Quit loading up session agenda

Gov. Rick Perry has done the expected thing and called a third special session of the Texas Legislature.

Lawmakers cannot seem to find a solution to funding the state’s crumbling road-bridge-and-highway infrastructure, so the governor kept them in session until they get the job done.

But wait. A conservative Republican lawmaker, state Sen. Brian Birdwell of Granbury, wants the Legislature to approve legislation to allow people to carry concealed handguns on college campuses.


This is another case of ideologues clogging up the legislative agenda with non-essential items. They fulfill some ideological need, but in the real world of real Texans, items such as this should fall far down on the pecking order of necessary legislation.

The infrastructure package got stalled in the first two special sessions. In the first one, everything came to a halt as the Legislature argued over whether to ban abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy. In the second session, the Republicans who run both legislative chambers couldn’t come up with a funding formula to pay for road, bridge and highway improvements. So here we are, back for a third time with Perry putting just the highway funding item on the agenda.

That should be enough to occupy our citizen-lawmakers’ time, yes? Apparently not, according to Birdwell, who wants to swallow up more time arguing the merits of concealed handgun carry at, say, West Texas A&M University and Amarillo College.

The men and women who serve in the Legislature are part-timers. They need to get back to their day jobs. I fear a fourth special session if they don’t take care of our highways.

Now comes the time for negotiation

President Barack Obama has just given his congressional Republican foes something with which to negotiate in the drive to boost the nation’s economy.

Will they take the deal or will they insist – as they seemingly always do – that the president isn’t dealing in good faith, or some such nonsense.


Obama has proposed a dramatic reduction in corporate tax rates in exchange for spending on infrastructure improvement, the kind of thing that at least one notable Republican president – Dwight Eisenhower – used to favor.

Now, where I come from, Obama has just given the Republicans who control the House of Representatives and who comprise a sizable minority in the Senate, something upon which to negotiate.

The spending program would produce more jobs for those willing to work on infrastructure improvements – roads and bridges, that sort of thing. Politicians of both parties say they want to put more people back to work. Republicans, meanwhile, insist that corporations pay too much in taxes. Thus, the president has gone the extra mile – maybe two or three – in meeting their demands.

Initial reaction to the plan, as reported by The Hill, is lukewarm at best. “The plan, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) insisted, was ‘an unmistakable signal that the president has backed away from his campaign-era promise to corporate America that tax reform would be revenue-neutral to them,’” the Hill reported.

Maybe McConnell is merely using that response as a negotiating ploy. Then again, maybe it’s just the Republicans digging in their heels yet again on another proposal from their Democratic adversary in the White House.

If it’s the latter, we’re heading for a rocky autumn season, courtesy of continuing GOP intransigence.

Conflict of interest on high court?

Ginni Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, is a longtime political activist.

The latest news of her political activism makes me wonder: Does this married couple ever talk about their day when they’re home at night? Ever?


Conflicts of interest are nothing new in Washington, or in Austin, or even in Amarillo for that matter. It is troubling in the extreme, though, when a sitting justice is married to someone with such a heavy-hitting role in political causes that might become the subject of, say, appeals before that very court.

Mrs. Thomas’s role in these endeavors is troubling to be sure.

The government watchdog group Common Cause questioned whether Justice Thomas should have taken part in the landmark Citizens United case that enabled corporations to make unlimited campaign donations because, according to Mother Jones magazine, the justice well could have taken part in Citizens United strategy sessions before it made its case before the court.

Ginni Thomas has been involved with groups opposing the Affordable Care Act. Her husband voted with the minority that sought to repeal a key portion of the law.

It’s fine for the spouse of a high-ranking public official to be involved politically. It’s quite a different matter, though, when a perception emerges that the spouse’s involvement might affect the public official’s performance of his or her duty.

Justice Elena Kagan once was solicitor general of the United States, meaning she argued the government’s position before the court. One of the cases she argued had to do with Arizona’s strict immigration law. How did she vote when the case came before the court? She didn’t. Justice Kagan recused herself.

Justice Thomas should do the same whenever cases connected to political causes involving his wife come before the court.

Obama: We won the Korean War

President Barack Obama made an interesting – some might say startling – assertion the other day in commemorating the 60th anniversary of the truce that stopped the fighting during the Korean War.

He said the good guys actually won the war.


