Montana comes to its senses

INTERSTATE 90, Mont. — I don’t come to Montana too often. My first time in the Big Sky State was in the summer of 1973 when my wife and I traveled with our then-infant son to the Great Lakes and back to Portland, Ore.

Back then, Montana was famous — or infamous — as a place where the state set no limits on speed. You could drive as fast as you wanted, as long as you considered it “prudent.”

It was sort of a Mountain West autobahn in Montana. My wife and I traveled to Germany in September 2016 and were treated with how folks drive really fast. I didn’t rent a car during our stay in Bavaria; we left the driving to our friends who played host to us. Vehicles would zoom past us and our friend, Martin, would laugh it off: “Oh, that’s nothing, man.”

The autobahn days are now over in Montana, I am happy to report. We’ve driving a good stretch over Montana in recent days.

The posted speed limit throughout the state on rural highways in 80 mph. That’s still a bit too fast to suit my taste. We hauled our fifth wheel recreational vehicle behind our pickup and set the cruise control at 60 mph. That’s fast enough for us, thank you very much.

Still, I am heartened to know that Montanans have a speed limit to obey … presumably to curb the peddle-to-the-metal mentality that well might have been instilled in them by a history of adhering only to what they believe is a “prudent” speed.

There actually was a time when we were more divided

These 50-year commemorations keep sneaking up on me.

One of them, Aug. 29, 1968, occurred in Grant Park, Chicago, during that year’s Democratic National Presidential Nominating Convention.

Democrats nominated Vice President Hubert Humphrey to run against Republican nominee Richard Nixon. Humphrey lost the election narrowly to Nixon.

HHH’s political fate likely was sealed in Grant Park, when Chicago police applied brute force to put down a riot being staged by hippies, Yippies and assorted other anti-Vietnam War protesters. It was an ugly night of violence.

I was about a week into my own duty in the Army. I would head to Vietnam the following spring. But, oh, I do remember that political year. My first political hero, Sen. Robert Kennedy, was gunned down in the Los Angeles hotel kitchen after winning the California Democratic presidential primary. RFK’s death came two months and a day after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot to death at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn.

I want to take particular note here to remind us that no matter how divided we are today, it could actually be worse. The Grant Park riot 50 years ago today tells me just how deep and wide the chasm can get.

I do fear that we might be headed in that direction five decades later. If we get there, then we’d all better prepare for the worst.

Why praise someone on the other side?

Roger Kimball, a conservative writer for The Spectator, thinks the New York Times’s praise of the late Sen. John McCain rings hollow.

Indeed, he takes aim at liberals for their high praise of the senator, given his own conservative voting record in the House and the Senate over more than three decades.

Well, I beg to differ with his assertion about the hollow ring of such high-minded rhetoric.

Read Kimball’s essay here.

I consider myself a liberal. Or a progressive. I have stated on this blog many times that I didn’t vote for Sen. McCain when he ran for president as the Republican nominee in 2008. I have opposed his policy and have challenged his constant griping against the man who thumped him in that landmark presidential election a decade ago.

However, the man’s public service is worthy of salute and high praise. His courage in the face of his hideous captivity during the Vietnam War is as well. Sen. McCain’s dignity during his valiant but futile fight against the cancer that took his life commends high praise.

I have been saddened in the extreme by Sen. McCain’s death. He was a man of deep courage, conviction and dedication to his country. He paid a huge price for his service when he was shot down in 1967. He endured more than five years of captivity, came home and continued to serve his beloved country.

Sen. McCain said it well himself by declaring that he “lived and died a proud American.”

How can a liberal look away from such dignity?

Strange verb sets off ‘dog whistles’

I’ll admit that I don’t know Ron DeSantis from the man in the moon.

He is the newly nominated Republican candidate for Florida governor. He is running this fall against Democratic nominee Andrew Gillum.

OK, it has gotten a bit complicated.

DeSantis — a devotee of Donald J. Trump — just happened to say that Florida voters shouldn’t “monkey this up” by electing Gillum as the state’s next governor.

