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‘Atmospheric river’? Huh? Eh?

PORTLAND. Ore. — We are being swept up in something I never knew existed.

The TV weathermen and women here are referring to something called an “atmospheric river.” You might ask, “What the bleep is that?”

I have deduced it describes a long band of rain clouds that is tracking over a region. We are RV-parked along the Columbia River in Portland. It’s been raining like the dickens almost since the day of our arrival. Weather conditions are producing more of it, which is welcome around here, given the Eagle Creek fire that incinerated much of the forest land around the Columbia Gorge.

But I am amused/bemused at this new meteorological term of art: atmospheric river.

The last time I heard weather people glom on to a particular term I guess was that “polar vortex.” I laughed when I heard that one.

Whenever I hear the term “vortex,” I flash back to 1970. They had a music festival here then. It took place at McIver State Park near Estacada, which is southeast of Portland in the foothills of the Cascade Range. I recall it was meant to protest the Vietnam War.

They called it “Vortex.” The most interesting part of it was how then-Gov. Tom McCall decriminalized marijuana use during the run of the festival. I believe the late governor wanted to give those rascally kids a pass on getting stoned while they “protested” whatever it was they were protesting. No need to hassle them and assign lots of cops to round ’em up, McCall thought.

Just so you know: I didn’t attend Vortex.

I digress.

“Atmospheric river” is a descriptive term used to define a lot of rain. That “river” has become a rapids.

And aren’t you just relieved that climate change is just a giant, cooked-up “hoax”?

‘Real disaster’ struck Texas … no kidding!

Texas emergency officials have reported that Hurricane Harvey has killed 88 people.

Eight-eight families have lost loved ones. They are grieving to this day. Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas Gulf Coast twice, first as a Category 3 hurricane and then as a tropical storm.

Watching the storm’s savagery from afar, I am convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that it constitutes a “major disaster.” The hurricane blasted the Coastal Bend region with killer winds and storm surge. The tropical storm deluged Houston and the Golden Triangle with unprecedented rainfall: 50 inches in one 24-hour span of time, a record for the continental United States of America.

Harvey hit us real hard

I want to mention this because of something that Donald John Trump Sr. told our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico. He seemed to chide them because — at the time of his visit — “only” 16 people had been killed by Hurricane Maria, which destroyed the island’s power grid and its potable water supply.

Yet, the president seemed to suggest that Puerto Rico was “fortunate” to have suffered so little loss of life, unlike what happened to New Orleans in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina stormed ashore.

Well, I guess I ought to remind the president that the Texas coast didn’t suffer the amount of deaths that other storms have brought, but he dare not dismiss the damage from the Coastal Bend to the Golden Triangle as anything short of a major disaster.

Stunning profile may emerge on local judicial bench

The Texas Panhandle received excellent federal judicial service for nearly four decades, thanks to the steady hand provided by U.S. District Judge Mary Lou Robinson.

She is stepping aside. A new president has nominated a replacement for Judge Robinson. But some potentially chilling information is coming forth about the new guy.

The Texas Tribune is reporting on statements made by another judicial nominee who is linked to the man Donald Trump has selected for the Northern District of Texas federal bench. Jeff Mateer formerly served as general counsel for a right-wing advocacy group, the First Liberty Institute; Matthew Kaczmaryk — Trump’s choice to succeed Robinson — is deputy general counsel for the same group. Mateer now works in the Texas attorney general’s office. Follow me for a moment.

Mateer is Trump’s pick for another federal judgeship. He reportedly believes transgender children are part of “Satan’s work.”

In a 2015 speech, Mateer said this, according to the Texas Tribune Texas Tribune, about the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized gay marriage in the United States: “I mean, it’s disgusting,” he said. “I’ve learned words I didn’t know. There are people who marry themselves. Somebody wanted to marry a tree. People marrying their pets. It’s just like — you know, you read the New Testament and you read about all the things and you think, ‘Oh, that’s not going on in our community.’ Oh yes it is. We’re going back to that time where debauchery rules.”

There you have it: Same-sex marriage equals “debauchery,” according to Mateer. The nation’s highest court ruled that the 14th Amendment to the Constitution guarantees that all Americans are entitled to “equal protection under the law,” meaning that gay Americans have a constitutional right to marry people of the same gender.

My question is whether Kaczmaryk is cut from the same mold as Mateer, given that they both work for the same ultra-right wing advocacy group.

