Intraparty fight provides intrigue

Norm Ornstein kind of reminds me of what a friend of mine once said of the late poet Rod McKuen, who he called “the most understood poet in America.”

Ornstein is so sought after by media types – print, broadcast and cable – that he’s taking on a sort of ubiquitous quality. Everywhere you look, there he is.

Still, Ornstein offers a bit of wisdom in describing the state of play in today’s political debate. It’s no longer Republican vs. Democrat. It has become a five-way battle royale within the Republican Party.

The conservatives are dueling with the so-called “establishment wing” of the GOP. I’m frankly rooting for the establishment guys to win the day, if only to restore some semblance of good government that results when the parties reach across the aisle to work with each other.

This drama is playing out among state congressional delegations. Take Texas, for example. The tea party wing has helped elect Republican Ted Cruz to the U.S. Senate. Cruz’s presence in the Senate has pulled colleague John Cornyn, another Republican, to the right – although Cornyn was headed there all by himself.

The recent debate over abortion in the Texas Legislature has produced a challenge to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, once thought to be an establishment guy. The most recent electoral challenge comes from state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, who wants to run against him in next year’s GOP primary. Patrick wants to restore what he calls “authentic conservative leadership.” Dewhurst, too, is being pulled to the right by this challenge, along with the challenge already mounted by two other Republicans, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples.

The do-nothing guys within the GOP are winning the argument now. They’re managing to block everyone’s agenda. They have none of their own, except to cut spending, reduce dramatically government’s role in people’s lives, while sticking it in the ear of those who oppose them.

I believe sanity will win the argument at the end. Good government types – such as yours truly – believe lawmakers at any level of government can keep doing good by the people if they learn to work with everyone with a seat at the table of power.

That includes one’s foes.

Abortion fight far from finished

As the old football announcer and true-blue Texan Don Meredith used to say, “Turn out the lights, the party’s over.”

Well, not exactly, as it concerns the fight for abortion rights in Texas.

The state Senate approved the bill that bans abortion after the 20th week of pregnancy. It’s headed now for Gov. Rick Perry’s desk. He’ll sign it and will declare victory for the sanctity of life.

The debate this week, while not as chaotic as the first special session’s filibuster, did produce the usual demagoguery, from the right wing. State Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, declared that those who voted for the bill were “closer to God” than those who voted against. He drew a sharp rebuke from state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, who told him not to question legislators’ faith in such a manner.

The most troubling aspect of this entire debacle has been the time-worn allegation that those who favor a woman’s right to choose an abortion are themselves pro-abortion. That simply isn’t the case and those who say such things should be ashamed of themselves.

The issue, as I see it, is whether government should make decisions that should be reserved only for a pregnant woman to make, in consultation with her clergy, her family and her own conscience.

The abortion-restriction bill produce more children for Texas. Are we ready now to care for those children born to mothers who cannot care for them? The state already has slashed spending for women’s health care. Will it now keep cutting money for child care?

I have no clue as to where this discussion goes from here. It’s been a rocky ride for longer than I can remember — and I can’t see it getting any smoother.



Suffering from Zimmerman fatigue

There must be something wrong with me.

First of all, I’m a TV news-and-commentary junkie. Perhaps I need an intervention in that regard … but we’ll save that discussion possibly for another day.

Second of all, because of my addiction to TV news and commentary, I keep running into segments on the George Zimmerman trial in Sanford, Fla., the one that’s been getting all that attention for the past couple of years.

Zimmerman is accused of shooting a 17-year-old boy, Trayvon Martin, during a confrontation in Sanford. The media picked up on it right away. Zimmerman is a Hispanic, Trayvon was a young African-American. Did Zimmerman “profile” Martin because of the color of his skin? Was the shooting racially motivated?

My African-American friends have been transfixed by the trial. One of my best friends here, the mother of a teenage son and daughter, told me that “as a woman of color, I am petrified for my son.”

