Tag Archives: NPR

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.

Coach brings checkered past to the field at Mount Vernon HS

Blogger’s Note: This blog item was published originally on KETR-FM’s website. I want to repost it for High Plains Blogger readers as well.

School is about to begin in Texas, which means that football season also is nearly upon us. I don’t know about you, but I might be looking with just a little bit more interest than usual at Mount Vernon High School, waiting to see how the team performs in its first season under the coaching leadership of a guy who – although he is a brilliant coach – shouldn’t have this job.

Art Briles is the new head football coach at Mount Vernon. You remember this guy, right? He once coached at Baylor University. He led the Bears to a lot of victories during his time in Waco.

But then he got into trouble by looking the other way while his players were raping women all over the university campus. Some of the players faced criminal charges; many of them were convicted. Briles, though, claimed to not know what his players were doing.

Well, the story got away from everyone. It swallowed up Baylor University. It consumed Waco. Briles became the face of a scandal of which he lost control.

Baylor University Chancellor Kenneth Starr – whose investigation into sexual misconduct at an entirely different level led to President Clinton’s impeachment in 1998 – was forced to resign. Baylor Athletics Director Ian McCaw also resigned. The Baylor regents then fired Briles.

Briles wandered in the coaching wilderness – in Canada and in Europe – for a time before Mount Vernon High came calling.

The Mount Vernon Independent School District’s decision to hire this guy remains a difficult tonic for many Northeast Texans to swallow. I don’t live in the Mount Vernon district, but I’m not terribly far away, living in Princeton. Yes, Briles’s hiring sticks in my craw, too.

The rationale for hiring Briles seems to track along two lines: He deserves a second chance and, perhaps more importantly to some, he’s a heck of a football coach.

I maintain the notion that Mount Vernon ISD could have found any number of equally competent football coaches who aren’t tainted with the scandal that has stained Briles’s reputation.

I have no personal interest in Mount Vernon Tigers’ football fortunes. I suppose I should cheer for the young athletes who will work hard to compete on the field under Briles’s leadership. However, this coach’s presence on the sideline taints Mount Vernon’s reputation.

Is that fair? Do I intend to punish the young men who play football to the best of their ability? No. I just cannot set aside the hideous circumstance that cost the coach his job at a Division I university in the first place.

If Mount Vernon wins a lot of football games in the years to come, how can we measure the cost – if not the damage – to the school district’s reputation in hiring this guy?

British diplomat states the obvious: Trump is inept

I am inclined to tell the British ambassador to the United States: Tell us something many on this side of The Pond don’t know.

Leaked memos from Ambassador Kim Darroch reveal a point of view that the Donald Trump administration is incompetent, inept, unpredictable, unreliable and untrustworthy.

Gosh. Who knew?

According to National Public Radio: “We don’t really believe this Administration is going to become substantially more normal; less dysfunctional; less unpredictable; less faction riven; less diplomatically clumsy and inept,” the ambassador wrote in leaked documents, according to the Daily Mail.

Even though what Darroch wrote in the memos dating back to 2017 aren’t exactly a flash for many millions of Americans, it is news chiefly because it comes from the ambassador of one of this nation’s staunchest, most reliable and valuable allies. The Brits have stood with us through thick, thin, warfare and peace.

Now to read these remarks only serve to undermine that relationship. It’s not because of anything the British have done. Ambassador Darroch is responding to the chaos and confusion that fuels damn near everything that occurs with the Trump administration.

Darroch wrote that the administration could “collapse,” but warned “do not write (Trump) off.” Indeed, the carnival barker/president has proven to have many more lives than any cat that’s ever lived.

Still, many millions of us hope that voters in this country will wise up to the mistake many of our fellow Americans made in 2016 by electing Trump to be president in the first place.

I am one of those Americans who hopes Election Day 2020 fixes that egregious mistake.

Economic sanctions, yes; going to war, no!

Count me as one American who far prefers the measures that Donald Trump has taken to respond to provocation in the Persian Gulf region than what has been threatened over the course of the past several days.

The president has signed an executive order that imposes harsh economic punishment on the Islamic Republic of Iran. The alternative? That would be sending planes and missiles into Iran to strike military targets and quite probably provoke a military response from the mullahs who run the show in Tehran.

Option No. 1 is far better than Option No. 2.

What might the Iranian response be to the economic sanctions? I suppose they can close the Strait of Hormuz, where a lot of shipping hauls petroleum to points around the world. The good news for the United States is that this country is far less dependent on Middle East oil than it has been in the past.

However, I much prefer the economic sanction route than the military strike option that has been on the table. How much sense does it make to send young Americans into harm’s way because Iran is shooting down unmanned, unarmed surveillance aircraft? None, if you want my to know my humble view on it.

The sanctions imposed by the United States include freezing of assets owned by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and others within the Iranian government. As NPR reported, it is not entirely clear how the United States is able to obtain access to those assets, but Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin assures us that the assets are frozen; the ayatollah can’t get ’em.

Fine. Then perhaps now we can actually talk to the mullahs and try to calm the tension that has rattled the world, not to mention governments in Saudi Arabia and Israel, two of the mortal enemies Iran has targeted with threats.

As the late, great Winston Churchill once noted, it is far better to “jaw, jaw, jaw than to war, war, war.”

POWs helped build this N. Texas community

Note: I wrote this item for KETR-FM based at Texas A&M-Commerce. I want to share it on High Plains Blogger.

Who knew that German soldiers who fought against our guys during World War II would play a part in building a North Texas community?

Not me, certainly. At least until recently.

I followed some signs the other day in Princeton pointing me toward a World War II POW camp. About three left turns later, I found myself pulling into a city park that is still under development, with an estimated completion date of July 2019.

