Category Archives: local news

No doubt about it: U.S. is ‘secular nation’

An interesting argument has surfaced over the discussion about the use of Scripture to justify the separating of children from their parents as they enter the United States illegally.

It comes from the newspaper where I used to work, the Amarillo (Texas) Globe-News.

Here’s the editorial with the title, “The Spiritual Double Standard.” 

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently cited Romans 13 to justify the policy of yanking kids from their parents along our southern border and housing them separately. It also seems to suggest that the United States might not be a “secular nation.”

Actually, the United States most certainly is a secular nation. Of that there can be no serious debate.

The founders intended to craft a governing document that is free of religious requirements. Their ancestors came to this world fleeing religious persecution. Right? Yes!

The editorial seems also to suggest that critics of the AG are targeting Christians. Hmm. I don’t believe that’s the case. The founders didn’t even mention Christianity in crafting the U.S. Constitution. The Amarillo Globe-News opined: This is becoming a common tactic of many of those who support open borders – attempting to shame Christians by pointing out how federal immigration laws are not in line with Christian teachings about how to treat your neighbors, immigrants, etc.

The secular nature of our government is not aimed at Christians. It excludes any religious litmus test for government. Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus … you name it.

The G-N also suggests that secularists shouldn’t use Scripture to debunk the AG’s citing of the New Testament to justify the policy.

Fine, except that if the attorney general is going to bring it up first, then it is totally fair for critics to use the Bible to rebut what they believe is his misdirected justification.

The G-N notes, “As the saying goes, you can’t have it both ways.”

Actually, in this instance, I believe you can.

Time to re-calibrate political antennae

Twenty-three years in the Texas Panhandle gave me an up-close look at politics in one of the state’s most reliably Republican regions.

I’m no longer living there full time. I hesitate to say my wife and I have severed our ties to the Panhandle, because we haven’t … exactly. We’re still making periodic trips back to check on family matters.

But the fact remains that we’re registered to vote in Collin County, which brings me to the point of this blog.

I am having to re-calibrate my political antennae. I now must look at other sources for local political grist to help keep High Plains Blogger reasonably fresh. This will be a challenge for me.

I wanted to vote in the next election for the 13th Congressional District. Although I harbor a considerable personal affection for the congressman who has represented the district since 1995, Mac Thornberry has been a disappointment to me. It just so happens that his Democratic opponent this year is a good friend of mine, a fellow I’ve known almost as long as I’ve known Thornberry.

Greg Sagan wants to represent the 13th District when the next Congress convenes in January. Will he be able to step into the job? That remains huge, given the 13th’s significant GOP bent.

Sagan has made one pledge that Thornberry — despite critics who contend wrongly that he did — never made: Sagan has vowed to step aside after serving a set amount of time. Thornberry didn’t make such a declaration for himself, although he has endorsed congressional term limits legislation whenever he’s had the chance to vote on it.

But I believe it’s time for a change in the Panhandle’s congressional representation. Although I cannot vote for Sagan, I can speak on his behalf through this blog, which I intend to do when the opportunities present themselves between now and November.

My former Texas state representative, John Smithee, has a Democratic foe this fall. He is Mike Purcell of Amarillo, with whom I have a casual acquaintance. Smithee is another matter. I’ve known him well since my arrival in Amarillo in 1995. What I’ve always liked about John is his willingness to answer direct questions with equally direct answers. Have I always agreed with the Republican’s legislative point of view? No, but his candor always has meant much to me whenever I sought it from him.

Purcell’s chances of defeating Smithee are, um, zeee-ro!

Again, I cannot vote in that one either.

***

As for the statewide races on the ballot, I’ll be dialed in on one for sure: the U.S. Senate contest between Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and Democratic challenger U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke.

I won’t belabor the point here about the Cruz Missile. I do not want him re-elected. My strong preference is for O’Rourke, if only because I want him to think first of Texans and much less of his own political ambition. Sen. Cruz, to my mind, has demonstrated clearly that he puts his own needs, wishes and desires first. Ted Cruz needs to go.

I’ll chime in later on the race for governor and some of the other statewide races, namely the contest for agriculture commissioner.

I’ll be watching all this unfold from a new perch in the Metroplex. I’ll need to get up to speed in a hurry in the race for the 3rd Congressional District, Texas Senate District 8 and Texas House District 89, all three of which will be represented by freshman lawmakers next January.

Hey, come to think of it, everyone is starting fresh in the halls of power in Austin and on Capitol Hill.

Just like me!

