Talk to us, Mr. President … but not to me

This is what I’m talking about.

House Speaker John Boehner recently criticized President Obama for negotiating with the Russians over how to rid Syria of its chemical weapons while stiffing congressional Republicans in the building federal budget debate. I called such criticism utterly without merit, given that Boehner already had declared he wouldn’t talk to Obama personally about budget matters.

Then he reiterated his no-negotiation line just this past weekend. The government might shut down over a dispute regarding the Affordable Care Act. And still, Speaker Boehner won’t talk to the president?

Ridiculous. And by that I mean precisely that Boehner has subjected himself correctly to a torrent or ridicule.

The speaker of the House second in line to presidential succession after the vice president. That means he or she is very important person regarding any matter dealing with the federal government. Whoever is speaker ought to be at the center of every discussion, every negotiation, every major or minor detail.

So why is Boehner — who seems to have lost control of his House Republican caucus to the tea party wing of the GOP — now standing aside while others seek to work out some kind of deal with the White House?

Does he not understand the ridicule to which he is subjecting himself and the high office he occupies?

This lawsuit might have legs

There was something quite unsurprising the other day about news that the family of a deceased Potter County commissioner had filed a wrongful death suit against the Amarillo hospital that cared for him.

Precinct 2 County Commissioner Manny Perez died in October 2011 after what was thought to be a fairly “routine” surgical procedure on his neck. Perez’s death stunned the community and I heard from more than one individual who questioned the circumstances of his passing.

I’ll need to stipulate that I have no inside knowledge of this case. It just strikes me as not surprising that Perez’s family would take this action. Where it goes from here is anyone’s guess.

The suit, filed in the 108th State District Court, alleges Northwest Texas Hospital employees failed to notify Perez’s surgical team of changes in the commissioner’s medical condition after the surgery. Perez reportedly complained of difficulty swallowing. Perez’s condition worsened and he died several days after the surgery.

My heart, of course, was broken for Perez’s family when he died. I knew Perez quite well from my years covering his service for Potter County. We had our run-ins on occasion over those many years, but we were on good terms when he passed away.

I’ll await the outcome of this case, whether it goes to court or whether the hospital settles it with the family. A lawyer friend of mine with some knowledge of the situation told me the other day he thinks NWTH would be wise to settle. I am not qualified to make such an assertion.

I do believe I am qualified, though, to declare my lack of surprise that Manny Perez’s family would sue the hospital.

Let’s all stay tuned.

Integrity took a brief holiday

I feel like venting, but only for a moment or two.

You’ve heard the story — yes? — about the homeless man in Boston who turned in the back pack containing $42,000. The authorities put the word out about the fellow and citizens around the world have responded with donations to help the guy out. Last I heard they’d received more than $125,000.

Honesty pays.

Well, something not quite so noble happened to yours truly in the past 24 hours.

I left a money clip at the health club where I work out each Monday through Friday morning. I left it in the locker where I store my stuff while I get my heart pumping and lift a few weights. I showered, got dressed and scurried out of the place.

The clip was left in the locker. It had about $7 or $8 in cash attached to it.

I thought the clip was lost. I went back to the health club, asked if anyone had turned it in. I went into the locker room but the locker was in use. I went back to the place later in the day to search the locker. Nothing there. I went to work.

Just before I got off work, my cell phone rang. It was my wife. “Do you want to stop by the health club on your way home to pick up your money clip?” she said. I did. One of the managers had received the money clip the previous day from someone who turned it in — without the dough. “The guy just said ‘I found this clip,'” the young manager told me this afternoon. He didn’t inquire about the cash that was with it.

Hmmm, I thought. Who could it have been? I told the manager I would love to know the identity of the “Good Samaritan.” Then again, another part of me thought otherwise. What if it’s someone I know?

Hey, the money isn’t important. It’s the principle of the thing, as they say — as if the guy who returned the clip would understand anything about principle.

There. I’m done venting.

City ponders rail depot purchase

As a big supporter of Amarillo’s effort to revive its downtown district, I am intrigued by the city’s consideration of purchasing the Santa Fe Depot across the street from the Civic Center.

The City Commission will consider this purchase at its next meeting, on Tuesday. The city might plunk down $2.6 million for the deal.

Then what? That’s the big question.

I was most intrigued by the quotes attributed to City Commissioner Lilia Escajeda, who seems to be suggesting something different from her colleagues. Commissioner Ellen Green noted the building’s historical significance and said that Amtrak might want to use the depot to bring passenger train service back to Amarillo.

Escajeda, though, said the depot’s purchase would make it easier for the city expand its Civic Center in the future. Is she suggesting the city could, um, knock down the depot — since it might own the property — to make room for a Civic Center expansion? I hope that’s not what she’s saying.

My own sense is that the city purchasing the depot has the potential for contributing to a successful downtown revival. My hope would be for the city to pull out all the stops to find a suitable — and successful — tenant who could put the building to the kind of use that would attract visitors to the downtown district.

Who or what would that entail? Well, I’m not a commercial real estate marketing genius, so I’ll leave that discussion to the experts. What’s more, the city has no shortage of resources to find someone who knows something about marketing buildings such as the Santa Fe Depot.

