Supermarket chain swallows another one

I dislike commenting on business matters, but the news today about the future of the grocery business in Amarillo is disturbing on its face.

Albertsons is buying United Supermarkets. Albertsons is based in Boise, Idaho; United is based right here in West Texas, in Lubbock. We’ve been shopping at United almost from the day we arrived in Amarillo back in early 1995. Albertsons now is planning to buy all seven Amarillo outlets.

Albertsons is not a bad grocery store chain. I’ve been familiar with the company going back to my youth growing up in Portland, Ore.

Something about this buyout, however, makes me nervous.

Perhaps it has something to do with how well Albertsons has done in Amarillo during the years we’ve lived here. From where I sit, not very well.

Albertsons has closed at least two big stores here. One of the closures was particularly troubling, in that it built a new structure at the corner of Interstate 40 and Washington Street, only to close the place altogether six or seven years later.

United, meanwhile, has been growing in Amarillo and indeed throughout West Texas. It’s building a new store along Soncy Road. United has opened outlets in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. The company has prided itself on being in business since 1917, for crying out loud.

Now it’s about to vanish.

I am not privy to what persuaded the family that owns United to sell to a supermarket chain based so far away.

The way I’ve always looked at United, though, is that it was the next best thing to buying “local,” given its home base just two hours south of Amarillo.

It’s the end of a retail era in Amarillo, and it saddens me.

Wrestling is back at the Olympics!

Tradition means something after all with the International Olympic Committee.

The IOC has announced that wrestling — the oldest Olympic sport of them all — will be competed at the 2020 and 2024 summer games. The IOC announced this week that Tokyo would be the host city for the 2020 Olympics; the IOC will announce the 2024 host city in 2017.

The IOC had talked for some months about getting rid of wrestling, which would have constituted one of the dumbest, most heartless and ridiculous decisions the Olympic governing body had ever rendered. IOC authorities said the public had lost interest in wrestling. It planned, though, to keep synchronized swimming and rhythmic gymnastics.

Get rid of wrestling? You must have been kidding!

The Olympics began in 776 B.C. in ancient Olympia, Greece. Wrestling is believed to be the first sport ever conducted at those ancient Games.

The athletes, I hasten to add, competed in the nude.

I suppose if the IOC wanted to gin up interest in wrestling in the 21st century, it could allow wrestlers to shed their tights and compete as their grappling forebears did back in the old days.

“It’s almost like you expected that to happen,” former American Olympic gold medalist and coach Dan Gable told The Associated Press. “But we certainly didn’t expect what happened in February to happen, and because of that you learn and work through the whole process.” What happened in February was that the IOC announced the end of wrestling as an Olympic sport.

Thanks goodness that tradition still speaks loudly when it counts.

Waiting on Mac Thornberry to weigh in on Syria

Has anyone seen or heard from U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry lately?

I know that’s a rhetorical question. Some folks have seen and/or heard him as he travels through the vast 13th Congressional District of the Texas Panhandle, which he has represented since 1995.

But here’s the deal: The nation is roiling at this moment over whether President Obama should order missile strikes against Syrian military forces in retaliation for their use of chemical weapons, but Mac Thornberry, a senior Republican member of the House Armed Services and Permanent Select Intelligence committees, has been all but silent on the matter.

I spent some time this morning perusing Thornberry’s website. I looked for press releases, issues statements, “white papers” on national security. Nothing in there about Syria.

I’m waiting for Thornberry to offer some wisdom on this matter, given that so many members of Congress have weighed in already.

I am acutely aware that much of the public commentary on Syria has come from the usual cadre of Democratic and Republican legislative blowhards. Thornberry isn’t one of them. He’s been a quiet and fairly studious member of Congress since winning the House seat in that landmark 1994 election.

However, he’s also had a ringside seat on some difficult national security issues. As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, Thornberry has been required to study diligently issues relating to the use of our massive military might. What’s more, as a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, he has had access to some of the most sensitive national security material imaginable. The late U.S. Rep. Charlie Wilson, D-Lufkin — who also served on that panel — once told me that committee members saw virtually everything the president saw. I’m quite certain Thornberry has access to a lot of information about Syria and its possession of deadly nerve agents.

The nation has entered the most serious national security debate since President George W. Bush sought authorization to go to war with Iraq, citing dictator Saddam Hussein’s supposed cache of chemical weapons — which we learned later did not exist.

President Obama’s national security team has presented what appears to be compelling proof that Syria has used the gas on civilians and it has more of it stashed away. He wants to hit those stockpiles in a series of air strikes. The military says it’s ready to go.

