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‘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.

Irony abounds in this NRA selection

Ohhh, the irony of it all.

Oliver North is set to become the next president of the National Rifle Association, the nation’s premier gun-rights advocacy group.

He’s a former Marine Corps lieutenant colonel who got caught up in a scandal that rocked the nation three decades ago.

The irony? Oh, it’s just that it involved sale of illegal weapons to our enemies in Iran, not to mention dealing with rebel fighters in Nicaragua.

North was accused of shading the truth and waffling on his explanation of what he was doing and for what purpose he was doing it.

It’s perfect, yes? He gets now to run the NRA, an organization with its share of critics who contend that the organization isn’t always truthful about its claims that more guns in the hands of more people create a safer society.

Sheesh!

Maybe it’s just plain karma that puts Oliver North in charge of the NRA. As Mother Jones notes: The Iran-Contra scandal was a dark episode, in which the US government hooked up with shady arms dealers and a variety of sleazy crooks and con men around the globe, including drug-runners. At a time when Nancy Reagan was promoting her “just say no” campaign, the secret operators of her husband’s administration were saying yes to a host of shady miscreants. And North was among those making common cause with criminals.

The NRA brand needs a lot of help in many political circles throughout the United States. Naming a fellow such as Oliver North as its next president doesn’t do a thing to improve the NRA’s image.

That’s just my view. I am quite certain others of a different political ilk believe quite differently.

Council to place reasonable restrictions on comments

What began as a flap over clapping in Amarillo City Council meetings appears headed toward the council enacting some restrictions on the comments that residents can make.

Now, can we call it a day? Let’s move on.

The council aims to put some reasonable restrictions on the time residents can take in expressing themselves about issues of the day. Is the council treading on citizens’ First Amendment rights of free expression? Uh, no. It isn’t. The council is endeavoring, as I understand it, to retain some order, discipline and a bit of decorum at its public meetings.

The council has decided to shorten the time residents have to request to speak before the council. The council’s previous rule allowed them to sign up a week in advance; the new rule allows them to sign up just the day before the council meeting.

Is that an unreasonable requirement? Nope.

If we flash back a couple of decades, let’s recall how Randall County’s Commissioners Court used to operate. Then-County Judge Ted Wood thought it was necessary to give residents all the time they wanted to vent their spleens on whatever was troubling them. Hey, we work for them, Wood said, so we owe it to the “bosses” to give them all the time they need to tell us what is on their minds.

Truth be told, the county’s overly generous policy didn’t work out too well. Commissioners Court meetings got bogged down. They went on seemingly forever as residents hogged far too much time to go on and on about … whatever.

As a general rule, governing bodies place some restriction on the time they grant for residents to comment. It’s reasonable to my mind for them to enact those rules while ensuring sufficient time for residents to have their voices heard.

But … “sufficient” should not mean “eternal.”

Waiting for outrage from White House

I won’t hold my breath waiting for Donald J. Trump to say what needs to be said about Russian meddling in our nation’s electoral process.

The president should declare his outrage and must insist that we take measures to ensure that this kind of political aggression from a foreign adversary never happens again.

He won’t say it. Of that I am increasingly certain.

What’s more, his refusal to declare such outrage makes me question whether this man actually places protecting the nation he governs above all else.

Special counsel Robert Mueller has indicted 13 Russians and three Russian companies for their role in interfering in our 2016 presidential election. The 37-page indictment does not alleged “collusion” from the Trump campaign; nor does it say that the Russian interference determined the outcome.

That was the focus of the president’s initial response. He said the indictments vindicate his campaign. He declared there was “no collusion!” yet again.

Meanwhile, national security adviser H.R. McMaster says the indictment provides “incontrovertible proof” that the Russians launched a campaign against our electoral system. They committed an act of aggression. They sought to sow discord and discontent among Americans. They succeeded!

Where in the world is the outrage from the man at the top? When is he ever going to declare virtual war against foreign powers who think they can mess with our political system?

The president took an oath to defend the United States. He swore to place our national interests above all else. Indeed, he campaigned on a pledge to “put America first.”

The president’s continuing refusal to state his intention to end this kind of meddling is a fundamental violation of that oath.

Disgraceful.

Church-state argument will never end … never!

When will we ever stop debating the issue of teaching religiously based doctrine in our public classrooms?

I know the answer to that one. Never! It’s going to go on for as long as human beings interact with each other.

I wrote a blog item four years ago, about the time the statewide election campaign was ramping up. Here’s what it said:

Church and state do need separation

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is seeking re-election this year. He’s already demonstrated his desire to discriminate against transgendered people by insisting on a “Bathroom Bill” that requires people to use public restrooms that comport with the gender assigned to them on their birth certificate. He says “big-city liberals” favor “open borders” that allow criminals to flood into the state and the nation.

Four years ago he pitched the notion of requiring public school teachers to instruct their students on the biblical theory of “creationism.” I might be willing to bet real American money that he brings it up again this year.

I feel the need to stipulate once again that although the U.S. Constitution does not contain the words “church and state separation,” it is clearly implied in the First Amendment. The Amarillo Globe-News editorial page continues to insist that the absence of such a reference makes it OK to teach religious doctrine in public schools.

