Absence same as 'no' vote? No … it isn't

I really do like having Ted Cruz in the U.S. Senate.

He offers so much grist for folks like me on which to comment.

The freshman Republican senator said this the other day about his absence on a vote that confirmed Loretta Lynch as the latest U.S. attorney general: “Absence is the equivalent of a ‘no’ vote.”


There you have it. He missed the vote because he had a prior commitment to attend a fundraiser back home in Texas. Cruz had voted earlier on a motion to end a filibuster on Lynch’s nomination; he voted to keep the filibuster going.

The filibuster was broken, the vote took place, Lynch had the votes to win confirmation. So, what was the point of Cruz being there to cast his expected “no” vote on Lynch?

Well shoot, senator. It mattered because you didn’t put it on the record. It’s not part of the Senate’s official voting record.

I’m still uncertain precisely why Cruz disapproves so strongly of Lynch’s ascending to the office of attorney general, other than her support of President Obama’s executive order granting temporary amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants. I guess Cruz doesn’t much like the notion of an attorney general supporting the policies of the president who appoints her to the Cabinet, where everyone serves at the pleasure of the president of the United States.

That’s been the mantra of other senators who opposed Lynch, even those who said upon the announcement of her appointment that she is “highly qualified.” Some of those former supporters changed their mind when she declared her backing for the president’s action on immigration.

I think it’s strange. Then again, that’s just me.

What the heck. Sen. Cruz was entitled to attend the fundraiser. He’s running for president, after all. Let’s not assume, though, that this issue of non-voting on this confirmation — as well as other key votes he’s missed while campaigning for the White House — will disappear.

It’s the price a sitting member of Congress pays when he or she seeks the highest office in the land. Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton paid it when they ran in 2008. Sen. Cruz can expect the same thing in 2016.



Politicians cut money for schools, then knock them

Those of us who know Shanna Peeples are still a bit awestruck by the recognition that has come her way.

She teaches English at Palo Duro High School in Amarillo and has been honored as the National Teacher of the Year for 2015. A new adventure awaits her as she prepares to carry the torch for public educators across the nation.

A comment came the other day from Jon Mark Beilue, a columnist at the Amarillo Globe-News — where Peeples worked before answering her calling as a teacher — that rings so very true.

Beilue noted, while praising the work of good and great teacher everywhere, how some of the sharpest criticism of public education comes from politicians who have voted to cut money from public school systems.

Peeples, in accepting her crystal apple from the president at the White House this week, thanked him for his unwavering support of public education.


But every so often, we hear politician here at home decry public education, saying things about the quality of education our students are getting even a they cast vote to slash money aimed at improving schools.

How can they say these things with a straight face?

Oh, I almost forgot: Politicians say a lot of things without understanding or comprehending the irony of their statements and actions.

It’s good to remember what a politician — a state legislator, for example — does for the record while railing about the shortcomings of a valuable beneficiary of state government.

While we’re at it, we ought to hold those politician to account for their actions.


Which is it? Do red-light cameras work?

Those who believe red-light cameras at dangerous intersections do little or nothing to improve traffic safety ought to read the blog attached to this post.


Dallas Morning News blogger/editorial writer Rodger Jones tries to remind those doubters that the cameras actually do some good and that he’s found some research that backs that notion up.

The Texas Legislature appears ready to forbid cities from deploying the cameras. Amarillo has done so and it has used the money generated by the fines collected to improve traffic safety in the city; state law requires cities to dedicate the money to that cause.

State Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, says the cameras don’t do any good. Jones disputed Hall’s contention and found some research by an institute affiliated with Texas A&M University that says the opposite of what Hall contends. Jones quotes the findings: “New research suggests that red light cameras help to reduce the number of crashes at intersections where they are installed. The study, although limited to Texas, is one of the most extensive thus far in the nation, and researchers say the findings demonstrate that the automated enforcement method offers an effective means of preventing crash-related deaths and injuries.”

There’s more. Take a look at it.

The point is that legislators have been accusing cities of implementing the cameras as money-makers. Never mind the restrictions placed on how cities can spend the revenue derived from enforcing laws against those who run red lights. The state sets strict limits on how cities can spend the money.

It’s also interesting that some legislators have become overnight civil libertarians, saying that motorists are denied the right to “face their accuser.” Hogwash! Motorists can appeal the fines and in some cases, such as in Amarillo, they’ve been able to persuade authorities to dismiss the charge.