Is this ex-POW also deserving of scorn from POTUS?

U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson of Plano is now my congressman. He’ll hold that title until early 2019. He will retire from Congress then and return to private life.

Johnson is a solid Republican. I am proud of his service to his country. You see, he got to Congress the hard way.

He is a one-time U.S. Air Force pilot who in 1966 had the misfortune of being shot down during the Vietnam War. He was held captive for nearly seven years. Seven years, man! He was tortured, sent to solitary confinement, denied sunlight and food.

He served heroically during his years in bondage.

And yet …

The man who would become president of the United States, Donald Trump, once said of one of Johnson’s Vietnam War colleagues — Sen. John McCain — that McCain was a “hero only because he was captured; I like people who aren’t captured, OK?”

Johnson became a member of what was called the Alcatraz Gang during his years in prison. They were separated from the rest of their fellow POWs because of the resistance they mounted against their captors. They were held in a camp about a mile away from what became known as the “Hanoi Hilton.”

Johnson was kept bound tightly each night in irons in a room where the North Vietnamese kept the light on 24/7.

These men were heroes in every sense of the term. I am aware of at least two Vietnam War POWs who received the Medal of Honor for their resistance: James Stockdale and Jeremiah Denton.

Stockdale was ordered to film a “confession” in which he would admit to “war crimes.” His response was to beat himself to a bloody pulp with a table leg, making him impossible to appear in any appearance in a propaganda film. Denton submitted to a filmed interview, but then blinked in Morse code the word “torture” to his audience in the Pentagon.

Sam Johnson also resisted mightily during his years as a captive.

As for Donald Trump’s assertion about Sen. McCain, you know how I feel about how he denigrated McCain’s heroism. Sen. McCain was one of many heroes who fought the enemy while locked up.

The same can be said of Rep. Johnson.

I hope one day to meet this hero … and tell him “welcome home”

Political learning curve about to commence

I met a most interesting gentleman this morning, someone who almost immediately after extending his hand to greet my wife and me invited me to come to Fairview’s town hall to familiarize myself with the community’s political climate.

This fellow is a member of the Fairview Town Council. I am reluctant to give you his name, as he doesn’t know I’m writing about him. Maybe I’ll divulge it later.

Our relocation has been pretty smooth and seamless as we have settled in this community tucked between Allen and McKinney in Collin County. My wife and I are registered to vote now in our new community of residence, which removes any chance for us to vote in Randall County, where we lived for 23-plus years.

I wanted to vote in the race for 13th Congressional District. That won’t happen now. We’ll get to vote for a new representative in the 3rd Congressional District, which has been represented since 1991 by U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson (pictured), a former Vietnam prisoner of war. Johnson is retiring at the end of the year.

I’ll need to study up on the individuals seeking to succeed Rep. Johnson.

My new friend from Fairview implied that next year’s municipal election will be a contentious affair. He didn’t go into detail; the setting of our meeting this morning made it difficult for him to spend too much time explaining what he implied.

My career took me to Amarillo in January 1995. My job as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News required me to get acquainted in a hurry with the political lay of the land, just as it had required the same of me in Beaumont, when we moved to the Gulf Coast in the spring of 1984.

I have no job requirements these days. However, my instinctive nosiness — which was bred and nurtured by nearly four decades in print journalism — compels me to sniff around at Fairview’s Town Hall.

So, I believe I will seek to satisfy my nosy nature by continuing this relationship with my new acquaintance.

Hey, my retirement doesn’t render me disinterested … you know?

Happy Trails, Part 109: Learning our way around

Our retirement journey has deposited my wife and me — along with Toby the Puppy — into a new community that isn’t entirely foreign to us. It does, however, present enough of a change for us to stop and think about where we are going and, more to the point, how we intend to get there.

We now live in Fairview, Texas. Where is that? It’s a small community tucked between Allen and McKinney in Collin County about 30 miles north of Dallas. Indeed, when I say “Fairview” to our friends in Amarillo, I often get a blank look; some folks claim to know where it is. I have to take them at their word. Most folks know where Allen and McKinney are located.

I believe Fairview’s students attend school in the McKinney Independent School District, as we’ve seen MISD buses cruising up and down the street outside our new digs.

The immediate challenge is to acquaint ourselves with getting to and from certain critical destinations. They include the grocery store, the pharmacy, the home improvement store, the charitable organization where we are donating a whole lot of unwanted items in our continuing effort to downsize.

