Jonathan Baker

News Curator

Jonathan Baker recently returned to the High Plains from New York City, where he was the assistant to the editor-in-chief at W. W. Norton & Co. At Norton, Baker worked with a wide variety of authors, including Neil deGrasse Tyson, Michael Lewis and Larry McMurtry. During his time in publishing, Baker worked on books that were shortlisted for a National Book Award and a Booker Prize, and Norton was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in History.

A former professional comedian, Baker has performed all over the United States and appeared on NBC’s Last Comic Standing. He holds an undergraduate degree in English with a History minor from West Texas A&M University and a master’s degree in the humanities from the University of Chicago. At UChicago, Baker focused on American literature but studied a wide range of topics, from architectural history to 19th-century landscape painting to the history of the natural sciences. His master’s thesis was on glaciers and ice age theory in the Victorian Era.

When not curating stories for High Plains Public Radio, Baker writes advertisements for publications like Esquire and Car & Driver. He also writes crime novels. Baker just finished his fourth book, a murder story set on the barren Texas plains.

Baker is the father of a 12-year-old boy, Inigo. They live in Canyon, Texas, in a tiny wooden house, where they watch a lot of cheesy old horror movies.   

Creative Commons

In Texas, when community college students are required to take remedial classes to get up to speed, those students often don’t make it far.

Now, as The Texas Tribune reports, the state is initiating a major overhaul of the community college remedial education system. The hope is that the new system will improve the odds of graduating for students who struggle in the beginning. The current statistics are dire. Only 15 percent of students who take a remedial math course end up passing a single college-level math class. 

Matthias Zomer / Creative Commons

Oklahoma lawmakers are blaming President Donald Trump’s White House for rising healthcare premiums in the Sooner State.

As The Hill reports, officials are charging the administration with missing a deadline to approve a key waiver for the state under the Affordable Care Act.

Public Domain

A White House nominee to sit on the bench of the Texas Federal Court in the Eastern District is drawing fire for controversial comments.

Drenaline / Wikimedia Commons

Xcel energy is seeking approval for new wind farms in the Texas Panhandle. If the plans are approved, the new turbines—along with a new farm planned for New Mexico, would generate 40 percent of the region’s power needs by 2021.

In an editorial for North American Wind Power, Betsy Lillian says the new project would power almost half a million homes. She attributes the viability of the project to Xcel’s previous investment in a high-voltage transmission network in the Texas Panhandle.

Schellack / Wikimedia Commons

The Roth family, founders of Beef Products Incorporated, announced this week that they have established a $10 million fund to benefit former employees.

The Amarillo Globe-News reports that the money will go toward helping communities affected by plant closures. In 2012, BPI laid off approximately 750 employees and closed three production facilities, including plants in Amarillo and Garden City.

amboo who? / Flickr Creative Commons

A new federal education law will give Oklahoma more freedom and responsibility when it comes to fixing its failing schools, reports StateImpact.

Joshua Doubek / Wikimedia Commons

Financial analyst Frank Holmes recently wrote an editorial in Forbes magazine praising the ingenuity of Texas fracking companies. It’s only due to this ingenuity and efficiency, he wrote, that West Texas producers can remain profitable, even though oil prices are still hovering around the range of $50 a barrel.

Hellorawr / Wikimedia Commons

Midland, Texas, is in the midst of an oil boom. Homes are selling for over $1 million. Real estate prices shot up almost 9 percent in the past year, and permits for new construction climbed 76 percent.

Serge Melki / Wikimedia Commons

Oklahoma’s economic plans were thrown into a tailspin last month, after the state Supreme Court ruled a proposed tobacco fee unconstitutional. The fee was slated to bring in over $215 million to the state coffers, and go a long way toward plugging Oklahoma’s $900 million budget shortfall.

Public Domain

Over the past two decades, Texas Democrats have lost 123 consecutive statewide races. That’s  the longest losing streak of any state party in the country. But now, as Mother Jones reports, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel.

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The State Fair of Texas gets underway next week in Dallas, and every year the list of edible oddities seems to get stranger.

And that’s no mean feat, as it will be hard to top last year’s deep-fried Doritos bacon mozzarella cheese stick.

US Geological Survey / Wikimedia Commons

Alison Stine hails from a tiny town in southeastern Ohio that holds an unfortunate interest for those in the High Plains energy industry.

Due to its remoteness, Stine’s town has become a repository for the toxic waste created by out-of-state fracking operations.

Public Domain

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus has been drawing fire all year from far-right lawmakers, including members of the so-called “Texas Freedom Caucus” in the State House of Representatives, who have called for Straus’s job.

But, as The Texas Tribune reports, Straus is taking the calls for his ouster in stride. Brushing aside complaints that he’s too moderate, Straus welcomed all challengers.

“I don’t own this job,” he said.

