A NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: It is the unspoken statistic, but it is as real as anything to do with the lingering U.S. war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to the military, 1,800 American servicemen have killed themselves since the initial invasion of Baghdad. That is in addition to the more than 4,000 who died in battle. This week, families of the soldiers who committed suicide asked President Barack Obama to change the government policy of not forwarding letters of appreciation to mothers and fathers of these servicemen. By week's end, the White House had reversed the policy and agreed that such letters are needed, as well... - Eduardo Paz-Martinez, Editor of The Tribune

Thursday, July 21, 2011

We Have Moved...

In our endless quest for the best venue, we have settled on this one for the immediate future. Come check us out at:

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Thursday, July 7, 2011

That Time Of the Year...As Summer Roars, We Take A Needed Break...See You later...

Editor of The Tribune

AUSTIN, Texas - We've been putting this off for a few weeks, but the time has come to shut The Tribune down for a few weeks. A break is always good for the brain and the soul.

We shall return at a still-to-be-determined date.

See you then...

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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

For WhiteWings, A Long, Drawn Out Light Bill...City of Harlingen Is Patient...Season Drags On...

"I stand on my sincere convictions concerning the WhiteWings, while you seem to make comparisons with them and major league teams. Of course, that is not true, but they provide good entertainment and, yes, there are some very good players in the league. Why not pick on the Killer Bees hockey team for a change and give your fixation on the Wings a rest..." - Harlingen Blogger Jerry Deal, a Journalist

Editor of The Tribune

HARLINGEN, Texas - Almost 40 games into the ongoing season, the Rio Grande Valley WhiteWings are in the thick of things on the field. As they head into tomorrow's doubleheader in Edinburg, local fans can take solace in knowing the Wings will not be playing in Harlingen, where the team continues to negotiate an estimated $40,000 debt it owes for utilities availed at the city ballfield.

"We are still in talks, but just within the last 10 days they finally made a token payment of $4,000 towards their balance due," said a source familiar with the ongoing negotiations.

The news is good for residents underwriting the venue. Harlingen provides the field, takes care of maintenance and, by contract, provides electric power for night games. It has been a very good deal for the team and its management, members of the new North American Baseball League that also outfits clubs in nearby Edinburg and McAllen. Following weekend losses, the WhiteWings record is 21-18, good for second place.

Second hand everything is something many Valleyites endure. This is not professional baseball; it is very minor league baseball being played by players who couldn't - or haven't - made it up to the lowest rung of established A ball. But Harlingen, like many small towns across the country, signed-on, thinking it, too, could dream the impossible dream. It has paid the price when seeking reimbursement from the WhiteWings for that electricity provided at Harlingen Field.

Does the city need this headache?

Some realists at City Hall say, "No."

Still, there it is, that siphoning cash from the strained city budget that could perhaps go to hiring one more police officer or perhaps the funding of a better program serving all residents, not just the easily-buffaloed, rabid baseball fanatic.

Pride comes from success. The Wings may yet win the league championship. But what is the value of that, when the league is such an obscure league that the award is laughable? You don't have to soil major league baseball by comparing this level of ball to the Big League clubs. Only a rube would do that.

In this town, it is about coming clean with the taxpayers and the fans.

Yesterday, on ESPN2, the network carried a program in which it looked at the Good Old Days of baseball in New York, the crux of the show posing the question as to who was the city's best centerfielder when Mickey Mantle patrolled center for the Yankees, Willie Mays did it for the NY Giants and Duke Snider for the Brooklyn Dodgers. You'd have to know baseball to even pose the question.

No, the Rio Grande Valley WhiteWings, bless their hearts, are nowhere near that league. Team owners and managers would quickly admit it. But that's about play on the field.

The team's bills are public record, as is that contract the City of Harlingen entered into with the team. Who cares what player is running down flyballs in center at Harlingen Field? You can be sure it's a nobody, always is at this level of play. That's not even up for discussion.

So, what is the current state of that contract?

How much do the WhiteWings owe, and when do they plan to pay it? You would think the town's excitable bloggers would be on it like flies on Guacamole. But they're not...

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Actor, Lover, Priest, Spy: Reading Back Pages...The Famous And The Near Famous...

Editor of The Tribune

AUSTIN, Texas - There's a linchpin somewhere in all this, so bear with us as we mow the morning mental lawn at a time when perhaps we should be wondering and writing about something a bit more serious - like Libya and a woman's right to an abortion, that stuff.

But its Tuesday, after a long, holiday weekend under a high sky in Austin and a hot sun generally everywhere south of the North Pole. We've toasted on our way into and out of local restaurants, and we've waited on rain that looked to be up there, but just beyond our lot. My daughter called to say it was 84 degrees in New York. Lucky, was all I could think to say. Still, it is the times we live in, despite what the non-Global Warming believers say. The polar cap can melt and these guys will still deny it. You can gurgle underwater, but not for long. We'll see about that.

In any case, I'm reading this book titled Casanova: Actor, Lover, Priest, Spy. Yes, that Casanova, the one whose name is associated first with excitable sexual escapades. He wrote about them, as did others, so they exist in the legend of Giacomo. I'm halfway through it, so I've drawn no conclusion on whether I buy its promise of finaling revealing the many talents of this Renaissance Italian from the 17th Century. We'll see, although there have been some interesting tidbits to do with his talent as a painter and a bit actor on the French stage. I suppose his sexual prowess comes in the middle of the book.

Casanova did as much as he could with his life in a world that yielded little opportunity of the sort one has these days. He might have been a wilder man today. Casanova, according to this book by English writer Ian Kelly, invented the lottery, a successful one at that that became the overwhelming rage of his time. "I was never attractive," Casanova is said to have said about himself. "I simply had an unbridled belief that I was capable of anything."

That brings me to the new blogging effort of my ally, Jerry McHale, who has birthed his as the fountain of all that semingly is good in his adopted hometown of Brownsville, Texas. First, as an early assessment of his offering, I'd say McHale wishes for another time - perhaps 1911. Like Casanova, he, however, does his life impulse with what's before him. Brownsville is not an attractive town, yet McHale wants to write about it as it was a beautiful community, full of gaiety, pomp, counts and countesses, harps and jesters, the spirit of Casanova's Venice. Brownsville is the petrie dish of trouble, most of which is bad, of darkened streets and shuttered doors. The only Brownsvillians having fun are the criminals, the corrupt politicians and the gendarmes. Perhaps that is why his previous online efort - El Rocinante - was so successful. For that effort, McHale mined the gutters and dumpsters as if addicted to the worst of news.