Mac Thornberry, our elected representative, has had time to digest the information.

I’m waiting to hear whether he supports striking at a seriously evil dictator.

Talk to us, Mac.

So long, Anthony Weiner

Anthony Weiner’s time in the political spotlight has been reduced to an hours-long countdown.

In less than a day, New York City voters are likely to hand the former Democratic congressman his walking papers and signal an end to his bid to become the Big Apple’s next mayor.

So long, Carlos Danger.

The rest of us out here in Flyover Country shouldn’t be concerned about Weiner. He once was a loudmouthed member of Congress, the body that writes federal law under which we all live. Then we learned that Weiner had been sending lewd text messages and videos of himself to women — none of whom is his wife.

He quit Congress in 2011.

Then he returned to the spotlight by announcing his campaign for mayor. Oops, then something bad happened yet again. We learned that Weiner hadn’t stopped the “sexting” after all, even after promising us he had stopped. He was using the “Carlos Danger” name to send the images to women — again, none of whom is his wife.

Weiner’s political fortunes plummeted. He’s now figuring to finish fourth in a field of Democratic candidates for mayor.

This entire episode has been an embarrassment for everyone. I’m even embarrassed writing about it, but it’ll be the final time I’ll comment on this man’s idiotic behavior.

New York is the most important city in the world, let alone America. It needs a mayor who is serious and who can be treated seriously. Anthony Weiner isn’t that man.

So long, Anthony.

When did phone-buying get so complicated?

I am about to make the most difficult, complex, mind-bending purchase of my life.

A new home? Nope. Already have one — and it’s paid in full, too.

A new vehicle? Did that one too recently. It was a piece of cake.

A recreational vehicle? Hah! Give me a break. It was love at first sight with our new fifth wheel.

I’m talking about a telephone. It’s the cellular kind, which you stick in your pocket and carry it around with you.

I know what you’re thinking. What can be so difficult about buying a cellphone? Well, let me tell you something: My wife and I will be able to settle pretty easily on the phone we want. It’s our sons and our daughter-in-law who are going to give us grief if we don’t get the “right” phone with the “right” calling plan and have all the “right” gizmos, gadgets and doo-dads that go with these devices.

My old-fashioned flip phone croaked this past week while my wife and I were celebrating our 42nd wedding anniversary at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla. I charged the thing up one night. Turned it off, then turned it back the next morning; it was charged fully. Then during the day, it went dead — as in terminally dead. I tried to put it back on the charger at the end of the day. Nothing happened. I played “Taps” in my head.

So, with that we’ve decided we’re finally going to “upgrade” our phones. We don’t know what we’re going to do. Do we go with a “smart phone,” an “I-phone,” or are they the same thing?

Which provider do we use? I’m inclined to stay with the one we have used since we purchased these old-time flip phones.

For the record, let me state that I waged a public campaign over the course of several years to be the last human being on the planet to purchase a cellphone. I declared victory when I acquired one — although a friend of mine and at least one member of my family tell me they’ve never owned a cellphone.

Neither of them can prove it to my satisfaction … so my claim of victory still stands.

I remember the old days when my parents had to decide whether to go with a push-button phone or stay with the old rotary-dial device. Heck, I even remember back even further when Mom and Dad purchased a rotary phone with one of those new-fangled twisty stretch cords.

We’ve entered a new age when phone purchases have become more complicated than what used to be the decision that gave us the most headaches. A new home or motor vehicle? Forget about it.

I will make one vow at this very moment: I will not be caught walking and looking down at the device while sending a “text message.” Not ever. Period.

I’ll need some quiet time now to ponder the huge decision that awaits us.

Pray for us … please.

POTUS faces key moment if Congress says ‘no’

Secretary of State John Kerry says President Obama can bomb Syria even if Congress votes against authorizing him to do so.

Not so fast, Mr. President.

Kerry makes the point in an interview with the Huffington Post that the president, as commander in chief, retains the authority to authorize military strikes even if he doesn’t have the backing of the legislative branch of government. Yes he does, but …

There is a huge political calculation at home the president must consider, which the Huff Post notes. It is that the Republican-led House of Representatives seems almost certain to push ahead with impeachment proceedings against President Obama. That, in my mind, would be a grotesque overreaction. It is, however, part of today’s political reality in Washington. Those who oppose the president really detest him and his policies.

I happen to believe the United States must strike at Syria to punish the government there for using Sarin gas on civilians. Obama has threatened to strike at Syrian military targets; the military has drawn up plans; Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says the military machine is ready to strike when it gets the order.

