Tag Archives: NPR

Texas AG to California: Butt out of our affairs

BLOGGER’S NOTE: This item was published initially on KETR-FM’s website, ketr.org.

I am inclined as a general rule to oppose Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s world view on most matters.

However, on the issue of seeking to remove one state’s non-essential travel ban to Texas because of our state’s strong stand in favor of “religious liberty,” I believe he is onto something.

What constitutes “essential travel”? I suppose one example would be in the event of a natural disaster emergency, in which firefighters or other first responders travel from California to Texas to lend aid.

Here’s the issue: In 2017, Texas legislators enacted a law that, among other things, allows foster-care agencies to prevent same-sex couples from adopting children. California responded by banning non-essential publicly funded travel from California to Texas, citing what California Attorney General Xavier Becerra called a discriminatory policy against gay Americans. It falls under the religious liberty doctrine, of which Paxton has become an aggressive advocate.

At one level, Becerra has a point. I don’t like the Texas law either. I believe – on this point – that gay couples are fully capable of being loving parents to children who need a home. As one who believes homosexuality is a matter of genetics rather than upbringing or of choice, the Texas law looks to me to be an overreach.

However, so is the California response to this state enacting a law that comports with its residents’ generally conservative world view.

Paxton has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene on Texas’ behalf. He is asking the highest court in the land to overturn the California travel ban, saying that California is trying to police how other states conduct their affairs.

“California is attempting to punish Texans for respecting the right of conscience for foster care and adoption workers,” Paxton said.

As the Texas Tribune reports, this latest salvo is just the latest in a long-running feud between the states, with California and Texas being the country’s top Democratic and Republican strongholds, respectively. Do you remember how former Gov. Rick Perry would venture to California to lure businesses from that state to Texas? Critics of that effort – and I was one of them – called it “job poaching.”

Paxton – who is in the midst of another fight involving his own indictment for securities fraud – has now joined the battle.

Texas is one of 11 states that have received travel bans from California, which to Paxton’s eyes is acting like a state run by busy-bodies. One of those states, Oklahoma, responded by banning non-essential travel to California from Oklahoma. I suppose Texas could respond accordingly.

Paxton is likely to have a friendly audience if the high court decides to take up the case. It has a solid conservative majority. Yes, it’s only 5-4 at the moment, but the five conservative justices – with the possible exception of Chief Justice John Roberts – are inclined to stand solidly behind GOP policymakers’ point of view.

I will say that I think Paxton makes a solid argument that California need not intrude into the affairs of other states governed by politicians who don’t hue to that state’s political leaning.

Trump’s media demonization continues

Donald John Trump just loves to demonize the media, even though they merely are doing their job.

There was the current president today, standing next to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Trump dropped the name of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, prompting cheers and applause from the Trump-friendly White House crowd gathered at the White House.

Trump then decided to launch a brief riff on Pompeo’s recent dust-up with National Public Radio reporter Mary Louise Kelly. “I think you did a good job on her, actually,” Trump told Pompeo, who was in the room.

What he did was decline to answer a direct question from Kelly about how he has defended former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. He then summoned Kelly to a private room and lashed her with f-bombs. He didn’t like the questions she asked.

That’s the “good job” to which Trump referred.

Trump’s ignorance over the media’s role in reporting on government and the officials who run it simply is stunning in its scope.

In defense of NPR

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo needs yet another lesson in just how the media do their job.

They ask tough questions. They seek direct answers. They also seek to report those answers to the public they serve. You and I depend on the media for answers to our own questions about what our government — especially at its highest levels — are doing ostensibly on our behalf.

National Public Radio reporter Mary Louise Kelly asked Pompeo why he hasn’t defended former Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovitch against criticism leveled at her by the current president of the United States, Donald John Trump.

He dodged the question, saying he has defended “everyone” in the State Department. Kelly sought a specific example of how he has defended Yovanovitch. He cut her off, summoned her to his private quarters, then lashed at her with a profanity-laced tirade, saying that NPR is part of the “unhinged” media that demonstrate a hatred for Trump.

Kelly was doing her job. She has not done a thing for which she should apologize.

Time for full disclosure: I work as a freelance blogger for a public radio station, KETR-FM, based at Texas A&M University-Commerce. 

With that out of the way, I want to tell you that NPR goes the extra mile in ensuring that it reports the news fairly and without overt bias.

