Why not dress up our highway interchange?

Texas Freeway road art - Lone Star State on abutment wall with landscaping June 2014 I-10 pic

My wife and I — along with our dog Toby — have just returned from a week on the road.

Our travels took us south, then west, then north and back home. Along the way we zoomed through three substantial cities: Tucson and Phoenix, Ariz., and Albuquerque.

Tucson and Albuquerque are about the same size, roughly 550,000 or so residents; Phoenix is home to more than 1.5 million folks.

What do they have in common, other than fairly picturesque landscapes?

They all have highways that are attractive to the eye. Moreover, they are attractive to those of us who are just passing through. They leave us with a smattering of good vibes about the city and the care the leaders there take in dressing up their highways.

Whenever we see such things on our travels around the country, the same question keeps popping back into my pointed head: Why can’t Amarillo dress up its lone major freeway interchange?

One of these days — maybe soon — I intend to get to the bottom of this dilemma.

The Texas Department of Transportation rebuilt the Interstate 40/27 interchange just a few years ago. It reversed the over-under ramps of both highways. It built new structures and then painted the concrete in Palo Duro Canyon colors, with green trim. It painted those Amarillo Chamber of Commerce boots on the side of the overpasses.

Then it decided to plant a few native trees.

That’s it.

TxDOT hasn’t done much to spruce up the appearance of the interchange. I visited once some years ago with the TxDOT officials who oversaw the landscaping of the interchange and he told me — in response to a question about the then-shabby appearance of the interchange — that the state was allowing “native flora” to take over. My reaction was, well, laughter.

The state can do much better than it has done with this highway “beautification” effort.

If other cities and states can make their public rights-of-way attractive to visitors passing through, why not Amarillo?


Time to handicap the fall election


This isn’t the first comment written on the upcoming general election for president of the United States.

Having stipulated that I’m a little late stepping into this muck, I’ll now offer what I believe is shaping up for the fall campaign.

Hillary vs. Donald will be the most miserable campaign in most people’s memories.

Hillary Rodham Clinton is now almost assuredly going to face Donald J. Trump in the race for the White House.

As I look at the Electoral College map and read all that polling data, I am left with an inescapable conclusion. It is that unless Clinton gets indicted a month before the election on some made-up charge by a federal grand jury involving the use of her personal email account, she is going to become the second history-making president in a row.

Just as Barack Obama was the first African-American to become president, Hillary Clinton will become … oh, you know.

Not only that, in my humble view she very well could make history in another fashion. She could score the largest electoral landslide perhaps since Ronald Reagan’s re-election victory in 1984. President Reagan won 49 states and 525 electoral votes.

All that’s left, thus, for Clinton is to score a 50-state sweep. I believe it’s possible.

How do I know that? Well, I don’t know it.

Polling data, though, suggest that Trump’s huge gender gap is too big to overcome. Women have something like a 70-plus percent unfavorable view of Trump. Women also comprise about 53 percent of the population; the percentage is even greater among likely voters. Women tend to vote more than men.

That’s one key demographic working against Trump.

Let’s try another one: Latinos.

Trump’s opening gambit during the campaign was to label illegal Mexican immigrants as rapists, murderers and drug dealers, while adding he was “sure there are some good ones, too.”

Now, if you’re a Latino American, do you believe this individual really cares about you? Are you going to buy into his notion that he just “loves Hispanics” because “so many of them work for me”?

Therein lies another gold mine for Team Clinton.

I also will posit this notion: Trump’s hideous standing among Latinos is going to make states such as Texas and Arizona highly competitive for Clinton and the Democrats. New Mexico will vote for Clinton anyway, along with Colorado, Nevada and California.

You want another towering obstacle for Trump? How about those “traditional Republicans” who don’t trust Trump as far as they can throw him. The evangelical voters who comprise so much of the Deep South aren’t likely to stampede willingly to Clinton’s side. Instead, they just might sit this election out, denying Trump the cushion he would need to defeat Clinton throughout Dixie.

