Opening Day tradition lives on

There can be nothing in all of American sports quite like Opening Day of the Major League Baseball season.

Daytona 500? Indy 500? Super Bowl? Forget about it.

Opening Day has a place all its own. It usually features a presidential first pitch.

God Bless Opening Day

Some presidents, well, have better arms than others. John F. Kennedy had a pretty good arm. So did Dwight Eisenhower.

But the standard for presidential first pitches still belongs to George W. Bush. Allow me this one caveat, though: He didn’t set the standard on Opening Day. He set it instead on the first game at Yankee Stadium during the 2001 World Series, the one that had been delayed by the events of 9/11.

Baseball fans everywhere remember that night. The president strode the mound wearing a New York Fire Department jacket. The crowd roared.

Then the president took the baseball, rubbed it in his hand and from the top of the mound — not in front of it as some presidents do — he wound up and threw a perfect strike.

The crowd noise that greeted the president’s arrival on the mound? It turned into an absolute din as 56,000-plus fans erupted. The pitch symbolized the perfect tonic for a nation that had been grieving, had become enraged at the dastardly deed done to it and sought relief from the anguish.

President Bush, with a simple pitch from a baseball stadium mound, delivered the goods.

There can be nothing like it anywhere else in the world of sports.

Play ball!

Blame the messenger, folks

In an era when Democrats and Republicans can find so little common ground, both sides seem to agree on at least one element of today’s poisonous political atmosphere: It’s the media’s fault.

GOP, Dems agree: It’s the media’s fault

Interesting. Not surprising, though.

According to The Hill newspaper, Democrats say the media are too focused on the Affordable Care Act; Republicans, meanwhile, say the media should spend more time covering corruption among Democrats at the state level of government.

There’s just no pleasing everyone, you know?

I guess Republicans wish the media would concentrate more on Democrats gone bad than focusing on Republicans. Meanwhile, the GOP has been winning the public debate over the ACA by out-shouting the other side and, therefore, snagging most of the media’s attention.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the Republican who’s been fending off a snoopy press over the so-called “Bridgegate” controversy, has made an art form out of badgering reporters at press conferences. He calls them out by name when they ask what he considers to be unfounded questions. The public seems to eat it up, so Christie keeps delivering the goods in the form of one-line scolds that make for good sound bites on — and I love the irony here — the evening news.

As a former practitioner of daily print journalism, I harbor no particular ill will toward pols who blame the media for doing their job. It goes with the territory, just as politicians getting pounded by constituents for one issue or another goes with their territory.

When the media stop getting complaints and everyone just falls in love with reporters, well, that’s when I would start to worry.

Radicalism rises in comptroller race

Who says radicalism is the sole province of the loony left?

A conservative candidate for Texas comptroller of public accounts has produced what some might call a kooky notion on taxation: get rid of local property taxes and replace them with a steep jump in the sales tax.

Step forward, Glenn Hegar, and explain how this is fair.

Hegar is the Republican nominee for comptroller. His Democratic opponent, Mike Collier, who seized immediately on Hegar’s idea. Incumbent Susan Combs chose to step down at the end of the year.

Hegar thinks property taxes effectively remove property owners’ rights to their own property because Texans pay a hefty bill to local government entities. In Randall County, where I live, we pay taxes to the city of Amarillo, the county, Amarillo College, the Canyon school system and a local water district. It all adds up — rapidly.

Hegar thinks getting rid of that tax is fair. He’ll have to replace it with some other revenue stream. Given that the Legislature hates income taxes so much — as do most Texans I’ve talked to over the years — he would need to hefty boost in the sales tax.

Is there a more regressive form of taxation that a tax on goods and services? No. Poor people pay the same sales tax as rich people when they purchase, say, fertilizer for their lawn or diapers for their children.