A friend of mine who works in public radio explained to me once about NPR’s policy that it enforces strictly. He said that during the coverage of the health-care changes that resulted in the Affordable Care Act, NPR reporters were counseled by their editors to refrain from using the term “reform” to describe the ACA. “It isn’t a ‘reform,'” my friend told me. NPR affiliates were told us call it “overhaul.”

You see, the term “reform” implies an improvement over the status quo. Thus, to describe the ACA as a “reform” would be to endorse it as a policy in NPR’s news coverage. That’s how my friend characterizes the ethos that drives NPR’s reporting of important issues of the day.

And so, it is against that backdrop that I find Mike Pompeo’s tirade against a seasoned, well-educated, dedicated reporter such as Mary Louise Kelly to be just another ignorant tirade coming from a senior official in the Donald Trump administration.

Reprehensible.

This is no way for a ‘diplomat’ to conduct himself

Imagine a secretary of state working for, say, Presidents Obama, George W. Bush, Clinton, or George H.W. Bush doing the things that Mike Pompeo reportedly did to a National Public Radio reporter.

Mary Louise Kelly sought to get Pompeo to explain why he didn’t defend former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch after Donald Trump ordered her fired. He said he has “defended everyone” in the State Department. Kelly persisted, asking him to explain when he has said anything in defense of Yovanovitch. Pompeo stuck to his previous answer.

Then, according to Kelly, he summoned her into his office and launched into an f-bomb-laced tirade against her, told her to find Ukraine on a plain map, with no countries identified … which she did.

Then he issued a statement blasting NPR and the so-called “fake news” media.

Imagine that kind of thing coming from, oh, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright or, for that matter, Rex Tillerson … Trump’s initial secretary of state.

Pompeo serves as the nation’s top diplomat, a post that by definition operates on a formula of dignity and decorum.

This man is behaving instead just like the crass individual who at this moment is masquerading as the nation’s current president.

God answered this pastor’s prayer

BLOGGER’S NOTE: This post was published originally on KETR-FM’s website.

Do not ever tell the Rev. Chet Haney that God doesn’t answer prayers.

On June 19 of this year, Haney – senior pastor of Highland Terrace Baptist Church in Greenville – got word of a terrible storm brewing and moving rapidly toward the church he runs. Rev. Haney had to make a decision … in a major hurry!

It was a Wednesday night and the church was preparing for its usual Wednesday night worship service. Haney had to decide whether to cancel the service. He made the call: There would be no Wednesday night worship at Highland Terrace.

“I then put out the word for two prayers,” Rev. Haney said. “One was to pray that everyone stayed home. Do not go out into this weather,” he said.

The second prayer, he said, was to “have God take authority over this storm.” So, just how did The Almighty “take authority”? Haney said the storm hit 15 minutes later and that on its way to pummeling the church, the destructive funnel cloud lifted off the ground twice and missed hitting the Hunt Regional Medical Center hospital as well as a crowded apartment building.

“Then it hit the church,” he said. “We were very fortunate,” he said, given that no one was injured inside the structure when the EF-1 storm plowed into the building. He said there were about 20 people inside when the storm went through.

“Pieces were ripped off the building and they tore through the building like torpedoes,” he said of the fragments that hit the education wing at the height of the storm. “There could have been children in there,” had there been Wednesday night services. “The sanctuary had gaping holes in it,” he said.

By all means, Haney said, God answered their prayers. The city avoided injury or much worse, he said, thanks in part to the various social media platforms that put the word out as the storm approached the community.

“We were told first that it was a case of straight-line wind,” Haney said, “but then they changed it back to calling it a tornado.” Haney said he was initially a bit reluctant to cancel the services, saying that “I didn’t want to cry ‘wolf!’”

Repair work has begun on Highland Terrance Church, but it is a long way from being done, said Haney. The church has been conducting its Sunday service at Greenville High School, which has loaned its auditorium to the church. Highland Terrace’s Wednesday night service has been taking place at the Fletcher Warren Civic Center.

Soon, though, the church campus’s atrium will be completed, and the church will resume worshiping there, beginning Jan. 12. “That will be a big step forward for us,” Haney said.

The final cost of full restoration of the church campus has yet to be determined, Haney said, explaining that the church is waiting on the insurance company to determine how much money the church will receive.

