The first big lie of the Trump administration had to do with crowds and public space. The day after his Jan. 20, 2016 inauguration, President Donald Trump’s official spokesman cited incorrect numbers to back up the president’s claim that “like a million, million and a half people” had showed up to watch his swearing in, despite obvious photographic evidence that the audience for Trump’s event was dwarfed by the estimated 1.8 million who gathered to watch the opening event of the Obama administration. That lie was probably a test, to see how far the president’s press secretary would go to support a false narrative, and ascertain the willingness of the American people to believe claims directly refuted by obvious visual evidence.

At a moment when his administration is trying to wriggle out of imposing any kind of accountability on a friendly yet dictatorial regime that apparently just had a dissident journalist brutally murdered, President Trump decided it would be a good time to go before a crowd of supporters and celebrate a violent assault on an American reporter. Here’s what happened, the Washington Post reported:

According to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Republicans in Washington “are setting in motion their plan to destroy the Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security that seniors and families rely on.” She’s distorting comments by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who actually said that while he would like to see reforms to those programs, they will not happen with Congress and the White House both controlled by Republicans. Republicans aren’t planning to cut Medicare and Social Security.

I was recently online looking at the 2018 “Freedom in the World” report published by Freedom House and came to a grave realization. There is only one country in the Arab world that has been classified as “free.” That nation is Tunisia. Jordan, Morocco and Kuwait come second with a classification of “partly free.” The rest of the countries in the Arab world are classified as “not free.”

In a letter to Madison Grant, eugenicist Charles Davenport wrote: “Can we build a wall high enough around this country as to keep out the cheaper races?” Davenport was speaking of Catholics and Eastern Europeans flooding into the nation at the start of the 20th century but wall-building attitudes remain strong today. People see others who are different from them as a dark threat to be feared.

The 2018 general election has been widely heralded as “the most important election in a generation.” From the climate standpoint, this description is appropriate. While climatologists intensify their warnings that we must decarbonize by 2050, the Trump administration’s every environmental action is decreasing our ability to combat climate change. We will thus compare the climate change portfolio of candidates in several of the major November races.

For those unable and unwilling to wait for Chicken Little’s coming sequel, the United Nations’ latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report provides a heavy helping of unnecessary alarmism and hysteria. The report’s authors warn that “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” are inevitable absent a radical, World War II-level effort to ratchet down fossil-fuel usage to zero by 2050. At a U.S. taxpayer-funded level of $8 billion, the United Nations presumably has an obligation to provide a level-headed accounting of the facts instead of engaging in fear-mongering.

Nearly two weeks ago, journalist Jamal Khashoggi stepped into the consulate of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul. He has not been seen since. The Turkish government has signaled evidence exists connecting Saudi Arabia not only with his disappearance but also with his brutal murder. The Saudis have shown zero evidence or even a plausible argument of innocence in response. Saudi responsibility seems practically irrefutable.

In an interview broadcast Sunday night on CBS, President Trump spectacularly outdid himself in revealing all of his very worst qualities in a compressed time period: the relentless lying; the unabashed sympathy with autocrats and dictators; the gloating, misogynist contempt for Christine Blasey Ford and the millions who saw her as an icon; the rabid xenophobia; and the lack of even minimal regret over the cruelest policies birthed by that xenophobia, such as the family separations resulting in thousands of children locked in cages.

In a speech to New Hampshire Democrats that some speculate is a first step toward a 2020 POTUS bid, actor and activist Alec Baldwin chose provocation over policy by declaring repeatedly that Democrats must “overthrow the government of Donald Trump.” Baldwin, who spoke for less than 20 minutes to an audience of 700 in a Manchester ballroom, was careful to state clearly that the method of “overthrow” was the ballot box.

There are no solutions to complex problems — except when the problem becomes so complex it must have a simple solution. That is the paradox thrown up by global warming and the shattering report of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The report cries out for dramatic, simple remediation of the amount of carbon pumped into the atmosphere every day by industrial society.

If Republican Sen. Ben Sasse is right — he has not recently been wrong about anything important — the nation’s most-discussed political problem is entangled with the least-understood public health problem. The political problem is furious partisanship. The public health problem is loneliness. Sasse’s new book argues that Americans are richer, more informed and more “connected” than ever — and unhappier, more isolated and less fulfilled.

As Democrats seek to gain seats in the House and Senate, an old battle is being waged with new ferocity: To win elections, is it better to nominate full-throated leftists who will embrace Medicare-for-all, propose jobs guarantees and abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement — or more cautious moderates who can peel away center-right Republicans wary of President Donald Trump and his “populist” views?

