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Blog accomplishes a key mission

A friend offered me a compliment about my blog, although I don’t believe he intended for me to accept it as such when he said it.

He lives in Casper, Wyo., these days and we were talking about our respective communities just the other day. He told me about how Casper is thriving, growing and changing its character.

I then weighed in with a comment about how Amarillo, Texas — where my wife and I lived until this past May — is now undergoing a radical makeover in its downtown business/entertainment district.

“Oh, I know all about it,” he said. How’s that? He’d been reading my blog as I have tried to chronicle the myriad changes under way in downtown Amarillo. “I have been following it all along through your blog,” he said.

Well …

How ’bout that? My old friend wasn’t intending to deliver that as a feel-good statement. He was stating it as a fact. High Plains Blogger has been telling a story that at least one reader of the blog has been following closely.

I will accept that statement from my pal as high praise. And it’s validation for one of this blog’s several missions.

I have stated that this blog intends to comment on “politics,” on “public policy” and also on “life experience.”

The downtown Amarillo message I send out on the blog I suppose could qualify on all three themes. There’s been a ration of local politics coming into play; the City Council has imposed plenty of public policy while moving the many projects forward; and the city’s own brand of life experience.

So it is with some satisfaction that I share this observation with you today. It appears this blog is performing one of the tasks I intended for it when I began writing it way back when — which is to chronicle one of the communities I have called “home.”

Oh, and there’s the political stuff, too.

Oh, the fires leave lasting scars

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyo. — I feared this sight as we approached the nation’s original national park.

We looked all around us as we drove through the park from east to west and noticed thousands upon thousands of scarred trees.

They are the casualty of forest fires.

The sight of them breaks my heart.

Our return to Yellowstone, which we first saw in 1973 — when we came here with our then-infant older son — is off to a great start. We drove slowly through the park and saw three large herds of bison. One of the beasts was ambling down the highway at his own pace, stopping traffic along the way; fortunately we didn’t see any yahoos trying to taunt the cantankerous critter, like the idiot who did just the other day.

But those trees, or what is left of them, is a troubling sight to me.

I recall the huge 1988 Yellowstone fire that engulfed thousands of acres of timber. The National Forest Service was forced in the wake of that blaze to change its firefighting policy; in other words, the service went from a quick-suppression policy to a “let it burn” policy, understanding that fire is nature’s way of cleansing the forests.

Well, the fires have “cleansed” the park. Don’t misunderstand, there’s plenty of handsome timber still standing throughout the park. A lot of the mountain slopes, though, remain scarred by previous blazes.

The sight of them makes my heart hurt.

Father and Son Goodlatte: miles apart

It’s often said about children and their parents that “The fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

Not so with Bob and Bobby Goodlatte, father and son.

Dad Goodlatte chairs the U.S. House Judiciary Committee; the Republican lawmaker serves the Roanoke Valley area of western Virginia. Son Goodlatte is a venture capitalist who lives in San Francisco.

Bobby doesn’t like the way the chairman treated former FBI agent Peter Strzok, who got fired today from the agency that employed him for many years.

Bobby Goodlatte is so angry with his dad that he has given money to the Democrat who’s running for the seat that Chairman Goodlatte is vacating at the end of the year.

Bobby wrote this via Twitter, according to Vox.com: “I’m deeply embarrassed that Peter Strzok’s career was ruined by my father’s political grandstanding. That committee hearing was a low point for Congress,” Bobby Goodlatte tweeted. “Thank you for your service sir. You are a patriot.”

Read the Vox story here.

You know, this isn’t all that uncommon. Many children of notable Americans veer far from where Mom and Dad earn their stripes.

Hey, I have a son who disagrees with me politically. I don’t hold it against him. To the best of my knowledge, he doesn’t hold my political leanings against me, either. I love him and he loves me … at least that’s what he says.

But I’m just a chump blogger.

However, that’s different from what is happening within the Family Goodlatte. Dad has been a key player in trying to get to the bottom of the “Russia thing.” The younger Goodlatte is angry over the way his father treated a career FBI agent, Stzrok.

This kind of thing happens on occasion.

As for whether the fruit has fallen far from the Goodlatte tree, it looks as though the wind carried it across our vast nation.

Tension tonight at Trumps’ dinner table?

I am probably the only American who wants to be a fly on the wall tonight when the president and first lady sit down for dinner.

Donald J. Trump decided to post that moronic tweet in which he blasts pro basketball great LeBron James for saying some nasty things about him. Oh, and he also took a cheap shot at CNN anchor Don Lemon, who he called the “dumbest person on TV.” Racist … perhaps? Yeah. Pretty sure it is.

Oh, but then first lady Melania Trump’s spokesperson said the first lady salutes James for his work to improve the lives of children. “It looks like LeBron James is working to do good things on behalf of our next generation and just as she always has, the First Lady encourages everyone to have an open dialogue about issues facing children today,” said Stephanie Grisham on Mrs. Trump’s behalf.

