Saturday, August 19, 2017

Honoring the real patriots

Heather Heyer

Heather Heyer was a patriot who died defending her country against fascists and racists who wanted to bring it down. She deserves to have a statue memorializing her too-brief life. And I know just the place for it.
Heyer, 32, was killed on Aug. 12 in Charlottesville, Va. That’s where a car driven by James Alex Fields Jr. plowed into a crowd of protesters opposing a rally of neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members and other hate groups. Nineteen other people were injured.
Fields, a 20-year-old Ohio man who reportedly was a Nazi fan, has been charged with second-degree murder in her death.
The focal point of the protest was a big bronze statue of confederate general Robert E. Lee, sitting astride his horse, Traveller, in Emancipation Park. The city of Charlottesville wants to take it down. White supremacists scheduled their “Unite the Right” rally to protest that. And the counter-protesters — including Heather Heyer — were there to make their voice heard.
Lee's statue
There were all kinds of First and Second Amendment things going on. Nazi and confederate flags. Shields with Nazi symbols. Nazi chants like “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us.” Tiki torches, banners. Assault rifles and handguns.
Fights broke out. The leftists knocked down the rightists’ shields. Tiki torches were wielded, to be met with baseball bats. It was turning into something like a “Game of Thrones” battle. And then Fields used his car as a battering ram sending bodies flying.
And Heather Heyer died.
Heather was a paralegal at a Charlottesville law firm, helping clients deal with bankruptcy. She had just celebrated her fifth anniversary with her firm. Her boss, Larry Miller, described her as precise, witty and like a member of the family.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe praised Heyer. "She was doing what she loved," he said. "She was fighting for democracy, (for) free speech, to stop hatred and bigotry."
That is in sharp contrast with Donald Trump’s description in his Aug. 15 press conference. After going back and forth for three days over who was to blame for the attack that killed Heather, Trump finally settled on an answer: Both sides were responsible.
“I think there's blame on both sides. And I have no doubt about it," Trump said. “You had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent," he added.
Trump repeatedly emphasized that he believed many of the “Unite the Right” rally participants were not members of hate groups and were simply there to protest the pending removal of Lee’s statue.
“You had people in that group who were protesting the taking down of what to them is a very, very important statue,” Trump said, before suggesting that Lee and other Confederate-era generals, including Stonewall Jackson, are the victims of historical revisionism.
Speaking rhetorically, Trump asked whether George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, both slave owners, should suffer the same fate and have their statues removed. “You're changing history; you're changing culture,” he said.
And speaking of “changing history,” that “very, very important statue” of Lee was created in 1924. In asking for its removal, a petition said the statue was a symbol of “hate” and a “subliminal message of racism.” Washington and Jefferson, several writers have noted, helped form our nation, while Lee and Jackson tried to tear it down.
So here’s my proposal. Replace Robert E. Lee’s statue with one of Heather Heyer. She showed more courage than the Republican members of Congress and most of those on Trump's cabinet. And she's definitely shown more patriotism, more love of country than the guy who said "both sides" were to blame for her death.
  Someone already has placed a handmade sign in front of the statue.It says: "HEYER MEM. PARK." Not much, but it’s a start.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Cries for help that go unanswered