Late fall lowers my spirits for a lot of reasons, but one of the saddest comes on that dreaded day when it’s time to winterize the motorcycle and put it away till spring. It’s almost a half-century since I bought my first bike, and now the season’s end comes with a little extra wistfulness, as I contemplate that my riding career is about over.

After Sen. Susan Collins announced on the Senate floor Friday that she would cast her deciding vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rose to liken her to another Republican from Maine, Margaret Chase Smith, “the first member of the United States Senate to take on Joseph McCarthy … this demagogue and the tactics that he employed.”

While the nation convulsed through more than two weeks of tumult as the U.S. Senate examined and considered the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, I heard from many people who spoke with absolute certainty. Some were convinced, utterly convinced, that Kavanaugh was falsely accused. Others were just as convinced he was guilty. They saw bright lines and bad motives. Systems of judgment, though — both criminal law and the proceedings involving Kavanaugh — are not black and white. Rather, they’re drawn in grayscale, somewhere on a spectrum between absolutes. And yet we must act on those sometimes subtle gradations.

Texas is a prosperous state, but lawmakers are failing to adequately finance public education and communities and students are suffering the academic, physical and economic consequences. The upcoming legislative session provides a unique opportunity for our state’s elected leaders to right past wrongs, but a preliminary budget request from the Texas Education Agency projects a $3.5 billion decline in state funding over the next few years.

The temperament question came into the heated debate over confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh. The basic idea was that by raising his voice during the final part of his confirmation hearing, discourteously interrupting and confronting senators, and depicting the charges against him as politically motivated, the nominee showed himself to have a character not suitable for a U.S. Supreme Court justice.

Last year, a friend asked if I would be attending an evening celebrating Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas at McLennan Community College. I had decided against it. Besides being busy with the many opinions on this daily page, I personally find Justice Thomas lacking as a member of the high court, paralyzed by rigid ideological fixations and infamous for declining to even question attorneys arguing constitutional cases. He once went 10 years without pressing attorneys with so much as a question. In doing so, he neither confirmed suspicions he might have had nor risked relevant epiphanies that might have enlightened the entire court and nation.

Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s frantic commentary in The Wall Street Journal insisting that he is a fair, impartial judge — and that we should disregard his partisan, unhinged diatribe and non-judicial demeanor during last week’s Senate testimony — serves as some recognition that the partisan wars in which he has taken up arms now threaten the legitimacy of the Supreme Court. Other than denying a seat to an overt partisan such as Kavanaugh, what can be done to recapture at least the illusion that the high court is something more than another blue-vs.-red battlefield?

At a rally in Mississippi on Tuesday, President Trump ridiculed Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony last week to the Senate Judiciary Committee. “‘I had one beer,’” Trump said. “‘How did you get home?’ ‘I don’t remember.’ ‘How’d you get there?’ ‘I don’t remember.’ ‘Where is the place?’ ‘I don’t remember.’ ‘How many years ago was it?’ ‘I don’t know.’ ... ‘What neighborhood was it in?’ ‘I don’t know.’ ‘Where’s the house?’ ‘I don’t know.’ ‘Upstairs, downstairs — where was it?’ ‘I don’t know — but I had one beer. That’s the only thing I remember.’”

Washington Democrats and liberal media outlets have spent so much time on their “search and destroy” mission against Judge Brett Kavanaugh that they have barely been able to keep up with their love affair with Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas. O’Rourke’s race against Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has become the latest heartthrob and cause of the fashionable new left.

Between my junior and senior years in high school, I worked on my uncles’ farms in southern New Jersey. The first day I got to drive an old tractor from one farm to another, except I could not figure out how to stop it as I slowly rolled into the garage at my destination. Luckily, I was going very slow and there was a very sturdy work table at the end of the garage that stopped me. Totally flustered, I backed out and rolled right over one of my uncle’s tool boxes.

Republican Sen. Jeff Flake single-handedly paused Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s controversial Supreme Court nomination when he struck a last-minute deal Friday between Republicans who wanted to push it through, Democrats who wanted an FBI investigation into sexual misconduct claims against Kavanaugh and a handful of senators like Flake who weren’t sure what to do. Because of Flake, the FBI will investigate the allegations for a week, then the Senate will vote, likely with Flake’s approval, on confirming Kavanaugh.

For all its prominence in public health, there’s little real understanding of overeating, being overweight and how these things connect to each other and to illness. A widely circulated piece in the Huffington Post stated the obvious — “Smoking is a behavior, being fat is not” — which apparently needed to be pointed out because these factors so often appear together as the primary reasons to blame people for the high cost of health care.