I get that. I understand the fear that many folks have about profiling.

But the media’s coverage of this trial is beginning to look to me — as a white male with two grown sons — very like the coverage of two recent murder trials, involving Casey Anthony and Jody Arias. That coverage was non-stop, in my face (and your face, too), with analysts dissecting every single nuance, facial tic, telling us whether jurors were taking notes or were transfixed on the testimony being given to them.

The talking heads assemble these expert panels comprising prosecutors and defense lawyers. The defense counsels give high marks for Zimmerman’s team; the prosecutors give props to the state. Imagine that.

I understand the implications of this case and what could happen when the outcome arrives. There might be a violent reaction if, for instance, Zimmerman is acquitted of all charges. But I’ll give Trayvon Martin’s parents huge credit for pleading out loud for calm no matter what happens at the end of this ordeal.

I know this is just me venting right now. I’m more of a policy and politics kind of guy, which is why I’m hooked on TV news talk shows. These “sensational” trials just don’t do it for me.

I’ll try to examine the outcome and what it means when it arrives.

I am awaiting the end of this trial. I think I know how I’d decide if I were sitting in the jury box. But man, I’m tired of it.


Homeland security boss bows out

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is leaving the federal government to become president of the University of California-Berkeley.

On this occasion, I want to congratulate her – and thank her – for the job she’s done so far in helping secure our nation. I’m probably one of the few Americans who’ll speak out, given the sour mood of so many of us about so many issues – homeland security being one of them.

Napolitano might be occupying one of more thankless jobs in government. Her immediate predecessor, Michael Chertoff – who held the job during the Bush administration – also deserves praise, along with the first Homeland Security secretary, Tom Ridge, who ran the agency immediately after its creation following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.

Have these individuals performed flawlessly? Of course not. However, I am growing weary of the continual carping about border security – particularly from those with a political axe to grind – when evidence suggests that we’re actually doing a better job than we were prior to, say, the 9/11 terror attacks.

Deportations of illegal immigrants is up, as are arrests along our southern border. Still, politicians such as Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas (see the attached link) keep yammering about the need to do more.

It’s interesting to me that among those who are happy to see Napolitano leave are those associated with immigration reform groups who decry what they call the “militarization” of our southern border.

So, which is it? Has the Homeland Security Department been too tough on illegal immigration or not tough enough?

Napolitano, the former governor of Arizona, took over a job she knew would produce few allies for her or for the administration she served.

I am one American who salutes her service.

Babies aplenty about to arrive in Texas

The editor of the Baptist Standard has posed a valid question: If the Texas Legislature is going to approve a bill that bans abortion after the 20th week of pregnancy, is the state going to be prepared for the arrival of a lot of babies?

The Legislature is meeting in its second special session in a month to consider some bills that it left undone. One of them is that anti-abortion bill that Senate Democrats, led by Wendy Davis of Fort Worth, filibustered to a temporary demise in June.

It’s back. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the main man of the Senate, vows to push the bill onto the books. More demonstrations are planned. It’s unlikely that the bill will die again.

Baptist Standard editor Marv Knox’s essay does wonder whether the state is going to be prepared to spend the money it needs to care for these children.

He writes this: “Texas is among the nation’s leaders in child poverty, teen pregnancy, dropout rates and illiteracy. We’re also among the nation’s lowest-spending states on child poverty, teen pregnancy, dropout rates and illiteracy. Some people attribute these maladies to dependence on government, the product of a so-called welfare state. If that were true, then their incidence would be higher in states that spend the most on child welfare, anti-poverty programs and education, not the least-spending small-government states, like Texas.”

And then he writes this:

“Ironically, conservative states composed of higher percentages of Bible-believing Christians—from Texas across the South—suffer the blights of child poverty, teen pregnancy, dropout rates and illiteracy much more promiscuously than their more secular counterparts. Those are the states many Texans and Southerners call ‘pagan’ and ‘dark.’