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By Tom Walker
Friday, Aug. 4, was a day when everything changed.
I went to see 'Dunkirk' with a friend. We really enjoyed it- a strange yet powerful war movie about civilians who rescued more than 300,000 Allied troops pinned by the German army at Dunkirk. The war could have ended right there, a year before Pearl Harbor, if not for the heroism of small boat owners such as Mr. Dawson, played by Mark Rylance, who endures even the loss of a son to carry out his rescue mission.
Later, it was fun to relive the movie with my friend, over lunch. I thought I could see parallels between the civilian action that saved Britain from a fascist dictator and the protests, court actions and special inquiries that are working to save our democracy. Possible column in the works?
But all that blew up the moment I got home.
Our house has a courtyard in front with a locked gate. As I approached it, I heard someone crying, 'Help me, help me!' I rushed inside the courtyard and found Linda, my wife of 52 years, a woman who has helped me through so many health crises, lying flat on her back, unable to get up.
Barely able to speak, she said she had gone out into the courtyard to pick up something that had blown in. When she bent down to pick it up, she was knocked flat by a massive attack of vertigo, so powerful she couldn't stand.
That had been about 21/2 hours earlier. She'd been lying there in the heat of the day. Fortunately, she was in a shady area, not in the sun. I tried to help her up and give her water, but she couldn't sit up to drink it.
At the same time, I was dialing 911. And everything worked perfectly after that. The paramedics arrived within minutes, sirens and horns blaring. And very quickly, they had Linda monitored, neck-braced and hooked up with fluids. Then they transported her to Northwest Medical Center, with more sirens and horns.
There, doctors and nurses did blood tests, X-rays, CT scans, and other stuff. And found absolutely nothing. After a night in the hospital, Linda was discharged with this stunning diagnosis: 'Dizziness.' The follow-up instructions were a prescription for anti-dizziness medicine and a visit to her primary care physician and an ear, nose and throat specialist within a week.
By Monday, Linda was better, able to get around without a walker. She even baked some brownies. And I came away from this with some follow-up instructions of my own.
First, as the hospital doctors said, we're going to get a referral to a good ENT guy and really try to find the cause of Linda's vertigo attacks. Apparently it's hereditary; both her great grandmother and grandmother suffered from 'sinking spells.' And our son had attacks that eventually were traced to allergies.
Second, we're getting a medical alert system. I don't want to be accused of spamming, so I won't say the name of the company. But my sister and sister-inlaw recommended them. And third, we're going to work on neighborhood bonds. We live in a 56-unit townhouse complex, neighbors on both sides and across the street from a community swimming pool. And yet, no one heard Linda's cries for help.
I haven't been to an HOA meeting in years. But I plan to start pushing for a neighborhood that listens for cries for help. We'll see where that goes.
Tom Walker is a retired journalist who worked at the Arizona Daily Star and now writes novels and blogs. Contact Tom at

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Missiles, fire, fury and flagpoles

One memorable night, I turned the launch key on an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and sent it roaring off toward a target thousands of miles away.
No harm done.
 That was in 1968. I was the commander of a two-man Minuteman missile combat crew, and this was just a test. We had been shipped along with a missile, chosen at random from our base in Wyoming, to Vandenberg AFB in California. Then, for a month, Steve Simmons, my deputy, and I monitored our missile from an underground silo just like the real ones.
Finally, the moment we’d been waiting for came.
Over the radio came a launch command from “Looking Glass,” the airborne command post for the Strategic Air Command. Just like the ones we’d heard in training, evaluations and rehearsals. Except this one was the real deal.
“Skybird, Skybird, this is Looking Glass,” the radio intoned. And then he gave us our order, with the launch code and the specific time we were supposed to turn the keys. Steve and I went through the steps of the pre-launch checklist, checked the go-code and found it was valid.
And then, at the set time, we turned our keys and watched the multi-colored monitor screens light up to signal a launch. But next, the part that wasn’t real: We hurried out through the vault entrance door to the capsule to watch the missile, a mile away, thunder out of its silo and blaze through the night air on its way toward the Kwajalein Atoll 4,000 miles away .Fortunately, Kwajalein was safe; our missile was armed with a dummy warhead.
Unlike the missiles that a couple of real-life dummies are talking about right now.
Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un are flinging around words like a pair of schoolyard bullies. Fed up with North Korean threats, Trump threatens “fire and fury” if they don’t stop. From North Korea, more threats: an “enveloping fire” on the U.S. territory of Guam, where we have an important Air Force Base.
Oh yeah? Well I dare you to do that. Well then, I double dare you. Oh yeah? Well I double dog dare you. Jeez. Will someone please stick their tongues to an ice-cold flagpole?
Fortunately, I spent my 3½ years of missile duty during a time when cooler heads were around. It was during the time of Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon. Of course, Johnson led us into a quagmire in Vietnam and Nixon — well, you know about him.
But neither of them was the kind of scary, irresponsible, and unprepared leader we have sitting right now uncomfortably close to the nuclear launch codes.
In all my years of sitting in underground launch silos, playing nursemaid to the ten nuclear-armed Minuteman missiles under my command, I never had to wonder about the sanity of the men who might order me to turn the key. Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) was the guiding principle of the Cold War; now it's Maniacally Angry Dialogue being hurled back and forth by a pair of reckless provocateurs.
I wonder what the men and women who make up missile combat crews now are thinking. Those aren’t dummy warheads on top of their sleek, shiny white missiles, after all.
Our leader and his aides need to keep that in mind.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The thorny road to distraction

