Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Who's that tapping at your window?

By Tom Walker 

In our neighborhood we have heard many strange sounds over the years – profanity laden monologues, leaf blowers running full tilt at midnight, moon-howling wackoids of various kinds. But one of the strangest sounds is one that started a few days ago: a quiet tapping at our living room windows as though someone were politely asking to come in.
What on earth could it be? A lizard begging to come in from an unseasonably warm November day? Another of our frequent packrat visitors who’d forgotten his usual way of sneaking into our house? No answers out there – just the persistent tap, tap, tap at our living room windows.
Finally, peeking through the window drapes, I caught a glimpse of the culprit. A bird, hopping about on the window sill, pecking at the triple-pane glass. I have no idea what kind; just a small grey character with a perky black tail. And a fascination with our living room windows, which are in themselves completely lacking in fascination as far as I can tell.
But not to this bird. A picture of misguided determination, he would look this way and that with quick motions like some real-bird version of Jeff Sessions, then take a quick peck at the window. At first, I thought he might be hunting for bugs on the windows. But of course, that was ridiculous; there are no bugs on our windows
Then it came to me. He was pecking at his reflection. Our west-facing living room windows have a mirror tinting to protect us from the hot Arizona afternoon sun. The windows aren’t big picture-window things, just standard 36- by 48-inch sizes. But apparently, they were anything but standard to our bird friend. They were the most fascinating thing he’d ever seen.
Because of the tinting, I was able to watch the bird in secret, as through a two-way mirror. It was fun, seeing him hop from one leg to another, tail and wings twitching in excitement, as he contemplated the creature before him. He studies it with first one beady eye and then the other, and then he tops it off with a peck as if to say “Gotcha!”
“Gotcha, Little Rocket Man! Gotcha, Little Marco! Gotcha, Crooked Hillary!”
You may have noticed that our bird in the window has suddenly morphed into someone resembling a president we know. In fact, I’ve given the bird a name: “Little Donnie.”
Little Donnie has had a rousing good time lately with a barrage of insults, tweets and off-the-wall comments. Earlier this week he used a racial slur to entertain some Native American war heroes – Navajo Code Talkers. It seemed like a perfect time for Little Donnie to bring up his own code for Sen. Elizabeth Warren – or Pocahontas, as he likes to call her.
And then Little Donnie kept pecking away, retweeting graphic (and completely debunked) anti-Muslim videos by an extreme far right British hate group. This caused outrage and fears of violent reprisals against Americans overseas, and a rebuke from British Prime Minister Theresa May. Too bad, Little Donnie; you probably won’t be pecking at the windows of Parliament anytime soon.
Now he’s suggesting that an “Access Hollywood” video where he boasted about sexually assaulting women – something he apologized for last year – was doctored.
Of course, we’re onto his game now. Little Donnie is pecking away, trying to distract us from the HUGE thing he has going on: a Senate tax cut bill that will steal from the poor and give to the rich on a scale unmatched in U.S. history. If this monster passes later this week, Little Donnie’s Republican Party will steal itemized deductions such as medical expenses, mortgage interests and property taxes from middle-income Americans. There are also losses in personal exemptions for parents and children, college students, and just about anybody else with pockets worth picking.
They’ll also leave an estimated 13 million Americans without health insurance coverage because of cuts to Obamacare, and they'll take a big chunk out of Medicaid.
Meanwhile, Little Donnie and his GOP chums are holding out a tasty carrot to the middle class – a doubling of the standard income tax exemption to $12,000 for single persons, and to $24,000 for married couples filing jointly.  But there’s a time limit on those gifts. See, they run out after ten years, unless some other Congress votes to renew them.
According to Congress’ nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation, many families making less than $30,000 a year would face tax increases starting in 2021 under the Senate bill. And by 2027, families earning less than $75,000 would see their tax bills rise.
At the same time, the ultra-wealthy – especially those with dynastic businesses like Little Donnie and his family – will do very well under the bill. Slashing the inheritance tax, cutting corporate taxes and eliminating the alternative minimum tax are all major windfalls for the wealthy. And most of all to big-ticket GOP donors who’ve been waiting for years for their payback.
There's no time limit on those gifts to the wealthy -- they just keep giving and giving.
“‘This is it! This is it!” Little Donnie sings as he pecks away at the windows of our democracy. He isn't pecking at his reflection; he's pecking at us.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Meet Mama Walker

