Trump earns praise; but beware of future criticism

It really didn’t hurt at all to say something kind about Donald Trump in an earlier blog post.

I had vowed to speak well of the president when I felt it was necessary. His visit — along with the first lady, Melania — to Houston today gave me that chance.

The president has now made two trips in just a few days to the Texas Gulf Coast in the wake of the storm Harvey’s massive, destructive blow to the region. The president took plenty of heat for his first visit, in which he didn’t visit with storm victims. He instead patted politicians on the back for their response.

Today’s visit was vastly different. It was the kind of visit the president should have made when he ventured to Corpus Christi, which had suffered huge wind damage.

Trump does right by Harvey’s victims

I’ll continue to challenge Donald Trump, however, as we move farther along into his presidency. I don’t intend to change my mind about the man’s fitness for the job and, to be candid, nothing that happened today in Houston and later in Lake Charles, La., has persuaded me differently.

I just feel compelled once again to offer the man a good word of encouragement for returning to the scene of this unspeakable natural disaster. As the picture indicates, the victims of Harvey’s wrath appreciated seeing him, hearing his soothing words and sharing a smile with a president who willing to take a selfie.

To be candid, pictures like this make me smile, too.

Oh, by the way, Texas cell phone ban takes effect

Texans have been fixated on news from the Gulf Coast of late.

Flooding. Heavy wind. Thousands of people displaced. Some tragic deaths. Injuries. Devastation from the deluge.

While we were praying for our friends and loved ones, and while some of us were looking toward Washington and the “Russia thing,” a big day arrived in Texas.

On Friday, the state’s ban on use of cell phones while driving motor vehicles took effect. Texas joined many other states in enacting a statewide ban. It’s not entirely clear if the ban supersedes local ordinances — such as in Amarillo — but the statewide ban does accomplish an important mission. It brings continuity to how the state expects motorists to behave while they are traveling on Texas streets, roads and highways.

I’m proud of our Panhandle legislative delegation. They were strongly in favor of the ban. Indeed, so was Republican state Rep. (and former Texas House Speaker) Tom Craddick, who authored cell phone ban bills in several legislative sessions.

Then-Gov. Rick Perry vetoed a cell phone ban bill in 2011, calling it an undue intrusion from the government into the behavior of citizens. What a crock!

Perry’s successor, Greg Abbott, signed the 2017 bill into law. Which makes a lot of Texans quite happy. Count me as one of them.

This law enables the state to post signage at highway entrances at all corners of the state. It puts motorists coming into the state on notice that they need to keep their cell phones quiet — or use their hands-free communication systems inside their vehicles.

To my way of thinking, that is far better than to asking motorists to risk breaking the law if they don’t know whether individual communities have bans on the books.

Texas legislators did well by approving this law. Gov. Abbott did well, too, by signing it into law.

I just wanted to remind you that the law took effect. Now, let’s turn back to worrying about the flooding victims and “the Russia thing.”

Even in abundance, water is a priceless commodity

My social media networks are telling me that the water is starting to come back ever so slowly down yonder in Beaumont, Texas.

The savage storm named Harvey deluged the Golden Triangle region so badly that Beaumont’s water treatment system was knocked out. Gone. Dead. No drinking water to be had.

Just a few days later, the system is coming back — slowly. I trust it’s also surely on its way back.

One of my friends reports his toilet tank is filling. Another of them posted this note on Facebook: Treat water like it is gold, because it is.

Boy, howdy! We know about that even this far northwest of the flood zone. We in the Texas Panhandle have been grappling with water conservation and preservation issues for about, oh, nearly forever.

It’s not that we have the abundance of water, but rather a lack of water.

My good friends in Beaumont and Houston, though, are getting yet another kind of water-conservation lesson. The Golden Triangle’s woes intensified many times when the water system collapsed under the 40-plus-inch deluge that Harvey delivered.

Those good folks aren’t anywhere close to being clear of the damage brought by Harvey. They’re inching their way toward a return to something approaching a normal life.

It’s going to take lots and lots of time to return to normal water usage — even as those valiant Texans look for ways to slosh their way through the water that surrounds them.

As one of my friends, the one with the toilet tank refilling, noted: Be frugal, Beaumont. Preserve this precious resource for everyone!

Meanwhile, many prayers continue to shower that stricken region.

No wiretapping at Trump Tower … who knew?

The U.S. Justice Department has issued arguably the least surprising revelation of the Trump administration.

It is that the former President Barack Obama did not order the wiretapping of Donald Trump’s campaign offices at Trump Tower in New York City in late 2016. OK, that’s not a surprise.

The announcement came in the form of a court motion issued Friday that declared that DOJ had no evidence of any such action.

What is heartening to me, though, is that this Department of Justice has made the determination. This one, which has as its head — Attorney General Jeff Sessions — who happens to be a close political ally of the president of the United States of America.

Yes, that would be the president who defamed his immediate predecessor by asserting that he ordered the wiretap in the first place.

