75 mph? In this neighborhood?

My wife and I made a discovery this afternoon while hauling brush to the relocated City of Amarillo mulching/brush drop-off site at the corner of Hollywood and Helium roads.

It was a speed limit sign at the edge of a residential neighborhood. You know, the type of place with kids running around and moms hauling their children to and from this or that event.

The sign said “75 mph.”

What? Seventy-five miles per bleeping hour — on this stretch of road with no shoulders, so near those homes?

OK, so maybe I need to get out more.

Then again, with speed limits like that on streets so close to the city limits, maybe I ought to just stay home, cover myself up and let others compete for space on race tracks disguised as city streets.

I’ve already noted my growing comfort with 75 mph speed limits on most open highways in Texas. The Legislature boosted them this session, believing apparently that 70 mph just isn’t fast enough. Hey, if you want to really push the pedal to the metal, take Interstate 10 down yonder, just west of San Antonio and you’ll get to drive at 80 mph legally. Then we have that miserable stretch of highway aka Texas 130 between San Antone and Austin where you can dead-head it at 85 mph. No thanks on that one.

Texas transportation officials and the city might want to reconsider the speed limit on that stretch of road just west of Loop 335 … and when I say “just west,” I mean exactly that.

It’s open road west of that location. There you can boost the limit to 75 — just not so close to that residential neighborhood.

Flames bring out kindness

A gentleman and I crossed paths this week.

He’s 82 years old. He lives in Fritch. At least he lived in Fritch until a few days ago, when fire destroyed his home near (what’s left of) Lake Meredith.

I didn’t get his name. We talked for some time at the car dealership where I work part time. He and his wife have moved for the time being to their daughter’s home in Amarillo.

He doesn’t yet know what he’s going to do, whether to rebuild at the site of his now-burned-out home or move somewhere else permanently. He said the fire took everything, except his motor vehicles.

This gentleman appears to be a man of great faith. As we spoke, he kept talking about how Scripture has helped guide him through the heartache, how God doesn’t give his children more than they can handle. This fine gentleman is quite sure he’ll get through his crisis.

He talked some more about the incredible strength that the victims of the wildfire have exhibited.

This fellow also talked about the equally incredible random acts of kindness others are showing daily to help these victims.

My acquaintance held up pretty well as we spoke. He didn’t get emotional until he told me of someone who handed him $100 as he was sharing with friends and others about the difficulties that so many folks are enduring.

“I don’t know if I can get through this,” he said as he told the story of the unexpected gift.

He did, more or less, get through it. He finished telling his story and he concluded it by telling me something I already knew: Most folks are inherently kind and compassionate when they witness their neighbors endure such struggle.

Such kindness is the single most important positive result of this recent round of tragedy.

My heart breaks for this man’s suffering. It’s also filled with joy at the kindness he has received.

'Non-story' still gets attention

Now we have Sarah “Barracuda” Palin, the former half-term Alaska governor, weighing in on one of the most bizarre political escapades in recent history.

It’s a “non-story,” she declared this week while throwing her support behind a tea party challenger to U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss.


What, then, is the “non-story”? It deals with efforts to video-record Cochran’s bed-ridden wife in the nursing home where she lives to use in an attack video against the veteran Republican lawmaker.

My question is this: What in name of all that is holy is the purpose of such a disgraceful deed?

The challenger, Chris McDaniel, disavows any involvement. The cops have arrested four supporters, alleging criminal conspiracy and criminal trespass for breaking into the nursing home where Mrs. Cochran resides.

Cochran, of course, is outraged. He should be.

I keep wondering about the end game here. What are the pro-McDaniel goofballs seeking to illustrate by showing Mrs. Cochran in the nursing home; she’s been under 24-hour care for more than a decade.

It’s one thing for the tea party to target someone such as Sen. Cochran, who’s been a reliably — and largely reasonable — conservative for his entire Senate career. The tea party wing already has taken down other GOP stalwarts, such as Indiana Sen. Dick Lugar and Utah Sen. Bob Bennett. The tea partiers went after Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell, but got thumped. Now they want Thad Cochran’s scalp?

As for the one-time GOP vice-presidential nominee, Palin is showing yet again her habit of blaming the media for keeping a so-called “non-story” alive.

It most certainly is a story when political operatives working on behalf of a candidate for an important public office stoop to gutter-level tactics.