Here it comes: Gillum is African-American. DeSantis’s use of the word “monkey” in a curious verb form has a good many folks wondering about the potential racial intent of using such a word regarding an African-American political opponent.

This particular word has gotten politicians and assorted public officials in trouble over many years. I need not chronicle for you why African-Americans — as well as many other Americans, such as me — find it at minimum careless.

At worst it reveals a hideous side of those who use such a term when referencing someone who happens to be a racial minority.

According to In a statement, Stephen Lawson, a spokesman for Mr. DeSantis, rejected the idea that the candidate’s comments had a racial undertone.

“Ron DeSantis was obviously talking about Florida not making the wrong decision to embrace the socialist policies that Andrew Gillum espouses,” Mr. Lawson said. “To characterize it as anything else is absurd.”

OK, a prepared statement from a political flack isn’t good enough. We need to hear from Rich DeSantis. In person. Live and in real time.

Maria: a ‘real tragedy’ after all?

Well now, it turns out that the hurricane named Maria that devastated Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands was more than a footnote in the history of natural disasters.

You might recall how Donald Trump thought to compare the then-measly death toll of 16 to a “real tragedy” that struck New Orleans in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina stormed ashore.

The territorial government today has declared that 2,975 Puerto Ricans — all American citizens — died when Hurricane Maria all but destroyed the island territory.

Reasonable folks know that it was a tragedy anyway, even when the official death toll stood at 64.

Do you think the president might offer a mea culpa now that we know the real number of fatalities? Um. I don’t think so.

Gratitude is replacing anger

They say “time heals all wounds.” I don’t necessarily believe it, but time does have a way of lessening some of those wounds’ pain.

Six years have passed since my journalism career came to a screeching halt. It wasn’t of my choosing. It came because my boss, the publisher of the Amarillo Globe-News, decided to reorganize the operation.

He told us to apply for any job we wanted. I chose to apply for the job I had been doing there for nearly 18 years. I thought I was doing a good enough job to keep it. Silly me.

They hired someone else to do the job. They changed the title of the position from “editorial page editor” to “director of commentary.” That post used to report directly to the publisher; the new scheme has that position reporting to the executive editor.

I walked away. I was angry, hurt and I bordered on despondent — but only for a brief period of time.

Eventually, my despondence gave way to a different feeling. It was the first emotion to dissipate. The hurt was next. The anger remained longer.

I want to declare, though, that today my anger has been all but replaced by gratitude. I am grateful these days to my former boss — who’s now the former publisher of the AGN — for protecting me from the chaos that has ensued since my departure from daily print journalism.

He spared me from the madness of watching from the front row a media company — Morris Communications, the former owners of the AGN — trying to navigate its way into a new media world. It has been mostly an exercise in failure, fecklessness and futility.

The Globe-News’s circulation has plummeted. Its revenue has done the same. It has slashed its staff levels. It has vacated one of the buildings it ran, and moved what’s left of its newsroom operation into an office it shares with what is left of its advertising sales department.

I got to watch all of this from some distance. I was spared the chaos and confusion.

Then came the clincher: Morris Communications sold its entire group of newspapers to GateHouse Media. Morris won’t call it this, but the company essentially surrendered, threw in the towel, walked away from a fight it couldn’t win. It realized it was unable to compete in this new “digital age” of news presentation.

And what about the publisher who showed me the door six years ago? He “stepped down” a few weeks ago as AGN publisher when GateHouse decided it wanted to bring in its own guy to oversee the continuing deterioration of a once-proud community institution.

To think I was saddened and angry in the moment — on my final day as a full-time journalist — that I would miss all of this.

What in the world was I thinking?

Go ahead, Mr. POTUS, make our day

Here we go again. The president is raising the issue of possibly firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions, maybe after the midterm election.

Donald Trump reportedly has made it known privately he is tired of the special counsel’s investigation into “the Russia thing,” and he blames Sessions for allowing it to continue.

Why? How? Because Sessions recused himself from the Justice Department’s probe into alleged Trump campaign collusion with Russian goons who attacked our electoral system in 2016.

Sessions was a key campaign adviser. He couldn’t possibly have investigated a campaign in which he was an integral part. Thus, he recused himself. The DOJ then appointed Robert Mueller to lead the probe.