When McHale can write this about Brownsvile, then shall he be able to make factual headway: "By the Eighteenth Century, Venice had become the city of pleasure. The convents boasted their salons, where nuns in low dresses with pearls in their hair received the advances of nobles and gallant abbes. And everyone, from patricians to gondoliers, who were given free entry, was imersed in theatre."

Brownsville knows theatre as street and alley crime. Its hardly-creative plots are printed in newspaper crime stories and obituaries. Brownsville is a beggar of art, forever dreaming and wishing and pining, but rarely getting its dessert. One more comparison, from the past: "The man fit to make his fortune in Brownsville must be a chameleon...he must be insinuating, impenetrable, obliging, often base, ostensibly sincere, always pretending to know less than he does, in complete control of his countenance, and as cold as ice. If he loathes the pretence he should leave Brownsville and seek his fortune in Harlingen."

Early-on in his new Journey, McHale too-easily reverts to his old style. He bashes the same people he's bashed before, the novice mayor, the lady commissioner fond of posing for photos with local men, the usuals. Between those familiar jabs, he is leaving the trusted path and writing about some interesting, yet not so-interesting local buildings, historical figures and God-damned cantinas. That's the Brownsville we have all come to know. No news there.

It would be a better trip if McHale, in the spirit of Casanova, would not merely kill the snake by slicing off its head, but study it a bit more, ripping off its hide and reaching for and grabbing its innards, the real ones. We are sure that Brownsville counts a few thousand residents no one has ever written - or cared - about. Those are the new stories at hand for him, his new cast of characters.

"These are the handsomest moments in my lifestory," Casanova wrote in one of his many journals. "These happy, unexpected, unforeseeable and purely fortuitous remeetings...and, hence, all the more precious."

It's a choice, this life.

And it is true that, given the task, two people would do the same job successfully in different ways. Another Blogger out to do what McHale is doing might do something else altogether different, might actually create either a spectacular novel writing trend or maybe birth and deliver a new local superstar. It's not easy, but that's the reward.

Creativity also allows for taking the long way home, so...

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Monday, July 4, 2011

Editorial: Birthday In America...A Country Turns 235...What's To Celebrate...We ask...

Editor of The Tribune

AUSTIN, Texas - The French reacted with clear pride: One of their own was again free. It was a stunning turn of events one does not often see, the freedom, we mean. This development that had Dominique Strauss-Kahn walking free in New York City called for outright glee in his native country, a land known for its pastries, its food, its museums, its culture, its delightful standing in the world. Strauss-Kahn had stood accused of raping a hotel maid and it was his status as a well-known Frenchman overseeing the influential International Monetary Fund that brought initial shame to his prideful nation.

We wondered about such pride. What is it about France that makes it so proud? It is a country whose flag has been dragged across the mud in war, and flown proudly as a place for opera, for ballroom dancing, for artists, for writers, for those things in life often openly labeled as being the best of the best. France has its blackeyes, that Nazi occupation by Germany during World War II being one. Yet, it has endured that shame and horror and lived to remain a nation often associated with civilization's brightest shine.

America celebrates its declaration of independence today.

It does it, again, under darkened skies, under the threat of economic collapse, under the weight of internal roilings that cannot help but eat at its very foundation. Unlike the French, we Americans rarely find that one moment when the entire lot of immigrants can say we are together, united in this effort, this goal. We do it when those occasional Sept. 11s come around, hit us upside the head and shake the racism, the class wars, the bigotry off us, as if dandruff sailing off a homeless wino's hair at check-in time at that shelter in the bad side of town. Every nation has problems these days. We are not immune to the bankrupt coughings of Greece, the newfound financial might of China, the rebellious mess of Egypt and Libya, the pyscho-juking and spewing of North Korea and Iran, the slime of Afghanistan.

Yet, it is in this world environment that the United States, a pretentious idea that at times works beautifully and at others fails miserably, continues its march toward a better world. Externally, the problems are handled from the perspective of a nation; internally it is another matter altogether. Where do we go wrong? Why do we find comfort in segmenting ourselves. We are outrageous Republicans, we are under-achieving Democrats. We are Americans. It is the giddy roller-coaster ride we have known since that glorious day in 1776.

Freedom allows for much.

It allows us to be different, to think we're special, to think we're better, to think we're not this or that, to think everybody else is the problem, to think it's not us, it's them. Somewhere in there lived the dream. At one time, the dream seemed clear and possible. At one time, the dream seemed attainable for all. One Nation, Underway.

We like to think of ourselves as being the beacon of freedom, the place where the oppressed, the poor and the needy can find shelter from the storm. We shine the light on problems in Africa and in Russia and in the Middle East and in Central America. We note the failings of other countries and their leaders. We are experts at everything. We can spot a blooming dictator as easily as we spot a cultural trend at home. We are the world police, we are the world psychiatrist. It is up to us. No one else can do it. Let the happy French be the butterflies. Let them open the best museums, best cafes, best shops. It's okay. We have to vacation somewhere abroad.

But as we again take time to celebrate the meaning of this great day, it's also important to note the struggles and many sacrifices of those Americans who did the work and are no longer around. What would a construction worker who helped build Hoover Dam think of the curent social disarray in this country? What would the migrant workers who pick that lettuce for your salads and our burgers and your tacos say about the converstaions at the dinner table in a so-called Red State? WWJD.

It's part of the rolling freedom symphony, that brassy national conversation that blares between love and hate. It'll be fireworks in a Texas backyard, fiery words in an Idaho living room. We are America, home of the brave and land of the free.

It's freedom of speech and we should defend it all costs.

But it does tend to throw us apart.

Do yourself a favor today: Be nice, and say a kind word about your neighbor to your right to your neighbor on the left...

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Saturday, July 2, 2011

Rolling Stones Against the World: The Autobiography Of Keith Richards...Life Itself...

Editor of The Tribune

AUSTIN, Texas - Most of the time, we don't have time for the rebels of the world. It's easy to brand them outlaws, fools, ornery or simply publicity hounds. There are many in that museum of delight and anger located somewhere in the darker alleys of your brain. Some people see the positives in Charles Manson, in Ted Bundy and in Pancho Villa. But none of them ever brought you great music.

