Watch ’em like a hawk

Memo to the Amarillo City Commission: We’ll be watching you like hawks.

The commission has decided to conduct a national search to replace former City Manager Alan Taylor, who has worked his last day as the city’s CEO.

Why the need for vigilance? Well, the commission promises complete openness as it goes about the search. Sadly, in this cynical age, elected officials’ word too often just isn’t good enough. The public will need to keep a sharp eye on the process.

We’ll need to know a host of things about this search: the name of the consulting firm the city will hire to help it in the search; its cost to the city; the process it will employ; the names of the finalists who emerge from what likely will be a large pool of applicants.

City Hall has done the right thing. It should have conducted a serious national search when John Ward retired as city manager in 2004. It went through the motions before elevating Taylor to the top job. Taylor did well in the post, but it would have been better for him — not to mention the city — if he had competed against a top-drawer field of applicants.

The city is making the right moves so far. But we have to remain alert to ensure that it makes good on officials’ pledge for transparency.

Gingrich … out on a limb

Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich is a smart guy. Don’t take my word for it. He’ll all but so say so himself.

But the one-time Georgia Republican firebrand-turned-speaker isn’t a fortune teller. He has told that President Obama has a 20 percent chance of being re-elected in 2012. And, by golly, he might run for the GOP nomination against the president. Gingrich also suggests he could be the one to send Obama packing.

Hmmm. I will respond with two words: Ronald Reagan.

President Reagan was standing guard over an economy in 1982 that was in horrible condition. His poll numbers were in the tank. Joblessness rivaled today’s numbers; inflation was out of control. The mid-term elections that year ended up costing the Republicans many seats in the House and the Senate — a circumstance facing Democrats in the upcoming mid-terms this year.

Oh, what to do? Democrats licked their chops at their prospects in 1984 of retaking the White House. They nominated former Vice President Walter Mondale at their convention that year.

What happened next ought to serve as a cautionary tale for Gingrich and all the know-it-alls today.

Reagan not only won re-election in ’84, he came within about 4,000 votes of scoring a 50-state sweep over Mondale, who barely carried his home state of Minnesota.

It was “morning in America.”

Now … will history repeat itself in precisely that fashion in 2012? I’m not smart enough — unlike Newtie Gingrich — to make such a prediction. I will say, however, that it’s foolish to suggest today — more than two years from the next presidential election — how it will all turn out.

President Mondale surely would agree.

Remembering a mountain

“Vancouver, Vancouver, this is it!”

Those probably were the last words ever uttered — 30 years ago today — by a young geologist, David Johnston, who was blown into oblivion by Mount St. Helens. Johnston was manning an observation point not far from the volcano when he radioed those words to the U.S. Geological Survey office in Vancouver, Wash.

There are some things one never thinks he’ll ever witness. A volcanic eruption is one of those things that, for me, I never imagined I’d be able to remember. I grew up in Portland, Ore., about 50 miles southwest of Mount St. Helens. I was still living there when the mountain exploded on Sunday morning, May 18, 1980. It’s kind of one of those days for Pacific Northwest residents you remember — kind of like where you were when JFK died or when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. On that day, it was overcast, so we didn’t actually witness the blast from our Portland home; we did, however, watch a similarly spectacular ash cloud in July of that year. But still, the live pictures of that moment on our TV screens were as good as being there.

Thirty years ago today, Portlanders’ vision of the world changed forever. It was expressed to me several times in the years immediately after the eruption how upsetting it was to look along the city’s northern horizon and see Mount St. Helens with its top blown off. For those of us who grew up awestruck at the mountain’s snow-capped symmetry, the sight of the mountain today remains quite a blow.

The mountain was supposed to look as it always did.

But alas, human beings cannot control many things. We’re such pipsqueaks when compared to the unfathomable force of Mother Nature.

Price goes up — and stays there

The above link is a story about how the price of oil has plunged 20 percent since early May.

Is that a surprise to you? It was to me.

