Infrastructure is too big to ignore

Of all the policy pronouncements that Donald Trump has made since becoming a politician, two of them ring true to me.

Yeah, I know. It’s just two. One of them involves judicial sentencing reform. The president is pitching the idea of getting rid of federal sentencing standards that too often, he says, send people into the federal prison for longer terms than they deserve.

However, I want to discuss briefly the other notion. Infrastructure repair, rehab, rebuilding, renovation.

He wants to spend a lot of money. What’s the cost? A trillion bucks? Two trillion? More than that?

The details of how much money it will cost or how the government will find the money to spend remain murky. We need to repair our bridges, our highways and our airports. Those are the three elements of our national infrastructure the president has mentioned specifically.

Yes, he is dealing with an extremely hostile Congress. The hostility runs red hot in the House of Representatives, which now is being run by Democrats. If you believe the media, you presume I suppose that every one of the 235 House Democrats detest Donald Trump deeply. They don’t want to do anything to advance a legislative agenda item. At one level, I cannot blame them, given the manner in which he “governs,” which is to say he doesn’t have a clue.

On another level, though, the nation needs to build things again. It needs to re-charge its energy level to improve the quality of our ground and air transportation.

I see studies almost weekly that tell us about crumbling bridges. In Texas, where I live, we are passionately in love with our motor vehicles. We need safe highways and bridges over which to drive from point to point.

The Texas Department of Transportation is hard at work rebuilding and renovating bridges and highways throughout our state.

However, TxDOT funds only go so far. We are part of the United States of America. Every state, even one as big and rich as Texas, ought to be able to lean on the federal government for funds to renovate part of the national infrastructure.

The president and congressional Democrats are supposed to meet this week to talk over the issue of how to come up with the money they might need to rebuild this essential element of life in our country. Don’t ask me for a clue. I have none.

I do know that life in 21st-century America requires enabling its citizens to get from point to point safely and without worrying whether the street or the bridge on which they are traveling won’t collapse under the weight of their vehicle. Airport service needs to be maintained at the highest level possible; currently, it isn’t.

How do we get there? From where I come from, I believe it’s called deploying “good government.”

Time of My Life, Part 33: Hoping it would hit the fan

My career as a print journalist allowed me to do many remarkable things, and to see many remarkable places.

Two of those career elements came together a decade ago. I now will explain.

About two or three weeks after I reported for work at the Amarillo Globe-News, my boss — publisher Garet von Netzer — informed me that someone from the Rotary Club of Amarillo would call me and invite me to join that Rotary club. “We need to have someone in that club,” von Netzer said. Thus, I was slated to join the Rotary Club of Amarillo. When Garet von Netzer said I would join, well, I had no choice.

I got the invitation from the late Basil Walker. I joined and then settled into my membership. I made a lot of new friends. More than that, though, I developed many valuable sources for potential issues I might cover as editorial page editor of the Globe-News.

Some years later, in 2008, I applied for — and received — an appointment to lead a team of young professionals to Israel as part of Rotary International’s Group Study Exchange.

That journey illustrated how my career allowed me to travel abroad. I was able to travel twice to Southeast Asia; I traveled three times to southeastern Europe; as president of the Rotary club, I was allowed to travel to Denmark and Sweden to attend Rotary International’s annual convention in 2006.

Then came this Israel adventure.

I was torn while training with my team members for this event. In late 2008 and early 2009, violence erupted in Gaza. Hamas terrorists lobbed rockets on Israeli communities. The Israelis responded with brute force, inflicting considerable damage at quite a cost in human life.

If the Israeli counteroffensive were to continue, our trip might be canceled. My Rotary mentor — with whom I was working to prepare for the trip –told me that RI was working closely with the State Department monitoring the situation in early 2009.

Israel’s potent armed forces took control. They put down the Hamas uprising. Order — if not peace — eventually was restored.

Our trip commenced in May 2009. We would spend four weeks in Israel. We stood on the doorstep of the Gaza Strip. We looked down onto the valley below the Golan Heights. We stood below a fortified fence along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, where another terror outfit, Hezbollah, was capable of doing damage.

