Category Archives: business news

Presidency fattens POTUS’s wallet

I am acutely aware that I am not the first person to wonder aloud about this, but the president of the United States shouldn’t be fattening his personal finances because he happens to be the head of state.

The Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution prohibits presidents from using their high office to take money from foreign governments. It remains to be seen whether Donald J. Trump has violated that provision.

This business of continuing to enrich himself here at home is equally galling … to me, at least.

Politico reports: Political groups supporting President Donald Trump are doubling as big-spending customers for the business empire he has not divested from.

Trump’s reelection campaign has spent $670,000 at Trump properties since he was elected president, and $125,000 during the first three months of this year alone, recent disclosures show.

Trump didn’t do what previous presidents customarily do when they assume their office. He retained ownership of his business empire, but placed his holdings in a trust run by sons Don Jr. and Eric. The last businessman-turned-president, Jimmy Carter, turned his peanut business over to a “blind trust” when he was elected in 1976.

Trump does it differently. He is profiting nicely at his myriad hotels, resorts and assorted business sites because of the job he holds.

I have said for a long time, before Trump even was elected president, that he built his career with one goal in mind: to enrich himself. He has done that quite well.

What is most galling is that Donald Trump is continuing to fatten his wallet even while ostensibly “serving the public” as president of the United States.

It’s all about Trump. Sickening.

Donald Trump: RINO in chief

Donald J. Trump keeps proving that he’s a Republican In Name Only, but the real Republicans aren’t buying it. They remain attached to this guy as if it doesn’t what he says or does.

A trillion-dollar-plus infrastructure plan? Is that “fiscal conservatism”? Hardly.

How about the latest example? He has imposed protectionist tariffs on imported steel and aluminum. Classic Republican ideology is supposed to oppose this kind of classic liberal protectionism. For the record, I am a free trade advocate, even though I am no GOP guy.

We keep hearing the roar of potential trade wars developing between the United States and our leading trading partners. China? Mexico? Canada? Western Europe? There might be retaliatory measures enacted to respond to the president’s desire to “protect American jobs.”

The president is a classic, categorical RINO. There can be no denying that he is the RINO in chief. I just cannot understand how his “base” keeps insisting he’s the real deal, when he clearly is not!

I have accepted the notion that Trump is succeeding in reshaping the Republican Party into a party of his own making, his own definition and of his own “ideology” — if we can just figure out what it is.

The president’s penchant for disclosing policy via tweet creates even more chaos than he brings simply through his revolving-door personnel changes. He is inclined to say one thing via Twitter, then change his mind when he talks to someone — anyone! — with a different point of view.

A true Republican — as well as a true Democrat — would stick to a set of governing principles and then perhaps tinker around the edges in the quest for common ground with the other party.

Trump’s trade war threats and constant berating of his foes tell me he doesn’t stand for the principles under the party banner on which he was elected to the presidency.

Downtown health: key to cities’ well-being

Gary Jennings returned to Amarillo years ago from the Texas Gulf Coast and then plunged into a project he knew would consume much of his time and energy.

It has been worth all of it. And then some.

He has turned a one-time dilapidated structure on the edges of downtown Amarillo into a showpiece. He owns the Firestone Building at the corner of 10th Avenue and Tyler Street. It used to be a tire shop. It has been turned into a “niche” complex of apartments, with retail space on the ground floor.

My point in bringing Jennings up with this blog post is to relay something he told the Rotary Club of Amarillo this past week. He said that a city’s health depends largely — if not exclusively — on the health of its downtown district. He ticked off a few successful American cities and asked, rhetorically, what they had in common. The common denominator was a vibrant downtown district.

To which I wanted to shout from my seat in the crowd, “Amen, brother!” I held my tongue. Of course.

I have enjoyed watching from the peanut gallery over the past five-plus years as Amarillo’s march toward the future has progressed nicely, despite a hiccup or two along the way. I had a more-or-less front-row seat at the Amarillo Globe-News until August 2012. Then I quit the newspaper and have been viewing this progress since then from the cheap seats.

The ballpark construction is under way; an Amarillo Economic Development Corporation official told the Rotary Club that it’s “a week ahead of schedule.” I won’t quibble over how he knows such a thing this early in the project that is supposed to conclude in time for baseball in April 2019.

