Tag Archives: AGN Media

Let’s get real: mend, not end, 2nd Amendment

I’m hearing a lot of chatter throughout my social media network about how the United States should end the carnage of gun violence.

Las Vegas’s tragedy has awakened us yet again to this horrifying aspect of modern American society. Fifty-eight victims, all attending a music festival, were shot to death in an act of insanity by a monster perched on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino. Five hundred-plus more were injured; some of them are in critical condition.

The debate has been joined throughout many social and other media.

I am hearing significant chatter about how Australia managed to clamped down on firearm ownership in the wake of a 1996 mass shooting. The Aussies have been massacre-free ever since. Other countries prohibit the purchase of firearms. Let’s model our firearm policy after those countries, the argument goes.

I happen to believe in the Second Amendment, awkward phrasing and all. I believe it says that Americans have the constitutional right to “keep and bear arms.” I get that.

However, I also believe there must be a solution to improving the Second Amendment. How can we preserve its principle while legislating within its framework stricter laws that make it illegal for civilians to own fully automatic assault weapons like the one used in Las Vegas by that madman? Isn’t there a solution to be found somewhere, somehow, by someone smart enough to draft a law that maintains the Second Amendment principle of keeping and bearing arms?

As my friend Jon Mark Beilue has noted in a wonderful column published today in the Amarillo Globe-News, other amendments in the Bill of Rights have limitations. He cites the First, Fifth and Sixth amendments. The Second Amendment, though, remains untouchable mostly because of entrenched political interests groups — I’m talking about you, National Rifle Association, among others — who bully and pressure members of Congress to keep their hands off that amendment.

Check out Beliue’s essay here.

Can we get past the overheated rhetoric that flares up when these tragedies strike? If we can, then perhaps we can find a solution to mend the Second Amendment. Don’t tell me that such a reach is beyond our collective grasp.

Huge municipal resource calls it a career

They came on a rainy evening to honor a man who’s given four decades of his life to public service.

I was one of the hundreds of Amarillo residents who flocked tonight to a brand new hotel downtown to honor Gary Pitner. I didn’t get too much face time with my friend, as he was pretty busy schmoozing with a lot of others in the reception room.

But I do want to write a few good words about this fellow I’ve known almost from Day One upon my arrival around the corner from his office. In January 1995 I came to work as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News. Almost immediately I came to know the executive director of the Panhandle Regional Planning Commission. That would be Pitner.

The PRPC is a bit of a mystery to a lot of folks. Its duties include coordinating a whole array of issues involving communities throughout the 26 counties that comprise the Texas Panhandle. Pitner has worked as head of PRPC for 32 of his 40 years in local government.

So, why the big outpouring of affection, respect and admiration for this fellow who’s retiring from his lengthy career that sought to make our communities better? It’s because he was so good at it. Moreover, he became the go-to guy years ago when it came to Amarillo’s future growth issues.

There was some discussion this evening at the Embassy Suites hotel, where the retirement reception took place, that Pitner’s presence at PRPC positioned him to become a huge player in the downtown Amarillo planning. He became a voice of wisdom and knowledge; some have suggested he became the voice of all that.

Pitner never would presume to know all there is to know. I’ll say what he won’t say about himself: He knows a lot about this city’s history and how it arrived in the present day. He also is able to offer knowledgeable analysis about where he believes the city is heading and how it ought to get to the finish line.

I’m happy for my friend that he’s entering this next phase of his life. He’s still a young man and has much to offer anyone who’s looking for knowledge about local government.

He stood up to his armpits in downtown planning, in water conservation, in urban growth planning, in reasonable land use. He became a valuable resource for municipal, county and state officials who were looking for a strong base of knowledge about Amarillo and the Panhandle.

Pitner possesses all of that.

I am proud to have known him professionally and am proud to call him a friend. I did manage to speak a fundamental truth to Pitner this evening during my too-brief visit with him.