For the entire four weeks, I harbored a wish; it wasn’t exactly a secret, although I don’t recall sharing it with our Israeli hosts. I wanted all hell to break loose while we were there.

No, I did not want to put our team in danger. I would have hoped we could get them on the next plane out and headed for home.

However, the reporter in me wanted to be able to cover events unfolding in real time.

It didn’t happen. Our journey was spectacular, even in the absence of violence and mayhem.

Don’t misunderstand me on this. I have never, ever harbored an instant of regret over the peace and tranquility we enjoyed while traveling through one of the world’s most thrilling nations.

If it had gone the other way, though . . . I was ready.

Rep. Amash ‘outs’ himself; calls for Trump to be impeached

U.S. Rep. Justin Amash stands atop the back bench of the House of Representatives as a lone Republican voice.

The GOP lawmaker from Michigan has become the first in his political party to say that Donald Trump, the nation’s Republican president, has committed an impeachable offense . . . or three.

Will this relatively unknown legislator be the first of other Republicans to declare they are fed up with the president’s conduct, his disregard for the rule of law, his ignorance about checks and balances, his hideous conduct?

I have no idea.

It does fascinate me that this libertarian-leaning lawmaker who reportedly is at odds often with his party’s congressional leadership would be the first to say what many on the far left of the Democratic Party are saying: that Trump should be impeached immediately.

Of course, Amash used Twitter to make his views known. It does annoy me that so many people in public office are using that particular medium to make these grand pronouncements . . . but that’s a topic for another blog entry.

One lone voice in a particular party doesn’t signal a political tsunami in the making. After all, the House is just the accusatory chamber. The Senate, which still is run by the GOP, has to provide a two-thirds vote to convict a president of a “high crime and misdemeanor.”

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t see this Senate with its current partisan makeup following the trail that would be blazed in the House of Representatives.

Which makes all this talk a waste of time.

Religious bigotry? It’s alive, all right

This item knocks me out, bowls me over, flattens me.

A survey by a group called CivicScience asked Americans whether they believe “Arabic numbers” should be taught in our schools.

Fifty-six percent of those who responded said “no.” Of the Republicans surveyed, 72 said “no” to the idea; 34 percent of Democrats said “no” as well.

Oh, but here’s the thing: They’re already teaching “Arabic numbers” in our schools. Those are the numbers we use every minute of our waking day.

OK, so not everyone knows that our numerical system is based on “Arabic” numbers. I do find it funny that the responses appear to be based on religious bigotry against those “Arabic” countries’ citizens and the religion to which they are faithful.

So sad.

These are far more than mere ‘friends’

This blog features commentary on “politics, policy and life experience,” but you likely know that already. I want to talk in this post about the third of those items.

I want to share a life experience with you in two parts.

The first part involves an event that occurred 10 years ago this month. I had a wonderful chance today to relive that moment with four of my best friends in this whole world.

I want to back up just briefly to a time prior to that experience.

The Rotary Club of Amarillo, of which I was a member, is part of a West Texas district that runs from the top of the Panhandle to the Permian Basin. In 2008, the district leadership paired up with another district in Israel. Rotary International, the worldwide governing body of the civic organization, had established a program called Group Study Exchange. It charged each district that took part to select a team leader to take a group of young professionals to the partner district.

That year, our Rotary district decided it would send a team to Israel. It needed a Rotary member to lead that team. I applied for the position. I interviewed for it. The committee that heard my pitch — along with those of three other Rotary members — selected me to lead that team.

My first task was to select four non-Rotary members to join the team that would travel to Israel for four weeks in May and June 2009. I completed that task. I selected three young women and a young man to make that journey. They are pictured with this blog post.

Fernando, Aida, Katheryn, Shirley and I then trained for several weeks. We learned the customs of Israel. We sought to acquaint ourselves with the nature of the country that seems to be in the news almost weekly. Often, the news is grim, filled combat, turmoil and assorted forms of violence in that volatile region of the world.

We were sufficiently trained over time. Then we took off from Amarillo’s airport. These four individuals would meet with professionals in Israel, share experiences and knowledge with them. Thus, the name of the program was brought into play.

