There are a lot of important things we’re talking about in national politics these days. My law school classmate, Brett Kavanaugh, has been nominated to the Supreme Court and the usual (and appropriate) attention is being given to his record. Trade and international tariffs are a hot issue. So, of course, is the ongoing investigation into Russian influence on our elections.

A year ago this weekend, carrying tiki torches, Confederate battle flags and banners, tens of thousands of neo-Nazi, alt-right and white supremacists gathered from 35 states across America for a massive rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Anti-Nazi and anti-fascist counter-protestors clashed with them. Many were severely beaten. On the final day of the rally, a white supremacist launched his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one, wounding 20 others.

Much has been said over the past two years about the “coarsening of political discourse” in the United States, lamenting the devolution from discussing policy differences to name-calling and even character assassination. Traditionally, we have looked to our political leaders to inspire and remind us of the higher values of democracy and what it means to universally cherish life, liberty and the pursuit of prosperity — the original meaning of “happiness” in 1776. But few would disagree with the observation that public political conversation has become more polarized and confrontational.

Is there anything more hopeful and full of promise than brand new school supplies? The smell of a new box of colors? A sharpened pencil full of letters and words and pictures and numbers waiting to be set free? A bright, clean spiral notebook ready to be filled with ideas, dreams, problems and even scribbles about who “hearts” who “4-evah,” and drawings of houses and families and fast cars and rockets and dinosaurs?

Every minute, 24 hours a day, one dump truck of plastic waste enters our oceans. Let me repeat that. Every minute, 365 days a year, one dump truck of plastic waste enters our oceans. This shocking statistic broadcasts the fact that we are experiencing a global plastic emergency. And at our current rate of pollution, plastic will outweigh fish in the oceans by 2050.

President Donald Trump is about to set out on a European summer vacation. Meeting with HRH Queen Elizabeth (or at least Prime Minister Theresa May)? Lunch with NATO frenemies? A chance to renew the bromance with Vladimir Putin? All on the agenda. Putting together our combined 50 years of experience in public relations, lobbying, runway scares and crossing the pond, we offer Donald these helpful tips and policy proposals.

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.

Ordinarily, we’d say it’s time to celebrate last week’s good news about four long-troubled Waco Independent School District campuses’ making sufficient academic progress to forestall threat of state-mandated closure. But Waco ISD Superintendent A. Marcus Nelson is right: The time for celebrating is short with students returning to classes this week — and whatever mix of solution and resolution so wonderfully worked for these campuses and neighborhoods must now be refined (and bottled if possible) as the new school year ensues.

Flashback

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

A few weeks ago I attended a welcome and “get to know you” reception for our new Waco ISD Superintendent, Marcus Nelson. The event, sponsored by the Waco NAACP and the local chapter of educator sorority Phi Delta Kappa Inc. was a terrific success. Peaches Henry, NAACP president, told me they had put out 50 chairs before the event — by the time Nelson rose to speak they needed 200. Nelson made some fans for himself that night. His introductory speech was masterful: full of humor, passion, challenge and confidence. His speech wasn’t exactly a sermon, but there were plenty of “amens” from the congregation as he shared key elements of his educational philosophy.

Were you in church last Sunday? If so, perhaps you heard your pastor speak out against the false equivalency narrative of “both sides” in the Charlottesville incidents of Aug. 11 and 12. The testimony of Christians, including many clergy, who bore witness to the actual events as they occurred at a rally organized by white supremacists in North Carolina is clear: There was one side that brought an ideology of evil, hate, bigotry and murder to the public square.