Creationism has no place in classroom

Paul Burka is absolutely correct in criticizing the four Republican candidates for Texas lieutenant governor and their insistence that creationism should be taught in Texas public schools.

http://www.texasmonthly.com/burka-blog/last-call-candidates-lieutenant-governor

The Texas Monthly editor/blogger took note of their “genuflection” to religious doctrine and said quite correctly that the biblical version of Earth’s creation should be caught in church.

It’s long bothered me that some have held creationism — which essentially is scripture’s version of the world’s beginning as told in the Book of Genesis — on the same level as evolution. One of my former journalism colleagues is fond of referring to evolution as a “theory” in the same vein as creationism. Well, it isn’t.

Yes, evolution is a “theory” but it is substantiated by mountains of scientific data that suggests that the planet was created over billions of years. Paleontologists have uncovered countless fossil remains of prehistoric creatures that aren’t mentioned in the Bible. T-Rex et al aren’t in the Good Book, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t exist.

I won’t go on and on about evolution.

Nor will I say the Bible is incorrect. I happen to believe in both notions, that evolution and creationism aren’t mutually exclusive.

I also happen to believe that one of them should be taught in school, the other one should be taught in church.

One is based on science. The other is based on faith.

I just wish the four Republicans who want to be our next lieutenant governor would understand that as well.

Grandbaby officially set to start motoring

This flash arrived yesterday from Allen, Texas: Emma Nicole has taken her first step.

OK, you’re asking: What’s the big deal? Emma happens to be our granddaughter, courtesy of our son and daughter-in-law. She lives about six hours away just north of Dallas.

It pains me that we cannot be there to watch her take off like a sprinter now that she’s officially on her feet. We’ll get there soon enough.

Emma happens to be about one week shy of turning 11 months of age. Depending on who’s telling you this, she’s either (a) getting on her feet quickly or (b) is starting to walk at just about the right age.

Indeed, it’s been a long time since my wife and I have welcomed this kind of news. It’s been about, oh, 38 years, which is about the time the younger of our two sons — Emma’s daddy — pulled himself up off the floor and started motoring through the house.

My wife and I have laughed over many years about how our sons managed this feat. They did it differently, which goes to illustrate how different they are temperamentally. Son No. 1 just hoisted himself off the deck and started walking, then running — quickly. Son No. 2 would stand, take a step and then plop down on his padded rear end; we would laugh, making him laugh and then he would do the same thing repeatedly.

That was so long ago, but the memories are burned indelibly into our minds. Kids have a way of doing that, yes?

Time will tell — and probably quite soon — just how little Emma is going to proceed from here. I do know that life will not be the same for her parents or her two much older brothers, who have been as wonderful and doting on their little sister as one can possibly imagine.

I’ll offer this word of advice to those two fine young men: Stay on your toes, boys. You’ll now need to be alert every waking minute of every day for as long as little Emma is nearby.

I offer the same advice to her parents.

This is a game-changer. Bring it, little girl.

Italian court makes mockery of itself

Amanda Knox is living in Seattle, while a court in far-off Florence, Italy, has reaffirmed a murder conviction — from which another Italian court had acquitted her.

Many of us know the story of the young woman dubbed “Foxy Knoxy” by the British tabloids. She and her former boyfriend were convicted of murdering Knox’s roommate in 2007. The case drew international attention and became the stuff of tabloids all around the world.

A court then overturned her conviction in 2011. She came back to the United States.

http://www.dallasnews.com/news/local-news/20140130-amanda-knox-s-murder-conviction-upheld-on-appeal.ece

Prosecutors decided to appeal the acquittal and today then won.

I am left to wonder: To what end?

They aren’t likely to extradite Knox back to Italy. She’ll stay in this country and won’t serve any time for a crime from which an Italian court already has acquitted her.

I am acutely aware that Italian justice doesn’t resemble the U.S. judicial system — which prohibits a criminal defendant from being re-tried for the same crime. If Knox’s case had been heard in this country, her acquittal would stand forever.

Whatever happens in this case, the Italians look ridiculous in pursuing this case. It’s not a laughing matter, given that we’re talking about a case involving someone’s death.

This court decision, though, borders on the preposterous.

Hope for best, plan for worst

It’s been hysterical the past two days watching Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed try to explain their way out of an embarrassing lack of preparation for a storm they knew could be coming.

Georgia and much of the Deep South have been clobbered by a rare snow and ice storm. The traffic crisis in Atlanta appeared to especially acute, with cars jamming freeways, trucks jackknifing everywhere, vehicles crashing — and with virtually zero public works crews responding with assistance.

The city and the state were caught flat-footed.