The strikes must be surgical, effective and must get the job done in short order. There must be a commitment that U.S. troops won’t storm into Damascus once the bombing stops.

However, the president is having a tough time selling this strike to reluctant lawmakers.

Should he act on his own, without their authorization? No. As the president himself said, in addition to being commander in chief, he also is the leader of the world’s largest representative democracy.

‘Patriots’ becoming a perverted term

Paul Burka is among my favorite Texas political pundits — and he’s nailed it once again in criticizing a video supporting Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s campaign for governor.

The video shows Abbott praising the “patriots” who fight for “freedom.” The patriots to whom he refers, of course, appear to be the tea party warriors who comprise a significant portion of the Texas Republican Party.

Abbott has enlisted as a tea party “patriot” in an attempt to tack to the far right wing of his party.

That takes me to a point that has bothered me since the tea party branch of the GOP began taking root in Texas and the rest of the country.

They call themselves “tea party patriots,” taking sole ownership of the term “patriot” they are so proud to wear. Well, I consider myself as much as a patriot as anyone who boasts of his or her tea party credentials. I am not a tea party follower. I dislike intensely the tea party wing’s view that no government is the best government. They adhere to some notion that it’s all right, for instance, to shut the government down as long as it defunds the Affordable Care Act — ignoring blatantly the effect that such a shutdown would have on those Americans who actually derive some benefit from the services that government delivers.

These folks call themselves “patriots” but their so-called “patriotism” is a version that I don’t recognize.

I kind of consider it a perversion of the term, not unlike the way Islamic terror groups have perverted their own religion or, dare I say it, some so-called Christians (e.g., the Westboro Baptist “Church”) pervert their faith.

I used to think of Greg Abbott as being above that kind of demagoguery.

Silly me.

Thanks, Mr. Chief Justice

I’ve commented on this already, but it bears repeating with the news that Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson is leaving the bench soon.

I wish the chief well as he goes on with the rest of his life and, presumably, his legal career.

My fondest memory of the chief justice has nothing to do with his knowledge of jurisprudence — but it has everything to do with his sense of decorum and propriety outside the courtroom.

Chief Justice Jefferson came a’callin’ at the newspaper where I worked a few years ago. He was running for re-election and wanted to visit with the editorial page “staff” — that would have been yours truly — to make the case for sending him back to office for another term.

We sat at a large conference table, along with a young aide who was traveling with the chief justice.

The aide, a woman of about 24 or 25, was sending text messages while Jefferson and I talked about court matters. The chief justice stopped talking suddenly and asked his aide what she was doing. “I’m sending a text message,” she said. “Put the device down,” Jefferson said. “But this is important,” she responded, to which the chief justice said in a tone approaching anger, “Then take it outside!” She left the room.

I thanked the chief justice for his attention to good manners.

And I am thanking him now for his service to the Texas judicial system.

Sessions ‘not being partisan’?

U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., is using an interesting tactic in criticizing President Obama’s handling of the Syria crisis.

He said that President George W. Bush would have frightened Syrian dictator Bashar as-Assad enough to prevent the Syrians from using chemical weapons on innocent civilians.

Sessions assured a town hall audience, mind you, that he isn’t being partisan. “We have only one president at a time,” he said. But by golly, if the 43rd president had said the same thing the 44th president said in warning Assad, the dictator would be scared.

I think the senator, who’s as partisan as they come in his view of policy and politics, has thrown out the Mother of All Hypotheticals.

Is a Rodman defection on tap?

I am acutely aware that this is not an original thought, but I cannot prevent myself from weighing in.

Is Dennis Rodman ready to defect to North Korea?

He made a second trip there supposedly to seek the release of an American being held captive. He went there a few months ago and declared for all the world — or at least that part of the world where people actually care what he thinks — that North Korean dictator/weirdo Kim Jong Un had become his “friend.”

Well, with Rodman, one never knows what the term “friend” actually means. The pro basketball Hall of Famer flipped many years ago — about the time his coach at Detroit, Chuck Daly, retired from the game. Rodman couldn’t continue acting like a semi-normal human being without his mentor and friend to hold his hand.

So he died his hair many colors, got all tatted up with body ink and now has pierced just about every visible appendage on his body — and maybe even some he keeps hidden in front of decent company.

Rodman’s friendship with Kim Jong Un is a match made somewhere, but certainly not in heaven.

The dictator presides over a nation that still starves its people while building one of the strongest military machines in Asia. But he’s Rodman’s pal.

I’m waiting — and hoping — for a defection. These two weirdoes deserve each other.

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