GOP losing PR battle

Good politics usually results in good public relations, and vice versa – which is what congressional Republicans are learning the hard way in their ongoing battle with the White House over sequestration.

Whether all of this will result in good policy remains to be seen. But for the moment, as we hurtle toward the March 1 deadline when sequestration of the federal budget kicks in, it looks as though the Democratic president, Barack Obama, is cleaning his GOP foes’ clocks once again.

Republicans aren’t learning the lessons of the November 2012 election, which is that voters rejected their ideas in favor of the president’s. As the distinguished columnist Roger Simon noted the other day, the GOP has fallen into the classic insanity trap of doing the same thing repeatedly while hoping for a different result.

Ain’t gonna happen, folks.

If sequestration occurs – resulting in massive across-the-board budget cuts in virtually federal programs – a lot of folks are going to lose their jobs and a lot more Americans are going to suffer the loss of government services they want and on which they depend. Who’ll get the blame? Congressional Republicans who are being led by their noses by the extreme elements of their party who care little about what government can do for people. Their aim is to cut government spending no matter what.

It’ll happen all right if sequestration kicks in. But the cost could be catastrophic to rank-and-file Americans – such as yours truly – who are going to see their retirement investments take a dive when the stock market reacts badly to the sequestration. No one will be happy about that result.

Meanwhile, the president continues to stick it to his adversaries by blaming them for the lack of a deal to prevent the budget cuts from occurring. Congress enacted the sequestration law in 2011 as a way to deter this kind of brinksmanship from recurring. Instead, it’s becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

And why is that? Because Capitol Hill has been overrun by political lunatics.

Inaccuracies spotted in short order

Texas public school textbooks are more than likely full of factual errors.

OK, I am acutely aware that teachers and parents all across the state are aware of it. But what’s interesting to me, and why I’m commenting on it today, was the speed with which I detected two errors in an Amarillo Independent School District high school textbook. I found them within minutes during a casual browse through a particular book.

I was pulling a shift today as a substitute teacher and had a break from classroom work, as students had gone to a pep rally at Caprock High School. The text, published by a British publishing company, chronicled some of the most influential speeches in world history.

Two errors jumped out at me.

One speech noted in the textbook was the last entry, remarks delivered on Sept. 11, 2001 by President George W. Bush to a nation reeling from the shock of the terrorist attacks earlier that day. The background information contained a reference to Bush being “nominated” for president by the Republican Party in June 1999. Wrong date and month. The GOP convention nominated the Texas governor in August 2000. Bush did announce his candidacy for president in June 1999, which I guess the British publisher thought was tantamount to nomination. Someone needed to do their homework on that one.

The second error was a bit more nuanced, but only slightly so. And it’s also more egregious.

Another historical figure highlighted was Vaclav Havel, the former president of Czechoslovakia. Havel was a playwright and dissident before being elected president in February 1993, after the fall of the communists who had ruled the country since the end of World War II. But the textbook made an erroneous reference to when the Soviet Union took control of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Wrong. The summer of 1968 marked a bloody uprising by dissidents in that country against the communist hardline leaders and the Soviet Union sent tanks and troops into the country to quell the rebellion, just as it had done a dozen years earlier in Hungary.

I mention these two errors only to illustrate the ease with which little ol’ me found these mistakes and to wonder aloud how many other textbooks fill public school libraries all across Amarillo – and Texas – with such mistakes. This is part of what we’re using to educate our children.

Can’t we do better?

Obstruction is so unbecoming

I’ve always detested obstructionism in government.

But watching some U.S. senators try to flex their flaccid muscles while fighting against the next defense secretary, my feelings are incher closer to pure hatred … not of the people who do it, mind you, just the act itself.

Although I hold the obstructionists in very low regard as well.

Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla,, has emerged as the latest obstructionist in chief. He is lobbying his colleagues to vote against a procedure that would bring the nomination of Defense Secretary-designate Chuck Hagel to a vote of the full Senate.

President Obama reached across the aisle to pick Hagel, a former GOP senator from Nebraska – and a decorated Vietnam War combat veteran – as the new Pentagon boss. But he’s drawn not-so-friendly fire from – get this – Republican senators. I guess that’s not surprising, given that the president is a dreaded Democrat and Hagel is, well, apparently a turncoat in the eyes of his former colleagues and friends.

Inhofe is sending a “Dear Colleague” letter to his colleagues asking them to vote “no” on cloture, the procedure that would end the so-called filibuster against Hagel. Inhofe is bucking at least two key Republican senators, John McCain and Lindsay Graham, who argued fiercely against Hagel in committee confirmation hearings only to relent and say they’ll vote to move the nomination forward.