Trump tweeted on March 4: “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!”

He linked Barack Obama to the disgraced late Wisconsin Sen. Joseph McCarthy, the guy who gained infamy by accusing every Democrat and their brother of being communists during the 1950s.

Trump never produced a shred of evidence to back his cockamamie assertion about a wiretap. Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said he surely would have known about it had there been an order issued; it didn’t happen.

Former FBI Director James Comey — yeah, that James Comey — told Senate committee members that he saw nothing to back up the president’s assertions about a wiretap.

So, that case is closed, as if it ever really deserved to be opened at all. But when the president of the United States issues a phony accusation, then the nation and the world take notice.

What we all saw was yet another instance of bald-faced lying by the nation’s top elected official.


Trump does right by Harvey’s victims

Donald Trump makes it hard for his critics to say something good about him.

I’m going to try, though, to give the president of the United States of America two thumbs up. I had pledged to speak well of the president when opportunities presented themselves. One such opportunity occurred today.

Trump and his wife, Melania, ventured back to Texas today to get a better look at the devastation brought to the Gulf Coast by Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey. He went to a church that doubles as a shelter for Texans displaced by Harvey’s wrath. He took selfies with children and their parents. He offered many words of encouragement.

That’s what presidents are supposed to do.

Yes, some critics have alluded to the notion that Trump should have done all this during his first trip to the Gulf Coast. They’re suggesting he’s doing this only because of the criticism he took for the photo-op quality of that initial post-Harvey visit.

I won’t go there — although, yes, I’m sure some critics of this blog might point out that merely mentioning the criticism of others projects my own dim view of the president.

Instead, I choose to offer a good word of encouragement for Donald Trump. He took the time to look victims in the eye and offer them the federal government’s full attention and assistance.

These Texans are in trouble, which Mother Nature delivered in awesome proportion. They needed to know that the president of the United States is capable of donning his consoler in chief robe and is willing to express verbally and openly the care and concern of the federal government he was elected to oversee.

This duty is part of the job description. I’m glad the president understood it today.

Sen. McCain won’t get bulldozed

I couldn’t help but think of a man I used to know way back when.

The late Bill Brooks was sheriff of Clackamas County, Ore. He got appointed to the job in 1983 after Paul McAllister resigned. Almost immediately after being appointed, Brooks announced he would seek election the next year.

I asked him about the swift announcement of his election campaign, to which Brooks responded: “If I didn’t run for election, I’d be bulldozed … and I don’t bulldoze worth a s***.”

Brooks was elected in 1984 and re-elected in 1988.

Why think of Sheriff Brooks today? Because I read an essay by another crusty fellow, Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain, who penned a piece in the Washington Post in which he declared that he doesn’t work for Donald J. Trump.

McCain’s essay calls for a return to “regular order” on Capitol Hill and he has an answer for Trump’s effort to bully Congress to do his bidding. McCain writes:

We must respect his authority and constitutional responsibilities. We must, where we can, cooperate with him. But we are not his subordinates. We don’t answer to him. We answer to the American people. We must be diligent in discharging our responsibility to serve as a check on his power. And we should value our identity as members of Congress more than our partisan affiliation.

Do you know what I read in that passage? It is that McCain is about to be “bulldozed” by the president of the United States.

Read the essay here.

McCain goes on to point out the obvious, which is that Trump became president with zero government experience, or even exposure to government operations.

He is highly critical of Trump, who he calls “impulsive” and often ignorant of the details of policy. He said Congress must step up and do its job as set forth in the Constitution. He writes: That has never been truer than today, when Congress must govern with a president who has no experience of public office, is often poorly informed and can be impulsive in his speech and conduct.

I believe the former sheriff who I covered as a reporter and editor in Oregon — and with whom I became a friend — would be proud of Sen. McCain standing up to the threat of a presidential bulldozer.

Tragedy creates plenty of perspective

I’ve been spending the past few days trying to account for the status of some dear friends living in the Houston and Golden Triangle regions of the Texas Gulf Coast.

I can report that most of them are dry. They aren’t flooded. One friend’s home in Lumberton, just north of Beaumont, took about 5 feet of water. I don’t know where he and his family are staying at the moment.

Not all of my friends are accounted for, but I have faith they are still with us.

But one person with whom I worked in Beaumont offered a fascinating message to me that reminds me of how one is able to place their own suffering into its appropriate context.

She reports that she is “dry but sweaty.” She and her husband have no electricity in their suburban Beaumont home. They didn’t take any water, for which I’m certain they are grateful.

She also notes now “incredibly fortunate” she and her husband feel, given the level of suffering that so many thousands of their Golden Triangle neighbors are enduring from the storm that savaged that region.

My family is a good distance from what one could call Ground Zero of Hurricane Harvey’s wrath. One of our sons lives with his family just north of Dallas; another son lives in Amarillo, as do my wife and I, as well as my mother-in-law. We’re all watching this tragedy unfold from some distance.

