Barfield Building gets another look … maybe

I would love to cheer this bit of news regarding a long-standing downtown Amarillo eyesore.

I’m afraid I have to hold back the hoo-rah. You see, we’ve been down this path before — many times before, in fact.

The owners of the Barfield Building — at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Polk Street — have hired a Dallas architectural firm and will be seeking tax credits to help finance a project to turn the building into a downtown hotel. They’re looking at using the Barfield’s historical significance as a lure for the credits; they cite the Fisk Building’s conversion into a downtown hotel using about $16 million in tax credits.

Does any of this sound familiar regarding the Barfield Building? It should.

The building was erected in the late 1920s. It’s been vacant since the early 1990s. Its prior owner, Todd Harmon, couldn’t get anything done. Another investor, Tom Pauken, took ownership. He then handed it off to a local investment consortium. Now the current owners have enlisted the help of a firm to develop plans.

As I read the news report about the Barfield, I see words like “plans” and “hopeful.” I translate that kind of language into “pipe dream.”

Barfield may get aid

Don’t misconstrue my sentiments. I would applaud the renovation of the Barfield Building were it to come to fruition. Any effort to restore an old structure and return it to something of actual value is going to benefit the city.

However …

Have you seen the Barfield Building — lately? A construction team years ago managed to tear out the ground floor. Then work stopped. They boarded up the place to keep transients from using it as shelter.

We’ve hit starts and stops. Building owners and investors have come and gone. I’ve witnessed much of this during the 22 years I’ve lived in Amarillo.

I hope you’ll forgive me if I’m not yet ready to climb aboard this bandwagon. At least not yet.

Let the ‘children’ stay in U.S.

DACA is on the table now for the president of the United States.

Donald Trump should do the right thing and leave it alone. He shouldn’t axe it. He shouldn’t send U.S. residents back to somewhere they’ve never known.

DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

There’s news that Trump is preparing to make a decision on DACA and on whether he’s going to order the expulsion of undocumented immigrants. Don’t do it, Mr. President. It’s not the right thing to do.

DACA covers those who came to this country as children of undocumented immigrants. They were in some cases infants and toddlers. They grew up in the United States. They were educated here. Many of them have grown into responsible adults and have been hired to do important work.

Do we now toss them out because of something their parents did and committed an illegal act over which these children had zero control?

The president is trying to shore up his Republican Party base and a decision to toss out the DACA residents would surely please the 30-percent base of Americans who still endorse Trump’s agenda.

Trump campaigned for the presidency pledging to toss aside DACA. He calls it “amnesty” for illegal immigrants. It is no such thing. DACA gives these individuals a path to citizenship or to achieve legal immigrant status. That’s it.

Maybe he should ask his secretary of energy, Rick Perry, the former governor of Texas who has supported allowing these residents to remain in the United States. Indeed, Perry knows the impact that these individuals have on a state’s economy and the value they bring to society as responsible adults. Perry’s support of DACA echoes the belief of another former Texas governor, former President George W. Bush.

There’s also another political calculation that Trump needs to ponder. He continues to poll miserably among Hispanic Americans. To be candid, I don’t give a damn if he finds a way to please that demographic group. If he does take that into account and he scraps the notion of tossing out these U.S. residents — these de facto Americans — he’ll do far more than please a voting demographic he needs while angering the “base” that’s been with him all along.

The president would be doing the right thing.

No ‘allegedly’ about it; Arpaio is guilty

I have refrained from criticizing the editorial positions taken by the newspaper where my journalism career ended … but I’m going to make a brief exception here.

The Amarillo Globe-News published an editorial this week that questions the outrage expressed over the presidential pardon of former “Sheriff Joe” Arpaio. The editorial missed the mark on two important points.

First point: The AGN refers to the “alleged” crime for which Arpaio was convicted. Others have said as much already, but there’s no “alleged” or “allegedly” about it.

