Sunday, April 30, 2017

My Twenty-Eight Cents Worth

by Pa Rock

I am well insured.  I have Medicare, Parts A, B, and D, which covers a big portion of my medical needs including hospitalization, doctor visits, and prescription drugs.  Because Medicare falls short of covering all of my medical needs, I also have a standard Blue Cross/Blue Shield policy that I transferred over from my last job.  The BC/BS policy acts as a supplement and, in theory, covers all that Medicare fails to take care of.  I pay dearly for all of that coverage.

Blue Cross/Blue Shield, being omnipotent and having a predisposition toward making life difficult for their customers, occasionally balks at doing their supplemental share.  My most recent bout with the company occurred when it questioned my doctor’s judgment on a particular drug, one the company deemed too expensive, and wanted the physician to provide a written justification for his decision on the type of treatment I required.  It took me, the patient, several different sets of phone calls, both to the insurance company as well as to the doctor, to get the matter resolved.

But this is America, and in America doctors prescribe, insurance companies impede, and the patients are left to do the hard work of ironing out any problems along the way.  Individuals without the support, time, or resources to fight their way through the medical and insurance jungles that pass for modern health care in this country are poop-out-of-luck.

A few years ago, right after I retired and moved back to the Ozarks, Blue Cross/Blue Shield began sending me occasional checks, usually for an amount of somewhere between ten and twenty dollars.  I didn’t know what they were for – and really didn’t care.  I just put them in the bank, secure in the knowledge that no one at BC/BS was missing any meals on my account. 

After a year or so of these sporadic donations to my retirement, I got a very uptight letter from BC/BS telling me that I was in receipt of more than two hundred dollars which did not belong to me.  Not wanting anyone on their end to miss Christmas, I hurriedly sent off a check in the amount the insurance giant demanded.  I also spent the better part of a day on the phone until I reached a lady who was able to locate me in the company’s database.  She assured me that the error was theirs and it would not be repeated.

Then, of course, another check arrived.  I began a careful register of each check to include the check number, the amount, and the date it was written.   I am currently in receipt of more than a hundred dollars of BC/BS money.  At some point in the not too distant future I am sure that I will be receiving another angry demand that I immediately return the money – which I will.  Again, it falls on the customer to fix things.

Last week I got another check from the accounting geniuses at Blue Cross/Blue Shield.    That check was for twenty-eight cents – undoubtedly not even enough to cover the “pre-sorted, first class” postage that it took to mail the check.   I haven’t deposited that check yet because I am thinking about having it framed – or saving it to use as the down-payment when the company rages at me with its next demand for repayment.

All of that grief is from a private insurer.  Medicare on the other hand usually gives me no grief whatsoever.

It is well past time for a  comprehensive, single-payer health care system in America!  There, I've said it.  That's my twenty-eight cents worth!

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Trump Builds His Legacy: 100 Days of Greed, Gluttony, and Golf

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

A delusional Donald Trump said yesterday that so far his administration has been one of the "most successful" in history.  History, I suspect, will beg to differ.

Today is the one-hundred day marker, the unofficial call to judgment for a new administration, the time when the President gets his first report card.  Donald Trump, a man of infinite ego and boundless bluster wants us to believe that the achievements of his first one hundred days in office are amazing, and that he is perhaps the greatest world leader since Alexander the Great.  The hard facts, however, suggest otherwise.

Trump the Warrior did order a few Tomahawk missiles lobbed onto an airfield in Syria, but that airfield was operational again the very next day.  The venture fell far short of being the stuff of military legend.

Trump made a nomination to the Supreme Court, and that nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch, managed to gain Senate approval and take his seat on the Court - but only after Mitch McConnell had to change the rules of the Senate in order to get Gorsuch approved on a squeaker vote.  Other victories for Trump in Congress have been few and far between, and Trump's final cabinet secretary, Alexander Acosta, the new Secretary of Labor, was approved by the Senate only two days ago.

Trump has not worked much since becoming President, and much of the effort that he has put into the job has been aimed at eliminating all vestiges of the Obama presidency.  A big focus of the first one hundred days was the planned obliteration of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), a move which initially stalled and then died in the House.  This past week a newer, meaner version was put forth, one that staunch House conservatives could support, but so many moderates in the Republican membership opposed the measure that it was not brought to the floor for a vote.

So at the end of one hundred days under Trump, Obamacare still reigns as the law of the land.  You get an "F" on that one Donald John - a HUGE "F"!

Not wanting to take the time to build bridges to Congress, Trump chose instead to govern by fiat - through Twitter and executive orders.  He issued thirty executive orders during his first one hundred days in office, an extremely high number for a device normally employed during the "lame duck" period at the end of a presidential term.  Even so, his most notorious executive orders went down in flames when they were reviewed by the judicial branch of government.  Trump's Muslim ban was thrown out by a couple of federal judges, then it was rewritten and a judge again bounced it.  A chastened and chagrined Trump is now making noises about "restructuring" the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to make it more accepting of his biases.  A federal judge has also labeled the Trump administration's plan to withhold federal money from sanctuary cities as being unconstitutional.

Those danged judges weren't elected by anybody - snorts the popular vote loser!

And so far not one dollar from the United States nor a single peso from Mexico has been appropriated for Trump's grand border wall.  Immigration issues would also appear to be an "F" for you, Donald John.

But while Congress may be ineffective and the Courts openly hostile, Donald John Trump is, himself, hugely popular with the people.  Or is he?  True, Trump may have lost the popular vote by more that three million ballots (or those could have been cast by sneaky day laborers who came in through a tunnel in Tijuana just to vote against him), but the people love him - God Almighty do they love him - unless, of course, one chooses to believe the polls.

The Gallup organization has polled Americans regarding each President's first one hundred days in office since the administration of Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950's.    Those numbers are telling:

Dwight Eisenhower - 73%  (approval)
John F. Kennedy - 83%
Richard Nixon - 62%
Gerald Ford (not provided)
Jimmy Carter - 63%
Ronald Reagan - 68%
George H.W. Bush - 56%
Bill Clinton - 55%
George W. Bush - 62%
Barack Obama - 65%
Donald Trump - 39%

That, apparently, is what real Americans think.  So, when it comes to actual popularity, Donald John, yours is in the toilet.  You earn a big, stinking "F" there also.

If Donald Trump has failed to produce much of substance during his first one hundred days in the White House, what has he been doing?   In the area of non-presidential activities the grade goes below "F" to "G" - for greed, gluttony, and golf - three areas at which Trump continues to excel.

Government ethics and a sense of decency would dictate that the incoming President divest himself of all of his business activities, but Donald Trump defines himself as being a businessman and he has deliberately chosen to stay enmeshed in his business ventures.  Yes, he did say that he was turning the management of his business interests over to his adult children, but he did not enter into any "blind" trusts and is still assumed to be the clearing point for all important decisions with regard to the family businesses and on-going scams.  And, Trump makes a habit of visiting his businesses with guests and the press in tow - visits which generate immediate income as well as publicity for the Trump-branded establishments.  Trump's greed remains in full flower.

Trump is also a man who has grown in office.  He is already deemed to be the third largest man to hold that office - following only William Howard Taft and Grover Cleveland - and he appears to be working on moving into the lead.  If fact, if he grows much more in office, it will take a crane to lift him on and off of Air Force One.  I remember the late comedian Joan Rivers remarking on Elizabeth Taylor's weight and saying that Liz put mayonnaise on an aspirin.  Ms. Rivers could have just as easily been describing Donald Trump, the man who drooled for the press as he talked about the chocolate cake at Mar-a-Lago.

And then there is golf, apparently the only exercise that Trump gets aside from the grueling climb up the steps on Air Force One.  The press can count the number of times that Trump "visits" golf courses (somewhere around twenty so far), but they are barred from entering the gated, private clubs, so it is difficult to know if he actually plays or not.  A state secret, one must suppose.  Be that as it may, it still looks s though Trump is on his way to being the third most avid golfer to live in the White House - following only Woodrow Wilson and Dwight Eisenhower.  During the campaign Trump enjoyed criticizing President Obama for playing too much golf, and said that as President he would be too busy to enjoy the game.  At this stage in his presidency, Obama had not played any golf at all.

But, give the devil his due.  Donald John Trump is the oldest individual ever elected to the presidency, and, as he admitted this past week, the job is much harder than he envisioned.

Perhaps he should retire so that he could spend his time promoting his businesses, tweeting, vacationing in Florida, and playing golf.