“There are damn few people I would drive all the way downtown in this hideous weather to pay respects to at an event like this,” I told him. Pitner laughed.

Go ahead and laugh, Gary. But here’s the deal: I wasn’t kidding.

About the Constitution’s ‘simplicity’

The Amarillo Globe-News published a brief editorial this morning. Two elements contained within it compel me to respond. Here’s the editorial:

Sunday was Constitution Day — the day set aside for celebrating the anniversary of the U.S. Constitution.

Allow us to present a few facts about the U.S. Constitution, which more than likely are not in history books.

The phrase “separation of church and state” is not in the U.S. Constitution.

The concept of marriage is not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, much less the authority of government to require marriage licenses.

The U.S. Constitution is the oldest and shortest of written, national constitutions. There is probably a reason for this — simplicity. The document was written in clear and concise language.

It is too bad these facts about the U.S. Constitution are forgotten — or ignored — today.

I love the U.S. Constitution as much as the next guy. Maybe more so. Allow me this brief rejoinder.

The Constitution doesn’t need to use the phrase “separation of church and state” to make this point abundantly clear. The First Amendment says “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion.” Is that clear enough? I believe the intent in that clause is to separate church from the state.

Nor does the Constitution need to insert the term “marriage,” either. I am guessing the G-N is suggesting that same-sex marriage, which the U.S. Supreme Court has sanctioned, isn’t covered by the nation’s founding governing document; the G-N opposes the court’s decision. You see, the 14th Amendment provides “equal protection under the law” for all Americans. That includes marriage, by golly.

If we’re going to parse the Constitution’s language, let’s also note that it doesn’t mention the words “murder,” or “extortion” “bank robbery,” let alone does it say specifically that those activities should be deemed illegal.

I do agree that the founders wrote a fairly simple and declarative document when they created the United States of America. They didn’t need to clutter it up with a lot of do’s and don’ts to make clear what’s allowed.

No efforts to ‘erase history’

I used to have a relationship — albeit a distant one — with a fellow named Carl Fowler.

He used to write the occasional letter to the editor and guest column to the Amarillo Globe-News, where I worked as editorial page editor for nearly 18 years. I see that he’s still submitting commentaries to the newspaper. Truth be told, I cannot let this one pass without a brief comment.

Fowler, as is his wont, is highly critical of who he calls the “far left” for seeking to remove Confederate monuments from public squares.

And in his essay, he manages to do a couple of things that are wrong on their face. He refers to the “Democrat Party,” which is not the name of the party known officially as the “Democratic Party.” That’s how modern conservatives seek to demonize the Democratic Party and those who belong to it.

He also misquotes former President Barack Obama. He refers to a statement the former president once made about the United States no longer being “just a Christian nation.” Of course, Fowler said Obama’s quote was that we are “no longer a Christian nation.” The word “just” is important here, because the former president was referring to the increasingly non-Christian mix of Americans who are becoming key components of our diverse national texture.

Moreover, we never have been a “Christian nation.” Fowler, a retired academic, ought to know better than to imply anything of the sort. All he’s got to do is read the U.S. Constitution and he won’t find the words “Christian” or “Jesus Christ” anywhere in it. You see, the founders created a secular state that gave us all the right to practice whatever religion we wanted — or to not practice any if we so chose.

The essence of Fowler’s essay, though, is to condemn those who take a dim view of honoring those who went to war against the United States of America. The Civil War killed more Americans than any other conflict in our history. To my way of thinking, those who sought to destroy the Union were traitors.

Should we erase that chapter from our national story? Of course not. Let’s just call the Confederates who they were.

Here is Fowler’s essay. Check it out. The floor is now open for discussion.

‘Enemy of the people’ are here to serve

“There are three kinds of people who run toward disaster, not away: cops, firemen and reporters.”

The above quotation comes from the Newseum, an exhibit in Washington, D.C., put together years ago by the Poynter Institute, a first-rate umbrella media organization. A young friend of mine — who happens to be a former colleague who’s still in the print journalism business — posted this today on Facebook.

