It’s déjà vu all over again. Within days, the world will turn its attention to Helsinki, Finland, where a summit between Russia and the United States will take place — a summit that will, in my opinion, be heavy on rhetoric, light on substance. Just as with the recent U.S.-North Korea summit in Singapore, we shouldn’t expect much.

What is the difference between an illegal immigrant and a refugee? In some cases, the only difference would seem to be perspective. When we Americans look around the world at people escaping extremely dangerous living conditions in one country, moving to another one without formal permission by the host country, we call them “refugees.” When we Americans look at people escaping extremely dangerous living conditions in their countries, moving to our country without formal permission, we call them “illegal immigrants.” When people around the world look at them, they call them “refugees.” Fortunately, some people in our own country also call them refugees rather than illegal immigrants.

Cut through rhetoric for and against immigration law and you find three separate parts of the general problem: temporary guest workers, refugees seeking asylum and undocumented children including but not limited to those who qualify for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Before we succumb to more debate about the latest Republican failure to pass immigration reform (actually twice last month) and the Trump administration policy of separating children from immigrant parents, let’s study up on these three categories.

In the fall of 1956 my Baylor University professor was discussing the Cold War between Russia and the United States. After class, I approached Dr. Ralph Lynn and made what seems to me now an incredibly naive comment, even for a college sophomore. “The thing is,” I said, “the Russians know that the United States is not going to attack them. But we don’t know that they will not attack us.”

Today, three days before our own national birthday, Canada celebrates its 151st National Day. Yet relations between our neighboring giants haven’t been worse since the 1850s when the United States and Canada simmered over the boundary between the state of Washington and what was then known as British North America, later British Columbia. Back then they more often than not settled matters like gentlemen.

Shortly after Donald Trump was elected our president, I wrote a column expressing my faith that our constitutional form of government was designed to prevent any one particular person from taking control of our government. I expressed confidence that the checks and balances written into our Constitution would enable Congress to act as a counterbalance to any excesses or corruption in the executive branch — particularly important given a chief executive who, for all his possible good intentions, seemed ignorant of the Constitution.

At our Texas borderlands, U.S. officials under executive orders from the Trump administration have been separating minor children from their parents at a rate of about 48 children per day. And while the president, after much resistance, reversed his orders Wednesday, many citizens express anxiety about any statement from him till it is fully vetted and implemented and thousands of families are reunited.

June is high season for weddings and Supreme Court opinions. The former are invariably memorable for a lifetime, whereas the latter may quickly be consigned to perpetual obscurity. This term’s blockbuster decision about wedding celebrations — vindicating the claim of Jack Phillips, the Colorado-based wedding cake artist — is now being dismissed in various quarters as a jurisprudential nothing-burger. All the Colorado Civil Rights Commission needed to do, it is said, was be nicer and more civil in rendering its “thou must serve all customers” mandate. By in effect vehemently condemning Phillips’ faith journey, the court concluded, the state agency had transgressed the bounds of tolerant discourse in a pluralistic society.

A letter from a grandmother of 10 to an advice column caught my eye recently. The grandmother lamented that none of her grandchildren bothered to acknowledge her on Mother’s Day. Now, given the fact that requiring grandchildren to contact their grandmothers on their special day might diminish the value of such contact, one would hope grandchildren might still be more sensitive and, of their own free will, be in touch. Must a child’s love and attention be centered only on his or her parents?

Can an American president be indicted? Can he pardon with impunity? Refuse to answer a prosecutor’s questions? Do the answers to these questions lie in legal precedents? Historical practices? The resolution is in something more fundamental: a decision on whether we have a president or a king.

Richard Painter is not your typical Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, even in my idiosyncratic home of Minnesota. For one thing, he is a Republican, or at least has been for almost all of his life. He served in the George W. Bush administration, in fact, as the chief ethics lawyer. On many issues, he holds conservative positions one might expect from a lifelong Republican who now works as a corporate law professor. Yet he might win, and it would be good for us all if he does.

If you’re reading this column in Waco, the odds are very good that you wish to take some action to combat anthropogenic climate change. I make this bold assertion because of the results of a recent Yale University poll: 54 percent of McLennan County residents believe that global warming is already harming U.S. citizens, while 64 percent believe that future generations will be harmed.

Hopefully, veterans spent part of the long Memorial Day weekend reflecting on the ultimate sacrifice made by fellow service members killed on the battlefield protecting our freedoms and way of life. For this, I am forever grateful. To fully grasp the significance of that solemn duty, we must understand that no one joined the military to die. For some, it was patriotic duty. For some, it was a family tradition, a heritage of serving. For some, it was the law by virtue of the draft.

Having never taken a monumental interest in the British Royal Family, I admit I wasn’t overly interested in awaking at 3 a.m. to watch the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. The idea of losing some sleep to even activate the television never entered my mind. The thought my invitation to the wedding never arrived contributed to my lack of interest even more.

Scott Pruitt is in my estimation the worst Environmental Protection Agency administrator ever. I base this on two things: As one supposedly dedicated to President Trump’s mission of draining the swamp, he’s instead wasted public monies on personal perks. Second, he’s obviously a tool of industry with the express goal of deregulating everything, no matter the facts, no matter the safety consequences.

With some Republicans supporting the addition of drug-testing as a requirement for food-stamp beneficiaries at the very same time some NRA champions support decriminalizing marijuana’s use for leisure purposes, the issue of drugs in America remains alive and well. And while drug-testing was not part of the farm bill that Democrats and far-right Republicans torpedoed this month, it may figure into the mix when revived.

Not long ago, I rediscovered a worn, first-edition copy of J. Frank Dobie’s “A Texan In England.” The book, a gift from my late mother-in-law, is a collection of essays and observations on British life by the legendary Texas folklorist from his 1944 stint as a lecturer in American history (and interpreter of all things Texan) at Cambridge University’s Emmanuel College in England.