GOP 'outraged' over VA mess?

Jon Talton is a former colleague — and current friend — of yours truly.

He writes a blog that is at times biting and always insightful.

His link here discusses the resignation of Eric Shinseki as head of the Department of Veterans Affairs, but it contains a single sentence relating to Republican outrage over what’s happened at the VA.


Jon’s point about the GOP’s phony outrage is spot on.

Granted, Shinseki needed to take the fall for what’s happened at the VA health care system. Much of this mess happened on his watch, but not all of it.

Perhaps just as outrageous, though, has been the reaction by congressional Republican leaders over Shinseki’s departure. They’ve said it’s not enough that the VA secretary leave office. They want more heads to roll.

And this is all coming from the same do-nothings who have refused to give financial support to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Let’s remember this. The stingy lawmakers, those who express their undying support for our veterans while refusing to authorize the expenditures needed to give them the help they deserve, now are seeking to channel every shred of blame to the individuals they have hamstrung with their stinginess.

As my pal Talton notes in his blog, “The episode is full of irony and hypocrisy.”

Seliger may be in a bind

Texas state Sen. Kel Seliger just might find himself in a tough spot as the general election campaign gets going full blast.

He’s an Amarillo Republican who’s already beaten back a stout challenge from his right. Former Midland Mayor Mike Canon lost narrowly to Seliger in the GOP primary in March. One of Canon’s top back-room advisers is a guy named Michael Quinn Sullivan, an arch-conservative activist who is believed to have talked Canon into running against Seliger.

The senator has no love — or even a modicum of “like” — for Sullivan. He’s said so publicly.

So, who do you think is one of Sullivan’s top stable horses this year? State Sen. Dan Patrick, the GOP nominee for lieutenant governor, the guy who wants to preside over the Texas Senate where he and, oh yes, Seliger serve. Patrick faces a probable slugfest this fall running against Democratic nominee, another state senator, Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio.

Here’s the quandary.

Suppose Patrick ventures to the Texas Panhandle this summer and fall to look for votes. Who will appear with him on a stage, at a dinner dais, at a Labor Day picnic or a political rally at, say, Dick Bivins Stadium? Will it be the senator from Texas Senate District 31, who has a known disdain for one of Patrick’s main backers?

I tend to think not.

Whatever support Patrick gets from the Panhandle — and it will be substantial, given this region’s strongly Republican leanings — he’ll likely have to acquire it without Seliger’s help.

Unless, of course, Seliger changes his heart and mind and climbs aboard the Patrick bandwagon.

Don’t laugh. Politicians of both parties have been known over many years to have these “awakenings” when the spirit — and the thought of choice committee assignments — moves them.

Russia pulls back

It turns out Russia is backing away from its border with Ukraine.

The Russians have pulled back all but 2,000 of the 40,000 or so troops it had massed on its Ukraine border after the Ukrainians elected Petro Poroshenko as their next president.

The Russians said they would respect the Ukrainians’ vote.

Gosh, that’s big of ’em, don’t you think?


I’ve been cautiously optimistic that the Russians might come to their senses and avoid invading Ukraine if the vote didn’t go the way the Russians wanted. Many critics of U.S. and European Union policy toward this crisis have suggested the Russians weren’t cowed at all by economic sanctions imposed because of their interference with Ukraine’s sovereign affairs.

I am believing the sanctions have brought enough pain to the Russians that they are thinking twice about their previous intentions to muscle their way into Ukrainian domestic politics.

It’s hardly time to lift the sanctions, even though the Russians are pulling troops and heavy arms away from Ukraine. I trust the United States will continue to take a dim view of Russians’ bullying.

Have the Russians possibly blinked in the face of pressure? It’s quite possible. Their Soviet forebears did it during the Cuban Missile Crisis, remember?

Retirement in name only

Let’s call Mike McGee’s departure as head of the Amarillo Animal Control operation what it is: a “retirement” in name only.

McGee didn’t “retire” the way most of us understand the term. He was shoved out, asked to leave, perhaps told to hit the road.

By my way of seeing things, he should have gotten the boot when allegations erupted over mistreatment of animals that were being euthanized at the shelter.

City Manager Jarrett Atkinson put McGee and his chief deputy, Shannon Barlow, on “administrative leave,” meaning they were getting paid while letting someone else do their job — and while a Randall County grand jury investigated whether to indict anyone for criminal wrongdoing.