Interesting, don’t you think? I do. Now I shall explain briefly why.

Donald J. Trump spares no opportunity to denigrate those who report the news to the public. The president of the United States came to Texas recently to tour damage done by Hurricane Harvey and decided to say that the “first responders” go places the media won’t go, “unless there’s a good story.”

The idiot in chief misses the point. He whiffs. He fans, man.

The media answer the call to serve the public. No, they don’t necessarily put themselves in harm’s way to the extent that firefighters, police officers and emergency medical personnel do. They are there, however, to report to the public what is happening to our communities and to our fellow Americans.

I said that media reps don’t “necessarily” endanger themselves. That’s not entirely true, of course. Reporters — broadcast, print and photojournalists — do step in to offer aid. They lend comfort to stricken victims. They perform rescues. They act, shall we say, quite heroically.

For the president to continually denigrate these individuals and the organizations they represent is disgraceful on its face. For him to refer to the media as “the enemy of the American people,” furthermore, defames the vast array of professionals who do what they are trained to do: report the news and deliver it to an audience that is thirsting for information.

I am proud to have been a member of a noble craft. What’s more, I continue to swell with pride in the job many of my friends and former colleagues continue to do.

No ‘allegedly’ about it; Arpaio is guilty

I have refrained from criticizing the editorial positions taken by the newspaper where my journalism career ended … but I’m going to make a brief exception here.

The Amarillo Globe-News published an editorial this week that questions the outrage expressed over the presidential pardon of former “Sheriff Joe” Arpaio. The editorial missed the mark on two important points.

First point: The AGN refers to the “alleged” crime for which Arpaio was convicted. Others have said as much already, but there’s no “alleged” or “allegedly” about it.

Arpaio was found guilty by a U.S. District judge of disobeying a lawful court order, which prohibited him from continuing his roundup of individuals he suspected of being illegal immigrants. He was waiting to be sentenced for his contempt of court conviction when Donald J. Trump intervened late this past week with his full and unconditional pardon of the former sheriff.

Furthermore, the former Maricopa County, Ariz., sheriff’s acceptance of the pardon confirms his guilt — as if it needed confirmation.

Second point: This gets more to the crux of the editorial’s misplaced ire. The AGN suggests that the judge’s ruling was dictated more by politics than the application of the law. U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton, the AGN notes, was appointed in 2000 by former President Bill Clinton. She’s a Democratic appointee; Arpaio is a Republican. Do you get it? Bolton’s decision was based on political considerations, according to the AGN. I guess I could suggest, too, that the Senate that confirmed Bolton was dominated by Republicans.

Let’s hold on here. The U.S. Constitution allows the president to make appointments to the federal judiciary. It makes no mention of partisan consideration. A judge who gets a presidential nod then is approved by the U.S. Senate. Then that judge is empowered fully to implement the law.

What the AGN has done with this argument is impugn the integrity of the federal judiciary, which is precisely what the president of the United States has done when the courts have ruled against him on other matters. He referred to a federal jurist in Washington state as a “so-called judge” when he struck down the president’s ban on Muslims traveling to the United States. He has questioned whether another federal judge could adjudicate a case involving Trump University because “he’s a Mexican.”

The AGN is now traipsing down that that dangerous path.

I don’t care if Jabba the Hut appoints federal judges. If they are qualified to serve and if the U.S. Senate signs off on the appointment, then they are given the full weight of the Constitution to do their job.

Check out the AGN editorial here.

I’ve said my piece about it. You can make up your own mind. I’m out.

Happy Trails, Part 36

I’m staring a big anniversary — if you want to call it such — in the face. It’s two days away, but I thought I would share a thought or two today and then call it good.

First, I wish to make this declaration: Separation anxiety from a professional career is vastly overrated. I am living, breathing proof of that reality. It’s true and I’ll tell you why.

