Popcorn, Peanuts & Cracker Jack

Sunday afternoons were slotted for room inspection during my childhood.  My father was a military man and he believed in duty, integrity and most important of all, humility.  As the youngest of six children, it never occurred to me to challenge this parental practice.  We always passed the inspection and would gather around the colored television happily chomping away on bowls of hot buttered popcorn as our family eagerly watched the latest episode of Bonanza.  It remains a treasured memory of momentary, blissful escape from the raging war and civil unrest that constantly circulated around us.

So when my spouse and partner fantasized for years about retiring and watching his beloved Kansas City Royals baseball team’s daily games, it made perfect sense.  He had fulfilled his duty by lobbying injustice at the Iowa Capitol for twenty-seven years, where I joined this mission for the last seven.  We battled the evil side of the behavioral approach to social problems, enhancing criminal penalties to control behavior.  He spent long hours at his computer researching and preparing for upcoming sessions year after year. He simply couldn’t justify taking time away from this charge to selfishly watch television. So he remained focused on social justice, although he longingly tracked his Royals through the daily sports page.

The main difference between lobbying for corporate interests versus criminal issues is that when we lost the debate, lives would be damaged or destroyed and liberty lost.  Enhancing penalties aren’t effective, but they are powerful and some legislators arrive at the Capitol full of anger. Pushing punitive laws serve as an outlet for their personal biases and frustrations.  Though possibly the most dangerous legislator of all is the one using social problems to attract media attention.  Vanity is easily manipulated, so when the motivation for change isn’t pure, the person will alter his position when the attention begins to shift elsewhere.

A number of years ago, before the legislature gaveled in, a state senator stomped up the east entrance steps at the Capitol, and spotting me immediately he swiftly turned and made a bee line towards me.  It seems a radio station used a recording of me during a subcommittee meeting and not him, the chair of the meeting.  After this odd episode, it became easier for me to spot attention seekers.  They will introduce controversial legislation hoping to attract far reaching exposure.  Lobbyists wanting to get meaningful legislation passed need to maintain a wide berth of the media or risk alienating the posturing politician from future support.

So recently retired Marty happily turned his back on these political games at the Capitol and switched on Royals baseball.  Soon it became clear that he wanted to share America’s pastime with me.  So after digging out the slightly yellowed Minnesota Twins 1987 Homer Hanky from a dusty old cardboard box containing my inheritance from my father, I embraced the game of baseball willing to learn all its little nuances.  The Minnesota Twins gained another fan as we watched both teams navigate the shortened 2020 season due to COVID-19.  With great pride, I accurately remembered every word to the song “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” that was traditionally sung during the 7th inning stretch.  Childhood memories of games past filled me with such warmth, only to come crashing down when “God Bless America” was slowly and painfully sung during the break in the 7th inning.  With no fans in the stands, and since America wasn’t the “home sweet home” for many baseball players, the song seemed both insensitive and quite frankly, sadly superficial.  But we adjusted accordingly by happily munching away on peanuts and Cracker Jack and using the mute button when needed.

But then the Twins decided to be one of a handful of sports teams to participate in the boycott of games in the name of racial injustice that took place at the end of August.  They didn’t lose any pay and played a double header the next day, which meant they played 14 innings instead of the 18 they would have played over two days.  It just didn’t play out as a big sacrifice on their part, given that George Floyd died in Minneapolis.

Now the Royals didn’t participate in the boycott.  Whit Merrifield, a star hitter for the Royal’s and a fan favorite stated:

“We feel what we do is a separation from what’s going on in the world.  We feel we have to go out and do our job and give people a three-hour window to enjoy a baseball game and to not think about what’s going on in the world.”

Merrifield gave me renewed hope.  But sports players, like legislators are public figures.  Some may genuinely care about racial equality, while others just like the attention it brings.

The other night we simultaneously watched the Royals play the Indians and the Kansas City Chiefs play the Houston Texans, the socially distanced and masked Chief’s fans did the tomahawk chop to support their team.  Those genuinely dedicated to racial sensitivity have a whole lot of work to do.

This article appeared in print in the Fall 2020 issue of the Prairie Progressive.  We recommend subscribing to this quarterly newsletter.  Details on the website at: https://theprairieprogressive.com/


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Take A Pill

One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small
And the ones that mother gives you, don’t do anything at all

White Rabbit by Grace Slick, Jefferson Airplane.

This week I have my yearly visit with my primary care doctor at the Veterans Administration Health Clinic of Central Iowa.  Instead of seeing my doctor in person, I will converse with him about my health concerns via telephone.

This appointment is going to take some time.  I rarely watch television, but I try not to miss any Kansas City Royals or Minnesota Twins games.  During commercial breaks, I keep getting messages that I “should ask my doctor if [insert name brand medication here] is right for me.”  I have a list.

If you’ve seen these commercials, have you noticed that you are never told what the medication is supposed to relieve?  You have to use a search engine to find out everything about the drug.  That’s the advertisement’s goal, getting you to click on their website.

