Evangelist Billy Graham, one of my few heroes, almost made it to 100! He died on Wednesday, just months shy of his centenary birthday. Unfortunately, I believe, the public will not remember him as he really was because of the prominence of his son Franklin, who recently spoke in Waco. Franklin is a leading spokesman for the new version of the so-called “Religious Right” that many of us view as less generous than the Graham we remember.

The latest school shootings in Florida exemplify two major concerns demonstrated by gun-violence data. First, we have a leak in the background-check system that allows plum-crazy people to get guns legally. Second, we’re failing to adequately defend gun-free zones. If you wish the lives of dead children to have any lasting meaning, do something about these problems!

The Constitution requires that, upon assumption of the office, a president swear as follows: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Let me define my ground at the very beginning of this reflection. I am not against the right to own guns for the purpose of hunting nor, in most cases, for self-defense. There is a lot of difference, it seems to me, between owning a gun in rural areas of Texas where snakes and varmints abound than there is in the suburbs of Waco. I hunted as a teenager and enjoyed it. So don’t paint me into the corner that interprets any effort at gun control as meaning that I want the government to come get your guns.

I feel the need to offer a response to Trib opinion editor Bill Whitaker’s Feb. 1 column, “Will GOP memo caper on FBI make your toes curl?”, on Republican Congressman Bill Flores, his concerns about the integrity of the FBI and Department of Justice and, finally, a conservative constituent who fears Flores and other Republicans are attacking federal law enforcement in order to rally around their president and party.

The March 6 primary election is right around the corner with early voting beginning Tuesday. One issue fellow McLennan County voters will do well to examine carefully is fundamental honesty and integrity in government. At the most basic level, we don’t want our elected leaders putting their fingers into the public treasury — outright corruption. That goes without saying. But we should demand even more. We should want — and expect — the execution of all functions of our elected government to be consistent with the rules of the road. Citizens are expected to obey the law; so must our public officials. They should set shining examples of scrupulous adherence to the law and principles of integrity.

I had a little time to think on a recent Saturday morning as I drove across Waco to the magnificent structure known as Second Missionary Baptist Church. I had visited there previously and knew the route but this particular Saturday my mind was focused on the solemn purpose of the visit: the funeral service for a grand lady, Lovie Taylor, 91, whom I had known as a youngster many years ago.

The nation’s top intelligence officers warned Congress this week that Russia is continuing its efforts to target the 2018 elections. This should come as no surprise: A few months ago, the Department of Homeland Security notified 21 states that hackers had targeted their election systems in 2016. Yet Congress still has not passed legislation to meaningfully address election cybersecurity.

Matt Bellina is a 34-year-old Navy veteran in the prime of his life. He’s a husband and a father of two young children. But just a few years ago, he was diagnosed with ALS, a fatal disorder that attacks the nervous system. There is no cure, but experimental treatment could prolong his life. Unfortunately, FDA laws prohibit Matt from being able to try experimental medication and treatment.

The safe betting is on Republican Congressman Bill Flores winning re-election in the conservative 17th Congressional District, notwithstanding analysts’ predictions that Democrats have a decent shot of retaking the House of Representatives after more than a year of Donald Trump as president and a fair number of Republican lawmakers retiring from competitive seats. The two Democrats now vying for the chance to take on Flores come fall are aided by campaign themes that suggest the Democratic Party might be more than the party of LGBT rights, pro-choice and Dreamers.

The immigration free-for-all that starts in Congress this week will test the character of House Speaker Paul Ryan, the courage of Republican moderates, the cunning of President Trump and the sensibilities of the Democratic left. Odds are any deal will fall apart and all of the above will be losers. Washington will prove to be as dysfunctional as the public perceives.

In an impromptu speech to a crowd that gathered outside the White House on George Washington’s birthday in 1866, President Andrew Johnson rambled on for more than an hour, referred to himself 210 times (a rate of about three times per minute) and said Republican lawmakers Charles Sumner and Thaddeus Stevens were at least as treasonous as the leaders of the just-defeated Confederacy.

