Tag Archives: Beaumont Enterprise

Enter the USS Carl Vinson

I heard the news of a Navy carrier battle group heading toward the Korean Peninsula and took special note of the aircraft carrier leading the group.

It’s the USS Carl Vinson, a Nimitz-class nuclear-powered beast with which I have some limited familiarity.

I don’t know, of course, what all this means overall. North Korean madman/dictator Kim Jong Un is rattling his sabre yet again. He’s launching missiles into the Sea of Japan and threatening war against South Korea, Japan and maybe even the United States.

So the Carl Vinson battle group is heading toward the peninsula in a show of strength.

I received a marvelous assignment in 1993 at the invitation of the late U.S. Rep. Charles Wilson, an East Texas Democrat who was a huge supporter of military affairs. I was editorial page editor of the Beaumont Enterprise at the time and our paper circulated deeply into Wilson’s 2nd Congressional District.

He invited me to join him on a tour of the Carl Vinson, which at the time was home-ported at San Diego, Calif. The ship was at sea at the time of Wilson’s invitation. I asked my editor if I could go; he said “yes.” The paper purchased my plane ticket and I flew to San Diego to meet with Wilson and his congressional party.

We landed on the Carl Vinson and spent three days and nights aboard ship. Rep. Wilson spent time talking to pilots, deck crew members, machinists, cooks. He told all of them how much he appreciated the work they did and the service they performed in defense of the nation.

By the way, you have not lived until you’ve been through a tailhook landing and a catapult launch off the deck of an aircraft carrier. Believe me, there is nothing in this entire world quite like either experience.

During a tour of the flight deck, the skipper of the ship at the time, Capt. John Payne, told us of the immense firepower contained on the ships comprising the battle group.

He then said something quite astonishing. He said the group — which comprised several warships, including cruisers, destroyers and frigates as well as support craft along with this monstrous carrier — contained more explosive firepower than all the ordnance dropped during World War II.

Of course, that prompted the question from yours truly: “Skipper, does that mean this ship is carrying nukes?” Capt. Payne looked me in the eye and said, “Now you know I can’t answer that question.”

OK. Got it.

Twenty-four years later, the USS Carl Vinson is still on active duty. It’s now heading for a potentially very dangerous zone. I do believe the ship and its massive crew will be ready for whatever occurs.

Another old-school journo calls it a career

Of all the colleagues with whom I worked during my 37 years in daily journalism, I am hard-pressed to think of anyone who fit the description of “ink-stained wretch” better than a fellow who has just retired from a newspaper where we both once worked.

His name is Dan Wallach. He is a native of New York state. He graduated from the University of Arizona and ended up in Beaumont, Texas, where he worked at the Beaumont Enterprise for more than three decades.

Dan represents — to me — the individual who is committed fully to covering his community, of telling the myriad stories that give that community its life, its personality.

What’s more, he is unafraid to reveal the community’s scars and to press relentlessly the individuals who are responsible for inflicting those wounds.

He has just entered my world … of retirement. I welcome him gladly and wish him well, but I am absolutely certain that journalism as we both understand the craft is going to be a good bit poorer without more people such as Dan pursuing it.

I now want to tell a short story that personifies the kind of tribute that Dan earned from news sources over his many years in print journalism.

In the spring of 1995, just a few months after I had left Beaumont to become editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News, I got a call from then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush’s office. The governor invited me to Austin to meet with him.

I arrived at the State Capitol Building a few days later. Gov. Bush and I  shook hands and he led me to his office. We exchanged a few pleasantries before we got down to brass tacks.

The governor knew I had worked at the Enterprise and he thanked me for the newspaper’s editorial endorsement in the 1994 governor’s race in which Gov. Bush defeated incumbent Democrat Ann Richards.

“It kind of surprised me,” Bush said. “Why is that?” I asked.

He told me about a “reporter you had there who gave me all kinds of trouble” when Bush talked to the media during his campaign stops in the Golden Triangle.

“I can’t remember his name,” he said. I responded, “Oh, you must be thinking of Dan Wallach.”

“Yeah, that’s who it was,” the governor said.

“He was one tough son of a b****.”

We both laughed out loud.

I told Dan not long after that meeting what the governor had said about him. I took it as a statement of high praise and I believe to this very day that’s how George W. Bush intended for it to be taken.

I have wanted for years to tell that story in some public forum. Dan’s retirement has given me that chance.