As the Texas Tribune reported: “Dumping property taxes would force the state to more than double its sales taxes or to shed services that voters say they want, like schools, roads, prisons and health and human services. That’s the focus of Collier’s attack. If it sticks, he will have Hegar on the run. If it goes nowhere, he can always try something else.”

It’s not as if Texans don’t already shoulder a significant tax bill, even without a state income tax.

The Tribune stated: “According to the Tax Foundation, it has the 14th-highest state and local property taxes and the 11th-highest state and local sales taxes.”

“If you’re buying a $30,000 car, a 20 percent sales tax is kind of a big deal,” said Dale Craymer, president of the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association in remarks to the Tribune. The state sales tax is 6.25 percent, and most local governments — such as Amarillo — add another two cents.

So, the GOP candidate for comptroller wants to boost our sales tax burden even more?

Gosh, do you think the race for Texas bean-counter in chief is going to get interesting? Hold on. This one could sizzle.

Gov. Christie trips over his own mojo

It’s been reported that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has gotten his “mojo” back after a rough few months fighting off reports of possible cover-up in that infamous George Washington Bridge lane-closing kerfuffle.

In a way, he has. He hired a law firm to do an internal investigation of whether the governor knew anything about the lane closure, which reportedly was done to get back at the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, N.J., for refusing to endorse the Republican governor’s re-election.

The firm hired by Christie then cleared the guy who hired it of any wrongdoing. Imagine that. Shocking, I tell ya.

Then he jets off to Las Vegas to meet with prominent Republican donors where he — oops! — refers to those so-called “occupied territories” now known as Gaza and the West Bank bordering Israel.

Well, it seems that one of those GOP fat cats is one Sheldon Adelson, a big-time Republican donor and a long-time ardent supporter of Israel, where the term “occupied territories” is stricken from the political lexicon.

As The Hill reported: “Many Israelis object to referring to areas where Palestinians live but Israel maintains a military presence as ‘occupied territories’” because they believe the term implicitly suggests that Israeli troops should not be in the area.”

Christie apologized to Adelson, who accepted the governor’s mea culpa.

It just goes to show how politicians need to be sure they don’t let their mojo get in the way of better judgment and use of words.

Men's basketball champ will be …

OK, sports fans, here is my call for the much-anticipated NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

The Final Four has been set. I have had next to zero interest in this March Madness malarkey. I say “next to zero” only because one team from my home state of Oregon was in the tournament at the beginning.

The Oregon Ducks beat BYU in the first round, then lost to Wisconsin in the second round. Wisconsin? Oh, yeah, the Badgers are one of the Final Four teams.

Back to that in a moment.

The other three are Connecticut, Florida and Kentucky.

I do not follow college basketball the way I follow college football. Don’t misunderstand, I’m no expert on either sport. I played a little high school freshman football a hundred or so years ago, but I cannot pretend to know much about the nuances of the game.

But I do follow the Ducks, the Oregon State Beavers and on rare occasions I like to watch the University of Washington Huskies.

Who’ll win the NCAA men’s basketball championship?

My unscientific, unknowing and uneducated pick will be Wisconsin.

Why? Because I want the Ducks of the University of Oregon to have some meager bragging right to having lost their tournament bid to the eventual national champions.

I have an extended family connection to Wisconsin as well. My wife’s Aunt Margaret lives in Kenosha, as does my wife’s cousin Tom; another of my wife’s cousins, Joanne, lives in Milwaukee.

OK, there you have it.

I will retain my virtual non-interest in the tournament, except for “rooting” — if you want to call it that — for the Oregon Ducks to look back and say, “Hey, we lost to the best team in the country.”

GHW Bush earns ‘Courage’ award

When a young man who would become president of the United States wrote “Profiles in Courage,” he sought to honor those who made difficult decisions against tall odds.

It took courage to fight the so-called conventional wisdom and to face down critics who would scorn them. John F. Kennedy’s book won him a Pulitzer Prize and it created a benchmark for others to emulate.

