All posts by kanelis2012

Blogging is a blast … most of the time

Now that I’m a more-or-less full-time blogger, I reckon it’s time to get a few things off my chest about this form of recreation.

This blog has had its current name since the early fall of 2012 when I left daily journalism and pulled all my previous blog entries onto this current platform. With a lot of help from one of my sons, I have been able to share my blog posts on Facebook, Twitter, Google and LinkedIn — social media outlets that have served me well so far.

The Facebook sharing, though, presents at times a bit of an annoyance for me.

I share these posts on Facebook and they’re distributed among 400-plus “friends” — actual friends, mere acquaintances and even some people I don’t know personally but who are pals with others I do know. And every so often, these posts develop a lot of conversation on Facebook among my shared friends/acquaintances.

Why the annoyance?

Because sometimes these exchanges get personal. They’re sophomoric on occasion. They produce ad hominem attacks from one contributor onto another.

I wish I could control that kind of activity. Maybe this brief message to my fellow Facebookers will sink in.

A member of my family responded to a recent post about the New Jersey bridge lane-closing fiasco. Then an argument of sorts ensued between my family member and some others who hold differing views on the matter. Another respondent apparently wondered aloud why I don’t defend my family member. He responded with a few “maybe” suggestions, thinking maybe I believe he can take care of himself or that maybe I don’t want to offend my meager assortment of “fans.”

He can defend himself. As for offending my “fans,” well, they do a good job of offending others while being offended by those on the other side of whatever argument they’re having.

The truth is I have neither the patience or the interest — not to mention the time — to get involved in protracted discussions about issues on Facebook. My intent with the blog and other social media distribution outlets is to put stuff out there … period. I’ll let others take what they want from whatever I happen to say.

I’ll respond occasionally to someone who might misrepresent what I say while making some other point. I have been known to set the record straight on factual matters or just offer two- or three-word responses to someone’s statements.

I don’t have the stomach to keep going back and forth with someone whose opinion I won’t change — and who won’t change my opinion.

Long ago I learned a lesson when I got started in opinion journalism. It is that everyone views issues through their own set of principles, core values and biases. I have my own. Others have theirs. I’ll state my view and then move on. If it makes someone perhaps rethink a position on an issue, then that’s fine with me. Do I expect anyone to change their mind? No.

Meanwhile, I’ll just keep spewing out my take on issues large and small and add a few kind words when the need arises to salute those who have touched my life along the way. I also intend to write occasionally on life’s challenges, particularly as they relate to retirement and the onset of grandparenthood.

Meanwhile, let’s keep enjoying the ride together.

Economy takes a hit … or does it?

Economics question of the day: When does a drop in the unemployment rate mean bad news?

When the drop is caused by people giving up on their search for jobs.

So it is that the Labor Department today reported that the jobless rate fell to 6.7 percent, the lowest rate since 2008, but the economy added only 74,000 jobs in December, which is far below economists’ prediction.

Is it time to push the panic button? Time to throw in the towel? Time to storm the White House with torches and pitchforks?

No to all of the above.

As my financial adviser keeps telling my wife and me: Take the long view.

The nation added 2.2 million jobs in 2013, which is about what it added in each of the previous two years. The labor market isn’t great. As one economist said on NPR this morning, it’s gone from being “terrible to just plain bad.”

I’m not going to join the amen chorus of critics who keep insisting the economy is in the tank.

We’ve recovered all the jobs lost during the great recession of late 2008 and early 2009; manufacturing is up; the budget deficit is down, as is the trade deficit; domestic energy exploration is way up, as evidenced by all those pump jacks working furiously along the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles.

Let’s just wait for next month’s job figures … and maybe the month after that.

Mourning a far-away friend

I am in mourning this evening.

News came in this morning over Facebook of a death that has hit me hard. I feel the need to share briefly why I am grieving.

My friend’s name was Shlomo Bleiberg, who lived in Be’er Sheva, Israel with his wife, Liora. Shlomo was a physician, a big bear of a man and a kind gentleman who opened up his home and his heart to a group of strangers who had come to visit his country for a month in May-June 2009.

I was one of those strangers. I had the honor of leading a Rotary International Group Study Exchange team to Israel more than four years ago. Our flight was late arriving at David Ben-Gurion International Airport, and we were met by our Israeli hosts along with a GSE team from The Netherlands, with whom we would travel through the country for the next month.

We scurried off to Be’er Sheva, our first stop. One of our hosts was Shlomo Bleiberg.

We weren’t with Shlomo for very long, just a few days. But in that time he endeared himself to us forever. He was a kind man. It turned out we were fortunate he had extensive medical training, as one of our GSE team members, Shirley Davis of Levelland, suffered a sprained ankle on the second or third day of our trip. Shlomo treated it, wrapped it and told Shirley to take it easy on the tender ankle.

