The hangin’ judge

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller is facing a possible impeachment. A legislator has filed a resolution of impeachment in the House.

Why? Well, it turns out that she had a schedule to keep in 2007 and didn’t want to stay on the job to hear a last-minute appeal of a Death Row inmate, who subsequently was executed for his crime. It was 5 p.m., and the office was closed for the day. Tough luck to the convict, Miachael Wayne Richard.

The State Commission on Judicial Conduct has announced plans to launch proceedings against Judge Keller.

She is in trouble — and justifiably so.

What’s more, she actually admitted during her most recent campaign to being a “pro-prosecution” judge. What in the world? How does a judge consider the law without bias when he or she declares a pro-prosecution or pro-defense bias? That, by itself, is reason enough to get Keller tossed out on her ear.

RIP, Steven Jones

Steve Jones had a rare gift.

He came to Amarillo in 2003 to take over as president of Amarillo College. He wasn’t here all that long — but it seemed as if he’d been here for decades.

That is a testament to the way he became part of the community fabric. He became an eloquent spokesman for AC. In his private moments, he could be, um, a pithy critic of those who had done the school wrong. He didn’t much care for Gov. Rick Perry’s veto of community college-related legislation in 2007 and spoke, well, quite candidly about what he thought of the governor at that moment.

Steve Jones’ impact on Amarillo was immediate, and significant. He died during the weekend of cancer. He’ll be missed in ways the college staff, faculty and students don’t yet know.

Clapping for what?

The New York Stock Exchange closed today — more than 250 points lower than when it started. I lost even more money out of my retirement account.

And when the bell sounded to end trading, some Wall Street execs — and maybe a celebrity or two — stood there on the podium and applauded. My question is this: What on Earth were they cheering?

OK, it’s a pro forma event. They aren’t really happy with the way the day’s trading goes when it takes a dive like it did today. They do it for the cameras. Well, the cameras captured the moment, all right. And this viewer is getting angrier with each day’s loss of money — chiefly mine.

I see nothing worth applauding, folks.

Here’s why we should care

It’s interesting to me how so many outside of Illinois give a flip about the fate of Sen. Roland Burris. At first blush, one can ask: Why should we, in Texas, for instance care whether he stays or goes?

Well, as a U.S. senator, he would vote on laws that affect us here, as well as his constituents in Illinois.

Perhaps you’ve heard the story. Disgraced former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich appointed Burris to the seat made vacant when Barack Obama was elected president. It then became known that Blago sought political favors for the appointment. Burris at first said he had no contact with Blago, who subsequently was tossed out of office by the Illinois legislature.

Ah, but now it appears Burris did discuss raising money for Blago in exchange for an appointment to the Senate.

Sen. Burris is accused of being a bald-faced liar. Yes, I know: He is not the only one of those who serves on Capitol Hill. The calls for his resignation are growing louder by the day. And they’re coming from places far beyond the Illinois state line.

Many senators didn’t want Burris picked in the first place. They just lacked the legal standing to prevent him from getting it. Blago had the legal authority to make the selection. It turns out their political instincts were right on.

But Burris cannot serve now that the evidence is mounting that he offered to “pay” for the appointment.

Get outta there, Senator!

March winds arrive early

Those “March winds” have arrived, and it’s not even March yet.

The arrival of those winds, coupled with the tinder-dry conditions on the plains, bode very badly for when those vaunted March winds kick in officially.

Are we going to take extra care out there as we travel across the Panhandle? Let’s assume the worst, that not every one of the thousands of motorists who drive every day in our region won’t do what they must to prevent a raging range fire.

That means government has to step in. Counties across the Panhandle — all 26 of them — need to enforce outdoor burning bans aggressively. No place in the Panhandle has gotten anything close to normal amounts of rainfall so far in 2009. The ground is rock hard. The grass is crackling under the feet of grazing livestock.

We cannot prevent dry lightning strikes. But we ought to scold our neighbors when we see them flick their butts onto the grass.

No one wants a repeat of Spring Break 2006, when the plains burst into flames.

I think I’ll pray for rain tonight — and will keep praying until it arrives.

How’s the weather out there?

I love High Plains Public Radio. I am a “member.” I’m a devoted morning listener. I believe public radio is a marvelous relatively recent addition to the Panhandle’s radio air waves.

But something bothers me when I hear the morning weather report coming from the station in Garden City, Kan. The station hardly ever reports the Amarillo weather accurately. This morning, the announcer intoned that at that particular moment, the Amarillo sky included “a few clouds.” I looked up. I craned my neck. I couldn’t find a cloud anywhere in the vast Panhandle sky.

This isn’t the first time. It’s becoming an annoying trend. An “overcast sky” usually has spotty clouds. If they report our sky as “clear,” it’s usually cloudy.