The Rust Belt is a goner for Trump. The Great Lakes, the Northeast and New England all are locked in for Clinton.

The Farm Belt? What in the world has Trump done to woo voters who live in Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, the Dakotas, except “tell it like it is”? These states also are full of those traditional Republicans who dislike Trump’s garish lifestyle and his less-than-stellar personal conduct over the years.

The Pacific Northwest will stand firm behind Clinton. Hawaii is for Hillary. Alaska, too.

OK, I’ve just spent a lot of energy in the past few minutes bashing Donald Trump.

What does Hillary Clinton bring to the table? What would commend her?

I get that she’s got a lot of negatives, too. She doesn’t appear to be the most trustworthy candidate in the history of the Republic.

However, she is tough. She is seasoned. She knows how government works. Say what you want about her playing the “woman card,” her gender will work in her favor.

This campaign will not be waged on the high ground. It will be fought in the trenches. Trump will take it there, just as he has done throughout the Republican Party primary. Those who have watched the Clinton organization up close, though, know that Hillary Clinton has surrounded herself with seasoned, battle-tested pros who know how to respond quickly and with maximum effectiveness.

Having said all this, I am the first to acknowledge that I am wrong more than I am right.

On this one,  though, my gut tells me I am more right than wrong.

One final caveat. This election campaign to date has turned every conventional political theory on its ear.

We shall see.

Cruz channels Newt by blaming the media

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz speaks during the NRA-ILA Leadership Forum at the National Rifle Association's 142 Annual Meetings and Exhibits in the George R. Brown Convention Center Friday, May 3, 2013, in Houston.  The 2013 NRA Annual Meetings and Exhibits runs from Friday, May 3, through Sunday, May 5.  More than 70,000 are expected to attend the event with more than 500 exhibitors represented. The convention will features training and education demos, the Antiques Guns and Gold Showcase, book signings, speakers including Glenn Beck, Ted Nugent and Sarah Palin as well as NRA Youth Day on Sunday ( Johnny Hanson / Houston Chronicle )

Ted Cruz is likely to get beat Tuesday in Indiana.

With a probable win in the Hoosier State’s Republican presidential primary, Donald J. Trump  will be standing as the presumptive GOP nominee.

So, who’s Ted Cruz blaming for the flameout his campaign suddenly is experiencing? The media.


It’s not going to work for the junior U.S. senator from Texas any more than it worked for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich four years ago when he sought to blame the messenger for reporting negative things about his campaign.

“Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd tried in vain Sunday to get Cruz to answer a simple declarative question: Will you support Trump if he’s the nominee?

Cruz didn’t answer. He then sought to blame the media, which he said are controlled by liberal Democrats.

“That’s what people hate about politics and the media,” Todd answered. “The broad brush.”

Yes, Cruz was painting the media with the broadest of brushes. Gingrich sought to do the same thing in 2012 with his broadsides against the “mainstream media.”

I just feel compelled to remind all of those who keep insisting the media speak with one voice that the “mainstream media” also comprise a large number of conservative voices. Fox News Channel? The bevy of radio talk-show hosts? All the right-leaning publications around the country — The Weekly Standard, The National Review? They, too, are part of the mainstream.

And let’s not ignore the torrent of online outlets that give the conservatives — even the “true conservatives,” such as Sen. Cruz — plenty of opportunities to air their views.

As Todd told Cruz on Sunday, Republican voters — not the media — are rejecting his message.

Cruz turns insult into a compliment


Didn’t you just know that Ted Cruz was going to turn the former speaker of the House’s comments about him into a compliment?

Sure you did.

The junior U.S. senator from Texas is “Lucifer in the flesh,” according to former Speaker John Boehner, who also called Cruz the “most miserable son of a b****” he’s ever worked with.


