Grand jury calls for UT regent's removal

Wallace Hall should hit the road and leave the University of Texas System Board of Regents.

That’s the recommendation from — get a load of this — a Travis County grand jury.

Hall has been in the middle of a firestorm for more than a year over regents’ relationship with UT-Austin President Bill Powers. Criminal charges were filed against Hall, alleging that he went far beyond his mandate as a regent and meddled in administrative matters that are supposed to be within the campus president’s purview. The complaint alleged specifically that Hall shared private student information with his lawyers.

“Transparency and accountability are key elements in maintaining citizens’ trust in their government,” the report said. “Regent Hall demonstrated neither accountability nor transparency in his actions.”

The Texas Tribune reports that the grand jury action is unusual in its scope and in the strength in the wording it uses in recommending Hall’s ouster from the UT Board of Regents.

The grand jury didn’t indict Hall, but it went almost as far in calling for his ouster.

I’m thinking Regent Hall ought to go. I also am thinking the board of regents ought to stop meddling in UT-Austin administrative business.

Enough is enough.


No deal on Iran nukes now looks possible

JUST IN: Parties agree to extend Iran nuclear talks until June.


So, what happens if Iran fails to strike a deal with other nations — including the United States — to end its nuclear enrichment program?

Might it be that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was right, that “no deal is better than a bad deal”?

The deadline comes at the end this day. There might be a framework for a deal that sets up a new deadline.

If not, well, then more sanctions are due. Perhaps even the “military option” if Iran weaponizes the uranium that other nations want it to surrender.

The prospect of no deal shouldn’t be of grave concern.

U.S. negotiators insist, as they should, that Iran cannot be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon. No one on Earth trusts a nuclear-powered Islamic Republic of Iran, which has stated its No. 1 mission is to destroy Israel. The Israelis haven’t said it in so many words, but they clearly stand ready to strike Iran if it gets a whiff of a nuclear weapon being on developed. President Obama has refused repeatedly to take a military strike off the table as well.

What constitutes a “bad deal”? It would be one that allows sanctions to be lifted over time, which reportedly is one of the options being considered by U.S. and allied negotiators. It’s the kind of deal that Netanyahu has warned shouldn’t be allowed to occur.

We are dealing with a seriously rogue nation. Let us treat it as such.


Indy Star goes out front with 'Fix it' editorial

Newspaper editorials have their place: usually on a page marked clearly as “opinion,” or “comment,” or “editorial.”

Except when the management of a newspaper decides an issue is so critical, so important and so compelling that they take that editorial to the front page, where everyone who sees the paper can see what’s on the editors’ minds.

The Indianapolis Star has gone out front in today’s edition with an editorial demanding that Indiana legislators and Gov. Mike Pence “fix” the state’s religious freedom law.

Good for the Star.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act has been seen by critics as a pretext to allow businesses to discriminate against citizens because of their sexual orientation. It protects them from lawsuits if they deny service to gay individuals. The LGBT community across the nation — and its allies — have unleashed a barrage of criticism against Indiana lawmakers and the governor for approving the bill and signing it into law.

The editorial’s headline screams “Fix This Now.” Pence is scheduled to have a news conference today to address the issue. It’s not clear whether he’ll seek to amend it, or whether he’s actually empowered to repeal it unilaterally.

The Star is asking for a new law to add to the religious freedom law that exempts LGBT residents from its provisions.

The bottom line here is the bottom line. The state is facing a serious economic impact if businesses pull out of Indiana. The NCAA men’s basketball Final Four tournament takes place next weekend in Indianapolis and the repercussions of this law can be significant.

The law looks to many folks — me included — like a pretext to sanction discrimination against a certain group of Americans. It shouldn’t stand as it is written.


Your vote really does count; honest, it does

Do me a favor.

Take a couple of minutes to watch this video. It’s an instructive lecture from the general manager of Panhandle PBS on why your vote matters, especially at the local level.

If you live in the Texas Panhandle or far away from this part of the United States of America, this message is for you.

Chris Hays put this video together to promote a public affairs program to be broadcast Thursday night on Panhandle PBS. The “Live Here” segment airs at 7 p.m. and it features a candidate forum for the 16 people running for all five seats on the Amarillo City Council.

The video, though, speaks to voters across the country. Many voters don’t take part in their local elections, thinking apparently that their vote doesn’t matter and that the people who run for these offices don’t really do anything to affect citizens’ lives.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

It’s the local elections that matter most to us. We ought to be voting on the people who set policies for our households, as well as for our children’s education.

Texas communities are conducting elections in early May. The turnout for most of them is expected to be paltry, dismal, shamefully low. Amarillo has had its share of tumult in recent months, so there might be a slight uptick in voter participation here.

