Now you tell us, Mme. Justice

Sandra Day O’Connor now says she’s having second thoughts about a case that many folks say determined who would be elected president of the United States in 2000.

My first thought when I saw that was that Al Gore may have thrown something large and heavy at a breakable object when he heard the news. My second thought, once I read what the retired Supreme Court justice said, was that the outcome likely may have been the same.

Either way, I still wonder: What took her so long to reach this conclusion?

O’Connor was the first woman appointed to the high court, selected by President Reagan in 1981. She retired in 2006 after taking part in the landmark decision that enabled Texas Gov. George W. Bush to be elected president over then-Vice President Gore by the narrowest margin in memory.

The 5-4 decision, with O’Connor voting with the majority, ended the recount of ballots in Florida. Bush had about 500 more votes than Gore in Florida, giving him the state’s electoral votes needed to put him into the White House. He won with 271 electoral votes to Gore’s 266 votes, needing 270 to ensure victory. And all this occurred with Gore capturing more popular votes nationally than the guy who won.

O’Connor says now that the court perhaps should have tossed it back to the state and not decided it. “Maybe the court should have said, ‘We’re not going to take it, goodbye,'” O’Connor told the Chicago Tribune.

What would have happened? Well, the recount could have continued and perhaps Bush’s lead would have held up. Or, perhaps, Gore could scarfed up a few more votes, wiped out Bush’s slim margin and he would have won the state’s electoral votes, enabling the VP to move into the White House.

More than 12 years after one of the most controversial rulings in Supreme Court history, the debate is about to catch fire all over again.

Take the hint, Sen. Cruz

Listen up, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, one of your own is calling you out.

Jennifer Rubin, a noted conservative columnist for the Washington Post, says Cruz is too mean and his mean streak is hurting the conservative cause.

I don’t particularly care if Cruz’s brusque behavior harms conservatives. I do care, though, if it gets in the way of good government.

Cruz has been in the Senate for less than four months and already he’s making a name for himself, several names in fact. And some of them might be unfit for print here.

Remember the time he questioned whether Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, two decorated Vietnam War combat veterans, had a “sufficient regard” for the military? And this came from someone who’s never worn his country’s military uniform.

Well, he’s taken – in Rubin’s view – to voting against legislation and then criticizing his fellow Republicans for voting against his wishes. Rubin compares Cruz unfavorably to fellow tea party Senate golden boy Rand Paul, R-Ky., who Rubin describes as being “polite to a fault.”

“These qualities serve him well, indeed making some strident positions seem less so. Moreover, Rand Paul is trying to accomplish something. He’s put forth a budget. He’s offered suggestions to amend the Gang of Eight’s immigration bill. He’s suggested reforms to our drug laws,” Rubin writes about Paul.

Cruz, on the other hand, comes off as a strident know-it-all who hasn’t been in the Senate saddle long enough to understand the long-standing clubby nature of the organization to which he was elected.

And when the rookie senator gets dressed down in public by the sometimes-irascible Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., for impugning the integrity of someone such as former Republican Sen. Hagel, then you’ve been dressed down by one of the best.

Proceed with extreme caution on Syria

President Obama drew the line in the proverbial sand: Syrian use of chemical weapons was a game-changer in a country ripped apart by civil war.

Now what?

Obama’s critics on the right want him to act immediately and decisively. Send in the jets and the bombers, they say, to wipe out the government forces that reportedly have used the weapons on their foes.

But the president is trying to weigh his options with great care. He has good reason to avoid a rush into this bloody conflict. Syrian air defenses are first-rate, unlike those in Libya, where the U.S.-led air campaign operated with virtually no opposition in the effort to topple the late Moammar Gadhafi. Syria presents a different problem. Its air defense system was developed and installed by Syria’s friends in Moscow. There can be no guarantee that U.S. warplanes can conduct an air campaign without suffering grievous losses.

So it is pertinent to ask: Is the country ready to lose more American lives over Syria, in another war, after losing more than 5,000 lives in Afghanistan and Iraq? Do we really want to do this?

Obama is right to lay down the no-chemical-weapons marker on the Syrians. He would be justified in taking action against Syria, given the country’s proximity to Israel, our most important U.S. ally in the Middle East.

But the war hawks on the right need to pipe down and let the Obama administration weigh its options carefully.

Cynicism sinks to new low in Amarillo

Politics often breeds cynicism. I understand how that can happen when politicians listen more intently to deep-pocketed special interest groups than they do to rank-and-file voters.

