction plan.

Speaker John Boehner is rejecting Obama administration efforts to reach a deal. Too much emphasis on taxes, he says. Not enough on spending cuts. No deal.

The president wants a “balanced approach” to deficit reduction. He wants to extend tax cuts for middle income Americans, while boosting rates for the rich folks. Obama won re-election on that platform, right? The rich will still be rich. The middle class will get a break. He’s also proposing cuts in spending, but not enough to suit Boehner’s GOP caucus. They’re digging in their heels.

If they don’t reach a deal, a 10-percent automatic spending cut takes effect on Jan. 1. The tax cuts will expire … and that means for everyone.

So, if I’m reading this correctly, Boehner’s stubbornness is threatening to punish the rich guys he’s trying to protect by stymying a deal with the president who, I need to stipulate once again … won the election because voters agreed with his economic policies more than they agreed with the Republicans’ plan.

Deal broken for Susan Rice?

U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice has been taking a lot of hits lately over some remarks she made in September.

I’ve been trying now for weeks to figure out why her remarks may be endangering her possible appointment as secretary of state. I’m still a bit bumfuzzled by it.

The U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya came under attack on Sept. 11. Four people, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya – Christopher Stevens – died as a result. The next day, Rice made several news talk show appearances in which she made incorrect statements about what provoked the attack. She also declared that al-Qaida has been “decimated” as a result of the U.S. war on terror effort, launched after the 9/11 attacks in 2001. Her critics now contend that Rice deliberately fabricated the cause of the incident in Benghazi – she labeled it a spontaneous response to a ghastly anti-Islam film released in the United States – to make President Obama look good, as he was in the middle of his re-election campaign.

Now, the critics say, she’s not qualified to succeed Hillary Clinton as secretary of state in the event Obama nominates her. Rice has been considered the next potential top diplomat.

Why the furor? Her critics say she should be held to a higher standard than what she delivered in the chaos that followed the Benghazi attack, which now appears to have been a premeditated event staged by terrorists.

I guess my biggest question is why the administration trotted the U.N. ambassador out when she had little direct knowledge of what happened the previous day. Why not ask the CIA boss, David Petraeus, or Defense Secretary Leon Panetta or the national security adviser to make the rounds?

As for whether Susan Rice is now dead meat as the next secretary of state, I wonder whether her sparkling credentials – renowned international scholar and Rhodes Scholar – now are rendered moot because of this misstep. I think not.

I’m reminded of what then-Vice President George H.W. Bush told former CBS newsman Dan Rather during a heated exchange between the two when Bush was running for president in 1988. Rather, you’ll remember, once walked off the news set in a huff over a programming malfunction. Bush, after several minutes of angry jousting with Rather over the vice president’s role in the Iran-contra affair during the Reagan administration, asked: “Dan, how would you like it if I judged your entire career by those seven minutes when you when you walked off the set in New York?”

That was a fair question to ask back then. It is fair to ask it now of Susan Rice.

Powerball mania takes hold

I see that the gambling bug has bit millions of Americans lured by the prospect – dim as it is – of winning at least a portion of a half-billion Powerball jackpot.

Good luck with that, folks.

I’ve never been a big fan of games of chance. I lack the stomach or the spine to gamble my money away. Might as well just light a match to it.

But this lottery craziness just amazes me at times. Powerball is played in several states, including Texas. As the link attached to this blog post notes, Texans are lining up by the thousands for a shot at winning the big jackpot.

You can attach any yardstick you want to measure one’s chances of striking it rich. Greater chance of getting hit by a meteor? Being struck by lightning? Getting kidnapped by Martians? Finding Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster … or starting up one of the cars buried at Cadillac Ranch? Pick any of them and the chances of any of those things happening are greater than winning the big jackpot.

My favorite reaction to the payoff occur after someone wins big. It’s when retailers advertise that someone bought the winning ticket at their location, enticing future suckers to purchase tickets in the hope that they’ll sell the winning ticket once again … at the same location.

The Taylor Food Mart at 34th and Coulter in Amarillo about four years ago sold a big-payoff ticket. I think it paid more than a hundred million bucks. Then the folks put up a big sign proclaiming that magnificent event. The best part of it all is that customers actually gobbled up tickets, thinking they were going to score a big win … at that location … immediately after it sold a winning ticket to some guy blessed with pure blind luck.

Me? I think I’ll look for Bigfoot.

Governor builds on his power

Texas’ constitutional framers had this idea of limiting the power of the governor. They wanted to spread the power to the Legislature as well as the voters by empowering them to amend the Constitution at the ballot box. Thus, the governor’s executive authority was curtailed.

But the governor does have the power of appointment. Rick Perry, a Republican who’s held the governor’s seat longer than any individual in state history, has extended his power through the appointment process.

The Texas Tribune notes in the link attached to this blog post that Perry has appointed seven of the nine members of the Texas Supreme Court, the latest of whom is Jeff Boyd, the governor’s chief of staff. The state Senate will confirm Boyd when it convenes in January and Boyd likely will win election when the time comes.

This is how Texas governors leave their imprint on state government. Perry has been able to select a pro-business panel of jurists to sit on the state’s highest civil appellate court. They’re all conservatives in the Perry mold.

The courts aren’t the only avenue for the governor to make full use of the “limited” power given by the Constitution. He selects members to key commissions dealing with critical issues that include transportation, parks, criminal justice, business regulation, environmental quality and … well, I can’t name them all. But you get the idea.

The state’s framers did institute term limits, but after the Civil War, the Reconstructionists who rewrote the Texas Constitution removed the term limit provision. Thus, the current Constitution misses the mark in in limiting the governor’s power. Used to be the governor was elected to two-year terms, but that changed 40 years ago when the governor’s term was extended to four years.

It’s not that I think necessarily that mandated term limits are a good idea. To my way of thinking, we have term limits already – in the form of elections.

It’s just that this guy, Perry, keeps getting re-elected. And his power keeps growing with every appointment he makes.