“This disparity is an affront to the name of Jesus.”

Interesting, don’t you think?

Better get ready, Texas.


Palin to run for Senate? If only …

Oh, how I wish this story would come to pass: Sarah Palin campaigning for a seat in the U.S. Senate.

Alas, I fear it’s only the passing fancy of the hard-core right wing of the Republican Party.

As one who is not a member of that wing, I too wish for such a campaign, if only to reveal perhaps once and for all how utterly unqualified Palin is to seek — let alone occupy — a high public office.

The rumor mill already is churning out grist that she might seek to run against Alaska Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Begich in 2014. Oh, let me count the ways this could end up badly for the former half-term governor of Alaska.

Begich already is saying Palin “quit” on her state by resigning the governor’s office the year after she and John McCain lost their White House bid in 2008 to Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

Since then, Palin has become a star “contributor” on the Fox News Channel. She left Fox for a time but then returned, where she faces zero serious questions. She rails against the “lamestream” media, which is anyone who doesn’t work for Fox or any other right-wing media outlet.

Were she to run for the Senate, she’d have to answer probing questions from those “lamestream” media types who would ask her such things as, well: “Why, governor, should voters trust you to serve out your term when you’ve already quit one high office just two years into your first term?”

Begich already is questioning whether Palin actually lives in Alaska. I won’t weigh into that mess, given that I live a long way from the Land of the Midnight Sun. But rest assured that Begich would seek answers to a question — her residence — that will cause her as much discomfort as the questions that surfaced about her record as governor.

And I haven’t even mentioned the reality-TV shenanigans she and members of her family have engaged in.

Sadly, Palin won’t run for the Senate. She won’t give up her lucrative Fox gig. She won’t hold up to the scrutiny that all candidates for the U.S. Senate should face.

It would be intriguing, though, to see her try.


Gravel on the loose yet again


Loose gravel alert!

I’ve noticed in the past couple of days some signs of concern about loose gravel within the Amarillo city limits. The city’s street department is at it again, laying down that oil-soaked gravel base over perfectly good streets.

You know what I’m talking about. The crews put that stuff down and gravel gets kicked all over the place: gathering along curbs, being tossed onto sidewalks. We’ve lived at our current address for more than 16 years and the street department crews have laid down that, um, stuff twice in the past decade.

I’m still trying to figure out why they had to come by the first time, let alone the second time. The street didn’t have any potholes. It was smooth and quite drivable, actually.

Well, they’re at it again. I noticed the bright orange “Loose Gravel” signs along Coulter Street. I peered down a couple of streets east of the main drag and noticed the freshly laid oil-gravel. I also noticed that much of the gravel already had been tracked onto Coulter.

I mention this only to gripe out loud about the city’s street-paving policy. Don’t misunderstand: I appreciate that we have a decent street grid — for the most part. The city does a good job of maintaining the quality of the pavement. It patches up potholes fairly regularly.

That gravel, though, becomes a royal pain when it gets picked up by vehicle tires and it gets lodged inside the vehicle’s brakes, which has happened to me.

Get ready, Amarillo. More of it is on the way.

Go ahead, nuke the filibuster rules

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is threatening to drop the “nuclear option” on a rule governing Senate filibusters.

He should carry out his threat if his “friends” on the other side, Republican senators, continue to deny President Obama the chance to fill his team with folks who share his world view.

The filibuster is a legitimate tool that minority members – in this case, Republicans – use to their advantage. It can be used to stop nominees who aren’t qualified or who have political baggage that senators deem unacceptable. It’s been abused by both sides over many decades.

But as the Eugene (Ore.) Register-Guard editorial notes, Republicans have elevated the abuse in recent times to “an art form.”

Reid is considering whether to toss out the 60-vote rule to end filibusters and rely instead on a simple majority, 51 senators, to break it. Democrats – and their “independent” colleagues – have 55 votes in the Senate. The rule change would apply only to non-judicial appointments. As it stands now, the Obama administration has several key appointments awaiting confirmation votes simply because Republicans have launched filibusters to prevent those votes from occurring.