Gov. Deal said local weather forecasters told him the National Weather Service was wrong in its prediction of seriously inclement weather. He went with the locals. Mayor Reed said much the same thing, that the locals knew best about what to expect.

Well, now they’ve been quite chastened by their constituents for failing to heed the warnings from the NWS, which didn’t exactly predict such a storm would occur, but said that it could happen.

Those of us in the Texas Panhandle know how difficult it is to predict the weather, given its volatile nature and its sudden changes in fortune.

Deal today did apologize to Georgia residents for the state’s failure to respond. For that he deserves a pat on the back.

Still, it seems odd that the state’s elected officials — namely the governor and the mayor of Georgia’s largest city and the home of its state government — wouldn’t react to what they were told might occur.

You hope for the best but plan for the worst.

Ready for court fight, Mr. President?

The overheated and inflated response of congressional Republicans to President Obama’s vow to use executive authority to move issues forward would make you think the president is imposing some brand of imperial law on the country.

It’s not happening.

http://thehill.com/homenews/senate/196745-see-you-in-court-says-gop

The sound had barely been turned off in the House of Representatives chamber after Obama’s State of the Union speech Tuesday night before we heard GOP lawmakers proclaiming the president was overstepping his constitutional authority, was trying to crown himself King Barack the First or seeking to render Congress totally irrelevant.

Give … me … a … bleeping … break.

Barack Obama’s use of executive orders is but a fraction of its use by many of his predecessors. He’s acted in such a manner less frequently than President George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan, two heroes of the GOP right/far-right wing.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., believes Obama is abusing “the intent of the Constitution.” Really? What precisely is that intent, senator? He doesn’t offer specifics, other than to rattle his sword and bluster about taking the Obama administration to court.

Let’s quit hyperventilating here. President Obama’s legal team is fully aware of the constraints placed on him by the Constitution. He cannot write law. He cannot raises taxes. He cannot increase the minimum wage for every American — but he can, and did, raise the minimum wage for some Americans, such as federal government contract employees. This is small stuff, ladies and gentlemen of the GOP.

Let’s lose the righteous indignation and take Barack Obama up on another pledge he made at the State of the Union: let’s work together.

10 combat tours are more than enough

President Obama introduced the nation Tuesday night to a young Army Ranger, Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg, who is recovering from grievous wounds he suffered when a roadside bomb exploded in Afghanistan.

But then the president said something that took my breath away. He said SFC Remsburg was injured on his 10th tour of duty in the war zone.

Tenth tour!

Think about this for a moment. We are sending young men and women repeatedly into harm’s way. Is this how it’s supposed to be? Is this how a nation is supposed to buy into a conflict when we depend on so few of these brave warriors that we have to keep sending them back into battle?

Cory Remsburg suffered near-fatal wounds. As was quite evident at the State of the Union speech Tuesday, while he has come a long from where he was, he has a long and difficult road ahead.

A member of my own family, a young cousin, also is in the Army. She, too, has answered the call multiple times to Iraq and Afghanistan. She’s still serving our country and I’m so very proud of her.

Still, I cannot help but wonder whether we’re asking too much of these young Americans. I feel to compelled to bring up something that has next to zero political support, but I cannot get the image of SFC Remsburg out of my mind.

Mandatory military service would be one way to spread the burden to more young Americans, just as we did during all our wars until near the end of the Vietnam War. The draft became wildly unpopular back then mostly because of the deferments that were granted to those who had connections, leaving the war-zone experience to those who didn’t qualify for any of the deferments that were available.

The only way conscription could work — if hell were to freeze over and we would bring it back — would be to eliminate all deferments except for those who were physically unable to serve in the military.

Cory Remsburg came within an inch of his life of paying the ultimate price, as have so many others who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ten combat tours is far more than enough to ask any brave American warrior.

GOP response to SOTU reflects huge split

Could there be a more telling example of the political schizophrenia afflicting the Republican Party than its response Tuesday night to the State of the Union speech?

There were three of them — four if you count the response given by U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtenin of Florida, who essentially translated one of the responses in Spanish.

You had Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rogers of Washington giving the “establishment wing” response; then you had Sen. Mike Lee of Utah delivering the tea party response; and then — and this is the strangest of all — you had Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky delivering what can best described as the Rand Paul wing response.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/multiple-gop-responses-to-state-of-the-union-are-they-a-sign-of-party-division/2014/01/28/0d1c68c0-883b-11e3-916e-e01534b1e132_story.html

What’s going on here?

Are Republicans speaking with one voice or three? I get that the tea party wing is trying to “legislate” by obstructing everything under the sun. The establishment wing that includes Speaker John Boehner wants to do certain things and wants to actually legislate, but it’s being held hostage by the tea party cabal.

