Paging ex-President Bush

NOTE: I found this archived blog post. It was published initially on Aug. 31, 2010. I thought in light of recent events that I’d share it once again.

The 43rd president of the United States has been a man of his word: He vowed to keep silent when he handed the keys of the Oval Office over to his successor in January 2009. But now he needs to speak up on something about which he was quite eloquent.

President Bush made a valiant effort in the wake of 9/11 to assure the world that the United States was not going to war against Islam, that we were at war with terrorists who perverted their religion.

But that declaration has been lost on those who believe in how Bush responded to the terror attacks. Many of them now have declared war on Muslims, making no distinction between those who love peace and the religious perverts.

President Obama has been trying as well to make the same point that President Bush made. But he has a unique problem: Many of those who hate Muslims believe Obama is one of them. Thus, his message is falling on deaf ears.

This is why Bush needs to break his self-imposed silence.

The former president has taken up residence back in Texas to work on his library and to write his memoir. He is working with former President Clinton on getting relief for Haiti’s earthquake victims. But he has declared that Obama “deserves my silence” with regard to his policies.

What the current president deserves now is a strong message from his immediate predecessor condemning the anti-Muslim violence that is erupting in communities across the country.

Our enemy is the same today as it was when we struck back in the wake of 9/11: We are fighting terrorists, not Islam’s mainstream believers.

Who you callin’ biased?

Former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom “The Hammer” DeLay wants to move his corruption trial out of Travis County because, his lawyer says, the county is too “liberal” and DeLay cannot get a fair trial.

Where does The Hammer want to stand trial? In his home county, Fort Bend.

So, DeLay wants to trade one jury pool’s potential bias in favor of another jury pool’s bias. He wants to swing the pendulum potentially in his favor. Ponder that for a moment.

Justice isn’t supposed to swing in either direction. It’s supposed to be administered without bias or prejudice — for either side.

DeLay has been accused in Travis County of money laundering in connection with the use of campaign cash. He left Congress in 2006 and is set to stand trial beginning Oct. 26.

His change of venue request, which has been denied, really is laughable.

Consider the size of Travis County. It is home to nearly 1 million people, roughly half of whom are eligible to serve on a trial jury. Is The Hammer’s lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, asking us to believe that no one in that vast pool of potential jurors can pass judgment without regard to DeLay’s or their own political leaning? Give me a break.

Yes, Travis County is a “liberal” county, but it isn’t unanimously so. Not everyone there marches to the same political cadence.

As for Fort Bend County, the jury pool there is roughly half the size of the Travis County pool, which means lawyers are less likely to find jurors who aren’t favorably disposed to DeLay’s plight. Is that fair to the state that will prosecute DeLay for the allegations leveled against him?

Senior State District Judge Pat Senior, to his credit, has denied DeLay’s change of venue request. So, he and the lawyers will have find 12 competent jurors to determine DeLay’s fate. It might take a tad longer than normal to find 12 people who aren’t biased — one way or the other. But let them take all the time they need.

Rolling Stone misses the mark

Rolling Stone is a fine publication. But its editors got it all wrong when listing the top 10 Beatles songs of all time.

The mag’s pick? “A Day in the Life.”

I’ll concede that it’s a fine tune. But the best of all time? Hardly. It’s not even as good as “Strawberry Fields” or “Get Back.”

I’ve been saying for decades that the best song ever recorded — by any artist ever — is another Beatles ditty: “Hey Jude,” all 7 minutes 11 seconds of it. But that’s just my opinion.

How do I measure this song’s greatness? It’s the only song that I can remember where I was the very first time I heard it. That event ranks right up there with President Kennedy’s murder, the first moon landing and 9/11. For the record, that moment came in my barracks at Fort Lewis, Wash., as I listened to a transistor radio on my bunk in the late summer of 1968. I had just joined the Army and was taking a breather after a day of the usual harassment doled out by drill sergeants to a platoon of young recruits. I have no clue where I was when I first heard “A Day in the Life.”

Rolling Stone rated “Hey Jude” at No. 7 all time. Aw, c’mon. What have those guys been smoking?

What about The Saints campus?

I am excited about downtown Amarillo’s downtown progress and the momentum that continues to build toward an eventual revival.

But I’m troubled by the lack of discussion about what to do about a particular piece of property: the old St. Anthony’s Hospital site on Polk Street and Amarillo Boulevard.

