Playing the race card

Some folks on the right have taken to accusing those on the left of playing the race card too frequently to explain the ideological chasm that exists among Americans in these contentious times.

But that criticism occasionally ignores an unmistakable truth, which is that righties have their own racial burdens to bear.

Witness the recent rant by Fox News Channel host Bill O’Reilly, one of the premier right-wing loudmouths on TV. He accuses President Obama of wanting to take down Republicans because, according to Bill O, he thinks the GOP is the party of “white privilege.”

I’ll stand aside for now. Take a look at this link. I wonder what others think of O’Reilly’s comments.

Yes, he should swear on a Bible
Dean Obeidallah has this idea that presidents should not take their oath of office with their hand on a Bible.
In an essay he wrote for, Obeidallah says the Constitution is the document to which the president swears and that is where his hand should rest. It’s also interesting to note that this man is a former lawyer and a “political comedian.” When I read the essay I kept looking for a punch line. I didn’t see one, so I’m assuming he’s making a serious point.
Well, President Obama has just taken his second inaugural oath and it has been reported by various media around the world that he took the oath with his hand on an old Bible once used by President Abraham Lincoln.
I got to thinking about what the CNN essayist said and wondered for a moment what kind of firestorm would erupt in the conservative media had this president taken his oath on a volume other than a Bible.
Every conservative political commentator’s head would explode. Heck, many of them already have accused the president of being a closet Muslim who sympathizes with terrorists … despite his many declarations of his Christian faith. That doesn’t matter, they say. The president is lying and he really hates Christians, the nuttiest among them say.
An acquaintance of mine once said the president took his fist oath with his hand on a Quran – Islam’s holy book. I looked at him, stunned to say the least. “How do you know that?” I asked. “It’s all over the Internet,” he said with as straight a face as I’ve ever seen someone utter such bilge. I told him – in not-very-polite terms – that what he had just said was nothing but unadulterated bull corn (or a term to that effect). We haven’t spoken to each other since.
The president takes what’s been viewed commonly as a sacred oath. Thus, in my view it is appropriate for him to place his hand on a Bible if that is what he prefers. The Constitution does not require it of presidents. But I see nothing wrong with him using the Bible as an affirmation of the oath he takes to serve the United States of America.
And, let’s not forget, presidents have the option of ending the oath with the “so help me God,” which Barack Obama has done twice.
Congratulations on your second inauguration, Mr. President. God bless you.

Fresh start is the order of the day

I am heartened by what’s being reported about Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

It is that the Republican senator wants a fresh start with President Obama. No more talk, apparently, of making Obama a “one-term president.” Indeed, with the president’s second inauguration on tap this weekend, the single-term wish never will be fulfilled.

This bruising campaign that ended with Obama’s re-election – with a substantial Electoral College majority to boot – is history. It was a rough first term for the president and for the 112th Congress, which has made way for the current crop of lawmakers to try to solve the problems their immediate predecessors left unsolved.

The initial signs don’t look promising, with talk of impeachment over the president’s gun policies. Then again, the impeachment talk is coming from a couple of nut jobs, one of whom hails from Texas, freshman Republican Rep. Steve Stockman, who one commentator this week described as the House’s new “Allen West.”

But let’s set that silly stuff aside.

McConnell wants the president to talk about deficit reduction and spending cuts in his inaugural address. That’s a reasonable request. The good news, though, is that it comes with no outward threats. That could be a harbinger of the fresh start McConnell seeks.

It’s also instructive that as the fiscal talks reached a climax at the end of 2012, McConnell turned to his former Senate colleague, Vice President Joe Biden, for help in breaking the logjam. He gave up trying to negotiate with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and sought help from the schmoozer in chief of the Obama administration. That outreach also could be seen as the opening of a new chapter.

One final note: Both sides of this ongoing argument need to bury the hatchet – and not in each other’s back. My own hope is that President Obama can learn how to schmooze as well. Lyndon Johnson knew how to talk to the other side, as did Ronald Reagan.

Indeed, Obama is fond of invoking Reagan’s name when it benefits his own agenda. He also ought to adopt some of The Gipper’s inherent good cheer in working with Republicans.

With no more personal campaigns to wage, now is the time for a fresh start.

Red-light cameras doing their job

I have to commend the Amarillo City Commission from refusing to flinch on the issue of red-light cameras at several dangerous intersections.

