Watch your back, Gov. Christie

I feel for New Jersey’s Republican governor, Chris Christie.

He is trying to juggle competing roles: as a budding GOP superstar and as someone who’s committed the cardinal sin in right-wing circles by saying nice things about Democratic President Obama near the end of a hotly contested presidential election campaign.

Christie is running for re-election as Garden State governor. He’s apparently facing a challenge from the lunatic fringe of his party because he had high praise for the president in the wake of the federal response to Superstorm Sandy, which pummeled the Jersey Shore right before the election.

Obama went to Jersey, toured the devastation, comforted heartbroken residents and declared that the White House was operating on what he called “the 15-minute rule.” White House aides are to respond within 15 minutes of any call from the affected area “and we’re going to find a way to say ‘yes,’” Obama said.

That was music to Christie’s ears. And he said so … many times.

That’s what reportedly has angered some within his party.

But what’s the problem? Christie was concerned first with his constituents. He reached out for federal assistance and POTUS himself answered the call. Both men were doing their jobs – not as partisans but as responsible elected officials charged with caring for those who depend on government to help them in times of distress.

Should the governor win re-election next year – and a big part of me hopes he does – he’ll be positioned to run for president in 2016, if that’s his desire. But the tea party cabal within his party has demonstrated an annoying talent for running competent Republicans out of office (see Sen. Dick Lugar of Indiana and former Sen. Bob Bennett of Utah, to cite just two prominent examples).

Watch your back, governor.

Drug testing public assistance recipients?

State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, has pre-filed a bill that is going to raise quite a few hackles.

I haven’t yet made up my mind on this one. It’s sure to cause me some heartburn.

Applicants seeking help from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families would, under Nelson’s bill, be required to take a drug test to get that help. Is that a bad idea? Think for a moment about that. Employers ask job applicants to take drug tests as a condition for employment; if the applicant fails the test, they don’t get the job. Shouldn’t we compel those seeking public assistance, including unemployment compensation, to do the same thing as those seeking employment in the public or private sector?

Linda Campbell, a thoughtful editorial writer/columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, believes such a law could violate the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the one that protects us against unreasonable search. I usually agree with Campbell’s view, but is it more unreasonable to demand requirements of those seeking public assistance than it is to demand it of job-seekers? I’m having some trouble separating the two circumstances.

On the other hand …

If the state is going to establish this comprehensive drug-testing protocol for those who are out of work or who need other kinds of public, where is it going to find the money? Gov. Rick Perry keeps yammering about making cuts in state programs to ensure we get a balanced budget and he, along with the Republican-dominated Legislature, have done a yeoman’s job of slashing money from such “frills” as public and higher education. Now the GOP wants to spend more money to test poor Texans for drugs?

Therein lies my conflict. Governing is no picnic.

Who cares about ‘winners’?

The comments immediately after the announcement of cease-fire in Gaza make me laugh … and not with joy, but with derision.

Hamas is claiming some kind of victory in the announcement of a cease-fire brokered by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the leaders of Egypt and Israel.

Israel is making similar claims of victory.

This all begs the question: Who cares?

The only “winners” in this are the Israelis and the Palestinians who’ve been caught up in the crossfire between the Hamas terrorists who’ve been shelling Israel with rockets and the Israelis who’ve been responding – justifiably, in my view – with artillery and air strikes of their own.

If there is another winner, it must be Secretary Clinton, who’s about to leave office after four stellar years as the nations’ top diplomat. She announced long ago she’d serve one term in the Obama administration – and she’s about to leave to a chorus of high praise.

Meanwhile, Hamas and the Israelis can stop the chest-thumping and give thanks that the shelling has stopped.

The cease-fire must hold. And as Clinton said in announcing it, the immediate end of hostilities must serve as a building block to erecting a lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

If that’s Hillary Clinton’s legacy upon leaving the public stage – for now, at least – then she’s earned her place in the Diplomacy Hall of Fame.

What’s a president to do?

I continue to be amazed at President Obama’s critics – and we have no shortage of them in West Texas – who keep harping on his so-called passive stance regarding Israel.

As the New York Times article linked to this blog notes, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is embracing Obama’s declaration of support as he – Netanyahu – faces his own election challenges in January. Yes, Bibi wanted his long-time friend Mitt Romney to win the U.S. presidential election. But he lost. And now the Israeli PM must lock arms with the man who is president – and who will be president of the United States for the next four years.

Obama critics keep suggesting that the United States is doing too little to support Israel in the wake of the terrorist rockets being launched from Gaza into neighboring Israeli cities. What’s the president supposed to do? Send in a brigade of Marines? Scramble fighter jets off a carrier battle group to bomb and strafe terrorist targets? Order a Delta Force strike?

As many observers have noted, the Israeli military is quite capable of defending the country. The U.S. president’s role in this current crisis is to assure Israelis that the United States will lend all diplomatic, political and intelligence-gathering support it can to assist our ally.