Cruz’s reaction. It just proves he’s a real “outsider.”

The Republican presidential candidate is proud of running as an outsider, even though he’s worked on the inside for all of three-plus years. He was elected to the Senate in 2012 in his first race for elective office ever.

He has taken pride in his ability to get under people’s skin. He’s called the Senate majority leader a liar; he’s questioned the commitment to the military of genuine war heroes; he sought to shut down the government in a failed attempt to overturn the Affordable Care Act.

What a guy.

Boehner quit the House because he had grown fed up with legislators like Cruz.

Hey, it’s a badge of honor, according to the Cruz Missile.

Let’s try to set this into some perspective.

The federal government is a complicated piece of machinery. It requires knowledge, skill, nuance, diplomacy, tact and, oh yes, the ability to compromise on occasion.

Cruz keeps harping along the GOP primary campaign trail that he isn’t going to compromise on anything. He sounds for all the world like one of those lawmakers who sees the folks on the other side of the aisle as enemies, not just adversaries.

Sure, the other side has its share of haters. Florida U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, a Democrat, comes to mind immediately. He’s got about as much actual experience in the federal government as Cruz, but he manages to shoot off his mouth whenever the cameras are rolling.

He’s the clown who said he’s file suit against Cruz to challenge whether the Canadian-born senator is constitutionally qualified to run for president.

Memo to Grayson: He’s qualified.

Back to Cruz.

He’s self-proclaimed hotshot with little legislative accomplishment to show for all his fiery rhetoric.

He can proclaim his outsider street cred all he wants. However, if he intends to work with the very people he condemns — namely his colleagues in the legislative branch of government — then he’s got to build some relationships that so far simply do not exist.



A wild windup to a wondrous week


This is the latest in an occasional series of blog posts commenting on upcoming retirement.

Well now …

That was some ending to a totally delightful week on the road.

We awoke this morning at what has turned out to be my favorite RV park, in Gallup, N.M., to find our truck and fifth wheel dusted with snow.

I had to remind myself. Today is the First of May, yes?

We turned on the TV to watch the local news and we learned about high wind warnings all across New Mexico; they would be especially fierce between Grants and Santa Rosa — right in the line of fire, so to speak, of our route home.

Oh, brother. What do we do?

My wife reminded me of some obligations we have on Monday. If we were “fully retired,” she said, “we could pull up short of home, spend the night at an RV park somewhere and cruise on in the next day.”

Can’t do it.

We decided to wait a while before shoving off.

Then we took flight — in a manner of speaking.

Eastward we trudged: Me, Wife and Toby the Puppy — who I should add wasn’t the least bit concerned about a single thing. As long as he has his mother and yours truly, life is good.

We arrived in Gallup the previous day after driving from Casa Grande, Ariz., where the temperature had hit the high 70s. Gallup sits about 6,500 feet above sea level. Thus, it is cooler than the Valley of the Sun under normal circumstances.

There wasn’t a lot of snow to be seen. But as we moved closer to Grants, the scene changed. Not dramatically. But the snow crept closer to Interstate 40. Then we saw a westbound snowplow tossing the snow off the outside lane going in the opposite direction.

The temperature outside? A bracing 33 degrees.

This is May 1? Am I correct.

Onward we went.

Just as we crested the summit going into Albuquerque we started feeling the wind the weather guy was talking about earlier in the morning. I’m not sure it was of the dangerous variety. Besides, we’ve lived in the Texas Panhandle for more than 21 years, so we’re fairly used to the West Texas wind.

We did decide, though, to slow our rig down. Neither of us is daredevil enough to push the speed limit in what could be described as inclement weather.

Everyone else? They roared past us as though we were going backward.

Bully for them.

A six-hour trip home turned into a seven-hour trip home.

We did make a decision, though, from this experience. Once we do declare ourselves to be fully retired, and we no longer have those obligations awaiting us at home, we’ve decided against making RV park reservations too far in advance.