What’s more, I congratulate the commission for agreeing to expand deployment of these devices to at least two additional intersections.

The criticism that swelled up when the city installed the cameras more than five years ago seems to have quieted down a bit. But the commission took the correct course when it deployed the cameras to catch those who run through red lights and, thus, break the law. The city declared the cameras to be a hedge against threats to public safety, given the accidents that were occurring because motorists were ignoring the command to stop when the light turns red.

Back when I was working as a daily opinion journalist writing in support of the initiative, I heard a snootful from camera critics. Perhaps the most innovative gripe came from those who said they wanted to face their “accuser,” meaning they didn’t want some automated system catching them in the act of breaking the law. The cameras are activated when someone runs through a light; it snaps a picture of the license plate on the offending vehicle; the Amarillo Police Department runs that plate through its system to identify the owner of the vehicle. The city then issues a $75 citation to the owner, who then has the option to pay it or contest it.

Thus, the violator gets to face his or her “accuser.”

The most disgraceful complaint came from those who said the cameras invaded motorists “privacy,” which of course ignores the fact that motor vehicle traffic flows on public streets. Therefore, what happens on public property becomes the public’s business.

State law restricts how cities can spend the revenue they collect. Amarillo pays the vendor and then dedicates what’s left to traffic improvement. It cannot spend the money on office frills for, say, the city manager. Instead, Amarillo has used the money to pay for improved traffic enforcement and upgrades to traffic signals around the city.

I continue to support the concept of using these devices to catch motorist lawbreakers. And I sense that given the relative silence among residents that they’re getting used to the cameras’ presence. If the result is fewer accidents and perhaps even a decline in revenue, then so be it.

The cameras are doing their job.

A rational gun debate, please

President Obama has made it known what he wants to do to curb gun violence.

He wants to limit the size of clips to 10 rounds; he wants complete background checks of everyone who purchases a firearm; he wants make assault weapons illegal, as they once had been declared.

Now, with that is it possible to have a rational debate on this issue? I hope so, but I fear it won’t happen.

Second Amendment advocates – or should I say “zealots”? – have launched their PR campaign against these measures. The National Rifle Association is airing a TV ad that says the president is a hypocrite because the Secret Service provides armed protection for his children but he opposes arming teachers and security personnel in our schools. I cannot at this moment think of a more despicable ad campaign in recent memory than that one.

Look at it here:

Let’s move on. Before the president announced his proposals, at least two House Republicans threatened to impeach Barack Obama if he issued executive orders to implement some of these measures. They contend Obama would violate the Second Amendment by issuing such an order. Oh my.

I am a gun owner. I have two rifles stored in a place where no one but me ever goes. I don’t want the feds to take them from me. Based on what I heard today I am quite certain my rifles – both of which I have owned since I was a little boy – will remain in my possession. I also am equally certain that other responsible gun owners – the hunters, sports shooters and collectors to whom Obama referred today – also will keep their firearms.

However, to hear some hysterical critics tell it, the president has just laid the groundwork for the wholesale confiscation of every firearm in the nation.

I am certain I heard him say once again that he honors the Second Amendment and that hooded agents will not be barging into my home to take my guns from me. Didn’t anyone else hear that too?

What the president wants is to make it more difficult for lunatics like the shooters who executed the children in Newtown, Conn., or killed movie patrons in Aurora, Colo., or opened fire on Christmas shoppers in Clackamas, Ore., to purchase weapons designed exclusively to kill many people in rapid-fire fashion.

Will these proposals do the job? We won’t know unless if we have rational, reasonable and thoughtful debate on the subject. I am ready to listen to that debate. I am not going to listen to frenzied rants from those who are sowing the seeds of fear.

‘The Hiker’ seeks House seat

Welcome back to the political arena, Mark Sanford. The U.S. House of Representatives needs more entertaining members such as you.

A part of me wants you to win the House seat. Maybe your nutty behavior will take our minds off some of the depressing seriousness that emanates too often from the House.

Will South Carolinians forgive your 2009 disappearing act, when your staff said you were hiking in the Appalachians while you in fact were in Argentina frolicking with your mistress? If they’re anything like Texans, they probably will. South Carolina is as reliably Republican as the Lone Star State. Sure, you suffered terrible damage because of this event. But at least your ex-wife, Jenny, emerged from that tawdry episode with an improved public image.