So much has happened downtown. It gives me hope that Amarillo is moving forward at a steady — if not accelerating — pace toward a future few of us saw more than two decades ago. I arrived here in early 1995 and, so help me, I saw few tangible signs of forward movement in the city’s downtown district.

That has changed. The hustle, bustle and sizzle along Polk Street — the one-time “main drag” — provides plenty of evidence of forward movement.

Jennings’ list of forward-thinking American communities didn’t include one that I know quite well. It’s my hometown of Portland, Ore., where I believe a once-young and innovative mayor — the since-disgraced Neil Goldschmidt — set the gold standard for urban planning.

Goldschmidt disappeared after being caught up in a hideous sex scandal a few years back. In his day, however, when he was a 30-something Portland mayor, he set his sights on redeveloping a once-moribund downtown district.

Goldschmidt decided in the early 1970s to veto a freeway project through the southeast quadrant of Portland. He said the city would instead direct its resources — meaning public money — into developing a viable mass transit system. It would create a bus system that served the downtown district. His goal? To turn downtown Portland into a destination.

Goldschmidt’s strategy worked. My hometown’s central business district thrives in a way I couldn’t possibly imagine when I was growing up there.

I cite this example as proof of what Gary Jennings said this past week. He is correct in asserting that a city’s health depends heavily on the health of its downtown district.

We don’t yet know where Amarillo, Texas is heading after the last project is finished … whenever that occurs. I remain confident in the extreme that it will be in a different and far better place than when the work began.

What? Barfield is coming back to life? Maybe?

Well, shut my mouth and call me … whatever you want.

I had written not long ago about my doubts over the future of the long-abandoned Barfield Building in downtown Amarillo, Texas. It stands at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Polk Street. It’s a rotting hulk of its former glory.

This morning I awoke to read a story in the Amarillo Globe-News that declares that the Barfield Building is en route to a revival. It will become a luxury hotel, developed by the Marriott Corporation.

Then came the qualifier. “Maybe,” according to the AGN. Maybe it will happen. Maybe … it won’t.

I’m going to pull for the “maybe it will.”

Plans call for the Barfield to morph into a Marriott Autograph Collection Hotel. It’s an upscale concept. As the Globe-News reports: “We want to bring the Barfield back to life and tell its story,” said Mark Brooks, of Brooks Hospitality Consulting. “We want to create something that speaks to Amarilloans. Hopefully, it’s pretty exciting.”

Brooks told the AGN’s Jeff Farris that the interior demolition at the Barfield is nearly done. Next up will be acquiring building permits from the city.

The Barfield has been down similar roads before. It’s been through several ownership changes. There have been reports of progress made to breathe new life into the building. They have been premature. Nothing has occurred there. As the AGN noted, the city came within a whisker of condemning the building.

This fellow Brooks, though, now is delivering some potentially good news about the Barfield. The category of hotel suggests it will be unique. Marriott says that none of its Autograph Collection structures are duplicates of others.

So, with this news, I am anxious to see if downtown Amarillo — which already has seen tremendous change in the past decade — is about to take another huge step forward. The multipurpose event venue is under construction. The Embassy Suites hotel has opened across the street from the Civic Center; Marriott opened another hotel prior to that at the historic Fisk Building. Construction crews are hard at work on new eateries and other business establishments along Polk Street. West Texas A&M University is set to open its downtown Amarillo campus.

And now? The Barfield Building? Is it possibly coming back to life? Might there be signs of activity in that dilapidated structure?


Eight years on, it’s still pretty — and still empty

Randall County Judge Ernie Houdashell can claim many successes during his years presiding over the county’s Commissioners Court.

For instance, the sheriff’s department has built a complex on South Georgia Street; the county just recently opened its new courthouse annex on Western Street in southwest Amarillo.

Oh, and the county was able to spruce up the 1909 Courthouse building on the Square in Canyon.

I found a High Plains Blogger post from March 2009 that commented on the old courthouse. I noted that the outside looks good. The inside, well, is unusable. It was then. It still is today.

Pretty on the outside

Let me be crystal clear: I am glad that the county was able to renovate the exterior of that courthouse. It was able to secure a state grant, and then spent local tax funds — with voters’ approval — to finish the job.