There’s no way to resist the forces of Mother Nature.

Flexibility is the key to this retirement thing. Or so I’ve been told.

Do as Jolly says, not as he does


David Jolly says he wants members of Congress to stop spending so much time soliciting money from donors.

So, what does the Florida Republican lawmaker do? He attends a fundraiser to, um, raise money for his own campaign for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by fellow Republican Marco Rubio.


I was somewhat enthralled by Rep. Jolly when he appeared this past Sunday on “60 Minutes.” He has authored something called the STOP Act. Its aim is to prohibit incumbent House members from spending so much time “dialing for dollars.” Jolly told CBS News’ Nora O’Donnell that House members spend more time manning the phones making “cold calls” on donors than they spending doing the job to which they’ve been elected.

He talked about things such as, oh, “constituent service.” You know, dealing with constituents’ questions about Social Security payments, veterans benefits … things like that.

I told some family members just yesterday that if Jolly were running for president today I’d consider voting for him over any of the others seeking the nation’s highest job.

According to Politico: “The piece sparked an intra-party feud between Jolly and the National Republican Congressional Committee. The NRCC said Jolly vastly overstated how much time lawmakers spend raising money.”

He’s gotten only a handful of co-sponsors. The act isn’t likely to get much traction in the House, where members say they “hate” having to raise so much money.

Still, I guess they just can’t help themselves.

As for the fundraiser Jolly attended, his flack justified it by saying Jolly didn’t actually telephone anyone to invite them to the event.

There. Do you feel better about it?


Another travel milestone crossed


This is the latest in a series of occasional blog posts commenting on upcoming retirement.

GALLUP, N.M. — I wasn’t waiting consciously for this revelation.

However, I knew I would recognize it when I felt it.

It occurred during our latest trip pulling our fifth wheel through three states.

The revelation showed itself when I realized I wasn’t thinking instinctively about returning home. Yes, I thought about when we would get back to our home on the Texas Tundra, but it was a conscious thought, one that I had to decide to think about.

We visited Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Sitting Bull Falls … all in far West Texas and southeastern New Mexico. Then we tooled over to Casa Grande, Ariz., between Tucson and Phoenix, to visit my uncle and aunt.

We have laughed all along the way, ogling the sights and enjoying Mother Nature’s splendor. We have enjoyed catching up a bit with family members.

Through it all, I haven’t harbored a single instinctive thought about going home. When we first started taking our RV onto the highway, I would think about the end of a particular journey. I couldn’t help myself. It never detracted from my enjoying the many moments we’ve shared so far. However, those thoughts did cross my mind.

Now we find ourselves getting caught up routinely in the real-time joy we experience on the road.

I mention this to signify that our comfort with our 28-foot fifth wheel has taken us to a new level of enjoyment in the travel we plan to do once we declare ourselves to be fully retired.

We’re not there just yet.

However, we’ll know when that moment arrives, too.


TEA Party redefines GOP


One of the more fascinating dynamics of the current political climate has been the realigning — in the minds of some folks — of the Republican Party.

I actually have laughed out loud at the TEA Party faction of the GOP that has taken to referring to “mainstream Republicans” as RINOs: Republicans in Name Only.

TEA Party, of course, actually is an acronym that stands for Taxed Enough Already. They comprise the harsher wing of the once-great party. They also have dominated the debate within the Republican Party and are seeking to dominate the debate across the nation.

The impending nomination of Donald J. Trump as the GOP’s next presidential candidate quite possibly is going to trigger a major realignment. The party we’ve come to know and (some of us) loathe might not exist after the November election if Trump gets swept by Democratic nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton; by “swept” I mean that Clinton quite possibly could score a historic landslide victory.

My hope for the party is that it reconfigures itself in the mold of, say, Gerald Ford, Nelson Rockefeller, Everett Dirksen, George H.W. Bush and — just for good measure — Ronald W. Reagan.

