Please, please, FAA: no cellphones in flight

The Federal Aviation Administration has just removed restrictions on the use of electronic devices in flight.

Airplane passengers now can play Internet games, surf the Web, send emails … all that kind of stuff.

Has doomsday just inched a little closer?

I refer to the possibility of the FAA lifting restrictions on in-flight cellphone use. I hereby beg the flight regulators to never, ever let that occur.

I am ignorant as to how the technology works at 30,000-plus feet in the air. I guess these gadgets can pick up a signal from somewhere to operate. As for cellphones, I always have presumed they run on towers back on Earth. You get too far from a tower and you lose your connection.

There’s a fundamental issue involved with allowing cellphones aboard commercial airliners. It’s called “passenger safety.”

So help me — and I’m not alone in stating this — I don’t know what I would do if I had to sit for any length of time next to a passenger gabbing on a cellphone about nothing in particular.

I hope my fear about the FAA’s next step is unfounded. I hope the regulators understand the risk that passengers are putting on themselves if the FAA allows them to gab incessantly on cellphones while cruising tens of thousands of feet above Earth’s surface.

I’m OK with allowing emails and Internet surfing. But the FAA has just reached the outer limit of what I believe is acceptable aboard a commercial airplane.

Bank tower elevators need fixing

This rant will be brief and, I hope, to the point.

Amarillo has one bona fide skyscraper. The Chase One Tower reaches 31 stories into the air. It elevators are under repair and/or are being renovated. Today, only two of them were going all the way from the ground floor to the top floor.

Coming back down was a nightmare. Only two of the four elevator were working at the Amarillo Club, where I meet every Thursday with the Rotary Club of Amarillo.

We crammed 14 bodies into the elevator. It then managed to stop at virtually every floor en route to the lobby. Some of the floors had people waiting to get on board; they couldn’t fit, so they waited.

Many of the stops were at empty floors. No one standing there. We trudged on.

We finally got to the bottom and piled out.

Fix the elevators … please.

In defense of National Public Radio

I want to rise in defense of National Public Radio, even though NPR really shouldn’t need little ol’ me to defend it.

I spoke the other day with a friend in the media business and she mentioned what I consider to be something of an urban myth about NPR. It’s that it’s considered to be “too liberal” for folks in the Texas Panhandle, this bastion of rigid, rock-ribbed conservative Republicanism. My friend, I should add, doesn’t share that view, but merely was telling me what she has heard over many years from friends, colleagues, neighbors and everyday strangers.

NPR’s critics are well-known. Another friend, the great editorialist Paul Greenberg of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has referred to NPR as “National Propaganda Radio.” I’ve conversed over the phone with Republican U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry’s staff members who feel compelled to whisper the term “NPR” when talking to me; they don’t want their colleagues in Mac’s D.C. office to hear them saying nice things about the public radio network.

It’s all hogwash.

I have two points to make about NPR.

First, High Plains Public Radio came into existence in the early 1980s, headquartered in Garden City, Kan. But in the late 1990s, HPPR opened a studio in downtown Amarillo. It came here thanks to the hard work of several prominent Panhandle residents. One of them was Mark Bivins, an Amarillo businessman who hardly could be labeled a flaming liberal.

I have talked with Bivins at length about HPPR and his take on it simply is that it presents news and analysis fairly and without bias. That’s why he is such an ardent supporter of HPPR’s mission in this region.

My second point is a bit more specific. It concerns the Affordable Care Act and the media’s coverage of it. Another friend, Mark Haslett, is a former newspaper colleague who, in his previous life, was employed by HPPR at its Amarillo studio. He’s a longtime broadcast and print journalist who understands the concept of fairness and bias in reporting the news. Incidentally, Mark has returned to public broadcasting.

Haslett told me some years back that NPR had handed down an edict to its member stations that the effort to change the nation’s health care system shouldn’t be called a “reform.” Haslett said NPR’s mandate was to refer to it as an “overhaul.” The term “reform,” Mark said, connotes an improvement; “overhaul” is a neutral term that doesn’t tilt the discussion in either direction.

Therein lies an example of the fairness and objectivity that NPR seeks to build into its news reporting.

Is it deemed too “liberal” by some folks here? Sure. I accept that. I also must insist that those critics are viewing that particular medium through their own bias. If a news organization doesn’t present news and analysis to fit their own world view, then it’s biased.

I’ll stick with National Public Radio any day.

Deficit plummets; cheers pending, yes?

Take a look at this report on the state of the current federal budget deficit.

Deficit was $680 billion in 2013

It’s fallen to “only” $680 billion. I know that’s still a lot of money to be in the red. The government should be balanced. It’s not and it doesn’t look as though it’ll reach balance any time soon.

But the link also shows the trend the deficit has taken the past five years. It’s gone down — a lot.