Arpaio was found guilty by a U.S. District judge of disobeying a lawful court order, which prohibited him from continuing his roundup of individuals he suspected of being illegal immigrants. He was waiting to be sentenced for his contempt of court conviction when Donald J. Trump intervened late this past week with his full and unconditional pardon of the former sheriff.

Furthermore, the former Maricopa County, Ariz., sheriff’s acceptance of the pardon confirms his guilt — as if it needed confirmation.

Second point: This gets more to the crux of the editorial’s misplaced ire. The AGN suggests that the judge’s ruling was dictated more by politics than the application of the law. U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton, the AGN notes, was appointed in 2000 by former President Bill Clinton. She’s a Democratic appointee; Arpaio is a Republican. Do you get it? Bolton’s decision was based on political considerations, according to the AGN. I guess I could suggest, too, that the Senate that confirmed Bolton was dominated by Republicans.

Let’s hold on here. The U.S. Constitution allows the president to make appointments to the federal judiciary. It makes no mention of partisan consideration. A judge who gets a presidential nod then is approved by the U.S. Senate. Then that judge is empowered fully to implement the law.

What the AGN has done with this argument is impugn the integrity of the federal judiciary, which is precisely what the president of the United States has done when the courts have ruled against him on other matters. He referred to a federal jurist in Washington state as a “so-called judge” when he struck down the president’s ban on Muslims traveling to the United States. He has questioned whether another federal judge could adjudicate a case involving Trump University because “he’s a Mexican.”

The AGN is now traipsing down that that dangerous path.

I don’t care if Jabba the Hut appoints federal judges. If they are qualified to serve and if the U.S. Senate signs off on the appointment, then they are given the full weight of the Constitution to do their job.

Check out the AGN editorial here.

I’ve said my piece about it. You can make up your own mind. I’m out.

This is how Texans respond

Take a good look at this picture.

It was taken in front of a building being used to shelter victims of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey’s devastation.

Are the folks lined up around the building checking in as residents? Are they looking for help? Oh, no. They are lining up to volunteer to assist those in dire need.

I am in no mood to minimize the misery that Harvey is continuing to rain down on the Texas Gulf Coast from the Coastal Bend to the Golden Triangle. But there’s something positive to say about the reaction of Texans who are offering their strong backs and huge hearts for their stricken neighbors.

Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted this picture and wrote: “Look who’s waiting in line in Houston. This is how you get things done in Harris County.”

Have you seen the pictures of drivers in pickup trucks hauling watercraft en route to the Golden Triangle? Flat-bottom boats, speed boats, Jet Skis, kayaks, canoes. Boats of all kinds were being towed along U.S. Highway 90 between Liberty and Beaumont. Those folks were answering the call as well.

Indeed, that’s how you “get things done” in Texas.

It warms my heart, if only for as long as my attention is diverted from the heartbreak that’s still occurring throughout the community my family and I use to call home.

The people’s response to this epic, tragic event makes me proud to live in Texas.

Sociology prof gets canned over thoughtless remark

The beauty and the curse of social media is that messages transmitted go out instantly around the world and no matter how quickly you take them down, they’re out there forever.

Isn’t that right, Kenneth Storey, you careless tweeter?

Storey was fired from his job as a sociology professor at the University of Tampa (Fla.) for suggesting via Twitter that Hurricane Harvey devastated Texas because the state votes so routinely for Republicans.

You hear occasionally from certain clergy that God punishes people because of, oh, government policies on gays; they suggest that the Almighty gets angry over changes in society’s moral values. I routinely dismiss such malarkey.

Kenneth Storey’s snarky commentary goes beyond the pale, too. Millions of Texans are suffering at this very moment. Their grief transcends any hint of partisan politics.

Storey issued an apology. He wrote that he “never meant to wish ill will upon any group.”

Never meant? Well, too bad, Hoss. You did. You got exactly what you deserved.

Harvey now hits where it hurts

Harvey has stormed ashore again. This time, the storm has savaged my old haunts, my digs. It is hurting more of my friends.

The tropical storm is hitting me where it hurts — in a visceral sort of way.

