Super Bowl? Who cares? Not me

The Big Game is coming up Sunday. I get asked all the time, “Are you ready for the Super Bowl?”

Well, yes and no. Yes because I’ve done no preparation for it, no because I really don’t care who wins it.

Why? Well, it has to do with this AFC-NFC alignment. I’m a long-time AFC fan, which dates back to the days of the old American Football League. Therein lies my lack of interest in this game. You see, the teams come from the same old National Football League. I’ll now explain.

The AFL and the NFL merged in 1970. When the leagues joined, the newly revamped NFL, under the command of Commissioner Pete Rozelle, got three NFL franchises to move into the AFC: Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Baltimore – and by Baltimore, I don’t mean the Ravens. The Steelers, Browns and Colts joined the conference containing some of my favorite teams, which included the Oakland Raiders, Kansas City Chiefs, New York Jets and San Diego Chargers.

Then the Baltimore Colts moved to Indianapolis, in the middle of the night, I should add. The Cleveland Browns moved to Baltimore, to become the Ravens; later, a new Cleveland Browns franchise was formed. Only the Steelers (my late father’s favorite team, owing to his birth in nearby New Kensington, Pa.) have remained intact.

But as a diehard AFL fan, I’ve always considered the Steelers, Colts and Ravens (the former Browns) to be interlopers. They aren’t really and truly AFC franchises. That label, in my mind, belongs to the AFL teams that moved into the NFL. My greatest joy was watching the AFL’s New York Jets defeat in 1969 the then-Baltimore Colts 16-7 in Super Bowl III; my next greatest football joy occurred the following year when the Kansas City Chiefs took down the Minnesota Vikings 23-7. The year after, the Colts beat the Dallas Cowboys and my only joy there was that a team other than the Cowboys won the Super Bowl.

I’ll admit to being kind of old-fashioned in this regard. I cling tightly to my loyalties. The AFL remains a fond memory for me, as I watched the likes of Joe Namath, Daryle “The Mad Bomber” Lamonica, John Hadl, Lance “Bambi” Alworth, Lenny Dawson, Cookie Gilchrist, Abner Haynes, Buck Buchanan and, oh, I could go on forever.

If only the New England Patriots had beaten the Browns-turned-Ravens in that AFC championship game … then I’d have a reason to cheer.

But given that I have a sister who lives just south of San Francisco and who’s a devoted 49ers fan, I’ll cheer for her team. But I’ll do so with gritted teeth.

State of the City address, anyone?

Amarillo is a more sophisticated and complicated city than many of its residents care to acknowledge. They like the old days when it was a one-horse town fueled by farmers and ranchers’ income with help from the Santa Fe Railroad.

But it now comprises nearly 200,000 residents. City Hall’s budget – taken all together – runs about $200 million annually.

I’ve preached this before in a previous life, but the mayor ought to deliver an annual State of the City speech, giving residents a candid update on the condition of things at City Hall. I broached the subject publicly when Debra McCartt was mayor and she obliged by having some kind of Q-and-A on KACV-TV. It was a one-hit wonder. She didn’t do it again and her successor, Paul Harpole, hasn’t bothered to resume it.

The one particular problem I had with McCartt’s stab at offering a State of the City commentary was that the questions came from the likes of Gary Molberg, head of the Amarillo Chamber of Commerce. Think about that for a moment. Molberg is a nice guy but he gets paid by the chamber to be the city’s leading non-governmental cheerleader. If you run into Molberg out and about and ask him how he’s doing, he launches immediately into “things couldn’t be going better for the city.” He recites all the positive business activity occurring in Amarillo, telling you how “diversified” we’ve become. That’s all fine.

But a State of the City speech ought to be a more comprehensive assessment of where we stand today, how we got here and where we’re going.

Mayors of comparably sized cities offer these annual speeches to their constituents. Lubbock is one of them. I think the head guy in the Hub City delivers it to an annual public meeting. I’ll admit I haven’t heard one of those speeches, and I can’t offer detail on the content.

But we ought to be brought up to speed many critical matters, such as: the specifics of: downtown revitalization and its progress; the future of water development and what the city plans to do to ensure we have enough of it for many generations; infrastructure improvements; whether the red-light cameras are here to stay; how the city plans to enforce several new bold ordinances, such as the ban on handheld cellphones; whether the city can keep its tax rate low.

There ought to be a singular event, kind of like what the governor provides at the start of every legislative session or what the president delivers at the annual State of the Union speech on Capitol Hill.