Haney said he hopes to have the work completed no later than the next 18 months.

“Texas Baptist Men dropped off a pallet full of tarps,” Haney said of the help the church received in the immediate storm aftermath. “We got lots of bottled water, brooms, mops” and assorted other cleanup equipment, Haney said.

“The town was hit hard by the storm,” Haney said. “Downtown was hit hard and some in our church family lost power for several days,” he said, adding that he heard that “Lowe’s and Home Depot ran out of tarps.”

Haney does not appear openly dismayed by the destruction brought to the church building. Indeed, he counts – and cherishes – the blessings he and his church family have received as they continue their recovery from the wrath that befell them.

Haney said, “The church survived, even though the building received all that damage.”

Hey, just try to tell Rev. Chet Haney that God wasn’t watching over the community.

This retirement journey keeps taking strange twists and turns

Retirement is so much cooler than I thought it was when I entered this world just a few years ago.

I have been able to devote more time to this blog. I have been able as well to sleep in if I choose. My wife and I have taken our fifth wheel recreational vehicle on lengthy and not-so-lengthy trips to hither and yon. We have been able to spend more time with our precious granddaughter.

I also have just begun a gig as a freelance reporter for a couple of Collin County weekly newspapers.

What’s more, today I got to participate in a live radio broadcast. Yes, a live event. It went on the air as we spoke the words. Did it make me nervous going in? Uhh … yes. It did!

However, it worked out far better than I expected it would.

I’ll now set the stage.

Mark Haslett is a friend of mine who works as news director for KETR-FM, the public radio station affiliated with Texas A&M University-Commerce. He plays host to a weekly radio show called “North by Northeast.” It airs each Friday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.

Did I mention it’s a live show? Oh, yeah. I forgot.

Well, I also write for KETR-FM’s website. Haslett asked me to be a guest on his show. I agreed, knowing it’s a live event and also knowing it would give me the heebie-jeebies.

I have spoken on the radio before. It was in 2008 in Amarillo, at High Plains Public Radio. Haslett worked at HPPR then. National Public Radio wanted to talk to journalists who worked in vastly different political environments during an election year; NPR sought out someone who worked in a Republican-leaning “red” area and a Democratic-leaning “blue” region. I got the call to talk to NPR about the Texas Panhandle’s outlook for the upcoming presidential election. NPR did a great job of editing the audio we produced, making me sound cogent and coherent.

This live gig was a different animal. There would be no editing.

Haslett and I talked about Texas politics, the curious recent controversy involving the lame-duck Texas House speaker, the state of journalism in today’s changing media climate and I even got to share a couple of extraordinary experiences I enjoyed during my 37 years working as a print journalist.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this wonderful new experience was that it went by like lightning. They told me at KETR this morning that it would fly by rapidly. Oh, man … they were so right.

Before I could barely catch my breath, the hour was done. Haslett signed off. I leaned back in my chair and heaved a sigh of relief that I didn’t mess up.

Could I do this again? Yes. Probably. Just not right away. I have great admiration for those who talk for a living. I prefer simply to write.

UT hazing case brings disgraceful behavior front and center

Blogger’s Note: This blog post appeared originally on KETR-FM’s website.

I guess I missed out on a lot of “fun” while attending college back in the day.

The “fun,” had I joined a fraternity at Portland (Ore.) State University, would have included hazing. You know, things that involve sleep deprivation and assorted other forms of what would qualify as “torture” if it was being done to soldiers captured by the enemy on the battlefield.

Nicholas Cumberland died Oct. 30, 2018 after being hazed at the University of Texas by the Texas Cowboys, a fraternal group that UT-Austin has suspended for six years. Cumberland died in an automobile accident. He had been subjected to the kind of activity that clearly should be considered torture. The university has just released a report detailing the incident and the punishment it has leveled against the organization linked to the tragedy.

I find this kind of activity to be reprehensible. I’m an old man these days, long removed from my own college days. I was a young married student when I enrolled at Portland State. I lived with my bride and would go home each day after class. Thus, I avoided being sucked into the kind of activity that fraternities do to their members.

As KTRK-TV reported: “Cumberland was paddled so hard, he had ‘significant bruising on his buttocks nearly a month after the Retreat and car accident,’ records allege.”