A December 2017 Newsweek/Wall Street Journal poll asserted that more than 40 percent of Americans believe grounds exist to hold impeachment hearings for President Trump. Four resolutions have been introduced in the U.S. House calling for impeachment, while a criminal probe is underway of possible ties between his 2016 presidential campaign and the Russian government. It all makes for a good time to pause and consider what impeachment actually involves.

For decades, the Republican Party has genuflected at the altar of small government. It has waged war against the Great Society, even the New Deal. The arguments ranged from constitutional (citing the commerce clause and the Ninth and 10th amendments) to philosophical (libertarians insist active government is a threat to freedom) to economic (decrying regulations and spending that divert private-sector resources).

Millions of patients suffering from painful and chronic medical conditions could find it easier to access effective and more affordable treatment options as federal health officials take steps to grow a nascent prescription-drug sector known as biosimilars. For Texas, which spends more on health care than all but two states, a robust biosimilars marketplace could have enormous benefits for residents in need of care while reining in ever-increasing health-care spending.

Amazon’s choice of a location for its second headquarters has led to much eye-of-the-beholder appraisal of the relative positives and negatives of the 20 cities on the most recent “short list” released by Amazon. Among the several factors Amazon is weighing that is frequently cited as a black mark against the two remaining Texas candidates, Austin and Dallas, is the conservative social and political climate of the state. As the Boston Globe put it in a brief review of the candidates’ pros and cons: “A string of socially conservative state laws could turn off a company that wants a good ‘cultural fit’ for its employees.”

Kudos to SpaceX again for Tuesday’s successful maiden flight of the Falcon Heavy rocket. It was launched successfully about 2:45 p.m. Central time, followed by landings of the two side boosters back at Cape Canaveral and successful injection by the second stage of SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk’s beloved red Tesla Roadster into solar orbit, one now reportedly extending beyond Mars. The center core booster apparently crashed into the sea near the recovery barge — the only flaw in the mission so far.

The long tradition of the House Intelligence Committee — heretofore an island of bipartisan protection of national security within an ever more partisan Congress — has become collateral damage in the quest to protect President Trump from the conclusion of the Mueller investigation. Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray urged Trump not to allow the public release of an inaccurate memo that recklessly reveals classified national security sources and methods.

The point of the memo written by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes and released Friday was supposed to be to expose corruption at the highest levels of the FBI. But what the memo actually did — albeit surely not intentionally — was exactly the opposite. In a brief 3½ pages, Nunes managed to confirm that the investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible ties with Russia has a very solid basis — and that Special Counsel Robert Mueller must keep looking into the case.

As interesting as the “Nunes memo” is, everything it reveals occurred before Robert Mueller was appointed. How does anything in the memo impact the validity of the special counsel’s investigation? Well, it matters that the pre-Mueller Justice Department investigation was prompted by anti-Trump, pro-Hillary partisans who used U.S. law enforcement in an effort to derail the Trump campaign. So, determining what Mueller knew and when he knew it is an essential and relevant question. When did Mueller realize he was at the helm of an investigation tainted by illegitimate roots? If he doesn’t think it matters, he needs to explain why.

The U.S. personal savings rate fell to its lowest level in more than a decade, setting off a firestorm of speculation about the implications. For 2017, the annual savings rate was 3.4 percent, down from 4.9 percent in 2016 and worse than it’s been since 2007. Late last year, savings dipped to 2.4 percent, the lowest monthly level since fall 2005.

