Lesson learned while watching Ducks

I learned a valuable lesson Thursday night while watching the Oregon Ducks play the Kansas State Wildcats in the Fiesta Bowl.

If you’re going to watch a Ducks football game, be sure to watch every single play. You don’t, you’ll miss something big.

For the second time in as many seasons, during a BCS bowl game, I had the misfortune of missing a gigantic play from the Ducks.

I turned the game on exactly 12 seconds late. The picture on came and image on the screen was of the Ducks cheering, high-fiving and celebrating De’Anthony Thomas’ 94-yard touchdown run on the game’s opening kickoff. The camera flashed to the K State fans, many of whom were holding their heads in disbelief at what they had just seen.

OK, I saw the replay, but it isn’t the same.

This isn’t the first time the Ducks – and Thomas in particular – have done this to me. Flash back to last year’s Rose Bowl game: Ducks vs. Wisconsin. I was watching every snap. Then I made a critical mistake. I got up, walked into the kitchen to get something to drink. What do hear coming from the TV set? Cheering and hollering and TV announcers exclaiming about what they had just seen – which was Thomas busting a run from scrimmage for a 91-yard touchdown.

Lesson learned a year ago, right? Oh, no.

I had to re-learn it Thursday night. Shame on me.

Get a grip, Louie


John Boehner has been re-elected speaker of the House of Representatives, but only over the objections of a few arch-conservatives within the Republican House caucus.

I must admit that the most ludicrous objection of all came from right here in Texas, from Rep. Louie Gohmert, who voted for someone who’s no longer even serving in the House.

Gohmert, an admitted conspiracist from East Texas who continues to doubt President Obama’s constitutional qualifications to serve in the office to which he’s been re-elected – he wonders if the president was born in Kenya and not Hawaii, as POTUS has declared – voted for former Rep. Allen West, a Florida Republican, who lost his own re-election bid in November.

Seems that Gohmert likes West’s brand of nutcase conservatism. West, who served a single term in the House, once accused dozens of House Democrats of being closet communists; he labeled Florida congressional colleague Debbie Wasserman-Schulz, a Democrat of course, a “despicable human being”; and most recently joined the right-wing chorus accusing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of faking her concussion to get out of testifying on the Sept. 11 Benghazi, Libya attack that killed four Americans, including the U.S.ambassador to Libya.

West, thankfully, is gone. Gohmert, though, remains and no doubt will continue to embarrass many of the rest of his fellow Texans with his loony rants.

Sigh …

Get off the phone and drive … or else

Today is a landmark day in the history of Amarillo, Texas. It’s the day the city began enforcing a no-talk-on-handheld-cellphone ordinance.

Amarillo city commissioners did something in 2012 that took them out of their comfort zone. They enacted the ordinance all by themselves. They didn’t refer it to voters for their permission, as they have done twice with no-smoking bans. Nope. They acted like leaders.

Effective today, the police department has begun citing motorists they catch dialing up their friends and kinfolk on handheld cellphones while driving their cars. No can do, say the cops.

Texas transportation officials reported more than 400 traffic deaths in 2011 because of “distracted driving.” That includes the morons who think they can operate a motor vehicle and dial a cellphone at the same time. They’re talking multi-tasking to a dangerous new level. Of course, so do the idiots who apply makeup, fumble for a cigarette, read a book or unwrap a cheeseburger while driving.

But it’s clear, to me at least, that cellphone use has become the No. 1 cause of distracted driving. And don’t get me started on the brain-dead motorists I see texting while driving.

I’ll admit to being on both sides of the fence on this one. I settled finally on the side of those who want the city put its foot down on motorists who don’t understand – or ignore – the consequences of driving while taking one’s eyes and minds off the road.

Will the cellphone use ban reduce the roadway carnage? Not immediately. Police and transportation authorities believe that over time the levels of highway accidents caused by this activity to decrease. The ordinance won’t end it completely … any more than laws against murder have stopped that crime from occurring.

The city deserves high praise, though, for taking the lead on trying to solve this problem. And take my word for it, it is a problem in Amarillo.

Stand along any busy thoroughfare in the city and take note of all the drivers you see with a phone stuck to the side of their head.

Biden’s legislative skills put to work

Vice presidents of the United States can be major players in a political drama, as current VP Joe Biden demonstrated amply in the past couple of days.

He helped broker a financial deal that averted a potential economic catastrophe. Biden worked with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell on a deal to save middle-class tax cuts and to stop automatic spending cuts that could have plunged the nation into another recession.

Biden’s role was critical for this reason: He spent 37 years in the Senate and knows how the system works in that body. He speaks senators’ language and knows many of the Senate’s senior members, such as McConnell, very well.