Friday, April 28, 2017

"Portraits of Courage": The Further Rehabilitation of George W. Bush

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Back in early March I posted a piece in this space which noted that the public image of George W. Bush was beginning to undergo an upgrade thanks in large measure to the former President's speaking out regarding his concerns with the evolving Trump administration.  Shortly after penning those thoughts I came across Bush's new book (his third) entitled Portraits of Courage:  A Commander in Chief's Tribute to America's Warriors.  After thumbing through it for an extended period of time, I took the plunge and bought a copy.

George Bush seems to have spent his retirement years in three primary pursuits:  writing, learning to paint, and working with veterans returning from the wars in the Middle East.  Those interests all come together in this book.

In this work the former President presents biographies of ninety-eight individuals who fought in Iraq or Afghanistan and sustained serious injuries during that experience. Bush personally met each of the individuals he profiled through re-integration activities put on by the Bush Institute, part of the George W. Bush Presidential Center.   Later, as he began establishing personal relationships with those returning vets and their families, he started collecting their stories and painting portraits of the warriors.

Those personal accounts of combat, injuries, and recoveries - as well as the portraits by Bush - make up this volume.  All net proceeds from the sales of the book go to the George W. Bush Presidential Center and its activities in support of veterans' programs.

Some of the stories in this volume are heart-breaking, yet all are inspiring - and the fact that the ex-President developed a strong fondness for each of his subjects is not lost on the reader.  As someone who has worked in the field of mental health with veterans returning from those same wars, I was reminded of many common threads that ran through the community of warriors.  I knew intimately what Bush was talking about when he described individuals with survivor's guilt - conflicted because they came home and close friends did not.  I understood the strong ties that develop among individuals living under the constant stress of combat and how those individuals form "family" ties that are often as strong - or stronger - than those with biological family members back home.  This book also brought back memories of the returning service members who dealt with physical and emotional trauma by self-medicating with drugs and alcohol.

Bush has a good ear - and he was able to present insightful word portraits of the men and women  whose souls he was trying to reveal.  But he also has a fine eye, and his artistic abilities have matured amazingly well since those early days when he was doing portraits of the family pets and paintings of his feet in the bathtub.   Bush has developed into a portrait artist with an ability to imbue his subjects with emotional qualities that align with their stories.  Forty years ago the old joke about the magazine Playboy was "I read it for the articles."  With Portraits of Courage, one could spend time with it strictly for the art work, though the narratives do much to flesh out the paintings.

The Bush Institute appears to focus its rehabilitative and re-integration efforts into two main pushes:  mountain-biking and golf, and almost all of these narratives tend to relate back to the positive benefits of one or the other of those activities.  There were also nods given to the benefits of outdoor recreation, family support, and religion.

George Bush is deservedly proud of the work that his institute does with returning veterans, but that effort, even along with the work of all of the other veterans' organizations that he mentions throughout the text, are just a drop in the bucket to the work that is needed.  The Veterans' Administration did a study last year which found that over twenty veterans a day were committing suicide.  The stories about veterans living on the streets of America, often with severe mental issues, are also true.  They are a caste of people shunned by society.

I felt in reading this work that the former President was trying to come to grips with devastation that he was instrumental in bringing about, the maiming and deaths of tens of thousands of individuals, many of them young Americans.   As a form of self-therapy, I see the effort as coming up short.  George, the first step in most recovery programs is to admit you have a problem.  I commend your work with these most-deserving individuals, but if you are trying to achieve absolution, or even just peace in your soul, you need to do more in the way of owning the problem.  If not for your sake - for theirs.

That said, Portraits of Courage is a beautiful book, one that honors the boundless energies of the human spirit.  Thank you, President Bush, for providing us with this visual and painful insight into the horrors of war.  May we all learn from the experience.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Will Tax Code Overhaul Benefit Trump?

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

In an economically rigged society where those with vulgar amounts of wealth chortle and wink and refer to themselves as "middle class," it behooves the rest of us to pay extra close attention to the shenanigans of our government, particularly those actions which purport to be in our best interest.  Donald Trump has just proposed a massive tax restructuring, one which a columnist in today's New York Times referred to as a "heist."

Trump's plan is reportedly only one page in length and intentionally vague.  "Vague" in this case means that it leaves plenty of room for lobbyists to elbow their way into the process and carve out sweet spots for their corporate and rich individual employers.  By the time the "reform" is accomplished and signed into law the true middle class will have assumed an even bigger share of the tax burden than they were already carrying.

Trump's tax plan calls for the elimination of all but three tax brackets:  ten percent, twenty-five-percent, and thirty-five percent.  That lowers the top bracket by nearly five percentage points, meaning that the rich among us will all get a nice tax break.  (Thank God!  I was so worried that they might actually have to pay their fair share.)  Back in the days when the "progressive" income tax came into being - under a Republican President - the top bracket was ninety percent.  Now it will be just over a third of that, and the extremely wealthy will still connive and finagle their way out of paying even that pittance.

Trump's tax scheme also calls for repeal of the Alternative Minimum Tax, a measure that ensured the very rich would all pay something.  The AMT reportedly cost Donald Trump an estimated $31 million on his 2005 taxes (the only year we know anything about), and now he wants to kill it.

The Trump one-page tax manifesto calls for lowering the capital gains tax from 23.8 percent to 20 percent, cutting off the 3.8% that was used to fund Obamacare.  The idea of the rich helping to fund anyone's health care but their own must be truly appalling to a "businessman" like Trump who hires most of his work done through contractors so he does not have to pay benefits (like health care) to anyone.  Let them work themselves into oblivion and then die - as God intended.

In another move toward tax "fairness," Trump would cut the corporate tax rate from thirty-five to fifteen percent.  He thinks that would help to lure business assets that are currently stashed abroad back to America.  Others see it as rewarding criminal behavior.

Trump also wants to eliminate once-and-for-all the pesky "inheritance tax," something Republicans have for years referred to as the "death tax."  The inheritance tax helps to level the playing field between those who inherited their wealth, like Donald Trump, and those who were born poor and had to fight their way out of poverty.  The act of inheritance itself recognizes and sustains privilege - and Donald Trump and people like him don't want to put their privilege at risk as it passes between generations.  After all, a world without inherited privilege would have denied us the glories of Donald Trump.

On a more positive note, the new tax proposal would double the current  individual and couple's allowable deductions and keep deductions for mortgage payments and charitable giving in place.  It would, however, no longer allow deductions for taxes paid to state and local entities.

It would be nice to have one more piece of information before this scheme begins working its way through the sausage-making process in Congress:  how will all of this impact the man who is proposing it?  What effect will Donald Trump's tax plan have on Donald Trump's bottom line?  Sadly, we can't have access to that information because Trump is flatly refusing to share his tax information - even though he earlier promised that he would.

Is Donald Trump lining his own pockets with these sweeping changes to the tax code?  Will he personally benefit?   Is it a "heist"?  Americans deserve to know.

There should be no tax overhaul until Donald Trump comes clean about his own tax situation. 

Trump, show us your taxes - or screw tax "reform!"

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Road Rage and Guns

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

There was some sort of incident out in the road just past my house the other day.  I don't know what occurred, but two cars were stopped and a lot of yelling ensued.  I withstood the urge to walk out into the yard and rubberneck primarily because I know that most of the yahoos who speed up and down the scenic country lane that I live on are armed and stupid.

Fortunately, no shots were fired and the angry drivers decided to get back on the road to Walmart before John Law arrived and got into their business.

There are news stories out today stating reporting that cases of road rage involving guns are on the rise.  The exact dimensions of the problem are hard to measure because most police agencies don't specifically categorize "road rage" in their reporting systems.  Between 2014 and 2016, however, of the 1,319 cases of road rage which were reported in news sources, 354 people were wounded in the incidents and 136 were killed - and the number of yearly incidents discovered by researchers more than doubled between 2014 and 2016.

But, research aside, the speed with which state legislatures are removing all limitations on gun ownership and availability all but guarantees that more people will have weapons in their cars - if for no other reason that to protect them from all of the other people with weapons in their cars.  Gun manufacturers and their lobbying groups like the National Rifle Association make lots of money convincing people that they must have guns to protect themselves from other people with guns.   It is a self-fulfilling prophecy and one which is highly profitable.

An increased presence of guns invariably means an increase in the chances of injury or death.   But gun merchants are not concerned with death, only profits.  For those who live in fear of being slaughtered by a redneck terrorist with a gun, their advice is this:  Buy more guns!