I know the folks in Garden City cannot see this far south — even if they stand on their tiptoes — to determine the actual weather in Amarillo. But they do have access to that information. HPPR even has a studio in downtown Amarillo. Perhaps they could call someone here, ask them what the weather is like at that moment — and then reported it accurately to listeners such as me.

So, what’s your excuse?

Counties across the state have a problem with residents not showing up for jury duty when they get summoned. Randall County is no different, but one resident who had a legitimate reason to be excused from such duty decided to answer the call to duty.

Sheriff Joel Richardson reported for jury duty in early February, which happened to be the opening day of Michael Stocker’s capital murder trial. He could have placed a call to District Clerk Jo Carter. He didn’t have to show up. He could have declared a conflict of interest — and brother did he ever have one. Carter would have given the sheriff a pass, right? Richardson had inside knowledge of the case, given that his agency was involved in the arrest and investigation of the notorious case involving the death of drug runner Dustin Pool.

Well, Richardson was interviewed by Stocker’s lawyer and admitted truthfully that his intimate knowledge of the case made him unable to serve. He was dismissed as a juror.

Richardson, stand-up guy that he is, did his duty.

It’s too bad so many others simply fail to show up to take part in a process that demands citizen participation. Without citizens reporting for jury duty, the system breaks down.

Follow the leader, Mr. Vice President

Dick Cheney needs to follow the lead of the man who has just left the presidency — and keep his mouth shut.

Cheney popped off recently about President Obama’s efforts to start a dialogue with Iran and perhaps some other rogue nations. He called Obama’s effort naive and short-sighted and some other negative terms.

The former president, meanwhile, has shown the proper decorum. He hasn’t been critical of his successor. The 43rd president merely wished No. 44 well and declared that he is pulling for hm to succeed. Bush is following the lead of his father who, when he left office in January 1993, vowed never to criticize his successor, Bill Clinton. “I’ve had my time on the stage,” Bush 41 would say.

Former Vice President Cheney, doesn’t seem so inclined. He sounded off in a Politico.com interview. The effect well might be to undermine the new president and his administration’s efforts to make peace in this dangerous world.

Mr. Vice President, the new guys have enough on their plate without having to listen to cheap shots tossed at them from the peanut gallery.

Form letters to the editor

I know in my head and my heart that conservatives aren’t dumb. But I’m beginning to believe that conservative activists believe mainstream, rank-and-file conservatives cannot think for themselves. Doesn’t the term “Dittohead” suggest as much?

Every so often, I get mass mailings over local readers’ names. They are form letters, sent out generally by conservative think tanks/political activists. Here’s the latest one to be tossed through the transom.

I was outraged that Houston NBC affiliate KPRC accepted an ad from AshleyMadison.com – a matchmaking website that caters exclusively to men and women seeking to cheat on their spouses – during this year’s Super Bowl, a program traditionally watched by millions of families with small children. Now Fox News is reporting that AshleyMadison.com is looking to buy more ad time in Texas, and I, for one, will not stand for it.
Beyond the ads being sexually suggestive, the very idea of promoting a website that facilitates infidelity is outrageous! These ads do not belong on television – period. What kind of message does this send to children watching television? That the selfish pursuit of pleasure is more important than family or marriage vows? That character and personal integrity are less important than cheap and easy sex?
Broadcasters are granted a license to use the public airwaves for free, in exchange for serving the public interest. How does promoting marital infidelity serve the public interest? Broadcasters who fail to abide by community standards may face public opposition when their licenses are up for renewal.
Please do the right thing. Stand up for Texas’ families. Do not accept ads from AshleyMadison.com.


I’ve gotten about a dozen copies of this letter already over the names of Panhandle residents.

These submissions come to me in the form of “letters to the editor.” Now, I ask: Don’t these folks understand that when I get more than one identical letter that we aren’t going to publish the message? Newspaper editors recognize these for what they are: Form letters sent to people who subscribe to some Internet service. They’re asked to send to their local paper — hoping that the paper will publish this material as a letter to the editor.

It’s not going to happen.

I’ll take back the seemingly unkind words about conservatives when I see a liberal interest group use this tactic. I’m still waiting.

Waiting for no one

OK, let’s get right to it.

Amarillo has technology that it is not using the right way. I refer to street-light synchronization.

Exhibit A: The stop light on Coulter Street, at the Lowe’s parking lot. The light is meant to allow traffic coming out of the parking lot onto Coulter. However, I frequently drive north on Coulter well before the sun comes up — and well before anyone is leaving Lowe’s. But, by golly, I’ll get stopped at the red light. I am waiting for no one to drive onto Coulter.

Isn’t there a way for the city turn that into a blinking yellow light after hours and then, say, at 8 a.m., turn it to a traffic-activated signal that turns red on Coulter when someone wants to exit the Lowe’s parking lot onto the busy thoroughfare?

This isn’t the only spot in Amarillo where drivers wait needlessly.

We are not talking about Star Trek-era technology.

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