But here’s my favorite part of your public service I hope you bring back if you’re elected: I hope you tote that cot back to your DC office and sleep on it at night. When you were in the House in those days, you made quite a show of sleeping on the cot. You said you wanted to connect with ordinary folks back home. You went home every weekend to shake hands, listen to constituents, maybe kiss a few babies and scarf down some bad food at political events.

That office-sleepover stunt got me thinking. What kind of “real American” does that? Who sleeps at the office and then scurries home on weekends to provide some kind of phony visual demonstration?

At the time, Mr. Sanford, I inquired about my congressman, a fellow conservative such yourself. Mac Thornberry of Clarendon actually lives like a normal American. He moved his wife and then-two young children to DC when he got elected. They lived as a family. Yes, he still jets back to the Panhandle fairly regularly to visit with the home folks.

Well, whatever. I’m looking forward to watching you from a distance. What with social media and prying eyes and ears everywhere, there’ll be no place for you to hide.

Good luck surviving the scrutiny.

Another nutty Republican weighs in

Ed Meese is back in the limelight, in all his goofy glory.

The former Reagan administration attorney general says President Obama could face impeachment if he choose the executive order route in implementing tighter gun regulations in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., massacre on Dec. 14. You’ve heard of that one, right? It left 20 children and six teachers dead, along with the shooter, who began his rampage by killing his mother.

The president wants something done about gun violence and he’s getting the usual pushback from the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups. They think any measure to tighten restrictions would violate the Second Amendment guarantee of gun ownership. I am quite sure Barack Obama has said he intends to honor the Second Amendment by allowing responsible gun owners to keep their firearms. His intent is to make it more difficult for lunatics to acquire them.

Meese says the Congress ought to explore impeaching the president if it determines he has violated the Constitution. Meese is the latest conservative to make such a claim. The looniest call for impeachment came from congressional new guy Steve Stockman, an East Texas Republican who’s back in the House of Representatives after losing his his bid for re-election way back in 1996. He had represented the Gulf Coast for a single term after defeating the late legendary Democrat Jack Brooks in the 1994 Contract With American GOP wipeout. Stockman did not distinguish himself and was drummed out two years later.

Stockman won election to a newly drawn district not far from his old one. And now this loudmouth is talking about impeaching the president whose intent is to protect children from madmen like the one who opened fire with an assault rifle in the Newtown elementary school classroom.

I’ll ask it again: Isn’t there some compromise to be found that tightens the rules for owning guns while honoring the Second Amendment?

I prefer the wisdom of two renowned combat veterans, former four-star Army Gens. Colin Powell and Stanley McChrystal, who in recent days have said that the type of weapon used in Newtown should be used exclusively on the battlefield.

Test of wills to commence in DC

Polls are bearing something quite clear. A near-majority of Americans want stricter gun laws. The nation’s leading gun-rights group, the National Rifle Association, doesn’t want the feds to touch the gun laws.

So, here is where we stand. More Americans than not are telling lawmakers one thing; the NRA, meanwhile, is telling them something else. Who will members of the House and Senate heed?

My guess is that the NRA is going to win this argument once more.

Those polls declaring a plurality of support for tighter laws also indicate Americans don’t believe necessarily they’ll reduce gun violence. That is what the NRA has been saying.

But there seems to be something fundamentally wrong with the a political system that puts more weight behind the moneyed special interests than it does with rank-and-file Americans whose only tool is their vote.

I’m acutely aware that most Texas Panhandle residents do not subscribe to the results determined by The Hill poll. Accordingly, the region’s congressman, Republican Mac Thornberry, is going to oppose tightening gun laws. So will the state’s two GOP senators, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz. But these three men represent a tiny fraction of the national electorate; their views on guns apparently aren’t even shared by a majority of Americans.

If they manage to win the argument and persuade their colleagues to keep their hands off existing federal gun laws, then we could argue that they’ve circumvented the will of the people.

And the National Rifle Association, arguably the nation’s pre-eminent single-issue lobby, has scored another victory.

I keep wondering: Why can’t Congress, the White House and these special interests forge a compromise that enacts tougher laws while protecting the Second Amendment? Are gun rights and stricter laws mutually exclusive principles? I think not.

Another Bush to enter the scene?