Stupid is as stupid does.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

White Trash Dine-In at the White House

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

God alone knows the extent of the desecration that has occurred in the White House since Donald Trump claimed it as his occasional home and office last January, but one particularly egregious affront to the dignity of the place occurred last Wednesday evening when Trump invited infamous grifter Sarah Palin to stop by for a private dinner and visit.  Apparently, almost as an afterthought, he said that she could bring along a couple of friends.

So Sarah showed up with two friends and their significant others in tow.  One the friends was musician Kid Rock, and the other was infinitely more notorious and an intellectual equal of Ms. Palin - Ted Nugent.   She joked later that she wanted to invite Jesus, but he was already booked.  Sarah added:

“So, yes, I invited my buddies Kid Rock and Ted Nugent, some bold, courageous, all-American dudes who I knew would have good conversation with the president and get to express a lot of good, middle-class, work ethic-type issues and policy proposals that they could all relate to, and that’s exactly what happened at the dinner.”
One White House staffer reportedly paused at reading the names of the proposed guests and asked a colleague, "Who is Theodore Nugent?"

Who indeed!  The ancient rocker is best known as an avid hunter and board member of the National Rifle Association.   He has also made headlines by calling Hillary Clinton a bitch (and worse) and declaring that she and Barack Obama should be hanged.  When it comes to civility, Ted Nugent has none - yet there he was dining at the White House.

That meal was held this past Wednesday evening and lasted an amazing four hours.  During the time Trump gave the group a room-by-room tour of the White House which included an extended stop in the Oval Office as well as a posing session in front of Hillary Clinton's official White House portrait - where Palin managed to make a face for the camera.  The guests, who dined on the White House's best white china, were nevertheless dressed quite casually with Sarah in particular looking as though her garb could have come from a Wasilla garage sale.

Sarah Palin, ever the self-promoter, posted photos of the sacrilege on her Facebook page the following day.  One member of the public who viewed the photos remarked in a posting that it appeared to be "the biggest gathering of white trash at the White House since the administration of Andrew Jackson."

Noticeably absent from the hillbilly hijinks was Sarah's husband, Todd Palin.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Monday's Poetry: "The Mill"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

I have a friend in my pinochle group who doesn't drive but who is a very talented photographer.  This morning (very early this morning!) I acted as his chauffeur as we descended into Shannon County, Missouri, to take pictures of a couple of beauty spots in the Ozarks National Scenic Riverways.  One of the sites we visited was called Rocky Falls, a beautiful set of cascading falls located in a remote setting.  I had not been to this Ozark natural treasure before, but it is someplace that I will definitely take company in the future.

The other main stop that we made was at the Alley Spring Mill, another lovely spot - one where over eighty million gallons of water gush from beneath the Ozark hills daily.  Alley Spring is a place where I routinely take company.  My kids played there, on the grassy grounds (not in the spring!) on several occasions when they were little - whether they remember it or not.  Today, after the recent two-day deluge, there was more water swirling around the mill than I have ever seen there before.  It was completely awesome.  My friend got some great early morning shots while we were the only people in he park - and I took several pictures with my phone.

Last week our local newspaper announced that the Ozark National Scenic Riverways will be featured on one of the new national parks' quarters.  It is due out this summer.  The engraving on the quarter will be the mill at Alley Spring.

To commemorate this latest trek to Alley Spring, I have chosen the poem, The Mill, by Edwin Arlington Robinson.  It was written in 1920 at a time when modern technology was making the old water-powered mills obsolete.  The poem is very dark, suggesting that the miller hanged himself from a rafter in the mill, and his wife, upon finding his body, drowned herself in the "black water" which at one time had produced their livelihood.

It is a grim reminder that change inevitably leaves people behind.

The Mill
by Edwin Arlington Robinson

The miller's wife had waited long,
The tea was cold, the fire was dead;
And there might yet be nothing wrong
In how he went and what he said:
"There are no millers any more,"
Was all that she had heard him say;
And he had lingered at the door
So long that it seemed yesterday.

Sick with a fear that had no form
She knew that she was there at last;
And in the mill there was a warm
And mealy fragrance of the past.
What else there was would only seem
To say again what he had meant;
And what was hanging from a beam
Would not have heeded where she went.

And if she thought it followed her,
She may have reasoned in the dark
That one way of the few there were
Would hide her and would leave no mark:
Black water, smooth above the weir
Like starry velvet in the night,
Though ruffled once, would soon appear
The same as ever to the sight.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Blue Skies and Sad Farewells

by Pa Rock
Proud Grandpa

We have had company here at The Roost the past couple of days.  Tim and Erin and their two children, Olive and Sullivan, drove down from the Kansas City area on Friday.  They stopped off in Carthage, Missouri, and picked up my oldest grandchild, Boone, along the way.  Sadly, it rained steadily during the entire road trip - something that I am sure made for a very tedious and tiring drive.  Yesterday was overcast and rainy also, limiting the time that we were able to spend outside.

But we did get out some.

Olive helped me feed the chickens and peacocks a couple of times, and she enjoyed meeting the baby ducks and geese.  A pair of friends from my pinochle group happened by for their first visit to the farm just as I was getting ready to give my house guests the tour yesterday morning, so they joined in with us as I showed off the two new storage buildings and all of the animals.  I was certainly glad that I had gotten the mowing done because the place really looked nice.

Later yesterday we visited a farm where my oldest son works, and Olive was able to enjoy the animals that were there including a llama, goats, and donkeys.  Coming to the Ozarks is almost as much fun as going to the Swope Park Zoo in Kansas City!

Another stop yesterday was at our local feed store where Olive, Boone, and I bought twenty baby chicks of the Barred Rock variety.  The little pullets will be laying eggs in five months - which is good because I lost another hen yesterday and now only have one remaining.  The new chicks were my way of honoring Earth Day.

Last night we went out to eat at one of the local Mexican restaurants.  Nick (Boone's dad) told the waiters that it was Boone's birthday (he will actually be eighteen on May 6th) and they brought out a cupcake covered in whipped cream and then managed to shove his face into it as they sang to him.  It made for a memorable photo!

Not only will Boone be eighteen next month, he will also be graduating from high school and getting ready for college.

And now, Sunday morning, everyone is getting ready to leave and hit the road for home.  Thankfully, the sun is out and it is a beautiful day for a drive across the Ozarks.  Nick and I - and Rosie and Riley -  will certainly miss all of our company.

May they have safe travels and blue skies all the way home!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Skewed World View of Jeff Sessions

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, III, the Attorney General of the United States of America, appears to be viewing the world from a white, backwater perspective that is mired in pride and ignorance  He hails from a place where good old boys drive their pick-up trucks along the back roads with their guns and Confederate flags on prominent display, a land where skin color in the base determinant of opportunities for success in life.  Sessions has a lifetime of prejudices and pent-up anger at what he sees as the other America, the one where people of color dare to think they can climb the ladder of equality and be just as much in control of their own destinies as he is of his - and now, as attorney general, he is at last in a position to put them back in their place.

Jeff Sessions is rapidly shaping up to be the single most dangerous character in the Trump political sideshow.   

The new attorney general is busy rolling back the clock on the federal government's efforts to assist in bringing rogue police departments under control.  Federal oversight and things like "consent decrees" are now being re-examined through a new lens, one that is far more tolerant of police brutality and much less accepting of public protest.  Sessions and his Department of Justice are hellbent on returning law enforcement to the glory days when it was run by the likes of Bull Connor.

Being a southerner, Jeff Sessions is, almost by genetic design, an ardent supporter of states' rights.  He is from a time when Jim Crow was still in effect in the Deep South, and Blacks were kept in submission through racist laws and brutal police actions.  But then the federal government began to intercede and put limits on the states' abilities to discriminate based on race.  It was an outrage that Sessions never forgot - nor forgave.

Yet now, this aging Alabama cracker finds himself in virtual control of the awesome legal and police powers of the federal government, the entity he once abhorred - and now he is very much into telling states and cities what they can and cannot do when it comes to certain things.

Sessions is on a mission to purge America of folks who don't look and think like him, and his first battle in that campaign is to rid the country of undocumented (he would call them "illegal") immigrants from south of the U.S. border.  One of the messages that the nation's top cop and lawyer is sending is that states and cities which offer "sanctuary" to those he wants to deport is that they will be punished for attempts to block his efforts at making America white again.  The feds will counter the charitable acts of states and cities by withholding federal funds - and they will still come looking for those "illegals."