It never fails to amaze me how the price of gasoline somehow, mysteriously, doesn’t move as quickly downward as it does upward. When the price of crude spikes up, Amarillo gasoline dealers are oh, so very quick to increase the price at the pump instantly, or so it seems. Oh, but when the price of oil nosedives — which the Associated Press says has happened — the price stays up.

The pump price has lingered at $2.79 per gallon, or thereabout, for as long as I can remember.

What goes up, then, doesn’t necessarily come down.

Is he a RINO or a DINO?

I’m chuckling over the anti-incumbent angst getting credit for the probable defeat Tuesday of longtime U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

Specter served for three decades as a Republican. Then he changed parties in 2009. He became a Democrat, just like that. Give the man credit for being honest: He didn’t stand a chance of being elected as a Republican, so he changed parties — and admitted to it!

So now he’s run into a Democratic buzzsaw in the form of Rep. Joe Sestak, who has presented himself as a real Democrat, not a pretender like Specter.

TV ads have shown Republican President Bush endorsing Specter’s re-election in 2004 and Democratic President Obama proclaiming his “love” for Specter in 2010.

I’m not convinced that anti-incumbent fervor is at play in Pennsylvania. What Keystone State Democrats are suggesting is that they don’t trust Specter, and they dislike his jumping onto their party bandwagon for purely self-serving reasons. He wants to stay in the Senate and voters are seeing this move as a cynical attempt to cover his rear end.

It’s true that Specter, who once was a Democrat before he became a Republican all those years ago, has been called a Republican in Name Only (RINO). Democrats now are labeling him a DINO — which translates into calling someone a politician without principle.

In the eye of a political storm

I feel as though I’m sitting in the eye of a political hurricane — you know, where it’s dead calm while everything else is being blown away.

Incumbents are beginning to drop like flies, and more are going to bite the dust.

Utah Republican Sen. Bob Bennett failed to win renomination to a fourth term in the United States Senate; Pennsylvania Democrat (and former longtime Republican) Sen. Arlen Specter is in the fight of his life for his new party’s nomination against a retired three-star admiral and current member of the House, Joe Sestak; a veteran West Virginia congressman was decked in the Democratic primary this past week.

Meanwhile, in the Panhandle, two House members are skating toward re-election with virtually no opposition. Clarendon Republican Mac Thornberry, who vanquished his Democratic challenger by 56 percentage points in 2008, is a shoo-in, as is fellow Republican Randy Neugebauer of Lubbock. No such thing here as “anti-incumbent fever.”

It is true, of course, that one longtime West Texas incumbent, state Rep. Delwin Jones of Lubbock, lost his Republican primary fight in March, to a Tea Party favorite. But that’s the rarest of events in this politically calm region.

The local races present the same picture. Incumbents are unopposed throughout the Potter and Randall County ballots.

One Texas incumbent might face some trouble down the road. Republican Gov. Rick Perry holds a slim lead over Democratic challenger Bill White, who’s beginning to spend some serious campaign ad money to deliver his own message. But as has been demonstrated so far this election year: Never count Rick Perry out. The guy knows how to win. Still, it will be interesting to watch this campaign unfold, while seeing whether Perry’s national ambitions (if he truly harbors them) get thrown over by a well-financed challenger.

Meanwhile, it still seems awfully quiet out there.

Bring on all perspectives

Of all the things that commend Elena Kagan to a spot on the U.S. Supreme Court, one issue stands out for me: her penchant for seeking a diversity of opinion.

Kagan’s tenure as dean of the Harvard Law School included an initiative to bring in more conservative faculty members. Her idea was that that Harvard was becoming too much of a liberal echo chamber, with too much sameness among faculty members. So, she recruited professors with a different point of view on legal matters.

This has drawn howls from the left, who think that President Obama has selected a closet conservative to sit on the highest court in the land.

No, the president has chosen someone who relishes good debate, intellectual stimulation and a wide range of thought.

I’m baffled as to why such a thing is seen by some as a negative. It should instead be seen as a compelling reason to confirm her.

