VP brings needed muscle to talks


John Nance “Cactus Jack” Garner, wherever he is, must be rolling over in his grave.

The crusty Texan was one of three men who served as vice president during Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency. He said famously that his office – and this is the cleaned-up version of what he actually said – wasn’t “worth a bucket of warm spit.”

Cactus Jack, meet one of your political descendants, Vice President Joe Biden, who has suddenly become a player in the latest drama to envelop Washington, D.C. Biden has been negotiating with his old Senate buddy, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and as Politico is reporting (see link above) the men apparently have made significant progress toward avoiding the so-called “fiscal cliff” that so many in DC say they want to avoid.

Biden and McConnell go back a ways together. Biden was elected to the Senate in 1972. McConnell came along in 1984. They served together for 24 years before Biden was elected vice president in 2008. I don’t know this as fact, but my hunch is that they’re actual friends, not the phony friends that politicians describe each other just to make nice in public.

McConnell and Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., have been unable to breach the divide. Enter the vice president, who apparently worked with McConnell overnight to forge some sort of compromise dealing on tax rates for the rich. The word is that the White House and the Senate have closed the gap significantly between their respective definitions of who is rich.

This is what friendship can do for the cause of good government. It remains to be seen as of this morning whether a deal will be finalized and approved by both houses of Congress.

But if comes to pass and we avoid this fiscal calamity by the end of today, I’m half expecting Cactus Jack to rise up out of the ground in Uvalde, Texas, and light a stogie in Joe Biden’s honor.

Mainstream thought becomes outdated

I listened to President Obama this morning on “Meet the Press” defend his position on the so-called “fiscal cliff” negotiations and came away with a single notion.

It is what he said about tax cuts for the middle class. He wants to preserve them, rather than let them increase if the White House and Congress drive us over the cliff. He said that keeping taxes low for middle-income Americans used to be a “mainstream Republican” idea, but now it appears that the GOP is willing to sacrifice those reduced rates to preserve the low rates for the wealthier among us.

If the Democrats and Republicans don’t strike a deal by midnight Monday, we’re all going to get kicked in the teeth with tax increases. I don’t want to pay more in taxes than I do already. I’m also quite sure no one who shares my economic standing wants to pay more, either.

The Capitol Hill negotiators now seem stuck on what qualifies as “wealthy.” Congressional Democrats put the figure at $250,000 annually; Republicans put it at $1 million. How about this? Let’s split the difference at, say, $600,000 annual income. Everyone who earns less than that can keep their taxes low, while the rest of Americans can pay a little more. Does anyone remember that during the Clinton years, taxes went up for the richest Americans and that kicked off a huge economic expansion, despite warnings from some Republicans, such as then-Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, who said the country would implode?

From my standpoint, 600K a year is a pretty nice income.

Meanwhile, the clock is still ticking.

Count me as among the ‘fed up’


I’m not exactly going out on a limb here, but I am one of the millions of Americans who has had up to here with Washington, D.C.

Have I found a villain among all the bad guys who are herding this country to the brink of fiscal ruin? Yeah, it’s probably the Republican Party leadership in the House of Reps that cannot find the stomach, the will or the courage to actually compromise with Democrats. They have become hostage to the know-nothing tea party crowd that comprises a portion of the House GOP caucus.

They won’t ask the richest among us to pay a little more in taxes, as if the richest Americans somehow will become un-rich. They refuse to buck the no-tax-pledge edict mandated by a professional lobbyist, Grover Norquist, who’s never been elected to anything in his life.

The “fiscal cliff” negotiations have entered the final phase. Maybe something will get done in the name of sanity. Without a deal that must be struck by midnight Monday, the nation likely will plunge into another recession. And the consequences?

Well, speaking for myself, my family is going to see its retirement account drained of a lot of money. I don’t want that. Not now, especially, at my age. My taxes are going to go up. Employers are going to be even more reluctant to hire people. Long-term unemployment insurance will be disappear for about 2 million Americans. Oh, and the tax rates for the rich folks whom the GOP is trying to protect? Their taxes will go up, too.

Unemployment may spike back up to around 9 percent. The economy will stall out. International financiers say the U.S. will register zero growth in the coming year if we dive over the cliff.

And for what? Because Republicans and Democrats cannot find a way past their bitching about ideology and philosophy and protecting their respective political “bases.”

To be fair, Democrats aren’t blameless. They need to suck it up on the spending side. The government is spending more money than it can afford on a whole array of programs. However, from my seat, I keep hearing President Obama offering actual spending cuts to go along with a modest increase in tax rates for those who can afford to pay a little more.

But as I write this, we’re still stuck. Americans don’t understand – or care – about the political differences that divide our so-called “leaders.” They want something done. Now.

Count me as one of them. Get it done.

One guy wins more real estate, but still loses election


The link attached here contains some fascinating election data from every presidential election going back to 1789, when the Father of Our Country, aka George Washington, was elected as the country’s first president.