Cassandra Theora Farmer Walker was no stranger to sorrow. Her father, Ira Alexander Farmer, was ambushed and killed when Cassandra was the approximate age of five years. Back in the waning years of the nineteenth century and especially in the baby state of Texas, vigilante justice often superseded the more appropriate and official law and order norms. A make shift posse quickly caught Ira’s killer and, hopefully with the best of intentions, brought him back to Cassandra’s front yard where a large oak tree grew. The posse hung the alleged killer from that tree and young Cassandra Theora Farmer watched him die. While it is not known if Cassandra’s mother, Mary Lewis Farmer, witnessed the hanging, she nevertheless died the next year when Cassandra was age six years. When she was eighteen years old, Cassandra married Thomas Randolph Walker and gave birth to two sons and a daughter. When he was forty-five years old, Thomas Randolph Walker died. For the next forty-three years my great grandmother, Mama Walker, wore only black. Mirroring his grandmother’s loss, my father’s mother died when he was six years old. Mama Walker made the arduous trip from Texas to Arizona to help her son care for his five motherless children all under the age of nine years. My father remembers Mama Walker as a stern, unsmiling person who never gave him enough to eat. Indeed, my father felt hungry for the rest of his life. I blamed Mama Walker for his hunger until I finally broached the subject with Mama Walker’s namesake, my Aunt Cassie. Cassie looked at me with alarm and disbelief. “Mama Walker was a wonderful woman,” remembered Cassie. “She sang and laughed with us all the time. And she was a wonderful cook. We always had plenty to eat.”
Family stories are essential and must be told. Without their telling we are left with mysteries of who we are and from where we came. Without the stories our understandings of how and why remain limited. However, when we hear our stories we are given keys to greater understanding. For example, my father’s life long hunger resulted not from an unfeeling, uncaring grandmother but from the death of his own mother. Perhaps Mama Walker shared a similar hunger which might also explain why she cooked and fed and sang and comforted. She also knew the hunger of young loss.
On the cattle ranch of my youth winter darkness often came early. Watching television wasn’t possible. Neither was any other type of electronic screen viewing. After the evening card games ended and after Daddy tired of playing his harmonica the family stories began. Because of them I know who I am. I know all about the braveries, the passions, and all too often the unthinking stupidities of those who came before me. I stand on their shoulders and learn from them.

I grew up hearing family stories. Now I tell my own. You have stories also. Now is the time to tell them.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

How I learned to Bear Down with the best of them

Arizona mascot, Wilbur Wildcat
By Tom Walker
For much too long, I have been bedeviled by a secret. Now, I just have to come clean.
Although we live in the city of Tucson, home of the (Bear Down) University of Arizona Wildcats, my wife Linda and I are graduates of that hated school 100 miles to the north in Tempe, Arizona State University.
In our defense, we’ve called Tucson home more than forty years, far longer than the time it took to get our ASU degrees and get out of that place. We’ve seldom been back since then, and I’m certain I’d be as lost now as I was all those years ago when I first wandered down its citrus-smelling streets.
I grew up in Wickenburg, so ASU was my school of choice, much closer than that other university hiding way down in the southern part of the state. Linda was from faraway North Carolina, but her mother and step-father lived in Mesa; so ASU was the only sensible option.
Those are our excuses, feeble as they might be.
I went to a few ASU football games, back in the days when Frank Kush was beating up on the hapless UA Wildcats regularly. But I never was much of a fan. There were far more interesting things at ASU than big guys with Sparky on their helmets. Girls, for one thing. Girls, for another.
Anyway, Linda and I got married during our senior year, and soon after that, we left ASU for good. After a time in the U.S. Air Force, we landed in Tucson  and have been there ever since. Our children went to school there and Linda and I both spent our careers in Tucson.
We are Tucsonans, through and through. I’m a big fan of the UA basketball team, and I grieve every time the Wildcats flame out all too soon in March Madness. I still own an official National Championship jersey from 1997, and I think Coach Sean Miller is destined to guide his team to another one soon.
And yet, there’s that nagging little thing that surfaces anytime we mention where we went to college. “Oh, well – we went to that other school. You know, the one up the road a piece?”
I want to take this occasion once and for all to divorce myself from any loyalty that I might still have to the Sun Devils. Friday’s football game, which ASU won 42-30, did it for me. There were no dirty plays, no bad calls that changed the game, just bad luck. Khalil Tate, the Wildcats’ brilliant sophomore quarterback, got banged up near the end of the first half, and that changed the game. Oh, that and an injury depleted defense, and special teams that weren't all that special.
Two things happened in the second half: without Tate, the Wildcats lost the momentum and the game, and I stopped being, even peripherally, an ASU fan. I felt the same kind of sadness for Coach Rich Rodriguez and his team that I’ve felt for the UA basketball teams through the years.
I always looked forward to the start of basketball season as a form of rescue from the usually dismal football year. Now I’m anxious to continue with basketball, anxious to see the Wildcats correct whatever went wrong in Battle 4 Atlantis. And I’m excited about the upcoming softball and baseball seasons, too.
And now at last, here’s something that I’ve wanted to say for a long time, without reservation: Bear down, Arizona, bear down!