I’ll stipulate that we aren’t total strangers to our new surroundings. We have been coming here frequently for a number of years, dating back to when our son first moved to the Dallas area to attend college in the early 1990s. He graduated in late 1994 and has never looked back. He got married in 2012 and the following year our granddaughter arrived — who, of course, gave us plenty of incentive to come here frequently.

Now we’re residents. We live about 10 minutes from our granddaughter. We know the way!

Our indoctrination to life in a new community will continue over the next period of time. It took us a while to navigate around Beaumont when we moved there in 1984. Eleven years later, we had to acquaint ourselves with Amarillo. Beaumont has developed significantly since our time there, so we struggle a little when we return to visit friends; I suspect the same thing will happen over time as Amarillo continues its growth and evolution into a place that bears little resemblance to what it is today.

The learning curve, though, isn’t as steep as it was when we relocated to Beaumont and then to Amarillo.

Hey, we’re retired now. We have time to figure it out.

St. Anthony’s Hospital campus might get new life

As much progress that has occurred in Amarillo, Texas, in recent years, there remains much work to do to restore, revive and rejuvenate historic landmarks.

To that end, a former hospital campus on Amarillo Boulevard and Polk Street just might become the next big triumph in the city’s long-term redevelopment strategy.

Or … it might not. I will hope for the best.

A newly formed non-profit group has taken possession of the old St. Anthony ‘s Hospital complex. The hospital closed many years ago when St. Anthony’s merged with High Plains Baptist Hospital to create Baptist-St. Anthony’s Hospital in the midst of the city’s growing medical complex along Coulter Street in far west Amarillo.

It has fallen, dare I say it, into serious disrepair. I got a first-hand look at it just a couple of years ago while writing a feature story for KFDA NewsChannel 10’s website. The then-owner walked us through the campus and, to point it candidly, it wasn’t a pretty sight. The place is crumbling.

The non-profit organization, St. Anthony’s Legacy and Redevelopment Corp., is led by Mary Emeny, who comes from a family with a long history of commitment and dedication to the community. Emeny issued a statement that declared, in part, “It is a privilege to begin the work of bringing new opportunities and resources to the surrounding communities through this iconic property.”

That statement might need a bit of translation, given the rather broad and nebulous nature of its content. Emeny’s organization hasn’t yet revealed any details of what it intends for the old campus, or how it proposes to pay for whatever it will do.

I have known Mary Emeny for a number of years and I fully understand and appreciate her love of Amarillo and the Texas Panhandle. I am never going to doubt her ability to achieve whatever she seeks to do.

The Amarillo Globe-News named her its Woman of the Year some years back. I do not believe her energy and her commitment have abated one bit.

I wish my friend well. That old campus needs a lot of work. I have faith Mary Emeny will deliver the goods.

Puppy Tales, Part 51

Toby the Puppy always seems to attract attention among children who see him walking with my wife and/or me on his leash.

A little boy, about age 7 or so, saw Toby the other day as we were strolling through the Amarillo recreational vehicle park where we lived for a time.

“Can I pet him?” the boy asked. Sure thing. The youngster stroked the puppy’s head; Toby responded with some licks.

Then the boy asked, “What’s his favorite thing to do?” I didn’t have to think for an instant about that one. “He loves to fetch his toys,” I said. The youngster got it.

Yes, Toby is a relentless toy fetcher. His endurance is boundless. His energy knows no limit. He loves to fetch his squeaky toys. What’s more, he’s getting very good at it.

The toy squeaks when he bites down. Then he promptly returns it directly to our feet. Right there. At our feet. We need not reach too far to pick it up and toss it again.

I’ve mentioned to you already on this blog about Toby makes us laugh every single day. He’s been a member of our family for not quite four years and, yes, we have laughed with him every day since he became a part of our lives.

The fetching provides plenty of opportunity for his mother and me to laugh. I never tire of a good laugh as I watch him. He cracks me up.

Maybe, too, it’s because I want to find humor wherever it presents itself, given the depressing state of political news these days. Whatever.

I simply am grateful that Toby the Puppy is able — and so very willing — to provide it.

Yearning for a simpler TV-viewing era

Our move from Amarillo to Fairview has been mostly seamless, mostly smooth, mostly simple and straightforward.

Except for one element that has become part of modern living.

TV viewing.

I am officially longing for the days when we sat on the couch, able to watch three — maybe four, if you include public television — programs on our TV. When you wanted to change the channel, you lifted yourself off the couch, walked to the set and turned the knob next to the big ol’ picture that was filled with hot tubes inside.

No more.

Today, we watch TV programs that are delivered on a variety of platforms, networks, “streaming” services. You name it, someone will have a way to get it to you.