But Amarillo might be witnessing a brand new level of cynical political strategy at work. It galls me beyond measure.

Some individuals who oppose the Amarillo City Commission’s decision to ban the use of handheld cellphones by motorists have created a Facebook page, as reported by the Globe-News’ Kevin Welch, that calls for residents to not vote in the May 11 municipal election.

The strategy, as these loons see it, is to lower the petition-gathering threshold for those seeking to put the cellphone ban on the ballot in November. The fewer voters who cast ballots for municipal office, the fewer signatures they would need to collect to qualify for a spot on the ballot this fall.

Mayor Paul Harpole, the lone commission member facing an opponent on May 11, labels this tactic correctly: It’s “not democratic” and “distressing,” he told Welch.

I’ll add a couple more adjectives, Mr. Mayor. Let’s try “insane,” and “foolish.” Perhaps I could declare that the reason for doing this is based on an outright lie.

Someone named David Kossey – who, I should add, lives in Canyon – reportedly is leading this Facebook nonsense. He contends that Amarillo commission members approved the ordinance with “little or no input from the public.” Really? I could swear the city called for public hearings prior to voting on it. I also could swear that the city debated this issue publicly for months before deciding finally to enact the cellphone ban. Where was Kossey during all of this?

The good news, though, comes from City Attorney Marcus Norris, who says the vote-squelching effort won’t affect this petition drive. Petitioners still need to reach the threshold set by the 15,280 people who voted in the 2011 municipal election; they need to collect enough signatures to equal 25 percent of that turnout. Seems that the date of the beginning of the petition drive locks them into the previous turnout, not the one that’s about to occur.

But the whole idea of discouraging voter participation turns my stomach. It’s nothing but a shameful display of cynicism.

Something to brag about?

Driving back this past weekend from Albuquerque I noticed something that I cannot let pass without some snarky comment.

I must have seen a half-dozen billboards advertising for the truck stop or convenience store at the next exit along Interstate 40 that boasted having “Clean Restrooms.”

I know what you’re thinking. Why does that even merit comment here? Well, maybe it might be no big thing to some folks, but I am struck by proprietors who feel the need to brag about doing something that ought to be a no-brainer. I also have plenty of experience walking into a truck stop restroom that isn’t fit for human use. So then cleanliness becomes a marketing tool for businesses to attract motorists off the highway.

Still, this kind of advertising reminds me of the political ads from politicians who say we should vote for them because, among other things, they have been “happily married” for a gazillion years to the same woman. I make that comment gender specific because the ads always represent male politicians – and we certainly know that a good many men in elected public office have been caught doing things with women other than their wives.

So, there you have it. Cleanliness and marital fidelity are things worthy of boasting.

Good grief.

Christie stands tall for his constituents

One of the things I like about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is his fearlessness.

The Republican is one tough dude in the face of critics. And as his job performance relates to his handling of the Superstorm Sandy aftermath, he is spot on in his unapologetic stance.

Christie told MSNBC the other day he makes no apology for the way he praised President Obama – one of those dreaded Democrats – for the federal response to the storm that tore across the Jersey Shore. He said he’d do it again.

The governor’s proverbial embrace of Obama near the end of what was supposed to be a razor-thin presidential campaign is thought to have helped the president open up a lead over GOP challenger Mitt Romney as the campaign headed into the stretch. I’m not so sure the events were quite that decisive.

Obama showed his chops as he consoled stricken New Jersey residents looking for some assurance that the feds would be there to help them. He would have done so even without Christie standing at his side. Besides, New Jersey and New York – the states hit hardest by Sandy – were in the bag for the president already.

Gov. Christie showed in the storm’s aftermath that public servants must put the needs of the people they serve above all else. Politics be damned, as Christie said – most emphatically when “Fox and Friends” talking head Steve Doocy asked him whether he thought Mitt Romney would visit New Jersey as well. Christie’s stone-faced answer? He didn’t “give a damn” about the politics of the crisis with which he was dealing.

The man had a job to do. And why in the world should he apologize for doing it?

‘Birther’ issue died with Obama re-election

I watched highlights this morning of President Obama’s remarks at the White House Correspondents Dinner.

Here was the 44th president of the United States making fun of some of the crackpot conspiracies about his birth, his citizenship, his faith and whether he was qualified to even hold the office to which he was elected.

Then something struck me. What has happened to the moronic allegations about all those things? They’ve dried up. Gone away. Disappeared into the darkness. Vanished from the face of the planet.

How can that be? Oh, might it be that Barack Obama’s re-election has made the conspiracy loons’ statements irrelevant? I’m thinking that’s the case.