He would take us swimming in the Dead Sea and would accompany us to Masada, two of the most popular sites in the Holy Land.

Now he’s gone. I think I can speak for all of our team members that we wish we could be there for Liora. All that’s left is to mourn our friend.

I mention this because these exchanges sponsored by Rotary International routinely produce the kind of friendships and warmth that last long after we part company. Indeed, part of Rotary’s famed Four Way Test compels us to act in ways that “build good will and better friendships.”

Our time spent in a far away country did all of that for us who had the honor of taking part in this grand adventure.

Shlomo Bleiberg was a big part of an experience that changed all of us.

Rest in peace, Shlomo.

Lane-closing story going to get very ugly

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie hoped he could have put down the story about the closure of lanes on the George Washington Bridge.

His marathon press conference this morning didn’t do the job. It only has fanned the flames.

The battle lines are being drawn. Republicans say the kerfuffle is a diversion from the Affordable Care Act debate. Democrats say the growing scandal speaks to a possible extreme abuse of power by the Republican governor.

Christie fired a couple of key aides today. One of them, his former deputy chief of staff, reportedly is the author of an email that said it was “time for a traffic” jam on the bridge. The lanes were closed allegedly as payback for the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, N.J.’s refusal to endorse Christie’s re-election. Christie said he knew nothing about the email until just two days ago.

This is a big deal because Christie is considered a probable candidate for president in 2016. He’s sold himself as a hands-on, no-nonsense chief executive. Yet this situation seems to suggest the governor had his hands off the levers of power while his underlings went rogue right under his nose.

Let’s not dismiss this as much ado about nothing. This is the kind of story that gets the media worked up, kind of like it did over the Benghazi disaster in September 2012, the phony controversy over President Obama’s place of birth, and the IRS probe of political action groups’ tax-exempt status … to name just three recent examples.

This is how the game is played. Gov. Christie had better steel himself for a rough ride.

Gov. Christie isn’t out of the woods

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is one of my favorite Republicans.

His press conference today, though, leaves a key question unanswered. It is simply, how did he not know the details until now of a story that has been boiling for weeks around the state he governs with an admittedly firm hand?

At issue is what the governor knew about a lane-closure on the George Washington Bridge, the busiest span in the world.

He fired the aide today who reportedly was responsible for closing the lanes. We still do not know why the bridge was effectively shut down. Allegations have been swirling that the governor’s office did it to get back at the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, N.J., who had declined to endorse Christie’s bid for re-election. Christie said today he didn’t know the mayor and said he “couldn’t pick him out of a lineup” if he stood before him.

The worst case is that Christie’s office has exercised a terrible abuse of power, using the authority of his office to get back at a political opponent. The best case might be that a governor who proclaims himself to be a hands-on, no-nonsense chief executive has been duped by staffers who did bad things without his knowing it.

This story is going to keep bubbling.

What’s so new about Gates’s memoir?

Robert Gates is a great American patriot.

He served two presidents with honor and distinction as defense secretary. He’s an expert in national security issues. I honor his service and thank him for it.

His new book, “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War” has the political class all a flutter in Washington.

My question is this: Why is this such a huge deal?

Yes, he criticizes President Obama’s alleged lack of commitment to the Afghanistan War; he says Vice President Biden has been wrong on every decision the White House faced; he says the West Wing’s grasp on national security power is tighter than since the Nixon years.

Gates’s book is no different than many memoirs written after key government officials leave office. They have this habit of spilling the beans on their bosses once they’re clear of the place. Presidents of both political parties have fallen victim to this kind of remembrance.

Gates is no different.

What’s been interesting has been the emphasis certain media have placed on the book.

Conservative media, for instance, have devoted many hours and column inches to Gates’s criticism of President Obama and Vice President Biden. Other media outlets take note that Gates saved arguably his harshest criticism for Congress, half of which is controlled by Republicans, the other half by Democrats.

Gates has been pretty thorough in his trashing of the political establishment in Washington, now that he’s gone.

I’ll stipulate that I haven’t read the book. I plan to read it once I get through the other books I received as Christmas gifts.

I’m betting I won’t see anything I haven’t read before.

Stockman’s killin’ me with these fake endorsements

Steve Stockman’s campaign for the U.S. Senate is barely off the ground and already he’s cracking me up.

The latest is that the freshman congressman from the Texas Gulf Coast is touting endorsements that do not exist. He’s never had them.

My favorite “endorsement” that Stockman claims comes from the National Rifle Association, which in fact has endorsed incumbent U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, Stockman’s opponent in this March’s Republican primary.

This clown is amazing.