The building is beautiful and has at least as much potential as the “other” Santa Fe Building downtown, the one that Potter County transformed from a rotting hulk into a glorious office structure.

Go for it, City Hall.

Insanity tightens its grip on House GOP


That’s the only word I have to describe what congressional Republicans have just done. They’ve approved a spending measure that includes defunding the Affordable Care Act, Barack Obama’s signature achievement so far in his presidency.

The president and his Democratic allies in the Senate have said categorically they will have none of that. They’ve been joined by sensible Senate Republicans who say that defunding “Obamacare” is the wrong approach to deal with this issue.

All this sets up a possible — some might say probable — shutting down of the federal government in 10 days.

House Speaker John Boehner is declaring victory because, he said, the House has approved a continuing resolution to fund the government while taking money away from “Obamacare,” which he has called a “failed policy.” Failed? How does he know that? It hasn’t even been implemented fully yet.

This targeting of a law approved by Congress, signed by the president and affirmed by the Supreme Court simply astounds me.

The consequences of this fight are even more mind-boggling. Suppose the government shuts down — except for “essential” services. Parks will close. Services the people expect will cease. The anger that this tactic will produce seems almost incalculable at the moment. Who will pay for this? The Republican Party leadership in the House of Representatives.

That doesn’t matter to the tea party wing, the insane wing of the GOP, most of whose members were not around when the GOP tried this before. Voters rose up and slapped them bald-headed at the next election.

The worst news of all is that this round of haggling is merely a prelim to the main event, the upcoming fight over whether to raise the debt ceiling. If Congress chokes on that one, then the hurting really starts.

It’s insane, I’m telling you. Insane.

It’s always the same blowhards spouting off

Have you ever wondered why, with 535 members of both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, we keep hearing only from a tiny fraction of the entire congressional body?

OK, maybe you haven’t wondered about that. But I have. I find it annoying almost in the extreme.

The ongoing discussion about the Affordable Care Act, the budget, whether to shut the government down and a host of other pressing issues of late brings this topic to mind.

Since the loudest voices all seem to be Republicans these days, I’ll pick on them mostly here.

I’ve been intrigued particularly by the ubiquitous presence of one Ted Cruz, junior Republican senator from Texas, who’s been holding the only elected office he’s ever held for all of nine months. But the guy is everywhere, ranting about “Obamacare” and pledging to do everything within his power to defund it.

I’ll make Cruz my Blowhard in Chief on this one.

But as I look at the Senate roster I see a lot of other capable Republicans — especially those who’ve been around a lot longer than Cruz — who would be just as capable, articulate and forceful as the junior U.S. senator from Texas, who has managed to eclipse even his more senior Texas colleague, Republican John Cornyn.

Where has Idaho Republican Sen. Jim Risch been? Anyone seen or heard from Kansas Republican Sen. Jerry Moran? I’m about to put an all points bulletin on Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, who once served as education secretary for President George H.W. Bush.

The Senate has about 90 or so silent types who I guess prefer to leave the blustering to the likes of Cruz, John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

To be sure, Democrats have their share of Senate blabbermouths. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Chuck Schumer of New York seem to be the Democrats’ loudest mouthpieces.

I’d rather hear, though, from Al Franken of Minnesota, who in his previous life was a hilarious “Saturday Night Live” cast member.

The House has its small cadre of Republican blowhards as well. I think of Peter King of New York, Steve King of Iowa and Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota (who, thankfully, is leaving Congress after the 2014 election). I’d throw Southeast Texas Republican Steve Stockman into that mix, but he’s too goofy to be taken seriously. As for House Democrats, let’s trot out Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and Debbie Schultz of Florida (who also chairs her party’s national committee).

I’ll mention only one silent House member whose voice ought to be heard. He is Mac Thornberry from right here in the Texas Panhandle. The Clarendon lawmaker has been around since 1995 and has as much stroke and political moxie as any of the aforementioned loudmouths.

I realize we all have our favorite blowhards. I’m sure to have left out someone’s favorite.

But the main point here is that the collective bodies of both congressional chambers are full of wise men and women of both parties who have as much to say as the clowns to whom I’ve just referred.

It once was said of former U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm that the most dangerous place in America was “the space between Sen. Gramm and a TV camera.”

That description clearly now applies to Ted Cruz — and maybe a handful of others.

Speier seeks to shame her colleagues

Good luck, Jackie Speier, if you think your congressional colleagues have any shame left in them.

Rep. Speier, D-Calif., scolded her House Republican colleagues for their extravagant travel habits while they are voting to cut money to pay for food stamps that feed poor Americans.

She singled out a few of them, such as Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, who has this habit of denigrating poor folks with loose and careless talk. King recently went on a trip and spent an amount of money that would have fed him for 881 days on money that would have paid for food stamps.

“They dine at lavish restaurants, eating steak, vodka and even caviar,” she added, showing food props to members of the House. “They receive money to do this. That’s right, they don’t pay out of pocket for these meals,” Speier said in a speech on the floor of the House of Representatives.