Maybe I’m hearing things and/or hallucinating, but I’m quite sure President Barack Obama has done everything possible to lend support to Israel.

Israel’s fight for survival

I really do get Israel’s plight in the face of sworn enemies who vow to wipe the country off the face of the planet.

A little more than three years ago, I had the high honor of touring that country with four of my best friends in the world. We were part of a Rotary International exchange. We spent four weeks visiting Israel from top to bottom, from the seashore to the Golan Heights. And one of the profound impressions one gets when visiting the country of roughly 8,000 square miles is just how close everyone lives to once- and still-hostile nations.

The tragedy of Gaza reminds me of that proximity. Hamas, the terrorist organization that governs the Gaza Strip, is launching missiles into Israel. They’re not targeting military installations. They’re aiming the missiles at innocent people. Israel is vowing to strike back, hard, unless the two sides can broker a cease-fire. That agreement appears to be closer as I write these words. I hope that is the case.

But I also understand fully Israel’s desire to take whatever measures are necessary to protect its citizens. Hamas is a sworn enemy of Israel. The Israelis cannot tolerate – nor should they – that kind of threat to their homeland. They must strike back and put down the terrorists.

I have never fully trusted the peace agreements Israel has signed with Jordan and Egypt, two former enemies that border Israel. I fear that in the event of another all-out war in the region that Egypt and Jordan will scrap the agreement while taking up arms with their Arab brethren. Would it happen? I pray it isn’t so.

Within our first week of touring Israel in the spring of 2009, we visited an air force museum in Bee’r Sheva. A young guide told us it takes less than 10 minutes to fly across Israel in a super-sonic fighter jet. As a result, any location in Israel is an easy target for a jet from, say, Iran – should that aircraft manage to penetrate Israel’s state-of-the-art air defense system.

And when you see first-hand how close the Israelis are to those who wish to harm them – such as those who’ve been shelled in Ashkelon and Sderot, which are a virtual shouting distance from the Gaza border – you understand why the Israelis have every right to use whatever means necessary to defend themselves.

GOP to Mitt: Nice knowin’ ya

Democrats used to abandon failed presidential nominees.

George McGovern in 1972, Jimmy Carter in 1980, Walter Mondale in 1984, Michael Dukakis in 1988? They all became pariahs within their party after suffering crushing election defeats.

Now it’s Republicans’ turn to leave a failed candidate to the political wolves. Mitt Romney has become the GOP’s scapegoat. True, he didn’t suffer a landslide loss to President Obama on Nov. 6. He fell about 3.5 million ballots short in the popular vote; the Electoral College margin bordered on a wipeout, at 332-206.

If Romney had just not opened his mouth recently when asked how Obama beat him …

He told a radio talk show host the other day the president won by bestowing “gifts” on his constituent base. He seemed to be singling out Latinos, who voted in overwhelming numbers for the president. Romney’s sour-grape excuse sounded petty and unseemly in light of his graceful concession speech on Election Night.

Now that he’s run off at the mouth, other Republicans are leveling their own fire at their presidential nominee. “When you are in a hole, you stop digging,” U.S. Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., said. Romney “is still digging,” he said. Newt Gingrich said Romney’s remark is “nuts.”

One apparent reason for Romney’s abandonment has been that his fellow Republicans don’t like him very much. John McCain was said to have despised Romney when they ran against each other in 2008. Gingrich called Romney a liar during this year’s GOP primary campaign.

The Republican soul-searching is underway. The GOP was just certain – absolutely certain – that the White House was theirs for the taking. They nominated the wrong man.

And now Democrats can be forgiven for saying: Welcome to our world.

Texas, home of sore losers?

More than a few Texans are angry with the results of the Nov. 6 election.

They didn’t want Barack Obama re-elected as president of the United States. So, to give voice to their anger, they have signed a petition asking the U.S. government to give Texas permission to “peacefully” secede from the Union.

More than 4.5 Texans voted for Republican nominee Mitt Romney, compared to 3.3 million who voted for President Obama. That’s a fairly substantial majority in a single state for the guy who lost the election by about 3.5 million votes nationally.

Is there some good news in this? Only this, as far as I can tell: Texas Gov. Rick Perry is having none of it. He shot his mouth off in 2011 about Texans getting so angry they would want to secede. Critics took that declaration as a tacit endorsement of secession. Perry said he opposed secession back then. He said so even more strongly this time, with the petition making the rounds in Texas. He wants to preserve the Union and will fight any attempt to break away.

But here’s another point the governor needs to make: We are a nation of states united under a common government framework. Petitioning for secession – even a peaceful secession – runs totally counter to our national unity.

More Americans voted for the president’s re-election than voted against it.

The idea of pulling out of the Union simply because your side lost an election is, well, quite un-American.

Look inward, Republicans

As the Republican Party continues its post-election self-examination, its leaders are struggling to define the issues that did them in at the ballot box.

