Cellphone ban news is out


I totally understand law enforcement’s reluctance over Amarillo’s recently approved ordinance banning the use of handheld cellphones while driving motor vehicles in the city.

The cops say it will be a difficult law to enforce. Motorists have perfected pretty sneaky ways of dialing up their pals while driving their car. Still, the city did what it had to do. Only a handful of states have even a partial ban on cellphone use while driving; fewer still have enacted total bans.

Thus, the city enacted a local ordinance because city commissioners determined that the activity poses a hazard to motorists and pedestrians (and that includes children).

But the word is out and is spreading quickly throughout the city. Commissioners have acted and motorists need to be aware of the law when it takes effect in the next couple of months. Moreover, it wouldn’t hurt for residents to alert out-of-town friends and kin about the new rule so they can avoid getting busted when they enter the city.

Then again, the city needs to ensure that it posts adequate signage along every major highway entering Amarillo to alert motorists that they are entering a “Handheld Cellphone-Free Zone.”

The walls have ears

Mitt Romney has been bitten by that 21st-century monster called “instant telecommunication.”

You know how it works. People in public life say things intended for only a privileged few, but someone in a room has a “smart phone” with a camera and an audio recorder. He or she captures the statements of the public person, and then leaks it to the media, who then blast it all over the planet. The intent is to embarrass the public person. And boy howdy, it worked in the latest case of Romney speaking from the heart.

He told a roomful of rich campaign donors that 47 percent of the electorate will vote for President Obama no matter what he (Romney) says. They consider themselves “victims,” the GOP presidential candidate said. They believe they are “entitled” to government services and, in effect, don’t feel the need to “take responsibility” for their plight.

Thus, Romney has lumped tens of millions of Americans under a single canopy, ignoring the circumstances that might have caused many of them to seek government assistance in the first place. Bad call, Mitt, especially when you declare to the donors that you don’t really care about the 47 percent of voters who you’ve lost.

Lesson to Mitt? Every single utterance is subjected to this kind of surveillance. Romney’s response that his words were spoken “inelegantly” doesn’t cut it.

In this age of instant communication, Gov. Romney, you’d better be on your elegant best behavior at all times. Then again, these moments of candor do reveal the true makeup of what’s in a candidate’s heart.

Courage surfaces at City Hall

Courage has presented itself at Amarillo City Hall.
It came this week in the form of a 4-1 vote by the City Commission to enact a ban on handheld cellphones while operating a motor vehicle. There would be no citywide referendum to determine the pulse of the people. On this issue, the majority of commissioners decided to act unilaterally to ban an activity that is becoming much more pervasive on our city streets.
Is the ordinance a good idea? As I’ve noted already, I’ve waged war with my conscience on this one for years. But I’ve finally concluded that the city had to act.
But whether it’s a good call or a bad one, I have to applaud commissioners for taking action, and for forgoing the referendum.
We elect these individuals to make difficult decisions, even though we don’t pay them anything to do so. They get a measly $10 per meeting, giving new meaning to the term “public servant.” They actually are servants of the people.
But in this context, servants actually have a leadership role to perform. Commissioners have done so with this decision.
The city’s action contrasts with the ill-fated proposal to ban smoking indoors. Previous commissions couldn’t pull the trigger on that one, so they passed the buck to voters – who twice have voted the smoking-ban idea down. The vote, though, did relieve commissioners of the task of making a tough decision, which also is in the public interest.
There will be a grace period. Police will need time to figure out how they intend to enforce the ban on handheld cellphone use while driving. Meanwhile, motorists had better accept the idea that operating one of those gizmos while driving a car through traffic – often at high speeds – is an act of utter stupidity.
What’s more, it puts the rest of us in danger. Thus, government has fulfilled one of its key jobs, protecting the public.

Hang up and drive



Amarillo City Commissioner Jim Simms is the lone wolf on whether to ban handheld cellphone use while driving cars.

He cast the single “no” vote Tuesday on an ordinance banning the activity in the city. He said cellphones are too much a part of people’s lives to ban them in cars. I’ve been all over the pea patch on this issue.

I guess it’s good to remind Commissioner Simms that driving motor vehicles has been a part of people’s lives far longer than cellphones. In fact, driving those vehicles – even without the distractions – is a potentially dangerous activity. Adding the temptation of allowing drivers to dial up their pals on cellphones while navigating through traffic makes the activity even more dangerous.

Being a good-government kind of guy, I think I’ve actually determined that the City Commission has taken the right – and courageous – action in seeking to ban this activity.

The discussion over whether to send the issue to a vote of the people reminds me of the lack of spine commissioners exhibited over two proposals to ban smoking indoors. They couldn’t pull the trigger on what is a matter of public health. Many municipal governing bodies have acted unilaterally on that issue and they have succeeded in persuading their constituents of the correctness of their action.

With that, the cellphone ban is an example of commissioners exhibiting leadership, which is why we elect them to office in the first place.

Families vs. saving the planet

I can’t stop thinking about an idiotic applause line that Mitt Romney threw at the Republican faithful as he accepted his party’s presidential nomination in Tampa.