(States' rights are all well and good, as long as those states and other small political entities agree with positions held by Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, III.   The attorney general is also making noises about limiting the ability of states to legalize the use of marijuana for medical and recreational use.  Sessions once famously remarked that he was a supporter of the Ku Klux Klan until he found out that some of the members smoked pot.  Some, however,  suspect that he still is supportive of hillbillies in hooded bed sheets, whether they toke on the occasional joint or not.)

But if Jeff Sessions is angry with interference form states and cities, he is livid at what he sees as judicial overreach into his and Trump's efforts to ban immigrants from entering the United States.  A few days ago he had this to say regarding a federal judge in Hawaii blocking boss's latest effort to ban Muslims from entering the country:

"I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the President of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and Constitutional power."
How dare a judge have an opinion, particularly one based on the Constitution, a document written by a white privileged class which should forever protect and sustain white privilege!

And how dare a judge in Hawaii, a place as foreign to real Americans as Kenya or Mars, have an opinion on anything at all.  All of that salt water in the Pacific dilutes whatever potency any opinion formed on an island might have - doesn't it?   Republicans have still not gotten over the election of Barack Obama and the fact that he was born in America - in the American state of Hawaii.  They spent eight years trying to de-legitimatize Obama as not being an actual American, and in so doing they formed a floating notion of Hawaii being outside of the United States.

Sessions' slam at the judge in Hawaii was just a case of Republicans coughing up the same old racism - Hawaii as the land of Obama, and therefore Hawaii as a foreign nation.

Well, hear this, Jefferson Beauregard, and hear it well.  I, too, resided on a tiny island way out in the Pacific Ocean.  It was twice as far from the mainland United States as Hawaii is.  I spent four years of my life living on that little island, and the entire time I was there I worked in support of the United States military.  Being there did not cause my patriotism to suffer, nor did it diminish my understanding and love of the Constitution.  I have, sir, even taught the Constitution to college students.

I lived on an island in the Pacific, Mr. Sessions, and yet I still recognize that banning entry into the United States based on religion is an egregious affront to the document that makes our country unique and, as your boss likes to say, "great."  America will not be great for long if we begin to ignore the document that is the very essence of its greatness.

I understand the Constitution and I get why that federal judge saw fit to impede Donald Trump's governance by tweet and tantrum.   He is out of step with the enlightened majority of Americans who recognize the value that diversity imparts onto our nation.  By his campaign bravado and his executive order banning entry to the United States from selected Muslim-majority countries, Trump is appearing to show a national religious preference, something which sounds closely akin to establishing a national religion, something which is specifically forbidden by the Constitution.

Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions have a choice to make:  either they bring their governing into alignment with the Constitution, or they ignore that enlightened document, the cornerstone of our democracy, and continue their sordid attempts to strengthen white privilege in America.  If they choose the latter, it will be at their own peril.

The Constitution has a remedy for tyrants.

Friday, April 21, 2017

If the Creeks Don't Rise

by Pa Rock
Farmer in Spring

Here in the Ozarks one of the ways we gauge the likelihood of something happening is by saying that it will occur if "The good Lord is willing and the creeks don't rise."  Well, the creeks are rising today - but life goes on even in the rain.

This day promises to be a busy one at the Roost.  In addition to the rounds of feeding and watering the animals and the standard trip or two into town, I am also expecting out-of-town company for lunch, and this evening Tim and Erin and the kids will be here - along with Boone, my oldest grandchild, for a weekend visit.  We will be celebrating Boone's upcoming eighteenth birthday.  It should be a wonderful - though very wet - day!

It rained all day yesterday, and this morning it is still coming down in a steady downpour.  The northwest corner of my property, an area that was a pond many years ago, quickly went under water, and one of the routes into town has now been temporarily closed due to a rising creek.

But, it's only water.  It comes, it goes, and life marches on.

The biggest chore on the farm, the mowing, has just been completed, but with all of this moisture, the grass will be ready for another mowing in ten days.  I have a large holly bush sitting in a pot in the front yard that needs to be planted, and the chicken coop is past due for its monthly cleaning.  The garden has been prepared but not yet planted.  When it rains the chores get backed up.

The two new storage buildings arrived this past week. - and they look even better than I imagined they would. (I would hold an open house to show them off if it wasn't for all of this damned rain!) The twelve-by-twenty-four metal structures are impressive.  Both are fitted with plug-ins and light fixtures, but are awaiting connection to a nearby power line.  Shelving also needs to be installed in one before the process of moving the treasure from the house and garage to the buildings can begin.  But it is all on hold until the rain ends.

On a more positive note, it's a great day for staying inside and enjoying the company of loved ones.  Bring on those grandkids!   Maybe we'll take the baby ducks and geese out and let them play in the puddles!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Fox News Continues Cleaning Out Its Pig Sty

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Last summer Fox News reluctantly bowed to public pressure and fired Roger Ailes, the company's longtime CEO and chairman, over an alleged pattern of sexual abuse perpetrated by Ailes against some of the company's female employees.  Now, almost a year later, Fox has  fired on-air host Bill O'Reilly after a report in the New York Times claimed that Fox had paid out $13 million to five women as compensation over their allegations of sexual harassment by O'Reilly.  Rupert Murdoch, the founder and owner of Fox News tried to cast the firing as a moral decision, but some other news sources posited that letting O'Reilly go was more of a business decision - one that was made as sponsors began pulling their ads from his show.

Whatever the reason, ding-dong O'Reilly's gone!

Bill-O found himself in the news last month after he made a snide remark on the air regarding Congresswoman Maxine Waters.  Waters had spoken disparagingly about Donald Trump, and O'Reilly commented to a talk show panel that he had not heard a word Waters had said because he was too focused on the "James Brown" wig that she was wearing.  He later issued an apology, but laughed as he did so.

Maxine Waters was not amused.  After news broke this week about the latest round of Bill O'Reilly sexual harassment allegations, Waters said that he needed to be jailed.  When it was announced yesterday that he had finally been ousted from Fox, Congresswoman Waters suggested that the television personality was plagued with psychological issues - and she still thought he needed to be jailed.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, said recently that he regards Bill O'Reilly as "a good person," and added that he does not think O'Reilly did anything wrong.

It would seem that birds-of-a-feather still tend to flock together.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Georgia's 6th Almost Votes Its Ossoff

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Democrat Jon Ossoff came within about three thousand votes of winning a special election to Congress yesterday in a district that has been represented by Republicans for decades.  Georgia's 6th congressional district had been held by Tom Price, but opened up when Price was chosen by Trump to be the new Secretary of Health and Human Services.  That same seat had also formerly been occupied by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Ossoff received 48% of the vote in the primary, and a combined field of eleven Republicans polled fifty percent.  If Ossoff could have broken the 50% mark, he would have won the election outright, but as it now stands he will have to face perennial state candidate and political provocateur Karen Handel in a June runoff election.  Handel took 20% of the vote in yesterday's primary.

This election is important because it is seen as a bellwether for the upcoming congressional elections in 2018, ones in which Democrats hope to make significant gains.  Georgia's sixth is in the suburbs of Atlanta, a portion of the city that is more affluent and better educated than many areas in the South.  Donald Trump carried the district in 2016, but only by one point.

Ossoff, an independent investigative filmmaker and a former congressional aide, ran a smart campaign with a strong cadre of youthful volunteer supporters.  He managed to raise a campaign war chest of $8.3 million, most of it in small donations and from out-of-state, and was able to turn the enthusiasm and cash into a formidable campaign machine.

Karen Handel has lost Republican primaries in Georgia for governor and U.S. senator.  She identifies closely with Christian fundamentalist campaign issues, and became infamous a few years back when she was forced to resign as head of the Susan G. Komen organization after ending that group's donations to Planned Parenthood - a move that proved to be hugely unpopular.  The Komen group later reestablished its ties to Planned Parenthood.

One of the clever campaign signs used by the young Democratic candidate read:  "Get Out and Vote Your Ossoff"  - and nearly half of yesterday's voters did!  Now all of the big political guns - and money - will be trained on Atlanta for June's runoff election.

