Congressional overreaction?

Congress’s reaction to the way President Obama brokered the deal to release Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl certainly is a serious matter.

But is it worth a loss of sleep in the residential quarters of the White House? I don’t think so.

The anger is a result of what I believe has been a nearly six-year estrangement between the White House and Capitol Hill. It’s been brought on by both sides.

Republicans who run the House of Representatives dislike Barack Obama for a lengthy list of reasons. Most of it is because of policy reasons. Some of it, though, seems to go beyond what most of us considerable to be reasonable. A handful of GOP lawmakers have gone to extreme lengths to insult the president, question his integrity, his qualifications for office, you name it.

Shall we recall, also, that the leading Senate Republican declared during Barack Obama’s first year in office that his “No. 1 goal is to make Obama a one-term president”? Mitch McConnell failed in that quest, as the president won re-election.

OK, there’s where Capitol Hill is to blame.

President Obama did not bother to learn the fine art of legislating during his brief time in the Senate. Therefore, he entered the White House believing in his way only. He hasn’t developed the kind of personal relationships presidents need when the chips are down.

As some of my veteran Texas political observer friends have reminded me over the years, Barack Obama needs a healthy dose of Lyndon Johnson. LBJ was a product of the Senate. He knew how to legislate. He knew how to cajole, persuade, threaten, compromise, surrender — all at the same time. He took those skills to the White House when he became president on Nov. 22, 1963.

Had the current president developed better relationships with Congress, he wouldn’t find himself being pounded incessantly now over this latest matter — the alleged failure to consult fully with Congress before agreeing to the release of the bad guys from Gitmo in exchange for Bergdahl’s freedom.

Whose fault is all this?

From my perspective — and recognizing my own bias — I would have to lay the bulk of the blame here on Congress. The leadership there has been bereft of ideas of their own. They’ve been intent on undoing the president’s agenda at every possible turn. From health care, to environmental policy and lately — and this one just slays me — to rolling back the first lady’s guidelines on serving healthy lunches to our school children attending public schools, congressional Republicans have dug in their heels.

None of that excuses the president’s refusal to build better relationships, but in my mind it suggests that Barack Obama has grown tired of fighting over every single issue that needs to be resolved.

Bergdahl’s release needed to occur. It came after some tough decision-making at the White House. It has enraged members of Congress on both sides of the aisle.

Should we take their outrage seriously? Sure. But it doesn’t mean that Planet Earth will spin off its axis if they don’t get their way in this latest public quarrel.

Leave dad out of this discussion

While the debate flares over the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, a member of the young man’s family has been pulled by the right-wing media into this maelstrom.

Bob Bergdahl has become the target of Fox News Channel talking heads because he grew a beard while his son was being held captive by the Taliban. Fox News blowhards are saying now that he, um, “looks like a Muslim.”

Some of the talking heads are suggesting further that he holds “terrorist sympathies” toward the Taliban thugs who captured Sgt. Bergdahl five years ago.

I am happy to discuss whether Bowe Bergdahl left his post and was AWOL at the time of his capture. I also am willing to debate whether the United States gave up too much — those five high-ranking Taliban militants — in return for Bergdahl’s release.

Bob Bergdahl doesn’t deserve to be dragged through the media sausage grinder.

Sgt. Bergdahl’s parents are overjoyed their son is in friendly hands. Can’t they be allowed to rejoice in their son’s return from war?

Here comes the sun … power

President Obama has decided to crack down on carbon dioxide emissions produced by power-generating plants.

He has implemented federal environmental rules requiring a 30 percent reduction in emissions by 2030. Is the president the enemy of the coal industry, which produces a lot of energy to fuel these plants? Not according to Bloomberg View, which reports that the solar industry is the biggest threat to the fossil fuel industry.

I’ve read the article attached here and it brings to mind something I’ve wondered for almost the entire time I’ve lived in West Texas: Why isn’t solar energy more prevalent here?

I think I know one reason: natural gas. We have lots of natural gas here and it remains a large employer and is quite important to the electricity-generation grid. There’s little incentive, therefore, to move away from natural gas.

West Texas is producing a lot more wind energy now than when we moved here in early 1995. Indeed, Texas and California are the two top alternative-energy producing states in the country — a fact that I’m sure drives the governors of both states, Democrat Jerry Brown of California and Republican Rick Perry of Texas stark-raving mad.

West Texas also has a large amount of sunshine. The Panhandle has more than 300 days of sunshine annually. We can erect a lot of solar panels on new home construction here and have them heat and cool houses while using less fossil fuel that has limits on its supply.

As Carl Pope, a Sierra Club activist, writes for Bloomberg View: “Solar panels — whether utility scale or residential rooftop — generate maximum power on exactly those hot afternoons when demand peaks. What’s more, they do so at no marginal cost; the sun is free. This reduces reliance on peakers, causing prices to fall across the board, including for customers without solar power.”

It’s an interesting concept that ought to find its way to West Texas … eventually.

Yes, they were heroes

They’re old now. They’re in their late 80s or in their 90s.

They once were young, full of eager anticipation and they wanted to fight for their country. They had joined the fight of their lives to save the world from tyranny.

