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Come to Texas, see the world

You have to love a kid who wins a Rotary-sponsored speaking contest and then declares to a visiting newspaper editor that he wants to come to Texas and “see the world.”

Nir Lifsitz spoke to the Rotary Club of Be’er Sheva/Omarium Tuesday night about the environment and the need to protect the planet. He gave his five-minute talk in Hebrew — which, of course, was “all Greek to me.” But my Rotary host, Alon Bendet, asked me immediately after the competiton, and before the results were announced, which one I thought won. I said the young man mentioned here was the clear winner. Alon agreed.

But as we were taking a break, Nir approached me and asked me about Rotary in Texas. We visited for a few minutes. “Have you been to Texas?” I asked. “No, but I intend to come, because I want to see the world,” he answered with the same self-confidence he demonstrated in giving his talk. How do I know of his self-confidence? His body language spoke universally.

“What is the capital of Texas?” he asked. I told him Austin. “Why isn’t it Dallas?” he wondered. Well, he knew about Dallas because of the Cowboys and the Mavericks, so he figured that Dallas needed to be the capital. I reminded him that Dallas isn’t even the largest city in Texas; Houston and San Antonio are larger.

He also figures that it’s a daunting challenge for American students to learn the capitals of all 50 states. He rolled his eyes and wondered how any American kid can accomplish such a thing.

I was ashamed to admit that many of them never learn the capital of, say, South Dakota (which is Pierre, by the way).

Still, I have a hunch that the young man will knock the socks off most Texans he meets when he finally arrives.

The team has landed

Hospitality — and the warmth it delivers — is universal.

I am leading a team of young professionals on a four week journey through Israel. It is sponsored by Rotary International’s Foundation. My Rotary district, 5730, selected me to lead this team of young folks. I accepted this assignment with a full heart.

And this heart of mine nearly exploded with joy when we arrived in Tel Aviv on Sunday. The welcome we received from our Rotary hosts in Israel was overpowering. The district governor, Yael Lazarus, was on hand, along with the man who coordinated the Group Study Exchange with our district, Menashe Livnat and the the GSE team from The Netherlands that is touring Israel side by side with our team. GSE pairs Rotary districts that exchanges teams of four young professionals who will learn from their colleagues. At precisely the time we’re touring Israel, a team from that country is touring West Texas — for the same purpose.

My team comprises Katt Krause, office manager for her family’s landscape construction business in Amarillo; Aida Almaraz, a caseworker at Boys Ranch; Shirley Davis, a math prof at South Plains College in Levelland; and Fernando Valle, a professor of education at Texas Tech.

They are four outstanding individuals who have coalesced into a team. We’ll be showing our West Texas culture to our Israeli hosts throughout the next month, all the while learning about this ancient land, which of course is rich in its own history and culture.

We are staying with host families who have opened their homes to us as if we are family. “We have one rule,” Sari Bendet, our first host told us. “Our refrigerator is always open to you.” Message received, Sari.

I’ll be writing journal entries for the print edition of the Globe-News. My blog entries likely will be of a more personal nature — such as sharing thoughts about the hospitality of our hosts.

Our journey is off to a wonderful start.

I hate to pick nits, but …

I ventured to City Hall this morning to pay a bill and noticed some campaign signs sprinkled around the complex.

Signs for two Amarillo school board candidates caught my eye: Mary Faulkner and John Ben Blanchard.

Why take note of those? A little word on each of them. It said “re-elect.”

Hmmm. Faulkner and Blanchard do serve on the AISD board of trustees. They’re incumbents — having been appointed to their posts by their colleagues on the board. But they haven’t been elected to anything. Thus, the term “re-elect” smacks of, well, misrepresentation.

They’re both fine school board members. They’re smart and dedicated to the children of the school district. But they ought to know better than to suggest that voters have a chance to re-elect them a body to which neither of them has been elected in the first place.