Is this the kind of justice we can expect from the federal bench in Amarillo? Please say it won’t be so.

Sexual harassment: the ‘norm’ at Fox News?

Eric Bolling has joined a growing list of Fox News talking heads to take a fall because of sexual harassment allegations.

I believe it’s a fair point to ask here what others in other forums have asked already: Is there some kind of corporate culture at Fox that promotes  — or perhaps condones — this kind of thing?

I’m going to go easy on Bolling, whose son has just died suddenly. The man is hurting.

But we’ve had the late Roger Ailes resign as the head man at Fox News in the wake of sexual harassment charges brought against him by the likes of former anchor Gretchan Carlson.

Then the big fish got caught on the sexual harassment hook: Bill O’Reilly was shown the door, again after sexual harassment charges were leveled against the prime-time star. Bill O denied any wrongdoing, even though he — and Fox — shelled out tens of millions of dollars in out-of-court settlements.

I don’t watch Fox as a rule, not because of the sexual harassment allegations, but because of its right-wing political slant, which I find objectionable.

However, I am a fan of at least a couple of the network’s shining stars: Chris Wallace and Shepard Smith both manage to seek and tell the truth reasonably and without outward bias.

I also used to be a huge fan of the late Tony Snow, with whom I was acquainted. I loved a story that Snow once told me about his “mission every Sunday” while he hosted “Fox News Sunday” was to get commentators Brit Hume and Juan Williams — who Snow described as his best friend at the network — to “get into a fight” on the air.

Well, that was then.

The here and now has the network reeling from yet another high-profile talking head tumbling out the door.

Sad, man. Sad.

Obama offers eloquent response to DACA decision

Readers of this blog know that I am a huge admirer of Barack Hussein Obama.

He’s been out of office only since Jan. 20. I miss him already. I’ve actually missed him from Day One of Donald J. Trump’s term in office.

I admire Obama’s principles, the way he carried himself while leading this country for eight years, for his courage in tackling the economic crisis he inherited and his determination to fight international terrorists.

I admire his intellect. And in no way should I even try to emulate it.

That all said, here is President Obama’s response to the president’s decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals executive order.

Immigration can be a controversial topic. We all want safe, secure borders and a dynamic economy, and people of goodwill can have legitimate disagreements about how to fix our immigration system so that everybody plays by the rules.

But that’s not what the action that the White House took today is about. This is about young people who grew up in America – kids who study in our schools, young adults who are starting careers, patriots who pledge allegiance to our flag. These Dreamers are Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper. They were brought to this country by their parents, sometimes even as infants. They may not know a country besides ours. They may not even know a language besides English. They often have no idea they’re undocumented until they apply for a job, or college, or a driver’s license.

Over the years, politicians of both parties have worked together to write legislation that would have told these young people – our young people – that if your parents brought you here as a child, if you’ve been here a certain number of years, and if you’re willing to go to college or serve in our military, then you’ll get a chance to stay and earn your citizenship. And for years while I was President, I asked Congress to send me such a bill.

That bill never came. And because it made no sense to expel talented, driven, patriotic young people from the only country they know solely because of the actions of their parents, my administration acted to lift the shadow of deportation from these young people, so that they could continue to contribute to our communities and our country. We did so based on the well-established legal principle of prosecutorial discretion, deployed by Democratic and Republican presidents alike, because our immigration enforcement agencies have limited resources, and it makes sense to focus those resources on those who come illegally to this country to do us harm. Deportations of criminals went up. Some 800,000 young people stepped forward, met rigorous requirements, and went through background checks. And America grew stronger as a result.

But today, that shadow has been cast over some of our best and brightest young people once again. To target these young people is wrong – because they have done nothing wrong. It is self-defeating – because they want to start new businesses, staff our labs, serve in our military, and otherwise contribute to the country we love. And it is cruel. What if our kid’s science teacher, or our friendly neighbor turns out to be a Dreamer? Where are we supposed to send her? To a country she doesn’t know or remember, with a language she may not even speak?

Let’s be clear: the action taken today isn’t required legally. It’s a political decision, and a moral question. Whatever concerns or complaints Americans may have about immigration in general, we shouldn’t threaten the future of this group of young people who are here through no fault of their own, who pose no threat, who are not taking away anything from the rest of us. They are that pitcher on our kid’s softball team, that first responder who helps out his community after a disaster, that cadet in ROTC who wants nothing more than to wear the uniform of the country that gave him a chance. Kicking them out won’t lower the unemployment rate, or lighten anyone’s taxes, or raise anybody’s wages.