And 70 years ago, on June 6, 1944, thousands of them jumped out of landing craft and ran ashore at Normandy, France to liberate Europe from the Nazis who had occupied the continent.

Some of them returned to that beach today to remember the chaos, the blood, the sacrifice and what they did on behalf of the world.

Many of them don’t consider themselves heroes. Many of us who came along later will disagree vehemently with that view.

They surely were heroes. They are heroes to this day.

It was called “D-Day.” Why that name? There was no symbolism, no hidden meaning. It’s commonly accepted that “D-Day” meant merely, well, that was the day of the massive amphibious assault.

Was the assault performed without a hitch? Hardly. There were mistakes all along the huge front. Landing craft opened up and men drowned in too-deep water. Airborne troops flown in behind the German lines were dropped in wrong locations. Chaos ensued.

The men persevered. They fought their way off the beaches, facing deadly small arms fire and a determined enemy.

These heroes were not to be denied.

They are old now and they are leaving this world at a quickening pace.

But oh, how we owe them for what they did seven decades ago.

They are heroes. All of them.

Lubbock: We're No. 1

Surveys such as those that rank cities’ boredom quotient need to be taken with a grain of salt or, perhaps, a pile of manure.

A website called Movato Blog has rated Lubbock the most boring city in America.

OK, that snickering and chuckling you might be hearing is coming from Amarillo residents who might tell you they’ve known all along that Lubbock is as boring as the drive between the two cities.

I would caution my fellow Amarillo residents to resist poking too much fun at our southerly neighbors. It might be that the Movato Blog “researchers” never had heard of Amarillo — which might tell us all something about where we rank on people’s attention meter.

My sense is to stick up just a bit for Lubbock. I have some good friends who live there. I do not want to denigrate their city any more than I would them to do the same for mine.

As one good friend said in response to a column by my pal Chip Chandler’s recent piece in the Amarillo Globe-News, in which he called Lubbock the “seventh circle of hell”: “Lubbock gets first-rate concerts, while Amarillo gets first-rate tractor pulls.”


Lubbock did lure a pretty fair musician to play there in a few days. Perhaps you’ve heard of Sir Paul McCartney, who’s opening the U.S. leg of his world tour in Buddy Holly’s birthplace; Sir Paul wants to pay tribute to someone who had such a huge influence on his own pretty fair music career.

But I digress.

Movato said Lubbock’s dining stinks. Its nightlife is just OK. Entertainment venues are lousy.

I would encourage you to scroll through the Top 10 Boring Cities list for yourself. Determine whether you agree with Lubbock’s characterization as a boring place.

Me? I like the city. What’s more, during college football season, you can feast on excellent barbecue outside of Texas Tech’s stadium on game day. Ask any West Texan you know: That ain’t boring.

Headlines keep changing rapidly

It occurs to me that our collective attention keeps getting diverted from crisis to crisis — and few of us talk openly about the crisis that passes from our view.

* Remember the Syrian civil war? We were going to bomb Syria for using chemical weapons on civilians. Then we backed off. The Russians entered the picture and helped broker a deal to get rid of the weapons.

* A Boeing 777 disappeared en route from Malaysia to China. It apparently crashed somewhere in the Indian Ocean. Search teams from several countries are looking for the wreckage that contains 239 passengers and crew. To date, nothing’s been found.

* Then came Ukraine. The Russians entered the picture there, too. Ukraine ousted its pro-Russian president, who fled to Russia. The Russians essentially annexed Crimea, moved a lot of troops to the Ukraine border, then backed off after the Ukrainians elected a news president who is acceptable to Moscow.

* A Nigerian terrorist group — Boko Haram — kidnapped about 300 girls and is holding them captive somewhere. World opinion erupted and the demands came out for the international community to do all it can to rescue those young women.

* Americans got caught up in the Benghazi story yet again. The House of Representatives formed a select committee to examine the Benghazi attack one more time. Maybe we’ll see the end of this probe. Then again, maybe not until after the 2016 presidential election that’s likely to feature one Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was secretary of state when the U.S. consulate was attacked in September 2012.

* The Veterans Administration took the headlines away from Benghazi with reports of veterans dying while awaiting health care in Arizona. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned and a thorough review is under way to find a cure for what ails the massive federal agency.

* Taliban militants released Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and the questions about his release and the terms that brought it about have created the latest headline grabber.

These sequences keep building on themselves. Our attention is riveted on these storied and then it’s diverted from one “crisis of the moment” to the next one.

Is it any wonder why Barack Obama’s hair has gotten so gray?

Hey, what’s happening with Syria these days?

Good call, Hailey officials

Hailey, Idaho officials and civic leaders shouldn’t have to worry about anyone accusing them of having a tin ear when it involves the uproar over the release of one of their own from Taliban hands.

The good folks of Hailey had planned a celebration to welcome home U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was freed the other day after being held captive by Taliban militants. Bergdahl was serving his country in Afghanistan when he was taken captive.

Then came the questions about (a) whether he walked off his post and deserted, (b) whether the United States gave up too much (five high-ranking Taliban officers) in exchange for Bergdahl’s release and (c) whether President Obama broke the law by brokering the deal without advising Congress.