Friday, November 24, 2017

One of many things that's been broken lately

 Here's a guest opinion column that ran Friday, Nov. 24, in the Arizona Daily Star.

By Tom Walker
Special to the Arizona Daily Star
One nice Sunday in mid-October, I fell down and couldn’t get up.
I wish I could say I was doing something really exciting, like climbing one of Doug Kreutz’s craggy mountains. But what really happened was, I was putting out the trash in front of our house. Made it back to the garage, then passed out because I thought I could perform this arduous task without my portable oxygen machine. And I collapsed on the garage floor with my ankle twisted beneath me.
Fortunately, Linda, my wife, was right there and brought out the oxygen machine, which revived me enough to let me get back on my feet.
Right away, my right ankle started hurting and swelling and turning all kinds of unnatural colors, but I thought it was just a bad sprain.
Next morning it was still swollen and hurting, so we decided it was worth a trip to urgent care.
The doctor there took a look at the X-ray and said I had a broken fibula, the small ankle bone located on the outside of the leg.
The tibia, or shinbone, is the weight-bearing bone. However, continuing to walk on a broken fibula could result in a compound injury, in which a jagged piece of bone pierces through the skin.
Bad stuff can follow, like infections, gangrene, lions dying in the snows of Kilimanjaro. Bad stuff, indeed.
My new best friend
So they fitted me with a heavy boot to protect the ankle — but don’t put any weight on it, they cautioned. And they sent me off to the emergency room at Northwest Medical Center. And then followed five weeks of treatment and therapy — five days at the main hospital, and four weeks at Mountain View Care Center.
I’m very happy to report that everyone involved in my treatment did absolutely exemplary work. I want to especially give a shout-out to a big, always friendly, physical therapist named Allen Brown.
Allen helped me get on my feet again, learning how to hop on my left leg using a walker. And Saturday, Nov. 18, they sent me home with many a handshake and hug.
And that brings me to the main point of this story. Hospitals are expensive, whether you’re there for a simple broken fibula like mine or for a multi-surgery shattered ankle suffered by my ironworker roommate after a fall from a scaffold.
I haven’t received a final bill for my treatment yet, but I’m sure the Medicare Advantage co-payments are going to run into many hundreds of dollars — if not thousands.
One saving grace in the past has been the fact that we could use those costs as itemized medical deductions on our federal taxes.
Now, Trump’s Republican Party wants to steal that deduction as well as many others so their billionaire donors can afford to buy more yachts and private jets.
Their $1.5 trillion raid on the U.S. Treasury eliminates the estate tax and alternative minimum tax, handing more huge, undeserved windfalls to the rich.
Meanwhile, it chops away at Obamacare subsidies and Medicaid.
Doctors can repair even my roommate’s badly shattered ankle. I’m not sure our country can survive the damage the GOP wants to inflict on middle-class taxpayers.
I’m calling Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake regularly, urging them to block this unholy mess of a tax cut for the rich.
I don’t know what else to do, except what I’m doing now: Write.
Otherwise, we’ve really fallen down and can’t get up.

Tom Walker is a retired journalist who has worked at the Arizona Daily Star. He now writes novels and blogs. Contact him at

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Roy Moore goes before Judge Trump