The county vacated the courthouse years ago. It moved some functions across the street into the old jail building. The Justice Center was opened a few blocks away across the street from West Texas A&M University.

The old building? It’s empty. Its interior is a mess.

I wrote a feature story for years after leaving the Amarillo Globe-News about a possible new tenant for the 1909 Courthouse: The City of Canyon considered moving in, according to City Manager Randy Criswell. Then the city backed off when the cost estimates proved prohibitive.

The Square has blossomed since the exterior renovation. Judge Houdashell is proud of what has happened to the Square: Businesses have sprouted up along once-empty storefronts. It’s active, vibrant, busy in downtown Canyon.

Houdashell credits the 1909 Courthouse for luring that activity.

That’s fantastic! Houdashell’s pride is justified. However, there must be a move afoot to complete this mosaic.

I haven’t asked my friend, Judge Houdashell, what he has in mind for landing a new tenant for the structure. My strong hunch is that with the Courthouse Annex project complete, he is likely to turn his significant deal-making skill to finding an organization interested in fixing up a grand-looking old building.

My sense is that the success already brought to Canyon by a renovated exterior will explode even more once they find someone who fix up and occupy its interior.

Trump tariff tirade costs him a top adviser

Gary Cohn had to know what he was getting when he agreed to become Donald John Trump’s chief economic adviser.

He was hiring on to a team led by someone who doesn’t take advice. Trump flies by the backside of his britches. So, when the president decided to impose punishing tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, Cohn had seen enough.

He bailed. He’s gone. Cohn has decided t leave Trump’s economic team.

Cohn believes in free trade. Trump the populist believes in protectionism, which on its face flies directly opposite from traditional Republican economic policy.

But that doesn’t matter one damn bit to Donald Trump. He got angry at something or someone, so he decided to take it out on our nation’s trading allies. Canada, Mexico and many friendly trading partners in Western Europe are going to feel the pinch of the tariffs. What’s more, they are discussing retaliation.

Can you say, um, trade war?

As for Cohn, he sought to advise the president against acting so impetuously. Nice try, Mr. Cohn. Again, you had to know the guy for whom you were working was prone to this kind of knee-jerk behavior.

He won’t leave immediately, according to statements issued by Cohn and the White House. What the hell! Why not just hit the road?

According to Politico: Cohn, known in his decades on Wall Street as a pugnacious trader, is not leaving the fight right away. He plans to stay on for at least a couple of weeks and continue to battle Trump and the White House nationalists to more carefully tailor the tariffs to avoid antagonizing allies and inviting retribution.

For all the good it does to surround himself with actual experts on trade policy, Donald Trump will remain his own closest adviser.

Except that he doesn’t know what he’s doing.

Trump must have been sleeping in trade-policy class

Didn’t the president of the United States, Donald John “Smart Person” Trump learn a thing while getting his economics degree from the University of Pennsylvania?

Someone surely must have taught those econ students about the consequences of trade wars, of how badly many of those conflicts can go. If so, then what was Donald Trump doing when his prof offered that counsel? Was he asleep? Was he skipping class that day, spending his time chasing women and grabbing them in their private parts?

Trump reportedly got so out of sorts that he announced a decision to impose a 25 percent tariff on imported steel and a 10 percent tariff on imported aluminum. Then he said that winning a trade would be “so easy.”

So easy? Is he out of what passes for his mind?

Trump has declared economic war on our closest allies. They are, oh let’s see, Canada, Mexico, Germany and Great Britain. Yet he seeks to punish China because, according to the president, they have stolen jobs from U.S. steelmakers.

He now is making mainstream Republican officeholders — those who adhere to the party’s policy of free trade and its opposition to protectionism — queasy in the extreme.

Trump’s decision has sent the stock market into a frenzy of unpredictability.

He thinks he knows what he is doing. Analysts who actually do know something about international economics and its impact on geopolitics have a different view.

They say the president doesn’t know a damn thing. He is acting out of pique. He doesn’t listen to the advice of economic advisers he has gathered around him — folks like the Treasury secretary and the head of his Government Economics Council — who oppose this tariff nonsense.