A part of me actually wants Trump to fire Sessions. It is going to release a torrent of recrimination from Republicans as well as Democrats.

The midterm election? Oh, yes. Democrats appear set to take control of the House of Representatives. If Trump fires Sessions, he well might hand the new House majority an impeachable offense.

As if the conviction of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and the guilty plea of former Trump lawyer/fixer Michael Cohen haven’t produced an arsenal of “smoking guns.”

Go ahead, Mr. President. Make our day.

Pence is facing a dilemma

They’re going to salute and commemorate the life and public service of the late Sen. John McCain in a few days.

One of those attending is likely to be Vice President Mike Pence, who will represent (a) the Senate where he is the presiding officer and (b) the Donald Trump administration led by a man Sen. McCain said he doesn’t want to attend his funeral.

What in the world is Pence going to tell reporters who are likely to ask him to speak for the president? How might he frame his public remarks if he is asked to speak from the pulpit at the National Cathedral?

The vice president is an honorable man. He and Sen. McCain served together in Congress and by many accounts were friends to the end of McCain’s life. The senator, though, had vastly different views about the president.

Does the VP speak from his heart about McCain on behalf of the president and come off as phony? Or does he offer the bare minimum — kind of like the way Trump offered his “respect” for McCain’s decades of public service and his heroism as a Vietnam War prisoner? If he does the latter, he would come off as sounding cheap and tepid.

Thus, we have the president putting the vice president in a terrible bind by fostering the toxic relationship he had with one of the U.S. Senate’s true giants.

Former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush will deliver eulogies in Sen. McCain’s honor. I have no worries about those men speaking from their hearts and offering the kind of respectful and heartfelt rhetoric about their former colleague and foe.

I do worry about Vice President Pence. I hope — and in my heart I believe — he’ll find a way to tap-dance around a delicate subject.

‘Don’t call me a celebrity?’ Sorry, bub … you are one!

Michael Avenatti cracks me up.

The lawyer who is pondering a run for the presidency in 2020 has scolded the media for calling him a “celebrity.” He bristled at the idea of the media labeling him something he most certainly has become.

Avenatti represents Stephanie Clifford, aka Stormy Daniels, the porn actor who alleges she and the future president of the United States, Donald Trump, had a fling in a hotel room years ago. The president paid her hush money to keep her quiet, but denies the tryst occurred … go figure.

Avenatti has stepped into the public spotlight by being everywhere, seemingly at once. That, by my definition, makes him a celebrity.

Oh, no, he answers. He is a lawyer with an 18-year career. He has represented “Davids against Goliaths.”

I guess this means that if decides to run for president, he’ll tell us he isn’t a politician.

He then will fit the definition of two terms he doesn’t like.

Too bad, counselor/celebrity and maybe — politician.

I mean, if the shoe fits …

McCain’s magic moment: shutting down Obama critic

Of all the acts of class that the late Sen. John McCain performed, one stands out. It occurred during his failed 2008 campaign for the presidency of the United States.

The Republican from Arizona was conducting a town hall meeting with supporters. One of them, a middle-aged woman, stood up to suggest that Sen. Barack Obama, McCain’s Democratic opponent in that year’s campaign, is a Muslim and couldn’t be trusted to protect Americans.

McCain shut her down immediately. He shook his head and told her Obama is an “American citizen,” a “patriotic American.” He said he and his foe had profound differences in policy, but said they both loved their country.

It’s the kind of response one should expect from a candidate for president, let alone from the actual president. It’s a response we haven’t heard from the current president, who’s fomented the lie about President Obama’s place of birth.

During the Al Smith Memorial Dinner in 2008, Sen. McCain referred to his opponent as his “friend and colleague” in the U.S. Senate. He battled hard for the presidency but didn’t consider his foe to be his enemy.

The man was a champion of what he called “regular order” in the Senate and sought to restore a sense of decorum and dignity in what used to be considered the “World’s Greatest Deliberative Body.”

John McCain left a huge footprint on the American political landscape. He was a gentleman if not always a gentle man.