Downtown recovering much of its past glory

I watched as my friend Beth Duke was beaming the other day while she discussed the progress being made along Polk Street in downtown Amarillo, Texas.

Duke, executive director of Center City of Amarillo, has been at the forefront of Amarillo’s downtown resurgence. She was telling a TV news reporter about the planned opening of a number of new eateries coming into the central business district.

It is occurring to me that what used to be known as the “business district” is about to become the city’s “entertainment district.”

And yet …

I keep hearing the muted rumblings of discontent from some Amarillo residents about he progress that’s occurring in the heart of a city that is on the cusp of achieving the 200,000-resident mark.

Some businesses are moving around, relocating along Polk Street. The city also is welcoming a number of new establishments.

Polk Street, where teenagers used to “cruise” back in the day, is being given new life. It’s no longer the retail corridor it used to be during the day. Instead, it will become a magnet for nightlife.

It’s all part of of a municipal long-range strategic plan, according to Duke, who has brought a unique blend of enthusiasm and deep knowledge of the players who can breathe life into a community where she was born and has spent the vast bulk of her adult life.

And while Polk Street is undergoing its extreme makeover, so is the block on which City Hall sits.

If you look south from City Hall’s front door you see a lot of dirt being moved around. Crews are leveling the property that once contained the Coca-Cola Distribution Center, which was demolished and relocated to a business park at the northeast corner of the city.

Construction will begin very soon on the multipurpose event venue, aka “The Ballpark.” The MPEV doesn’t yet have a name. It will have a significant new tenant by the spring of 2019. It will be a AA baseball franchise that’s moving here from San Antonio. They’re going to play hardball at the MPEV/Ballpark.

What’s more, that storefronts being developed along Polk Street will be bustling with activity.

My wife and I likely won’t around when they throw out the first pitch at the MPEV. We will have relocated to an unknown destination in North Texas. However, we are going to remember how downtown looked when we arrived here in early 1995 and we will compare that desolate memory with what we’re witnessing these days.

What I see happening today are the signs of progress that, to be candid, I didn’t foresee when we first laid eyes on Amarillo more than two decades ago.

I am delighted to the max at what we’re seeing.

I also am proud of my friend Beth Duke, who has witnessed — and played a key role — in the rebirth of her hometown’s central business/entertainment district.

Again I ask: How in the world can we gripe about that?

Sh**hole story just keeps roiling

The sh**hole story is the gift that just keeps on giving.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen sat before a Senate committee today and couldn’t recall hearing Donald J. Trump use the term “sh**hole” to describe African nations, as well as Haiti and El Salvador.

Intelligence Committee members grilled her on what she heard. They queried about what Sen. Dick Durbin said he heard, as he attended the White House meeting on immigration.

Then came a curious response to a question from Sen. Patrick Leahy.

The president had said during the White House meeting that the United States needed to encourage more immigration from Norway, which Nielsen acknowledged during her testimony today.

“Norway is predominantly white, yes?” Leahy asked. Nielsen actually said — and I am not making this up — that she didn’t know about Norway’s predominant ethnic composition.

I am left to wonder … huh, are you kidding me?

The Homeland Security boss doesn’t know that a significant Scandinavian country comprises citizens who are, um, quite white? Many of them are blonde; they have blue eyes; they’re, um, nothing like the folks who come here from those “sh**hole countries.”

This story won’t go away.

Especially when the Trump administration keeps trotting Cabinet officers out who cannot respond to direct questions with equally direct answers.

Insurgents vs. Establishment … in Senate District 31?

West Texas might turn out to be something of a battleground during this spring’s Republican Party primary season.

The party is engaging in a battle among its members: Establishment Wing vs. the Insurgent Wing.

The Insurgents are being led in a fashion by the president of the United States, Donald J. Trump. The Establishment is being called into battle by members of the congressional leadership.

The implications for West Texas’s sprawling Texas Senate District 31 contest? They might lie in the challenge awaiting incumbent state Sen. Kel Seliger, the Amarillo Republican and a stalwart of the Texas Establishment Wing. He chairs the Senate Higher Education Committee and serves as well on the Education Committee.