It is precisely because this action is contrary to our spirit, and to common sense, that business leaders, faith leaders, economists, and Americans of all political stripes called on the administration not to do what it did today. And now that the White House has shifted its responsibility for these young people to Congress, it’s up to Members of Congress to protect these young people and our future. I’m heartened by those who’ve suggested that they should. And I join my voice with the majority of Americans who hope they step up and do it with a sense of moral urgency that matches the urgency these young people feel.

Ultimately, this is about basic decency. This is about whether we are a people who kick hopeful young strivers out of America, or whether we treat them the way we’d want our own kids to be treated. It’s about who we are as a people – and who we want to be.

What makes us American is not a question of what we look like, or where our names come from, or the way we pray. What makes us American is our fidelity to a set of ideals – that all of us are created equal; that all of us deserve the chance to make of our lives what we will; that all of us share an obligation to stand up, speak out, and secure our most cherished values for the next generation. That’s how America has traveled this far. That’s how, if we keep at it, we will ultimately reach that more perfect union.

I couldn’t say it better myself. Therefore, I won’t even try.

Klansman’s endorsement draws strong response from brass

This doesn’t happen every day.

A noteworthy former (allegedly) member of the Ku Klux Klan applauded the president of the United States for his statement equating hate groups with those who protested their presence in Charlottesville, Va.

The reaction from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, I must add, was compelling and quite stunning in its own right.

David Duke gave a proverbial high-five to Donald John Trump because the president reverted to his original response to the Charlottesville riot. He at first blamed the violence on “many sides”; then he read a prepared statement in which he singled out the Klan, the white supremacists and the neo-Nazis for the bloody violence. The second statement drew a rebuke from Duke, who expressed disappointment in the president.

Trump wasn’t finished. He walked into the Trump Tower lobby on Tuesday and then proceeded to level a barrage of fire against the “alt-left,” and said “both sides” were responsible for the riot.

Duke was happy — yet again. He issued a statement praising the president for fulfilling the promise of his election.

Enter the Joint Chiefs of Staff. To a man they issued individual statements condemning racism, bigotry, intolerance and hatred. They said such conduct and attitudes were intolerable in their respective service branches. Their statements looked for all the world to be a direct repudiation of the idiocy that flew out of the commander in chief’s mouth at Trump Tower.

Check out their statements here.

Then Joint Chiefs chairman, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, weighed in and said bigotry won’t be tolerated in any of the military services.

Is it a coincidence, then, that White House chief of staff John Kelly — also a retired Marine general — looked as though he was watching a train wreck as it was happening the other day while the president was delivering his remarks?

Umm. Nope.

Amarillo might learn just how insulated it can be

Amarillo sits half a continent away from the turmoil that erupted in Charlottesville, Va., where groups of protesters erupted in a riot this past weekend.

One group sought to protest attempts to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee; this group comprised white supremacists, KKK members and neo-Nazis. The other group opposed the first group. They clashed. One woman was killed when someone rammed a car through a crowd.

The nation has been buried under the fallout.

So, what does this have to do with Amarillo?

We have in this city a statue commemorating a Confederate officer. It’s at Ellwood Park. We also have a school named after the same Confederate general who became the focus of the violence in Charlottesville. What has fascinated me for the two-plus decades I’ve lived in Amarillo is that Robert E. Lee Elementary School educates a student population that comprises a significant number of African-American children. Does that fascinate you, too? It should.

Amarillo sits out here in the middle of the nation. We seem to be somewhat immune to many of the disputes that erupt on either oceanic coast. I’m wondering if our community’s insular outlook is going to last as the national debate rages and roils over these Confederate monuments.

Amarillo’s public school system has named many of its campuses after individuals responsible for Texas’s independence. The names of Houston, Travis, Bowie, Crockett, Fannin and Lamar all are meaningful to Texas history. We have schools named after pioneer families; a school has the name of a Spanish explorer; other campuses don’t bear the names of individuals.

Lee is a bit different. I’ve noted already that the general fought to destroy the Union. Yet in many communities he is saluted, honored. The Confederacy is part of our national “heritage,” people insist. It also symbolizes a bloody war that was fought over the enslavement of human beings, some of whose descendants attend school in a building named to “honor” someone who fought to destroy the nation — and keep those people in bondage.