Yes, the young man was on a “Retreat” when the vehicle he was in rolled over.

We hear about this kind of thing all the time. It’s certainly not unique to UT-Austin, or even to any public college or university in Texas. My hope would be that university educators and administrators everywhere in this nation would be alarmed enough to examine how their own fraternities conduct themselves.

A report by the UT-Austin Dean of Students Office notes that the Sept. 29, 2018 retreat included students bringing, among other things, “copious amounts of alcohol.” They also brought a live chicken and a live hamster, presumably to arrange for the frat pledges to kill the animals in bizarre fashion.

I get that I didn’t get to experience the full breadth of college life back when I was trying to get an education. I had seen enough already, having served a couple of years in the U.S. Army, including a tour of duty in Vietnam. So, I wasn’t a totally green homebody when I enrolled in college upon my return home.

I still cannot grasp the “benefit” accrued by hazing students to the point of killing them.

Perhaps the death of Nicholas Cumberland could prompt university officials to take a sober look at certain aspects of campus life and whether some elements of it result in campus death.

Happy 40th birthday, NPR’s ‘Morning Edition’

I am a giant fan of National Public Radio. My staple most mornings is to listen to NPR’s “Morning Edition” broadcast while traveling in my car while running errands.

I learn more from that broadcast than I ever learn from the morning drive-time idiocy I hear on commercial radio channels. For instance, I learned this week that “Morning Edition” has turned 40 years of age.

Its first broadcast occurred the morning after the Iranian militants captured those 53 Americans at the embassy in Tehran.

But during the discussion of “Morning Edition’s” 40th birthday, I heard a fascinating discussion of how politics has changed since NPR first went on the air with its morning talk show.

It came from Ron Elving, a contributor to NPR, who noted that in 1979, Congress was full of “liberal Republicans” and “conservative Democrats” who liked each other’s company. These days, according to Elving, both major political parties have been hijacked by ideologues on both ends of the spectrum: liberals are now called “progressives” and occupy much of the Democrats’ congressional caucus; conservatives have done the same thing to the Republican’s congressional caucus.

What’s more, neither side wants to commune with the other. Members of Congress, particularly those on the right, bunk in their offices at night. They choose to make some sort of goofy political statement, rather than becoming involved socially with their colleagues in their own party, let alone those in the other party.

Politics has become a contact sport, the NPR talkers said to each other, lamenting the demise of a kinder, gentler time in D.C.’s political life.

So it has gone over the past four decades.

NPR itself has become a whipping child for those on the right, who accuse the network of harboring a sort of “liberal bias,” in my view is a creation of those who want the media to present the news with their own fiery bias. NPR takes great pain to ensure that it presents the news straight down the middle lane.

As I listened to the “Morning Edition” talkers this week reminisce about how much politics has changed over the past 40 years, I found myself longing — yet again! — for a return to the way it used to be inside the halls of power.

It well might return if Americans awaken on Election Day 2020 to the damage that the politics of resentment and anger is doing to our public institutions.

RIP, Cokie Roberts

Blogger’s Note: This item was posted originally on KETR-FM’s website.

Cokie Roberts was born to do what she did.

She hailed from New Orleans, La. Her dad was a legendary congressman. Hale Boggs, though, disappeared somewhere near the North Pole in 1972 when his plane vanished; his body never was found. Hale Boggs’s wife, Lindy, succeeded him in the House of Representatives and she, too, forged a successful career in public service.

And then there was Cokie, a child of Washington who became a legendary journalist whose voice became well-known to listeners of National Public Radio and then – along with her face – to viewers of ABC News.

Cokie Roberts died this week at age 75, reportedly of complications from breast cancer, the disease that struck her many years ago.

Many of us, me included, had no idea she had relapsed. Or that she had suffered from any “complications.” I thought she was in remission.

Now she is gone. Her voice is stilled.

At the risk of sounding like some kind of chump frontrunner, I want to share a brief Cokie Roberts story that I hope distills just a bit of the type of individual she was.

I attended the 1992 Republican National presidential nomination convention in Houston. The Astrodome, where the RNC held its convention, was crawling with journalists. There were titans like Roberts and, well, not so titanic figures such as myself. I was working for the Beaumont Enterprise at the time and given that Beaumont sits only about 85 miles east of Houston, my bosses sent me down the highway to cover it.