What has James done? He has opened a school in his native Akron, Ohio, for at-risk children. He has invested a significant portion of his massive wealth to help aspiring students.

Indeed, James has done more for children than the president has done. Or for that matter, anything the education secretary, Betsy DeVos, has done.

Still, the president saw fit to disparage LeBron James with what many — myself included — have construed to be a racist taunt.

The first lady’s minor break with her husband is significant mainly because she has chosen to speak out at all, even if it through her spokeswoman.

There might be a bit of tension tonight wherever the Trumps will be.

Putin: a man of many tongues?

I know I’m not the only person on Earth who believes this.

Still, I must wonder whether Russian President Vladimir Putin knows English far better than anyone really knows.

I’ve never heard the Russian strongman speak English. He had that translator in the Helsinki meeting with Donald J. Trump. He always communicates through a translator, for that matter.

But here’s the deal: Putin is a former head of the KGB, the highly sophisticated spy agency that operated during the days of the Soviet Union. Does it make any sense that the top KGB spook wouldn’t be fluent in English, the language of international trade, commerce, transportation? (And yes, I intended to type the word “wouldn’t.”)

All of this makes me wonder why we keep talking about translators and ensuring that they convey the messages delivered by whomever the Russian president is meeting.

My strong hunch is that Vladimir Putin understands perfectly whatever the U.S. president was giving up, er … telling him when they were behind closed doors.

So … what about cyber security?

Those nagging, knotty questions about cyber security keep recurring.

Robert Mueller’s legal team has indicted 12 Russian goons for conspiring to meddle in our 2016 election. Vladimir Putin, the Russian strongman, likely ordered it. Our intelligence brass has concurred, as has the intelligence arms of our major allies.

Donald Trump hasn’t yet acknowledged the existential threat to our electoral system. What’s more, the Russians likely are seeking to screw up our 2018 midterm elections, too.

Back to a question I have posed before: Where is our cyber security reform?

About a decade ago, the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, John Boehner, gave my former congressman, Mac Thornberry, a Clarendon Republican, the task of developing a way to protect our nation’s cyber network.

Thornberry’s all-GOP task force issued a detailed report. Then they were done. They all went back to doing whatever it is they do.

As the nation wrings its hands over cyber security and wonders how it is going to protect its secrets from foreign foes — such as Russia — I haven’t heard a sound from Rep. Thornberry!

Speaker Boehner spoke quite highly of Thornberry’s skill in leading this reform effort, if my memory serves me. Yes, Thornberry is a smart fellow.

But what in the world are we doing to deter the kind of manipulation and possibly decisive meddling that occurred in 2016? Have there been improvements to our cyber network to prevent future interference?

The fellow who used to represent me in the U.S. House of Representatives presumably led the effort to make us safer against such meddling. Didn’t he?

Yep, elections do have serious consequences

Oh, brother. Is there any more proof needed about the impact of presidential elections than the decision today handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court?

The high court ruled 5-4 today to uphold Donald J. Trump’s travel ban involving countries from a handful of mostly Muslim countries.

The conservative majority voted with the president; the liberal minority voted against him.

There you have it. Trump’s travel ban will stand. He will crow about it. He’ll proclaim that the court is a body comprising men of wisdom; bear in mind that the three women who sit on the court today voted against the travel ban. Had the decision gone the other way, he would declare the court to be “too political,” he would chastise the justices’ knowledge of the U.S. Constitution (if you can believe it).

The court decision today has reaffirmed the president’s decision to discriminate against people based on their religious faith. Nice.

The partisan vote on the court today also has brought a smile to another leading politician: U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose obstructionism in the final year of the Barack Obama presidency denied Trump’s predecessor the right to fill a seat created by the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia. The Constitution gives the president the right to nominate judges; it also grants the Senate the right to “advise and consent” on those nominations. The Senate majority leader decided to obstruct the president’s ability to do his job.

President Obama nominated a solid moderate, Merrick Garland, to succeed Scalia. McConnell put the kibosh on it, declaring almost immediately after Scalia’s death that the president would not be able to fill the seat. McConnell would block it. And he did.

A new president was elected and it turned out to be Donald Trump, who then nominated Neil Gorsuch, who was approved narrowly by the Senate. Gorsuch proved to be the deciding vote in today’s ruling that upholds the Trump travel ban.

Do elections have consequences? You bet they do.

Frightening, yes? In my humble view — given the stakes involved at the Supreme Court — most assuredly.

‘We knew what we were getting’

The person who made the above statement is a friend of mine. I’ve known him for many years. We’ve shared a lot of laughs and even a bit of heartache together.

The knowledge of which he speaks concerns the presidency of Donald John Trump. My friend has said that Trump wasn’t his first choice as president, but given the choice he had in 2016 he felt compelled to vote for him.

Baggage and all.