While 53-year-old Judge Brett Kavanaugh, his reputation in tatters amid mounting if sketchy allegations of sexual assault committed decades ago, was on Capitol Hill Thursday afternoon delivering a blistering defense of himself by lambasting Democrats and allies of the Clintons, 97-year-old Judge Thomas Reavley, an equal on the federal bench (at least at present), was at Baylor Law School in Waco giving an alternately upbeat and melancholic view of the country and Baylor law students’ potential role in it.

The subject was supposed to be the selection of a new justice for the Supreme Court. Instead Thursday’s showdown on Capitol Hill was a raw, scorched-earth confrontation across the nation’s most emotionally wrenching divides. This was men against women, right against left, a cascade of recriminations, explosions of anger, hours of tears and sobs.

If you somehow missed the recent production of “Newsies” by the Waco Civic Theatre, you need to submit to a civic flogging. Speak to anyone fortunate enough to score a ticket for one of the many sold-out performances and you’ll hear nothing but praise for the casting, singing, acting, set design, lighting and, most of all, the intricate and exciting choreography. Highlighted by the delightful characterizations by Joey Tomayo as lead newsie and Karis McMurry as his romantic counterpart, the entire cast — from very young to more experienced — was superlative in conjuring up a time long gone. Not lost in importance: The local talent did it all. Tomayo is a first-grade teacher at Rapoport Academy and McMurry is a local senior in high school!

We didn’t learn much from the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing Thursday. The evidence about whether Judge Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted Professor Christine Blasey Ford when they were teenagers in the early 1980s remains what it was beforehand. The hearings only reinforced some things we already knew.

Walking the streets of Budapest along the banks of the Danube, one is constantly reminded of the glories of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The grand buildings hearken back to an unwieldy political entity that eventually disintegrated in the aftermath of the First World War. Today in Europe, we see another awkward federation — the European Union — under extreme centrifugal forces of its own, threatening to pull apart the dream of unifying the continent.

A Win or lose, Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a Texas Democrat, has serious cojones. He’s running against Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, and running strongly, in a state where guns are regarded by many as a birthright — and he is advocating not just minor gun controls but a complete ban on the sale of semiautomatic assault rifles such as the AR-15. His sensible stance has been predictably attacked by Texas Republicans, who will use it to paint him as out of step with “Texas values.”

The urbanization of America has had one serious consequence: Too many city residents fail to grasp the significant challenges facing agriculture, including the devastating impact of drought, floods, water shortages, tariffs, regulations and disease on farming and ranching. This is no place for amateurs — and anyone who claims to be earnest and concerned about agriculture today has no option but to vote to elect Kim Olson as state agriculture commissioner.

The 2018 general election has been widely heralded as “the most important election in a generation.” From the climate standpoint, this description is appropriate. While climatologists intensify their warnings that we must decarbonize by 2050, the Trump administration’s every environmental action is decreasing our ability to combat climate change. We will thus compare the climate change portfolio of candidates in several of the major November races.

I was recently online looking at the 2018 “Freedom in the World” report published by Freedom House and came to a grave realization. There is only one country in the Arab world that has been classified as “free.” That nation is Tunisia. Jordan, Morocco and Kuwait come second with a classification of “partly free.” The rest of the countries in the Arab world are classified as “not free.”

Flashback

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

Just over two weeks ago, the Art Center of Waco found itself displaced. The good news is we are safe; the bad news is we are homeless. A structural engineer contracted by McLennan Community College delivered the shocking news that our beloved home of more than 40 years was structurally unsound. Art Center staff was asked to close the building to the public immediately and to vacate as soon as possible.

In early 2016, while researching some of the most popular U.S. secession groups online, I stumbled across one of the Russian-controlled Facebook accounts that were then pulling in Americans by the thousands. At the time, I was writing on Russia’s relationship with American secessionists from Texas, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. These were people who had hitched flights to Moscow to swap tactics, to offer advice and to find support. They had found succor in the shadow of the Kremlin.

The lobotomization of the Republican Party appeared complete last year when the very same GOP paladins who had denounced Donald Trump as a “lunatic trying to get ahold of nuclear weapons” (Marco Rubio), as a bigot who was guilty of “the textbook definition of a racist comment” (Paul Ryan) and as a “narcissist,” “serial philanderer,” “pathological liar” and “bully” (Ted Cruz) nevertheless endorsed him for the most powerful position in the world.