I submit that what happens at City Hall has much more direct impact on people’s lives than anything that comes out of either domed building in Austin or Washington.

And even though Amarillo’s mayor gets paid virtually nothing and serves the same citywide constituency as his or her fellow commissioners, the mayor is still the city’s front person. Speak up, Mr. Mayor, and give us a full report on the State of the City. Put it on the record and then let your constituents decide whether we’re meeting our goals.

Tough to watch Hagel hearing

I’ll admit it was difficult to watch former Sen. Chuck Hagel being grilled – or perhaps I should say “charbroiled” – by his former colleagues on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Hagel is President Obama’s pick to be defense secretary and he came under intense fire – some news outlets referred to it as “friendly fire” – over comments he has made in the past about Israel, Iran and gay people.

Particularly troubling was the bitter fusillade launched at him by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., over statements Hagel made about the troop surge in Afghanistan. McCain insisted that Hagel give him a “yes or no” answer as to whether he still supported his stated view that Obama’s troop surge was a gross error. Hagel wouldn’t answer it the way McCain wanted. Instead, he preferred to explain himself in detail. McCain would have none of it.

The exchange was tense and it had an odd taste of bitterness coming from McCain.

The oddity of it stems from McCain and Hagel’s relationship. They’re both Republicans. They both are decorated veterans of the Vietnam War. They had been close allies while serving together in the U.S. Senate. What’s more, Hagel was McCain’s campaign manager when McCain ran for president the first time in 2000. I’ve noticed several pictures of the two of them during that campaign, with Hagel standing by his man as McCain was being pilloried in a ghastly attack launched by then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush’s campaign during the 2000 South Carolina GOP primary.

Hagel and McCain were thick back then.

Now, though, as Hagel seeks to become defense secretary in the Obama administration, we’ve heard McCain take a decidedly different tone when speaking to and about his former colleague and (presumably former) friend.

How can that be?

Well, it might have something to do with the individual who has tapped Hagel to lead the Pentagon. Barack Obama gave McCain a thorough drubbing in the 2008 election. I’m wondering now if McCain and other Republicans aren’t ticked off a bit more than usual because one of their own has agreed to work with a Democratic president who twice has kicked their backsides.

‘Chicken hawk’ label may stick to Cruz

Ted Cruz has been a U.S. senator from Texas for less than a month and he’s already earned an unfortunate label: chicken hawk.

The newly minted Republican lawmaker has criticized two decorated combat veterans, Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary-designate Chuck Hagel, for being insufficiently appreciative of the military.

Why has he earned the “chicken hawk” tag? Cruz hasn’t served a day in the military. It’s a term usually applied to those on the right, from those on the left, when they espouse quick military action without ever having served in the military, let alone exposing themselves to combat.

Kerry was a Navy officer who saw combat in Vietnam and received three Purple Hearts and a Silver Star during that terrible conflict; Hagel was an Army infantry sergeant in Vietnam and received two Purple Hearts and, as President Obama said while nominating him to the defense job, still is carrying shrapnel from that time. Cruz was one of just three senators to oppose Kerry’s appointment at State and plans to oppose Hagel’s appointment as defense boss.

Ted Cruz’s criticism of both men stems from differences over their views on Israel and Iran, or so he said. But then he entered that dangerous realm of being an armchair critic of two tested combat veterans when he never has donned his country’s military uniform.

Cruz is certainly within his rights as a senator to criticize others in public life. He just needs to take greater care in how – and at whom – he delivers such criticism.

Time to put up or shut up

Four of the five members of the Amarillo City Commission have filed for re-election, and the fifth one is expected to do so when she gets back into town.

Is this a critical moment? Sure it is. Elections always are critical for a community’s well-being. But this one might be more important than most recent elections. Commissioners have embarked on some big projects for the city and have made a few very tough calls. All of that has prompted some interesting gripes from the proverbial peanut gallery.

Thus, here is a perfect opportunity for some of the pot-shot artists to offer a change in direction, to campaign for an office with virtually zero material reward. Here’s the chance to offer oneself up for public inspection to have their ideas heard.

Mayor Paul Harpole and commissioners Ellen Robertson Green, Brian Eades and Jim Simms all have decided to fight for another two years in office; Commissioner Lilia Escajeda hasn’t yet filed, but my guess is that she will.

The city has made tangible improvements to its downtown district; it has strengthened its commitment to using cameras to deter red-light runners; it’s banned the use of handheld cellphones by motorists in addition to imposing a ban on texting in school zones.