He is facing two challengers in the GOP primary. He knows them both well. One is former Midland Mayor Mike Canon, a TEA Party favorite who challenged Seliger four years ago; Canon lost the GOP primary by about 5 percentage points. The other is Victor Leal, an Amarillo restaurant owner who touts his Muleshoe mayorship as giving him the requisite government administrative experience.

It gets a bit complicated, however.

Seliger isn’t exactly a fan of the Senate’s presiding officer, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Seliger declined to join the rest of the Senate Republican caucus in signing a letter of endorsement for Patrick’s own re-election bid. I don’t know this as fact, but my strong hunch is that Lt. Gov. Patrick is unhappy with Seliger over this snub.

Who, then, is he backing for the Senate District 31 seat? It’s likely not going to be Sen. Seliger. It might be Canon or Leal … or maybe both!

There’s some political chatter in the Panhandle that suggests that Leal, who ran unsuccessfully for the Texas House District 87 seat in 2010 that former GOP Rep. David Swinford vacated, is running as a spoiler. He intends to peel off enough Panhandle votes that normally would go to Seliger with the hope of forcing a runoff. Leal would say he’s in it to win it and would deny playing the spoiler role. I also can presume that Leal hopes to be one of the two men squaring off in a possible GOP runoff.

Seliger is intent on avoiding a runoff. He plans to pull out all the stops to ensure that his Panhandle base turns out in March to carry him to victory. Meanwhile, he vows to ratchet up his visibility in the southern reaches of the geographically huge Senate district. He maintains a district office in Midland and over the 13 years representing District 31 has become as fluent in Permian Basin-speak as he is in Panhandle-speak. The regions are part of the same district, but their issues are unique.

Canon, meanwhile, likely intends to seek to outflank Seliger on the right, which he sought to do in 2014. Seliger’s campaign material speaks openly, though, about how he is able to deliver “conservative values” to his Senate district constituents.

Will it be enough to stave off this two-headed challenge on his right, one from the Permian Basin and the other from within his own Panhandle base?

Readers of this blog know my own preference. It is that I want Seliger to win outright.

However, I am not going to predict any such outcome. I’ll just wait right along with the rest of the state to see how this internal partisan conflict plays out.

How do you punish these religious perverts?

I have been using the term — or some variation of it — “religious perverts” to describe the Islamic State and other terrorists who commit dastardly acts in the name of a great world religion.

That term now applies to a California husband and wife who’ve been arrested and charged with crimes that simply overwhelm our sense of decency.

David and Louise Turpin are locked up in the Riverside County jail on multiple counts of child endangerment/abuse and related crimes.

Police raided their home and found 13 children chained to their beds. They had been starved to within inches of their lives. The youngest of the Turpins’ children is 2 years of age. The oldest of them has reached adulthood.

Bail has been set at $9 million for each of them. If I were King of the World, I’d make the bail a hundred times greater.

Why did they do this? Family members allege the couple follows some sort of religious tenet. What in the name of the Holy Father can motivate anyone to do such a thing?

If it is a form of religious fervor that drove the Turpins to do this, then all I am left to say is … please, God, shower your mercy on those poor children.

The so-called mother and father of these children need never to be free ever again.

One neighbor told the media he had “no idea this was going on.” It’s easy, I suppose, to condemn neighbors for failing to act. The house reportedly smelled to high heaven.

However, maybe we can ask ourselves: Does anyone with a semblance of decency ever envision adults shackling their children to their beds and damn near starving them to death?

Take a good look at the faces of the Turpins attached to this blog post. You are staring straight into the faces of evil.

POTUS is at it again with Twitter ‘bullying’

Welcome to the president’s world of Twitter targets, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin.

The Illinois Democrat has now been tagged “Dicky” by Donald John Trump Sr.

You see, Durbin stands by his assertion that Trump used the term “sh**hole” to describe Haiti, El Salvador and nations of Africa; he coined the label during a White House meeting on immigration. Durbin was present in the meeting. He said he heard it. He said Trump made that remark “repeatedly.”

Why do we get all these immigrants from “sh**hole countries,” the president reportedly said, adding that he preferred more immigration from “countries like Norway.”