Another good one is Stockman’s claim that conservative activist — the late Howard Phillips — has backed his candidacy. One problem: Phillip died seven months before Stockman declared his intention to challenge Cornyn.

This is precisely the kind of thing that should sink a goofball such as Stockman.

However …

In this zany political climate, I’m not going to take all of this to the bank just yet. Strange things can and do happen within the Republican Party.

I’ll be holding my breath until we get all the ballots counted on March 4.

When I do draw a breath, I’ll likely be laughing at Steve Stockman’s idiotic pronouncements.

Amarillo pushes its pedal to the metal

Amarillo’s City Council members — four of them at least — might need an intervention of sorts.

They’ve become suddenly obsessed with speed. I don’t get this decision in the least.

The council voted 4-1 to increase speed limits on Interstate 27 from Hillside Road to Bell Street to 65 mph. Brian Eades, a physician when he’s not making city policy, was the lone “no” vote. I feel compelled to mention Eades’s profession because — even as an ob-gyn — he has a keener sense, it seems, of the health risks involved in this decision.

Council member shouldn’t need to be reminded that the stretch of highway where it’s going to be legal to drive 65 mph isn’t exactly in the middle of nowhere. It remains a fairly heavily traveled stretch of highway. As Dr. Eades noted, “This is not a low-volume traffic area. I think they’re being too aggressive in setting faster speed limits to the public’s detriment.”

The Texas Department of Transportation recently boosted speeds to 75 from Bell to the southern city limits. That area, too, can see heavy traffic volume.

The city acted on a recommendation from my old buddy, Amarillo Police Capt. Jeff Lester, who said a 65-mph speed limit between Hillside and Bell would make for an easier transition to the 60 mph limits north of Hillside for motorists coming in from the 75-mph race track south of the city on Interstate 27.


I just cannot quite fathom this need to boost speed limits along an increasingly urban interstate highway.

As I’ve noted many times in the past, these speed limits aren’t being followed as it is. Post a 60 mph speed limit and drivers will push it to 65 or faster; 65 gets pushed to 70 and beyond; and 75 gets pushed to — gulp! — 80.

What’s the rush?

Now, let the new UT football coach do his job

With all due respect to the mega-millions of dollars that Red McCombs has made in his life, he needs to stick to selling cars.

The University of Texas booster big shot has criticized the selection of Charlie Strong as the next University of Texas head football coach. Fine. McCombs is entitled to his opinion.

But the university has a highly paid athletic director, Steve Patterson, and a staff of football experts/gurus who know a thing or two about the game. Charlie Strong comes to Texas from the University of Louisville, where he presided over another pretty good football program.

The Longhorns program remains one of the Cadillac programs out there for any coach to lead. Strong looks like a winner. I’ve read he’s an old-school coach, meaning he expects his players to behave themselves on and off the field. I also take the description to mean that he wants his student-athletes to be students as well as athletes, meaning that he expects them to study hard and earn their degree.

McCombs said he is unhappy with the selection process that brought Strong to Austin. He doesn’t think Strong is head coach material, that he’d make a good assistant or a coordinator.

Interesting. McCombs’s expertise comes from where? His ownership of professional sports franchises? Did he play a little ball himself when he was in school?

He’s given lots of money to UT, which I guess means he’s more entitled than most folks to express an opinion about who the school hires to coach its football team.

I’m going to rely on the judgment of the actual experts in this kind of work.

I’m guessing Coach Strong is going to do just fine.

Call these lenders what they are: loan sharks

Dallas Morning News editorial writer Jim Mitchell has posted a blog saluting one Texas city’s effort to crack down on payday lenders.

He believes, correctly, that other cities are right to do what the Texas Legislature has failed to do, which is to strictly regulate what he calls “predatory lending practices.”

We seem them all over Amarillo. No credit checks required. Bad credit? No problem. Come on in and we’ll loan you what you need. What’s not advertised, of course, is that these “financial institutions” charge borrowers and arm and both legs — maybe it’s both arms and a leg … whatever — in interest to pay the loans back.

Another, less delicate term for these outfits is “loan shark.”

I get that they’re legal. I also get that some people need money quickly to pay off debts owed to other creditors.

But as Mitchell notes in his blog, the payday lenders with ready cash are preying on the vulnerable.

El Paso has sought to crack down on the practice. Mitchell took note of a Dallas city councilman’s visit to the El Paso to take a new look at that city’s ordinance. Other big cities have climbed on board the payday loan regulation bandwagon. Mitchell asks when other cities will join. “I have a question for mayors and council members in Arlington, Fort Worth and Corpus Christi and Midland-Odessa. When are you going to step up, too?” Mitchell writes.

He didn’t mention Amarillo. I will. What about it, Amarillo City Hall?