We spent four weeks traveling through Israel, seeing the country from top to bottom — Nahariya to Eilat and everywhere in between; we sampled their cuisine; we visited holy sites; we stayed with families that opened their homes to us; we saw a marvelous nation up close and in a way that most foreigners never get to see it.

After a month in Israel, we came home. We went our separate ways. We have stayed in touch, however, over the past decade.

Which brings me to the second point of this blog post.

We have maintained friendships unlike any other I have ever known in my nearly 70 years on this good Earth.

And today, we gathered at the home of one of our team members to salute each other, to remember that marvelous journey, to express our love for each other and to revel in what I believe is the rare fete of continuing the relationship that began when we met as total strangers a decade ago.

In my more than 20 years in Rotary, I have met many Group Study Exchange team members and team leaders. They all tell me the essentially the same thing: Their relationships ended when their tours ended. They went home and rarely have shared any time together upon their return.

That’s not nearly the case with this group of friends my wife and I have made.┬áToday capped off one of the most remarkable life experiences either of us have ever known. We don’t see each other nearly as often as we did immediately after returning from the Holy Land. That doesn’t matter. We still know what each other is doing. We maintain an interest in everyone’s lives. We still cheer each other on, we offer emotional support when the needs arise and we still communicate via various messaging platforms available to us.

The best part of this experience? It’s far from over. Our lasting friendships won’t allow it to end.

This near-tragedy hits where it hurts

I was a bit slow on the uptake to get the details quickly, but when some of them rolled in, I shuddered to the bone.

A security guard at Parkrose (Ore.) High School tackled an armed student and prevented a tragedy at a place I now quite well.

I attended and graduated from high school at Parkrose, which is now part of the Portland Public School District. Fifty-two years ago, when I obtained my diploma, it was a suburban community with a school system run by its own elected board.

Oh, man. This story shakes me to my core.

A heroic security guard named Keanon Lowe prevented the tragedy. He tackled the student after getting a tip from other students who reportedly had noticed some “concerning activity” involving the youngster with the gun.

Lowe is a former wide receiver for the University of Oregon who now serves as head football and track coach at Parkrose High School.

According to ESPN.com: Parkrose was evacuated and a nearby middle school was on lockdown for several hours as the investigation unfolded. The high school students were bused to a nearby parking lot where they were reunited with their parents.

Parents and students called Lowe a “hero.” Do ya think?

I didn’t walk the halls of the current Parkrose campus. The school building from which I graduated was torn down and replaced with the new campus some years back. But . . . one still remains tied forever to the school system that provided one’s education. When stories like this make news, well, you feel it just a little more deeply.

Wow! I am so happy this story has turned out the all right. So, too, are the loved ones of the students who saw it unfold in real time.

Keanon Lowe deserves a raise in pay. A big raise at that!

Trump fibs, ‘er, lies once again about Michael Flynn

Donald Trump just cannot stop blaming Barack Obama for mistakes he makes.

He said today that the former president never informed him about the risk he was taking by hiring Michael Flynn as his national security adviser.

D’oh! Except that the former president did warn the current president: Don’t hire this guy; he’s trouble.

Oh, but then Trump said “no one” warned him about Flynn, the retired Army three-star general who had gotten tangled up with Russians involved in that effort to undermine the U.S. election in 2016.

Trump wrote on Twitter: It now seems the General Flynn was under investigation long before was common knowledge. It would have been impossible for me to know this but, if that was the case, and with me being one of two people who would become president, why was I not told so that I could make a change?

Doggone it, anyhow! Deputy U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates also warned the president-elect about Flynn being possibly “compromised” by the Russians. Trump’s reaction was to get rid of Yates.

Flynn joined the administration as national security adviser and lasted 24 days before Trump fired him! Why? For lying to the FBI and to Vice President Pence about his relationships with those pesky Russians.

However, Trump just cannot — or will not — get his facts straight.

Barack Obama warned him about Flynn. So did Sally Yates.

The new president wasn’t paying attention!

Why punish DACA recipients for their parents’ ‘sins’?

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals is in the news again. Indeed, it never seems to go away largely because some in Congress want to eliminate an executive order that President Obama signed in 2012.