But Inhofe is hanging tough, apparently joining with other obstructionists – among them being Texas’ newly minted loudmouth, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz – in opposing Hagel to the bitter end.

There once was a time when the term “loyal opposition” carried a kind of positive aura. Not these days. And it’s especially unbecoming when we see the politicization of an office – secretary of defense – that should stand far above this brand of cheap partisan petulance.

Nothing good happens in the wee hours

Maybe it’s a function of my age.

The older I get, the more old-fashioned I become. And that perhaps explains why I favor the Amarillo City Commission re-upping its teen curfew ordinance for another three years. The reinstatement appears to be a fait accompli, and commissioners will conduct a second public hearing on the ordinance before enacting it.

Curfews are a time-honored way of helping parents police their children’s behavior. The Amarillo ordinance prohibits kids younger than 17 years of age from being out between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m. – with exceptions, of course. Those exceptions include whether the kid is going to or from work, or they have to be in the company of a responsible adult.

Back in the “olden days” we had curfews in my hometown. My parents knew what the city required and made sure I didn’t break the law. The same principle applies today, correct?

The major difference between then and now is the growing absence of strong two-parent families. And that gives the city more authority to act because parents can’t – or won’t – force their children to stay home in wee hours of the night.

It’s interesting to me as well that the city heard no comments from anyone on the ordinance during its first public hearing on the matter.

And as has been said so many times, nothing good rarely – if ever – happens on city streets after midnight.

Where are the pro-camera forces?

It’s become almost a truism that those who are against something are more fervent in their opposition than those who support something.

I present you Exhibit A: the petition to get Amarillo City Hall to rescind its red-light camera ordinance. I’ll reiterate something I’ve stated already, which is that I do not believe the “aginners” comprise a majority of the city’s 200,000 residents. But here they are, traipsing around the city trying to get enough signatures to persuade the City Commission to take back its decision to deploy the cameras at dangerous intersections.

And this prompts the question: Why aren’t there petitioners mustering signatures from those who support the cameras? I think I know the answer. It’s because those who support the cameras aren’t motivated enough to get off their duffs and make their case as publicly as those who oppose them.

It’s human nature. It’s the way we’re wired. There must be some genetic disposition at work here.

I truly hope the city stands by its principles on this one. The cameras were installed during the Debra McCartt mayoral era at City Hall. McCartt was adamant that the cameras would protect motorists by snapping pictures of violators running through red lights. The city writes up a ticket, sends the owner of the offending vehicle a citation in the mail and orders the owner to pay up or else. McCartt left office in 2011 and her successor, Paul Harpole, to his great credit has kept the momentum going forward. The commission recently decided to expand its deployment to three more intersections.

I know that somewhere are motivated individuals – such as those who live near where the cameras are working – who feel strongly enough about them to launch a counter-offensive against those who want them removed.

Time to get busy, folks.

Stand your ground, commissioners

Amarillo city commissioners are getting pressure from petitioners seeking repeal of an important city ordinance.

They should resist this call.

At issue is whether to keep the ordinance that enabled the city to install cameras at intersections to catch those who run through red lights. The city deployed cameras at six intersections initially, then voted to expand the deployment to three more. The concept is a simple one: The cameras photograph the license plates of the offending vehicles and the city then sends citations to the owners of the vehicles, who then can pay the fine or appeal the citation to the municipal court. If they win, they don’t pay; if they lose they pay up.

I’m still struggling with the logic behind the complaints, which I think are overstated, meaning I don’t believe a majority of Amarillo motorists object to the cameras – and honestly, I question whether the complainers comprise even a significant minority of Amarillo residents.

The petitioners are saying the city should hire more traffic police rather than relying on machinery to catch offending motorists. Are those petitioners then willing to pay more tax money for the cops? Do they have any idea how expensive it would be to station enough traffic police around the city stem this tide of red-light running?

Of course the complaints have run the full range of ridiculousness: the cameras invade motorists’ privacy; the cameras are just to make money for the city; offenders want to face a human accuser instead of a camera.

The cameras have worked. They have generated revenue for the city to spend on traffic improvements, which state law requires. They also have helped deter red-light runners who are aware of the presence of the cameras, given that the city must post warning signs at every intersection where it has deployed the cameras. They have prevented potentially serious auto accidents.

The best answer to the complaints is one that’s been given already by city commissioners and traffic officials, but it deserves to be repeated here: If you don’t like the cameras, then obey the law, don’t run the red lights and you have nothing to worry about.

No need for teachers to lock ‘n load

Amarillo-area public school officials are taking the reasoned approach to dealing with gun violence.

They don’t plan to arm school personnel with firearms. I applaud them.