It’s been vacant for a long time. Its demise began when St. Anthony’s merged in the mid-1990s with High Plains Baptist Hospital to become Baptist-St. Anthony’s Hospital. Everyone packed up and moved to the BSA site at the medical center complex off Coulter Street.

What’s left now on the northern fringe of the downtown district is a weed-infested, deserted complex of buildings.

I spoke at length this morning with Mike Callahan, the new head of the Harrington Regional Medical Center, about a number of health-related topics. The discussion turned briefly to the Saints campus. He doesn’t know what will become of it. Callahan said a developer purchased the site “for a song.”

But with all the talk about various parcels in our near the downtown district, why hasn’t the old hospital complex been a topic of public discussion and debate?

It’s too big of a piece of real estate to just let rot.

Someone at City Hall, Center City or Downtown Amarillo Inc. — or at all three agencies — needs to get this conversation started.

No sign of signs

It took me a few days to figure it out, but I found a not-so-obvious difference between Amarillo and the place where I was vacationing for the past week with my wife.

We didn’t see a single billboard anywhere in Hawaii.

OK, we’re aware of the clear differences between the High Plains and the Island Paradise: We have, um, the big sky; they have heavily forested mountains that obstruct the view of sunsets and sunrises. We have sparse rain and relentless sunshine; they have abundant rain and intermittent clouds day and night. We have wide boulevards and miles and miles of straight-line driving; they have hair-pin turns and narrow two-lane roads that turn into one-lane roads.

We also have billboards that advertise everything. Hawaii gets along quite well, apparently, without them.

I actually thought of Bill Ware, the big-time Amarillo banker who also is a well-known advocate for limiting billboards and other outdoor signage in his hometown. I’m guessing he’s been to Hawaii already, so he knows of which I am writing.

I didn’t miss the billboards. They would have messed up some very beautiful scenery we saw for the week we were tooling around the islands.

And I wouldn’t miss them here at home if they tore them all down immediately. Our big sky also is quite easy on the eyes.

Perry to avoid editorial boards — again

Hey, whatever works …

Gov. Rick Perry has announced that, just as he did in the primary campaign, he will not speak to newspaper editorial boards while he seeks re-election to his third full term.

Perry raised plenty of eyebrows early in the year when he swore off the interviews. He said then he had better things to do than speak to newspaper editors who would question him about why Republican voters should renominate him.

An interesting thing then happened: Virtually all the papers in the state endorsed his major primary opponent, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. From Amarillo to McAllen, and from El Paso to Beaumont — and all the places between — papers spoke glowingly about Hutchison’s credentials as a senator and the dedicated service she has given to the state.

What did that get her? Well, she lost the primary by more than 20 percentage points to Perry.

So, the governor must figure that what worked in the primary can work in the general election.

Perry’s Democratic challenger, former Houston Mayor Bill White, spins the refusal quite differently. In a statement issued today, White spokeswoman Katy Bacon said, “It’s no wonder Rick Perry doesn’t want to meet with editorial boards. He has a lot to answer for, from his spending and the $18 billion budget deficit to a lack of ethics and abuse of state government as his own self-serving, partisan political machine. Texans deserve a leader who’s not afraid of tough questions.”

Bacon does have a point. It’s been a tradition for politicians to meet with editorial boards and to answer pointed questions from ink-stained wretches. Bill White no doubt will get the treatment when he comes calling later this year. It goes with the territory.

But as the governor proved during his winning primary campaign, this is shaping up as an unconventional election year.

However, the National Conference of Editorial Writers is having its annual meeting next month in Dallas. One of the featured speakers will be, um, Rick Perry.

I wonder if he’ll take questions.

Those durn rocks … grrrr!

I spoke too soon. Shame on me.

I had thought I had dodged a bullet because the seal-coating operation under way in my southwest Amarillo neighborhood wouldn’t affect me much because of our rear-entry driveway. And I said as much in an earlier post on this blog.

Well … I was wrong. I went brain-dead and forgot about the street behind our house from which we enter the alley that leads to our driveway and garage.

I went home last night and found that gritty asphalt-covered gravel all over the street behind our house. It splattered the undercarriage of my car.

Then, this morning, I awoke early (as usual) and headed down the alley for my morning workout. Then it happened.

The car began howling from a noise underneath. I guess some of the seal-coated rocks had gotten into the brakes, causing that hideous whining sound.

At least that’s what I hope happened.

