Heckuva job, Brownie


The amount of nerve of some people in public life never ceases to amaze me.

Take the former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Michael Brown, for example.

You remember Brown. He led FEMA’s response to the 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster and turned that response into a fiasco. President Bush famously said to him, “You’re doing a heckuva job, Brownie.” Turned out he wasn’t doing such a heckuva job after all coordinating the response to the storm that nearly obliterated New Orleans, one of the world’s great cities.

He quit his FEMA job not long after Bush tossed the bouquet at him.

Brownie now is telling the world that President Obama shouldn’t have spoken so quickly about Hurricane Sandy, that he reacted too rapidly in getting federal relief efforts ready to respond.

I believe it was Abraham Lincoln who once said it is “better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

Brownie should have remained silent.

Feds have a role to play in disaster relief


This article from The New Yorker spells out Gov. Mitt Romney’s blind spot regarding the role of the federal government in people’s lives.

He said during one of the many Republican primary presidential debates that the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s duties ought to be farmed out to the states. FEMA, he implied, is a superfluous agency and that the federal government needs to eliminate it to help reduce the deficit.

It’s right there in the link. Open it and take a look.

Then think about the mountains of praise being heaped on FEMA at this moment over its response to the Hurricane Sandy tragedy that has swept across the northeast corner of the nation. Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey – a major and vocal supporter of Gov. Romney – has been heaping much of that praise on President Obama precisely because of the federal government’s response to this national tragedy. I will repeat: Hurricane Sandy has produced a national tragedy.

And national tragedies require a federal response.

Term limits? We already have them

I have a good friend. His name is Gene, who describes himself as a conservative redneck. We agree on virtually nothing politically, but I love the guy.

He keeps harping at me about a pet issue of his: term limits. He thinks the world would be a better place politically if we limited the number of terms that members of Congress can serve. He says it works for the presidency, where the person who sits in that office can serve only for two terms. Then he’s out.

My good friend holds a view that is quite popular among rank-and-file voters. They keep insisting on term limits. However, they keep re-electing their members of Congress. In the Panhandle, that usually means re-election for the incumbent congressman, U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry, by huge margins every other year. Why is that? Well, the Republican lawmaker must be doing a good enough job to keep his seat.

So, what’s the point of term limits?

As for Thornberry, it’s good to set the record straight about something the congressman never said while running for the office 18 years ago. He never vowed to serve a limited number of terms before stepping aside. Thornberry did pledge to vote for GOP-drafted Contract With America, which called for congressional term limits. And you know what? He’s carried through with that pledge every time the issue has come to a vote. The problem, though, is that members of Congress keep voting it down. Who’s going to approve a law that does away with his or her office?

The larger point, though, is that we have term limits already. Elections can be effective limiters every two years for House members and every six years for U.S. senators. The burden then falls on qualified challengers to emerge to run against incumbents. If the challenger presents a credible alternative to the individual already in office, voters will vote the incumbent out. To wit: Mac Thornberry’s victory in 1994 over Democratic U.S. Rep. Bill Sarpalius.

Term limits by themselves aren’t the answer to good government.

Election turns it all topsy-turvy

I’ve concluded that the 2012 presidential election is going to turn logic on its head.

What’s causing this electoral dizziness? I think the liars are on the verge of winning the crucial argument about the state of the economy.

It’s now known that Barack Obama came to office four years with an economy in free-fall. He and Congress instituted some measures to prevent the economy from bleeding out. Stimulus programs kicked lots of money into projects – and a good bit of that money came to the politically unfriendly Texas Panhandle. The government bailed out the auto industry, saving it from collapse. The feds instituted strict rules on banks and other mortgage lenders to ensure they didn’t throw money at any borrower who had his or her hand out.

What’s been the downside? Yes, the national debt is far greater than anyone would want. But the economy has been saved from self-immolation. The nation is in economic recovery right now.

But that’s not good enough, say the liars, who contend that the economy needs to grow faster. They ignore the obvious positive trends for their own gain. And it’s worked, to a degree. They’ve managed to turn what should be a rout for the incumbent president into a bona bide nail-biter.

I understand fully that many of my friends in the Panhandle – which probably will endorse Romney-Ryan by a greater margin than it supported John McCain and Sarah Palin in 2008 – don’t see it that way. They are frustrated with the size of the debt; I share that concern. They believe America is in decline; I, however, do not. Many of them think the nation has been seized by some foreign ideology that wants to turn America into a sort of New World Europe. Me? I take the president at his word when he trumpets America’s greatness. My friends here also are experts on health care, as they know for a fact that Obamacare is going to bankrupt the nation. I’m not smart enough to make that determination, so I’ll just wait to see how it comes together when the law takes effect in 2014.

