AMA to stay in the game with new airline

American Airlines and US Airways want to merge. Texas officials had protested their merger … until Tuesday.

The state has reached an agreement with the potential new airline giant that seeks a guarantee that the airline will serve 22 Texas cities for at least the next three years. The announcement came from Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott — who also is running to become the state’s next governor.

What does this mean for Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport? It means AMA stays in the American Airlines network of terminals now being served.

AMA has some additional skin in this game, given Amarillo’s unique relationship with American Airlines. The city once poured several millions of public dollars into keeping jet service at AMA. It came in the form of sales tax money collected by the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation. Some communities, even some media, scoffed at Amarillo for paying more than $1 million annually to American Airlines to keep the jets flying between AMA and Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. The strategy served to boost the city’s business climate.

That was then. American flies jets exclusively now in and out of AMA.

The merger likely now will go through, even though the federal government is protesting it. The feds contend the merger likely would be bad for competition and would drive the already-expensive cost of air travel even farther upward.

American Airlines and its parent company AMR have been huge corporate partners in Texas. The deal also means the airline will keep its headquarters in the Metroplex and that D-FW Airport will serve as the airline’s major hub.

Communities such as Amarillo, though, need the service to D-FW. Let’s hope the deal struck between the state and the company will lead to a longer-term commitment to this growing community.

Abortion becomes ultimate wedge issue

An editorial in the Monday Amarillo Globe-News poses an interesting — but patently unfair — question about a Texas state senator and probable candidate for Texas governor.

“(W)hat does state Sen. Wendy Davis bring to the table other than support for abortion?”

That was the question. Davis, D-Fort Worth, is likely to announce this week that she’ll seek the Democratic nomination for governor in 2014. She’s a star in a Texas Democratic Party that has been bereft of shining lights for the past two decades.

I’ll talk later about Davis’s candidacy but I will discuss abortion as a campaign issue.

Davis filibustered a Republican-sponsored bill this past summer that would have placed serious restrictions on women’s ability to seek an abortion. She won a temporary victory and gained considerable political mileage from that fleeting triumph. The Legislature approved the bill in a subsequent special session and Gov. Rick Perry signed it into law.

Does she “support” abortion? One would have to assume that Davis’s filibuster was meant to signal a support for the procedure on demand, for whatever reason. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard Wendy Davis declare her “support” for abortion. What she opposes, I’m able to surmise, are laws that restrict women from making that choice for themselves.

Indeed, it is unfair to ascribe “support for abortion” to Sen. Davis, if one is to look at her own history. She became pregnant while she was unmarried. She chose to give birth to her child. She reared that child to adulthood and along the way earned a good education and has carved out a nice career in public service.

Yet the abortion debate too often turns on these wrong-headed assumptions anti-abortion rights folks make about those who favor the rights of women to end a pregnancy. They often suggest that if you believe a women should have the right to make that choice then you are by definition “pro-abortion.”

The discussion should be far more nuanced than that. Sadly, it’s not. Abortion has become arguably the most divisive wedge issue in American politics.

VA: A federal agency that actually works

I come before you today to sing the praises of a federal government agency that actually delivers for the people it is intended to serve.

Yes, I realize such praise is highly unlikely on this day when much of the federal government has shut down because of crappy political posturing in our nation’s capital. I have to get this opinion off my chest.

I ventured to the Thomas E. Creek Veterans Affairs Health Care System in Amarillo this morning for a minor — and routine — dermatological procedure. The note I received the other day asked me to report 30 minutes early to ensure that the staff at the VA hospital could stay on time. I figured that was a good call, given that my appointment was in the late morning and it likely would be backed up no matter how early everyone got there.

So, I reported 30 minutes early. My appointment was at 11 a.m. At precisely 11, the nurse practitioner called my name and I went back to the room where she would perform the procedure. We exchanged a few pleasantries; the NP told me she recognized my name from my previous life as a newspaper columnist and offered a nice word about the work I did back then.

She asked about my military service. We talked some more as she filled out some paperwork. She cut the small lesion off my leg, told me what to take to ease the discomfort and said she’d have the results back from the lab in a few days.

I walked out the door at 11:25 a.m.

This event deserves mention today because the federal government gets pilloried almost every minute of every waking hour by those who have a bone to pick with some agency. The VA hospital in Amarillo is known throughout the Texas Panhandle — although I’m certain not unanimously — as an agency that performs beautifully.

The feds at every level — from the White House and Capitol Hill on down — are getting scorn heaped on them because of the shutdown of many key agencies. I would hate to be a tourist today who was hoping to spend a day at one of our national parks.

I’ve only been a VA patient for a few weeks. I enrolled in late spring; indeed, that process took less than 45 minutes from the moment I walked into the lobby to get it started. Thus, my experience with the VA has been fairly limited. I enjoy good health now and hope to sustain it well into my much older age, which should augur well for future appointments with the Department of Veterans Affairs medical establishment.

So, on this day when no one can predict when much of the federal government will work again — if ever — for the people who pay the freight, I want to hand out a bouquet to one agency that’s working just fine.