And Rand Paul? Who or what in the world bestowed this guy with the gravitas to speak independently of either the establishment or tea party wings of a once-great political party?

All of this seems to suggest to me that Republicans can’t sing from the same hymnal, let alone from the same page.

‘With or without’ Congress …

President Obama’s State of the Union speech contained a phrase I hadn’t heard before, and he repeated it maybe three or four times.

“With or without Congress,” he said.

That means he’s going to use whatever executive authority he has as the head of government to enact laws that have been stalled so far in Congress … such as raising the minimum for federal contract workers to $10.10 per hour.

Is it legal? Yes. However, I am now awaiting someone in either house of Congress to come up with a pretext that the president is overstepping his legal authority. Wait for it. It’ll come.

Indeed, some on the right have accused Obama of lawlessness already. They keep mentioning the “i-word,” meaning impeachment based notably on his use of executive authority.

It’s good to remember that the 44th president has issued fewer executive orders than his immediate predecessor, George W. Bush, did at a similar point in his presidency. So, he’s not governing by executive fiat.

I’ll have to defer as well — and others might do the same — to the man’s knowledge of constitutional law, which he taught for a time after graduating from Harvard Law School. Oh yes, he also has a pretty good team of constitutional lawyers working in the White House and at the Justice Department who can advise him when he might be stepping over the line.

Barack Obama said again Tuesday night that he’s willing to work with the entire Congress on ways to move legislation forward. Bring those ideas up, debate them and then vote. Didn’t I hear him say that?

Didn’t he also say he’s willing to consider ways to improve the Affordable Care Act, or improve the health-care delivery system, or help even more Americans obtain health insurance? Didn’t he offer Congress a chance to play a constructive role in that effort?

However, if Congress isn’t willing to act on some of these issues, the president will use his authority — which he possesses within the confines of the Constitution — to act.

The next move now belongs to Congress.

SOTU ends with emotions running high

The end of President Obama’s State of the Union speech all but wiped out what he had said earlier.

It was near the conclusion of his 65-minute speech that the president introduced the nation to Army Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg, a grievously wounded Ranger who was nearly killed during his 10th deployment in Afghanistan.

As the columnist Mark Shields noted on PBS immediately after the speech ended, Remsburg drew the “longest standing ovation I’ve ever heard” at a State of the Union speech.

Indeed, Remsburg’s presence reminds us of the extreme hardship the entire nation has endured while fighting the longest war in its history.

SFC Remsburg was wounded when a roadside bomb exploded. He was comatose for months. He has learned to stand and speak again. Remsburg has fought back against impossible odds.

All the other topics the president raised during his speech seemed to fade into the background during the two-minute ovation.

To be honest, it was a thrilling moment to see Remsburg standing between his father and first lady Michelle Obama. And I am pretty sure I saw some moisture in the first lady’s eyes as she joined the nation in applauding this valiant wounded warrior.

I take heart in knowing I wasn’t the only American who was swallowing hard at that moment.

Texas not yet a battleground

Forgive my skepticism here.

The young man who founded Battleground Texas needs a dose of reality. Jeremy Bird says he remains optimistic that Texas is on the way to becoming a battleground state, where the two major parties will compete head to head for votes.

Um, not yet, Mr. Bird.

http://www.texastribune.org/2014/01/28/almost-year-battleground-founder-optimistic/

At one level, I’m with him. I too wish the state wasn’t dominated by a single party. Republicans have held every statewide office since 1994. Recently, though, a Texas Court of Criminal Appeals judge, Larry Meyers, switched from Republican to Democrat — and now he’s running for a spot on the Texas Supreme Court as a Democrat. Good luck with that, Judge Meyers.

My preference, believe it or not, is based on the notion that the parties need to be contested to keep them more honest than they are when they dominate the landscape. Democrats used to hold that position in Texas. It slipped away from them arguably with the election in 1961 of Republican John Tower to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Lyndon Johnson, who became vice president of the United States. Seventeen years later, the state elected its first Republican governor since Reconstruction, Bill Clements.

The GOP has been on an upward trajectory ever since.

Bird founded Battleground Texas with the hope of knocking Republicans down a few pegs. I don’t think it’s going to happen this election cycle, or perhaps even the next one in 2016.

The group has pinned its hopes on state Sen. Wendy Davis’s campaign for governor. But that effort has hit a serious bump over revelations about her personal story, some of which doesn’t add up. Her poll numbers are slipping.

Maybe one day the state will return to some form of competitiveness between the parties. I’m not convinced we’ve arrived at that moment.