He chided President Obama for pledging to stem rising ocean tides and while saving the planet; then he said his first priority would be to help “American families.” The Tampa crowd roared its approval.

I’m with those who wonder how the threat of global climate change became a political punch line.

I also am among those who believe the climate is changing. I’m open to discuss the reasons for the change: manmade or a natural geological cycle that occurs every few millennia. There can be no dispute, though, over the fact that the ice caps are melting, the worldwide mean temperatures are rising, ocean levels are rising too, storm systems are becoming deadlier and more violent, and many species of God’s creatures are becoming threatened by all of it.

And let me include human beings in that final example.

Yes, that also includes American families.

Is it really and truly prudent to ignore these trends? I think not. Scientists who are a lot smarter than I am – or even smarter than Mitt Romney – keep telling us that we’re approaching the point of no return. Indeed, there may be nothing humankind can do to reverse these warming trends if you subscribe to the notion that the climate change is part of some evolutionary cycle.

But from where I sit, I consider these threats every bit as real as the persistent economic threats that endanger Americans’ way of life.

There’s nothing funny about them.

Debates: make or break, maybe

I normally don’t pay much attention to presidential debates – or joint appearances, given that they’re not really debates as I understand the term.

This year’s encounters may be different. The supposed closeness of the race between President Obama and Mitt Romney suggests the joint appearances could be decisive.

I track the RealClearPolitics poll averages daily. I see that the race is tight – if you believe the averages. I think it’s pretty close, but I sense that it’s not as close as the RCP average suggests.

The reputable polls – such as Pew, CNN and Gallup – all seem to show Obama opening up a lead of 4 to 6 points. He’s getting very close to the magic number of 50 percent in many of these surveys. Some of the more right-wing partisan polls, Rasmussen in particular, pull the gap closer.

What, then, will the debates reveal? They’ll show us which candidate is sharper on his feet. They’ll produce some sound bites, some of which might live forever: “Poland isn’t under Soviet domination,” “ There you go again,” “Are you better off now than when you were four years ago?” and, my favorite (from the 1988 VP debate), “Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine … senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”

As I’ve watched Romney and Obama trudge their way through this campaign so far, it’s clear – to me at least – that the president is the more intellectually nimble of the two.

But debate prep could be key. New York Times is reporting that Obama is a bit behind in his preparation, while Romney is ahead of schedule. And that leads to the potential of being “too prepared,” a la President Reagan in 1984, who stumbled badly in his first encounter with Walter Mondale.

Ah, but the Gipper was ready in Round Two, when he was asked, based on his earlier performance, whether he was too old to be president. “I will not make age an issue in this campaign. I will not exploit for political purposes my opponent’s youth and inexperience,” Reagan said. (Come to think of it, maybe that was my favorite political debate moment.)

This upcoming series of joint appearances could be just as much as fun as any we’ve seen in the Television Age. As for the veep debate, don’t rule out Vice President Joe Biden making the sound bite hall of fame list, for better or worse.

Looking forward to watching it.

Don’t follow Richards model

If Barack Obama were to ask me for advice on how to get re-elected — and he won’t — I’d offer this tidbit.

Do not follow the Ann Richards model in her losing 1994 bid for re-election as Texas governor.

Ann Richards was wildly popular personally while running for re-election against Republican challenger George W. Bush. But she didn’t offer a simple theme for sending her back for another four years in office.

My recollection is that Richards didn’t tell Texans what she’d do in the next four years. She spent a lot of time and verbiage trashing Dubya. She called him “some jerk.” She made fun of his lack of government experience. She campaigned all across the state with punchlines.

Dubya, meanwhile, stuck to his focused theme, which dealt with education and fiscal responsibility.

President Obama now needs to lay out specifics on how he plans to fix the economy while keeping the nation safe from terrorists. It won’t work for long for him to keep blaming President Bush’s negligence for the economic collapse of 2008 and early 2009. Many of us get that part, Mr. President.

Now, tell us how you plan to lead us into the future. And please be specific.

Diversity’s the key

Two images stick out in my mind from the Republican and Democratic national conventions.

I watched the RNC from a distance, on TV. I saw a lot of white male faces in the cheering throngs. Yes, the Republicans are seeking to reach out to ethnic minorities, trying to instill a “we feel your pain” view in their hearts. But the people closest to the action in Tampa tell a different story.  The black and brown faces in the adoring crowds were few and far between. Everyone looked like, well, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, the GOP ticket seeking to unseat President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

And what did I witness first hand at the Democratic gathering in Charlotte this past week? Something quite different.

That crowd was as throaty as the Republican throng … maybe more so. It also was much more, um, colorful.

African-Americans were everywhere at the convention hall, along the street offering help to visitors and, oh yes, in the crowd cheering the president, vice president and all who trooped to the stage to exhort the adoring faithful.

That Democratic crowd looked a lot more like the country the party seeks to govern.

We are a nation, after all, that prides itself on its diversity. Correct?

The Democrats seem to get it. The Republicans? Well, they have much more work to do.