This veteran appreciates it.

Paychecks, please, members of Congress

I watched President Obama spell out Monday afternoon which government functions would shut down and which would remain open.

Fine, I thought. I knew that. Then he got to the part about federal employees’ pay. Those who work in, say, our national parks system, wouldn’t get paid while the government closes down their operations, according to the president.

OK. Let me stipulate once more: The people responsible for this mess need to give up their pay right along with the folks who are working on the front lines of the federal government.

I have stated already that I place the bulk of the blame on this cluster bleep on congressional Republicans who keep looking for ways to defund a health care reform that’s already been enacted and affirmed by the highest court in the land. If they were not so adamant in their hatred of the Affordable Care Act, much of the government would be operating today.

But they don’t shoulder this responsibility alone. Democrats have been on the field too. So has the president and vice president. So, how about all of them giving back their pay while the government remains shuttered? They could really do the country a service by insisting that they not collect it when operations resume fully.

None of this will matter much to the government’s bottom line. Leadership, though, at times requires leaders to demonstrate that they are willing to pay the same price as those who depend on them for their own livelihood.

Damn few of these folks need the money they earn to put groceries on the table.

Give some of it back, ladies and gentlemen, while you’re messing around with our government.

Bilingualism done right

I met a charming family today and I want to share what little I know about them. I sense they are plotting a bright future for their children.

Mom and Dad are immigrants from Mexico. They moved to the Oklahoma Panhandle about eight years ago. They have two daughters, one 3 years of age; the other girl is an infant. I spoke freely with Mom and Dad and as I spoke to the little girl, Mom informed me she speaks very little English.

“We speak Spanish at home,” Mom said, adding that the 3-year-old “understands” English quite well, but she just doesn’t speak it much. No need, apparently, given her age and the apparently limited exposure she has to other children.

No sweat, I thought. She’ll get that exposure in due course.

I thought briefly for a moment about my own parents. They were children of immigrants, too. Neither of them spoke English at home prior to enrolling in public school; Mom grew up in Portland, Ore., Dad in New Kensington, Pa., a suburb of Pittsburgh. All four of my grandparents were Greeks through and through. They spoke their native language at home, period. Dad’s parents brought seven children into the world and all of them were and are as fluent in Greek as they are in English. Same for Mom and her two brothers. All of my grandparents became U.S. citizens and all were devoted patriots who loved their adopted homeland. My maternal grandmother was especially proud, as she once declared she had no interest in returning to the place of her birth. “Why should I?” she asked. “America is my home.”

Both of my parents learned English the old-fashioned “total immersion” way. They were thrust into environments where English was mandatory. You spoke it or else. You learned it or you didn’t succeed. “English as a Second Language” classes didn’t exist in the late 1920s.

They do now.

My hope for the children of the folks I met today? I hope Mom and Dad throw them into the proverbial language “water” when they’re old enough for school. Total immersion learning isn’t harmful to children, who learn to adapt quickly. My own parents — and millions of others in their generation — were perfect examples of how that system of language-learning works.

I’m glad for this couple I met today that they speak their native tongue at home. It’s good that the children will be bilingual and will grow up in a society that should encourage more children to speak more than one language.

They’re headed for successful lives.

Radio blowhard goes beyond the pale

Mike Malloy offers incontrovertible proof that radio talk show hosts should be taken for what they are: blowhards and gasbags.

Malloy is a liberal blowhard based out of Atlanta who recently offered a view that suggests he would favor actually killing at least one member of the U.S. Senate.

By “killing,” I mean exactly that. Kill them dead.

He was commenting on a conservative talk show hosts view that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had stabbed Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in the back during Cruz’s pseudo-filibuster recently. Malloy suggested that he’d “provide the butcher knife.”

Was it rhetorical excess? In the extreme, if that’s all he meant it to be. Some folks have construed it to mean that he actually wants to kill Cruz.

I won’t belabor the point. Suffice to say that this kind of idiotic rhetoric must be condemned in the strongest terms possible.

Israeli PM takes dimmer view of Iran

I totally understand Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s mistrust of Iran.

He is bringing that message this week to the United Nations General Assembly and warns the United States not to trust Iran’s new president, who says he wants to make peace with the rest of the world.

President Obama placed a historic phone call last week to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, the first president-to-president contact between the nations in 34 years. Obama said a comprehensive agreement to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons is possible. I hope he’s right, quite obviously.

Netanyahu isn’t so sure. And why should he trust a thing that comes out of the Iranian president’s mouth?

Rouhani succeeded a man who vowed to wipe Israel off the face of the planet. Indeed, that’s been the stated goal of the Islamic Republic of Iran since its founding in 1979.

I’ve had the pleasure of touring Israel. I spent five weeks there in the spring of 2009 and witnessed up close the proximity between Israel and nations with which it has gone to war several times since Israel’s founding in 1948. The Israelis live in a constant state of heightened vigilance.

Iran doesn’t border Israel, but it is close enough to launch missiles westward and into Israeli cities. That is the concern Israel maintains to this very moment and it is the concern that Netanyahu intends to relay to the world community when he speaks to the U.N. General Assembly.

