Euro recession over? Tell that to Greeks

This just in: The recession in the European Union is over.

But if you’re a citizen of those countries hit hardest by the financial crisis, you’re pain hasn’t yet let up.

I get that the Germans, French and even the Italians are faring better these days. Their economies grew for the second quarter in a row, prompting EU economists to declare the recession to be over.

The story in Greece and Spain, for example, is quite different.

Let’s look at Greece, my ancestral home that became an international laughingstock when the financial crisis nearly took it down.

The Greek economy is still in the tank, down about 24 percent since 2008; just in the past year alone, it shrank 4 percent. Unemployment is about 25 percent, nearly as bad as Spain, which has Europe’s worst unemployment rate. Barry Bosworth of the Brookings Institution describes the Greek economic condition as far worse than a recession. “It goes way beyond anything that looks like a recession,” he said. “It’s absolutely appropriate to refer to Greece as in a depression.”


This characterization hurts me at a personal level.

I’ve visited Greece three times: twice with my wife in 2000 and 2001, and again by myself in 2003. It’s a magical place. My three visits there came as the country was preparing to play host to the 2004 Summer Olympics. They cleaned up Athens, scrubbed the graffiti off building walls and highway overpasses, built a sparkling new airport, constructed a state-of-the-art subway system and, in general, presented themselves as more than ready to host such a magnificent worldwide event.

But they did it on borrowed money. They went into hock up to their armpits … and then the bills came due.

I’m not sure the Euro recession is as “gone” as the EU folks say it is. Another hiccup in Greece, or Spain, or Portugal – where the recession/depression is lingering – could send the continent into another tailspin.

I keep thinking of when I walked to the top of the Acropolis in 2000 and stood in front of the Parthenon. My thoughts were of enormous pride that my ancestors were able to build such structures and were able to produce great genius.

If only they could revive that brilliance and find a way out of the economic mess that is largely of their own making.

Ex-GOP boss right about impeachment talk

Michael Steele offers living, breathing proof that the Republican Party hasn’t been overrun completely by those with lunatic notions.

Republicans who are full of all those crazy ideas, though, are hogging the platform.

Steele, the former Republican National Committee chairman, told MSNBC that talk of impeaching President Obama is “asinine.” You got it that right.

The latest impeachment talk came from, yep, another Texas Republican member of Congress. The goofball this time is Blake Farenthold, who told a small group of fans and supporters that the House of Representatives could impeach the president, but that he wouldn’t be convicted in a Senate trial.

Farenthold doesn’t specify on what charge the House would impeach the president. Why? Because nothing exists. He seems to be among those on the far right who dislike the president’s policies so much that they want to throw him out of office.

What an utter crock.

My hope is that Michael Steele and other reasonable Republicans can outshout the loons within his party. Clear your throat, Mr. Chairman.

Osprey takes off with new assignment

That big aircraft assembly plant next to Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport has a new gig.

The MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft being assembled out there is now being assigned to carry key White House personnel as part of the Marine Corps presidential security detail.

Maybe one day, the cutting-edge birds will be hauling the president himself (or herself) to and from the White House.

The Osprey has come a long way from its formative years when Bell Helicopter returned to Amarillo in 1999 thanks to a grant awarded by the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation. The plane, which lifts off like a helicopter and then flies like a conventional fixed-wing aircraft, has had its fits and starts — and its share of tragedy. It has crashed with Marines aboard, killing 19 of them once on a training mission in Arizona. The Marine Corps and Bell engineers fixed what was wrong with the bird and put it back into the air.

Mechanical difficulties have grounded the Osprey on other occasions. The Pentagon stayed with it, lobbying Congress to keep funding the program.

It’s been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, where it has ferried troops and supplies to and from the battlefield.

Now, according to Politico, the Osprey has been used to fly White House support staff and equipment to Martha’s Vineyard, where President Obama has been vacationing with his family.

Any kind of state-of-the-art aircraft is going to have trouble. That’s been the history of U.S. aviation. The Osprey in that context is no different from other aircraft.

The bird that’s being built in Amarillo is earning its wings with an important new mission.

Well done, Bell.

Is Cruz qualified to run for POTUS?