Has the downtown improvement plan moved quickly enough? For my money, I am growing a bit impatient at the slow pace of progress. But that pace will pick up in due course, according to those who are working with the city on this endeavor. Time will tell if they are right.

The 2011 municipal election proved to be contentious. The 2013 election may prove to be equally so. But here is yet another opportunity for those who’ve been griping from the sidelines to step into the arena and provide some options for voters to consider.

Remember this, though. The job for which they would seek pays next to nothing: 10 bucks per weekly meeting. You don’t do this job for the money.

So, step up if you’re ready.

Look for middle ground in gun debate

What am I missing in this debate over guns?

It seems that whenever the subject of gun control comes up – as it has in recent weeks – the two extremes keep trying to outshout each other. Isn’t there some middle ground to be had here?

Former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz., told a Senate committee today that the government must do something to stem the tide of gun violence. She knows of which she speaks: Two years ago, Giffords was wounded grievously by Jared Lee Loughner in Tucson, Ariz. He would a dozen others and killed six others, including a 9-year-old girl.

Gun control activists of all stripes want to make it more difficult for bad guys to obtain guns. Then we have the other side, saying the government cannot impose any additional restrictions because, they say, it would violate constitutional guarantees that give citizens the right to own firearms.

The two sides end up bickering.

My own view is that we can impose stricter rules without violating the Second Amendment to the Constitution.

Background checks provide an example. NRA chief Wayne LaPierre said background checks won’t work with criminals, who won’t submit to any kind of check. Interesting, right? As Sen. Dick Durbin noted, “that’s the point!” Criminals will be unable to purchase a gun if they’re required to submit to background screening, he said. True, they’ll likely get them illegally, but the threat of a background check would deter them from buying a firearm from a legitimate private party or a retailer.

I guess I fail to understand why we can’t reach a compromise on this matter while preserving the essential integrity of the Second Amendment. New restrictions shouldn’t prohibit law-abiding hunters, sports shooters or collectors from purchasing firearms. The rules would take aim – pun intended – at those who shouldn’t own guns in the first place.

If only the two sides would stop talking past each other …

Water needs state’s serious attention

Rick Perry comes from an agricultural background, which he’s touted in his endless campaigns for governor of Texas.

Thus, he needs to spend some political capital – if he can find any of it tucked away somewhere – on an issue of dire consequence throughout this vast state, and in West Texas in particular: water.

Perry’s State of the State speech this week touched on a lot of key issues: education, transportation, job creation and, yes, water. But the water problem is giving some of us here the most heartburn.

The Texas Tribune reports that lawmakers have proposed taking as much as $2 billion from the state’s Rainy Day Fund for water projects. Given the tight money supply, $2 billion amounts to little more than a nice down payment on what the state ought to spend on water-related issues.

The Ogallala Aquifer is drying up. It’s not at critical stage … yet. But it’ll get there in due course if we cannot find a way to get better yields out of non-irrigated farmland. All those irrigated corn and cotton fields out there are sucking many thousands of acre feet of water out of the ground each year and the aquifer isn’t recharging at nearly the rate it needs to keep pace.

What are we going to do about it?

Lake Meredith – or what’s left of it – is no longer of any use to us. Water authorities no longer pump water out of it. Its depth is about 28 feet, which is about one-fourth of its historic high. While the state is thinking about water management, it ought to examine how it could have built a dam to back up the Canadian River only to watch the water levels drop almost every year since the dam was completed in the mid-1960s.

Someone, somewhere, has some explaining to do on that one.

Meanwhile, officials in cities and towns in the Panhandle are telling us to water our lawns on certain days during the summer, encouraging us to go without washing our cars, fix leaky faucets and do other things around the house to save water. Yes, every little bit helps. But the real culprits are out there on thousands of acres of irrigated farmland.

And the drought? Never mind the wee bit of snow we got here overnight. The drought hasn’t left us and it’s looking like we have another dry year coming on.

Gov. Perry, our water is running out around here. We need some help.

Anti-cellphone law tough to enforce

Texas lawmakers are considering whether to make another run at enacting a state law banning texting while driving.

I wish it would happen. But based on some highly unscientific evidence I’ve been able to gather since the start of the new year, it could be a tough law to enforce.

How do I know this? I don’t know it as fact, but here’s what I’ve noticed around Amarillo: The number of motorists I’ve witnessed talking while driving seems to have diminished very little since a city ordinance banning the activity took effect.