Keith Richards, guitarist for The Rolling Stones, did.

If ever an autobiography had mountains of interesting tidbits and outright confirmations of a host of illegal activity and the debauchery of runaway passion, it was this guy's story. He offers it loud and proud in his book, titled simply: Life.

Richards nears his 70th year on the planet, but his reputation lives as if born yesterday. The Stones always have been tagged as being the ultimate bad boy band. Vocalist Mick Jagger, characterized in the book as a trusted and untrustworthy bandmate, isn't far behind in the ledger filled with strange and bizarre exploits that followed this British band from the moment it first left the slums of London for the adulation of America.

Written in cahoots with rock 'n' roll writer James Fox, Life is an eye-opening cataloguing of booze, drugs and women, enjoyed before, during and after concerts. It is also a looksee into the manner in which the band pushed itself onto the largest stage in the world, and how it resisted a "clean-up" ala The Beatles, instead insisting on being the outlaw band that started as young punks and lived to see old age.

Richards spares few details in the 547-page book, writing openly about an affair involving his mother that broke his heart, the father he abandoned for four decades and later brought back into his life, the many women who played varying parts in his evolving life and even glimpses into such moments when a fall led to cranial surgery friends and family said he'd never survive.

But survive he did. The tale is one big glob of short pieces to do with his life as a kid and with being, in the end, an elder statesman of rock music. Richards runs through his ever-brief relationships with a number of pretty women he says never should have been handled by someone like him, the son of a dirt-poor family who turned himself over to the guitar and exploded a unique sound on the world. He writes viciously about Anita Pallenberg, the mother of his older son, Marlon, as if writing about some girl he met, bedded often and then flitted-on, away into the arms of some other high-society groupie. Indeed, he laughs off the sentence where he says Pallenberg, once a top model and actress in Europe, and also a bedmate of Mick Jagger, saw her beauty fade horribly, describing her as an old grandma in the book's back pages.

He drank and did his share of drugs. Cocaine, heroin, that stuff. He was busted in Arkansas and Canada and in his native country, but the most time he ever spent in jail was a day, thanks to the band's sharp lawyers and a few fans. Even the surgeon who performed that life-saving operation throws him his memory of the episode, openly noting his fondness of the band's music ahead of the surgery.

Where The Beatles are known as the band that started it all in that so-called British Invasion, The Stones have taken pride, writes Richards, in never selling out, never bending for convention, never going on stage with everybody wearing the same clothes. It was an all-out run at freedom, at throwing stuff in the face of what stood for civilized behavior, at what was expected by local authorities in the calmer, early 1960s. It is The Stones that arrived with something to say and said it without giving an inch. There was, according to the book, no interest in writing or singing Penny Lane.

Something good comes out of being a purist. Bending to laws, rules or convention eats at the root of creativity. And in the music business, it is easy to bend. Look at The Monkees, a completely manufactured, made-for-TV band. You'd never see any of The Stones in such scenes. "Here, they come, walking down the street..." Maybe tearing down the street, but not walking. Musicians get a break from society, of course. Willie Nelson, admired by Richards in his book, has more publicized pot busts than any man alive, but he finds a way out of those tight squeezes. Creative license is granted so long as the artist doesn't push it, doesn't take it to the press in a fighting, bitching manner. There are several incidents related to that in this book, times when Richards got a little help from a long list of influential fans.

The book is his memory of his life. A writer working a biography on him, able to seek sources other than one brain, could write a different version of this man's life. This is a memoir, and it stands as such. There are enough details, however, to make it seem believable.

Humor moves through the pages, as well.

The reader learns that Stones bassist Bill Wyman's real name is William Perks, and that drummer Charlie Watts once got so bugged by Jagger calling him "my drummer" that he bolted for Jagger's neck and almost killed him. Brian Jones, the founder of the group and also a guitarist, is characterized as a 5-foot dictator who saved The Stones from internal anarchy by drowning during their early years. In fact, it was Jones who brought Anita Pallenberg onto the scene, loved her and then lost her to Richards and then to Jagger.

One could say with some assurance that the easy-passing of Pallenberg around was similar to the boys passing a joint around the room. In a sentence, that seems to be the assessment Richards gives of his life and times with the world's most dangerous band - one toke for me, and one for you.

It's an okay book, one I recommend for those moments when all the jabbering on TV pisses you off, or when an annoying cold knocks you into bed for a few days...

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Thursday, June 30, 2011

On Writing: Morning Coffee...A Bad Cold...New Ideas And The Needed Fresh Scenery...

Editor of The Tribune

AUSTIN, Texas - Back when this Blog pulled out of the barn, when I was living in the Rio Grande Valley down south, I used a variety of pseudonyms in bringing readers stories from that same variety of angles, perspectives and character-within-the-character.

I'm sure some of them are still sort of remembered: Junior Bonner, Ricardo Klement, Ron Mexico, etc., etc. Well, I also recall that while some readers liked these guys, there were others who questioned why we had created "fake" writers. In the 9-to-5 world of the working legions, the latter was to be expected. Some people know writing only as what they see in the newspaper, or what they read when the kid brings home the homework.

For me, writing this blog always has been a laboratory of sorts, a place to try things and a place for fleshing-out characters. Bonner was the stiff, high-throated, aging cowboy who loved his battered El Camino and just had to have his shirts starched just right by the dry cleaners he frequented in his hometown of Combes, Texas. Klement was the introverted descendant of a Nazi officer who'd fallen for the lovely women of the Texas-Mexico border and insisted he'd die there. Mexico was the "Keith Richards" of the staff, a man who lived life to the fullest, had to make love like a panther and was, not surprisingly, murdered in Amsterdam after being fired by The Tribune for drinking on the job.

These creations were not exactly pseudonyms; they were characters and nothing more. Still, they delivered the real news in their own way, each of them working-up a style by way of vocabulary and sentence structure. We came to know them in photographs that made for images fitting their writing and life styles.

There's nothing wrong with using a pseudonym in writing. It's been part of both fiction and non-fiction since the advent of the modern printing press. Mark Twain's real name was Samuel Clemens, and there are those who say his invented happy-go-lucky Twain persona was not anything like Clemens, a not as happy man. Who knows? It just worked out nicely for Mark.