National political media are starting to probe the issue of a possible presidential candidate’s constitutional qualifications.

The target this time is junior U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas.

Let’s flash back to 2008 when another candidate came under amazing scrutiny. He was then-junior U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois. Some folks on the right said he couldn’t run for president because, they alleged, he was born in Kenya, homeland of his late father. Obama’s late mother, however, was an American citizen. Sen. Obama had said all along he was born in Hawaii, the 50th state of the U.S., in August 1961. That wasn’t good enough for the critics, who kept harping on his birth.

Eventually, Obama settled it by producing his birth certificate. He was re-elected in November 2012 and the yammering — save for a few crackpots on the far right — has stopped.

Now we have Cruz. The senator indeed was born in Canada. His father is Cuban. His mother is American. Cruz acknowledges he was born north of our border. And that has some folks questioning whether Cruz — who might run for president in 2016 — is qualified under the Constitution.

Article II stipulates that only a “natural born citizen or a “citizen of the United States … shall be eligible for the office of president.” Scholars have interpreted that to mean that Cruz could serve as president, given that his constitutional qualifications were earned at birth by virtue of his mother’s citizenship.

I tend to believe Cruz is qualified under the Constitution to serve as president, which means Obama would have been qualified to serve as well — had he been born in a foreign country, which he wasn’t.

Let’s wait to see how this Cruz story plays out. My bet, as I’ve noted already, is that the left won’t make Cruz’s birthplace nearly the issue that those on the right sought to do with Barack Obama.

Hey y’all, the deficit is shrinking

I consider myself a deficit hawk. I dislike as much as anyone the idea that the government spends more money than it receives.

It is with that stipulation that I hail news that the federal budget deficit is shrinking. Dramatically, I should add.

The Congressional Budget Office — which is about as nonpartisan and unbiased as it gets — pegs the 2013 federal deficit to be at $670 billion. That’s still a lot of money to be in the hole. It’s also about half of what the annual deficit totaled when President Obama took office in January 2009.

The cause for the shrinkage? More revenue created by more taxes being paid by more Americans getting back to work.

Interesting, don’t you think?

Yet the critics keeping yammering about the president’s “failed economic policies.”

Another report out this week shows that immigration reform would help grow the economy significantly over the next two decades, thus putting downward pressure on the deficit. How does that happen? By allowing undocumented immigrants to come out of the shadows and work in the open while they set out on that vaunted “path to citizenship.”

Another “failure”? I think not.

‘The show must go on’

You’ve heard the cliché, I’m sure, that “The show must go on.”

I’m not an entertainer. I don’t understand fully the entertainer’s mindset about whether to go on with the show in the wake of tragedy. The cast of the acclaimed outdoor musical “Texas” is wrestling with whether to go on with their own show at the Pioneer Amphitheater in Palo Duro Canyon in the wake of a horrific tragedy that befell it early today.

Five cast members were killed in a car crash north of Amarillo.

My friend Jon Mark Beilue wrote eloquently about his own son’s friendship with one of those who perished. It’s worth a look here.

I do not know as of this moment what the cast will decide. They’ll need to get over their shock. The grief will linger.

I’d be inclined to counsel them to go on with the show, as their friends would want them to be true to the creed of their craft.

If they decide they can’t, well, I understand that, too.

My prayers are with you all.

S.C. senator faces rightie challenge

I don’t know why I should give a damn about what happens in South Carolina.

But I do.

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican, is facing a 2014 GOP primary challenge from South Carolina state Sen. Lee Bright who thinks Graham is too supportive of President Obama’s Supreme Court nominees, among other issues.

Bright is looking like a dim bulb here.

Graham isn’t exactly a flaming lefty. Far from it. He’s as conservative as most Republicans in the Senate. He votes the party line more than 90 percent of the time. He’s also a talented military lawyer who understands a thing or two about presidential prerogative, which means that presidents — by virtue of their election — have the right to pick qualified judicial candidates. Yes, the Senate has the right under the Constitution to confirm those appointments. It’s rare that senators do not go along with presidential picks.