Can you even pronounce some of these medications?  Will I have to spell out Baqsimi to my doctor to see if it’s right for me.  I certainly can’t pronounce it.  I don’t want to be insensitive to people who may need these medicines, but scanning the possible side effects should be enough to keep anyone from wanting to take a drug that eases one particular ailment.  I rarely see one anymore in which death is not one of the possible side effects.  And often, the list of side effects includes both constipation and diarrhea.  No, thank you.

It has to be impossible for both diarrhea and constipation to occur at the same time.  So, which is it?  Has the drug company not researched this pill completely to have the possibility of two adverse conditions as a side effect?  This is the point in which the manufacturer blames the patient.  “The medicine affects each individual differently.”  Think about that for a minute.  If side effects can range wildly from the runs to plugging up, wouldn’t the effect of the medicine be different to each individual user?  Okay, I know the answer, and that’s why I’m skeptical about drugs advertised on television.

I used to think that only old people used pill boxes.  Today, I use two pill boxes.  The red one is for the pills I take before bed.  The blue one contains medication I have to take in the morning.  That makes me feel older than old.  Twice as old.

For as many years as possible, I tried to keep from taking pills if I didn’t need them.  I rarely took an aspirin or ibuprofen when I had a headache or pain.  I still hesitate to use over-the-counter medication, although I do, occasionally and continuously.  That’s a confusing statement, isn’t it?  It’s sort of like throwing in constipation and diarrhea in the same sentence.  I take an over-the-counter antihistamine twice a day.  However, I rarely use any pain relievers such as aspirin and ibuprofen.

The pills I take have been prescribed to keep me alive, or at least aid in the everyday functions that seem to have a link to healthy living.  That must be the way of life for so many of us who have become senior citizens.

If you have paid attention to previous blogs of mine, you would understand that I experimented with far too many drugs as a young man.  My aversion now is probably some unnecessary fear of getting hooked or overdosing.  I can’t explain it, and it probably cost too much to find a shrink that would explain it.

Or, I could just take another pill.

Doctor please, some more of these
Outside the door, she took four more
What a drag it is getting old

Mother’s Little Helper by Keith Richards / Mick Jagger. The Rolling Stones

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A Taxing Dilemma

Saturday and Sunday, August 7th and 8th, is the tax-fee weekend in Iowa for purchases of clothing and footwear.  What that means is that there is no addition of sales tax, state or local, on purchases of certain cloths or shoes, boots, sandals, etc.  As with just about everything, there are exceptions.

If one item of clothing or footwear exceeds one-hundred dollars, the entire item is taxed at the usual rate.

Clothing does not include: “watches, watchbands, jewelry, umbrellas, handkerchiefs, sporting equipment, skis, swim fins, roller blades, skates, and any special clothing or footwear designed primarily for athletic activity or protective use and not usually considered appropriate for everyday wear.”  Question.  Does that now include face masks in the exemption?  Hmmm.  Although face masks are designed for protective use, it is now considered appropriate for everyday wear.

What is “athletic activity?”  Is Yoga considered to be an athletic activity?  “In the West, yoga is less understood for its spiritual component and more commonly known as a physical workout of specific poses, or asanas.”  Merriam-Webster defines “athletics” as 1: “exercises, sports, or games engaged in by athletes. 2: the practice or principles of athletic activities.  Using these definitions, are yoga pants excluded in the tax-free sales?  The administrative rule on this section of the Iowa Code specifies that “jogging suits” would be included in tax-exempt clothing, but what about jogging shorts, sweat pants, and sports bras?  Why would a sports bra be taxable but not a regular bra?  Does this tax-free exercise include purchases at Victoria’s Secret?  Furthermore, who in government is going to determine that a person is wearing a swim suit (tax-exempt) for everyday use and not used by a member of the swim team(taxable)?

As you can tell, I have never liked this law.  At the time it was first enacted, I saw many parents running out to buy school clothing and shoes.  One month later, JC Penney had a weekend sale with ten percent off.  You can do the math.  The sales tax was 5 percent at the time.  Today, it is seven percent in most areas of Iowa.

No longer do I pay much attention to clothing sales, but perhaps Penney’s and several other stores have finally offered their sales on the tax holiday weekend.

Items sold as a unit must remain a unit.  “A suit is normally priced at $125.00 on a single price tag. The suit cannot be split into separate articles so that any of the items may be sold for under $100.00 in order to qualify for the exemption.”  First of all, I don’t necessarily want to see a suit that sells for $125.  Here’s the loophole:  Buy a sports coat and a few pairs of pants.  But once again, can you even buy a decent sports jacket for less than $100?

If the store doesn’t have what you want during this holiday, and you request a rain check, the item is taxed when you pick it up after the holiday is over.  That doesn’t seem fair, does it?