Gun violence has taken center stage in recent weeks. The heartache in Newtown, Conn., has become the nation’s heartache. Twenty first-graders died in a massacre brought to them by a deranged teenager, who also killed six teachers who tried to protect the kids against the madman.

The reaction to that terrible event from public institutions and individuals has been varied and at times a bit overheated. But I’m glad that Amarillo metro-area school officials are taking a measured approach to protecting our children.

Their response is quite different from what Childress school officials’ decision to arm certain personnel and keep firearms locked up in “secure locations” on school campuses. I wish them the very best luck in ensuring that they train their personnel adequately so that they don’t make a tragic mistake in the event they need to unlock the weaponry.

Amarillo Independent School District Superintendent Rod Schroder said this week the district is “actively reviewing our security procedures.” That active review must be comprehensive, but it need not include putting more firearms in school buildings.

One option might be what’s been done for years in Dumas: creation of a school district police department.

I won’t pretend to have the answers to the gun violence problem. One proposed “solution” that does concern me is the notion of putting more guns in school.

How do you define ‘cheating’?

Former Republican South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford says he never “cheated taxpayers,” but did admit to some grievous personal mistakes.

He wants to represent the state in Congress once again and is seeking the House seat he held before he was elected governor. But then his personal life took a bizarre turn in 2009 and his career ended.

Sanford’s declaration that he never “cheated taxpayers” needs some examination. Allow me this shot at analysis:

Look at the record. Over Fathers Day Weekend 2009, it was revealed that Sanford’s office staff put out word that the governor was “hiking on the Appalachian Trail.” Oops, turns out he wasn’t doing that at all. The married governor instead was in Argentina engaging in a romantic rendezvous with his Latin American girlfriend. Thus, the governor, who had duped the public into thinking he was doing one thing in fact was doing something quite different many thousands of miles away. And he was getting paid with public money to do it.

Therefore, I submit, that constitutes “cheating taxpayers.”

I will stipulate that Sanford didn’t embezzle money. He didn’t dip into the till. He didn’t make private investments with the public’s money. He didn’t spend state sales tax revenue on some personal gambling habit.

But the deceit associated with his South American frolic when he supposedly was clearing his head in the cool Appalachian Mountains air amounts to cheating Palmetto State taxpayers.

Sanford needs to roll out another strategy in his quest for political redemption.

Nix Confederate memorial idea

The Beaumont Enterprise, where I used to work so very long ago, has taken the appropriate stance on an idea to erect a Confederate memorial alongside Interstate 10 in Orange County, Texas.

The paper is against it. Good going, folks.

Orange County is the southeastern-most entry point into Texas from points east. I-10, one of the busiest highways in the United States, carrying many thousands of vehicles daily from Cajun Country into the Lone Star State.

The paper’s view is that the Confederate memorial reminds the vast majority of Americans of the bloodiest war in U.S. history, when more than 600,000 Americans died on battlefields throughout the eastern half of the country.

And, as the paper noted, the memorial would be placed in a location where many political leaders are trying to re-brand their image. Namely, many conservatives are finding themselves being labeled with names such as “intolerant,” “divisive,” “out of touch” and, yes, even “racist.”

Are any of these labels true? That depends on who defines them. One undeniable truth is that national attitudes and outlooks are changing among many millions of people.

Placing a statue honoring the Confederacy, which comprised states that pulled out of the Union because of disputes ostensibly over “states’ rights” – and which many historians have said actually meant the right to enslave human beings – would be offensive on its face to the vast majority of Americans.

And I have witnessed racism at a ghastly level. Where? In Orange County, Texas.

Nix the Confederate memorial idea.

Sanford’s first campaign ad: a doozy

Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford wants to serve in the House of Reps once again and he’s released the first of the campaign to win back his old House seat.

Here it is:

He tacitly admits to making “mistakes.” Well, he made a major blunder on two horrendous levels. One was that he cheated on his wife, with whom he took a sacred vow not to do for as long as they both shall live. The second mistake was lying to the world about where he was over Father’s Day Weekend 2009. His staff said he was hiking along the Appalachian Trail when in fact he was in Argentina frolicking with his girlfriend.

Did he instruct his staff to lie or did he just lie to them and force them tell falsehoods unknowingly? It doesn’t matter. The man duped the public.

Michelle Malkin, one of the nation’s more fiery conservative columnists, tweeted today that Sanford “makes me want to throw up.” He treats his “adultery and humiliation of his family like a typo,” Malkin said in her tweet.

Malkin is justified in her nausea. Sanford made far more than a simple “mistake.” And now, in this TV ad, he invokes God’s grace and benevolence as a tool to cultivate votes. “We all make mistakes,” Sanford says in the ad. No, Mark, we don’t … not like that.

Sanford makes me sick, too.