Hailey officials cited “security concerns” as the reason for canceling the celebration. Do you think?

Yes, security surely would be an issue. More to the point, Hailey officials do not want to be seen as honoring someone with so many serious questions hanging over him.

Sgt. Bergdahl deserves the chance to answer the desertion allegations. We don’t know the particulars of his capture, other than what some of his comrades have said. Do they have all the fact? Probably not.

As for Hailey, I hope the town gets the chance to welcome home one of its sons. Just not yet.

What say you, Col. North?

Allow me to stipulate right off the top that I am acutely aware that the source of this blog post is an admittedly progressive pundit who routinely criticizes conservatives on her nightly TV talk show.

However, the point made here is a valid one.

Many Americans are steamed over the terms of the deal that brought about the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. One of them — are you ready? — who’s really angry about it is former Marine Corps Lt. Col. Oliver North, the former principal character in another hostage-release deal that, um, drew a lot of attention to a Republican president.

As it is stated in the link attached here, it is almost beyond comprehension that this guy, of all people, would have anything to say at all publicly about a deal that involves “negotiating” with enemy agents. He was involved up to his armpits in precisely such a deal. It brought shame and, yes, scandal to President Reagan’s administration. He also was actually convicted of a crime, although his conviction was overturned on appeal.

Still, for Ollie North to weigh in … well, there’s your benchmark for absurdity.

What if we'd left Bergdahl behind?

As the feeding frenzy continues over the release of a one-time prisoner of war in Afghanistan, a lot of key questions have arisen.

I’ve covered some of them already in this blog. Another one has popped up.

What would the reaction have been had the United States — knowing the history of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s views on the Afghan War and perhaps suspecting he had left his post, as has been alleged — left him behind?

The demands for answers have been loud, clear and largely justified.

Bergdahl was released by his Taliban captors after he’d been held for five years. In exchange, we released five high-ranking Taliban thugs from Gitmo on the condition they be restricted from traveling out of Qatar for a year. After that, well, it’s anyone’s guess, I suppose.

Bergdahl reportedly opposed our Afghan War effort. He said so in emails back home. Those views allegedly were known by the Army. We went after him anyway. President Obama said Americans “don’t leave soldiers behind” in war.

What we gave up to get him and the allegations that he “deserted” his comrades have raised a huge uproar.

Some of my very own friends here in the Texas Panhandle have called Bergdahl a traitor. They want him punished, thinking they know all the facts already. One fellow even said we ought to send him back to his captors.


Still, the question remains: What would be the tone of the criticism if we’d turned our backs on a soldier who some Americans already believe committed an act of treason? Would those people who today are critical of the recovery effort applaud an abandonment?

My strong suspicion is that they would be screaming themselves hoarse at the notion that the United States actually would leave one of our warriors behind, in the hands of a ruthless enemy.

Perhaps that takes us directly into the excruciating decision made at the White House, the Pentagon, the CIA, the National Security Council and the Oval Office itself.

It hardly, therefore, seems fair for peanut-gallery pundits to draw premature conclusions about a delicate matter about which they know next to nothing.

Yes, there are many questions to answer. How about first getting those answers?

Here comes 'impeachment' talk

Wait for it. Here it comes. Are you ready for it?

Some talking heads in both the left- and right-wing media are talking about impeachment as it regards the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

Oh … brother.

Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina — who knows a thing or two about impeaching a president of the United States — now warns that President Obama could face impeachment if he releases any more prisoners from Guantanamo Bay without consulting first with Congress.

The United States turned over five Taliban detainees in exchange for Bergdahl. The exchange reportedly took place without the White House advising Congress of it in advance, under federal law. Republicans are outraged — outraged, I tell you — that they weren’t so advised.

The White House has apologized for what it calls an “oversight.” That hasn’t stopped the uproar.

Sen. Graham — himself an Air Force reserve lawyer — once helped prosecute President Clinton during the 42nd president’s 1998 impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate. The Senate acquitted the president and Republicans ended up paying dearly for it politically at the next election.

Some left-wing media pundits — notably MSNBC’s Ed Schultz — believe Republicans are waiting for the results of this year’s mid-term election before commencing impeachment proceedings against Barack Obama. The idea, according to Schultz, is that the GOP could gain control of the Senate and tighten their grip on the House, particularly with tea party Republicans winning elections across the country.

I’m hoping Schultz is just hyperventilating and will calm down once he catches his breath.

We’ll need to get some answers to questions about Bergdahl’s release and, just as importantly, his capture five years ago. Was he AWOL? Did he abandon his post? If he did walk away, should the Army court-martial him? Let’s sort all that out first.

As for the release, the president and the Pentagon brass were determined not to leave an American behind once we leave the Afghanistan battlefield. Bowe Bergdahl was the lone U.S. service member being held captive. The brass felt it was worth it to exchange five Taliban officers for Bergdahl.

Did they do it by the book? That, too, remains to be determined definitively.

Good grief. Let’s can this impeachment talk until we get all the facts on the table.

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