Well done, Dan.

Holiday recalls acts of kindness

I think of people from my past occasionally for the oddest of reasons. Today might qualify as one of them.

St. Patrick’s Day has me in a reminiscing mood. I am recalling a young man my wife and I knew in a prior life — in Beaumont, Texas.

His name was Kevin Carmody. He was an Irish-American and a damn fine journalist. He and I worked together at the Beaumont Enterprise. I worked on the paper’s editorial page; Kevin covered environmental issues for the paper, back when daily newspapers had enough personnel to assign reporters to specific beats.

Kevin was a kind young man. He was compassionate. He had a heart as big as, well, Texas. Maybe bigger.

He demonstrated his kindness in many ways, but I want to share a particular act he extended to me.

I arrived in Beaumont in the spring of 1984 ahead of my wife and sons. They stayed behind in Oregon while my wife prepared to put our house on the market. I went ahead to start a new job.

I met Kevin right away. He knew of my separation anxiety and he invited me to join him and his many other friends for after-hours fellowship at local watering holes. I agreed.

I had arrived in Beaumont after St. Patrick’s Day 1984; my family got there that summer, just in time for our boys to start school.

I told my wife about this young man. When I introduced her to Kevin, she understood completely why he was such an endearing fellow. She took an immediate liking to him, as he did to her.

The next year we attended a St. Patrick’s Day party at the house where Kevin lived in Beaumont’s Old Town district. It was a raucous affair, with lots of laughs and plenty of good “cheer” in the form of green beer that Kevin was proud to serve his many guests.

There would be more get-togethers with Kevin. He always made sure to invite the old guy, me, and my wife to these affairs. We always enjoyed his company and I will continue to believe he enjoyed ours as well.

We didn’t know it in those early years, but Kevin was ravaged by demons. He suffered terrible depression. I would learn later he took medication to fight it. We all sought to tell Kevin how much we loved him and how much we appreciated the good work he did for the newspaper and the kindness he always extended to others.

He moved away later, to Austin. My wife and I would move from Beaumont to Amarillo in early 1995.

We would see Kevin — who had since gotten married — one more time. It was at a reunion in 1997 of Beaumont Enterprise reporters and editors in Galveston. We partied at a posh hotel on the waterfront. We had a marvelous time.

That evening I took Kevin aside and told him how much I appreciated — with all of my heart — the kindness he extended to me a dozen or so years earlier. I told him in his wife’s presence how much I appreciated his intuitiveness by inviting me to those gatherings; he understood I was a bit lonesome without my family nearby — and I reminded him of that fact as well.

We said goodbye at the end of the reunion.

I wouldn’t see Kevin again.

The phone rang one day at my office in Amarillo and a mutual friend of ours called to tell me that the demons that had ravaged and savaged Kevin caught up with him. He had taken his own life.

I won’t dwell on that, however. Today — on St. Patrick’s Day — I choose to remember a kind young man who exhibited a level of wisdom and kindness one doesn’t always find in anyone, let alone someone so young.

You were the best, my friend.

Butt out of couples’ lives, Texas Legislature

A bill being pitched for consideration in the 2017 Texas Legislature is getting a hit from a newspaper editorial page where I used to work.

The Beaumont Enterprise calls state Rep. Matt Krause’s bill the “early favorite” for worst legislation of the session.

Krause, a Fort Worth Republican, wants the state to force couples to live apart for three years before they divorce; he stipulates, though, that the state would exempt couples separating on the basis of domestic violence or adultery.

Ugghh! He wants to make no-fault divorce illegal.

Hold on here. What about the couples who discover after they get married that they just cannot live together? They are incompatible on one or more levels. They don’t like each other’s eating habits. Maybe one of them snores too loudly.

C’mon, Rep. Krause. Get real. As the Enterprise notes in its editorial, a three-year waiting period punishes the couples needlessly.

http://www.beaumontenterprise.com/opinions/editorials/article/EDITORIAL-Proposed-bill-is-divorced-from-reality-10841203.php

Yes, society should fight for the sanctity of marriage. I’m all for it. I’ve been a married guy for 45 years. I get it.

Legislating this kind of solution, though — shall we say — is ridiculous on its face.

Besides, I always thought conservatives fought against government intrusion into our lives.

Texas GOP coasts while others sweat Trump

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The Texas Tribune headline describes the article below as an analysis of how the Texas Republican Party is so serene in this tumultuous election year.