My hunch? Immigration is one of the key issues. And here is where the GOP needs to take a page from a couple of Texans: George W. Bush and Rick Perry. Bush was Texas governor before he became president; Perry has been governor since December 2000 … although it seems like it’s forever.

Whereas the Republicans rallied largely behind presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s desire for illegal immigrants to “self-deport,” Bush and Perry have been the voices of reason on this issue. Both Texans have favored comprehensive immigration reform, seeking to “fast-track” illegal immigrants’ status toward legal residency and eventually citizenship if they so choose.

It’s no secret now that nearly three-quarters of Latinos favored President Obama’s re-election. Compare that with the nearly 40 percent of Latinos who voted for Bush’s re-election in 2004 and you get an idea of one key area where the GOP did its election-night face plant.

What’s more, Bush and Perry also have been strong on an issue that simply angers the dickens out of conservatives. They favor allowing illegal immigrants who were brought to Texas as children by their parents to pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities. A lot of conservatives dislike that notion, contending that such a policy encourages more illegal immigrants to come into Texas. Perry in particular – and I don’t usually speak well of Gov. Goodhair – has been strong on this issue. He says quite correctly that these incoming college students who were brought to Texas by parents seeking a better life consider themselves to be Texans. The U.S. is the only country they know. Why not grant them opportunity for a higher education at a rate they can afford?

Indeed, Perry’s view on in-state tuition for children of illegal immigrants sounds a great deal like the Dream Act that Obama favors, enabling all such individuals a chance to improve their lives in the only country they’ve ever known.

Don’t bet on Perry saying he agrees with the president on anything, let alone immigration.

But the Republican Party needs to study the demographic trend now underway in many states, including Texas. The nation isn’t all-native-born-Anglo, folks. Deal with it.

The cliff looms … maybe

What is it about people in power in D.C. that makes them want to engage in gratuitous brinksmanship?

They’re at it again. This time it’s because of the so-called “fiscal cliff” that threatens Americans’ investment accounts – including mine. The cliff looms only if Republicans and Democrats cannot reach an agreement on ways to cut the deficit. President Obama, fresh off his re-election, makes the most sense of all: Cut the deficit with a combination of spending reductions and modest tax increases for the wealthiest Americans, those who earn more than a quarter-million dollars annually.

As Obama and his allies have noted, asking the rich to pay a little more won’t make them poor. They’ll still be rich. Meanwhile, the rest of us can keep our tax breaks and, therefore, be able to invest our own money.

What happens if the two sides don’t agree by the end of the year? Everyone’s taxes go up and the government kicks in with automatic 10 percent spending cuts across the board. That means defense. And, oh yes, Republicans don’t want to cut a dime out of the Pentagon budget. Are they paying attention here?

This nonsense must not continue. I’m quite sure I share the views of many Americans who are getting a bit antsy watching their investment portfolios shrink while the power-brokers in D.C. keep playing games with each other.

Must I remind them that they work for us – not the other way around?

Texas GOP suffers personality disorder

You’ve heard the mantra from Republicans for many years, that local control of public policy provides the best form of government.

Texas Republicans say it all the time. I’ve heard ‘em say it. Many times. Keep “big gub’mint” out of people’s lives, they say.

And yet …

When it comes to red-light cameras, Texas legislators – again, led by Republicans who dominate the Legislature – keep trotting this notion out that the state ought to outlaw cities’ right to deploy red-light cameras to help the police stop lawbreakers from endangering themselves and, more importantly, other motorists and/or pedestrians.

My good buddy Enrique Rangel, writing for the Amarillo Globe-News, details in a story published Monday some of the ideas that the Legislature might consider when it convenes in January. One of those bright notions is a law banning red-light cameras statewide.

What’s wrong with these people? Do they believe in local control or don’t they?

Amarillo installed red-light cameras at several intersections around the about five years ago. They have been nabbing law-breakers by taking pictures of vehicle license plates as they run through red lights. The city sends a citation to the owner of the vehicle and orders him/her to pay the fine … or else. What’s the drawback? Well, the registered vehicle owner might not be the one breaking the law; it might be a relative or a friend behind the wheel. Still, if that’s the case, then the driver of the vehicle, if not its owner, and the owner need to figure out a way to get the pay fine paid.

The money collected goes to several places: the vendor who leases the cameras to the city, the state and, most importantly, to the city, which must, under state law, use the money for traffic safety improvements. You know, it’s frivolous stuff, like hiring more patrol officers and improving traffic signalization.

Several cities have instituted the camera-aided enforcement because their leaders have determined they have a specific need. Amarillo made that determination and acted. The state, which once banned cities from taking this action, now just might consider taking it all back.

I ask once more: Are legislators, particularly those who oppose Big Brother intruding into communities’ well-being, going to let cities and towns act in their own best interests, or are they going to let paternalistic impulses strip communities of local control everyone – especially Republicans who run things in Austin – insist on protecting?


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