I firmly believe that using a pseudonym, as I do with my Patrick Alcatraz novels, unlocks a certain new vein of creativity. Paz-Martinez writes about the Texas-Mexican border as if he's lived that experience, which he has; Alcatraz writes about the American West as if some bon vivant out for nothing but sex and laughs. Are they "romance novels," as has been posed by some? Yes, and no. Romance between a guy and a gal, yes. There is quite a bit of that in my books. Someone famous once said that there is no literature without sex. Well, absolutely. Sex is a huge part of the human existence, both with a loyal mate and, often, with a disloyal one. Plus, pseudonyms, also known as pen names, often take on a life of their own. The highly-regarded Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa had more than 70 literary identities.

The American horror writer Stephen King has written "literary fiction" under the name of Richard Bachman. Lewis Carroll was really Charles Dodgson. George Orwell was really Eric Blair. The list goes on. My point here is that writing will always define itself on its own terms. And writers will mine the hinterlands for anything that will spark creativity. Where cops have the fear of killing an innocent bystander, writers fear writer's block, that drag-me-down time when nothing spurts from the brain, when looking out the window yields nothing but the high sky.

I was running all of this across my brain yesterday, the second day of a bad summer cold that has me in the coughing and watery eyes dumps. Messing with this laptop did nothing for me. The best I could do was advance my place in the book I am currently reading. In bed. Most of the day. My book, magazines, the day's newspapers. Outside, the big, bright sunball scorched the land one more time.

But I was wondering whether to offer my next book as Paz-Martinez, the guy who writes as if a wandering journalist, or Alcatraz, the bastard who sees beauty in every woman, has them and moves on down the road. It's my alter ego, of course. All of us have them, but not all of us are willing to put them on display.

In writing, they are not "fake names" as much as they are, say, that second car in the driveway...

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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Brownsvillization of Harlingen, Texas...Along The Harsh Mexican Border...No Grace In Town...

Editor of The Tribune

HARLINGEN, Texas - That day, Robert Leftwich was perhaps being too kind, too political. The question from us had been clear: Was he endorsing the actions of a juvenile-bent blogger he'd befriended and whose support he'd garnered without even asking?

"I have repeatedly asked him to tone it down," was Leftwich's diplomatic reply .

He's a city commissioner here, an elected official with ideas about how to move the struggling city forward, past the resident rancor that plays across the news media here as if some El Salvadoran incubator for rebels actually fighting in the streets. That's Mr. Leftwich and his family in the photo atop this story.

We come here uninvited but interested in defining all that silly noise moving across town. To a somewhat minor extent, the local newspaper - The Valley Morning Star - plays into the equation, largely by way of hilariously naive letters-to-the-editor in which the writers often chose the words of damnation against this or that elected official or burning issue in town. The local blogosphere is the problem these days, however.

Civility holds no ground there.

And it manifests itself clearly in that while the blogs raise hell against things coming and not coming from City Hall, and against elected officials such as Mr. Leftwich, and, worse yet, against each other, little room is left for civilized discourse. You won't see any elected official making comments to these low-rent bloggers. Why should they? Why leap headfirst into the garbage heap, seems to be the unspoken answer.

Times are tough here. Unemployment is sky-high, jobs are nowhere to be found, businesses are shutting their doors and a general malaise has now covered the community of some 70,000 resident as if a used Army blanket. It is a sad time for little Harlingen, and the blogs are not helping things.

In an ideal news media setting, the Blogs would fill-in where the newspaper fails the citizenry. They would go after hard news stories exposing both good and bad. They would be seen as positive, useful venues of information. Too bad that's not what Harlingen residents get.

What breaks with every new day is yet another string of accusations and posturings that go to informing Harlingen of whose blog is king of the soiled chicken coop. Lost in the primping are solutions to things that actually affect the community. It would be something if elected officials and city bureaucrats would pick up the phone and call a local blogger; that, or email a comment or reply to news that would go somewhere. That isn't - and hasn't - happened, except for a very rare occasion.

No, these are days for pulling inward here.

Elected officials know they hold higher ground by simply staying away, by ignoring these guys.

Still, it is about evolving, and perhaps the silly noise now playing here as news blogging will move into something better one of these days. They all have nowhere to go but up.

The strange part of this is that, as a Journalist, it always struck me that a good, timely, meaningful story brought way-more satisfaction to me as a reporter than those times when I only wanted to see and know that I'd beaten the competition.

Journalism is not anywhere near the taqueria business.

Yet, here, blog news comes with all the bells and whistles and alarms of a new taco concoction. And that's the bad side of all this. There is a difference between a professional service and that offerred by an amateur. There is.

Dumping on someone just to make you believe you're the best only reinforces your own weaknesses. In the fast-paced world of news, there is no Number One; there is only the dependable, the reliable, and those that are trying their damndest to get there. And so, we understand why this city's leaders shun these bloggers. What have they got to gain by playing their selfish game?

We won't say that we know Commissioner Leftwich well, but we've always found him forthcoming when we have asked him questions. His desire to speak is not the problem; he likely just knows that there is no point in talking with partisan fools. Sadly, that is a good move.

We say sadly because it is the city that is paying the price that comes with not having an honest news media...

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Monday, June 27, 2011

The Press In The Valley: Tough Economic Times Take A Heavy Toll...Newspapers Don't Always Win...Readers Do Lose...

Editor of The Tribune

McALLEN, Texas - That newspaper you get daily in McAllen? Yes, the one that looks as busy with excitable stories and color design as a Guatemalan skirt? That one. Well, the messy look was designed by a Cuban guy out of Miami, hired by Freedom Communications, Inc. a few years ago, when the company that owns The McAllen Monitor was horribly mired in bankruptcy court, seeking to unload its monstrous $750 million debt. It was reduced by almost half, as things turned out.

But this is about how the company - owner of The Monitor, the Valley Morning Star in Harlingen and The Brownsville Herald downriver - never did get the pulse of its geography or of its readers, primarily insular Hispanics uninterested in its less-government-is-best-government Libertarian politics. It is particularly timely as the business is still bleeding professionals and editions. The consensus is that newspapers across the country lost their way, that failure to re-invest profits in their operations, their desire to cut reporting staff and later cut out entire daily issues has led to their stunning demise. Somewhere in there, the Internet surfaced as a reason to fear the future and to cede position as the Fourth Estate in American life.