President Kennedy died in 1963 and in 1990 the library built to honor his memory and his family launched the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award. In May, the president’s grandson, Jack Schlossberg, will honor one of JFK’s successors to the presidency, George H.W. Bush, for showing true courage in the face of withering criticism that — some have said — cost him re-election in 1992.

President Bush made his famous pledge at the 1988 Republican National Convention: “Read my lips, no … new … taxes.” The Louisiana Superdome crowd roared its approval and the then-vice president went on to win a huge victory that year in the race for the presidency.

Then in 1990, the president signed into law a federal budget that included — that’s right — tax increases along with spending cuts that sought to curb the federal budget deficit.

He was vilified by those on the right. Anti-tax activist Grover Norquist to this day calls it a “betrayal of the American people.”

He is mistaken. The president sought to take back a promise he made in the heat of a highly charged political environment. He acted reasonably and faced down his critics.

For that the Kennedy Library is going to honor the 41st president of the United States.

President Bush has demonstrated that he truly cut a profile in courage.

No conspiracy theories, please

Call me a non-conspiracy theorist.

I believe, for example, that:

* Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in murdering President John F. Kennedy in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.

* Men actually landed on the moon, beginning with Neil Armstrong’s “one small step … one giant leap” on July 20, 1969.

* Barack H. Obama was born in Hawaii — the 50th state to enter the Union — in August 1961 and, thus, is fully qualified to serve as president of the United States.

* Islamic madmen flew airplanes into the Pentagon, the World Trade Center and sought to fly a jetliner into the Capitol Building before they were thwarted by passengers on 9/11.

* Adolf Hitler killed himself in the Berlin bunker in April 1945 as the Red Army was closing in on his location.

* Elvis Presley actually died on Aug. 16, 1977 of a drug overdose in his Memphis, Tenn., bathroom.

I mention all these things because of the nutty theories being bandied about — to this day — about the fate of Malaysian Air Flight MH 370. I won’t repeat the goofy notions here.

My strong belief all along has been that something happened aboard that airplane to cause it to turn sharply off course on March 8. Its remains now are lying at the bottom of the southern Indian Ocean, along with the remains of the 239 people on board.

Our hearts break for those who are awaiting official word of their fate.

I just wish society, fed by social media and goofball Internet “sources,” would cease with the crazy talk. Let the searchers do their job, let them find the flight recorder, retrieve it and let its contents reveal the truth without all the mindless second-guessing.

Enough already.

Young people today …

Thomas Friedman writes a fascinating essay in today’s New York Times in which he tells of a night he spent aboard the USS New Mexico, a nuclear-powered attack submarine.

The New Mexico ducked under the North Pole ice cap, punched its way through, and then went back under.

Friedman’s essay deals with several aspects of serving for months on end underwater on one of these ships.

He writes: “My strongest impression, though, was experiencing something you see too little of these days on land: ‘Excellence.’ You’re riding in a pressurized steel tube undersea. If anyone turns one knob the wrong way on the reactor or leaves a vent open, it can be death for everyone. This produces a unique culture among these mostly 20-something submariners.”

He tells of how the ship examines the effects of climate change and how it functions as a self-contained world within our world.

He asks a young sailor how he is able to spend so much time underwater, with severe limitations on the communication with his family.

The sailor responds: “Whenever you board this submarine in port, that American flag is flying and you salute that flag. And every time I salute that flag, I remember the reason I joined the Navy: service to country, being part of something bigger than myself and in memory for the attacks of 9/11.”

Then he asks: “Remind me again what we’re doing in Washington these days to deserve such young people?”

It’s an arresting conclusion to an interesting and informative essay on life aboard a very dangerous weapon.

It also should serve to instruct us all that generations going back, oh, to the beginning of time have questioned whether the next generation will be capable of carrying on.

The young sailor’s response to a seasoned reporter tells me our nation will be in good hands.

If they can locate galaxies …

This question sort of falls into that “If they can land men on the moon … ” category of queries.