The Korean War long has been thought of as the nation’s “forgotten war,” coming so soon after the end of the World War II and as another war, in Vietnam, was just beginning to get stoked. Roughly 40,000 Americans died during the Korean War in some of the most intense and bloody combat this nation has ever seen.

It’s also been a matter of conventional wisdom that the fighting ended in a stalemate. South and North Korea never have signed a peace treaty. An armistice – plus the presence of U.S. military personnel and the threat of nuclear annihilation – have kept the two sides from shooting at each other.

President Obama put a different spin on the outcome while paying tribute to the U.S. veterans who fought in Korea.

“That war was no tie. Korea was a victory,” he said at a Washington ceremony in remarks to Korean War veterans. “When 50 million South Koreans live in freedom, a vibrant democracy … a stark contrast to the repression and poverty of the North, that is a victory and that is your legacy.”

When you look at it that way, the Korean War surely was a victory for our side.

The president also said this:

“Unlike World War II, Korea did not galvanize our country, these veterans did not return to parades. Unlike Vietnam, Korea did not tear at our country, these veterans did not return to protests.

“Among many Americans tired of war, there was, it seems, a desire to forget, to move on. Here in America, no war should ever be forgotten, no veteran should ever be overlooked.”

This veteran thanks you, Mr. President.

Mahan is the man

Hunter Mahan is now a hero to expectant mothers around the world.

OK, he’s not exactly a household name, but he’s going to become one in short order.

Mahan is a professional golfer. This past week he was leading the Canadian Open after the first round when his cellphone rang. His pregnant wife was on the other end telling her hubby she was going into labor. With that bit of news, Mahan said “goodbye” to his caddie and his fellow golf pros and headed home to be at his wife’s side.

This is a big deal for a couple of reasons.

First of all, it demonstrates to men all over the planet the importance of family. No matter how important you think your job may be, or how big a deal it is for you to complete whatever transaction in which you are engaged, nothing matters if you don’t take care of things at home.

Second, Mahan stood to make a lot of money this weekend. Had he kept his lead at the Canadian Open and won the event, he would have pocketed more than a million bucks. That’s a lot of money in anyone’s book, but the young man has made a good bit more than that already on the Professional Golfers Association tour. I don’t think it’s money he would dismiss as so much chump change.

I trust his wife – despite his surrendering a substantial payday – was glad to see him.

With all the male misbehavior being reported these days in and out of the sports world, this story ought to make any red-blooded man – not to mention expectant mothers – feel good. Well done, Hunter.

Kennedy is qualified to be envoy

The chattering class is yammering over whether Caroline Kennedy is qualified to become the next U.S. ambassador to Japan.

She’s never held elected office, or run a big public agency, or managed a political campaign, or been schooled in the details of U.S. diplomacy. That’s what they’re saying.

I’ll reiterate yet again that Kennedy is qualified by virtue of the criteria presidents of both parties set for these high-profile ambassadorial assignments. She’s a big supporter of the man who occupies the White House and that’s good enough.

Allow me this comparison: Teel Bivins’s appointment to be U.S. ambassador to Sweden.

What qualified the late Amarillo state senator? Well, he was a big fundraiser for President George W. Bush. He campaigned diligently for the then-Texas governor when he was running for president in 2000. Bivins held exactly one elected office, that of state senator, before being tapped in 2003 to present his credentials to the Swedish government in Stockholm.

By all accounts, Bivins did a fine job representing U.S. interests in the Baltic region of Europe. How did he do that? He was surrounded by a competent staff of career foreign service officers who taught everything he needed to know about Sweden, not to mention about diplomatic protocol.

I’ll concede that Sweden isn’t nearly the economic powerhouse that Japan has become. Still, Sweden is no Third World backwater. It has a vibrant automobile industry and it manufactures fighter jets that are sold to many nations around the world. It is one of he world’s most socialized countries. It taxes its citizens heavily to pay for things like medical care.

That was the environment into which Teel Bivins, a staunch conservative Texas Republican lawmaker was thrown.

He did just fine.

Kennedy has access to even more expertise than Bivins ever had. She’s a well-educated lawyer who comes from the nation’s premier political families. She could be a quick study on the complexities of Japan’s economy, its geopolitical importance and its key role in keeping the peace in east Asia.

I don’t doubt for a minute that she’s qualified.

Interview says it all about right-wing media

There is virtually nothing anyone can add to the video linked to this blog post that explains or analyzes completely the utter incompetence of this Fox News Channel interview with a religious scholar.