I won’t belabor you with many details of my sudden departure from daily journalism, which occurred on Aug. 30, 2012. Two days short of five years ago, I was told — in the midst of a “company reorganization” — that I no longer would be doing my job at the Amarillo Globe-News, which was to edit the paper’s opinion pages. Someone else — a colleague who formerly worked under my supervision — would do that job. We competed for my job and my employer decided to go with him.

Thus, a career that produced untold joy and satisfaction for yours truly for nearly 37 years came to screeching halt. I worked at the Globe-News for nearly 18 years and I thought I was doing a pretty good job. Silly me.

I walked out of my office, went home, came back the next day, cleared out my office — and was gone. I decided to quit immediately.

But I moved on. I stayed in the game, more or less, over the next few years. I was able to land part-time freelance gigs: writing a blog for Panhandle PBS; writing news features for KFDA NewsChannel 10’s website; helping edit a weekly newspaper in Tucumcari, N.M. I worked for six months as a juvenile supervision officer at the Randall County Youth Center of the High Plains. I worked as a customer service greeter at Street Toyota for about three years.

One by one those jobs went away. The Street Toyota job was the last one. Then in March, I decided to walk away from that.

I’ve been a full-time retiree ever since.

I also have spent little time looking back on the career that in many ways defined me. I have many more pleasant memories of those many years than negative ones. I got to travel around the world. I was honored to meet and interact with the most fascinating characters imaginable. I helped chronicle the stories that make communities tick. I got to help shape public opinion on pressing issues of the day.

I used to joke that I had the “best job in town, because I am allowed to foist my opinion on thousands of people every day.”

That was then. My final years as a journalist became a lot less fun than the earlier times. The Globe-News fell victim to the changing pressures being put on print publications. The top management didn’t do nearly enough to salvage employees’ morale as the paper struggled to build a new business model in this changing climate.

I’ve discovered this truth, too. It is that full-time retirement is all that it’s cracked up to be. My wife and I have been able to continue traveling. We’ll do much more of it in our fifth wheel RV — while we prepare to relocate to another community so we can live closer to our adorable granddaughter.

The Globe-News has been purchased by another corporate media company. Morris Communications, which owned the paper for more than four decades has decided to get out of newspaper publishing. They’re saying all the correct things publicly about how sad they are, and how GateHouse Media will continue its commitment to “community journalism.”

We’ll see about that.

I’m left, then, to offer a word of backhanded thanks to the company that told me five years ago that its plans to enact — in Globe-News publisher Lester Simpson’s words — “radical change” wouldn’t include me. It dawned on me some time ago that he spared me from the misery many of my former colleagues have endured.

I appreciate the freedom — and the time — to write this blog. I’m unfettered, unchained, unrestricted, unleashed, unencumbered … you name it. I can speak my mind.

Separation anxiety from daily journalism? Pfftt!

Life is great, man!

Lesson learned about marketing a blog

I have just received a valuable lesson in marketing and (if you’ll pardon the expression) self-promotion.

It was delivered to me in the lobby of a movie theater by a woman who had a kind word about the work I used to do.

I purchased a ticket to a film I went to see with my son. When I stepped away from the ticket counter, a nice lady said, “I love your work at the paper, John.” I turned to see who made the remark.

The woman said she “I love what you write,” and gave me a thumbs-up. I thought for an instant: How do I handle this?

“Well, thank you, but I’ve been gone (from the Amarillo Globe-News) for five years now,” I said. The lady looked surprised. “You have?” she asked. “Yes, nearly five years now,” I said.

“Well, I’m embarrassed,” she said. “It’s OK, no worries,” I said.

Then she pivoted. “Well, I miss you.” I thanked her again and went on my way.

OK, where’s the lesson? I should’ve been carrying my business-card wallet with cards identifying me as the author of High Plains Blogger. You see, that way I could have just handed her a card and said, “I’m still writing. This is what I’m doing now.”