Do I advocate changing the name of the school? I’m going to remain neutral on that one — at least for the time being.

My interest at this moment lies in the possibility that this national discussion is going to find its way to our community. All it will take, I suppose, is for parents to broach the subject of changing the name of Lee Elementary School with the Amarillo Independent School District Board of Trustees.

I’ll wait to see if this intense national debate finds its way to the Texas High Plains.

McCain has earned bipartisan praise and good wishes

I feel like sharing this 10-minute video from the 2008 Al Smith Memorial Dinner.

It features U.S. Sen. John McCain, the Republican Party’s nominee for president of the United States. He brought the house down with his good-natured barbs at his “friend and colleague” Sen. Barack Obama. His comments also were laced a healthy measure of self-deprecation.

The Al Smith dinner is a quadrennial event that brings the two major-party nominees together to raise money to benefit the Catholic Church’s good work.

Given the terribly sad news about Sen. McCain’s cancer diagnosis and the outpouring of support from across the political spectrum, I thought I’d share this video to illustrate how politics need not be so full of hate.

This is for you, Sen. McCain.

Does this counterprotest remind you of anything?

I really enjoy hearing about current events that conjure up previous such events with which I have some familiarity.

Some Ku Klux Klan members sought to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Va. Then they were met by a boisterous and rowdy counterprotest from those who wanted to drown out the KKK’s point of view.

I find it so very interesting that the KKK would protest this statue removal. It’s also ironic, given the view expressed by some Americans that honoring Gen. Lee only honors “tradition” and “Southern heritage.” The irony is that the Klan would mount the protest. The Ku Klux (bleeping) Klan! The racist hate group known for its extreme violence over many years against African-Americans and non-Christian minorities.

Heritage? History? Give me a break.

But … back to my point.

The counterprotest reminds me of something that occurred right here in Amarillo, Texas, in 2006. The Klan wanted to protest federal housing policy, so they decided to come to Amarillo. City officials granted the Klan a permit to demonstrate at City Hall. Just as the KKK started to blather its nonsense, in walked a horde of counterprotesters led by none other than the late Stanley Marsh 3.

Marsh — who was wearing his familiar white suit that looked as though it was borrowed from Col. Sanders — was banging some cymbals, if memory serves, and he was walking in front of a lengthy line of horn-blaring, drum-pounding, shouting protesters who — just like those in Charlottesville — sought to outshout the Klansmen.

I get that the KKK is entitled to free speech under the First Amendment’s guarantee of that particular civil liberty. So, too, are those who wanted them shouted down.

Here’s how the Washington Post reported it.

They did it in Charlottesville, just as they did in Amarillo.

I’m on the side of the counterprotesters.

What? Ringo turns Double-7?

Ringo Starr has become a metaphor for my old age.

Oh, where has the time gone? You know who this guy is, right? He came into the world with the name Richard Starkey. He grew up in Liverpool, England. He played the drums a bit. Then he joined this band that had just fired its original drummer. They needed someone new to play the sticks for them.

John, Paul and George hired Ringo and, well, as they say: the rest is history.

He was the oldest of his new bandmates by just a few months; he was born July 7, 1940, just ahead of John Lennon, who was born Oct. 9 of that year.

Ringo’s musical imprint — along with that of John, George Harrison and Paul McCartney — became the signature not just for my generation, but for others that have come along since then.

But … not for everyone.

A couple of years ago, when Ringo was turning 75 — which is one of those landmark birthdays — I approached a colleague of mine at the business where I worked part time. I mentioned to her — suffice to say she is a good bit younger than yours truly, let alone Ringo — that it was Ringo’s 75th birthday. Isn’t that cool?

She gave me a blank stare and, as the Good Lord is my solemn witness, she said: Who’s Ringo Starr?

I’m pretty sure my jaw hit the ground. I also am pretty certain that my eyes damn near flew out of my head. How in the name of all that is holy and sacred does this young woman not know anything about Ringo Starr, one-fourth of the band that shaped her parents’ generation?

“Why, I never,” I answered my friend. “Don’t you know that this guy helped raise me?” And he did, too — right along with those three other guys.

If only Ringo would see this blog and know that in that one fleeting instant I had his back. The old drummer is about to turn 77. I hope my former colleague has learned just a little something about this living legend.

She just has to ask her parents.