The interviewer is trying to put words into her subject’s mouth, trying to get him to admit to some kind of anti-Christian bias – which the subject, author and scholar Reza Aslan, says does not exist. He said it many times during the course of this 10-minute segment.

It is a stunning display of attempted “gotcha journalism” from the network that purports to be “fair and balanced.”

I’ll just let the video speak for itself.

Tea Party vs. Establishment GOP

It’s going to be fun watching the tea party wing of the Republican Party take on the old dogs of the GOP.

It’ll be over Obamacare and whether it’s prudent to shut down the government to deprive the Affordable Care Act of the funds it will need to become operational.


Here’s what I see happening.

The establishment wing of the party knows the dangers of shutting the government down to prove some kind of political point. The Republicans tried that in the late 1990s. You remember that, yes? House Speaker Newt Gingrich and his band of GOP insurgents shut ‘er down over a budget fight with the Clinton administration; turned out Newtie really was mad because President Clinton didn’t give him a choice seat aboard Air Force One – but I digress.

The government shutdown didn’t work well for Gingrich and his Republican foot soldiers. They ended up getting their heads handed to them in the 1998 mid-term elections, Gingrich ended up quitting the House and President Clinton – despite being impeached by the House – ended his presidency on a high note.

The establishment guys remember all that. Their memories are painful. The tea party guys are new to this game of D.C. hardball politics. They’re righteous in their cause and, by golly, they’re going to have it their way or else.

I feel compelled to remind them that Newt Gingrich once was a righteous revolutionary who knew how to obtain power, but didn’t have a clue about what to do when it came time to actually use it.

A part of me is beginning to believe that history is going to repeat itself.

Scandals know no partisan bounds

A word of caution is due to Republicans here and across the country as they watch the struggles of three well-known Democratic politicians.

Let’s not gloat, folks.

Anthony Weiner wants to run for mayor of New York. Bob Filner already is mayor of San Diego, Calif. Eliot Spitzer, the former governor of New York, now wants to become NYC’s comptroller. All three of them have made headlines for (in order) sending text messages and videos of a certain functional body part to women; groping and speaking hideously to female staffers; consorting with prostitutes.

Some Republicans are relishing the troubles that have befallen these Democrats. One noted conservative columnist and Fox News TV commentator, Michelle Malkin, recently tweeted about how silent Rep. Nancy Pelosi and other Dems have been about Filner’s difficulty; I responded to her with a tweet that advised her to cool the “partisan perv” talk.

The record shows that Republicans have endured more than their share of sexually related difficulties. To wit:

House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s extramarital affair with a staffer while he was blasting President Clinton for his own marital misbehavior; U.S. Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana becoming involved with a call girl; U.S. Rep. Mark Foley’s email flirtations with underage congressional pages; U.S. Sen. John Ensign’s marital infidelity; U.S. Sen. Larry Craig’s arrest (and this is my favorite scandal) for making indecent sexual advances to others inside a men’s restroom at a Minnesota airport.

Let’s stipulate that all three men now caught in the sexual perversion vise — Weiner, Filner and Spitzer — deserve every bit of the scorn they’re getting.

Misbehavior by male politicians, though, hardly is a partisan endeavor. Pols from both parties in recent years have garnered their share of infamy.


Keep jails in public hands

Curry County, N.M., officials are considering a bad idea, which is to hire a private company to run their county jail.

At issue is a $9.9 million bond issue to be decided Aug. 6. It would finance construction of a new jail in downtown Clovis. I won’t comment on the wisdom of that site, although I will refer to an editorial in the Clovis News-Journal that says it’s a bad idea, given that downtown is a magnet for families who shop and eat there.


I’ll reserve my comments for the wisdom of farming this out to a private company. I’ve noted before I think that’s a bad idea. I’ve long had concerns about accountability and whether private companies can be held to the same strict accountability standards as public taxing authorities, such as cities and counties.

What goes on inside the jail walls ought to be the public’s business. Yes, I’m aware that jail standards would have to be met and that state officials would be able to monitor their activities.

But there seems to be an overarching public responsibility that needs to be honored. We pay police officers to arrest criminal suspects; we pay for courts to try them, and that includes prosecutors and on occasion we even pay defense counsel to represent the accused; and we ought to pay for the defendants’ housing in jail before and during their trial.

It ought to go with the territory.