Vlad calls Barack to talk diplomacy

Why do you suppose Vladimir Putin called Barack Obama today to talk about diplomacy?

As in finding a diplomatic solution to the Ukraine crisis, the one instigated when Russia sent troops to Crimea and massed tens of thousands of troops on its border with Ukraine — after Ukraine ousted its pro-Russian president?


What do you suppose is going on here?

It might be that those economic sanctions, the ones that President Obama’s critics said were mere pin pricks in the hide of the old Russian bear are beginning to take their toll. It also might be that the European Union’s threat of political isolation and NATO’s insistence that any further military action will not be tolerated by the Western European alliance.

Tough guy Vladimir Putin, the former KGB spook in chief turned Russian president, called the president of the United States today to talk about a diplomatic solution to this crisis. The two leaders agreed to have their countries’ chief foreign emissaries — Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov — meet soon to begin hammering out a solution.

The targeted sanctions have begun taking a serious bite out of some key Russian backsides. President Obama has vowed deeper, more sweeping measures if the Russians escalated their encroachment even more. To date, the sanctions have involved freezing access to cash for some of Russia’s key money men and political insiders.

Obama has made the point repeatedly in recent days that Russia has acted against Ukraine out of weakness, not strength. He’s insulted Putin by referring to Russia as a “regional power” not worthy of consideration by this country as a major geopolitical foe. Russia has been kicked out of the G-8 conference of industrialized nations and has seen the next economic summit pulled from Sochi, Russia and relocated to Brussels, Belgium.

He’s now willing to talk about a diplomatic solution.

Methinks those “toothless sanctions” have grown some fangs.

Public records access not so cut-and-dried

This one baffles me.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, is saying that attempts to secure release of public records relating to her travel expenses while serving as governor violate the U.S. Constitution.


News organizations in New Mexico have been trying for some time to obtain those records because of questions raised about expenses incurred by Martinez’s staff and family members. They contend the governor is violating the state public information act by refusing the release the records.

Here’s how the Santa Fe New Mexican reported the matter this week: “One of the AP’s lawsuits, against Martinez and the Department of Finance and Administration, was over the wire service’s request for copies of Martinez’s work calendars, including travel for political purposes and personal matters. The suit claims the administration provided copies of cellphone logs for the governor and her staff but redacted phone numbers.

“The other suit, against the departments of Public Safety and Finance and Administration, is about a request for expense reports and receipts filed by Martinez’s security detail. Part of the request was for time sheets and other documents indicating when and why officers filed for overtime pay in months leading up to the 2012 presidential election. But the agencies released only aggregate tallies of expenses and overtime.”

Martinez is countering that the U.S. Constitution’s “supremacy clause” supersedes state law and makes the requests for public information, well, invalid.

The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government is understandably — and correctly — upset with Martinez’s claims of constitutional protection against releasing these documents. Susan Boe, head of the FOG, said this: “No court has ever held that IPRA (Inspection of Public Records Act), which is a straightforward access-to-records statute, violates the state or federal constitutions or separation-of-powers principles. We do not believe that any constitutional analysis is required in this case. The only issue is whether IPRA allows the records to be withheld from the public, and we believe that it does not.”

The Associated Press has filed suit to obtain the records, along with various other New Mexico media outlets. So far their efforts have been futile.

I guess the question ought to be this: If the governor has nothing to hide, nothing to keep from public inspection, why doesn’t she just release the records as requested under a clearly defined and legally binding state law, such as IRPA?

Something stinks in Santa Fe.

War hero departs

A hero has just left this world. I want to call attention briefly to what this man did during a terrible time of duress.

Jeremiah Denton was captured by North Vietnam during the Vietnam War. He was a Navy aviator who was shot down over Hanoi in 1965. In 1966, the North Vietnamese put him on television supposedly to tell the world of his “war crimes.” They sought to use him as a propaganda tool.

But Denton instead blinked out the word “torture” in Morse code, informing the world of what his captors were doing to him and his fellow prisoners of war. Denton would spend several years in solitary confinement at the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” encampment.