The words “retain” or “return” are more accurate and, yes, more truthful.

What goes around …

Tom Pauken called this morning, chuckling out loud about the mini-tempest over Karl Rove’s appearance tonight at West Texas A&M University.

Pauken is a former Texas Republican Party chairman. He was controversial in his day, leading the party sharply to the right. He’s a conservative’s conservative — who has little regard for the “neocons” who dominated the administration of President George W. Bush.

Why the chuckle? Well, when Pauken was Texas GOP chair, one of his main adversaries was one Karl Rove. “He was always taking shots at me,” Pauken recalled in our conversation.

So, on this day, Rove — who made quite a few enemies while masterminding Bush’s two presidential election victories — is drawing brickbats from Democratic loyalists in the Panhandle just because he is speaking at WT’s convocation.

Pauken, meanwhile, is delivering the same kind of address this very evening up the road a bit, at Frank Phillips College in Borger. And no one’s said a word about Pauken’s appearance, even though he once was considered to be a “controversial” party chairman, even among his fellow Republicans.

We need to find a cure for amnesia.

Transparency? What transparency?

President Obama promised the most transparent administration in U.S. presidential history.

Why not, then, show us those pictures of that ill-advised fly-over in New York City?

Most of us know the story: The Boeing 747 used as Air Force One flew low over NYC for some picture-taking. The White House, the Pentagon or someone wanted to take pictures of the airplane flying over the city’s impressive skyline. In this post 9/11 world, of course, the event stirred up intense anxiety in New York.

The president said he was angry about it.

But now we learn that the fly-over cost about 300 grand — of public money. But the White House says it won’t release the pictures taken during the ridiculous demonstration.

Why not? It’s our money. We deserve to see the pictures.

It is true that in the grand scheme of things, this isn’t all that big a deal. But the president has relied heavily on symbols, first during his winning campaign and in the first months of his administration.

His refusal to release the pictures is, well, symbolic of the same old secrecy that plagued his immediate predecessor’s presidency.

Early voting still scary

OK, I did it.

I voted early today for the Amarillo City Commission. The election judges at City Hall were just as nice as those who work on Election Day. I went through the drill, again just as I do on the actual voting day.

But I’m still holding my breath, more or less, with my choices for mayor and city commissioner. The reason I like voting on the final day of balloting is because I don’t want any unpleasant surprises to erupt prior to Election Day.

At least I have a good reason. I’ll be unavailable to vote this Saturday. I had to do it early because I want my voice heard on this critical election. City Hall, of course, is where officials make decisions that have a direct, tangible impact on our lives.

But I’ll monitor the election results from afar this upcoming weekend — and hope that my candidates don’t make me regret casting my vote for them.

Now … that’s a loop

I just have returned from Midland, where I discovered yet another major West Texas city that has a highway loop that serves as, well, a loop.

It’s Loop 250 and it circles Midland across Interstate 20.

Lubbock has an honest-to-goodness loop, too. It’s Loop 289 and it circles the Hub City across Interstate 27.

How did those cities accomplish this bit of highway engineering, while Amarillo’s so-called “loop” serves as just another busy street, particularly along its western stretch, from I-40 to Hollywood Road? But, by golly, we hung the Loop 335 label on our so-called “loop” — even though it doesn’t serve as a loop the way it ostensibly was designed to do.

It will be years, if ever, before Loop 335 becomes an actual controlled-access thoroughfare that encircles Amarillo. Transportation officials, last I heard, are trying to figure out a way to extend the loop farther west. More private property will need to be purchased, or condemned.

Of course, there’s been next to zero public discussion on the rest of the 43 miles of Loop 335 that could be developed much as Soncy Road has been developed. Try getting across Soncy around 5:30 in the afternoon. You’ll grow old waiting for a break in the traffic.

Meanwhile, the potential extention of Loop 335 farther west of town looms.

Just one request here: Don’t mess with Cadillac Ranch.