A few days back, it was reported that Freedom Communications, Inc. was once again interested in selling some of its newspapers. There were rumors that it would unload the struggling Valley Morning Star at a discount rate. If true, it wasn't the first time the Santa Ana, California-based company sought to sell its RGV properties. Way before the latest rumors surfaced, there was word that the three Valley newspapers were being shopped around, and that the company had gotten a sniff from the Wall Street Journal folks. Nothing came of it, and then the bad economy hit advertising, and then the slump came home to stay.

So, what does it all mean to the Rio Grande Valley?

First and foremost, it means less news coverage. The staff at The McAllen Monitor might be enough for that western Valley city, but staffs at the other two newspapers are bare-bone operations. No reporters equals no coverage, or less, if any. Editors have been shown the door, some transferred to RGV cities they don't exactly know or like. Paul Binz, editor of the Morning Star is gone, as is former Monitor Managing Editor Henry Miller. Marcia Caltabiano-Ponce, once a senior editor at The Monitor, is now editor of The Brownsville Herald. It wasn't that long ago that I ran into Henry Miller at a Starbucks in McAllen and he relayed info that Caltabiano-Ponce had continued to reside in McAllen even as she tried to edit the newspaper in Brownsville 60-some miles to the east. An out-of-town editor for The Herald? Sacrilege.

It's a bear to stomach when you know that a myriad of stories do not see light in the pages of these newspapers. That drug war going on barely miles across the Rio Grande has largely been relegated to coverage via social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, Monitor reporters rightly granting credit to that venue as their source of info related to murders, hangings, bombings and street firefights that ought to be witnessed and written about by these reporters. Indeed, it is also said that many, many residents of the RGV get their news about the drug war from Spanish-language television stations, something that a pair of decades ago wasn't even part of the local lifestyle. Today, even the newsrooms of the Valley's TV stations count their Mexican counterparts as sources of information. Gone are the days when these same Valley reporters damned Mexican reporters as being wildly unreliable and forever open to bribery.

It is, to be fair, a tough time for news media outlets from coast-to-coast.

Also to be noted is the fact that Freedom Communications has no monopoly on trimming the corporate fat. Major newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times and the Dallas Morning News have seen the need to cut back. But Freedom's losing battle in the revenue fight has forced it to sell some once-lucrative properties, and then it faced the reality of losing some top executives, one of whom left the company to work for Playboy magazine.

In the Valley, the company's chief of operations is M. Olaf Frandsen, publisher of the local flagship McAllen Monitor and the man who oversees the other two newspapers, as well. He is shown in photo atop this story. Frandsen is a genial man. A transplant who studied in Arizona and a loyal employee who's made the circuit as editor of a number of company newspapers, he is also known as a headstrong administrator. His battles with McAllen Mayor Richard Cortez are legendary, especially the one involving Cortez's decision to fend off bad coverage by funneling his city's lucrative "Legal Notice" advertising to a small weekly in neighboring Pharr. The decision spurred Frandsen into rifling a terse letter to the mayor and the city commissioners, noting that The Advance newspaper in Pharr was not exactly a newspaper of record, of general interest, or even one based in McAllen, the very population that needed to see those legal notices.

Valley cities and towns may show the Year 2011 on their calendars, but life in any of them can also be questioned as being something of a throwback in culture and the ways of social progress. They are all still small enough to exert muscle against any outfit wishing to bring Big City ways. For residents of the Valley, Cortez going to a tiny newspaper to teach The Monitor a lesson is well within the creative scope of the local brain. Indeed, it likely would have gained a wildly positive vote of support, had The Monitor polled residents on the matter.

News here isn't what reporters in the Big City would wish to cover on a day-to-day basis. There's plenty of crime, theft, asaults, rapes, child and spousal abuse and murders, for the young cub reporter, but none of the three dailies do much investigative reporting - not lately, anyway.

Reporters generally are of the young variety; that is, they are journalists fresh out of college. They are not well-paid in the Valley, which means that they stay only as long as they have to, and only until they get an offer from a larger newspaper upstate. The company knows that these are jumping-point jobs for these reporters. They hire them for two-three years, lose them, and hire a new batch. Lost in all that is the value of experience and local knowledge.

It's hard to tell what will become of Freedom in the long run. Its dependable moneymaker in the region is The Monitor and sources tell us it won't sell any of the three dailies on a solo basis. Apparently, you can buy all three, but not simply one. In the current market for newspapers, well, let's just say you'll find more interest in a lackluster minor league baseball team than you will in a good newspaper.

But who knows?

Already, in Harlingen, word in the streets is that a new print newspaper effort may soon be launched, one owned by a local citizen, perhaps a local group. The Morning Star, they say, is simply not doing the job and is largely giving-off the impression that it has given up the fight. In Brownsville, some 25 miles to the east, The Herald is hearing the same complaint. Bloggers there have begun to leap headfirst onto its stage, all of them taking the critical tack, often damning the newspaper for its failures to cover stories they feel ought to be covered, while at the same time ballyhooing their efforts as newfangled news sources.

It is a hostile takeover of sorts.

Freedom's newspapers may be the ones in the news racks at the streetcorner and in the cafes, but they are no longer the only game in town. It's not necessarily their fault, but they are feeling the pinch from all sides.

For readers, it's never an emotional issue of being loyal or provincial. Those days are gone, too.

But, then, news never has known fencing or geography. And in the day of the Internet and the harried, 24-hour cable news cycle, stopping to wait on a laggard is not part of the deal. Americans have not shed many tears for dying newspapers. The Valley likely won't, either...

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Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Carpetbagger: Former Donna Mayor Rick Morales...Mayor Of Harlingen?...Get Real...


HARLINGEN, Texas - It isn't part of the local history or flavor of the Rio Grande Vallley, but maybe it is nothing more than a silly aberration, a quirk in local politics, the idle thinking of a former mayor looking for new ground to shovel.

Perhaps that's why former Donna Mayor Ricardo "Rick" Morales wants to be mayor of Harlingen. In a part of the state where even the most-stable things often tend to go sideways, it is an intriguing stab by Morales. The 41-year-old self-described commercial lender doesn't really have a record of outstanding leadership, mainly because the city he once helped governed is no great shakes.