Indeed, President Obama employed the VPOTUS in a constructive manner that could serve as a model for future presidents. Indeed, think for a moment of another president limited legislative experience with a VP with many years of it working on Capitol Hill. The thought turns to President John F. Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon Johnson.

JFK never used LBJ in the way Obama deployed Biden. Johnson in fact was a master legislator, perhaps one of the best in Senate history. It is to his great credit that the current president sent Biden onto the legislative battlefield when the call came from McConnell to help rescue the talks that had broken down between the GOP leader and his Democratic counterpart, Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Whatever political spoils go to the administration over this deal, the president owes his No. 2 man a debt of thanks.

Given the stock market’s reaction to news of the deal – the Dow skyrocketed 300-plus points today – so do millions of Americans who made a few bucks today.

Good job, Mr. Vice President.

Immediate calamity averted

Note: I am going to write this post without using the words “fiscal cliff,” a description that is beginning to make me as crazy as the phrase “at the end of the day …”

Well, the House of Reps proved me wrong, and I’m glad it did.

I was sure the purists among them were going to spoil the Senate-passed budget hammered out by Vice President Biden and Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell. The pie-in-the-sky crowd had me going. Then, Speaker John Boehner counted heads and realized he didn’t have enough votes to amend the measure and send it back to the Senate … and then he put it to a vote.

Guess what? A bipartisan majority approved the bill – and that included staunch conservative Republican Rep. Mac Thornberry of Clarendon. Mac said “yes,” and then griped about the need for more spending cuts in his statement announcing his affirmative vote.

I’m glad the measure passed, not because I’m crazy about it. It needed immediate spending cuts. They won’t come for another two months when the “sequestration” deadline extension expires. That’s when automatic cuts kick in, unless our distinguished lawmakers make the cuts voluntarily.

But tax rates remain low for us middle-income Americans. The wealthier of us will see a modest increase, to the levels imposed during the Clinton administration, when the economy exploded in a grand expansion.

Even better news for us older Americans is that the stock market – which has some of our retirement income tucked away – took off like a rocket today with news of the budget deal. I don’t expect the market to keep soaring, but at least it didn’t fall off the, um … never mind.

I am gratified as well that House members and senators aren’t patting themselves on the backs today. CNN business correspondent Ali Veshi said it best on Tuesday when he reminded us that Congress had 518 days to get this thing done but waited anyway until the last minute. “They live in a parallel universe,” Velshi said.

They got the deal enacted, but they still should be ashamed of themselves.

Goodbye, 112th Congress, and good riddance.

Purists put progress in jeopardy

It comes down to this: Are the purists in the House of Representatives going to blow up an imperfect fiscal deal because it isn’t pure enough and, thus, risk raising taxes for tens of millions of their constituents?

Seems as if that’s a distinct possibility.

I don’t recall Senate Republicans singing the praises of the deal brokered on New Year’s Eve by Vice President Biden and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. They don’t like it any more than some liberal Democrats didn’t like some of the tax provisions contained in the bill. But they sought and reached some middle ground, which usually results in effective legislating.

Now it sits in the laps of the House members, most of whom are Republicans – many of whom are ideological Puritans who just cannot fathom the idea of compromise. They want it their way, or else. The “or else” could produce considerable chaos when the financial markets open for business Wednesday, threatening a lot of people’s nest eggs.

I’ll confess that I don’t like much of the budget package cobbled together either. I wish it had contained immediate spending cuts. But buried deep in the bill, near the end of it, there is language that says the cuts will occur in March, after the extended deadline when the automatic cuts are supposed to occur. It remains for Congress to make the cuts rather than allowing the axe to fall.

It’s not a deal-breaker in my view.

It is, however, a non-starter in the eyes of those rigid House purists who now are insisting on having it their way – or no way at all.

The 112th Congress is going out with a bang, illustrating for all to see precisely how it earned the title of Least Productive Congress in history.

‘Some wins, some losses’

Compromise isn’t a four-letter word.

So it came to pass early today when the U.S. Senate approved a deal to avoid plunging the nation into a new recession.

And it was lame-duck Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, who said it well. “You have some wins, some losses; in the end it’s about even.” Hutchison, who voted in favor of the deal, is about to leave the Senate, handing over the seat she held since 1993 to tea party zealot Ted Cruz, who doesn’t see the art of compromise as quite the shining art that Hutchison does.

Too bad for the cause of good government.

The 89-8 Senate vote seeks to keep middle-class taxes low; it stops the automatic cuts mandated by the so-called “fiscal cliff”; it boosts tax rates for families earning more than $450,000 annually; it cuts government spending. All in all, not a bad deal.