Whatever. Jones’s blog makes the case that lawmakers such as Sen. Hall aren’t telling the whole story as they seek to strip cities of a tool some of them are using to make their streets safer.

Abbott joins conspiracy crowd

Greg Abbott is no idiot.

There. I’ve just declared that the Texas governor, who’s been in office about three months, really isn’t one of the nut jobs who’ve circulated goofy rumors on the Internet about a federal takeover of the states.

But you have to wonder why Abbott would put the Texas¬†State Guard on alert during a federal military exercise slated to occur this summer. He said he wants to protect Texans’ liberties. Against the U.S. Army, for crying out loud?


Jade Helm 15 is a major military exercise being planned in conjunction with Navy SEALs and Army Green Berets. Some crackpots have suggested the feds are going to “invade” Texas. Take us over. Impose martial law.

Abbott seems to be reacting to that nonsense by ordering the Texas¬†State Guard to “monitor” the exercise.

As Dallas Morning News editorial writer/blogger Jim Mitchell noted: “He gives ‘legitimacy’ to the chatter in a backhanded sort of way.”

I’ve known Abbott for a few years, going back to when he was serving as a Texas Supreme Court justice and as Texas attorney general. He’s always seemed to be a reasonable, thoughtful and careful conservative Republican. I actually like him personally.

Then the TEA party faction started gaining traction within the GOP and Abbott has adopted a more ferocious posture. I find it more than a little unbecoming, truth be told.

The Texas State Guard shouldn’t have to be asked to protect Texans’ “safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties” just because the U.S. military is conducting exercises in the state.

This looks for all the world like a reaction to cockamamie Internet nonsense.

Intended or not, Gov. Abbott should be smarter than to send out such a message.

'Thugs' is not a racist term

Let’s try to dispel some chatter out there about a term that’s been tossed around to describe the individuals who’ve destroyed businesses, burned buildings, injured police officers and created a whole lot of mayhem in a great American city.

They’ve been called “thugs.” Some folks now are bristling at the term because they contend it carries a racist connotation.


The violent outburst in Baltimore came after an African-American man, Freddie Gray, died while in police custody of a severed spine.

How did some individuals react to that death? By attacking individuals who had nothing to do with it.

Does that sound like thuggery to you? It does to me.

Oh, and who has used the term “thugs” to describe what’s gone on? President Barack Obama has called the perps “thugs.” Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said it, too. What do these folks have in common? You know what it is: They’re both African-American. Other civic leaders have chimed in with the term as well. Many of them have been black.

Granted, the mayor hasn’t done a good job of taking control of the situation, but that’s another story.

A single word need not become the focus of the discussion that should be occurring with regard to the violence that has exploded in Baltimore. It diverts attention away from the bigger problem, which — as I see it — relates to the hideous behavior of some individuals who have hogged all the attention from those in Baltimore who’ve sought to maintain order and protest in a civil manner.

Of course, there’s the issue of police relations in the African-American community, which also must be discussed. That discussion cannot occur, however, when thugs are tearing up the city.

All good teachers deserve our praise, honor


I’m not going to spend a lot of time and cyberspace elaborating on my pal Jon Mark Beilue’s excellent commentary here.

Take a look at the link and have a listen to Jon Mark’s tribute to a fabulous public educator, Shanna Peeples, who was honored today in a White House ceremony by President Obama, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and more than 50 of her colleagues who competed for the high honor of being named National Teacher of the Year.

Shanna honors her profession, her community and her state with this high honor. And as she said today, she represents all the hardworking educators who make a difference in the lives of the students they teach.


Abbott aligns with conspiracy theorists

Conspiracy theorists — or wackos, if you prefer — appear to have a friend living in the Texas Governor’s Mansion.

Gov. Greg Abbott has ordered the Texas State Guard to “monitor” some exercises being conducted by U.S. Army troops in Texas.

His intention? Abbott issued a statement: “It is important that Texans know their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed,” Abbott wrote. “By monitoring the Operation on a continual basis, the State Guard will facilitate communications between my office and the commanders of the Operation to ensure that adequate measures are in place to protect Texans.”


Protect Texans? Against whom? Federal troops?

Some Internet goofballs have put out some malarkey about a possible effort to impose martial law in the United States. Abbott’s order has the appearance — at least to me and perhaps others — of his buying into the nonsense that’s been floating around in cyberspace.