By Tom Walker

Donald J. Trump missed his calling. Instead of real estate, he should’ve focused on law. He’d have made a hugely effective judge. Here’s how one of his recent cases might have gone.
Judge Trump: Alabama Senate Candidate Roy Moore, you have been accused of sexually assaulting and pursuing teenagers and young women. How do you plead?
Moore: I totally deny all the charges against me, your honor.
Trump: You totally deny them? Not mostly or somewhat? You totally deny them?
Moore: Yes, your honor. Totally.
Trump: Interesting. And nice touch, that “your honor.” I like that – shows respect.
Moore: You’re welcome, your honor. I’ll even make it Mr. President, if you want.
Trump: No, just “your honor” is fine, for now. Now, Mr. Moore, you used to be a judge, is that right?
Moore: Yes sir, a couple of times.
Trump: Well, we’ll keep that in mind in our deliberations. How old are you now?
Moore: Seventy, your honor.
Trump: Well, welcome to the septuagenarian club. I am, believe it or not, in my mid-seventies. And I still have the hair and the endurance of a teenager. Just yesterday, I bested Steve Bannon two out of three times in Rock, Paper, Scissors.
Moore: Congratulations, your honor.
Trump: Now, here’s a tough question. At the time you were allegedly involved with these teenage women, how old were you?
Moore: Well, that must be a trick question, your honor. Since I totally deny any involvement with these women, I couldn’t have been any age.
Trump: But just speaking hypothetically – and I know you’re impressed by my huge vocabulary – if these women in question were teenagers forty years ago, how old would you have been at the time?
Moore: Oh, yes your honor, I’m all a-twitter at your command of language. And since you put it that way, I would have been – oh, I’d say about 32. It was back when I was an assistant district attorney. But as I said, I totally deny that anything happened involving teenage girls or anyone.
Trump: And that’s good enough for me, Judge Moore. I know what it’s like to get blindsided by a bunch of lying, fake charges. During my presidential campaign – which, incidentally I won in one of the biggest landslides in history – I had sixteen women come at me with junk like that. I promised to sue all sixteen of them when the campaign was over, but it turned out to be unnecessary. They all cowered back into their hiding places.
Moore: Um, Judge Trump? Getting back to my Senate race? Would it be possible to get a little endorsement from you?
Trump: Heh, heh. Here’s where I like to break out my Foghorn Leghorn imitation. Boy, I say, boy! You don’t need an endorsement. What you’ve got here is the next best thing: a Gen-u-ine Donald Trump Election Boost, just from what I said or didn’t say. Now go away, boy .... And bring home an election win next month.
Moore: Oh, I can hardly wait, your honor. The U.S. Senate won’t know what hit it.
Trump: That’s no joke, boy – I’m countin’ on that.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Here we are, with an albatross that tweets

By Tom Walker

From the top down and in every direction we look, we seem to be trapped in a season of brokenness.
It’s like the Ancient Mariner – water, water, everywhere … and not a drop to drink. There’s even an albatross hanging around our neck: the Twitter-loving buffoon that most of us did not vote for and yet who reigns as the 45th president of our hapless land.
Aided by his shadow Cabinet of Steve Bannon and Sean Hannity, Donald Trump fills his time deconstructing the federal government, tearing apart the State Department and EPA. Meanwhile, he’s busy trying to rewrite tax laws to benefit himself and his multi-billionaire donors. Goodbye, itemized deductions for state and local taxes, goodbye, deductions for health expenses.
Goodbye, middle class.
I guess one bright spot to the Trump presidency has been its effect on opponents of Trump. They are out in numbers, protesting, calling representatives and senators, making sure our government knows how they feel about attempts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act or income taxes.
Another glow of light: the newfound courage of women and men to speak out against men who oppress them sexually or psychologically. I guess this also flows from the top: Donald Trump was caught on tape boasting about how his star power allowed him to bestow unwanted kisses and gropings on women. Sixteen women came forward after that, accusing Trump of sexual harassment. Trump threatened to sue, but of course never did.
Then, the day after Trump’s inauguration, roughly a million women marched in Washington, D.C. and other cities, wearing the pink “pussy hats” that became the wonderful symbol of their protest movement.
And the dominoes of disclosure began to fall. Harvey Weinstein. Kevin Spacey brings down “House of Cards.” Louie CK (yuck). Bill O’Reilly. Deposed judge Roy Moore. Sen. Al Franken, formerly “Giant of the Senate” and now, quite possibly, “Fool of the Senate.” And just yesterday, a new name: Charlie Rose. Jeez.
I don’t want to seem all holier than thou here. I was once accused, rightfully, of sexual harassment, by a coworker and friend. We would meet each other in the office with a friendly hug, and one day when I was wearing suspenders she gave my suspender strap a little pop. And without thinking, I gave her bra strap a couple little pops in return, in front just below the shoulder.
We both smiled over it, but the next day I found myself behind closed doors with my supervisor and our human relations guy. They outlined the charge against me, and without hesitation I confessed to my moment of idiocy – what else could I do? I was humiliated, and so sorry about it. I later apologized to my coworker, and we’ve remained friends. Handshaking friends, but still friends.
So maybe, just maybe, all this brokenness is heading toward something else. A time when the pieces of our world will come back together. A time of unbrokenness.
Hurry, Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Bring us peace.