And the thing I understand the least is how Romney has managed to remake himself with so little concern being raised among those who want to elect him. He governed Massachusetts as a moderate, yet he proclaimed during the primary season he was a “severely conservative” governor. He was pro-choice, now he’s pro-life; he favored government-run health care, now he opposes it; he supported some restrictions on guns, now he opposes all restrictions.

Newt Gingrich, of all people, was right during the GOP primary campaign when he called Romney a liar. And Romney has lied himself into a photo finish for the White House.

See you at the polls.

Time to de-politicize public education

Is there a more political state in America than Texas? We elect everyone. We entrust all kinds of public policy decisions to politicians.

It’s not that politicians are inherently bad people. Some of my better friends are politicians.

But is it truly the right thing to have politicians deciding public education policy? I’ve long had this problem with asking politicians to perform the critical task of setting public education curriculum used to educate our children. Many of these individuals have zero experience as teachers or educational administrators. They all have opinions on what they believe is best for our kids and in recent years in Texas they’ve been fighting furiously among themselves over their philosophical differences.

The Texas State Board of Education comprises 15 individuals representing distinct districts around the state. District 15 includes a huge chunk of West Texas, including the Panhandle. The race this year is between Republican Marty Rowley of Amarillo and Democrat Steve Schafersman of Midland. And the contest is boiling down apparently to the men’s differences over whether to teach “intelligent design” in the classroom alongside the theory of evolution.

Here is where the politicization of the SBOE at times has gotten out of hand.

My concern about the SBOE is that it’s going to continue down that rocky path of argument and division among its members who, along the way, are going to lose sight of their fundamental mission, which is to educate children. Sure, these pols all say they put the kids first. But they demonstrate instead a desire to protect their own reputations. Which is why the sideshow politicization of the SBOE has at times overshadowed the panel’s critical function.

In the 1980s Texas experimented with an appointed SBOE, but then returned to the elected body. I always thought the appointed panel – which was a gubernatorial function – would have worked just fine if given enough time.

But instead we’re handing this SBOE job to politicians who see it as their duty to fight like the dickens among themselves. Other collective political bodies do that very thing as well. And the performances in recent years of the Texas Legislature and the U.S. Congress demonstrate the folly at times of putting a bunch of politicians together in the same room.

These numbers could determine election outcome

As the numbers-driven presidential campaign heads for the home stretch, one final big set of pre-vote statistics looms huge.

It will be the October jobs report, due out next Friday.

Analysts already are projecting a jobs boost of about 120,000 for the month; they add that they believe the unemployment rate will remain at 7.8 percent. What do I think of those projections? Not much. They’re usually wrong at least as often as they’re right.

I’m no economist, but I do believe this: If the numbers come in huge, say, with 200,000 jobs added in the past month, President Obama’s re-election chances will have been boosted to near-certain status. If they tank and the numbers show growth of about 50,000 jobs or fewer, then we could be looking at a Mitt Romney upset.

The timing of the release of this report will be critical for obvious reasons. On Friday, there will be just three full days before balloting begins the following Tuesday. Early voting will have concluded in many states, including Texas (not that it matters here, given that Texas is going to support Romney).

I would love to be a fly on the wall at Romney’s campaign HQ early Friday, where Mitt’s minions are going to be praying for a bad jobs report, which in effect is the same as praying for continued economic misery for millions of Americans. Of course, Obama’s campaign brass is hoping for the best possible numbers to come out Friday … and I agree their motives are just as political as those of the Romney gang.

However, a positive jobs report means much more than just determining how a presidential campaign turns out. It means Americans are getting back to work.

Isn’t that news worth cheering, no matter your political stripe?

Repeat of 2000 beginning to take shape

As I look at the myriad polls out there handicapping the Barack Obama-Mitt Romney race for the White House, I am beginning to ponder what I thought once was impossible.

An electoral vote/popular vote disparity. One of these guys is going to get more popular votes but will lose the contest in the Electoral College. Shades of the 2000 election and Bush v. Gore anyone?

Romney’s lead in the RealClearPolitics.com average of polls is less than 1 percent nationally, which is still within any reasonable statistical margin of error; these margins usually run in the plus-or-minus 3 percent range. That means the race is a dead heat.

But if the contest finishes the way the RCP poll averages suggest, then Romney will win the popular vote.

As most Americans understand, though, presidential races are decided by the Electoral College. Candidates win the states’ electoral votes if they win states’ popular vote. Texas is certain to swing its 38 electoral votes to Romney, so that’s not even a topic of discussion.

