Save the gripes for another day … OK?

Memorial Day has arrived — and given the tense political times we’re enduring, so has the usual carping.

It’s coming from conservatives who are angry that President Obama didn’t lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown at Arlington National Cemetery. He assigned that duty to Vice President Biden, who did a nice job this morning at the solemn ceremony.

One reader, from Pampa, believes it’s unforgivable that the president didn’t honor the memory of our fallen warriors at Arlington and said that the media have hidden the story. Two points need to be made.

One is that the media have been all over the story today. They were reporting that Obama would make remarks at the Lincoln National Cemetery in Illinois, where the president was visiting with his family. The media also have noted the criticism that has been directed at the president from conservative groups, and from veterans organizations. What’s more, if the media were covering up the story, how did the critics know about it?

The other is that Obama isn’t the first president to forgo laying a wreath at Arlington during Memorial Day. President GHW Bush, a WWII combat vet, didn’t do it. President Reagan rarely took part; indeed, the media have noted that one year Reagan was vacationing at his California ranch during one Memorial Day. President Clinton — who famously avoided service during the Vietnam War — foresaw the vilification he would have suffered if he stiffed the ceremony, so he made a point of laying the wreath throughout his presidency.

This day isn’t about what presidents do to honor our fallen warriors. It’s about the men and women who have died in service to the country.

We can save the carping for another day. Heaven knows there’s plenty to keep us angry.

Are you ready for some f-f-f-football?

The Super Bowl is going to New York in 2014. Outdoors. In the cold. Maybe it’ll be snowing, sleeting and raining all at the same time.

Good deal.

The NFL awarded the Big Game to the Big Apple in what is a first for the league: the first Super Bowl to be played in cold-weather elements.

The crying has begun already. More of it will come from the big-time moguls who go to the game to party. They care little about the game. They prefer the tropical climes in, say, San Diego or Miami — or perhaps the dry heat of Phoenix.

Hey, the game was meant to be played in the ice, snow, mud and rain. The players have to endure such weather at various times throughout the season. Moreover, the players and coaches make enough money that they can play just one more game in the cold before calling it a season.

I think the NFL has done the spirit of the game a great service by sending it to New York in early February. Kick it off into a howling sub-freezing wind and let the players slug it out on a snow-covered field.

That’s football, friends.

But what are they going to do about those superstar half-time shows? Who cares? It’s all about the game.

Rain gauge fills — finally

I’ve arrived at a moment that I haven’t anticipated for a number of years: My backyard rain gauge is full and I’ll have to empty it tonight.

It filled nearly to the top late Monday and early Tuesday during a whopper of a rain and hail storm that swept over Amarillo. Our gauge showed a 3-inch accumulation overnight, which is fantastic by any measure. Some neighborhood playas are overflowing. McDonald Lake’s water level had just about spilled over its banks this morning, nearly reaching the paved walk path that surrounds the lake.

The bad news is that my wife’s veggie garden took a bit of a beating from the hail, but after examining it this morning she is hopeful that the sunshine will let her still-infant crop recover.

This is all worth noting because the weather forecasters — who take their share of abuse from residents, much of it deserved — had predicted a wetter than normal spring. And so it has developed just about as they said it would.

El Nino gets the credit. It’s that Pacific Ocean current that washes moisture ashore; it then travels east across the desert, the mountains and down onto the plains. Thus, we’re getting drenched this spring.

I cannot forget to empty the rain gauge when I get home this evening. I’m anxious to watch it fill up once again.

How do they get away with this?

Austin, we have a problem.

A state law is supposed to require motorists to be insured. But we now have learned that one in four Potter County drivers are uninsured; one in six Randall County drivers fall into that category.

What gives? We have to produce proof of insurance when we get our car inspected. Each year when we go to the county tax office, the clerk calls up our record to confirm that we have insurance. If we don’t have insurance, we can’t get our car inspected or get our auto insurance renewed. Failure to do either may result in our getting busted by the police.