Hey, he told us in the summer of 2016 that “I, alone” can repair what he thinks ails the country. No, Mr. President. You, alone are making a shambles of our economic alliances.

Happy Trails, Part 80

McKINNEY, Texas — I know you’ve heard it said that “Growing old ain’t for the faint-hearted.”

To which I say, “Phooey!”

It’s not bad at all if you’re in reasonably good health and you have plenty of adventures awaiting you along some still-unknown path. It also provides you with small — but still pleasant — surprises along the way.

My wife and I had a hankerin’ for a taco. So, we pulled into a fast-food taco joint in this bustling North Texas community. We ordered our food.

Then the young man quoted us a price for our order, then blurted out a second price, which was less than the first price. “Didn’t you say it was another amount,” I asked, “and then you’re charging me less?” “Yep,” he said. “What’s with the discount?” I inquired.

“Because I think you’re just a cool dude,” he said.

Hah, hah, hah.

I got the ticket and then looked at it. “Senior discount” was typed next to a $1.19 substraction from our taco order.

My first thought was to tell the young man that he could have replaced “cool” with “old” in front of “dude” and I wouldn’t have taken a lick of offense at it. I let it go.

I just wanted to post this little blog item to proclaim that growing older isn’t a bad thing at all, given that we are still able to enjoy many of the fruits of advancing age.

Surprises like this are just part of the deal.

Pretty cool.

It’s true: Trump has stolen the GOP

As if we needed any more evidence on top of the mountain of it that has piled up, Donald Trump’s decision to impose steep tariffs on imported steel and aluminum has proved what already has been known.

The president has co-opted the principles of the party under which he was elected. He is no more of a “Republican” than, um, I am.

And I am not.

What we have here is a man who has turned the Republican Party into the Trump Party. The right and far-right wing of the GOP stands behind this man — even though this protectionist trade policy flies in the face of traditional Republican principle.

This is a dangerous trend, folks.

I believe we are witnessing — and this is not an original thought; I didn’t think of this — the development of a “cult of personality.” This is the kind of tag one usually associates with dictators and despots.

Kim Jong Un? Pol Pot? Fidel Castro? Hugo Chavez? Francisco Franco? Adolf Hitler? Benito Mussolini? Juan Peron?

Is the president of the United States a despot and dictator in the mold of those men? No. However, I believe it is a legitimate concern that he has perverted the principles of a once-great political party and turned them into a political tactic.

I cannot pre-determine what Donald Trump has in store for the party for as long as he is president. I do believe that we are witnessing an evolution of sorts. The most fervent Republicans in this country should be aghast at the trade war that Trump seems willing to launch. Instead, they are standing by their man.

If that doesn’t define a cult of personality, then I don’t know what does. It’s a very good thing, indeed, to have two other co-equal government branches — Congress and the federal courts — on board to keep the president’s power grab in check.

But still … this is frightening.

Donald Trump: trade protectionist

Just how many more somersaults can the contemporary political structure endure?

There once was a time when Republicans hated tariffs and taxes; they called it protectionism. They were free trade advocates. Let the market determine all things involving trade, they would say.

Democrats invoked trade protectionism because their union movement allies insisted on it. They believed tariffs on imported goods protected domestically produced material. They were the champions of U.S.-made goods and commodities.

What in the name of free trade is going on here?

The nation’s top Republican, Donald John Trump has just announced steep tariffs on imported steel and aluminum. The GOP president has imposed a policy long favored by those hated Democrats.

So, how have the markets responded? Badly. Wall Street tanked again today on that news, with the Dow Jones average plunging more than 500 points, before closing at just a little less than 500 points in the red.

Tariffs are taxes. The result is that the price of the goods being imported is going to increase. I also thought rampant inflation once was considered a bad economic trend. Wasn’t it? Isn’t it still?

Me? I am a free trader. I like the North American Free Trade Agreement. NAFTA opened this hemisphere to free trade among the United States, Canada and Mexico. Trump doesn’t like NAFTA. It’s that “populist” theme on which he campaigned for president in 2016.

This brings to mind a curious question for me: How does this president hang on to such strong Republican support when his economic policies — such as they are — run counter to traditional GOP principles?

It’s all gone topsy-turvy. I can’t keep my balance.