I wonder how it is that some individuals have the presence of mind under such terrible circumstances to do something creative and meaningful.

Young Jeremiah Denton showed the world how a hero can resist his foes and inform his allies far away of the terrible circumstances of a captivity that should have been conducted under the rules of war.

Denton served more than seven years as a war prisoner. He came out in 1973 along with many other young men. He went on to serve Alabama as a Republican U.S. senator.

Denton, who died today at age 89, spoke with simple eloquence when he stepped off the plane in 1973 upon his release from captivity. He was the senior U.S. officer aboard the aircraft that flew him and his comrades to the Philippines. Denton said, “We are honored to have had the opportunity to serve our country under difficult circumstances. We are profoundly grateful to our commander-in-chief and to our nation for this day. God bless America.”

A nation is grateful for this man’s service.

Ted Cruz works for me, too

“I don’t work for the Party bosses in Washington, I work for 26 million Texans.” – Cruz

The above quote was tweeted this morning by the Heritage Foundation, perhaps the nation’s pre-eminent conservative think tank.

The “Cruz” at the end of the tweet is none other than U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who spoke to Heritage today. I caught a little bit of his remarks in which he criticized President Obama for saying at the State of the Union that if Congress doesn’t act on some legislation, “I will.” Cruz noted that Democrats stood and cheered the president. Cruz compared the moment to something out of Alice in Wonderland.

OK, back to the tweet.

He works for Texans, not party bosses. I admire that statement. He does work for us. A majority of Texans who voted in November 2012 elected Cruz to the Senate seat held formerly by another Republican, Kay Bailey Hutchison who, I feel compelled to add, served in a manner that bore no resemblance to the way Cruz has served his bosses back home. Hutchison managed to work quite well with Democrats. As a Republican moderate, Hutchison didn’t feel the need to appeal to the base of her party. She knew that legislating requires compromise.

Yep, Cruz works for all Texans, not just those who voted for him. I was part of the minority of voters who in November 2012 cast a ballot for Democrat Paul Sadler. That doesn’t mean I disavow Cruz’s election. I honor it. However, I expect my elected representatives in Congress to honor my wishes too.

I support the Affordable Care Act. I do not want Congress to threaten to throw this nation into default by reneging on our debt obligations. I support the president’s response to Russian aggression in Ukraine. I believe the president has been measured, nuanced and careful in conducting foreign policy. I favor comprehensive immigration reform. I believe long-term unemployed Americans deserve some help from the government as they look for jobs.

There’s more, but you get the idea. I take positions opposite of where Cruz stands. I am not alone, either.

He works for millions of Texans who oppose his world view. Those of us on the other side of the fence deserve to have our voices heard by our congressional delegation. That includes Sen. Cruz.

I understand the concept of majority rule. That doesn’t mean, though, that the minority is shut out completely. Sen. Cruz acts very much as though he’s listening only to those who agree with him.

He works for 26 millions Texans, not just some of us.

GOP getting unhappy over IRS probe

Might there be some restiveness brewing within Republican congressional ranks?

It appears, according to Politico.com, that some GOP members of Congress are getting a bit tired of the incessant probing, questioning and spending of taxpayer money over a controversy that seems to have run out of steam.


You remember the Internal Revenue Service “scandal” that boiled up nearly a year ago when it was learned that the most loathed agency in the federal government was vetting conservative political action groups’ request for tax-exempt status? Remember when all that broke?

It was considered a big deal because some folks feared that the IRS got its marching orders from the White House, perhaps from within the Oval Office itself. Heck, maybe the president himself awoke in the wee hours one morning, picked up the phone and called the IRS himself and ordered the agency to stick it to those right-wingers, correct?

Well, none of that seems to have happened. Instead, the IRS acted apparently as it is charged to do — with liberal and conservative groups alike — and vetted tea party groups carefully to ensure that they didn’t violate federal tax status laws. Investigators have determined that all decisions reportedly were made by field office personnel; they were not mandated by White House directives.

None of that has satisfied House Government Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who keeps beating the drum looking for something — anything! — that ties this controversy to President Obama’s shirt tail.