Morales hasn't come out and said he's interested in the local office, but word in the streets and blogosphere has him in robes and ambling toward the ring. Should he do it and somehow win, Morales will become the Valley's first carpetbagging public servant. The idea has a history of sorts in national politics. Robert F. Kennedy left his native Massachusetts to run for - and win - a U.S. Senate seat in New York. George W. Bush left his birthplace in Connecticut to run for - and win - the governorship of Texas.

So, who knows about a Morales-for-mayor-Harlingen campaign?

There are some bad signs, however, for those residents who would back him while seeking to overturn the so-called Old Guard dominance in city politics. The Old Guard is described as a collection of ultra-conservative old codgers interested in maintaining the status quo, defined here as being the Anglos interested in ruling over the city's Hispanic population with all the propriety of a coonhound. Many in the Old Guard membership support the harsh Republican politics of Texas Governor Rick Perry and its two Republican senators, John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchinson - none a friend of Hispanics.

Oddly enough, so apparently does Morales.

In May 2008, Morales said this about Republican Cornyn: "The people of Donna have been extremely well served by Senator Cornyn. He shares the same values with South Texans and I am honored to endorse his re-election."

Really? But, then, Morales also endorsed Republican Texas Gov. Perry in 2006 and 2010.

Interestingly, Cornyn that year was also endorsed by former Harlingen Mayor Connie De La Garza and current Mayor Chris Boswell. Boswell is listed as being on the side of the Old Guard here. He does not quarrel with that assignation.

Morales may not exactly be the right-skin conservative sought by the extremist fringe of the Tea Party, but his endorsements do mean something. Is he the "change" politician for Harlingen? Doesn't look like it. He is more like a used tire being bolted onto a, yes, tired vehicle, but one needing perhaps "new" wheels.

That same summer of 2008, when touting Donna's growth in population from a dusty 6,000 during the 1970s to the 18,000 he governed, Morales said: "We believe that Donna, in the next 10 years, will double and maybe triple in size. The future is extremely bright."

So, what happened? What drove Morales out and into the mood of looking at Harlingen?

In June of that same year, incumbent Morales was swamped by David Simmons,a  first-time candidate for elected office who worked as tax assessor-collector for the Donna school district. Simmons grabbed 57 percent of the vote, ending Morales's six year-run as mayor and two as city commissioner.

What he's been doing since then is anybody's guess. Nothing written or posted about him to date indicates any sort of worthwhile endeavor or contribution, whether financial, supportive or voluntary in nature. If he now resides in Harlingen, what is he doing in town? Is he merely herding support for that eventual contest? If so, who is he meeting with, and where exacly is his expected suport coming from? Certainly, it cannot simply be the shrilly voice of an obscure blogger spurring him into thinking he is needed or can win.

Harlingen is in trouble. Of that, there is no question. All economic and social indicators point to a steady decline when compared to its neighboring communities. The joke here is that San Benito, once the punching bag of Harlingen, is considering a proposal to annex Harlingen.

Rick Morales invested almost a decade in public service to presumably help the residents of little Donna. Unless he explodes with some hellacious novel ideas that would quickly aid Harlingen, well, Harlingen needs to look elsewhere for its city hall leader. What's his educational background, and how does he explain his crushing defeat to a political novice?

Rick Morales is not the answer, because, alas, he doesn't even know the question...

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[EDITOR'S NOTE:...This article was originally published here last month. Our feelings related to this gentleman's bid for mayor of Harlingen remain as they were when we wrote this story...]

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Conversation With Robert Leftwich: The Harlingen City Commissioner Opens Up...May Run For Mayor...Says Politics Can Be Brutal...

Editor of The Tribune

HARLINGEN, Texas - In some circles here, Robert Leftwich's work as a city commissioner is seen as enough of a public service foundation to ready a run for mayor, something Leftwich says is on his mind, although not to the point of deciding on it. Times are tough in the mid-valley community of almost 70,000, and there are those ceaseless waves of ragged rumblings within the city - noise that cannot be seen as anything other than political angst and unrest.

Earlier this week, we forwarded a list of questions to the 46-year-old commissioner. Here is what he had to say in reply:

My position on running for Mayor is that all options are on the table at this point. But given that the mayoral race isn’t until 2013, with family and work commitments, it’s still too far out to be more than just a consideration at this point. 

As far as what would make me decide more so or not about running would have to start with what the demands were of my family. The other thing that would be a major consideration to running would be who else might throw their hat in. If I didn’t feel that a qualified individual with community-first intentions was stepping up to vie for the position, then that would strengthen my consideration towards running. 

I can see how some would seek the prestige of being Mayor, but I’m not really interested in that. I feel that I can pursue things more freely as a commissioner, and thus be more effective in that position by not having the distractions of the job as Mayor.

As far as the current state of political affairs in Harlingen, beginning with the transformational move in citizen representation by going to a district format, I feel that many more people who once felt disenfranchised under the citywide election process now feel that they can make a difference in city on-goings.

For many decades in Harlingen large portions of the city were fed crumbs from the table, so to speak, in terms of being provided adequate city services. Undeniably, as evidenced by the decay in too many of our neighborhoods, and the escalation of criminal activity throughout the city, the citizens have suffered needlessly from the narrow-mindedness of some in leadership positions in Harlingen.

Today, as a result of a broader demographic diversity of citizen involvement in the direction of the city, I feel that Harlingen, as a community, has shifted gears for the better as we enter into the 21st century.

The critics of change are mostly those who have enjoyed having their fingers in the coffers of City Hall in some form or fashion, selling their cause as being righteous and noble, but in reality, and as history has proven out, pursuing only self-enrichment.

As with any change in political advantage, it is those that have lost the most that become the biggest critics of those who have taken the helm. Politics can be brutal at times, actually, most always, and those willing to make the case for change can expect to receive no thanks when things turn out right, but only condemnation for any little thing that can by exploited and blown out of proportion by their critics.

Personal Factoids:

Graduated in 1982 from Harlingen High. From 1983-85 attended TSTI in Waco, studying computer science. Holds an active State of Texas real estate Brokers license.

Has been employed for the last 22.5 years with United Launch Alliance (ULA). ULA is a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin. The Harlingen ULA facility produces structural components for the Atlas rocket.

His favorite book is a book in a book, the book of Psalm in the Bible.