I am intrigued by the notion that yet another Bush is about to become part of Texas political history. It remains to be seen, of course, whether he becomes a mere footnote or carves out a significant place in Lone Star State lore.

George P. Bush, the son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, says he wants to run for statewide office in Texas. Will it be for Texas governor, for attorney general, for land commissioner? The smart money suggests he will seek the land commissioner’s office.

Bush is an interesting young man. He’s 36 years old, is fluent in Spanish (his mother is Mexican), is handsome and is well-educated (with a law degree).

I witnessed George P. Bush’s political coming out at the 1992 Republican convention in Houston when he took to the podium to speak on behalf of “Poppy,” George H.W. Bush, who was seeking re-election as president. The 16-year-old George P. ended his speech by exhorting the crowd with “Viva Boosh!” The Astrodome crowd erupted … and a star was born.

His name also is Bush, which at this very moment would – at best – be a mixed blessing in almost every other state in the Union. But not in Texas … apparently.

Uncle George W. Bush left the presidency in 2009 with the nation’s economy in shambles; we were still fighting two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; Osama bin Laden was still hiding in plain sight in a three-story compound in Pakistan. Since then, though, the economy is recovering, the Iraq war is over, the Afghanistan war is drawing to a close and bin Laden’s corpse was dumped into the ocean after U.S. commandos killed him in May 2011.

George P. Bush’s name remains a plus in Texas nonetheless. I’m not entirely sure why that’s so, but it is.

The land commissioner’s job has been described by some as something of a dead-end post. Not true. It can be a stepping stone to bigger and better offices. But whichever course George P. chooses will depend on what other Republicans do.

Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson was thought to be running for lieutenant governor; then again, the current lieutenant governor, David Dewhurst, was considered a shoo-in for the U.S. Senate, except that he lost the GOP primary this past summer. Dewhurst likely will seek re-election to the job he holds. Attorney General Greg Abbott might run against Gov.-for-Life Rick Perry, should “Goodhair” seek another term. If Abbott makes that leap, it opens up the AG’s office for someone such as George P.

But if Abbott seeks re-election to the AG office, does that give George P. an opening to run for (gulp!) governor?

All this intrigue makes my head hurt.

Protest drips with irony

In the old days, presidents would appoint people to Cabinet posts, a few senators might gripe out loud, but then the nominee would be confirmed overwhelmingly.

Those days may be gone.

President Obama has nominated White House chief of staff Jack Lew to be treasury secretary. He is considered by most observers – and that includes most senators who will vote on his confirmation – to be eminently qualified. He has extensive federal budget experience; Lew is known to be a tough negotiator; he has the confidence of the president. These all are solid qualifications to be the nation’s top Money Man.

But at least one senator is vowing to block Lew’s nomination. Republican Jeff Sessions of Alabama said the other day that Lew “never should become treasury secretary.” Why? Sessions says that Lew is too much of an, um, ideologue. He’s just too darn liberal to suit Sessions. Never mind that Barack Obama was re-elected on Nov. 6 by a significant Electoral College majority, not mention nearly 5 million popular votes. And as such, he is entitled to select qualified individuals to serve in the nation’s Cabinet.

Jack Lew is qualified to be the next secretary of the treasury.

Sessions, though, embodies much of the contentiousness that infects both houses of Congress. Senate rules empower him to block the nomination all by himself if he so chooses. He can mount a de facto filibuster, even without ever having to stand on the Senate floor and talk himself to unconsciousness – which is the way filibusters ought to commence.

Sessions is vowing to be a one-man wrecking crew.

What’s most fascinating about this particular senator’s objection is his own history as it regards Senate confirmation.

In 1986, President Reagan appointed Sessions to a federal judgeship. He was a federal prosecutor at the time. The Senate began probing Sessions’ record and learned that he had uttered some racially insensitive remarks. Indeed, some critics labeled him an outright racist. The Senate Judiciary Committee, after hearing all of that – and after hearing from Sessions himself – voted to reject his nomination. Sessions withdrew his name from consideration.

Sessions was elected to the U.S. Senate a decade later.

The irony lies in that this senator, who couldn’t even muster enough votes on a Senate panel to be confirmed to a lifetime appointment on the federal bench, now is able – by virtue of his office – to cast aspersions on other nominees.

It is simply amazing that Jeff Sessions would exhibit such gall.

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