Early voting looms

I’m having trouble catching my breath.

A colleague, Cheryl Berzanskis, reminded me this morning that I have to vote early for the May 9 municipal election. Why? I’ll be unavailable on Election Day. I’m finishing my preparation for an adventure that could change my life. I’ll have much more to say about that later.

But this adventure — which begins May 9 — will get in the way of my being able to vote on Election Day, which is my preferred method of ballot-casting.

Why do I prefer to vote on the final day of balloting? Well, it’s a matter of hedging my bets.

I know for whom I’ll vote for mayor and city commissioner. My fear is that I’ll vote early and then one or more of my candidates will mess up. I cannot take my vote back. It’s like trying to unhonk a horn. Once it’s cast, it’s cast forever.

I prefer instead to wait until the very last day, thus reducing dramatically — but not eliminating — the chance of casting of my vote for the wrong candidate. Yes, they still could mess up between the end of voting and the day they take the oath of office. But that’s a chance I’m willing to take.

Voting early, which the state allows to make the process more convenient for Texans, gives me the nervous jerks.

I don’t know yet if I’ll go to City Hall or to the Randall County Annex to vote early. I have to decide soon.

Then I’ll vote — and hold my breath.

Don’t you dare mess up, City Hall hopefuls.

Let’s debate

Four people — the incumbent and three challengers — want to be the next mayor of Amarillo.

Why no debate? Why haven’t the four of them worked with anyone to stage an honest-to-goodness debate among them?

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting all the candidates during this election cycle. They all have some interesting — and provocative — things to say about how they would govern the city. Their ideas won’t be exposed in a broad public forum for all the residents to hear, to digest and to determine for whom to vote — if they decide to vote at all.

This is a shortcoming in the city’s political infrastructure. We seem to lack an organized, non-partisan framework to facilitate these kinds of activities. The League of Women Voters plays host to a candidate forum every other year in Amarillo. This year, the Potter-Randall Democratic Club also is lending its support to a forum for all city commission and mayoral candidates.

But I’m up for a knock-down debate (in a figurative sense, of course) in which the candidates question each other, put their feet to the fire and make them explain how they would govern. We’ve had plenty of controversy at City Hall since the latest election: red-light cameras, a downtown tax-revenue reinvestment policy, the simmering feelings about the at-large voting plan for the commission, the on-going controversy over whether to ban smoking indoors and maybe some other things I can’t think of right at this moment.

Isn’t it time we had a debate that drew the attention of a sleepy voting public? Maybe one or more of the candidates would say something silly, downright stupid, or come up with the most brilliant idea anyone’s ever heard.

Alas, it won’t happen this year. Maybe in 2011.

Once more, with conviction

I am about to scream.

The other day, I received a submission from an occasional contributor to the Opinion page. She lives in Amarillo. Her submission wasn’t very good. She wanted me to give her space for a guest column. I declined, and suggested she condense it to a letter-length submission (around 200 words).

Then I received this response from her: “Other conservatives told me you would not print it, as it is contrary to your viewpoint, so I am not surprised.”

I responded with this note: “Your friends are wrong … If you would just read the letters and columns we do run, you wouldn’t say such a thing. Nor would they. We present all points of view. We present many … conservative columnists: Krauthammer, Goldberg, Williams, O’Reilly, Malkin, Parker every single week. I would be derelict in my duty if I limited … commentary to just those with which I agree.”

And, of course, I didn’t mention the conservative local contributors who take time to write letters to the editor.

I wear at least a couple of hats here. I get to write opinions; some are published over my own name, while most appear as editorials that speak for the newspaper. I also am a gatekeeper of all the other opinions that fly in over the transom each day. I strive daily to provide a balance of opinion — from the left and the right. My lefty friends say I’m descended from Attila the Hun; my righty friends call me a Commie Pinko. I figure, given the breadth of criticism, that I’m doing my job.

Mission accomplished.