Well, McGee is gone. His “retirement,” announced Thursday, is effective today. Interesting, eh?

The fact that the city implemented serious changes in the euthanasia methods for unwanted animals carries the implication that the former way was wrong, if not illegal. Who was responsible for that? The guy in charge … McGee. Let’s throw Barlow into that category as well.

And when the guy in charge is running a publicly funded operation in a way that cries out for change, that suggests he isn’t doing his job. Isn’t that correct? Thus, he and his top assistant both should have been canned.

Now he’s “retired.” McGee’s troubles might not be over. The grand jury is supposed to decide perhaps by June 11 whether to indict anyone for crimes involving the Animal Control Department. McGee and Barlow appear to be the individuals on the hot seat.

This story appears to be far from over.

Next VA visit will be, um, interesting

They had to schedule my next visit to the Thomas Creek Veterans Medical Center in Amarillo amid all this turmoil.

They just had to do it.

I’ll be there Tuesday morning, just as the sun is coming up. It’s a routine visit, but it comes in the midst of all this national discussion/debate/quarreling/backbiting over the care veterans have been getting.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki has quit as the scandal keeps roiling over the deaths of vets in Phoenix, Ariz. The system is a mess. Wait times are unacceptably long, so long in fact that it cost those Phoenix vets their lives … allegedly.

I’ll go in early Tuesday and will sit in a waiting room with other vets. Gosh, I wonder what they’ll be talking about. How it’s President Obama’s fault? How the system has been messed up for decades? How they’re happy with the care they’ve gotten? How they hope the Creek medical center here in Amarillo isn’t among those where patient care is being delayed beyond all reason?

You know, that last item — the status of the VA center here — has been on my mind.

I’m a fairly new VA enrollee, having just gotten into the system a year ago.

So far, I’ve been deliriously happy with the treatment I’ve gotten. It’s been prompt. My wait times for routine visits have been minimal. The staff has been respectful — and they have expressed thanks for my service to the country, inconsequential as it was.

I’ve also been blessed with excellent health. I have no serious medical issues. My visit Tuesday will be routine, or so I am presuming.

Thus, none of the issues plaguing the system apply to my own health needs.

It is my sincerest hope that it will remain that way after I leave the VA hospital.

House cleaning begins at VA

Eric Shinseki had to go.

Of that there was zero doubt. The decorated retired four-star Army general served his country with honor on the battlefield, but his new assignment — as secretary of veterans affairs — became too bloody a political battle for him to continue on.

He quit today.

Let the overhaul commence in earnest.


Shinseki has left a department in absolute chaos. The VA has been scandalized by reports of veterans dying while awaiting health care and by allegations that staffers drafted bogus wait times to cover up their mistakes. This happened on Shinseki’s watch as a Cabinet secretary.

He had to quit.

The next veterans affairs secretary will inherit an agency that will have commenced a thorough top-to-bottom review. There needs to be an accounting of what happened, who did it and there ought to be criminal charges brought if it’s proven that their negligence resulted directly in the deaths of any of those estimated 40 veterans.

Every official in Washington — from President Obama down through the chain of command — keep saying they honor the service our veterans perform for the country. The VA health care system has let many of them down. The system has let down an entire country that has talked the talk, but failed to deliver on all those expressions of gratitude.

I am saddened that Gen. Shinseki has taken the hit on this one. However, someone has to be accountable. He came to office vowing to take care of our veterans. His agency hasn’t kept its promise.

Guns and booze

Jeff Swanson is going to require the baddest bouncer on Earth when he starts serving alcohol at the gun range he operates in Oklahoma.

Swanson operates the Wilshire Gun Range, which recently received permission from the Oklahoma City Council to serve alcohol on the premises.


Someone needs to explain this one to me.

He’ll be serving alcohol, but once someone buys the beverage, they’ll be disallowed from going onto the firing range itself.

Guns and alcohol don’t mix, Swanson said. True enough.

The council vote as 6-3. One of the “no” votes came from Larry McAtee, who said, “Alcohol is legal and guns are legal. I have a problem with mixing the two.”

Still, Swanson said anyone who orders a drink will have his or her driver’s license scanned, it will be flagged and the individual will be disallowed from going to where they’re firing weapons.

The proprietor had better hire people with the sharpest eyes and ears possible to enforce the rules at his gun range. This decision makes me nervous.