The remark has drawn international scorn. Trump denies he said it. Sure thing, Mr. President. I believe you, just like I believed your claim that Barack Obama was born in Africa and couldn’t serve as president of the United States.

So, the guy who pledged to be the “most presidential” occupant of the White House in history after he took office has dredged up yet another Twitter nickname.

I think one might call this a form of Internet “bullying.”

Oh, that brings up a couple of questions: How about the first lady’s stated desire to make Internet bullying a hallmark during her time in the White House?

Have you had The Talk with your husband, Melania Trump?

What would MLK Jr. think?

The hour is late on this day of national remembrance.

The nation has recognized the 89th birthday of one of the 20th century’s greatest men. Martin Luther King Jr. left a gigantic legacy that reverberates to this very day, this very moment.

I am left to ponder: What would the great Dr. King think of the national mood today?

Others have spoken to this question already. U.S. Rep. John Lewis, one of Dr. King’s key lieutenants back in the day, said he believes MLK would be appalled at the national mood. He wouldn’t approve in any sense of the rhetoric coming from the White House these days. Rep. Lewis believes Dr. King would follow the lead of other contemporary African-American leaders and wouldn’t speak openly to the president of the United States, Donald Trump.

I believe differently. Dr. King made a point of speaking of peace with his foes. His non-violent approach to disobedience became a universal mantra for protesting what many Americans believed were injustices being brought on vast segments of our society.

I just cannot believe that King would snub those with whom he had significant differences.

Of course, we cannot know how history would be different if great leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. had lived. We play the hand we’re dealt. The hand we got in April 1968 — I cannot quite fathom that it was 50 years ago! — came from a rifle shot in Memphis, Tenn. that felled Dr. King.

He died, but his struggle lived on. It lives on to this very day.

I want to believe we have made great strides toward achieving the kind of world that Dr. King envisioned. Sadly, I hear rhetoric that comes from certain national leaders and I worry we have regressed.

My hope springs eternal. Dr. King’s soaring message still resonates. May it continue to remind us of the hope this American titan sought to imbue on us all.

John Lewis reminded us today that Dr. King knew that “we are one family.” To that end, family members shouldn’t turn their back on each other. That is what I hope — and at some level believe — Martin Luther King Jr. would say.

President is never ‘off the clock’

The nuclear missile strike that wasn’t this past weekend brought to mind something I’ve yapped about for the past several years.

It is that presidents of the United States are never “off the clock.” They’re never more than a phone call — or a text message — away from being summoned immediately back to work.

Case in point: When the president was informed that Hawaii residents were panicking over what they thought was an incoming ballistic missile, he was on the golf course. He was playing golf at his resort in south Florida.

The “missile strike” turned out to be a false alarm caused by human error.

Donald J. Trump, though, was summoned by national security aides to tend to the issue immediately. He was called off the golf course and hustled to wherever he went to stand by and to monitor the situation.

Back when Barack Obama was president, Trump and other critics yammered constantly about all the time Obama was spending on the golf course. I countered through this blog that the criticism was unfounded, unjustified and undeserved. I made the point that presidents are on call 24/7. They’re always on the job. They cannot hand it off to someone else.

I’ll say the same thing with Trump in charge. Never mind that he plays more golf than Obama; that’s not the point here.

My point is that any criticism of Trump playing golf while Americans were scrambling for cover in response to a false alarm ignores a fundamental point: Presidents of the United States are not entitled to a single minute as private citizens. They aren’t.

They have to respond to any real or potential emergency — even when they’re playing golf.

POTUS keeps telling us how smart, rich, non-racist he is

Heroes don’t brag about their heroic acts.

Geniuses don’t tell us how smart they are.

Great athletes — the late, great Muhammad Ali notwithstanding — don’t crow about their athletic prowess.

Wealthy folks don’t boast about their riches.

And non-racists don’t need to tell us they aren’t racist.

So … why does Donald John “Stable, Rich, Non-Racist Genius” Trump Sr. insist on reminding us of his myriad admirable qualities?

The president stood alongside a fellow Republican this past weekend, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and told us that he is “not a racist. I am the least racist person you have ever interviewed.” The response was directed, I presume, at a reporter who had asked Trump “Are you a racist?”