I don’t know what to do. I might start by sending money to relief agencies that are hard at work trying to lend aid, comfort and safety to the residents of the Golden Triangle.

A career opportunity lured me to the Triangle in the spring of 1984. I spent nearly 11 years working for the Beaumont Enterprise. My family came a few months after I assumed my post. We carved out a good life in a community that seemed to flourish in a universe parallel to the one we left in suburban Portland, Ore.

We made friends for life. They are former colleagues of mine who remain close to my heart. They’re hurting now.

I’ve heard conflicting reports of Beaumont being totally “under water.” The same for Port Arthur, about 20 or so miles south on U.S. Highway 69. Orange — the third city in the Golden Triangle — sits along the Sabine River and it, too, is fending off Harvey’s savagery.

We left a lovely home in Beaumont in January 1995. I got word today from one of my friends — whose home has filled with about 5 feet of water in suburban Lumberton — that my old neighborhood in north Beaumont is likely in “rough shape.” He doesn’t know that with absolute certainty, given that the flood water has limited his mobility. I’ll accept his best guess that our former house is likely inundated.

Dammit, anyway!

The president came to Texas to give his support and to pledge the federal government’s commitment to repairing the devastation brought to our state from the Gulf of Mexico. Gov. Greg Abbott has mobilized the Texas National Guard — something on the order of 12,000 troops — and deployed them to assist local first responders.

The stories I’m seeing on TV and reading on the wires are heartbreaking in the extreme.

It was heartbreaking to see the coverage from Corpus Christi, Rockport, Port Lavaca, Aransas Pass and Port Aransas. We have some friends along the Coastal Bend, too, and my heart and prayers go to them.

Ditto for what we saw in Houston, where we have more friends and former colleagues. I spoke with one of them before Harvey delivered its heaviest blow; he talked of moving into the second floor of their home. Then the flood came. I called him back, but I haven’t gotten a response. I pray for the safety of this wonderful family. We have other friends scattered throughout greater Houston who are coping and we worry about them, too.

The Golden Triangle’s suffering is a bit different for us. We know the territory well. We know our way around Beaumont. It shatters my heart to see the damage being done — and to see the grief etched on the faces of the storm’s victims.

Social media have enabled us to keep tabs on many of our friends. But not all of them. I am awaiting news that they’re all OK.

I’m on the verge of shedding tears.

Teamwork, not warnings, is in order, Mr. President

Teamwork, Mr. President. Teamwork.

You need to reach out for help from Congress, not issue warnings of an “or else” consequence if lawmakers fail to enact a “once in a generation” tax overhaul.

Donald Trump ventured to Missouri today to hawk a plan to change the federal tax system. His public remarks were, typically, short on details. The rough outlines suggest that the president wants to cut tax rates for wealthier Americans and perhaps simplify the monstrous tax code — which I read the other day comprises 78,000 pages.

Yikes, eh?

But as his the president’s style, he is putting pressure on Congress to do his bidding. What we learned, though, from the failed Republican-only effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act is that the president needs to weigh in with detailed analysis and must be willing and able to argue the fine points of what he prefers from the lawmakers he needs to make it become law.

Time to pull together.

Trump failed famously to do any of that as the ACA repeal effort floundered and failed in the U.S. Senate.

Now he’s implying a threat to congressional leaders.¬†“I think Congress is going to make a comeback. I hope so. I’ll tell you what, the United States is counting on it,” Trump said in Missouri.

I need to mention, too, that the president’s relationship with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has gone from frosty to frigid. Trump needs McConnell at least as much as the other way around. Meanwhile, House Speaker Paul Ryan — who presides over the body where all tax legislation originates — isn’t exactly singing the president’s praises of late, either.

Get in the game, Mr. President. If you want any sort of success, then it’s time for you to stop threatening and start cajoling.

Politics isn’t easy. Or simple. You can’t just make demands of legislators and expect them to march to your cadence. They have actual “bosses” back home, in their states and congressional districts, who they need to please.

They work for them, Mr. President. Not you.