While other state party leaders are sweating bullets over the fate of their down-ballot candidates in a campaign led by GOP presidential nominee Donald J. Trump, Texas’s Republican Party is as confident as ever about success.

I think I know the reason.

It’s the lack of a viable Texas Democratic Party.

https://www.texastribune.org/2016/08/24/analysis-why-texas-gop-isnt-panicking-over-trump/

Trump continues to hold a lead over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in Texas. The latest PPP poll puts Trump up by 6 percent; yes, it’s a smaller margin than what Mitt Romney or John McCain won by over Barack Obama in the previous two elections, but it’s also outside the margin of error.

Ross Ramsey’s piece in the Tribune seeks to break apart where Democrats remain strong and where Republicans maintain their strength.

I think it’s a simpler issue than that.

The Texas Democratic Party hasn’t found its voice. It hasn’t discovered a way to break the GOP vise grip on statewide offices. It hasn’t fielded candidates for statewide or regional offices who can find the magic it takes to persuade diehard Republicans to cross over.

Republicans win in this state simply because they are of the “right” — meaning “correct” — political party.

Trump likely win the state’s 38 electoral votes this fall because (a) we still have straight-ticket voting available and (b) because the state’s Democratic Party doesn’t have the heft to mount any kind of ground game challenge.

Do I wish it were different in Texas? Certainly, but not necessarily for the reason you might think.

Some readers of this blog consider me to be a yellow dog Democrat. Not true. I bemoaned the same one-party domination when I first arrived in Texas back in the spring of 1984. I took up my post with the Beaumont Enterprise, in the Golden Triangle region of the state, where Democrats controlled everything.

I called then for a stronger Republican Party because I feared the dominant party would become arrogant and would force-feed its agenda on constituents without proper debate.

The same thing has happened now that Texas has flipped from solidly Democratic control to even more solidly Republican control.

Texas GOP pols have good reason to feel “sanguine,” as Ramsey states.

They have no competition.

Open-carry law might need some tinkering

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Did the Dallas shooting that killed five police officers and injured several others reveal a flaw in the Texas open-carry law?

Consider what transpired during the Black Lives Matter march that turned violent when the shooter opened fire on the cops.

Several individuals were seen at the march carrying weapons in the open, which they were entitled to do under the state’s open-carry law. One young man was arrested, handcuffed and detained for some time while police investigated whether he took part in the shooting. It turns out he didn’t.

Which brings to mind the question: How do police determine who are the heat-packing bystanders in the heat of an adrenaline-filled moment in which tensions run at fever pitches?

Here’s a thought put forward by others, but which seem to make sense: The Texas Legislature ought to consider tweaking the open-carry law when it convenes in January to give cities the option of banning people from carrying weapons in the open during political demonstrations.

http://www.beaumontenterprise.com/opinions/editorials/article/EDITORIAL-Open-carry-doesn-t-mix-with-political-8353183.php

As the Beaumont Enterprise noted in an editorial, guns and political demonstrations just don’t mix.

I’ve been able to take part in simulated shooting demonstrations with the Amarillo Police Department. I can tell you from personal experience — and this involves use of weapons that did not carry live ammo — that the adrenaline that courses through one’s body in a shoot-don’t-shoot situation can cloud one’s judgment.

I cannot imagine the chaos that ensued in Dallas that evening when gunfire erupted. Police responded immediately to protect crowd members. Then some of them spotted spectators carrying weapons. What does a cop do — in an instant?

So, let’s fine-tune this law. If Texans are going to insist on the right to carry guns in the open, then there ought to be some reasonable restrictions on where they can pack them.

It seems quite reasonable to me to let cities decide whether to allow them at political rallies.

 

Good luck, editorialists, in making your decision

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Newspaper endorsements don’t matter as much as they have historically.

People get their news and commentary from myriad sources. They turn less and less to newspaper editorial pages for guidance, counsel, wisdom and thoughtful commentary.

This election year is going to give those who write editorial commentary for a living a special challenge.

Who of the two major-party presidential candidates will get their endorsement? Will either of them get an endorsement? Will newspaper editorial boards throw up their collective hands and ask, “What in the hell is the point?”

I did that kind of work for most of my 37 years in daily print journalism.

I wrote editorials for a small daily suburban newspaper in Oregon City, Ore., from 1979 until 1984; I did the same thing as editorial writer and later editor of the editorial page for the Beaumont (Texas) Enterprise; then I became editorial page editor of the Amarillo (Texas) Globe-News in 1995, a job I held until August 2012.