If you can find a service that works well all the time.

We made the move to Fairview and installed an Internet/TV service packaged together. We were obligated to purchase this service. It ain’t cheap, man! But we did as we were instructed.

My problem at the moment is that we cannot get all the televisions in our new home to operate fully and flawlessly at the same time. Indeed, at this very moment, two of the three TV sets in our home have been rendered inoperable because of the technology associated with the TV service for which we are paying a handsome monthly fee.

I’m a fairly well educated individual. I consider myself to possess above-average intelligence. However, when I get a TV “technician” on the phone and he starts talking me through some of the issues that might be preventing us from getting TV service, my mind freezes up. My brain vapor-locks.

The young man might as well be speaking Martian to me.

High-tech gadgetry — which I consider this new-fangled TV service to be — is intended to expand our entertainment options. I get it. First things first, however. The first order of business is to get it to work right.

To get to that point, I guess I need to become fluent in Martian.

Let’s try ‘Sod Poodles Tower’

AMARILLO, Texas — OK, I’m just kidding about that suggestion to name the tower after Sod Poodles.

I mention it because of an announcement today that Amarillo’s tallest structure is slated to carry the name of another bank.

Chase left the ground floor of the 31-story tower and today it was announced that FirstBank Southwest is moving into Chase Bank’s first-floor office space.

FirstBank Southwest, pending federal approval, will be able to put its name on the top of the “tallest building between Fort Worth and Denver.”

The building known formerly as the Chase Tower will become the FirstBank Southwest Tower.

My question: For how long?

I’m not real crazy about corporations purchasing building-naming rights. What occasionally happens is what occurred when Chase left the tower. The building name came off the top of the skyscraper. Yet we still refer to the structure informally as the “Chase Tower.” Just mention the name and everyone in Amarillo knows what you’re talking about.

At least, though, the new bank is a locally owned outfit. I suppose that makes it more tolerable than some big corporate name being plastered on the side of what is among the city’s most recognizable downtown structures.

They’re going to name the city’s new minor-league baseball team later this year. I’ve already stated my case for Sod Poodles, which is among the five finalist names under consideration by the team owners.

My own preference for what it’s worth — and it’s not much these days, given that my wife and I now live elsewhere — would be to put a name more linked to the region than to some corporate entity.

Palo Duro Tower. Llano Estacado Tower. High Plains Tower. Canadian River Tower. Caprock Tower.

Just thinking out loud …

Sod Poodles? Let’s play ball … but hurry up!

AMARILLO, Texas — We’re all entitled to change our minds, right? Politicians do it all the time, saying their views have “evolved.” Or, in the case of Donald John Trump, his views change according to whatever his closest friends or his children tell him.

But … I digress.

I have done a nearly 180-degree about-face on the finalist names for the AA baseball team that’s going to play in a structure that at the moment is nothing more than a very large hole in the ground across the street from Amarillo City Hall.

None of the names excited me at first. Upon reflection, though, I am leaning toward Sod Poodles, the so-called old-fashioned name that supposedly refers to prairie dogs.

Don’t wish bad things to happen to me, please. My wife and I have a lot of fun-loving retirement years ahead of us.

Yeah, I said the name stunk when the franchise owners announced the finalist names. The one name that still sticks in my craw — if you’ll excuse the pun — is Jerky. Amarillo Jerky? Are you kidding me?

The team went for cutie names. They want the new baseball franchise to be a family-friendly endeavor. I think Sod Poodles fills the bill.

OK. That all being said, I want to offer a slight word of caution.

I ventured downtown over the weekend and noticed the big ol’ hole. I saw what looks like some reinforcement along the north edge of the hole.

I walked into the Embassy Suites hotel to see a friend who’s visiting from Lubbock. He reminded me that in his mind the construction pace needs to pick up. “I am not sure they’ll be ready for ball,” he said. I answered, “But they’re opening their season in April 2019.” Then my pal said, “Hey, that’s less than a year away!”

Duh???

I’m not an engineer. I have no experience with heavy-duty construction projects. My friend, though, has raised a legitimate concern. The multipurpose event venue where this team will play hardball is, um, seemingly a long way from becoming reality.

My farming and ranching friends will hate me for saying this, but if the MPEV is going to be finished on time, then I think Mother Nature perhaps needs to provide us with a second bone-dry winter in a row in 2018-19.

I’m trying to imagine how the crews are going to work when there’s a foot of snow on the ground in, say, December or January.

Let’s get busy, gang.