What about where you live? Are you going to hand these critical decisions over to someone else, let your neighbor decide how much you pay in local property taxes?

Don’t do it. Your neighbor, or the folks across town can’t speak for you. Only you can speak for yourself.

One way to speak is to cast a vote for the candidate of your choice running for local office in your hometown.

Before you decide to sit this one out, take a peek at the video here. Maybe it’ll change your mind.


Birthers beware: Obama going to Kenya

This story is utterly hilarious and I cannot wait for President Obama to jaunt down the steps of Air Force One in Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya, of all places.

The president is visiting the African country and is likely to stick straight in the eyes — and ears — of the so-called “birthers” who keep yapping that he wasn’t born in the United States and that he is somehow not qualified to be president.

To which I say: So bleeping what?

Former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu, a player in the Republican Party hierarchy, thinks the president’s trip is going to energize the birthers. These are the clowns, such as Donald Trump, U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas and perhaps a majority of the Texas Legislature for all I know, who keep implying that if Obama was born in Africa that he’s somehow disqualified from holding the office to which he was elected twice.

I have a two-word response: Ted Cruz.

The junior senator from Texas and GOP presidential candidate was in fact born in Canada. His mother is American, his father is Cuban. He’s been declared a U.S. citizen by every constitutional scholar under the sun. President Obama’s mother was American, his father was Kenyan. However, Barack Obama was born in Hawaii — but that hasn’t stopped the crackpot wing of the Republican Party from continuing to raise this birth issue whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Gov. Sununu thinks it well might rise again when the president jets off to Kenya later this year. “I think his trip back to Kenya is going to create a lot of chatter and commentary amongst some of the hard right who still don’t see him as having been born in the U.S.,” he said on Fox News’s “America’s Newsroom.”

The place of his birth doesn’t matter. He was born in Hawaii, U.S.A. Even if he wasn’t born in one of our 50 states, his mother’s citizenship makes this entire chatter moot.

The president’s upcoming Kenya trip only illustrates one thing: He’s got his mojo back.

Enjoy yourself, Mr. President.


O'Malley is right; pass him the 'crown'

Martin O’Malley wants to be president of the United States.

Look for the former Maryland governor to announce his candidacy soon for the Democratic Party presidential nomination. The man who once supported Hillary Clinton’s desire to be president now says the presidency isn’t some “crown” that should be passed between two families.

He refers, of course, to the Clintons and the Bushes.

Actually, O’Malley is getting way ahead of himself.

It seems likely that Clinton will run for president again; Jeb Bush is likely to seek the GOP nomination.

Are either of them locks for their parties’ nomination? Hardly.

Clinton once was a lock. She’s still the strongest Democrat out there, but her grip on the nomination has slipped bit since the email controversy broke a few weeks ago.

Bush hardly is a cinch for the GOP nomination. He’s got his own baggage, chief among it the memory of his brother’s recent presidency.

The burden now falls on folks such as O’Malley to prove why they deserve to be seen and heard. It’s not just about candidates with recognizable names.

As this “crown” business relates to the Clintons, it’s good to remember that Bill Clinton wasn’t exactly from a filthy rich family when he ran for president in 1992. He came from fairly humble beginnings, as did his wife.

Still, I’m willing to listen to candidates such as O’Malley make their case, as I am willing to listen to the thundering herd of Republicans getting ready to run for the White House.

Bring it on!


How's this for demonization?

A new poll shows just how polarized and how angry some Americans have become toward the president of the United States of America.

Get a load of this: A Reuters/Ipsos survey suggests Republicans believe Barack Obama poses a greater threat to the nation than Russian strongman/president Vladimir Putin.

Pardon me while I catch my breath.


I’m better now.

One-third of Republicans believe Obama poses an imminent threat to the United States, outpacing the fear of GOP respondents about Putin’s threat to the country.

Reuters reports: “Given the level of polarization in American politics the results are not that surprising, said Barry Glassner, a sociologist and author of ‘The Culture of Fear: Why Americans are afraid of the wrong things.’

“‘There tends to be a lot of demonizing of the person who is in the office,’ Glassner said, adding that “fear mongering’ by the Republican and Democratic parties would be a mainstay of the U.S. 2016 presidential campaign. ‘The TV media here, and American politics, very much trade on fears,’ he said.”

I reckon so.

Another interesting aspect of the poll is that 27 of Republicans see Democrats as an “imminent threat,” while 22 percent of Democrats believe the same thing about Republicans. Pretty close call on that one. That, too, reflects the polarization that exists today.

Fear is everywhere. It’s a bipartisan affliction — and it’s unappealing no matter who’s expressing it.

Hard to oppose death penalty on this one

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is making it difficult for a capital punishment opponent — such as myself — to remain true to principle.