Amarillo streetscaping takes shape

A notice was hanging on our front door the other day. It was from Amarillo street department, telling us to prepare ourselves for a slight inconvenience this week. The city is going to lay down some seal coating, which comprises asphalt-covered pebbles.

I mention this because I heard this past week some faint grumbling from residents in the Estacado neighborhood near where we live. Their streets have been treated already and the residents don’t like it. The gravel gets kicked up onto their driveways, sidewalks and it gathers along the curb. Plus, some folks have said, the gravel plays havoc with their vehicles’ undercarriage.

Knowing about the grumbling, and having just received the notice, I took a brief walk Saturday morning along my street — which is all of two blocks long. It has cul-de-sacs on both ends and I joke all the time that the only people who drive on our street either (a) want to be there or (b) are hopelessly lost. I walked to one end of the street, then to the other. I looked for flaws in the pavement. I didn’t find any.

Indeed, the city just laid down some asphalt just about three, maybe four, years ago.

I know what the city’s response is to the gripes: Laying this coating down protects the street; if we don’t do it, City Hall officials say, the pavement will buckle, crack and will be harder on our vehicles.

But here’s the saving grace: We live in a neighborhood with rear-entry driveways. I don’t have to drive on this nasty stuff while it’s settling.

But the current street surface in front of my house looks to be in nearly mint condition. I’m still wondering why the city needs to do it so soon after the previous work on it.

Hiroshima, 65 years later

Let’s say you’re the president of the United States. You’ve been in office just a few weeks, having replaced a beloved man who had served for 12 years; he had just taken the oath for his fourth term before he died of a cerebral hemorrhage.

Then your braintrust comes to you and says, “Mr. President, we want to tell you about something. There’s this project out in New Mexico we’ve been working on that we think is going to end the war — quickly.” You agree to take a look at the information on this secret matter, called the Manhattan Project.

Then you learn about a very big bomb that can kill tens of thousands of people in an instant. You ponder what you have just learned for a few moments and then say, “OK, let’s do it. We have to end this war before we kill many more thousands of our guys and possibly millions of theirs.”

That was the situation facing President Harry Truman in mid-1945. He didn’t know about The Bomb until he took office. Then, 65 years ago today, he ordered a B-29 Stratofortress to take off for Japan. It carried a single explosive. The plane, piloted by Army Air Force Col. Paul Tibbetts, dropped the bomb on Hiroshima. Three days later, a second bomb fell on Nagasaki. And just a few days after that, Japan threw up the white flag of surrender.

The war was over.

I have a particular stake in this event. My father was in the Philippines at the time preparing — along with hundreds of thousands of other servicemen — to invade the Japanese homeland. Dad had seen his share of combat already in the Mediterranean theater — North Africa, Sicily and Italy. His naval duty put him in harm’s way countless times.

I cannot say this with absolute certainty, but given all he had seen in the Med, it well might have been that Dad’s number would have been up had the United States invaded Japan. All the conventional wisdom on the planet at the time suggested that perhaps millions of people would have died in the attempt to subdue the Japanese. Were that the case, and he met his end, well … that would have precluded yours truly from ever entering this world.

Dad survived. He came home, got married — on Aug. 24, 1946 — and started his family.

I have owed President Truman my gratitude ever since for stiffening his backbone and making the toughest decision of his life.

We can debate until we run out of breath over the rightness of the decision. As the son of someone who stood at the gates of hell preparing for the fight of his life, I have no particular interest in such an intellectual exercise. My interests in what President Truman did are more, um, personal.

Thank you, Mr. President.

Who cares about this milestone?

Alex Rodriguez hit his 600th career home run Wednesday and what does he get? A collective yawn from the sporting public, unless you live in and around New York City.

Is there any surprise? Of course not.

A-Rod has admitted using steroids back when he played for the Texas Rangers. Well, he’s hitting dingers for the New York Yankees these days. He became only the seventh player in major league history to pass the 600-HR mark, but no one seems to care.

He cheated to get there.

I recall the day when such a milestone created almost a national holiday. Willie Mays hit No. 600 and we stopped in awe. Hank Aaron’s 600th and then his 700th career HRs were cause for dancing in the streets.

These days? Big deal. A-Rod’s 600th is seen by millions of fans as just another home run.

I used to truly root for Rodriguez to break Barry Bonds’ career home run mark of 762. But that was before he admitted to using ‘roids — after denying it for many years prior to that.

Now? I don’t give a rip.