Is enforcement lacking? How do these people get away with driving without insurance?

Well, one of the Panhandle’s very own state reps, John Smithee of Amarillo, is in position to do something about this problem. He chairs the House Insurance Committee — and may get that assignment when the next Legislature convenes in January.

Methinks the chairman needs to begin researching ways to fix this matter. Quickly.

Scandal crosses partisan divide

Political shame showed a distinctly bipartisan stripe this week. Ah, what a great week it was.

Former U.S. Rep. Mark Souder, an Indiana Republican, became a champion of sexual abstinence. He would lecture teenagers about the dangers of sexual activity. He pontificated about the dangers of extramartial sex. Why, he even did a public service announcement with a young woman who “interviewed” him about why abstinence is such a valuable weapon in the fight against sexually transmitted disease and unwanted pregnancy.

But, d’oh, he’s a hypocrite.

Seems that Souder was philandering on the side — with the very same young woman with whom he appeared on that PSA. This one might rate as my favorite political sex scandal to date: Righteous pol preaches moral rectitude all the while behaving in precisely the manner he said others should avoid.

He quit his House seat on the spot. Good riddance.

Now we have a Democrat who was caught lying, and that’s what we’ll call it, about his military service record.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal had said repeatedly over many years that he had served “in” Vietnam. He made some remark about being spat upon as he returned from the war. Nope. Didn’t happen. He served “during” the Vietnam War. But he never set foot in country while the bullets were flying. Now we have learned he received several student deferments and enlisted finally in the Marine Corps Reserve to avoid going to war. Hey, I don’t begrudge him for that. I surely do begrudge him, though, for lying about his record.

Blumenthal — who’s running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Christopher Dodd — says he “misspoke.” Huh? But why didn’t he correct the record when media would report over the course of many years that he had served “in” ‘Nam? He didn’t. He let the lie fester and grow.

Then he lashed out at the messenger, namely the New York Times, which broke the story, for “impugning my record of public service.” No one did anything of the kind, Mr. Attorney General. The Times merely looked up his service record and found that it didn’t square with what he’d been saying about himself over a span of many years.

Vietnam veterans, such as yours truly, are outraged. But they shouldn’t be alone. The outrage also belongs to Connecticut voters who have been deceived in a most dishonorable way.

Watch ’em like a hawk

Memo to the Amarillo City Commission: We’ll be watching you like hawks.

The commission has decided to conduct a national search to replace former City Manager Alan Taylor, who has worked his last day as the city’s CEO.

Why the need for vigilance? Well, the commission promises complete openness as it goes about the search. Sadly, in this cynical age, elected officials’ word too often just isn’t good enough. The public will need to keep a sharp eye on the process.

We’ll need to know a host of things about this search: the name of the consulting firm the city will hire to help it in the search; its cost to the city; the process it will employ; the names of the finalists who emerge from what likely will be a large pool of applicants.

City Hall has done the right thing. It should have conducted a serious national search when John Ward retired as city manager in 2004. It went through the motions before elevating Taylor to the top job. Taylor did well in the post, but it would have been better for him — not to mention the city — if he had competed against a top-drawer field of applicants.

The city is making the right moves so far. But we have to remain alert to ensure that it makes good on officials’ pledge for transparency.

Gingrich … out on a limb

Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich is a smart guy. Don’t take my word for it. He’ll all but so say so himself.

But the one-time Georgia Republican firebrand-turned-speaker isn’t a fortune teller. He has told that President Obama has a 20 percent chance of being re-elected in 2012. And, by golly, he might run for the GOP nomination against the president. Gingrich also suggests he could be the one to send Obama packing.

Hmmm. I will respond with two words: Ronald Reagan.

President Reagan was standing guard over an economy in 1982 that was in horrible condition. His poll numbers were in the tank. Joblessness rivaled today’s numbers; inflation was out of control. The mid-term elections that year ended up costing the Republicans many seats in the House and the Senate — a circumstance facing Democrats in the upcoming mid-terms this year.