I heard it asked late this week on a CNN newscast: If they can locate galaxies millions of light years from Earth, why can’t they find the wreckage of a jetliner at the bottom of the ocean?

Provocative question, to be sure. It’s also an apples/oranges comparison.

The technology used to find those galaxies, black holes, nebula, dwarf planets, asteroid belts and whatever else is out there past our solar system cannot be used to find a jetliner missing since March 8. The jet, of course, is Malaysia Air Flight MH 370, which vanished after taking off from Kuala Lumpur en route to Beijing.

It’s likely in the bottom of the Indian Ocean, about 1,400 or so miles southwest or Perth, Australia. Why it ended up there — in the opposite direction of its intended destination — remains the No. 1 mystery on the planet at the moment.

Satellites have spotted debris of some sort floating in the ocean, as have manned aircraft. They’ve fetched some of it from the water and are analyzing it to see if it belongs to the Boeing 777 that went missing.

The tediousness of the investigation is maddening. It’s also necessary. The loved ones awaiting word on the 239 individuals on board MH 370 are in shock. They are angry. They are beside themselves. Believe me, I know what they’re going through. I lost my father in 1980 in a boating accident and it took police eight days to find his body after he was thrown into an inlet on the British Columbia coast. The family members’ minds are playing cruel tricks on them as they await definitive word that the plane has crashed and that all aboard were killed.

The authorities are getting closer to finding out the fate of MH 370.

Believe this as well: It’s far more difficult to find the wreckage of a jetliner right under our noses than it is to find a galaxy billions of miles away.

Amarillo's mayor does what, exactly?

A friend and former Amarillo city commissioner posed a simple question at lunch the other day: “How do you think Paul Harpole is doing as mayor?”

Hmmm, I thought about it for just a second.

Then I wondered aloud, what precisely does the mayor do? Not just this mayor, but anyone who occupies that office.

I’ve been thinking about that ever since — and about whether our municipal voting plan produces the kind of government that entices large numbers of qualified individuals to run for municipal office every other year.

The answer to my friend’s question went something like this: The mayor’s office is basically a symbolic one. The mayor has no real power. He represents the same constituency as the other four City Council members; they’re all co-equal. The council relies on a well-compensated and competent staff, led by the city manager, to do all the heavy lifting; they prepare the budgets and make administrative decisions all across the board. The council sets policy with its votes and then instructs the staff to carry them out.

That was a long-winded way of telling my friend that the mayor — who I happen to like and respect very much, by the way — hasn’t done enough for me or anyone else to really make a solid assessment of the job he’s doing.

We pay these individuals $10 per meeting. That’s it, plus some reimbursement for expenses they might incur while representing the city, say, by attending some seminar or business-recruitment outing.

I am circling back to another idea I posited on this blog some months ago about some rethinking I had been doing about the city’s at-large voting plan. We elect all five governing council members from the same citywide voting pool. Why not expand the council’s numbers by two, elect one or two council members at-large and divide the city into three or four voting precincts from which we could elect the rest of the City Council?

At this point, I’m no longer totally opposed to the notion of creating an all single-member district council, with just the mayor being elected citywide.

The city’s population is on the brink of hitting the 200,000 mark. It’s becoming increasingly diverse ethnically and racially. It has become something of a haven for immigrants who leave their homeland and find their way to Texas.

The time might be at hand to consider a serious reshaping of our municipal government structure. We could create one that allows for some diversity on a governing body that represents the population it represents. We could give the mayor some actual clout by allowing him or her to represent the largest pool of residents. Perhaps we could actually pay these individuals more than coffee money for the service they perform on our behalf. We also might consider giving them some oversight over departments within the city and enable them to have some actual influence to ensure the policies are being carried out in accordance with City Council members’ wishes.

Maybe one day when someone asks me how the mayor’s doing, I can respond with a meaningful answer.

What are your thoughts? I’m all ears.