Today’s TEA Party faithful like to compare themselves to Reagan. It’s a false comparison. Why? Reagan knew how to work with Democrats. He was unafraid to reach across to those on the other side when the need arose.

Today’s TEA Party cabal has none of that skill, or willingness.

I keep hearing from my network of friends, acquaintances and former professional colleagues who keep tossing the RINO epithet at today’s Republicans who, in my view, are far more traditionally Republican in their political world view than the zealots who’ve hijacked the party’s once-good name for their own purpose.

Let the realignment continue.


What once was impossible has become probable


I never thought it would come to this.

The Republican Party now looks as though it’s about to nominate a certifiably unfit individual for the presidency of the United States of America.

Donald J. Trump is the man.

I’ve had more conversations with fellow political junkies that I am able to count. Some of them are Trumpkins. Most are not.

To those who support Trump, I am no longer able to persuade them that they have made a huge mistake. To those who stand with me in their utter disbelief at what appears set to transpire in Cleveland this summer, I only can say: I feel your pain.

This individual’s political ascent is utterly beyond belief.

At any level imaginable, he is unfit for the office of president.

Let’s start with Trump’s personal history. He is married to his third wife. He divorced his first two wives. He produced a child with the woman who would become his second wife while he was still married to Wife No. 1. He would boast of his extramarital affairs.

His opulent lifestyle is beyond anything that virtually all Americans cannot relate.

Trump’s ignorance of policy take my breath away. He said he wouldn’t stand in the way of Japan and South Korea developing nuclear weapons as a hedge against North Korea. He utterly doesn’t understand or comprehend the reason for NATO’s existence in Europe.

How about this man’s initial statement about women deserving to be punished for obtaining an illegal abortion? Can there be anything more ridiculous than to punish a woman for making this kind of decision?

The insults have become almost too routine to chronicle. I won’t go there. You know what he’s said about his foes, about illegal immigrants, about one noted Vietnam War veteran’s captivity during that horrible conflict, people with physical disabilities.

He doesn’t understand the limits of power contained in the office he seeks. The people who wrote the Constitution built in some limits on the presidency. Trump keeps talking about all the things he intends to do unilaterally: build a wall, bring back jobs, make sure department store employees deliver “Merry Christmas” greetings to customers.

How does this buffoon keep getting support? Why, he “tells it like it is,” his supporters say. He hates “political correctness.”

Well, I never in a zillion years thought we’d get to this point.

What in the world has happened to a once-great political party?

Ferrell backs out of Reagan ‘satire’


I’ll take all the credit I deserve for this bit of entertainment/political news.

Will Ferrell has dropped out of a proposed movie about the debilitating disease that took the life of President Ronald Reagan.

The film is intended to satirize the Alzheimer’s disease that stripped President Reagan of his memory, his cognitive skill, his very essence. He died in 2004 of complications from the disease after bidding farewell to the nation a decade earlier in a heartbreaking letter disclosing he had been caught in the disease’s early onset.


Yes, I was one of those who said the idea of such a satire went beyond the bounds of taste and class. And it disappointed me greatly that Ferrell — one of my favorite comic actors — was considering playing the stricken president in this so-called “satire.”

There is not a single thing funny about the disease that afflicts more than 5 million Americans — and inflicts an unbearable burden of pain and heartache on the loved ones who care for them.

So, Ferrell has dropped out. The backlash against the film was intense.

“There’s nothing funny about Alzheimer’s. It is terrifying for the families of those who suffer from it. They live with the fear [of] what will change next, they have to live with this terror and grief every day,” Reagan’s daughter Patti Davis told Page Six. “This movie is cruel, not just to my father, but to the millions of people who have the disease, and the millions more who care for them and watch them suffer every day.”


Now, let’s hope that the producers of “Reagan” will think better about poking fun at a relentless, ruthless killer … and its victims.


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