Give 'em hell, Jon!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Justin Trudeau, True and False

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

My favorite North American leader is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, a dynamic social activist whose whose work on behalf of ordinary Canadians crosses borders and sets examples for governments everywhere.   The image of Trudeau and other Canadian government officials handing out winter coats and hugging new refugees from Syria as they arrived at the Toronto airport stands in stark contrast to the immigrant-bashing vitriol currently emanating from Washington, D.C. and every smalltown coffee shop in the United States.

Lately there has been a bit of buzz about young Mr. Trudeau on Twitter, some of it a bit contradictory to the image he seems to have been crafting.  So I decided to explore those tweets and try to determine which news was accurate and which was fake.

One tweet from environmental activist (and founder of the climate reality group, Bill McKibben states that "The world's handsomest leader has an ugly climate record."  It then links to an article in The Guardian which McKibben wrote that blasts Trudeau for his support of pipelines used to transport oil from Alberta's tar sands to the United States, including the infamous Keystone XL.

McKibben's tweet actually had two barbs - one that the young prime minister is handsome (and therefore one might assume that he is a stereotypically 'shallow' pretty-face), and one that his liberal credentials are smirched by support for an environmentally unsound policy and thereby making him a hypocrite.  Beauty, or handsomeness, is in the eye of the beholder, but there have been a couple of photos of Ivanka Trump staring glassy-eyed and slack-jawed at the Canadian Prime Minister.  So, with flies using Ivanka's mouth for a helipad whenever Justin Trudeau is around, it might be safe to assume that McKibben is correct on that count.  Rate it as true that Trudeau is handsome.

It is also true, according to news reports, that Trudeau supports the extraction and transportation of Alberta's tar sands through pipelines.  He does so, he says, for the jobs and economic benefits that the activity generates for the province of Alberta.  That does not necessarily prove the claim in McKibben's opinion piece that Trudeau is  a "disaster for the planet."  The prime minister is decisively moving Canada away from the use of coal.  Piping oil out of Alberta, true.  Disaster for the planet, not so much.

The other area where Justin Trudeau is getting a lot of press is his leadership in the changing world view regarding marijuana.  Twitter claims that Trudeau's government has proposed the nationwide legalization of marijuana for recreational use are true.  The pending legislation would allow Canadians over the age of eighteen to possess one ounce of weed legally, which they would have to purchase from government-licensed distributors.  (The strength of the marijuana would be limited, and the provinces could increase the minimum age for purchase if they so chose.  Individuals would be allowed to grow up to four plants in their homes for personal use.)  True, all true!

What is not true is the other rampant tweet which claims that Trudeau is pardoning all persons convicted of marijuana crimes and plans to expunge their records.  False, totally false - but that's not to say that it isn't a good idea.  Think about it Justin - in for a penny, in for a pound!

All of that - and free health care!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Monday's Poetry: "Lives in the Balance"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

This humble typist has a lot in common with American songwriter and poet Jackson Browne.  Not only were we both seventeen in sixty-five, we also share a healthy disregard for war.   Browne, who was maturing and forming his worldview during the Vietnam War, saw and understood the hypocrisy of the rich initiating wars which were ultimately paid for and fought by the poor.  Now, as Donald John Trump discovers the the unbridled joys of commanding "his" very own military and being a warrior from the complete safety of an exclusive country club in Florida, Jackson Browne's thoughts on war seem more prescient than ever.

As Browne so clearly points out, the "men in the shadows" are never the ones to fight and die.

When wars are fought to actually eliminate things like poverty, disease, racism, sexism, and homophobia, this old man will do everything he can to help the cause - but until then spare me the platitudes that encourage blind allegiance to battles for oil routes, trade pacts, business interests, religion, hateful borders, or press relations.

Here are Jackson Browne's words on war.  May they resonate forever.

Lives in the Balance
by Jackson Browne

I've been waiting for something to happen
For a week or a month or a year
With the blood in the ink of the headlines
And the sound of the crowd in my ear

You might ask what it takes to remember
When you know that you've seen it before
Where a government lies to a people
And a country is drifting to war

There's a shadow on the faces
Of the men who send the guns
To the wars that are fought in places
Where their business interests run

On the radio talk shows and TV
You hear one thing again and again
How the USA stands for freedom
And we come to the aid of a friend
But who are the ones that we call our friends?
These governments killing their own?
Or the people who finally can't take anymore
And they pick up a gun or a brick or a stone

And there are lives in the balance
There are people under fire
There are children at the cannons
And there is blood on the wire

There's a shadow on the faces
Of the men who fan the flames
Of the wars that are fought in places
Where we can't even say the names

They sell us the president the same way
They sell us our clothes and our cars
They sell us everything from youth to religion
The same time they sell us our wars

I want to know who the men in the shadows are
I want to hear somebody asking them why
They can't be counted on to tell us who our enemies are
But they're never the ones to fight or to die

And there are lives in the balance
There are people under fire
There are children at the cannons
And there is blood on the wire

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter Babies

by Pa Rock
Farmer in Spring

Except for the never-ending need to mow, spring is a beautiful time at The Roost.  The daffodils, narcissus, and tulips have already bloomed, and now the white lilac and new dogwoods are showing their beauty.  The garden containers are full of fresh soil and just waiting to be planted, and the large holly bush that I bought last week is patiently waiting for someone to dig it a forever home.

The farm animals are also in the blooming mode.  Fiona, the cat, is pregnant and appears to be looking for the perfect out-of-the-way place to give birth, and the two male peacocks are yelling and dancing and spreading their fans as they desperately try to woo the seven peahens.  The girls should begin laying eggs any day now.

Olive and Sullivan (and possibly Boone) are all coming to the farm next weekend, and I wanted to make sure that they have a good time and learn a few things while they are here.  Yesterday I went to a local animal swap meet to see what farm animals were looking for a new home.  There was a nice selection of many chickens, both chicks and adult birds, as well as a couple of goats and some rabbits.  But it was the birds with webbed feet that caught my attention.

One vendor had a hundred or more baby ducklings of several different breeds swarming in some large tubs.  I told him about my lonely male Cayuga, Hector, and the guy said that he thought he had three little black Cayugas.  It turned out that he had four - and I bought them all.  Then I discovered his goslings.  He had several Toulouse and two White Chinese.  I wound up buying six of the Toulouse - which he sold to me for the price of five.

What could be so grand as a goose from Toulouse?

The ducklings are tiny, especially when compared with the goslings.  All of them are just a few days old, but the goslings are a full three times as large as the ducklings.  I kept them all outside for the rest of the day segregated into a two-chambered cage.  I feared that the big goslings might trample the ducklings.  They became acquainted through the wire divider, and by the time I placed them all in the nursery together yesterday evening the ten were fast friends.  Today they are all playing together and getting along fine.

I have had geese before.  Adult geese tend to be bossy and know no fear.  I suspect that by the time these six Toulouse begin getting big, the three cranky old guineas will no longer rule The Roost!

It's all part of life on the farm!

Happy Easter!  (And for my good friend Valerie who moved to Hawaii yesterday, "Aloha!"  See you this winter!)

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Trump's Military?

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

When Donald John Trump decides to employ his sixth grade vocabulary skills and do some extemporaneous speaking, such as replying to questions from the press, the results can range anywhere from comical to terrifying.  An example of a Trump-sized scary statement  occurred this past Thursday when he was faced with questions from reporters after a speaking event. 

A journalist asked about the MOAB (Massive Ordinance Air Blast - a.k.a. Mother of All Bombs) bomb that was detonated over a warren of caves in Afghanistan earlier in the week.  Trump, in trying to explain that the military had an overall authorization to employ whatever strategies they deemed necessary in the war efforts, began his explanation thusly:

"What I do is I authorize my military. We have the greatest military in the world, and they've done a job as usual. So we have given them total authorization and that's what they're doing and frankly, that's why they've been so successful lately."

The statement taken in its entirety smacks of standard Trump gibberish, but it is the first sentence that is so concerning - the part where he refers to the Armed Forces of the United States of America as "my military."  For anyone who ever feared that Donald John Trump had some dictatorial predilections, there is your proof.  Trump, in Trump's mind, is the owner of our nation's military.  It is his possession, something he can put on a mental shelf with his other trophies - the Trump Tower, the Miss Universe Pageant, Mar-a-Lago, and now the 101st Airborne Division.

Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta looked at the question of ownership from the service members' point of view.  After stating his concern over Trump's massive Freudian slip, Panetta said this:

"He has responsibility obviously, as commander-in-chief, to be able to make decisions with regards to our military. But I think if you ask the men and women in uniform who they are responsible to, I think their answer would be, 'We're responsible to the United States of America.'"