It turns out some of his GOP colleagues — not to mention Democratic House members — are getting weary of it.

“There is a perception that if your case is rock-solid, it doesn’t need months to sort it out,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who is considered a probable successor to Issa as chairman, given that Issa is being term-limited out of the chairman’s seat at the end of the current Congress.

The case has been far from rock-solid. In fact, it has been shown to be mushy soft and full of holes.

Let’s get off this one, Mr. Chairman, and get back to legislating — which is what we pay our lawmakers to do.

Immigration reform is essential

Vice President Joe Biden is mostly right when he declares that undocumented immigrants “are Americans already.”

He told the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce that all they want to is to become integrated fully in American society. That’s why he supports immigration reform.


I, too, want immigration reform.

I want it especially for a specific category of illegal immigrants: those who were brought to this country when they were children by parents who sneaked in under the radar — and who have grown up, come of age and established their lives as full-blown Americans.

Those are the innocent victims in this debate over how and whether to enact serious reform of our immigration policies.

The effort contains a lot of provisions. One of them is an idea supported, believe it or not, by the likes of Republicans George W. Bush and Rick Perry, two Texas governors who know up close how difficult it is for these quasi-Americans to live in the shadows.

Perry has been criticized unfairly by the tea party/nut-job wing of his party for recognizing that immigrants who are technically hear illegally have assimilated into American culture and deserve to live as Americans openly.

I remain hopeful that Congress eventually will do right by those who want to become Americans by giving them the so-called “pathway to citizenship” contained in the immigration overhaul that is awaiting full congressional approval.

Do I predict it will happen? Not on your life. Eternal optimist that I am, my hope does spring eternal.

Christie clears himself of wrongdoing

This just in: A team of lawyers with close ties to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says the governor didn’t do anything wrong in the infamous closure of George Washington Bridge lanes.

Who knew?


I have an idea. It’s worked before in other controversies that turned into scandals.

Why not hire a real, honest-to-goodness independent special prosecutor to look deeply into this matter?

A brief background: Someone reportedly ordered the closure of several lanes on the world’s busiest bridge in 2013 after the Fort Lee, N.J. mayor, a Democrat, refused to endorse the re-election bid by Christie, a Republican. The traffic tie-up caused incredible havoc on the bridge. Democrats accused Christie of getting back at the mayor. Republicans say that’s so much bunk. Christie has said from the beginning he had no advance knowledge of the closure. Others have said he is covering up what he knew and when he knew it.

The law firm that did this probe didn’t interview some key principals in the matter, such as former deputy Christie chief of staff Bridget Kelly who sent out the infamous email that said it was “time for some traffic problems” on the GW bridge.

Hey, a special prosecutor should be turned loose on this matter.

Do the names Leon Jaworski and Ken Starr ring any bells for you. Jaworski was the special prosecutor who probed the cover-up of the Watergate scandal that eventually brought down the presidency of Richard Nixon. And Starr? He was picked to investigate something called “Whitewater” during the Clinton presidency and his investigation ended up revealing a tawdry sexual affair involving the president and a young White House intern; President Clinton was impeached as a result, tried in the Senate and acquitted of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

President Nixon didn’t know about the Watergate break-in in advance. The cover-up did him in.

This so-called “investigation” of Gov. Christie’s alleged role in the bridge-lane closure doesn’t even come close to putting an end to this story.

Bring in an independent counsel and let’s get some real answers.

Congressman rewrites loser's text

An Iowa congressman running for a U.S. Senate seat in the Hawkeye State has just written a new chapter in the textbook explaining how one can blunder his way into a losing political campaign.

You denigrate your opponent’s history as and say that what Congress needs is another lawyer in its midst.

Rep. Bruce Braley is a Democratic congressman seeking to succeed incumbent Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley.

He was overheard telling this to some Texas trial lawyers at a Democratic Party fundraiser: “If you help me win this race, you may have someone with your background, your experience, your voice, someone who’s been literally fighting tort reform for 30 years, in a visible or public way, on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Or you might have a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school, never practiced law, serving as the next chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Because, if Democrats lose the majority, Chuck Grassley will be the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.”