The choices this year appear — in the minds of many journalists — to be pretty grim. Dismal. Miserable. Who gets the paper’s nod — Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton or Republican Donald J. Trump?

Now it’s time for an admission: On several occasions during my three-plus decades in daily journalism, I wrote editorial endorsements with which I disagreed. I don’t have that burden to bear these days.

In 1980, knowing my publisher could not endorse President Carter for re-election, I drafted an editorial endorsing independent candidate John B. Anderson. The publisher, in Oregon City, looked at it, brought the draft out to me and said, “No can do.” We endorsed Ronald Reagan for president; yes, I swallowed hard and wrote it.

I worked for Republican-leaning newspaper publishers throughout my career. Every four years I would huddle with the publisher and go through the motions of arguing my case for the candidate of my choosing … only to be told that “we” are going to endorse the other guy.

My final stop, of course, was in Amarillo, where I worked for a corporate ownership that is fervently Republican. Yes, through several presidential election cycles, the discussion of presidential endorsements was brief and quite, shall we say, “frank.”

Bob Dole got our nod in 1996, George W. Bush got it in 2000 and 2004, John McCain earned it in 2008. I was tasked with overseeing the publication of all of them. I cannot remember which of those I actually wrote.

The task facing editorialists this year will be daunting. I’m glad it’s their call and no longer mine.

I’ll be waiting with bated breath to see how my former employer comes down in this year’s race. Clinton has zero chance of being endorsed by a newspaper owned by Morris Communications Corp. I also doubt they’ll go with the Libertarian ticket led by former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson.

Trump is the last man standing. If the Globe-News takes the plunge, I’ll await with interest how it will set aside all the ridiculous assertions, lies, the candidate’s utter lack of knowledge of anything and the absence of any grounding principles.

Take my word for it, the corporate bosses are a conservative bunch and I will be interested to see how — or if — they set aside those principles just to recommend someone simply because he pledges to “build a wall” and “make America great again.”

Could I write that one? A friend and former colleague of mine was fond of saying, “If you take The Man’s money, you play by The Man’s rules.” Thus, I was able to justify setting aside my own personal taste and philosophy to do The Man’s bidding.

This time? I couldn’t.

I’d walk out before having to write anything that recommends Trump’s election as president.

Good luck, my former colleagues, as you deliberate over this one.

Yes, it’s a cutthroat business

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Media companies operate in a highly competitive and often ruthless environment.

A take-no-prisoners approach to wheeling and dealing is commonplace. Consider the recent acquisition by the Tampa Bay Times of the Tampa Tribune. The Times bought the Tribune and then shut the paper down after a 123-year run on the other side of the Florida bay.

According to the New York Times article attached here, former Tribune employees felt betrayed by the takeover. They didn’t see it coming.

Well, let me be among the many individuals who’ve worked in print journalism to offer this bit of solace, not that it will soothe the pain: It could’ve been worse.

I worked for nearly 11 years for the Hearst Corporation, which has exhibited its own heavy hand in acquiring competing newspapers. Although I wasn’t affected directly by Hearst’s takeover strategy, I know many former colleagues who were.

In the late 1980s, Hearst was operating the San Antonio Light, which was in the midst of a nasty newspaper “war” with the San Antonio Express-News, which was owned by Rupert Murdoch’s company. Hearst decided to take the offensive, so the company moved the publisher of the Beaumont Enterprise, where I worked at the time, to San Antonio to take over as head man at the Light; I believe it was in 1988.

The new Light publisher — George B. Irish — was given the task of preparing for a serious corporate takeover.

Hearst decided to purchase Express-News — and then it promptly shut down the Light. Yes, the company “rewarded” its loyal employees, who had fought the good fight against the E-N, by giving almost all of them their pink slips.

A handful of Light hands were kept on. Most were let go. If memory serves, they were given severance packages. Still, the pain was palpable.

In 1995, Hearst went after the Houston Post. It purchased that paper, closed it down and left the state’s largest city with just one paper, the Chronicle, which Hearst already owned.

It’s a tough world, man.

I feel for my former colleagues in Tampa. Please know this: You are not alone.

Political conventions: raucousness with serious purpose

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I won’t be attending either of this year’s political conventions.

Part of me wishes I could because — having been to three of them over the years — I’ve discovered how much fun they are for those who attend them and for those who report and comment on them.