Panetta is right.   By a quirk in the Constitution, Trump is the official Commander-in-Chief with ultimate responsibility on how the military is deployed and used, but it is not his military.  The United States military belongs to each and every citizen of this great nation.  Tin-horn dictators have their own personal militaries - but the President of the United States does not.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Scorpion Flies Business Class on United

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

This past Sunday, the same day that a physician was assaulted and dragged off of a United Airlines flight at O'Hare Airport in Chicago by overzealous security officials, another incident that resulted in bodily injury occurred on a United Airlines flight from Houston to Calgary that was already airborne.  A Canadian gentleman who was a business-class passenger on the flight to Calgary, was just beginning to enjoy his lunch when he felt something land on his head.  He pulled the critter off and discovered that it was a scorpion that had fallen from the overhead bin.  He set the intruder on his plate, and then later as he tried to move it, the scorpion stung him.

United handled this incident much more professionally than the one in Chicago.  The plane crew radioed for medical advice, and a nurse who happened to also be a passenger on board the plane gave the man a painkiller.  Medical personnel were present when the plane landed in Calgary, Alberta, and the passenger was taken to a local hospital for an evaluation.  It was also reported that United Airlines plans on compensating the individual and his wife for the inconveniences that they suffered while on the flight.

And meanwhile a platoon of wannabe screenwriters are pondering the possibilities of "scorpions on a plane."

What does a scorpion sting feel like?

Forty years ago on a hot summer afternoon I was mowing the yard at my home in Mountain View, Missouri, with a push mower when I inadvertently ran over an underground colony of yellow jackets.  I was stung eight times on the arms, legs, and face before I even realized what was happening.  Those stings were the most painful experiences of my life, and I can, to this very day, remember the pain vividly.  It lasted for hours.

Eight of nine years ago while living in a second-floor apartment in Goodyear, Arizona (the Phoenix area) I was suddenly awakened in the middle of the night by a horrible stinging sensation.  As I fought to get free of the sheets, I felt as though my leg was on fire.  When I finally got to the floor and turned on the lights, I discovered a small scorpion sitting squarely in the center of my bed.  He had stung me twice on the leg.

I captured the creature in a small medicine bottle to make sure that he could do no further harm, and then pondered what to do.  Instead of heading to an emergency room, which would have been the prudent thing to do, I chose instead to research scorpions on the Internet.  By the time I finally ascertained that individuals who were unfortunate enough to be stung by a scorpion would either die or not - depending on how allergic they were to the venom - an hour had already passed and I was still breathing.  So I went back to bed and spent the rest of the night in troubled sleep.

The scorpion's sting felt just like the ones that I had received from the yellow jackets all those years before.  The sting of a scorpion is excruciating!

The next morning I was telling my co-workers at Luke Air Force Base about my ordeal with the scorpion, and one old Arizona desert rat told me that the only scorpions to really worry about were the small, translucent ones.  That was a perfect description of the one that had rocked my world the previous night!

United, next time you might want to insure that the vermin are all flying "coach," back in the cheap seats where they belong.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Trump's Tsunami of Stupid

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

There was a political cartoon on the Internet this past week entitled "Suffer the Children."  It was drawn by artist Jen Sorenson.  The cartoon, in four panels, described how Trump policies are having a detrimental effect on children.  One panel showed a little girl complaining that she couldn't breathe as a result of the Trump administration returning to dirty coal and moving to end clean power.  Another showed a child complaining that her mother would no longer be able to afford insurance if Trump was successful in killing the Affordable Care Act.   One other panel had a crop duster in the background spraying chemicals over a field with a notation that Trump's EPA chief had trashed a ban on chlorpyrifos, a pesticide that harms children's brains.  A child in the foreground of that panel was telling Trump, "You are literally lowering my IQ!"

It was that panel, the one about pesticides harming the intellectual potential of children, that particularly caught my interest.  Yes, I'm sure it's true, just as I'm sure that EPA Chief Scott Pruitt is far more concerned with protecting corporate profits than he is in the general health and well-being of the American public that he is supposed to be serving.

But looking beyond a thoroughly evil government policy that poses a direct and extremely harmful threat to a broad spectrum of Americans, and young Americans in particular, I began to wonder if Trump himself wasn't also placing a limitation on the intellectual level of the entire country through his limited vocabulary and inability to speak on a mature level.  His repetitive use of simple sentences (and often just sentence fragments) spiked with nonsensical adjectives like "bigly" and "huge" must be having an impact on the way the rest of America communicates.

It wouldn't be too much of a stretch to argue that as America transforms from the intellectual highs of listening to the eloquence of Barack Obama and sinks into the reality show drivel of Donald Trump that our ability to communicate necessarily begins to erode in the process.

In exploring Trumpisms and adjectives often used by Donald Trump, I came across a list purporting to be Trump's favorite (most used) words and terms.  Not only do the following sound like Trump, they also reflect the limited intellectual playground on which he operates.

Donald Trump's most used words:  win, stupid, weak, loser, we, they, politically correct, moron, smart, tough, dangerous, bad, lightweight, amazing, huge, tremendous, terrific, zero, out of control, and classy.

Most of those words would be more likely to appear in episodes of Duck Dynasty than they would in Supreme Court decisions or United Nations resolutions.  

Surprisingly, "bigly" and "nasty" did not make the list.

The kids in the cartoon were right.  Some of the environmental policies of the Donald Trump administration are posing health risks to children and even limiting their intellectual development. But beyond his dangerous and greed-based policies, Trump just flapping his jaws creates a very real risk of submerging America's intellectual potential under a tsunami of stupid.

It shouldn't hurt to listen when a President speaks.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Alternative Facts on Hitler

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

The Trump press strategy used to be that when Press Secretary Sean Spicer said something especially stupid to reporters, presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway would rush out and try to salvage Spicer's comment.  For instance, when the Spicer reacted to media reports that claimed the crowd size at Trump's inauguration was smaller than those of other recent presidential inaugurations, he charged that the media had deliberately underestimated the crowd size.  Trump's swearing-in, the erstwhile flack contended, had drawn the "largest audience to ever witness an inauguration - period -  both in person and around the globe."

Spicer's boast was easy to prove false, and when Chuck Todd questioned Kellyanne about the press secretary's bold-faced lie on Meet the Press, she responded that his statement was based on "alternative facts."  Todd quickly countered by saying that "alternative facts" were "falsehoods," and Conway got in a snit accusing the host of the show of trying to make her look "ridiculous."

Well, she was being ridiculous.

Now, nearly three months later, Sean Spicer is still Trump's press secretary, though God and Donald Trump alone know why, and he is still bumbling his way through scrimmages with reporters.  Yesterday, in an attempt to defend his boss's missile attack on Syria, Spicer was commenting on the sinister nature of Syria's leader, Bashar Al-Assad, when he noted that Assad's use of chemical weapons on his own people was an unprecedented atrocity.   Spicer said that even Adolph Hitler had never used chemical weapons on his own people.

That statement, coupled with the historical reality of the deaths of more than six million Jews in Hitler's gas chambers, left much of the world sputtering in disbelief - and Kellyanne Conway did not rush out to try and save the day.  Later, in trying to clarify his remarks, Spicer said that Hitler had not killed his victims in the same manner as Assad, but had instead sent them to "Holocaust centers," a term so vague and inoffensive-sounding as to almost make one think of "visitor centers."

Today the bumbling White House press secretary is apologizing.

There are at least two schools of thought on why Spicer said what he did.  The first is that he lacks the educational background to be fully cognizant of history - or the "he is just too damn stupid to know better" defense.  By that logic, the presidential spokesman is someone who would have difficulty passing a comprehensive junior high American history exam.

Another option would be that the press secretary does have a passable knowledge of World War II, but that he does not consider European and German Jews to have been Hitler's people.  That ideology is something likely to have germinated or festered-up in the Steve Bannon wing of the White House, a place where a purer sense of German identity and Nazi philosophy is apt to be fostered.  Those troublesome Jews were not, from an alt right perspective, Hitler's people - and therefore he never gassed his own people.

Are we listening to Stupid Sean Spicer, or is Trump being represented by Sinister Sean Spicer?  Neither version should be acceptable in a modern and enlightened world.  If the White House press secretary doesn't have the strength of character and common decency to resign, he should be fired.