When you drill down into the 2012 election results, you are struck by at least one curious aspect: Republican nominee Mitt Romney won much more real estate across the electoral map than President Barack Obama. I haven’t calculated the difference, but when you click on the state maps you see that Romney won many more counties in the vast majority of states than the president. Romney won every county in several states, such as Oklahoma and Utah, while Obama ran the table in places such as Massachusetts and Hawaii.

The same thing was true in 2008, when Obama defeated Sen. John McCain by an even greater margin than he beat Romney. In fact, that’s been the tendency in many recent elections, with Democrats scoring well in the densely populated urban areas while Republicans do better where the population is more spread out. Take the Texas Panhandle, for example, where it is said that in some counties cattle outnumber human beings.

Some of sour-grape swallowers out there among the GOP ranks like to suggest that Obama’s two victories don’t really count partly because of that phenomenon. They like to declare some sort of moral victory by explaining that the losing candidate actually did better than the results indicate because he/she won more real estate than the individual who actually won … by getting more votes than the loser.

My answer is this: People, not livestock, elect politicians.

Get over it.

RIP, Stormin’ Norman

Our nation keeps losing high-profile warrior-heroes. Others remain and for as long as we’re involved in conflicts, we’ll produce more of them.

We said goodbye recently to Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, a Medal of Honor recipient and World War II veteran. Before that we bid farewell to former Sen. George McGovern, a decorated bomber pilot and fellow WW II vet. Of course, we’re losing many of our Greatest Generation combatants daily as age takes its toll among them.

And now it’s retired Army Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf who’s left us. Stormin’ Norman served two combat tours in the Vietnam War, led the American invasion of Grenada in 1983 to free captive U.S. medical students and then, most famously, led the allied assault in early 1991 on Kuwait to free that nation from its Iraqi occupiers.

Schwarzkopf was a larger-than-life figure. He was a man’s man who stood tall during those now-legendary press briefings, where he gave detailed accounts of the progress of the military campaign to boot Saddam Hussein’s forces out of Kuwait.

One of the obituaries I’ve read in the past few hours noted some criticism of the general’s strategy during the Persian Gulf War. It said some armchair generals back home – including those in Congress – had criticized Schwarzkopf for not pressing the fight further, for not capturing Baghdad and getting rid of Hussein when he had the chance.

The criticism was idiotic.

The Pentagon had clear orders from the commander in chief, President George H.W. Bush: Kick the Iraqis out of Kuwait … period. The president, using his immense diplomatic skill, had secured a United Nations mandate to support that effort. The mandate drew the line at liberating Kuwait. President Bush wasn’t going to violate the UN edict and he instructed his field commander, Stormin’ Norman, accordingly.

And as Schwarzkopf and others noted at the time, taking the fight to Baghdad would have cost many more American casualties – as the nation would learn when it invaded Iraq in March 2003 ostensibly to rid the Middle East of Hussein’s “weapons of mass destruction,” which we would learn to our profound shame did not exist.

Gen. Schwarzkopf served his country with honor and valor. He now can rest in peace.

What a year it was … and will be

I’m now officially in New Year mode, looking ahead to 2013 with hope that the coming year will mark a turn toward better days.

Being the eternal optimist, I have faith that it will. But before we plunge head first into the new year, it’s good to cast our gaze at what transpired in the year that’s about to conclude.

The Texas Tribune did so. It’s on this link:


The editors at the Trib noted Rick Perry’s stunning presidential campaign collapse at the beginning of the year as perhaps the biggest political surprise of 2012. I’d have to agree. Gov. Goodhair (with apologies to the late great Molly Ivins) figured to be the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination the moment he jumped into the race. And he was the frontrunner … for a moment, actually.

Then he started opening his mouth.

Whatever political trait he possesses that Texans find so attractive just didn’t play out there in the rest of the US of A. He came off as a rube, a Haskell County hick.

He ended his presidential primary campaign on Jan. 19, came back to Texas, disappeared for a few weeks and then returned to the spotlight here at home not really humbled by what happened  beyond our state’s borders.

The Texas Legislature convenes in a few days. Perry will be back in charge of whatever it is the Texas Constitution allows him to operate. He’ll probably run for re-election in 2014 for his umpteenth term as governor.

And do not ever, not ever, bet against him winning again … in Texas.

As for any presidential bid in 2016? Don’t go there, governor.

Let the man speak his mind

Piers Morgan is a Brit with lots of opinions on lots of issues.

Let’s take guns, for example.

Morgan is appalled at the gun violence that keeps erupting in this country and is unafraid to say so. He doesn’t understand Americans’ love affair with guns and doesn’t quite grasp fully, I reckon, the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees the right to own firearms to American citizens. He’s been ranting and raving about gun violence lately on his cable news TV talk show.

In fact, he has ranted and raved so much that some proud Americans want him deported, shipped out, sent packing back to Britain. They’ve signed petitions demanding the government do what they wish.

These folks are misguided.

The Second Amendment follows the First Amendment, which says this: “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The beef with Morgan is that he isn’t one of us and that he should keep his trap shut when talking about the Constitution. But having just typed the First Amendment word for word, I cannot find a single reference to freedom of speech being reserved for Americans only.