Oh, what to do? Democrats licked their chops at their prospects in 1984 of retaking the White House. They nominated former Vice President Walter Mondale at their convention that year.

What happened next ought to serve as a cautionary tale for Gingrich and all the know-it-alls today.

Reagan not only won re-election in ’84, he came within about 4,000 votes of scoring a 50-state sweep over Mondale, who barely carried his home state of Minnesota.

It was “morning in America.”

Now … will history repeat itself in precisely that fashion in 2012? I’m not smart enough — unlike Newtie Gingrich — to make such a prediction. I will say, however, that it’s foolish to suggest today — more than two years from the next presidential election — how it will all turn out.

President Mondale surely would agree.

Remembering a mountain

“Vancouver, Vancouver, this is it!”

Those probably were the last words ever uttered — 30 years ago today — by a young geologist, David Johnston, who was blown into oblivion by Mount St. Helens. Johnston was manning an observation point not far from the volcano when he radioed those words to the U.S. Geological Survey office in Vancouver, Wash.

There are some things one never thinks he’ll ever witness. A volcanic eruption is one of those things that, for me, I never imagined I’d be able to remember. I grew up in Portland, Ore., about 50 miles southwest of Mount St. Helens. I was still living there when the mountain exploded on Sunday morning, May 18, 1980. It’s kind of one of those days for Pacific Northwest residents you remember — kind of like where you were when JFK died or when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. On that day, it was overcast, so we didn’t actually witness the blast from our Portland home; we did, however, watch a similarly spectacular ash cloud in July of that year. But still, the live pictures of that moment on our TV screens were as good as being there.

Thirty years ago today, Portlanders’ vision of the world changed forever. It was expressed to me several times in the years immediately after the eruption how upsetting it was to look along the city’s northern horizon and see Mount St. Helens with its top blown off. For those of us who grew up awestruck at the mountain’s snow-capped symmetry, the sight of the mountain today remains quite a blow.

The mountain was supposed to look as it always did.

But alas, human beings cannot control many things. We’re such pipsqueaks when compared to the unfathomable force of Mother Nature.

Price goes up — and stays there

The above link is a story about how the price of oil has plunged 20 percent since early May.

Is that a surprise to you? It was to me.

It never fails to amaze me how the price of gasoline somehow, mysteriously, doesn’t move as quickly downward as it does upward. When the price of crude spikes up, Amarillo gasoline dealers are oh, so very quick to increase the price at the pump instantly, or so it seems. Oh, but when the price of oil nosedives — which the Associated Press says has happened — the price stays up.

The pump price has lingered at $2.79 per gallon, or thereabout, for as long as I can remember.

What goes up, then, doesn’t necessarily come down.

Is he a RINO or a DINO?

I’m chuckling over the anti-incumbent angst getting credit for the probable defeat Tuesday of longtime U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

Specter served for three decades as a Republican. Then he changed parties in 2009. He became a Democrat, just like that. Give the man credit for being honest: He didn’t stand a chance of being elected as a Republican, so he changed parties — and admitted to it!

So now he’s run into a Democratic buzzsaw in the form of Rep. Joe Sestak, who has presented himself as a real Democrat, not a pretender like Specter.

TV ads have shown Republican President Bush endorsing Specter’s re-election in 2004 and Democratic President Obama proclaiming his “love” for Specter in 2010.

I’m not convinced that anti-incumbent fervor is at play in Pennsylvania. What Keystone State Democrats are suggesting is that they don’t trust Specter, and they dislike his jumping onto their party bandwagon for purely self-serving reasons. He wants to stay in the Senate and voters are seeing this move as a cynical attempt to cover his rear end.

It’s true that Specter, who once was a Democrat before he became a Republican all those years ago, has been called a Republican in Name Only (RINO). Democrats now are labeling him a DINO — which translates into calling someone a politician without principle.