And after Spicer exits the White House, perhaps he should consider going back to school where a whole world of actual facts await his discovery.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

America's Airports: The Front Line of Fascism

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

"Know this, United Airlines:  I am sixty-nine-years-old, the same age as the doctor that your security thugs physically and ruthlessly drug off of that plane in Chicago Sunday night.  If I am ever seated and buckled in for one of your flights and your agents try to remove me - I, too will fight!  Your company's behavior was disgraceful!

My name is Pa Rock and I approve this message."
Every time I have occasion to take a commercial flight in this country, I return from the experience swearing that the next time I will take the more expensive, more time-consuming, but much less stressful train.  I have had a few (damned few) good experiences at airports and on commercial flights, but they are eclipsed by the traveling horrors that seem to be the mainstay of U.S. airports and commercial air flights.

Sunday night Dr. David Dao boarded a United Airlines flight in Chicago for a short hop to Louisville, Kentucky, where he reportedly had patients awaiting his care the following day.  After getting seated and buckled in, flight attendants announced that the flight was overbooked and asked for four individuals to give up their seats.  Even though compensation was offered, no one volunteered to go - probably because the next flight to Louisville wasn't until the following afternoon.

The airline was "overbooked" because United suddenly realized that it had to shuffle four employees to Louisville in order to keep a flight there from being cancelled.

The airline employees then initiated a process that resulted in four "volunteers" being selected by the airline based on several factors.  Three of the randomly chosen "volunteers" reluctantly agreed, but Dr. Dao did not.  The doctor expressed his view that he had been racially profiled due to being Chinese, and insisted that he had patients to serve in Louisville.

He became irate.

The airline employees called in security and the old physician was removed, dragged from the plane, a process that left him with a busted and bloody lip.

Score one for corporate America.

But the victory of United Airlines was short-lived and very, very Pyrrhic.

Twenty years ago a multi-national airline would have gotten away with that kind of outrageous behavior, but not today.  In this day and age when a corporate bully decides to humiliate a little guy, out come the cell phones.  In addition to yelling their strong disapproval at what was happening to their fellow passenger, many began video-taping the incident - and most of those videos were posted to the Internet before the plane was even in the air.

The whole world saw what happened - and now United Airlines is in full grovel mode.  The corporation's president issued a letter to United employees saying that even thought the incident was regrettable, it had been handled correctly.  His cavalier attitude fueled another big surge of resentment against the suddenly beleaguered airline.  Then one of the security guards involved in the incident was fired.  So much for being "handled correctly."

And those pesky videos were viewed hundreds of millions of times.  A news story on NPR this morning talked about outrage in China regarding the incident.  One Chinese viewer of the video asked if it was an example of "human rights" in America.

Sadly, it is.  Fascism was already well established in the land of the free and the home of the brave - even before the arrival of Donald Trump.  It took root in our airports - where paying passengers are routinely lined up, processed, de-shoed, de-belted, searched, relieved of property, sometimes patted down and even undressed, and made to suffer rude treatment -  and has spread from there.

Don't "Fly United."  In fact, don't fly at all!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Monday's Poetry: "Blues"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

A little more than twenty years ago I set sail on a "bicycle cruise" across the Caribbean Sea.   I traveled with a group of thirty or so adventurous individuals on a regular cruise ship, but our small segment of passengers brought along bicycles - which we picked up especially for the trip from a bike shop in Puerto Rico.  The shop owner also came along to act as our emergency mechanic.  The ship sailed at night, and each morning when the big boat docked, our group went ashore and began the day's planned ride.

We did, I believe, eight islands in ten days.  Usually we rode as a group, but on long rides we tended to get spread out.  Our tour guides, a couple who owned a travel agency in Washington state, arranged for a sag (support and gear) wagon to follow along and pick up anyone having difficulty with the ride.

I usually tried to stay within the main body of the group, but a couple of times I wandered.  I remember taking off by myself on the island of Martinique when, for a reason that now escapes me, I decided to return to the ship early.  Traveling through the busiest part of the port city on a bicycle was a challenge - but it was also a chance to see the island in a way that few tourists traveling by ship ever get to experience.

The other time that I had a solo bicycle adventure was on the beautiful volcanic island of St. Lucia.  St Lucia is a paradise of lush greenery and charming inhabitants.  Our trip began at the port in the morning and we bicycled across town and up into the hills.  Our first stop was at a little school where a native of St. Lucia was busy whacking the tops off of coconuts with a machete and offering thirsty tourists a taste of the milk.   He worked for tips.

A few miles later we came upon a drink stand and a telephone booth across the road from a set of outdoor bleachers.  Those were pre-cell phone days, and one young man in our group wanted to stop and try to contact his girlfriend back in the States.  I busied myself visiting with an older man who was lounging near the drink stand.  "What are the bleachers for?" I asked.  The old man smiled and replied that the person who owned them had one of the only television sets in the area.  "So, you sit on the bleachers to watch television."  I surmised.  "No," he replied.  "The women watch the television when they do aerobics - and the men sit in the bleachers to watch the women."

As we biked along, we began to get spread out, and I found myself biking alone out of view of the rest of the group.  It was then that I had a flat tire. While waiting patiently along the side of the road for the sag wagon to arrive, a couple of young men in a large furniture delivery truck pulled up and asked if I wanted a ride.  It was still several miles to our destination, so I said "Why not?"  As I was riding in the open back of their large truck, we passed several members of my group, and I was quick to wave and shout greetings to one and all.  The good Samaritans in the truck dropped me at a rural intersection close to the beach that was the destination of the morning's ride.

While I was waiting on the bicycle group to catch up with me, I struck up a conversation with an old man who happened by.  By this time I was becoming very fond of beautiful St. Lucia and its friendly people.  I asked the fellow about the price of houses on the island.  We were standing near a nice, yet fairly modest home.  "What would this house sell for?" I inquired.  He responded that it would probably go for about $40,000.  A home in paradise for just $40,000.  I was intrigued.  "And what about taxes?"  "Oh," he responded, "We have no taxes."

It would have all been so simple, yet here I sit, twenty years later, retired in West Plains, Missouri, mowing most of the year - and paying taxes to do it!

Today's poem, "Blues" by St. Lucia native and Nobel laureaute Derek Walcott, describees a street scene and some rough activity that the poet encountered while living in the artsy section of New York City known as Greenwich Village.  Walcott also lived for several years in England where he was a university professor.  He passed away last month on St. Lucia, and with his passing that island paradise lost one of its many treasures.

Please enjoy "Blues" by Derek Walcott while Pa Rock reflects on the green serenity of St. Lucia and ponders what could have been.

by Derek Walcott

Those five or six young guys
lunched on the stoop
that oven-hot summer night
whistled me over. Nice
and friendly. So, I stop.
MacDougal or Christopher
Street in chains of light.

A summer festival. Or some
saint's. I wasn't too far from
home, but not too bright
for a nigger, and not too dark.
I figured we were all
one, wop, nigger, jew,
besides, this wasn't Central Park.
I'm coming on too strong? You figure
right! They beat this yellow nigger
black and blue.

Yeah. During all this, scared
on case one used a knife,
I hung my olive-green, just-bought
sports coat on a fire plug.
I did nothing. They fought
each other, really. Life
gives them a few kicks,
that's all. The spades, the spicks.

My face smashed in, my bloddy mug
pouring, my olive-branch jacket saved
from cuts and tears,
I crawled four flights upstairs.
Sprawled in the gutter, I
remember a few watchers waved
loudly, and one kid's mother shouting
like 'Jackie' or 'Terry,'
'now that's enough!'
It's nothing really.
They don't get enough love.

You know they wouldn't kill
you. Just playing rough,
like young Americans will.
Still it taught me something
about love. If it's so tough,
forget it.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

U.S. Military Struggles to Adapt to Trump

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

In the not-too-distant past communicating with the President of the United States was a more complicated process than it is today.  What once required a trip to our nation's capital and an assist from someone with the right connections, now can be accomplished by simply including the President's Twitter logo (@realDonaldTrump) on a tweet.  Chances are he won't read it personally, but you can be sure that some flunky at some desk in basement of the White House or the Executive Office Building  is tasked with reading everything directed at the POTUS - and flagging anything of interest for further scrutiny.

What I didn't realize until recently was that the U.S. military now has a major presence on Twitter.  Perhaps that is their most effective way of staying in contact with the Commander in Chief.  The main branches of our nation's military tweet at the following:  Army (@USArmy), Navy (@USNavy), Marine Corps (@USMC), Air Force (@usairforce), and Coast Guard (@USCG).  Additionally each of the branches have special twitter accounts for their recruitment efforts, sports teams, and other specialty areas that they wish to highlight.