The exercise is called “Jade Helm 15.” It prompted a furious protest in Bastrop County by those who were suggesting the government is considering a mass weapons confiscation. Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape said conspiracy theorists had created a “frenzy” among some Texans.

It’s interesting that no other governor has issued such an order to “monitor” Army exercises in their states.

Abbott is alone among his fellow governors in his stated concern about Texans’ rights.


Take a bow, Toya Graham

One of the many curious aspects of social media is that it produces stars literally in an instant.

Someone snaps a picture or shoots a video on a cell phone, posts it on Twitter or Facebook, and the subject of the image becomes a star.

The latest national social media star is a young mother of a teenager who she spotted doing something quite wrong.

Toya Graham saw her son throwing objects at Baltimore police officers and then proceeded to smack her son upside his head. Repeatedly. She chased him, scolding him with some pretty rough language.


She’s received lots of praise on social media from those who believe she should speak for a lot of angry parents.

I happen to be one of her admirers.

Toya Graham called herself a “no-tolerant mother.” She added, “Everybody that knows me knows I don’t play that.” She’s a single mother of six. She was captured on video reacting the way — I believe — most self-respecting parents would react if they saw their child committing a destructive act.

Graham’s son was taking part in a disturbance that erupted in Baltimore over the death of Freddie Gray, a young African-American man who died in police custody of a severed spine. The cops have yet to explain how that happened. They’d better step up — and soon — to account for this terrible incident.

None of that, though, justifies the mayhem that exploded in Baltimore. I am struck by what the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. might say to all of this. He would be horrified. As someone noted, also on social media, Dr. King “changed the world without ever lighting a fire.”

Today, though, a single mom stands tall as a symbol for parents who need to get angry — as she did — when she witnessed one of her children doing something shameful.


Sanders to fight for Democratic left

Pundits all across the land have been talking about the Republican base and the core values it seeks for its party.

Meanwhile, the Democratic base has been relatively quiet … until now.

On Thursday, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, is going to announce his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination.


Hillary Rodham Clinton will get her first real challenger in her campaign for the same nomination.

Sanders will run from the far left wing of his party, kind of like the way Ted Cruz is running from the far right wing of his Republican Party.

Wow! Think about this: What if Sanders and Cruz win their parties’ presidential nomination next year?

Sanders is a hard-core socialist. He favors wealth distribution, wage equality, marriage equality, universal health care and massive cuts in defense spending.

He thinks Hillary Clinton is too cozy with Wall Street and likely is going to hold her Senate vote in 2003 in favor of going to war with Iraq against her.

Does the maverick independent stand a chance at winning the Democratic nomination? You have to say “no.”

Then again …

We 'lost' the war … 40 years ago

In a couple of days, many Americans are going to look back four decades at the end of a chapter that turned terribly tragic, not just for the United States, but also for an ally with whom we fought side by side for seemingly forever.

Saigon fell to North Vietnamese Army troops on April 30, 1975. They rolled into the capital city of South Vietnam, took down the defeated nation’s flag at the presidential palace and raised the flag of North Vietnam.

Twenty-five years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Bui Tin in Hanoi, the man who accepted the surrender of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. He was in the tank that had smashed through the gate at the presidential palace and accepted the surrender of South Vietnamese president Duong Van “Big” Minh.

I was among a group of journalists touring the country and Bui Tin was among the dignitaries we got to meet. He told us his memories of the end of the Vietnam War.

Bui Tin, of course, was on the winning side.

His memory is different from that of some of the journalists who questioned him that day. A handful of us had served in Vietnam during the war. But what a marvelous encounter it was to talk candidly with a key player in that long and tragic struggle.

I wrote a blog for Panhandle PBS, which tonight broadcast a special, “The Last Days in Vietnam.” It tells the story of the end of that war. It was inglorious for our side.


For our former enemy, well, it meant something quite different. The “American war” had ended. The enemy outlasted us, even though military historians have noted for decades that we actually prevailed on the battlefield. We inflicted far more casualties on them than they did on us. We scored military victory after military victory against the NVA and the Viet Cong.

Talk about losing the battles but winning the war.

They had the patience we didn’t have.

I ran across this quote, from North Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Van Dong, who in December 1966 said this to New York Times reporter Harrison E. Salisbury:

“How long do you Americans want to fight? … One year? Two years? Three years? Five years? Ten years? Twenty years? We will be glad to accommodate you.”

Yes, they were glad.

It was being fought on their ground, in their homes … and on their terms.

And we haven’t gotten over it yet.