The Leftwich family consists of his wife, Michelle, and daughters Cassy 7, Shelby 11, Kayla, 16, plus stepdaughter Brittany, 12.

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[Editor's Note: This report was published here earlier this year. Again, there are rumblings that Mr. Leftwich may seek the thankless job of mayor in Harlingen. We wish him well...] 

Friday, June 24, 2011

For Austin's Juan Meza, It's All Good At His "Juan-In-A-Million" Taco Mecca...Austin Loves This Juan...We Did, Too...

Editor of The Tribune

AUSTIN, Texas - It's over on the Mexican side of town, the East Side, on Cesar Chavez Street, a drag lined with a string of Tex-Mex enterprises that range from homeless shelters, to busy auto repair shops, to a generous number of cafes, to colorful curio stores, to renovated offices of lawyers with Hispanic surnames. The place we write about here is aptly named - Juan In A Million.

It is not only the talk of the town in Austin on things related to breakfast tacos, but it approaches legendary status as the best place to not only eat that great, tasty taco, but the place to be seen eating a few.

Or, as one reviewer put it: "This was one of our Man vs Food stops and man o man did it live up to the hype. We get to the area where this awesome joint is located and I felt just at home. No posh hip businesses or restaurants around to make this place a pain to get to. It is a typical Mexican family joint located in residential area. I can swear this place may have just been a home and the owners decided to open up a restaurant to the people.

We ordered the breakfast tacos and these things were just like the ones my mom makes to this very day. Maybe my mom is related to the owners. Hahahaha. Anyway, their tacos there are awesome. Eggs are fluffy, bacon is crisp, the potatoes are soft and the cheese is not heavy. Perfect breakfast for the day and we were filled up all the way to dinner I kid you not after spending the rest of the day in downtown Austin and seeing the sights. Juan In A Million is the best breakfast in Austin."

You could drive around Austin and find several hundred Tex-Mex joints and other taquerias and almost believe you're in East L.A. with crowds of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans who all look like the comedian Paul Rodriguez. There is even a little resemblance in Rodriguez for Juan's owner, Juan Meza - a genial host who will not only greet you at the door, but is also known to greet customers in the parking lot behind his place.

The menu is not unlike one you'd see at any other Tex-Mex eatery. Beef chalupas were my treat on the day Margaret and I were there one day last week. She had a bowl of Caldo de Rez. All this out in the patio alongside the main dining area, there under the watchful eyes of flying grackles that seem to think they own the open-air section of the place.

That was an okay meal. What brings all of Austin to this joint is the wildly-famous Don Juan Taco, a monster of a meal if there ever was one. The waitress will bring you one of these (at $3.99) and then come back around minutes later to ask if you need additional tortillas. Of course, you always do; the Don Juan is more a folded pillow than a traditionally-sized taco. Picture a T-shirt in a fold and you have the Don Tuan Taco. Eat it and be done for two days.

Its hours are solely for breakfast and lunch. It closes at three in the afternoon. Mornings are for college students on a budget; lunch is for the office stiffs and construction workers. The artmosphere is chirpy, conversations stringing table to table, the rat-tat-tat of news and gossip moving across the plates, in between bites, drinks.

We've dined pretty much everywhere in the Lone Star State, from the Toddle Inn in Brownsville, to Las Cazuelas in Harlingen, to Don Pepe's in McAllen, to Mi Tierra in San Antonio, to La Familia in Fort Worth, to Cuquita's in Big D. Juan-In-A-Million seems to be in another taco world, one not familiar to most Texans who are used to the same old-same old.

Perhaps it's Juan (shown in black shirt at right). The happy-go-lucky guy originally from Laredo is fronting his business like George Steinbrenner used to front the New York Yankees, always there with a ready smile and bone-rattling handshake.

"Te gusto, amigo?" he says to me as we leave, patting me on the left shoulder as I move to the cash register. I did enjoy it. The food is tasty and the service is exceptional, but, for me, maybe the neat thing about our visit was Juan's genuine joy, one I do not believe had anything to do with the incessant ringing of the cash register.

His desire to be a great host seemed too real...

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[2300 E. Cesar Chavez Street, Austin 78702; 512-472-3872; Hours: Daily, 7am-3pm; Credit cards okay; Dress: casual, whatever; Parking: adequate; Price Range: Affordable...]

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(Editor's Note: This article was originally published in January. It's Friday, so we think it fits in with the weekend mood. The review still applies.) 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

In Brownsville, A Search For The Town's Top Gay Man...Clue: Everybody's A Suspect...

Editor of The Tribune

BROWNSVILLE, Texas - We were done talking about bad minor league baseball in the Rio Grande Valey when Jerry McHale lifted his emptied beer mug and fired the damned thing into the nearby resaca as if to show how a fastball ought to be thrown. "I hate those lousy Rio Grande Valley WhiteWings," he roared after craning his head back like a javeline thrower. "If you've seen one pendejo strike out around here, you've seen them all. My maid can run the bases better than those stiffs!"

He's not interested in discussing the low-level of play in the Valley's contributions to the North American Baseball League; McHale, once a promising third baseman in his hometown of Modesto, California, said he went to a WhiteWings game in Harlingen up the road last year and was so disgusted with the awful level of play that he went to the men's room, did his business by way of a creative squat and flushed the commode 20 times just to tax the city sewer system enough to cover the game's price of admission.

McHale's out to offer a new kind of Journalism in his goofy, gossip-fueled community of some 140,000 legals and illegals who will sing a corrido to some brazen drug dealer for you inside a cheap cantina at the drop if a few pesos on the aging bar. He thinks the time has come to take the pulse of the town as it has never been taken before.

"I'm going to work-up lists that will put our luckless denizens in some sort of fuckin' category, so that we're not all lumped as bordertown idiots unable to dream a damned thing," he said as a fattened waitress walked by and he lifted his hand to show her two fingers.

"Peace to you, brother," she said, and he began screaming, "Two goddamned beers!"

The waitress loped off toward the bar, swatting at something or another on her butt as she walked. New Journalism has no time for the stupid, McHale went on, lipping a Bugler he'd rolled minutes earlier when the jukebox had exploded with a song by Jose Alfredo Jimenez and two skinny, high-throated guys had bopped-up from a nearby table to dance together as if popsicle-addicted pachucos.