But it doesn't end there.  Some of our nation's most sensitive military activity centers also tweet.  As an example, the Air Force Global Strike Command has a Twitter account (@AFGlobalStrike), one supposes as a way to collect suggestions on where to launch air strikes.

There was a story in the news this week about the U.S. Strategic Command, a branch of the Department of Defense that is in charge of our nuclear arsenal.  Strat Com tweets at  @US_Stratcom.  Yup, when those guys aren't busy counting and recounting our nuclear weapons, they can while away their time posting tweets.  The news story noted that the U.S. Strategic Command had recently tweeted a link to an article by Breitbart News, a thinly veiled right-wing extremist site accused by many of having a decided tilt toward a neo-Nazi philosophy - and the former employer of Trump aid, Steve Bannon.

The article in question was headlined:  "Nearly All Elements of Nuclear Triad Outdated," a notion that Strat Com apparently wanted to push - and what better way to get the President's attention than to highlight it on Twitter.  In addition to an important component of the military lowering itself to grovel for money on a commercial web site, the fact that the agency associated itself with Breitbart also raised eyebrows - and anger levels.

Last week the Pentagon also sought to enhance contact with the White House by inviting unpaid presidential aid (and Trump son-in-law), Jared Kushner, to visit the troops in Iraq.  Kushner traveled to the war zone with Marine General Joseph Dunford, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  It was a trip that appeared to be designed as much for photo-ops as it was for learning about the never-ending conflicts in the Middle East.

Unfortunately, as far as photo-ops go, Kushner was probably not the best choice for the trip.  One photo of him that got a lot of press attention showed the diplomat-by-marriage looking all Ken Doll in a shiny dark suit that was over-laid with a desert cammo flak jacket.  It was a sadly comical prissy-boy-tough.  The only way he could have looked sillier would have been if he was wearing a tiara - and that wouldn't have been by much!

But give the military its due as it struggles to be prepared for any contingency.  Always before they have had to deal with crafty politicians, but those sands have shifted, and now suddenly the generals find themselves working for rich celebrities.   Today they are fighting Muslims in Iraq, but tomorrow they may find themselves trying on uniforms designed by Ivanka.

War is hell.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

The American Potentate

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Donald John Trump is on the road again.  America's Dear Leader and his faithful entourage of sniveling "yes" men are holed up at Trump's Mar-a-Lago private and very expensive club in Palm Beach, Florida, where the politician is dining on steak and lobster between rounds of golf.  This time he is also entertaining Xi Jinping, the Secretary General of the Communist Party of China - so it goes in the books as a "working" vacation.

As Americans we should be very proud, I suppose, to have the opportunity to show those godless Chinese how much more glamorous life can be in the "free" world, but the sad truth is that darned few Americans can afford to live life like a Trump.   We can take some consolation, however, in the fact that we all get to help pay for Trump's lavish lifestyle.

Conservative estimates are that each time The Donald and his minions weekend at Mar-a-Lago, U.S. taxpayers shell out in excess of three million dollars.  This weekend marks the seventh time that Trump has gone to his Florida resort to get away from the rigors of Washington - the seventh time in just eleven weeks!

Every time Trump visits Mar-a-Lago, not only does he make money off of the government, he also generates vast amounts of free publicity for his business.

(Remember when candidate Trump used to complain about Obama's vacations and lament that when he became President he would be too busy to take vacations?)

Melania Trump and Trump's youngest son, Barron, still reside in Trump Tower in New York City.  That also requires that the Secret Service rent rooms in the Trump building in order to protect the wife and son - and to be close at hand when the President is visiting.

The Secret Service has recently asked Congress to increase its appropriations by another $60 million for this year alone - much of it to be used in protecting the President, his spouse, five children and three of their spouses, and seven grandchildren.   And the Trumps live life large, requiring a great deal of protecting.  Two weeks ago the adult Trump children along with their spouses and children, all flew off to Aspen for a skiing holiday.  That little family get-together required the presence of nearly one hundred secret service agents!

The two Trump adult sons, whom some wags have tagged "Uday" and "Qusay" for patently obvious reasons, are also taking business trips abroad and dragging along taxpayer-funded protection.  One recent trip was to Uruguay - a place that secret service agents probably don't often get to visit.

Our country has a long history of offering around-the-clock protection to the President and his family, and we should not do anything that would place these people in harm's way.  But up until the ascent of the Trump family, the occupants of the White House always bore some resemblance to ordinary people.  Now suddenly we find ourselves in the odd position of being lead by an individual who behaves as though he and his family are royalty, and, as such, entitled to all that the country can offer - and then some.   We have, it would seem, an American potentate.

America should cough up one dwelling for our Chief Executive and his family, flights and accommodations for legitimate business matters and affairs of state, and basic protection for him and his immediate family.  We should not be sending platoons of secret service agents off to ski resorts
 to watch over children of privilege frolicking in the snow, nor should we be paying through the nose to house government employees in facilities owned by the President and his family.

Donald Trump should not be allowed to rent rooms or sell meals to employees or agencies of the government he heads.  Nor should he be allowed to promote his personal businesses through official government activities - such as hosting the head of China at his Florida resort.

If he wants to spend his days playing golf and his nights gorging on rich foods, let him - but let him do it on his own dammed dime!

This taxpayer resents being robbed by the rich!

Friday, April 7, 2017

Trump Commits an Act of War - Between Rounds of Golf

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Donald John Trump, the aging blowhard who became President not through a majority vote of the American electorate but rather through a quirk in the Constitution, might do well to sit down and carefully read that fragile old document which propelled him to the highest office in the land.  It is the Constitution, after all, which defines how our government must operate.  It grants authority for each of the three branches of government to do certain things, and it sets strict limits on the powers of those same three branches.

One thing that the Constitution is quite clear about is who has the authority to declare war.  Our founding fathers did not want that awesome responsibility resting with just one individual, someone who might let petty vindictiveness overpower reason and sound judgment.  James Madison the other good fellows who penned and ratified the Constitution gave the power of starting wars to Congress – and Congress alone.

Congress will occasionally defer and give the President latitude in pursuing war policies, such as they did with the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in the 1960’s that gave LBJ the authority to pursue a war in southeast Asia, and more recently when it allowed George W. Bush to use his best judgment to retaliate for 9/11 by chasing his demons across the Middle East.  But at no time did Congress give up its Constitutional power and prerogative to initiate a war.

What is a war?  War happens when one sovereign nation deliberately and with malice aforethought attacks another nation.  Last night Donald John Trump committed an act of war when he ordered the bombing of an air base in Syria.  Trump would argue, one suspects, that he did not take our country into war because his intent was that the bombing would be strictly a one-time thing in retaliation for Syria using chemical weapons on its own people.

One could also argue that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was a one-time thing, but it quickly escalated to war throughout the Pacific.

No one is saying that the President doesn’t have the right to retaliate whenever our country is attacked, because clearly, as Commander in Chief, he does.  But Syria attacked its own people – not the United States of America – and if that chemical attack warranted a fighting response from us, then clearly it should have been as a result of a deliberative process in the appropriate body – Congress.  If the bombing of Syria was that critical and necessary, then Congress should have had the opportunity to weigh in on the matter and to make the ultimate decision.

Bombing a sovereign nation is an act of war.  If the intricacies of the Constitution are going to prevail in an election over the clear will of the people, then the demands of the Constitution should also take precedence when our nation lets loose its bombs on another country.

We did not elect a king, regardless of how His Nibs views the matter.  The powers of starting a war rest with Congress, not with some posturing aggressor who has the temperament and emotional stability of a junior high bully.

Congress, do your job!

Next question:  If we, as a civilized people, are so outraged at the idea of Syria gassing and killing civilians, including women and little children, why the hell are we so steadfastly refusing to grant these targets of genocide refugee status in America?   Would that not be the ultimate act of unfettered Christian charity?

If the situation is so horrendous that it calls for an act of war on our part, then certainly the tragedy befalling the people of Syria merits our country opening its doors and its hearts and accepting those who are fleeing the carnage.

God bless Justin Trudeau and the good people of Canada for showing the rest of us what Jesus would do.

And meanwhile, back at Mar-a-Lago, more golf, more steaks, and more luxury living - all on the public's dime.