I wonder, still, how I might cope with no way to cool myself in the oppressive heat and humidity that is normal for the Golden Triangle this time of year. We know about it well. We lived there for nearly 11 years.

I know, though, that my friend’s faith is strong. So is her resolve. Moreover, she also understands that what she is enduring pales in comparison to the heartache that has gripped so many thousands of others just down her street, around the corner.

Tragedy has this way of reminding us not just of what we have lost, but also of what we retain.

I’m continuing to pray for our friends.

Trump and Kelly: no ‘bromance’ likely here

Donald Trump became president of the United States with so many shortcomings, it’s futile to list them here.

I’ll just mention one of them: He doesn’t know that running an executive branch of government requires order, discipline and a strict adherence to the chain of command.

So, he took office and hired a decent young man as White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus. The only problem Priebus had was that he couldn’t instill any of those qualities in the White House operation. Chaos erupted daily, if not hourly.

Then he was gone. In came another type of manager: John Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general, the former secretary of homeland security. Kelly instilled a ton of discipline and order. He booted “Mooch” Scaramucci from the communications director job; he showed chief strategist Stephen Bannon the door. Sebastian Gorka, the so-called “terrorism expert” was out the door next. He has limited access to the Oval Office. He has bossed the staff around like the good Marine he is.

But as the New York Times story notes, he grates on the president — and the feeling is quite mutual.

Read the Time story here.

I was hoping that Trump’s appointment of Kelly might turn things around, that the White House might function as it is designed to function. It’s looking more and more that Kelly might not make the grade.

The problem starts at the very top. As the Times reports: “It is inevitable that a guy who will not be contained and does not want to be handled or managed was going to rebel against the latest manager who wanted to control him,” said Roger Stone, the longtime Trump adviser, who believes Mr. Kelly represents a kind of management coup by “the triumvirate” of two powerful retired generals — Mr. Kelly and Jim Mattis, the defense secretary — and one general who is still in the Army, the national security adviser, Lt. Gen H. R. McMaster.

Trump simply isn’t wired to follow a protocol that is not of his own making. He boasted repeatedly along the campaign trail that his stellar business success would hold him in good stead as president. It ain’t working out so well.

And let’s remember how the president accepted the Republican Party’s presidential nomination and declared that “I, alone” can solve every problem from which the nation suffers.

Uhh, no. You cannot, Mr. President. The office requires teamwork. It requires cooperation. And order. I should add discipline.

Gen. Kelly is trying to do his job. If only his boss would allow him.

That’s not very ‘populist’ of you, Mr. President

Stock Market up 5 months in a row!

So said Donald J. Trump via Twitter today.

I share the president’s enthusiasm about the Dow Jones Industrial Average. It speaks to burgeoning investor confidence in the nation’s economy and, presumably, about the president’s vision for the future.

We actually have some skin in that game. Our retirement portfolio contains holdings in the stock market. So I happen to be as glad as the president about the Dow’s performance for much of 2017.

However …

Didn’t the president campaign as a “populist”? Didn’t he tell us while winning the 2016 presidential campaign that he was for “the little guy”? He tried at times to sound more populist than, say, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, the independent U.S. senator from Vermont and self-proclaimed “democratic socialist.”

A true-blue populist, by my definition of the term, should be skeptical, wary, even alarmed that the big ol’ rich guys are profiting so handsomely as their stock portfolios rocket skyward.

So, is the president a populist or is he a Populist in Name Only — a PINO?

My gut tells me I should go with the latter.

Trump taxes might be revealed … soon? Perhaps? Maybe?

Those special counsel investigations do have a way of producing results where one might least expect it.

Take the probe being conducted by Robert Mueller into the “Russia thing,” whether the Donald Trump presidential campaign colluded with Russians who were hacking into our electoral process in 2016.

It turns out that Mueller has enlisted the aid of Internal Revenue Services criminal investigative team to help him in his investigation of the Russia matter.

Why is this so, um, titillating?

The president told us when he launched his campaign two years ago that the IRS was conducting a “routine audit,” which prevented him from releasing his tax returns for public view; presidential candidates of both parties have been releasing their returns every election year dating back to 1976.

Trump has vowed to release them; then he backed away from that; then he sort of said he would release them; now he’s apparently back to the “no way” mode regarding the returns.

The IRS involvement is important to Mueller reportedly because it could reveal whether Trump had any business interests in Russia, something he denies. Evidence is piling up that Trump, uh, more than likely lied about that.

What needs saying once again is that a routine audit does not prevent release of the returns, according to the IRS. Moreover, Trump never has produced a shred evidence that the IRS is actually auditing his tax returns; he’s presumed that we should take his word for it.

The tax returns are important for a number of reasons. They shed light on the nation’s top public official’s business connections; they will tell us if the president really is as rich as he kept bragging he is; in this instance, they’ll reveal whether Trump is truthful about having “no business dealings in Russia.”

The tax return issue won’t go away. Nor should it. Not until the president keeps faith with a four-decade political tradition and releases them for full public scrutiny.