Speier isn’t the first member of Congress to try shaming colleagues. Nor will she be the last.

I’m beginning to think that members of Congress have gone far beyond being shamed. Their conduct is shameful and their attitude is shameless.

Still, I applaud Jackie Speier for the valiant attempt at trying to find some thread of decency among her colleagues. Just don’t take one of these trips yourself, Ms. Speier.

Patrick seeks more partisan Senate

There can be no misunderstanding — zero, none — of what state Sen. Dan Patrick wants to do to the Texas Senate if Texans elect him lieutenant governor next month.

He wants to destroy the bipartisan atmosphere that often has helped govern the state’s upper legislative chamber. That effort, in my view, would be a bad thing for Texas.

Texas Tribune editor in chief Evan Smith’s interview with Patrick revealed the senator’s plans quite clearly.

Patrick is running against the incumbent, David Dewhurst, as well as against Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples in a crowded Republican primary. I cannot predict who will win this contest, but it’s looking more and more as though Dewhurst is among the underdogs in the fight for the man’s own seat.

Patrick recently chastised Dewhurst for selecting six Democrats to chair the Senate’s 18 committees, which is roughly proportional to the number of Democrats serving in the Senate. The count today is 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats. Dewhurst, therefore, has doled out chairmanships fairly, correct? Not so, says Patrick, R-Houston, who told Smith he might place, oh, maybe two Democrats in chairmanships … or he may select none for the 2015 Legislature.

Dewhurst, to his discredit, failed to fight back against that criticism, suggesting in a gutless response instead that the Democrats he placed in chairmanships led committees of little legislative consequence.

The lieutenant governor, whether it was Dewhurst, or Rick Perry before him, or Bob Bullock or Bill Hobby, all strived to maintain a semblance of collegiality and bipartisanship in the Senate, over which the lieutenant governor presides. That’s why they cross party lines to place senators from the “other” party in key leadership roles. Dewhurst and Perry, both Republicans, have been faithful to that tradition, as were Bullock and Hobby, two Democrats.

That spirit also has produced the two-thirds rule, which requires any bill to have at least 21 votes before it is decided by a full Senate vote. Many Republican senators, such as Kel Seliger of Amarillo, have said they support the two-thirds rule.

Patrick does not appear to have any notion of preserving that collegial spirit in the Senate.

For my money, that’s one key reason why he shouldn’t be elected lieutenant governor of Texas.

Can’t believe rain causes giddiness

It’s raining at the moment here in Amarillo.

I’m positively giddy about it.

Strange? Perhaps. The strangest element of all is the fact that I actually am giddy. Why? Well, I was born, reared and came of age in a community where rain is all too distressingly common: Portland, the one in Oregon.

I’ve adopted over nearly 19 years in the Texas Panhandle the attitude of folks who’ve lived here longer than we have, which is that the rain is something to be cherished. You pray for it around here. You thank Almighty God in heaven when it arrives and you plead to the Almighty to bring it more often and in greater quantities.

Before moving to Amarillo, my wife, our sons and I spent some time — nearly 11 years — in another rainy locale: Beaumont, on the sticky-moist Texas Gulf Coast. It rains a lot there, too; even more annually than in Portland. But the difference between the two cities’ climates simply is this: When the rain comes in Beaumont, it arrives in torrents, several inches in an hour or two; in Portland, it rains for two, maybe three days before you ever notice it.

I grew up complaining constantly about the rain. As a kid, I was stuck indoors when it rained. I would gripe about it to my parents. “Go talk to God,” Dad would say, which was his way of telling me there was nothing he could do about it. “OK, Dad, thanks a lot,” I’d say to myself.

Now that we’ve been ensconced in Amarillo, we’ve adapted to the Panhandle appreciation for the rain.

No longer do I complain about it. I welcome it. I love it. At times, I feel like peeling off my shirt, a la Tim Robbins in the film “Shawshank Redemption” and just standing there, taking it all in.

This rain shall pass, likely rather quickly. I’ll wait anxiously for the next storm cloud.

Let it rain.

A billion here, a billion there …

A Dallas Morning News blog notes that “A billion dollars isn’t what it used to be.”

Boy, howdy.

It talks about a list of billionaires in which the starting point now stands at $1.3 billion. T. Boone Pickens, the one-time Panhandle oil-and-gas magnate, didn’t make the grade. He is worth a “mere” $950 million, according to Forbes magazine, which did the survey.

The blog takes note of Pickens’s reaction, which is that he is “doing fine.” Pickens also said his $1 billion in charitable giving is more than his net worth.

This item brings to mind just how much inflation has devalued money.

I remember when Aristotle Onassis died in 1975. The Greek shipping magnate was considered then to be the world’s richest, or second-richest man — depending on who did the figuring.

Onassis’s net worth at the time of his death 38 years ago? It was around $500 million.

In today’s terms, the value of Onassis’s wealth would be considered chump change when compared to the ledger sheets produced by the likes of, say, Bill Gates or Warren Buffett.

Or, as the late Sen. Everett Dirksen of Illinois once said about the cost of prosecuting the Vietnam War, “A billion here and a billion there and pretty soon we’re talking real money.”

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