Reid says he’s serious. He won’t get any help, of course, from Texas’s two Republican senators – John Cornyn and Ted Cruz – both of whom have been near the head of the pack in leading these filibusters against virtually all of President Obama’s appointees.

I’ve long thought much of presidential prerogative. The president is the one elected leader selected by a majority vote of all Americans. Thus, that individual is entitled to be surrounded by like-minded individuals to help guide and shape U.S. political and governmental policy. Denying the president even an up-or-down vote by invoking dubious and often phony concerns is an abuse of the system.

It has to stop.

Go for it, Mr. Majority Leader.

Pakistan coming clean on bin Laden failure?

Pakistan is reportedly looking inward into how it might have contributed to one of the worst intelligence failures in modern history.

It’s about time.

The probe looks into how Pakistan let Osama bin Laden hide in virtual plain sight for so long until May 2, 2011, when a U.S. Navy SEAL team launched a raid deep into Pakistan that killed bin Laden.

The 336-page report wonders whether Pakistani officials might have looked the other way when suspicions arose as to whether bin Laden was living in a highly fortified compound not far from an elite military academy. It’s been noted that bin Laden might have worn a cowboy hat to avoid detection by anyone peering into the compound.

Oh, please.

Many of us on the outside — yours truly included — have wondered since the raid was announced by President Obama to a cheering U.S. public whether the Pakistani government had knowledge of bin Laden’s presence. I still have trouble believing bin Laden — the world’s most wanted terrorist — could have escaped the Pakistani intelligence network, which is reputed to be a top-notch outfit.

That might explain what U.S. spooks knew when they laid the proposal for the raid on the commander in chief’s desk.

Pakistan is right to ask itself some tough questions about what its intelligence officials knew and when they knew it. My hunch is that they knew plenty all along, but kept the information quiet.


Pulling for Pauken

A big part of me kind of likes the message that one-time Texas Republican firebrand Tom Pauken is delivering to the GOP faithful.

Pauken is running for Texas governor. His only opponent so far is Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who’s been declared the prohibitive Republican favorite to succeed Rick Perry in January 2015. Perry announced he won’t run for re-election and will “pursue other interests,” such as possibly running for president of the United States in 2016.

Pauken says there should be no assumption that Abbott will be anointed governor simply because he holds a statewide elected office. Pauken declares in effect that Abbott is part of whatever problems that plague Texas government.

Pauken plans to launch a fight for the soul of the Republican Party and wants to return it to what he calls “true conservatism,” the kind preached by the late Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan.

Why am I pulling for Pauken?

Most of it is personal. I’ve known Tom for more than 25 years. I’ve visited him at his Dallas office. We’ve shared a few meals together over the years in Beaumont and here in Amarillo. We’ve had a long-standing friendly relationship and he understands we have differing world views. He’s a conservative; I, on the other hand, tilt to the left of center.

But I like the guy. He dislikes the “neocons” who populated President George W. Bush’s inner circle and advised him — badly, in Pauken’s view — about going to war in Iraq. He won’t say it publicly, but much of his criticism of them seems to stem from their lack of military service and a lack of understanding about the consequences of war, such as the casualties it produces and the misery it brings to those who are harmed and their family members.

Pauken served as an Army intelligence officer in Vietnam and has seen war up close. He knows of which he speaks.

He holds a special disregard for Karl (Bush’s Brain) Rove and believes that G.W. Bush was ill-equipped to serve as president.

I look forward to listening to this vigorous debate between Pauken and Abbott. I’ve met the attorney general many times over the years but our relationship has been strictly professional. With Pauken, my regard for him kind of crosses that vague line separating personal and professional relationships.

Would I vote for Pauken were he to be nominated by the GOP next year? That remains to be seen.

But I’m pulling for him nonetheless.


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