For the life of my I keep asking: Why must we punish law-abiding U.S. residents for something their parents did when their children were too young to resist?

Obama signed the DACA order to protect those who came here as children when their parents entered the United States illegally. Many of those DACA recipients came here as infants or toddlers. Mom and Dad entered the United States in search of a better life. They just didn’t get into the country legally. They snuck in under the proverbial radar.

Over the years, many of those children grew into responsible adults in the only country they knew as young adults and older. They were educated in our schools, they attended college, they graduated with honors. They went to work. They have paid their taxes. They have lived as de facto U.S. citizens, except that they’re here illegally.

Barack Obama intended to protect them from immediate deportation, enabling them a path toward obtaining citizenship or at minimum permanent resident status.

Then Obama left office. In comes Donald Trump, vowing to eliminate the DACA order. He did so. He ordered the immediate deportation of these individuals. Why? Because in the strictest definition of the word, they are “lawbreakers.”

I admit — albeit grudgingly — that Trump is right. Technically, that is. The more humane approach would be to extend DACA benefits for those who came only because of something their parents did.

A federal court panel has just ruled that Trump’s order rescinding the DACA order was “arbitrary and capricious.” The president is sure to fight it.

I just am baffled that the administration continues to insist on punishing U.S. residents only because they happened to be born to individuals who sought to skirt U.S. immigration law in search of a better life for their families.

I’ll divulge a little secret about Donald Trump’s Cabinet. It happens to include a gentleman — Energy Secretary (and former Texas Gov.) Rick Perry — who once touted the notion of allowing DACA recipients to pay in-state college tuition prices, the same as any resident of Texas. So, you see, Trump hasn’t surrounded himself totally with heartless ideologues.

If only he would listen to others in his administration who share Rick Perry’s view that DACA does more good than harm for the United States of America.

‘Consensual rape’? No such thing, buster

A Republican state lawmaker has joined the ranks of politicians who “misspeak” when they discuss the rape of an individual.

The latest inductee into the Rhetorical Hall of Shame is Missouri state Rep. Barry Hovis, who declared that most rapes occur during dates or when a woman “consents” to it.

Yes, he called it “consensual rape.” The reason for the discussion in the first place is the Missouri Legislature’s action on a bill that outlaws abortion with only one exception: the health of the mother.

Rape or incest don’t qualify as exceptions, under the proposed Missouri law.

Rep. Hovis, of course, was dead wrong in calling an act of violence against a person to be a “consensual” event.┬áRape is rape. No one “consents” to being sexually assaulted against their will.

Of course, Hovis said he “misspoke”; he added that he doesn’t believe rape is “consensual.”

Too late, bub. The damage is done.

City turning into a form of ‘urban eye candy’

AMARILLO, Texas — We were walking this morning to an appointment we had with someone in her office at Seventh Avenue and Taylor Street when my wife spoke up.

“You know, the city certainly is a lot more attractive to the eye than it used to be, when we first moved here” in early 1995, she said.

To which I said, “Absolutely!” As we drove toward our appointment we couldn’t help but notice the appearance of Polk Street, Amarillo’s one-time “main drag,” the place where kids used to hang out, where adults did the bulk of their retail shopping.

Yes, the city’s physical appearance has leaped way past where it used to stand back when we first laid eyes on Amarillo more than 24 years ago.

The Potter County Courthouse square is all dolled up. They’re tearing the daylights out of the formerly rotting hulk called the Barfield Building. The Paramount Theater building remains full of activity. Polk Street is busy these days with lunchtime crowds deciding where to eat. A bit west of Polk we see that the West Texas A&M University Amarillo campus is all but complete inside what used to be called the Commerce Building.

I am acutely aware of the political turmoil that has accompanied the city’s work toward downtown revival. Some folks like it. Others dislike it. Some of the city’s power elite have been accused of feathering their own bank accounts.

We don’t get the chance any longer to watch the downtown district repurpose itself in real time. We only get to take a gander at where it is in the moment.

At this moment, therefore, we happened to notice that the city’s central business and entertainment district is looking much more appealing than it used to look.

How in the world is that a bad thing?

Commentary on politics, current events and life experience

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