Simple, yes? Of course it is! That’s going to be my standard operating procedure from this day forward.

To be candid, I’m kicking myself in the backside as I write this brief blog post.

Five years after quitting my job I’m still getting these kinds of greetings from strangers. To be totally honest, I find it gratifying, even when I meet folks who might have disagreed with what I wrote for the Globe-News back in The Day.

***

Spoiler alert: I’m planning to post a blog entry in a few days commemorating the five-year anniversary of my departure from daily print journalism. That event hit me hard in the moment … but life has turned out to be far better than I ever imagined.

Road woes persist in Amarillo

Some issues give me heartburn, particularly when they contain no easy solutions or options for those of us affected by them.

Highway, street and bridge construction fall into that category.

I’m hearing some grumbling about a major reconstruction project underway here in Amarillo, Texas, that is causing grief for motorists and business owners nearby.

The Texas Department of Transportation is knocking down a bridge that spans Interstate 40 at Bell Street. It’s causing serious traffic disruptions. The project will take months to complete. The bridge will be inoperable until November, according to the Amarillo Globe-News.

The state is spending more than $7 million on just that project alone! Oh, and then we have that Loop 335/Hollywood Road reconstruction project on the south end of the city.

How do the city’s residents and business owners cope with this madness and mayhem? With extreme patience, I venture to say. Whether this kind of work is being done in a mid-sized city such as Amarillo, or in a major metropolitan area, or even in a small rural community, someone, somewhere is going to get upset.

Just the other day, I was running an errand that took me from my southwest Amarillo home to a location near Sunset Center. I drove north along Coulter, hoping to catch the freeway east to Western Street. That’s when I discovered the work being done on I-40. Crews were diverting every vehicle off the highway onto the frontage road.

If I had been smarter and more attuned to what’s going on around the city, I would have taken Wolflin Avenue east from Coulter to my destination. I didn’t. I got stuck in traffic. Lesson learned for the next time I have to travel in that direction.

I tend to avoid getting too worked up over these highway and street projects. I try to see it as a glass-is-half-full deal. I like to look at the big picture, take the long view.

When it’s done, we’ll have a new bridge to cross when we travel north-south along Bell Street.

I just hope the new span will lend some aesthetic quality to the highway. Heaven knows the city needs it.

Bathroom Bill is a huge error

I am going to stand foursquare, solidly behind my former colleague Jon Mark Beilue, who has written a profoundly reasonable rebuke of Senate Bill 3, which the Texas Senate approved on a partisan vote.

SB 3 is the so-called Bathroom Bill. As Beilue notes, it is rooted in unfounded fear. Read Beilue’s column in the Amarillo Globe-News here.

I’m not an “embarrassed conservative” who voted twice for Ronald Reagan, as Beilue describes himself. I am an unapologetic progressive who is horrified that state government would waste its time — and my money — on this discriminatory legislation.

The bill would require transgender individuals to use public restrooms that comport with the gender assigned on their birth certificate. That’s right. A burly dude who once was a woman has to use the women’s room; a hot babe who came into this world as a boy has to use the men’s room.

How in the name of all that is reasonable does one enforce such a law? Who is going to check to see if a woman has all her appropriate body parts? Who’ll do the same thing to a man?

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who runs the Senate, keeps yapping about protecting women from sexual assault in the restroom. The police report zero incidents of such crimes occurring; senior police officials oppose SB 3.

So does House Speaker Joe Straus, whose chamber gets this bill next. What is the House going to do with this monstrosity? That remains the Question of the Day.

All 31 Texas senators voted on SB 3. Twenty-one of them approved it. I don’t yet know this with absolute certainty, but I’m sure that means state Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo joined his GOP brethren in approving this hideous legislation.

And that, dear reader, provides me with one of my greatest disappointments, that Sen. Seliger would sign on to this travesty.

I do share Beilue’s concern, though, about the fate of “sane, reasonable” conservatism. It has been trampled to death by far-right fear mongers.