All I found was a Texas Historical Commission marker noting the existence of the POW camp that actually functioned as such from February 1945 until the end of World War II in August 1945.

Prior to taking prisoners of war from European battlefields, the site is described as a “migrant” camp established in 1941 with the help of the great Sam Rayburn, the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives who hailed from nearby Bonham in Fannin County.

It fascinates me to realize that German prisoners of war – men who had been captured trying to kill Americans – actually were put to work on North Texas farms and in Princeton itself. According to the historical marker inscription: “While here, the German soldiers worked on Princeton area farms, providing valuable labor assistance. For many years following the prisoners’ release in 1946, the site again served as a camp for migrant workers.”

There’s a certain poetic irony in the work the Nazi soldiers did on our area farms. Why? The North Texas agriculture community’s ranks of able-bodied men had been depleted because those sons of farming and ranching families answered the call to fight in defense of their way of life against, oh, Germans, Italians and Japanese.

That’s not where the poet aspect of this historic episode ends, however.

Again, according to the Historical Commission plaque: “Not only did the prisoners work in the field, but they also did stonemasonry work in downtown Princeton. Others helped construct a park in Princeton built in memory of the men who served in the armed forces during WWII and a shrine to perpetuate the memory of those who lost their lives in the war.”

Ponder that for a moment. I do not know whether the German POWs knew in the moment that they were would build a park memorializing Americans who were sent to Europe to save the world from the tyrants who sent them to war against us.

I am going to presume that they had to know something was afoot when they went to work in Princeton.

Can it possibly get any more poetic than that?

Learning my way through North Texas

My new gig as a blogger for a public radio station has set me on a course to learn more intimately about Collin County and much of the rest of North Texas, where my wife and I now call home.

KETR-FM, based at Texas A&M University-Commerce, has given me a chance to write for its website. I’ve submitted three posts already. More will be on the way.

The next one is going to bring a challenge or two.

Mark Haslett, news director at KETR-FM, has given me an idea to examine. It’ll be about traffic, road construction and what in the world is happening along U.S. 380, the highway that cuts through several North Texas counties. Indeed, it runs about a half-mile north of where my wife and I live.

The highway is undergoing major work at this moment, and likely for past the foreseeable future. The North Central Texas Council of Governments is the lead public agency with responsibility for all that road work.

I’ve put in a phone call. I am awaiting a call back from NCTCOG’s media relations fellow. I am confident it will come soon.

Why is this a big deal? I’ve written before how much I learned about all the communities where I lived and work. Whether it was in Clackamas County, Ore., or in the Golden Triangle of Texas or in the Texas Panhandle, I took away a good bit of local knowledge from each place.

I now intend to launch my learning curve in North Texas.

My new “career” as a blogger continues to bring rewards. They’re difficult to quantify. The knowledge I will gain about my new home still will be of considerable value.

Former speaker taking the ‘high’ road?

Well now. Former U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, who used to oppose legalization of marijuana, is now on board with it.

He says he wants MJ legalized, marking a dramatic shift in the Ohio Republican’s former stance.

In truth, he joins a list of prominent Republican public officials to extol the virtues of legalizing marijuana.

Former Secretary of State George Schultz is on board; so was the late conservative icon William F. Buckley; same for noted GOP-minded economist Milton Friedman; the late Sen. Barry Goldwater, too.

Former Speaker Boehner, as the West Texas saying goes, is walking through some mighty tall cotton by joining those individuals.

According to National Public Radio: “I feel like I’m like your average American who over the years began to look at this a little differently and I think over the last five years my position, it has kind of softened up and softened up,” Boehner said.

I suppose I could add that being liberated from the whims and wishes of political constituents who might believe differently had something to do with Boehner’s change of heart.

I am leaning that way myself.

House turns up the heat on AG Barr

The vote is not legally binding, but it represents the growing pressure from both sides of the aisle on the Justice Department to disclose as much of the report as possible.

So it was reported by National Public Radio on a stunning vote taken by the House of Representatives. The House voted 420 to zero demanding that Attorney General William Barr release for public review the report he soon will get from special counsel Robert Mueller on the issue of conspiracy and collusion (allegedly) by the Donald Trump campaign and Russian operatives.

Barr is under no legal obligation to follow the House lead, which NPR has acknowledged. However, William Barr is a seasoned Washington hand. He served as AG during the George H.W. Bush administration. He’s no novice. Barr knows all about the power inherent in Article I of the U.S. Constitution, which lays out congressional authority line by line.

Mueller’s report must be made public. The House is demanding it of the Department of Justice, which appointed Mueller to the special counsel post in the first place.

The president has derided the Mueller investigation as a “witch hunt.” He calls the collusion matter a “hoax” and a product of “fake news.”

The public needs to see for itself whether the president is correct or if he is seeking to undermine a legitimate investigation into the attack on our electoral system by a foreign hostile power.

Let the public see it.

Off to the races with public radio station KETR-FM

Well, we have a launch of a new project involving, um . . .  me.

KETR-FM has posted my first essay for its website. You can read it here.

I chose to comment on the Texas teacher pay increase that’s now under consideration in the Texas Legislature. The Senate is poised to approve a $5,000 annual raise for public school teachers; senators will send it to the House. If the House approves it, the issue goes to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk for his expected signature.

I am thrilled to be part of this new endeavor. My association now is with Texas A&M University/Commerce and its radio station, which is affiliated with National Public Radio.

It’s a whole new gig for me. I want to give thanks to KETR news director Mark Haslett for giving me a chance to offer some perspective through the radio station.

I feel as though I’ve been given a fresh chance to pursue an aspect of a craft that gave me many years of enjoyment.