It peaked at $1.4 trillion in 2009, when President Bush handed the keys to the White House to President Obama. It has done down a little each year since. However, at $680 billion, the deficit is down about 51 percent from its high-water mark, which suggests a significant improvement in the nation’s economic performance.

Of course, the cheering has been muted. The political climate in D.C. and in the nation won’t allow the Loyal Opposition to offer a good word on that. They still bemoan the sluggish job growth, the still-too-high unemployment rate (7.2 percent, also down from 10 percent four years ago) and other factors.

Indeed, some folks perhaps are going to suggest the federal budget sequestration — which kicked in automatic budget cuts — deserves some of the credit for the narrowing of the deficit. Maybe so.

I’m inclined to think the government’s stimulus packages had a hand in it as well, putting more people to work, generating more tax revenue for the Treasury and helping the nation inch back toward the balance it achieved in the second term of President Clinton’s administration.

I’m a deficit hawk. I don’t like spending money we don’t have in the bank. As the Treasury Department report notes, though, the deficit also comprises a shrinking percentage of the Gross Domestic Product — which is more good news.

I’m still waiting to hear the applause.

So much for GOP minority outreach?

Republicans across the country had high hopes that Mitt Romney was their man, that they would take back the White House from those dreaded Democrats in the 2012 presidential election.

Then the minority vote came in overwhelmingly for the ticket led by President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. The GOP then vowed to institute its outreach to the minority community.

Oops! Then along comes a Nevada state assemblyman to say he’d vote to bring back slavery if his constituents told him they wanted it.

End of outreach … maybe.

Assemblyman Jim Wheeler said he was being “facetious.” That means he didn’t actually mean it. He was joking. He meant it as, what, a put-on?

No one is laughing about it.

It is utterly astounding that someone would make such a statement, even if he or she is offering it as some kind of sick joke.

A Facebook friend shared with me a quote attributed to the great Irish statesman and political philosopher Edmund Burke:

“Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”

Assemblyman Wheeler has demonstrated that he possesses neither judgment nor an ability to serve.

He has delivered a terrible body blow to the Republican Party’s effort to re-brand itself.

Why is the land line so hard to cut?

Someone needs to answer a question that is bugging me silly.

Why is it so hard to pull the plug on a telephone land line when I really and truly don’t need it?

My wife and I recently purchased two “smart phones,” you know, the kind that do almost everything for you. It’d probably sing us to sleep at night if we had the right “app.” We’re trying to learn how these gadgets work. We’re figuring them out a little at a time as we go through our lives. Our sons are fluent in cell phone speak. One of them, who works as a computer tech, promises to give us a complete tutorial next time we see him; that “next time” is coming up very soon.

I have programmed my phone number into the 2010 Toyota Prius we recently purchased and have gotten the hang of answering the thing when it rings while I’m at the wheel. It’s rather fun, actually, to talk and drive at the same time without fumbling with the damn device.

But this land line issue is driving me batty.

We’ve had the same phone number for the nearly 19 years we’ve lived in Amarillo. We acquired it when we moved into our one-bedroom apartment in early 1995. We built our house in late 1996 and transferred the number over to the new digs as we settled in — three days before Christmas. It’s published in the phone book. Anyone who wants to call us can look up the number in the book — if they still have one — and dial it on their phone, land line or cellular. We had the same phone number in Beaumont as well in the three dwellings we occupied during our 11 years on the Gulf Coast.

I hate admitting this, but I have developed some kind of emotional attachment to having the land line available. It’s inexplicable, yes? It’s also nonsensical. I get all that. However, I cannot yet pull the plug.

Is there something wrong with me?

He’d vote for slavery if voters insisted

Nevada state Assemblyman Jim Wheeler has a funny way of speaking in jest.

He said he’d vote for a bill to bring back slavery if his constituents wanted him to do it.

When called on it, the freshman Republican lawmaker said he was joking. No one got the joke.

Then he offered one of those non-apology apologies. “If my comments were taken with offense by anyone, I sincerely apologize,” he said. If anyone took offense? Wow! I guess just about anyone who heard him say it took offense to them.

Some issues do not require constituents’ seal of approval. Slavery is one of them.

First of all, it is ridiculous on its face to believe that most constituents of this man’s state assembly district ever would condone just a hideous notion.

Second of all, Wheeler’s idiocy in even bringing the subject up betrays what must be some kind of dark instinct that has just now been discovered. Of course, he blamed the media for “having a good time with a clearly facetious statement I made at a town hall meeting earlier this year.”

Wheeler reportedly took the bait offered by someone who at that town hall meeting asked if he’d vote to restore slavery if voters demanded it of him. “Yeah, I would,” he said.

I’m waiting for someone to demonstrate the facetiousness of what the man said.

Texas abortion law takes strange turn

Well, how about this: A federal judge nominated by a recent Republican president has overturned part of Texas’s controversial anti-abortion law.