President Obama has selected qualified judges throughout his time in the White House. The problem with many of them, according to those on the right, is that they share Obama’s more liberal view of jurisprudence. That’s no reason by itself to oppose someone.

And no, this is not a partisan concern with me. I’ve argued the same thing on behalf of Republican presidents as well. President George W. Bush’s selections for the high court weren’t exactly my favorites, but he had the right to pick qualified individuals to serve — and he did.

I’m a big believer in presidential prerogative. Lee Bright apparently doesn’t share that belief, especially when the president belongs to the other party.

Lindsey Graham, to his credit, gets it.

Dewhurst puts on brass knuckles

Texas’s most interesting political contest in 2014 is going to be for lieutenant governor.

Bet on it.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has announced his plans to seek re-election for a fourth term to what used to be considered the state’s most powerful office. Rick Perry’s forever-long tenure as governor took care of that, as the Pride of Paint Creek redefined the governor’s office and made it No. 1 on the state’s political pecking order.

Dewhurst, though, wants to take back that role … or so it seems. He’ll have a crowded field of Republican primary challengers to fend off. Land Commissioner Jerry “The Gun Guy” Patterson is in the field; so is Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples; and the most recent participant is state Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston.

It occurs to me that three of them — Dewhurst, Patterson and Patrick — all hail from the greater Houston area. Just sayin’.

In Dewhurst’s vision of a perfect world, he wouldn’t be there. He’d be in the U.S. Senate. He ran into a right-wing attack dog in Ted Cruz in the 2012 GOP primary, who then beat Dewhurst in the runoff, spoiling the odds-on favorite’s chances to join to the Senate “club.”

Dewhurst became the victim of what’s become a newly coined verb. He was “Cruzed” in the primary. I’m betting he won’t let that happen again as he runs for re-election.

The lieutenant governor’s contest race is going to be fun to watch.

Presidents never take ‘vacation’

Presidents of the United States of America do not take vacations the way you and I take them.

Got that?

Thus, it was with some dismay that I heard Michael Smerconish — sitting in for Chris Matthews on MSNBC’s Hardball show this afternoon — chronicle he number of days recent presidents have taken time away from the Oval Office.

President Obama is spending a few days in Massachusetts with his wife and daughters. He’s playing a little golf, showing his girls a little attention and in general acting like a husband and father. He’s also receiving national security briefings and is being told constantly about developments around the world and in the huge country he governs.

Smerconish ticked off the number of so-called vacation days Obama has taken this far in his presidency. He noted that President Clinton took fewer days at a similar stage in his presidency and also noted that Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush took far more days away during their time in the White House.

Big bleeping deal!

Smerconish did say that he, too, never has begrudged presidents for taking time away. Good for him.

None of this matters not one bit as far as I can tell. Oh sure, some of Obama’s critics have needled him for taking time away to play golf. I believe they need something — anything — with which to gripe about him.

And remember how White House reporters complained about George W. Bush’s vacations at his ranch in Crawford, Texas — in the middle of the summer when the heat was unbearable? I reckon they aren’t complaining now about covering Obama’s vacation in posh Martha’s Vineyard.

Whatever. As Smerconish noted, presidents deserve some time away from the grind to stay sharp and remain grounded in things that really matter — such as their families.

Even when they’re “vacationing,” presidents are on the clock. Always.

Enjoy yourself, if you can, Mr. President.

Fox News might have to clam up about HRC film

The Fox News Channel has been all over the tumult involving CNN and NBC’s involvement in projects involving former Secretary of State (and possible 2016 presidential candidate) Hillary Rodham Clinton.

CNN is planning to air a film about Clinton; NBC is hoping to air a four-part miniseries. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus is threatening to shut the two networks out of GOP presidential debates when the 2016 campaign kicks into gear.

But wait. The New York Times reports that Fox Television Stations is involved in the production and distribution of the CNN project.

What say you now, Fox News Channel talking heads?

Priebus clammed up about the NY Times report, preferring to focus instead on the creative minds behind the works. Priebus, of course, loves FNC — as do political conservatives all over the country, given the network’s right-leaning slant.

Oh, I forgot, Fox is “fair and balanced.”

Whatever. I’m going to lay down a bet that Fox commentators might have to tone down their outrage.

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