I am baffled by this president’s insistence on reminding us of the things that need no reminder.

The racist label has been given new prominence in the wake of Trump’s statement about immigrants coming here from “s**thole countries” that, by the way, happen to be populated by citizens with dark skin. This statement attributed to the president, of course, follows a distinct pattern of disparagement and disrespect of certain individuals and institutions.

So, he tells us he is “not a racist.” Big … deal! His actions and his myriad utterances over many years suggest something quite different.

He bellows about how rich he is. Then he refuses to release his tax returns, ignoring a custom followed by presidential nominees for the past 40 years. Those returns would tell us whether he is as rich as he claims to be.

And his intelligence? Well, he keeps yapping about how he knows “the best words,” and how he attended the “best college,” where he was an academic star. Just wondering: Has anyone seen this guy’s college transcript?

As CNN’s Chis Cillizza has noted, the president clearly is “overcompensating” for what appear to be some serious shortcomings.

My own view is that someone who tells you he is the “best” at anything, he usually isn’t. If he has to remind us that he is “not a racist,” well, you know …

So, what about nuclear preparedness?

Hawaii residents were shaken to their core over the weekend when they thought for what seemed like forever that they were going to be blown to bits in a nuclear attack.

Their cell phones sounded an alarm and it took 38 minutes for them to learn the truth: It was a false alarm.

But, this incident begs many questions. Why did it take so long to call off the statewide panic? How did an employee “push the wrong button”?

And then there’s this: What kind of preparation are other communities throughout the United States making in case of a real nuclear attack?

I’ve been thinking about that for the past day or so. What would happen if some enemy nation launched missiles aimed at a Department of Energy facility just northeast of Amarillo, Texas? You know about which I am mentioning here: Pantex, the sprawling compound in Carson County where this nation stores nuclear warheads. Many of us here refer to it light-heartedly as “The Bomb Factory.”

But it’s no joke. They do serious work out there.

What has Amarillo done to prepare for such an event?

I have lived in the Texas Panhandle for 23 years. So help me, I never have heard about a community emergency response system. Whatever it is, I don’t know where to go.

I grew up, of course, in the duck-and-cover era when the United States faced off against the Soviet Union, the other nuclear superpower. It was just Uncle Sam vs. the Big Ol’ Bear. Us vs. Them. Good Guys vs. the Bad Guys.

Today’s world is different. The USSR morphed back into Russia, but they’ve still got plenty of nukes. So do several other nations: India, Pakistan, South Africa, China, the UK, France … maybe Israel.

Oh, and North Korea!

The SNAFU in Hawaii has alerted all of us — or at least it should alert us — that the nuclear threat remains dire, perhaps even more so than it was during the Cold War.

Are we prepared? If someone out there has a plan, let’s hear it.

I’m all ears.

An ’embarrassment’? Yeah, do ya think?

Chuck Hagel isn’t your run-of-the-mill Donald John Trump critic.

He once served as defense secretary for President Obama. Oh, but wait! The man isn’t a squishy liberal. He also is a former Republican senator from Nebraska, one of the many states known to be rock-ribbed, red-state Republican bastions. Hagel also is a Vietnam War veteran, serving there in the U.S. Army. He’s been in battle and knows its consequences.

So, when Chuck Hagel calls the president an “embarrassment” to the nation, well, I tend to listen to him.

Hagel sat down with the Lincoln (Neb.) Star-Journal in which he unloaded on the president. He tore into him for his reported “sh**hole countries” comment describing Haiti, El Salvador and nations in Africa that account for many immigrants coming into the United States.

“Donald Trump is doing great damage to our country internationally,” Hagel told the newspaper.

He said lawmakers take an oath to defend the Constitution and not stand blindly behind any individual or their political party. “I was philosophically a Republican with a conservative voting record,” Hagel said, “but that did not mean I would always go along with the party.”

So, he’s not going along. He is speaking from his heart and telling us what’s on his mind. Moreover, he is speaking for a lot of his fellow Americans — such as yours truly — when he tells us that the president is embarrassing us.

I happen to be embarrassed — and ashamed — by the conduct of the man who is our head of state.

Thus, I share Secretary/Sen. Hagel’s pain.