I think my friend speaks for a lot of Americans who continue to sing the president’s praises. The reasons for those praises likely will escape me for as long as this man is in office, or even perhaps even longer.

My friend is an educated man. He is erudite and sophisticated. I wouldn’t classify him as one of the “deplorables” who — in the infamous words of Hillary Rodham Clinton — back Trump to the hilt come hell or high water.

However, I have trouble understanding whether he actually accepts the idea that a presidential candidate would denigrate a Vietnam War hero by saying he likes “those who aren’t captured” by the enemy, as Sen. John McCain was in 1967. Or that he gives a candidate a pass for mocking the physical disability of a noted journalist. Or that it’s OK for someone to boast to a TV host about grabbing women by their genitals because he’s a “star.”

Then there’s the lying. Yes, I know about politicians’ penchant for exaggeration, or for self-aggrandizement, or how they twist the truth to take on different meanings. Trump lies. Flat out! He says things that are demonstrably false.

What’s more, his lies often border on defamation of others. To wit:

Barack Obama ordered the wiretap of his 2016 campaign office: wrong. Millions of illegal immigrants voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016: wrong. Ted Cruz’s father might have been involved in President Kennedy’s murder because he was seen talking to Lee Harvey Oswald prior to the tragic event: false. Trump’s investigators had “evidence” that Barack Obama wasn’t born in Hawaii, but that he was born in Kenya: false.

I won’t get into the serial philandering and the endless array of failed business enterprises and the thousands of Americans who lost everything investing in these deals.

Trump’s supporters knew all this and still they elected him?

Maybe so. It simply blows my mind.

But there’s good news to report. Our friendship will persevere despite our political differences. For that I am eternally grateful.

Polk Street being ‘born again’?

I don’t want to attach some overblown significance to this, but a TV news report I watched last night suggests that downtown Amarillo’s former “main drag” is being reborn into something quite different, and equally cool.

We returned this week to Amarillo for a brief visit before returning to our new home in the Dallas area. I learned about the opening of some new business establishments along Polk Street.

Back in The Day, Polk Street served dual functions for the city’s residents, or so I learned. One was that it was a retail center: lots of shopping galore. Two was that it served as a place for kids to “cruise” at night. You know what I’m talking about: Guys with cool cars would take them along the street and show them off to girls.  Yes? Yes!

The retail went away. The cruising activity has moved to other locations.

What’s happening along Polk these days, though, is a rebirth of places for folks to enjoy a meal, a beverage or two. Restaurants are opening up in new locations. One of them, Crush, is relocating across the street.

Buchanan Street has that fancy hotel across the street from the Civic Center. And, oh yes, the ballpark is under construction across from City Hall.

I won’t equate this rebirth to any sort of religious event, as in being “born again” to the Christian faith. However, I am struck by the astonishing acceleration of progress toward that new life downtown after so many years of stagnation. There were lots of discussion about moving forward. But … nothing happened.

Now, with relative suddenness, that discussion has turned into action. They’re tearing up old storefronts, refitting them into something new. They’re turning historic buildings (such as the Firestone, the Fisk, Levine’s and Woolworth) into venues that bear little resemblance to their original uses.

My head is spinning.

I need to get away — and then return — more frequently to see this progress continue to take shape.

I like what I am seeing.

Thank you for the expressions of gratitude

I was sitting with my wife, granddaughter and her parents this evening in a burger joint in Allen, Texas.

A little girl, about maybe 10 or 11 years of age, stood by the end of the table where I was sitting. She waited for me to finish saying something to my family members.

Then she said, “I want to thank you for your service in the Army.”

I was taken aback. To be candid, I was moved almost to tears, as I did swallow hard for a moment.

I had worn a ballcap to the restaurant. It said “Army” with the words “Vietnam Veteran.” You’ve seen hats like it, I’m sure. They feature the ribbons all ‘Nam vets get when they served during that terrible conflict.

What I got tonight was a demonstration of respect that (a) I didn’t get when I returned home from the U.S. Army in 1970 or (b) I never thought of extending to a military veteran when I was that little girl’s age.

She stood at the end of the table with a woman who I’ll presume is her mother. Maybe Mom told her to say what she said; maybe the little girl thought of it all by herself. It doesn’t matter one little bit to me as I write this brief blog post.

What we witnessed this evening is an ongoing sense of appreciation that our nation is expressing to those who have worn a military uniform. It seems to have had its birth during the Persian Gulf War of 1990-91. Communities across the nation welcomed those fighting Americans home with parades and salutes after their stunning victory in Kuwait. I witnessed one of those parades in Beaumont, Texas, and I saluted a flatbed trailer carrying a group of Vietnam vets who got their share of love from the crowd gathered along the parade route.

Who led the cheers for the Gulf War heroes? Vietnam War vets who weren’t shown that kind of affection when they returned home from that earlier war.

A little girl made my day. She made me swallow mighty hard for just a moment or two.

This old veteran thanks her — and all those who continue to thank me for my service.