Billy gloated over the price we’d paid for the 8-foot fluorescent light tubes for our church sign. He was frugal (to phrase it nicely) and triumphant when he struck a bargain. We had reminded the counter salesperson we qualified for a discount since we were a church and sales tax exempt and due a bulk rate price since we wanted 24 lights, enough to last a long time.

The number of job openings in the United States has topped 6 million for several months now, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, up about a half-million from a year ago and the highest the country has ever seen. Although the long years of high unemployment following the Great Recession make this welcome news, the United States may face major difficulties if unemployment drops too far or too fast. A certain amount of friction is needed to allow the economy to function.

The fifth anniversary of the West fertilizer plant explosion has now passed into history with excellent coverage by the press regarding the town’s recovery. That recovery is now said to be complete and is a testimony to the people of West and all who rallied to help them. Yet a much closer look should be taken at the material at the very root of not only the great taxpayer and business expense in West’s resurrection but the devastating loss of 15 cherished lives, including 12 first responders.

With his fourth exercise of executive clemency power, President Donald Trump has once again chosen to favor someone (Lewis “Scooter” Libby, chief of staff to former vice president Dick Cheney) who is connected and powerful. Meanwhile, none of the deserving federal prisoners with pending petitions — including many serving narcotics sentences that are now broadly condemned — have received a similar benefit.

Climate science has clearly determined that to maintain a livable planet the mean global temperature increase above pre-industrial levels must be limited to 2 degrees Celsius through rapid reduction of worldwide greenhouse-gas emissions. In the United States, the largest sources of emissions are electricity generation and transportation. In a previous Trib column I reviewed hybrid and battery electric cars. In this column I will discuss rooftop solar, using photovoltaic or PV cells, in Central Texas, incorporating my personal experience of 27 months.

Nostra culpa. We’ve given sparse support to the Trump administration since Donald captured the White House. His policies: incoherent. His character: fundamentally flawed. His leadership: divisive and corrosive. His appointees: corrupt and inept. Each tweet brings us a chirp closer to complete and utter catastrophe. It’s like a real-life episode of “24,” a race against the clock between nuclear war, economic meltdown and criminal indictments.

President Eisenhower once remarked: “The urgent things in life are seldom important and the important things in life are seldom urgent.” We’re all busy, but tonight many of us will set aside urgent tasks to attend a Holocaust Remembrance Service at Temple Rodef Sholom, 1717 N. New Road, beginning at 7. Deuteronomy 4:9 is the theme this year: “Take heed lest you forget the things which your eyes have seen and teach them to your children and your children’s children.”

A great and varied crowd enlivened Saturday’s March for Our Lives rally in Heritage Square. I was delighted that students had worked with others to organize this event. I was surprised there weren’t more teenagers and parents, but, quite frankly, I suspect people in Waco are sometimes afraid to show what they think and feel because of what they fear is the dominant culture and opinion. And that fear might go in either direction.

A verse in the Hebrew Bible explains that “A good name is better than riches.” All of us know someone in our life who defies easy description because they are special, unique, magical, delightful. And when we lose such folks, we often hear it said that their name will forever remain golden in our memories. This is more true of some than others.

In their March 22 column here, fellow Trib contributors David Gallagher and David Schleicher described the conclusion of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation in apocalyptic terms, variously referring to it as a “Category 5 storm,” a “constitutional crisis” and even possibly as “a second civil war” or “the sunset of democracy.” M.C. Hammer was quoted at length.

Six months ago, an American patriot and friend of Israel, retired Army General Vernon Lewis, invited Alice and me to accompany him as his guests on a 10-day trip to Israel. With our 30 new friends, including the former U.S. military commander in Iraq, several billionaires, a former NFL football player (Minnesota Vikings) and an immigrant family from Ecuador, we landed on March 1 at Ben-Gurion Airport, visited the haunting Yad Vashem (the Holocaust Museum) in Jerusalem, then headed north to settle into our quarters at a Christian retreat in Tiberias overlooking the beautiful shores of the Sea of Galilee.

If civic-minded locals are expected to know anything about prehistoric behemoths, it’s that the Columbian mammoths that once favored our parts aren’t dinosaurs. Millions of years passed between the last of the great dinosaurs and the ice age in which mammoths flourished. Yet when tourists visited the Waco Mammoth National Monument this past Fourth of July, one asked a familiar question: Which came first, the mammoths or the dinosaurs?


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

Ought we to compare principled opposition to gay marriage to the racism of our ancestors? According to Ashley Bean Thornton (“One day we will be ashamed,” July 6), the answer is yes. She wrote: “I believe a generation from now we straight people will feel just as ashamed at having tried to deny gay people the right to marry as we white people feel now at having tried to deny black people the right to vote and to be treated equally and fairly.”

Till well into my 17th year, I was a hardcore, remember-the-Alamo, redneck kid. Hispanic and Anglo cultures scraped and ground against each other along a fault line called the Carlsbad Highway, sending shockwaves of distrust through the little town I grew up in: Pecos, Texas. Anglos lived west of the highway; Hispanics east. Except to go to school or work, few had the courage to cross the wall the Carlsbad Highway represented.

With newly arrived Justice Neil Gorsuch joining in the majority, the U.S. Supreme Court struck a mighty blow for religious freedom shortly before Independence Day in the closely watched church playground case, Trinity Lutheran v. Comer. Speaking through Chief Justice John Roberts, the high court held in a 7-2 decision that the Show-Me State had violated the First Amendment’s guarantee of “free exercise of religion” by excluding a church school from participating in the state’s playground-safety program.