Is it perfect? No. I don’t even know how to define perfection at this point. Extremists on both ends of the spectrum sought it, threatening to increase every Americans’ taxes while enacting 10-percent across-the-board cuts in every single government agency. How is that good government?

The House of Representatives has the legislation in its lap. Some zealots – quite likely those on the Republican side – will insist on legislative purity. The buzz at this moment is that the overwhelming majority of House Democrats will sign on to the Senate package.

Those of us out here in Flyover County who believe in good government also believe that you cannot get everything you want every single time. As Sen. Hutchison noted, you win a few and you lose a few.

Poor David Dewhurst …


Texas Monthly’s Paul Burka seems to feel a bit sorry for Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

Not me.

It’s not that I dislike Dewhurst. I’ve always found him to be an earnest fellow. He’s very detail-oriented and has plowed into the workings of the state Senate, over which he presides.

Burka’s sympathy arises from Dewhurst’s loss in the Republican U.S. Senate primary this year to upstart tea party favorite Ted Cruz. Dewhurst, who’s allegedly richer than God, was supposed to be a lock to win that race, and then win the general election against Democrat Paul Sadler. It didn’t happen.

Dewhurst tacked far to the right and out of his comfort zone in order to out-right-wing Cruz. It was a poor fit for a guy who’s about as “establishment” a Republican as they come.

But it’s hard to feel sorry for a guy who still has a pretty important day job as lieutenant governor. Granted, it doesn’t pay much; he earns the same pittance – $600 a month, plus a per diem expense when the Legislature is in session – as other members of the Legislature. But he’s got all those gazillions earned from business investments.

Dewhurst will shake off the bad karma that covered him in 2012. At least he didn’t implode on the presidential campaign trail the way Gov. Rick Perry did. And by the way, Perry then threw all his weight behind Dewhurst’s Senate candidacy. That didn’t work too well for Perry, either.

VP brings needed muscle to talks


John Nance “Cactus Jack” Garner, wherever he is, must be rolling over in his grave.

The crusty Texan was one of three men who served as vice president during Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency. He said famously that his office – and this is the cleaned-up version of what he actually said – wasn’t “worth a bucket of warm spit.”

Cactus Jack, meet one of your political descendants, Vice President Joe Biden, who has suddenly become a player in the latest drama to envelop Washington, D.C. Biden has been negotiating with his old Senate buddy, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and as Politico is reporting (see link above) the men apparently have made significant progress toward avoiding the so-called “fiscal cliff” that so many in DC say they want to avoid.

Biden and McConnell go back a ways together. Biden was elected to the Senate in 1972. McConnell came along in 1984. They served together for 24 years before Biden was elected vice president in 2008. I don’t know this as fact, but my hunch is that they’re actual friends, not the phony friends that politicians describe each other just to make nice in public.

McConnell and Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., have been unable to breach the divide. Enter the vice president, who apparently worked with McConnell overnight to forge some sort of compromise dealing on tax rates for the rich. The word is that the White House and the Senate have closed the gap significantly between their respective definitions of who is rich.

This is what friendship can do for the cause of good government. It remains to be seen as of this morning whether a deal will be finalized and approved by both houses of Congress.

But if comes to pass and we avoid this fiscal calamity by the end of today, I’m half expecting Cactus Jack to rise up out of the ground in Uvalde, Texas, and light a stogie in Joe Biden’s honor.

Mainstream thought becomes outdated

I listened to President Obama this morning on “Meet the Press” defend his position on the so-called “fiscal cliff” negotiations and came away with a single notion.

It is what he said about tax cuts for the middle class. He wants to preserve them, rather than let them increase if the White House and Congress drive us over the cliff. He said that keeping taxes low for middle-income Americans used to be a “mainstream Republican” idea, but now it appears that the GOP is willing to sacrifice those reduced rates to preserve the low rates for the wealthier among us.

If the Democrats and Republicans don’t strike a deal by midnight Monday, we’re all going to get kicked in the teeth with tax increases. I don’t want to pay more in taxes than I do already. I’m also quite sure no one who shares my economic standing wants to pay more, either.

The Capitol Hill negotiators now seem stuck on what qualifies as “wealthy.” Congressional Democrats put the figure at $250,000 annually; Republicans put it at $1 million. How about this? Let’s split the difference at, say, $600,000 annual income. Everyone who earns less than that can keep their taxes low, while the rest of Americans can pay a little more. Does anyone remember that during the Clinton years, taxes went up for the richest Americans and that kicked off a huge economic expansion, despite warnings from some Republicans, such as then-Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, who said the country would implode?

From my standpoint, 600K a year is a pretty nice income.

Meanwhile, the clock is still ticking.

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