Obama was quite funny last night. He said he wasn’t “The Muslim socialist I used to be.” He said he is working hard on his presidential library, but wants to be sure it is built in this country and not “in the country of my birth.” There were some other one-liners, so you get the point.

My own point here is that the absence of any of that kind of political bullcorn today suggests it was the stuff of nut cases with too much time to waste. The Obama family will leave the White House on Jan. 20, 2017. With that bit of inevitability awaiting them, the birthers can turn their attention to another bit of political lunacy.

TxDOT needs to follow NMDOT’s lead

I’ve been away for a couple of days, visiting with my sister and her husband in Albuquerque, N.M.

We caravaned over there with them, actually. They’re finishing up a long road trip and they are on their way home to the Pacific Northwest after spending a few days with us in Amarillo. But here’s what I discovered in Albuquerque: The New Mexico Department of Transportation knows how to dress up a freeway interchange. The folks who run the Texas Department of Transportation’s division headquarters in Amarillo ought to take a drive over there and see for themselves how to make an interchange aesthetically pleasing to passersby.

The “Big I,” as the locals call it, is where Interstates 40 and 25 intersect. One young hotel employee told us that it’s called the Big I because the interstate routes end up at the country’s northern and southern borders, and at both oceans. Hence, it’s the Big I. My wife and I drove through the Big I a few times shortly after our arrival in the Panhandle while it was still under construction.

But it got done. Now it provides a reasonably safe commute through Albuquerque.

Here, though, is where it stands out: The landscape décor is outstanding. It features plenty of rocks, native plants (such as several types of cacti), and a paint scheme that looks similar to what TxDOT did when it rebuilt the I-40/27 interchange in Amarillo.

However, the Amarillo interchange landscaping, shall we say, leaves plenty to be desired. Aw, heck, I’ll just say it: It looks hideous.

I know this has been a sore subject with some of my fellow Amarillo neighbors. One of them is a friend of mine, Roger Cox, a lawyer who’s griped publicly about the lack of a finishing touch done to the interchange. He has made an important point, which is that the interchange often is seen only one time by motorists passing through the city. Why not, Roger has asked, make it pleasing to the eye, given that they might not pass this way again?

I agree with my friend.

And after driving through the Big I several times this weekend I have seen how these kinds of construction projects can help sell a city.

Obama shows how to pay tribute

I could not have been prouder of President Barack Obama than I was today.

Twice he stood before crowds to pay tribute first to his immediate predecessor – whose economic policies he has blamed for much of the difficulty during his first term in office – and then down the highway a bit at Baylor University to honor the memory of those who died in the fiery explosion in nearby West.

The president’s remarks at the dedication of the George W. Bush Library and Museum were spot on in their appropriateness. He honored the 43rd president by saluting his courage and his steadfast belief in whatever position he took. President Bush and the three other ex-presidents – Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush – all took their turns at the podium to honor W’s library dedication.

It was a day to set aside partisan differences, which isn’t exactly an easy task in these contentious times.

Then the president ventured to Waco and honored the memories of those who died in that horrifying fertilizer blast. It killed 14 people, 12 of whom were first responders, such as volunteer firefighters. “America needs town like West,” Obama declared and vowed that the country will not forsake the community as it seeks to rebuild itself.

This is the president as consoler in chief. And Barack Obama is getting quite good at fulfilling this tragic, but necessary, role.

Presidents gather, and demonstrate collegiality

I’ll admit right here that I’m a sucker for certain types of pageantry.

One of those types involves the gathering of one of the world’s most exclusive organizations: the Former U.S. Presidents Club.

The four living ex-presidents, along with the current president, are gathering today in Dallas to commemorate the opening of the George W. Bush library and museum on the campus of Southern Methodist University, the alma mater of Laura Bush, the former president’s better half.

Former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton (both Democrats) are joining former Presidents George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush (both Republicans, father and son) to mark the occasion. They’ll be accompanied by yet another Democrat, President Barack Obama.

As Laura Bush said this morning on National Public Radio, one of this country’s great symbolic traits is how these individuals can gather – even in the midst of a contentious political atmosphere – to take special note of a historical moment.

Ex-presidents all have gathered for the opening of the Clinton library, the George H.W. Bush library and the Carter library. These men all share a unique bond in that they’ve sat at the center of power, leading the world’s most powerful nation.

And they’ll meet once again to mark the occasion of another president’s library and museum.

For one day at least, the nation can put aside the difference that divide it.

What’s wrong with that?