I happened one afternoon to be waiting to enter the Astrodome when the convention staff shut the doors. As I recall it, Vice President Dan Quayle was entering the building and staff shut down entry to allow the VP free and easy access to his seat in the giant hall.

I looked to my right and there was Cokie Roberts standing next to me. She didn’t grumble. She did complain. We exchanged shrugs and we had some small-talk chat while we waited for the doors to reopen.

This is worth mentioning, I believe, because Cokie Roberts didn’t seem outwardly to think of herself as better than anyone else. She was caught in the crush of journalists and waited just as patiently as the rest of us.

Her commentary and analysis were always incisive and insightful. She knew her way around Washington, having grown up there and being exposed to the movers and shakers of public policy.

Cokie Roberts shoved her way into a world populated almost exclusively by men. She made her mark. Her voice became an important one. Her NPR listeners could depend on her insight on Monday mornings when she would offer her look at the week ahead in politics and public policy.

As NPR reported: In a 2017 interview with Kentucky Educational Television, Roberts reflected on her long career. “It is such a privilege – you have a front seat to history,” she said. “You do get used to it and you shouldn’t, because it is a very special thing to be able to be in the room … when all kinds of special things are happening.”

I am going to miss her wisdom and her honest reporting.

Princeton grapples with rapid growth

Blogger’s Note: This blog item was published originally on KETR-FM’s website.

Princeton City Hall is a non-descript structure on U.S. 380. The City Council meets there. The city administrative offices are located inside the structure the city leases from the building owner.

It comprises about 6,000 square feet. The Princeton Police Department works out of another structure, as does the Princeton Fire Department.

Well, if City Manager Derek Borg and the City Council have their way, they intend to break ground in about a year on a shiny new municipal complex about a mile east of the current site.

First, though, the city needs a “concept” of what the new complex will look like.

Borg is awaiting the concept from the architectural firm the city has hired, GFF Architects, based in Dallas. He’ll present it to the council, which then would approve it. Then the city hopes to break ground on a massive new public/private endeavor on the north side of U.S. 380.

There will be restaurants and other commercial enterprises, plenty of greenspace, two lakes, natural vegetation, wetlands, a bridge that goes over the wetlands to protect their integrity.

“We’re in the very early stages of the concept,” Borg said. “The next thing will be to look at the cost and how it can be funded.”

OK, so what’s the city’s role here?

Borg said Princeton has outgrown its tiny City Hall. It needs a lot more space. The city intends to bring police and fire administrations under one roof along with other departments. How much space would the new City Hall complex entail? Borg estimates 40,000 to 45,000 square feet, or about eight times the size utilized now, admittedly for only part of the city government’s administration.

Princeton Crossroads is the name of the developer, which Borg said the city is trying to enlist to get “some level of developer participation” in completing the project. “We certainly don’t want to drag this on forever. We want to deliver this project,” he said.

It’s critical to bring police and fire administrations under the same roof as the rest of the city, Borg said, joking that the fire department “is working right now out of its trucks.” Borg, though, has some credibility cracking jokes about the fire department, given that he served as fire chief before becoming city manager.

“It’s going to take a year to build this complex,” Borg said. “We want to break ground in late 2020,” he said.

The cost is still to be determined, he said. Borg did note that the city has a few funding options to consider. One is the obvious option: a bond issue that would go to a vote of the city’s residents. The bond issue would pay only for the bricks and mortar of the public complex. Another option would be to issue certificates of obligation, which the City Council can do without voter approval. Borg did not offer a preference for which funding option would work best for the city.

Princeton clearly is on a fast-track growth trajectory. It’s 2010 census stood at 6,708 residents. Borg believes the population will at least double that amount when they count the residents for the 2020 census. U.S. 380 is under heavy construction along virtually its entire length through the city. Texas Department of Transportation crews are finishing up the median improvements now, but then will begin work on adding one additional lane in each direction through Princeton, turning the four-lane thoroughfare into a six-lane highway to accommodate the expected increase in traffic.

Thus, with the growth that’s occurring, it becomes imperative for the city to build a municipal complex that delivers services to its expanding population.

And what about the City Council’s level of support? Borg said the council is all in and that council members – led by Mayor John-Mark Caldwell – want to proceed as soon as possible.

All this growth does have a way of presenting “headaches” most public officials would wish to confront.