Environmental Protection Agency / Public Domain

A new oil and gas study suggests that hundreds of traditional vertical oil wells in Oklahoma have been damaged by more recently drilled horizontal wells, dug for the purpose of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.”

Albert Mock / Flickr Creative Commons

It has now been 10 years since Amarillo’s Western Plaza was demolished, and The Amarillo Globe-News has published a brief remembrance of what was for many years Amarillo’s largest shopping mall.

In fact, upon its construction in 1968, Western Plaza was said to be the biggest mall between Denver and Dallas. The 400,000 square foot shopping mall’s first tenant was Montgomery Ward.

Baytownbert / Wikimedia Commons

It’s been called the “Texas Miracle,” the notion that the Texas economy can weather any storm and will continue to sail smoothly while other states flounder.

But now, according to a prominent expert on the Texas economy, that miracle may have come to an end.

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Texas House Speaker Joe Straus has asked the State Preservation Board to remove a plaque in the State Capitol that honors the Confederacy, reports The Austin American-Statesman. Straus and other critics have charged that the plaque distorts history in order to glorify the Confederacy.

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The Oklahoma Education Department has released a new plan to address the ongoing woes of the state’s education system, reports Oklahoma Watch.

The goals of the plan include reducing the state’s recent reliance on emergency certified teachers and raising the state’s high school graduation rate to 90 percent. The plan will also try to ease hunger in schools, and force underfunded public schools that have gone to a four-day school week to fix their calendars.

Wikimedia Commons

Texas Senator Kel Seliger formally announced his bid for re-election this week, reports The Amarillo Globe-News.

First elected to the state Senate in 2004, Seliger says he is particularly interested in maintaining local control for Texas communities, after the Texas Legislature recently passed a number of bills aimed at weakening the power of Texas municipalities.

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Last month, Amarillo’s Jenkins Chapel celebrated its 91st anniversary. The little church was packed with visiting worshippers from nearby churches like Johnson Chapel and Mount Zion.

USDA / Wikimedia Commons

A new law will allow Texas school districts to store and distribute leftover food from the cafeteria.

Wallethub

After the Affordable Care Act became law, insurance rates in America dipped to historic lows. But those uninsured rates are on the rise again, thanks to uncertainty in the insurance markets. And uninsured rates can vary wildly across states.

The personal finance website Wallethub recently set out to find which states had the lowest rates of uninsured citizens.

UTexas / Wikimedia Commons

The rising population of high school students in the Lone Star State has led the University of Texas in Austin to further restrict its admission policy.

As The Dallas Morning News reports, students hoping for automatic admission to UT-Austin will now need to be in the top 6 percent of their graduating class.

U.S. Marine Corps / Wikimedia Commons

Opiates continue to ravage rural communities in Oklahoma, and the question of how to combat the problem is expected to dominate the 2018 legislative session.

As Oklahoma Watch reports, the state is doing some things right, but in other areas the response to the drug epidemic has lagged behind other states. Overdoses from methamphetamine and heroin have increased in recent years. In fact, last year, a record 899 Oklahomans died from drug overdoses.

Public Domain

Last week, Kansas took in a few dozen Texans who were fleeing Hurricane Harvey.

But, as The Wichita Eagle reports, these refugees were of the four-legged variety. In the wake of the devastating storm, three vans filled with bedraggled dogs and cats left Houston, heading for the Sunflower State.

The animals had been housed in Texas shelters. When the hurricane hit, they were basically left homeless. Some had been in the shelters since April.

Levin C. Handy / Public Domain

The Amarillo Independent School District has taken up the question of whether to rename Robert E. Lee elementary, on the city’s north side.

As The Amarillo Globe-News reports, the AISD Board of Trustees will meet with attorneys today to consider whether it might be time for a change.

James Johnson / Wikimedia Commons

Oklahoma lawmakers are already seeing warning signs that they’ll be facing stiff competition during the 2018 election.

As Oklahoma Watch reports, as of last month, 13 candidates had already announced their plans to challenge incumbent Oklahoma legislators.

Theresa Thompson / Flickr Creative Commons

Back in 1983, a unique law was passed requiring high school principals in Texas to register eligible students to vote. Thirty-four years later, few principals are complying with the law. And, as The Texas Tribune reports, voter registration is at a historic low in the Lone Star State.

Bureau of Land Management

The hydraulic fracturing process of extracting oil and natural gas—better known as “fracking”—requires that millions of pounds of sand be pumped down each shale well.

For years, Texas fracking operations have used Northern White Sand, mined in Wisconsin, for their wells.

But now, as Forbes reports, cheaper oil prices have producers looking for ways to cut costs, and many Texas fracking wells are looking for sand a bit closer to home.

supremecourt.gov

The State of Texas’s recent losing streak in Federal courts came to an end this week, as the U.S. Supreme Court decided that Texas does not need to redraw Congressional voting districts before next year’s elections.

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