‘Civil war’ if Trump is impeached? Oh … please!

Jim Bakker is flapping his yap once again.

The convicted felon/TV preacher is declaring that evangelical Christians would launch a second “civil war” if Donald Trump is impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives.

I won’t spend a lot of energy commenting on this clown’s comment, given his seedy past. Bakker, though, does command something of an audience around the country. No, it doesn’t include yours truly.

His threat of a civil war does bring to mind one of the most nagging questions I have about the presidency of Donald Trump. How in the name of all that is holy do evangelical Christians manage to stand behind this guy?

I have seen zero evidence in Trump’s life prior to becoming a politician of any commitment to spiritual matters. I am unaware — as are most of us, I’m quite certain — of any stated devotion to the teachings of Jesus Christ. Nor am I aware of any financial commitments he has made to any sort of Christian mission or ministry; and I am quite certain that if Trump had made such a financial commitment he would be more than happy and willing to boast about it.

Now we have a TV preacher with some celebrity status — a guy who served prison time for fraud and conspiracy, and who quit his PTL ministry after a young woman accused him of raping her — telling us of a threat of “civil war” if the president is impeached?

Arrrgghh!

Setting the record straight on Harvey commentary

It turns out some social media friends and acquaintances have been bickering among themselves over the nature of this blog’s commentary on Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey.

Some of my acquaintances have accused this blog of being overly negative toward Donald Trump. Others have said that’s not so.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have attached a link to all the posts I’ve put out there about Harvey.

http://highplainsblogger.com/?s=Hurricane+Harvey

It’s all right there in the link right above this sentence.

I would like you to take a look at it.

This story has many diverse facets. We have the human suffering; there’s the political story relating to government’s response to it; we can discuss the quality of the first response; we can examine whether the cities and the state were sufficiently prepared; we can talk about the federal government’s role.

High Plains Blogger hasn’t yet touched all of those elements.

In my own defense — and I’m allowed to defend myself, correct? — I haven’t been totally negative, snarky or “bitter” (as one critic keeps reminding others) about certain elements of this on-going tragedy.

My family and I have a bit of skin in this game. We used to live in Beaumont. We all have friends who are suffering. We love them dearly and we wish them all the very best. We also wish we could pick everything up and go there to lend a hand — but the state highway department is telling us way up yonder to “avoid travel to the Texas coast.”

Just want to set the record straight. So there. I’ve done it.

Harvey getting set to deliver a second sucker punch

Here it comes … again!

Hurricane Harvey has been “downgraded” to a tropical storm. The beast delivered its havoc to Houston and is still punishing the nation’s fourth-largest city.

Then it decided to back up, move out over the Gulf of Mexico and pick up some more moisture from the overheated body of water. Now the storm is coming back ashore. Where it makes landfall again remains mostly a guess. It’ll be somewhere east of Houston. Possibly near Beaumont, where my family and I lived for nearly 11 years before moving to higher ground in the Texas Panhandle.

What are we to glean from this mayhem, this madness, the utter terror of our friends, neighbors and loved ones having to endure this wrath?

I am going to maintain faith that our fellow Texans are going to show the kind of strength and resolve they usually exhibit in times of terrible distress.

When the acclaimed PBS series on the Dust Bowl aired a couple of years ago, I learned a lot about the steel that runs up the spines of Texas Panhandle residents who survived that terrible time. The series, titled “The Dust Bowl,” recounted the horror that those survivors felt as they watched the ground beneath them blow away. They were children then. Now, quite obviously, they are much older — but their recollections were vivid and so very moving.

Through it all many of them stayed. They fought through the disaster. They rebuilt their lives.

Those earlier Texans have produced generations just like them today and those among us in real time in this moment are enduring another tragedy, brought by another form of nature’s rage.

The storm named Harvey is coming back in. It’s going to do more damage. That’s the terrible news. There can be no “blessing” to derive from this.

However, I anticipate that even after Harvey finishes its terrible task that our Gulf Coast brethren will find a way to rebuild their shattered lives.

God bless them all.