No, he doesn’t trust Iran’s newfound conciliatory posture. The task at hand is for the world to extract from Iran’s president ironclad assurances that he means what he says.

Change of fortune for this Oregon football fan

I want to change gears for just a moment and talk a little college football.

If you’ve grown up in a state where college football once became a punch line, then you can be forgiven if you want to gloat a little over the past several seasons.

The University of Oregon and Oregon State University — the state’s two Division I football schools — have produced some pretty good teams in the past decade-plus. The Oregon Ducks currently stand as the No. 2-ranked team in the nation behind Alabama. Oregon State’s Beavers lost their first game of the year, but since have reeled off three straight wins.

The Ducks have two stern tests coming up. They’re both on the road. One is in Seattle against the Washington Huskies. The other is in Palo Alto, Calif., against Stanford. Yes, they’ll have their final game of the year, against Oregon State, in the annual “Civil War” contest. But the UW and Stanford games loom as the big hurdles to the Ducks finding their way into the college football championship game.

Why is this important to me? I grew up in Oregon. I didn’t attend either school. I enrolled at Portland State University, but I have followed the Beavers and Ducks through mostly dismal seasons during my years in Oregon. Their nadir occurred in 1983 when the Ducks and Beavers played to a 0-0 tie in the rain and mud.

We left Oregon in 1984, but my keen interest has remained.

I’ve suffered with both programs through miserable seasons. This year — and many recent seasons before this year — have been quite different.

Take the Ducks’ rivalry with Washington, one of the oldest in the nation. The Huskies used to beat up badly on the Ducks. UO fans hated the Huskies. The rivalry meant much more to Duck fans than it did to Huskies fans. The tables have turned. The Huskies hate the Ducks. Why? Because the Ducks have been putting some serious whuppins on the Huskies.

Cry me a river, Huskies.

Oregon is 4-0. The Ducks have won every game by more than 40 points. I am acutely aware that they cannot possibly play the entire year in such grand fashion. The Beavers, too, are playing well enough to deserve this native Oregonian’s good wishes … and I hope Coach Mike Riley stays put and does not succumb to the temptation to head south to coach another hated rival, the University of Spoiled Children, er, Southern California.

Winning can be addictive. I’ve caught the bug. Don’t cure me … ever.

Sen. Davis almost comes clean on ’14 plans

Evan Smith gave it the old college try as he tried to wheedle a statement from state Sen. Wendy Davis about whether she is running for Texas governor.

The Fort Worth Democrat didn’t take the bait at the TribFest, saying only that she plans to make her announcement on Thursday.

Still, it is interesting to see the interest beginning to swirl about Davis’s plans.

She took the state — and the nation — by storm when she filibustered an anti-abortion bill into temporary oblivion during the first special session of the Texas Legislature earlier this summer. She gabbed for 13 hours until the clock ran out. Gov. Rick Perry called legislators back into another special session and Republicans managed to get the bill approved.

Davis’s star, though, still shines brightly. National Democrats have collected lots of money for her campaign. She’s actually beginning to energize a moribund state Democratic Party, which has been pounded senseless for the past two decades. Democrats won their latest statewide race in Texas in 1994. It’s been slim pickings ever since.

I’m not sure Davis is going to break the Democrat’s losing streak.

She certainly is going to brighten the political landscape Thursday when she announces her race for Texas governor.

Debt ceiling: non-negotiable

Former President Bill Clinton is an expert on dealing with Republican members of Congress.

That’s if you consider today’s crop of Republican lawmakers in the same league as those with whom the 42nd president dealt. Still, Clinton offers some sound advice to the 44th president, Barack Obama: Don’t negotiate on whether to raise the debt ceiling. It must be done, Clinton said, and the nation must avoid defaulting on its financial obligations, no matter what.

The federal government appears headed for a shutdown on Tuesday. Miracles do happen. Don’t count on one to save this train wreck. Mark it down: A shutdown is going to cost the Republicans — perhaps dearly — in the 2014 midterm elections.

The bigger battle awaits. On Oct. 17, the United States’s ability to borrow money to pay its obligations runs out unless the Congress increases the amount of money it can borrow. Republicans are playing hardball over that as well.

Bill Clinton told ABC News this morning that his own negotiations with congressional Republican leaders were “very minor.” The government shut down in the mid-1990s and voters reacted angrily to the GOP’s tactics. “We didn’t give away the store and they didn’t ask us to give away the store,” Clinton told ABC’s George Stephanopoulous. True enough, but the Republicans then were a more reasonable bunch than those with whom Barack Obama is dealing.

Of course, Clinton’s problems with the GOP congressional leadership didn’t end when the government re-started. He ended up getting impeached by the House — and acquitted in the Senate.

If you look only at Clinton’s dealings with the House GOP on budget matters, though, you have to conclude that he had it right and congressional Republicans had it very wrong.

Today’s GOP leadership needs to wise up to the calamity that’s about to occur if they force the government to default on its debts.

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