Corruption is a tree, whose branches are
Of an immeasurable length: they spread
Ev'rywhere; and the dew that drops from thence
Hath infected some chairs and stools of authority.
— John Fletcher, ”The Honest Man's Fortune,” (1613)

Back when I was a sort-of cowboy working on my father’s ranch, I learned the danger of riding into a thicket of cat-claw bushes. The scraggly looking shrubs, with their sharp fishhook-shaped thorns, could leave you looking like you wandered into a den of wildcats.
And how ‘bout that Arizona Wildcats basketball team? Will they be the preseason No. 1 pick?
Wait, wait — must stay on message. I was writing about the danger of cat-claw thickets and how a cowboy only rode into them if he didn’t know better.
Same goes for a simple blog writer, who just wanted to say something about the current state of politics and then found himself trapped in a hopeless tangle of cat-claw thorns.
I weep, I howl, I despair. These times, this era of Trump, are driving me to distraction.
Speaking of distraction, how about these latest ones. Trump tweets out an early-morning message that says transgender folks are no longer welcome in the military. He says he has consulted with “my generals” about this abrupt change of policy.
Cat-claw thorns
But those generals — who just happen to be our generals, not his — were caught entirely off guard by his announcement. So were the thousands of transgender persons now honorably serving in the military. It was an announcement no doubt pulled out of Trump’s ample butt, but it served a purpose: It got us all talking about something other than Senate Republicans’ failure to repeal, replace or do anything with the Affordable Care Act, the most stinging defeat so far of the Trump agenda.
You aren’t free of the cat-claw thicket, though. There are more thorns to tangle you up. For example, the administration delivered two more anti-LGBT actions on Wednesday. Intervening in a private lawsuit, they argued that the Civil Rights Act doesn’t protect gays against employment discrimination.
And they nominated Sam Brownback, the anti-gay governor of Kansas, to be the U.S. ambassador at large to the Office of International Religious Freedom. After having pretty much trashed  Kansas with his policies, Brownback ranks behind only New Jersey’s Chris Christie in unpopularity.
The time-honored practice of bullies: Pick someone smaller than you -- minorities such as gays and lesbians, for example -- and single them out for persecution.

Thorns, thorns and more thorns.
Linda and I have become addicted to Netflix and HBO streaming shows like “The Borgias, “ “Big Little Lies” and, of course, “Game of Thrones.” All the intrigue, suspense, poisonings, stabbings and  complete chaos grab us and won’t let go. Sort of like a cat-claw thicket of the mind.
But the suspense and intrigue also keep me glued to shows like Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell. I record them and watch them late at night, along with Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers. Did I mention that the cat-claw thorns keep me up pretty late at night?
But speaking of distractions.
-- Trump, at the national Boy Scout Jamboree, delivers the kind of speech he might use at one of his rallies, full of self-praise and political fervor. The Boy Scouts had to apologize for his bizarre performance.
-- Trump’s new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, lets fly with a profanity-laced attack against the president’s top strategist, Steve Bannon, and calls White House Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus, a paranoid schizophrenic who leaks material to the press.
--  Priebus, one of Trump’s only links to mainstream Republicans, quits, and he appoints retired Marine Gen. John Kelly to replace him. Trump has wanted Kelly in the job for months.
-- Trump publicly repeatedly attacks his own attorney general, probably hoping to force him to resign so he can appoint a new, non-recused AG during the congressional recess who can fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Democrats as well as Republicans work to block any kind of recess appointment.
Alexandra Petri of The Washington Post seems to have a good grasp on the situation. “All the people with silly real names are being replaced by people with silly fake names.”
 Eventually, she adds, we will end up with a White House consisting “entirely of generals, reality TV villains, people who call themselves “Mooch” and “Mad Dog” with straight faces … A fine group to have running any country, if you don’t care what happens to the country.”
Unfortunately, I do care. And that’s why I constantly hope to find some way out of this thicket we’re in.