Read my lips: The founding fathers created a secular government. The First Amendment is as crystal clear as it can be: Congress shall make no law establishing a state religion. Right there is your church-state separation clause.

We are one month into a new election year. The discussion no doubt will rage once again about creationism and whether it belongs in a public school classroom.

It does not!

POTUS now pledges to talk … under oath!

I cannot keep up with Donald John Trump’s change of heart and mind.

He said this past summer that he’d be willing “100 percent” to talk to special counsel Robert Mueller about the “Russia thing” that has consumed the president’s attention.

Then he called Mueller’s probe a “witch hunt,” a hoax, a product of “fake news” and of Democrats who were upset at losing the 2016 presidential election.

Furthermore, he said he didn’t see a need to talk to the special counsel, given that there was “absolutely no collusion” with Russian hackers who sought to influence the 2016 election outcome.

Now … he is singing another tune. Today, the president said he would testify “under oath” if need be to Mueller and his team of legal eagles. He told reporters he would cooperate fully with Mueller’s team.

My head is spinning.

I certainly welcome the president’s latest declaration. If he is as innocent of wrongdoing as he says he is, then he would have no worried talking to Mueller, who clearly has a lot of questions to ask Trump.

Why did he fire FBI director James Comey? Did he pressure him to go easy on other close White House aides and advisers? Why didn’t he order his campaign team to tell the FBI that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton they wanted to share with his campaign?

Those are just for starters?

If the president is going to maintain his pledge to talk to Mueller, my guess is that he’ll need to carve out a lot of time. The special counsel has a mountain of evidence to pore through and an equally high mountain of questions to get resolved.

But if the president is clean, there should be no problem.

I just can’t stop wondering if he is going to change his mind yet again and deliver a stiff-arm to the special counsel. Hey, the president is known to do such a thing.

This is not how to govern, Congress

What a way to govern … not!

Congress is fighting over how to pay for immigration measures. It cannot settle a dispute over whether to pay for construction of a wall along our nation’s southern border or whether to extend protection for those U.S. residents who were brought here when they were children as their parents sneaked into the country illegally.

The consequence of this dispute?

The government might shut down — if only partially — in the next 24 hours.

Republicans who run both congressional chambers are scrambling to find yet another stop-gap solution that will delay the next shutdown threat for a couple of weeks.

Oh, and then we have the president of the United States. Donald J. Trump reportedly is a non-player in the negotiation over how to find a longer-term solution to this problem. Media reports say that Trump is making zero phone calls to congressional leaders, suggesting he’s leaving it exclusively up to lawmakers to find an answer.

Even congressional Republicans are complaining about the lack of a “reliable partner” in the White House.

Trump torpedoes GOP strategy

I’m trying to imagine Lyndon Johnson leaving a matter such as this to Capitol Hill. The late former president came to the presidency after a distinguished career in the U.S. Senate. President Kennedy plucked him from his Senate majority leader post to run with him as vice president in 1960. LBJ never lost his congressional connections.

Trump, though, has none of that kind of history. Zero, man!

Effective governance is supposed to comprise a partnership between the legislative and executive branches of government. It’s not happening these days.

Republicans are barely talking to Democrats in Congress, and vice versa. The president, meanwhile, is maintaining a position that I suppose he might say is “above the fray.”

As a result, Congress might stumble and bumble its way to another short-term Band-Aid repair, only to wait for the next deadline to approach before we face yet another government shutdown threat.

How about trying this: Work together for a change in the hunt for common ground. Fund the government, repair the problem — and stop threatening to shut down a government that is supposed to serve all Americans all the time.

Maddening.

No armchair diagnoses, please

You may count me as one who takes a dim view of those who think they can diagnose medical matters from a distance.

There’s a good bit of that going around these days as it relates to the behavior of the president of the United States, one Donald John Trump Sr.

Yes, he’s acting squirrely. And yes, he tweets messages that sound as if they come from a junior high schooler. He goads a dictator with nuclear bombs. He insults media representatives, politicians and a particular book author … not to mention at least one key former White House aide.

Does any of this mean the man is certifiably crazy? Is he nuts? Is he unfit mentally to be commander in chief?

I am not qualified to answer any of that. Neither are the “experts” who keep insisting the president needs to be kicked out of office on the basis of someone’s long-distance assessment of Trump’s mental fitness.

They don’t know of which they speak.

More than 50 years ago the nation had this same discussion about the late Republican U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater, who ran for president in 1964 against President Johnson. Goldwater was deemed to be nuttier than a fruitcake because he talked openly about going to war with the Soviet Union, the world’s other great nuclear power at the time.

Someone wrote a book about Sen. Goldwater and put in writing what many were saying out loud. Goldwater sued the author for libel and won. Then came something called the “Goldwater Rule,” which disallows people from issuing medical diagnoses without examining the person about whom they are talking.

I believe we should keep that in mind as we discuss Donald Trump’s conduct of the high office he occupies.

There might be political reasons to remove this guy. They haven’t emerged; perhaps they never will emerge. Medical assessments are best left to those who get close enough to the subject to offer them.

The rest of us are just firing pot shots from the peanut gallery.