This year’s Republican convention in Cleveland could be especially fun especially for the reporters lucky enough to get the assignment to cover it.

My first political convention was in 1988, when Republicans gathered in New Orleans.  I was part of the media team representing the Hearst Corp., which owned the Beaumont Enterprise, where I worked for nearly 11 years.

Any convention in The Big Easy was a serious blast, given that it’s, well, New Orleans.

Four years later, the Republicans gathered in Houston, about 85 miles in the other direction from Beaumont. That one produced its own share of memories. Chief among them was watching former President Reagan deliver his last major political speech in which he poked fun at the Democrats for nominating a young Arkansas governor who compared himself to Thomas Jefferson. “Well, I knew Thomas Jefferson,” the president said. “Thomas Jefferson was a friend of mine …” He brought down the house.

Four years ago, I had secured press credentials for the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. I didn’t have the support of the Amarillo Globe-News or its parent company, Morris Communication. I applied for the credentials on my own and then received them. Then my world was turned upside-down when I got “reorganized” out of my job at the paper just as the convention was about to begin the following week.

I went to Charlotte anyway — with my wife; we enjoyed ourselves immensely. I attended the convention as a spectator and got to cheer as President Obama and Vice President Biden received their party’s nominations for re-election.

One of the major takeaways from all three events, though, is a visual one.

In New Orleans, Houston and Charlotte, I was struck by the sight of serious-minded men and women parading through the convention hall wearing goofy hats, festooned with campaign buttons, loud clothes, carrying signs — all while they shout slogans from the convention floor.

I had to remind myself of this fact: These people from all across the nation are gathered in one place to nominate a candidate for president of the United States of America. They are choosing the individual who will represent their political party in an election to determine who will be commander in chief of the world’s foremost military establishment; they will pick the head of state and government of the world’s greatest nation.

I’m telling you that when you are among these folks, it’s easy to forget the seriousness of the task they are seeking to complete.

This year — in Cleveland and in Philadelphia — it’ll be no different.

Except that in Cleveland, where Republicans are going to gather, the serious nature of their mission might be compromised by the individual who is poised to accept his party’s nomination as president.

 

In other news, Challenger blew up 30 years ago today

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Republican presidential candidates are debating at this very moment.

I’m a bit weary from listening to it all, so I’ll recall a tragic moment in U.S. history.

Thirty years ago today, the phone rang on my desk at the Beaumont Enterprise. I answered it. It was my wife, who worked down the street in downtown Beaumont, Texas.

“What’s going on? I just heard the shuttle blew up,” she said.

I turned to my computer, punched up the wire and saw the bulletin: “Challenger explodes.”

I blurted out a curse word and told her “I gotta go!”

I turned on the TV. The video was horrific.

Seventy-three seconds into a flight the shuttle Challenger blew up and seven astronauts were dead . . . in an instant.

We were stunned at our newspaper. We stood there, transfixed by what was transpiring. We heard over and over the radio communication to the Challenger, “Go at throttle up.” Then came the blast. It was followed by silence before the communicator told the world, “Obviously a major malfunction.”

I wouldn’t feel that kind of shock until, oh, the 9/11 attacks 15 years later.

But what happened next at our newspaper was that we would plan to do something the paper hadn’t done since the attack on Pearl Harbor. We decided to publish an “Extra.”

It contained eight pages of text and photos from that ghastly event. It contained an editorial page, which I cobbled together rapidly. I wrote a “hot” editorial commenting on the grief the nation was feeling at that very moment.

We went to press about noon that day and we put the paper in the hands of hawkers our circulation department brought in to sell the paper on the street. It went into news racks all over the city.

Through it all the tragedy reminded us — as if we needed reminding — of how dangerous it is to fly a rocket into Earth orbit.

Of course, it would be determined that a faulty gasket malfunctioned in the cold that morning in Florida. The shuttle fleet would be grounded for a couple of years while NASA figured out a way to prevent such tragedy from happening in the future.

We would feel intense national pain, of course, in February 2003 when the shuttle Columbia would disintegrate upon re-entry over Texas, killing that crew as well — including the mission commander, Amarillo’s very own Air Force Col. Rick Husband.

They both brought intense pain to our nation.

Challenger’s sudden and shocking end, though, remains one of those events where we all remember where we were and what we were doing when we heard the news.

And to think that some Americans actually thought those space flights were “routine.”