She’ll get pummeled by those on the right for a number of issues: lack of judicial experience, her career in academia, whatever. Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican, has sent a strong signal of skepticism about Kagan over her lack of bench experience. Perhaps that criticism might be moderated somewhat if he considers her intent to bring more right-leaners onto the Harvard faculty.

The issue here isn’t that she sought more conservatives. The issue actually is that she honors the tradition at a fine university as a place where all views are welcome. Universities should be places that give all perspectives a thorough airing.

Eating their young?

The late state Sen. Teel Bivins of Amarillo used to say that redistricting, when legislators have to redraw state and congressional district lines, is an event in which “Republicans eat their young.”

Well, the Republican Party isn’t waiting for the next reapportionment to consume one of its own.

U.S. Sen. Robert Bennett went down in flames this past weekend, losing the Utah GOP race for another term in the Senate. Why? Bennett isn’t conservative enough, to which I say, “What the … ?”

Bennett is one of the more reliably conservative senators on Capitol Hill. He was running for a fourth term in Utah. I checked his voting record first thing this morning. I learned this from the Almanac of American Politics:

* Political action groups rated Bennett’s record as 66 percent “conservative” in 2008; the previous year, he voted with the right on average about 70 percent of the time.

* The U.S. Chamber of Commerce — a bastion of business conservatism — gave Bennett a 100 percent rating in both 2007 and 2008.

But he’ll be out on his ear at the end of 2010. Utah has an unusual way of nominating party candidates. They do it by party convention. Bennett didn’t make the grade, losing renomination to a Tea Party favorite.

How does this bode for the Republican Party? It might that the party is making itself more ideologically pure and pushing aside all semblance of moderation. Witness the defection recently in Florida, where once-Republican Gov. Charlie Crist left his party to run for the Senate as an independent. Crist’s “crime”? He gave President Obama a brief man-hug a year ago while endorsing the president’s economic stimulus package.

Bon appetit, Republicans.

It was no “act of God”

An “act of God”?

That’s what Gov. Rick Perry called the blowout and cataclysmic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Interesting. I’ve always thought acts of God constituted things such as tornadoes, hailstorms and droughts — events with which most Panhandle residents are acquainted. They also involve hurricanes and monsoon-like rain, which pummel our neighbors on the Gulf Coast. They also involve gorgeous sunrises and sunsets — once again events that are pleasing to our eyes here on the High Plains.

But the oil rig that exploded in the Gulf, killing 11 workers and which is still spilling oil into the water isn’t an act of God as most of us understand the term.

Gov. Perry, though, struggled to defend his remark, telling the Houston Chronicle that the phrase has been used “in legal terms for a long time in this state.” Huh?

Maybe the governor is suggesting that since the Almighty governs every activity in the universe, that human error is an act governed by His all-powerful hand.

I’ll stick with my own understanding of the phrase.

What happened in the Gulf is an act of humankind. And human beings are going to be held responsible.

Thoughtfulness, yes; blowards, no

Still, if you’re somebody who only reads the editorial page of The New York Times, try glancing at the page of The Wall Street Journal once in a while. If you’re a fan of Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh, try reading a few columns on the Huffington Post website. It may make your blood boil; your mind may not be changed. But the practice of listening to opposing views is essential for effective citizenship…”-President Obama, U of Michigan, May 1,2010

The above is part of a comment replying to an earlier post I wrote about Rush Limbaugh and his expected criticism of the federal government’s arrest of the suspect in the failed bomb attempt at Times Square.

That the respondent, named “Anonymous,” would send this comment to me implies that I don’t read opinions with which I disagree. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I read them all the time.

I love reading well-written opinions, from thoughtful and responsible people who have something important to say. Whether I agree with their views is irrelevant in that context.

What infuriates me, though, are the audiences who tune in to these talk-show entertainers and then accept what they say as gospel.

And I actually agree with the president’s view that getting one’s blood to boil helps stimulate your thought processes. However, I’ll pass on the blowhards’ overheated rhetoric.

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