I’ve swung three ways on this issue: undecided, to opposing the ordinance and finally to favoring it.

The City Commission showed some guts in voting 4-1 to enact the ordinance. The police department has begun issuing warnings to motorists. But as I sit in my car at intersections watching motorists drive by in other directions, I continue to see many of them yakking on the phone as they whiz by.

What will it take to ban this activity? Time might have to lapse. There might have to be – God forbid – a horrific accident caused by some idiot motorist dialing a cellphone while driving through heavy traffic. The city might have to kick off an intense public-relations campaign to inform motorists of the new law and warn them in stark terms what happens if they break it by operating a handheld cellphone while sitting behind the wheel of a motor vehicle.

I’ll concede that my findings aren’t fool-proof. But I do pay attention to these types of things.

I just wish we had enough traffic cops to catch all the violators.

Legislators gaming the system?

The Texas Tribune has an interesting analysis of a quirk in state law that enables state legislators to obtain personal gain from legislation they carry.

What a crock!

I’ve long had this notion that the term “government ethics” is a bit of an oxymoron as it relates to Texas. There ought to be stringent prohibitions against any whiff of personal gain from legislation in Texas. But those prohibitions don’t exist.

The Tribune reports that the Texas Constitution contains no such ban as long as others in Texas can benefit from the same legislation. So, if a lawmaker authors a bill that benefits his or her company, it’s all right as long as others who work in the same field reap an identical benefit.

The term “public service” lacks a certain altruistic quality in Texas.

I recall a time years ago when a state lawmaker from the Gulf Coast got entangled in a situation that raised this kind of question. It turned out to be all right, in some folks’ eyes. I had a problem with it.

Then-state Rep. Mark Stiles, D-Beaumont, worked for a company that sold concrete. He then lobbied the state corrections department to build a maximum-security prison near Beaumont. The state agreed to build the prison, but then it needed to seek bids from contractors and subcontractors to provide material to build the lockup. Stiles’ company submitted a bid to provide the concrete for the prison. It was all done according to state law, meaning that Stiles had no direct hand in the bid or the state’s consideration of it. The state awarded the bid to the company that employed Stiles. The firm made a ton of money by selling the concrete to the state.

And then, astoundingly, the state named the prison unit after Mark Stiles.

I saw a problem with it at the time and said so publicly in my role as an opinion journalist. The entire transaction simply didn’t pass the proverbial smell test.

The state should toughen its rules governing personal gain, and restore a purer meaning to the term “public service.”

Fox says, “So long, Sarah”

Howard Kurtz is a pretty savvy media critic, but I think he touches too briefly on an essential element of why Sarah Palin and the Fox News Channel have parted company.

Fox had grown tired of Palin’s look-at-me persona. She had become bigger than her bosses in the eyes of many of her adoring fans.

Let me stipulate that I am not one of them … but I digress.

Fox decided to cut Palin loose because, in my view, she embarrassed her network employers. And for my money, that’s really saying something. The 2008 Republican vice-presidential nominee turned into something of a cartoon character and it became impossible to take her seriously.

Look at just a bit of the record:

* Daughter Bristol got embroiled in a seamy relationship with some goofball named Levi Johnston; they had a child together and that in itself became fodder for late-night comics. Then Bristol showed up on “Dancing With The Celebrities/Has Beens,” er “Stars.” As any national political figure will attest, their adult children became fair game rapidly when the media and the public start prying.

* Sarah launched her own TV “reality” show on The Learning Channel in which we got to watch her doing whatever she does in Alaska, a state she governed for half a term before quitting not long after she and John McCain got thumped in 2008 by Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

* “Sarah Barracuda” got caught in some silly televised mishaps. The most (in)famous of them perhaps was the time just after the 2008 election when she was being interviewed while in the background turkeys were being slaughtered – as they were shoved into some kind of decapitation machine. Happy Thanksgiving.

* The book “Game Change” and the film of the same title reported that Sen. McCain and his staff did next to zero vetting of Palin before choosing her as his running mate … and it showed. She was ill-prepared for the national spotlight and the public, as Kurtz noted in his essay (see attached link), lost interest in her.

How does one take an individual like this seriously. Indeed, Palin was, as liberal critics noted, an “empty vessel” devoid of serious principles or ideas.

Does any of this mean she’s going to disappear? Hardly. Social media will provide her with all the forum she needs or desires.

My hunch – and my hope – is that her once-adoring public will tune her out. Like the proverbial tree that falls in the Alaska forest, she won’t make a sound because no one will be listening.

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