A friend and former colleague of mine posted this message recently on a social media outlet as it regards this loony notion of deporting Piers Morgan:

“Democracy is founded on Milton’s ‘marketplace of ideas.’ We weigh as many viewpoints and ideas as we have access to, continually testing our own views — and perhaps modifying them based on the new information. The viewpoints of people whose backgrounds are not similar to our own can be the most effective in broadening our spectrum.”

I think I’ll let her view stand on its own. I can’t improve on it, other than to say, let the man speak and add his perspective to an important national debate.

Bipartisanship takes another hit

Kay Bailey Hutchison is leaving the U.S. Senate and with her departure, the spirit of bipartisan cooperation on Capitol Hill has taken another punch in the gut.

Hutchison is a Texas Republican who counts among her better Senate friends any number of those dreaded Democratic Senate liberals. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland comes to mind. She worked with Hutchison to craft women-friendly legislation during the time they served together in the Senate.

Hutchison’s bipartisan chops go back even prior to when she was first elected to the Senate in 1993, when she succeeded the late great Lloyd Bentsen, a Democrat who was selected to become Treasury secretary in the Clinton administration.

Hutchison ran for Texas treasurer in 1990 when the late Democrat Ann Richards vacated the office to run for governor that year. I asked Hutchison during that election year what she would do differently in the treasurer’s office. Her answer surprised me. Richards ran the office so well, Kay said, that she didn’t want to change a thing.

I’m trying to imagine one of today’s Republicans – those who are influenced by the tea party wing of their outfit – saying something like that. I can’t get there.

Capitol Hill’s bipartisan spirit has been broken with each departure, particularly among the Republicans who used to run things in DC. Olympia Snowe of Maine? Gone, citing the bitterness that has infected Washington. Dick Lugar of Indiana? Also gone, the victim of a GOP primary loss to tea party favorite Richard Mourdock, who then lost the general election after declaring it is “God’s will” when a women becomes pregnant as a result of a rape.

And now, Kay Bailey Hutchison is leaving. Hutchison announced her intention to leave the Senate only to lose her Texas governor’s primary challenge of incumbent Rick Perry, who did a masterful job of demonizing her as a creature of Washington.

Sen.-elect Ted Cruz, the state’s former solicitor general, is taking Hutchison’s place in the Senate. He’s another one who’s unlikely to reach often across the aisle to Democrats. I hope he proves me wrong.

Hutchison, though, leaves a legacy of cooperation that used to result in important business getting done on behalf of the people who elected her.

Well done, Sen. Hutchison. This constituent – yours truly – appreciates your service to Texas and the country.

Love it or ‘secede’ from it

I hate writing this grouchy blog on the eve of Christmas Eve, but something caught my eye the other day that I cannot let pass.

A neighbor of mine has a pickup truck with three interesting bumper stickers on its back end.

One of them says “Served Proudly” and it has a U.S. Army unit insignia next to the phrase; another is of Old Glory, the Stars and Stripes, the national flag; a third sticker says, simply, “SECEDE.”

OK, so here’s what confuses me.

This individual was proud to serve his country, the United States of America. He is so proud, in fact, that he drives around in his truck with the national symbol on its tailgate. I’m with him so far.

Then that bumper sticker jumps out at me with the word “SECEDE,” which, by the way, is in all capital letters; I guess he really wants to pull out of the nation he served “proudly.”

What is it with these secessionists? Do they love the country or what? If they love the US of A, why do they now want to leave it, presumably, to form another country?

I’m betting this person calls himself an American patriot. If so, then perhaps my neighbor needs to examine what the word “secede” means.

Watering poses hazard

OK. I’ve seen enough of this now that I no longer can remain silent.

Amarillo utility officials have to do something – please – about those who water the pavement in freezing temperatures.

Some of my neighbors are doing it. They run their lawn-irrigation systems when it’s, oh, 15 degrees out there. The water freezes. It ices the sidewalks over, forcing us to walk in the street to avoid slipping, falling and breaking our necks. The good news, though, is that our street is a quiet place that is two blocks long, with dead ends on both ends.

The bad news is that I keep seeing this activity all over the city, on busy thoroughfares. The worst location of all might be at the corner of Bell Street and Arden Road, where one business’s system sprays water not only onto the sidewalk, but onto the street – making both the pedestrian and motor vehicle rights of way hazardous.

I understand there are other places in the city that are equally hazardous, but that’s the one I see regularly.

The city did launch a pretty effective PR campaign during the summer about ways to curb water use. I think one of the public service announcements said something about how the pavement doesn’t grow.

The PSAs have stopped airing because we aren’t using as much water now that winter is upon us.

But I did check the city’s precipitation levels recently and discovered we are about to finish the year with roughly half the normal precipitation; “normal” is about 20 inches annually, but we’ve gotten only about 11 inches with slightly more than a week left in 2012. We’re still in a drought and it’s returning to the hideous levels of 2011, when Amarillo set an all-time precipitation record low for the year.

No one at City Hall is sounding any alarms, at least not publicly.

Perhaps it’s time, though, to launch another PR campaign advising residents and business owners of the folly – not to mention the hazard – of watering excessively when the temperatures turn sidewalks and streets into sheets of ice.