Just after President Trump made his disparaging remarks about limiting immigration from “s---hole” countries (a statement now confirmed by both Democrats and Republicans in the room with him at the time), I received the results of a DNA ethnicity test that revealed, much to my amazement (and utter delight), that I have ancestors from Nigeria — yes, one of Trump’s “s---hole” countries. As surprising as that result was for me, my guess is that my ethnic mix is not that unusual for someone named Burleson who is a fifth-generation Texan. On both my paternal (Burleson) and maternal (Blanchette) sides are great-great-great-grandparents — who I can identify by name — who migrated to Texas in the early 19th century. So I wasn’t surprised that my DNA test estimated that about 75 percent of my ancestors came from England, Wales and France. I have always marked “white” or “Anglo-American” on the demographic forms I’m occasionally asked to fill out.

President Trump once boasted that his base was so loyal that he “could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters.” Now he’s putting that claim to the test with his immigration proposal. In his State of the Union address Tuesday, Trump offered to support not just legal status but an actual path to citizenship for nearly 2 million illegal immigrants — the “Dreamers” who were brought to the United States as children through no fault of their own — if Democrats would agree to fund his border wall and limit chain migration.

In a meeting with two local pastors in 2016, our discussion turned to politics. Both church leaders passionately defended their decisions to vote for Donald Trump and encourage their congregations to do so as well. While they acknowledged embarrassment at his language, immorality, racist tendencies, ethnocentrism and abrasive lifestyle, for them the Republican candidate embraced basic evangelical principles the Democratic candidate did not.

Recent history confirms beyond doubt two truths about social media and “alternative facts”: The former has not only unleashed something closely resembling “road rage” onto the digital highway on which too many of us spend way too much time but also has encouraged and hastened the spread of outrageously fabricated or conveniently exaggerated “news.” So poisoned are many of us in our political passions that we lustfully embrace and post what by all logic should arouse skepticism.

When President Donald Trump delivered his first State of the Union address Tuesday night, he faced a critical challenge. Despite a year of achievements — including historic tax and regulatory reform, confirmation of conservative judges, elimination of the Islamic State’s physical caliphate, repeal of the unpopular Obamacare individual mandate, a booming stock market, a growing economy and unemployment near 45-year lows — Trump’s approval rating on the eve of his address was just 38 percent.

What a remarkable contrast: President Trump was in command at Davos talking about economic growth and prosperity, while House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and disgraced former Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz were babbling and belittling thousand-dollar bonuses and increased take-home pay for American workers.

As a right-leaning libertarian, my heart goes out to liberal pundits right now. They face the unenviable task of explaining to the Democratic base that they’re probably not going to get very much of what they want on immigration. This is going to be a deeply unpleasant experience and I feel their pain. I have walked a mile in their shoes and, boy, were they uncomfortable.

The front pages and chyrons are focused on the fact that FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is leaving the agency. It’s newsworthy as it comes in the midst of the Russia-Trump-campaign criminal investigation, presidential tweets critical of McCabe and reports that Trump’s first meaningful meeting with McCabe involved Trump asking for whom he voted. Did I mention McCabe is a lawyer?

There are rare times when we have what might be called an “Ah, ha” moment… a moment when clarity magnificently triumphs over what might otherwise be an “OK” slice of life. Such was my “Ah, ha” moment while absentmindedly listening to the recent Golden Globes award presentation and paying the monthly bills.

Since his very first election in the tea-party tidal wave of 2010, McLennan County Precinct 4 Commissioner Ben Perry has consistently impressed us as a bold leader and consensus builder. Rather than ducking problems or applying bumper-sticker slogans to complicated challenges facing the county and constituents, he routinely has rolled up his sleeves, sounded out his fellow commissioners and constituents for input and offered practical and thoughtful solutions. We strongly recommend Ben Perry be re-elected to a third term on the county commissioners court.

Flashback

What were we talking about one year ago? Take a look back.

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry will face many challenges when he takes over the Department of Energy, from the bureaucracy, environmentalists and the media. DOE, whose proposed 2017 budget is $32.5 billion, is responsible for several energy-related tasks. Regulating the fossil-fuel industries isn’t one of them. Those responsibilities primarily belong to the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of the Interior.