Those same polls are continuing to show the president’s lead in critical swing states holding up. Ohio, Virginia, Nevada, Wisconsin and Iowa still lean toward Obama, with Romney leading in North Carolina and Florida – depending on the poll.

By my calculation, I figure Obama is going to win with something like 294 to 303 electoral votes, mainly by holding on to most of those swing states. Romney’s route to the 270 electoral votes needed to win remains quite steep. As the pundits keep saying, he has to thread that needle perfectly and win a huge majority of swing states in play.

How will Obama pull this thing out? Well, I figure the more lunacy is uttered by Romney supporter Donald Trump the better it is for the president. Trump’s latest idiotic statements about giving Obama $5 million if he produces his college transcripts and travel documentation simply is the stuff of a certifiable loon.

And yet the guy keeps getting publicity – such as right here in this blog.

Shame on me? Hardly. I’m glad to bring this baloney to people’s attention.

I had hoped the election would end cleanly, with one guy – preferably the president – winning it without any disparity between the electoral and popular votes. I retain a glimmer of hope that will happen.

That glimmer is starting to flicker. It’s looking like Americans are in for a long night Nov. 6.

Don’t pre-empt gaffes


Jonah Goldberg is a pretty sharp, young conservative columnist – with whom I have little in common, ideologywise.

But he’s right about the dangers of early voting, a subject I’ve explored already on this blog. His point essentially is that early voting pre-empts any gaffes a candidate might make on his/her way to Election Day.

And that’s precisely why I prefer to wait until the final day to cast my vote.

I don’t expect my presidential candidate to make a serious verbal mistake between now and Nov. 6. The other guy might, which only would serve to shore up my confidence in the selection I’m going to make at the polling place.

Texas has done a good job of making early voting easy and accessible for those who just cannot wait. Randall and Potter county residents have several locations available to them to cast their votes early.

But I’m a stickler for tradition. I’ll just bide my time for next 12 days and watch this drama play out.

Then I’ll vote … on Election Day … which is Nov. 6. See you then.

Isn’t this guy still an Army major?


Nidal Hasan is refusing to shave his beard, citing religious freedom. The result has been delays in his court-martial.

Hasan is a major in the U.S. Army – who now is accused of slaughtering more than a dozen people in a shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas. The Army wants to put him on trial for the crime but his lawyers keep winning these delays because he has grown a beard while being held in jail awaiting his trial.

Hasan is a devout Muslim and says his beard is an expression of his faith. Thus, Hasan asserts he is exempt from Army rules and regulations. What utter horse dookey.

Hasan, a psychiatrist, enlisted in the Army. He volunteered to serve his country. When he signed his name on his enlistment papers he agreed to abide by rules laid down by the Army. The Army I served in more than 40 years ago didn’t give soldiers the option of deciding whether to follow the rules. You followed the lawful orders given to you or you faced the consequences. I am quite certain virtually all those mandates exist in today’s Army.

I’m with the Army on this one. The brass says Hasan should shave his beard in accordance with military regulations. If he doesn’t do it voluntarily, the Army is pondering whether to remove his facial hair by force. If he is convicted of the crimes for which he’s been charged, Hasan will get a dishonorable discharge … and then he can grow his beard to whatever length he chooses.

But until then, when your commanding officers order you to do something, you are compelled under military code to do what you’re told. That’s why they call them “orders.”

Putting words in candidates’ mouths


This editorial from the Amarillo Globe-News seeks to take issue with those who link Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney with some hideous remarks about rape by GOP senatorial candidate Richard Mourdock of Indiana.

The essence of the editorial’s concern is that it is inappropriate to hold Romney accountable for remarks made by one of his supporters. Mourdock’s thoughts on rape are his own and are not necessarily Romney’s.

Mourdock said that if a woman becomes pregnant as the result of a rape that her pregnancy is “God’s will,” suggesting that the Almighty has determined she must give birth to a child conceived in an act of violence.

I won’t criticize my former colleagues for the position taken by this editorial. But I do want to point out the hypocrisy of Republicans who are bemoaning the effort to link Mourdock to their party’s presidential nominee.

Why the hypocrisy? Remember back in 2008 when the Rev. Jeremiah Wright – Barack Obama’s former Church of Christ pastor – was uttering some incredibly hateful talk about America. Wright excoriated the nation over racial inequality. What did Obama’s foes do? They said the then-U.S. senator should disavow Wright’s comments and heaped mountains of criticism on him for attending a church led by someone such as Jeremiah Wright. Indeed, Obama eventually did issue a strong disavowal, but in the brass-knuckle political world, that hasn’t been good enough for many of Obama’s persistent critics – who bring up Jeremiah Wright’s name to this very day.

Didn’t Barack Obama deserve the same benefit of the doubt being sought for Mitt Romney?