Granted, Braley’s remarks were targeted toward a specific constituency — like-minded lawyers who want one of their own in the Senate — but he apparently forgot how viral some of these statements can get when they’re overheard and sent out over that vast expanse called the Internet.

He apologized immediately to Grassley. I suspect the damage is done and it well might be irreparable.

Iowa has become an increasingly “purple” state that has voted Democratic in the past seven presidential elections. It has elected progressive senators, such as Tom Harkin, who is retiring from the Senate at the end of the year.

Bruce Braley wants to ascend to Harkin’s seat. He won’t get there if he suggests that farming is somehow less important than practicing law. Someone ought to show him all that cultivated land in his home state.

College student-athletes may unionize

College athletic tradition has just taken a serious — and potentially devastating — punch in the gut.

Call me a fuddy-duddy. That’s OK. I’ll admit to being such where it regards college athletics. A ruling out of Chicago is potentially quite disturbing — to me, at least.

A National Labor Relations Board hearings officer has ruled that Northwestern University student-athletes are employees of the school and therefore should be allowed to form a union if they so desire.


This might open the door eventually to paying student-athletes real money — above board and over the table, instead of under it … allegedly — to play college sports.

Let’s not overstate the immediate impact of this NLRB decision. It’s only a highly preliminary action. The full NLRB board must consider it. The full board might think differently. If it does, you can rest assured the student-athletes who have sued for the right to unionize will appeal it to the federal judicial system. If the NLRB upholds this decision, then look for colleges and universities to file a counter-claim that also will wind its way through the court system.

I get all the arguments in favor of allowing unionization for student-athletes. They do make money for the school they are attending. Did Heisman Trophy winner Johnny “Football” Manziel bring a few extra fans to Kyle Stadium when he played for Texas A&M University? You bet he did.

He also was getting a fully paid college education in the process. His football talent enabled him to win a full-ride scholarship to one of the better schools in the world. Sure, I get that he well might not have taken his classroom obligation as seriously as his football obligation. He wouldn’t be the first student-athlete to, um, forget to crack the textbook while burning the midnight oil studying the playbook.

Manziel is just one example out of many hundreds across the country.

This decision well could change fundamentally the way we view college athletics and those who participate in them.

It makes me seriously uncomfortable to think that these young men and women could well become professionals before they turn pro.

Revisiting Potter County judge contest

Indulge me for a moment, maybe two, as I look back to the March 4 Republican Party primary race for Potter County judge.

I ran into a long-time acquaintance the other morning. We talked about the contest and we asked each other whether we were happy with the outcome. I was, given that Nancy Tanner won the election outright in a five-candidate field; she’ll take office in January, given that there are no Democrats on the ballot this fall.

My pal wasn’t so sure about it. We both live in Randall County, so neither of us had a vote to cast in that contest. We both know all the contestants, some better than others.

He said something curious. He didn’t think Tanner was necessarily the right pick, even though she worked for 20 years as County Judge Arthur Ware’s administrative assistant and for a couple of years assumed many of the actual duties of judge as Ware has tried to recover from a devastating stroke.

Ware fired Tanner from her job this past year for reasons he hasn’t yet explained.

I asked my friend: Why not support Tanner’s election?

It would be like asking the city secretary to take over as mayor of Amarillo, he said. I responded, “Huh?”

The city secretary is a capable individual — who succeeded another highly capable person at that City Hall post. The secretary, my pal said, is capable of doing all the administrative functions, but she isn’t necessarily a leader.

Thus, he contends, Tanner is succeeding to a post where she hasn’t demonstrated any leadership qualities.

Well, I differed with my friend — as I do on most political matters. I consider him a contrarian; he likely thinks the same of me.

I’ll just go on believing that Potter County Republicans chose wisely when they elected Tanner with a 50.5 percent majority. She’s done the job already. She knows the players. She understands county government. She’s experienced, highly qualified, understands the intricacies of probate law and mental health commitments.

The leadership part? I am confident Nancy Tanner will show her mettle.