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel, picked for the federal bench in Austin by President George W. Bush in 2003, has tossed a serious wrench into the state’s effort to make abortion an illegal act in Texas.

Yeakel has ruled that the portion of the law that requires abortion providers to be within 30 miles of hospital is unconstitutional. Here is how Texas Tribune reported the judge’s ruling: “Abortion providers would have been required to obtain hospital admitting privileges within 30 miles of the abortion facility and follow federal standards for the administration of abortion-inducing drugs. Yeakel ruled that the hospital privileges requirement was unconstitutional because it created an undue burden on women without serving a rational purpose. He also said drug-induced abortions could be performed following a common evidence-based regimen if the physician believed it was safer for the patient.”

The state has asked for a stay of the judge’s ruling. No word as I write this about whether the stay has been granted.

Here’s a case of a judge unencumbered by politics, ruling without threat of reprisal.

I do like the federal standard for judicial appointments. A lot of federal judges over many decades have disappointed their political sponsors by issuing rulings that run counter to the political leanings of the person who appoints them. Critics of these judges usually label them a “activist” or “out of the mainstream” or some other pejorative term.

My own view is that judges should be free to rule on the law as they interpret it without fearing for their political survival. State judges — such as those we elect in Texas — often are punished at the ballot box for delivering decisions that upset voters, regardless of the legal correctness of that decision.

Judge Yeakel has opened a big-time debate now in Texas over whether the anti-abortion law — which produced a legislative debate that propelled Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis onto the national stage with her wild filibuster — can pass constitutional muster.

Oh, the complexity of a democratic form of government.

Ideological sameness can be so boring

I’ve vented already against a letter to the editor published in my local newspaper; the writer labeled a liberal columnist as a traitor for trying to push his lefty ideas on Texas Panhandle conservatives.

I’ll leave that topic alone in this post.

However, I do want to discuss another subject raised in the fellow’s note. It involves whether we should be subjected to differing points of view.

The gentleman doesn’t like reading liberals’ world view.

It reminds me somewhat of a letter I received from a Perryton resident, who wrote me to complain about all that liberal “crap” he was reading in the paper. He didn’t want any part of it. I answered the fellow in a column in which I extolled the virtues of diversity.

The world is big and varied and full of ideas that don’t comport with our own. Whether we lean left or right and tack right down the middle, we are exposed daily to points of view that are counter to our own set of values.

Does reading, hearing or watching someone extol those ideas change our mind? Are we so malleable that we cannot stand by our own beliefs without fear of being tempted beyond our ideological strength?

I think not.

That’s why it’s important for us to expose ourselves to others’ views. I do it all the time. Lord knows I hear from friends and acquaintances who have views that differ from my own. Many of them over the years have tried to persuade me to change my mind, to go over to their way of thinking. My answer usually goes something like this: “I’ll change my mind the moment you change yours.”

The U.S. Constitution spells out in its very first amendment that the press shall be free of government interference. That means the media are free to publish or broadcast points of view that cover a vast range of opinions. We should honor that. We should allow — if not encourage — our fellow Americans to speak their mind.

Narrow-mindedness is a nasty trait to possess.

What’s more, who among us wants to be fed the same slice of ideological baloney just because it fits our own view of the world?

We’d be bored to sleep. As I’ve always noted, reading thoughts that oppose your own gets your heart pumping. It is good for your health.

Wrong to scrap ‘Obamacare’?

A great Native American philosopher — Tonto — once told Kemo Sabe that “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

The Lone Ranger’s sidekick was right. It also serves as a reminder of what’s happening today as congressional Republicans keep yammering for the end of the Affordable Care Act, citing the disastrous rollout as evidence of the law’s failure.

Dial back to 2006, therefore, and let’s remind ourselves what many of those Republicans were saying about another big-government unveiling, an amendment to Medicare benefits, that didn’t go so well. It came under the guidance of a Republican administration led by President George W. Bush.

Congressional Democrats were gleefully calling that rollout a disaster and were criticizing the Part D amendment to Medicare purely partisan grounds. That was the first wrong.

Republicans sought to remind their Democratic “friends” that they all needed patience and needed to tweak the changes. Let’s not toss it all out, they urged.

They tinkered with Medicare and today it’s working pretty well for the elderly Americans who rely on it.

The ACA has had trouble getting off the ground. Who’s doing the yammering now? Republicans — on what appears to be purely partisan grounds. There, folks, is the second wrong.

Democrats are now urging the same level of patience that the GOP sought seven years ago when President Bush sought to make changes to Medicare.

Republicans are having none of it. They want the ACA tossed aside. It’s no good. It doesn’t work.

Interesting, though, that they’ve made a judgment on a law that hasn’t been implemented fully.

Tonto’s advice to the Lone Ranger is as sound now as it was when he said it in the old days.