He’s the young man accused of killing three people and injuring several others April 15, 2013 at the end of the Boston Marathon.

The federal government has ended its case against Tsarnaev, turning it over to the defense team, which is going to argue that his life should be spared.

Tsarnaev’s guilt actually isn’t being questioned by his defense team. His lawyers are going to make the case that the feds shouldn’t execute him, which the Justice Department wants to do if he’s convicted of this terrible crime.

The case to keep him alive seems a bit shaky. Lead defense counsel Judy Clark said Dzhokhar was under the spell of his radicalized older brother, Tamerlan, who died when Dzhokhar ran over him with their getaway vehicle.

I remain opposed to capital punishment, but reporters covering the trial in Boston keep referring to the defendant’s lack of emotion, how he slouches in his chair and how seems utterly detached from what’s happening around him.

Any parent of a young man can relate to Dzhokhar’s outward demonstration of disinterest. It’s what teenagers and young adults do when they’re facing discipline — even when it threatens to end their life.

Tsarnaev is going down. That much is virtually without question. Whether he dies for his crime remains in the hands of the jury.

The family members of those who died deserve justice. They’ll get it with a conviction. To them, at least, justice won’t be delivered fully until Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is executed. While I disagree with that form of punishment, I certainly understand the loved ones’ desire to see justice administered in its entirety.


Co-pilot had 'suicidal tendencies'?

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems that every commercial air carrier on the planet ought to do thorough psychological screenings of the men and women they hire to fly airplanes carrying passengers.

Then they should set the bar as high as possible to determine who is fight to fly those aircraft.

I pose that notion in the wake of reports out of Germany that Germanwings co-pilot Andreas Lubitz had demonstrated “suicidal tendencies” several years ago, prior to obtaining his commercial pilot’s license.

What did he do after that? Well, he apparently locked the captain of the ship out of flight deck and then flew the A320 Airbus into the French Alps, killing everyone on board.

This bit of news just takes my breath away. reported: “In the ensuing years and up until recently, he had doctors’ visits and was written off sick but showed no sign of suicidal tendencies or aggression towards others,” said Ralf Herrenbrueck, spokesman for the prosecutor’s office in the western city of Duesseldorf.

Showed no sign? Well, that bit of intelligence now seems preposterous, given what is now widely accepted as the cause of the horrific air tragedy.

When someone exhibits such tendencies, is it ever safe to assume that such tendencies would never return? Ever?

How does a psychiatrist make that determination? How does a medical professional determine that someone’s desire to kill oneself is gone forever?

This is just my opinion, sitting far away from the scene, but it looks for all the world as if the 28-year-old Lubitz had zero business being on the flight deck of that aircraft.

However, there he was, locking the captain out and then deciding to kill himself — as well as 149 innocent victims.


End of Cold War brought disarray

Joe Scarborough asks a compelling question about the state of U.S. foreign policy.

How did it get so messed up?

The one-time Republican congressman from Florida wonders how the world’s pre-eminent military and economic power can get in such a muddled mess.

I think I have a partial answer. Or perhaps just some food for thought: The end of the Cold War.

Geopolitical relationships have gotten incredibly complex since the days when the Soviet Union sought to control the world and the United States kept pushing back the Big Ol’ Bear.

Our adversary was a clearly defined nuclear power. It covered 8 million or so square miles of territory across two continents. They were fearsome. Then again, so were we.

Then the Berlin Wall came crashing down in 1989. Two years later, the Evil Empire imploded.

Just like that, our Enemy No. 1 was gone.

In its place a lot of other enemies have arisen to rivet our attention. Scarborough thinks two American presidents — George W. Bush and Barack Obama — have presided over this turmoil. Granted, the Soviet Union disappeared on George H.W. Bush’s watch and his successor, Bill Clinton, managed to keep the assortment of new enemies at bay.

Here’s part of what Scarborough writes: “Bush’s ideological foreign policy was tragically followed by Obama’s delusional belief that America could erase the sins of the Bush-Cheney era by simply abdicating the U.S.’s role as indispensable nation.”

I am not certain anyone quite yet is capable of juggling so many balls at the same time. President Bush took dead aim at al-Qaeda immediately after 9/11, but then expanded that effort into a war against Iraq. Then came Barack Obama — and the world has just kept on getting more unstable.

But we still haven’t yet figured out how to manage crises that keep cropping up throughout the Middle East and northern Africa. The result has been, as Scarborough notes, a vast explosion of crises involving ISIL, Syria, Turkey, Libya, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria … and even Venezuela in our own hemisphere. Let’s not forget North Korea and the immigration crisis emanating from Latin America.

We’ve got to keep our eyes on many balls all at once.