The scene was telling, because McHale, in his new & improved blog, plans to draft a list of the Top Gay Men in Brownsville. He's of the opinion that such a compilation will not only allow Gays and Lesbians a new status in the Extreme-Macho town, but also allow non-Gays to know where things stand sexually in Brownsville. "You could say it's about damned time, but, then, how long has that sentence been in play?" he asks as a seagull swoops in a steals the last of his tasty basket snack.

"Mas chips!" he hollers at the hefty waitress, whose name is Isidra and who earlier had said she understands Gay, but still needs her "number one Juan."

So, where will he begin, we ask.

"City Hall, where else?"


"Oh, hell yes! I know we have Gay cops. All you have to do is look at how they walk!"


"They love each other, so there's no mystery there. Is Mayor Tony Martinez Gay? I don't know yet, but I plan to find out. Is Sheriff Omar Lucio gay? Quien sabe, vato. Pero veremos, no? Is new commissioner Estela Chavez-Vasquez Gay? If she is, it's a waste."

He won't say anything about the local press, bloggers included, although he has in the past often criticized one blogger who is admittedly Gay. We ask: Is he on your list?

"Absolutely! Him and a few others who think they're in the closet. The closet in Brownsville is a huge sonofabitch, but Gays will talk. They're as shifty and gossipy as women. My advice to non-Gays is that you never piss-off a Gay. They're vicious as all Hell. Worse than Al-Qaeda!"

It's an interesting time along the lawless Texas-Mexico border. Crime is rampant. Jobs are few and unemployment is okay with the region's ever-slouching masses. Dreams travel here and, as with minor league baseball, die a warning-track death.

"Is State Rep. Rene Oliveira gay?" we ask as the sun begins to set and an outbound freight train blows its goodbye horn. McHale makes a clownish face, clears his sun-baked throat and says, without laughing,"The Plump Partridge? Maybe. He has the Gay walk, that's for sure."

It's a hot, humid day. We leave it at that after telling McHale we'll look for his story in the coming days. The revelations likely will not shock a town already used to being shocked. But it's a story, and stories are pretty much free around here. Comedy, on the other hand, and that is how the many Machos here chose to see the Gay lifestyle, comes along only every now and then...

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

For GOP, Few Words Of Wisdom...Circus Shows From Coast To Coast...Word Up!...

Editor of The Tribune

AUSTIN, Texas - The East Coast has been a mangrove swamp for Republican hopefuls Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann. But does it really matter? Do these two political sideshows mean anything? Do we care that Bachmann confuses sites of the Battle of Lexington and the one in Concord? She flubbed that test in New Hampshire in the days ahead of last week's Republican Party debate.

And do we care when Palin, the quitting governor of Alaska, tells a reporter Paul Revere rode that fateful night to alert the British that the British were coming? Is she still relevant outside the soiled acreage owned by Far Rightwing extremists? Does the average American, not the Republican who has $1.5 million in revolving accounts with the country's top jewelry store, still care a whit about the cheap clown act that is Palin?

It's a strange time in Republican Party politics. Its men are an air-conditioned collection of bad scrummers and its women are, well, singlehandedly bringing back that 1980s word - Ditz.

Ms. Palin took the long way toward her education, attending five colleges before getting her degree. Ms. Bachmann trumped her with a law degree, but also attended Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma, where she did some work for a professor rather interested in the progress being made by White Supremacy groups in this country. That Bachman is a card. Her sister is a Lesbian and Bachmann insist that the lifestyle is an abomination to Humanity.

We ask: Is this what's next for America?

Republicans hold hard to their issues, taking unbending stands on immigration and employee unions and health care that, dang it, goes against their own interests. Bachmann will rail against federal entitlement programs, like funding Headstart, which educates and feeds kids, but accepts $250,000 in farm subsidies for her family. She and Palin are two puppies lost in the woods without the crumbs.

Republicans harp loudly about President Barack Obama's insistence that the nation's wealthy pay a fairer share of their taxes. That's government meddling with the people, they crow.

But statistics don't lie. The wealth trend has it that the richest 2 percent of Americans are getting 20 percent of the wealth. While the Middle Class citizen has struggled to maintain wages during the last 20 years, the wealthy have seen their riches increase dramatically. American productivity is said to be on the rise, yet wages flatline. The difference is glaring and alarming, yet Republicans fully believe that the nation can recover on the backs of the poor and the Middle Class. Don't tax us, say the rich. Tax the idiot, Joe Sixpack.

The thing is not all Republicans are wealthy. Some fall-in with the dogma out of some sense of fear that Democrats are after an all-out socialist nation. They are ignorant about health care, or they somehow believe that it is a welfare program. The aging of the so-called Baby Boomers is also at play. Many of these Republicans, and we include the ridiculously naive Tea Party folks, need these healthcare programs. Old is not owned by the Democratric Party. Sick is sick, and the cost of avoiding sickness is steep. And just as the nation takes care of security by way of its military, it too has the reponsibility to care for its own. You don't leave your citizens behind.

Problems abound for this country. And all of those problems, from the social to the economic, affect everybody. Why is healthcare socialism and farm subsides not? It's a wonderment.

Democrats ought to be criticized for not doing enough, for not taking the fight to Republicans more aggressively. Republicans have voted "No" on every action sought by the Obama Adminstration. That's been going on for almost three years now. It'll likely go on through the remaining years the president holds that office. That is not government; that is giving up, or it is being insular and self-serving.

So, we have Palin and Bachmann. Not much there. One should be running for mayor of her hometown of Wasilla, Alaska, where she Peter Principled, and the other should remember that Republican values throw her loving Lesbian stepsister under the bus. Only, that's not the GOP playbook.

No, the Republicans are okay with their leaders never having served in the military or educated themselves in the best universities of the land. They will cheer for a woman who quit her elected office to rake in the cash from public appearances. And they will grant the separatist Bachmann standing she does not deserve.

It is a joke, of course.

But after George W. Bush, every Republican moron likely got the idea that, well, if he did it, I can do it, too. Palin hasn't announced plans to run for the presidency. Bachmann is set to do it next Monday. So far, there are six men in the same contest, with a few others considering the plunge.

It's time this country had a female president. We'll say that openly.

But not Palin and not Bachmann.

The country does not need to lower its standard. A debate between the president and either of these two women would quickly be labeled abuse. You'd think the Republican braintrust would know it...

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