Layaway – This is a strange exception.  If you place an item on layaway on the first day of the sales tax holiday, and the item is priced under $100, you will not have to pay a sales tax on any portion of the costs of the item if you pick it up on day two of the holiday, but if you pick it up on any other day after the holiday, you must pay sales tax on the entire price of the item.  Who places something on layaway for one day?

There are quite a few other exemptions in Iowa.  You can find the entire list here.  It also spells out what to do about tailoring, rentals, refunds, etc.

Fifteen other states also have this silly promotional ‘holiday’.  You’ll have to check out your state’s Department of Revenue website to discover what is acceptable or not in Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.  Some of these states have more than one weekend.  A few states include school supplies such as pencils and paper tablets, and a couple include backpacks and computers.

Iowa’s silly holiday began in 2000.  The law’s intent was twofold.  It was supposed to give an incentive to businesses and promote economic growth locally and throughout the state.  Also, it was sold as an “effective tool for providing relief to low-income individuals.”  Neither goal was obtained, yet Iowa and other states hang on to these scams.  The District of Columbia and a few states have suspended or entirely dropped the schemes since they began in 1980.  “Ohio and Michigan enacted the first sales tax holidays in 1980 when they offered one-time tax holidays for automobile purchases. But it was New York that sparked the modern trend, with the first sales tax holiday for clothing in 1997. New York’s objective was to tackle cross-border shopping, the phenomenon of residents traveling to nearby states to take advantage of lower sales tax rates (particularly clothing purchases in New Jersey).”  The Tax Foundation.

The Tax Foundation cites a 2017 Federal Reserve study that claims some retailers raise prices during the tax-exempt holidays, and that there is no significant increases in consumer spending during these holidays.  Although sales taxes are regressive, and low-income people may reap a benefit, the tax-exempt holiday also applies to those with large financial resources.  In effect, it once again gives those that got – more.

You can check out the links above and here to see what is available for a tax-free shopping weekend.  Or, you can go to a neighboring state, such as Minnesota, where clothing and footwear is non-taxable all year long.  Either that, or wait for quarterly sales, either in-store or online.



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Trumped-Up Executions

Dustin Honken is set to be executed July 17 at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, for two of five murders he committed in Iowa 27years ago.

This case is of particular interest to Iowans because while Iowa does not have the death penalty for crimes prosecuted in its state courts, the federal government has retained the death penalty. Honken was sentenced to death in federal not state court because his crimes involved manufacturing, trafficking, and the distribution of methamphetamine across multiple state jurisdictions.

In 2004, a federal jury in Sioux City convicted him on 17 counts including witness tampering, soliciting the murder of a witness, drug conspiracy murder, and the murders of Iowa drug dealers Greg Nicholson and Terry DeGeus, Nicholson’s girlfriend, Lori Duncan, her two young daughters, Kandi, who was 10, and Amber, who was 6. He was sentenced to death for the children’s murders, life imprisonment for the adults’ murders, and terms of imprisonment for the remaining counts.

There has not been a federal execution since 2003. Between 1963 and 2003 there were only three—Timothy McVey and Juan Raul Garza were executed in 2001, and Louis Jones, Jr. was executed in 2003—all of which were carried out during the George W. Bush administration.

Prior to those, the last federal execution was of Victor Fegure who was hung at the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison in 1963 for the kidnapping and murder of Dr. Edward Bartels, a Dubuque physician. Because Fegure kidnapped Bartels and took him across the state line into Illinois, the case fell into federal jurisdiction. Two years later, Iowa rescinded the use of capital punishment.

Last year, at the urging of President Trump, the U.S. Department of Justice announced plans to resume the practice of executing people sentenced to death in federal cases.

Trump has long been a supporter of the death penalty. In 1989 he spent $85,000 to take out full-page ads in four New York newspapers calling for the state to reinstate its death penalty when a group of five teens were charged with beating and raping a woman who was jogging in Central Park. The teens, who came to be known as the Central Park Five, were convicted and sentenced to five to fifteen years. After the confession by the individual who committed the crime, which was corroborated by DNA evidence, the sentences of the five defendants were vacated by the New York Supreme Court.

Additionally, Trump called for the death penalty to be used against Sayfullo Saipov, who killed eight people with a truck in a 2017 attack on a New York bike path, and in 2018 Trump called for the execution of drug dealers as a way to fight the war on drugs.

Last fall dates were set for four federal executions, including Honken’s, which was originally calendared for January 15. A U.S. District Court judge issued a stay to provide time for a long-running legal challenge to the DOJ’s lethal injection protocol to be resolved.

The Federal Death Penalty Act of 1994 requires that federal executions be carried out “in the manner prescribed by the state” in which the prisoner was convicted. But Iowa doesn’t have the death penalty. In an act of federal overreach, the DOJ decided that since more than 20 U.S. and European pharmaceutical companies have limited the availability of the chemicals for executions, the DOJ would just use pentobarbital, a chemical used to euthanize pets.

A three-judge panel in a federal appellate court reversed the stay in April clearing the way for the executions to go forward. On June 29, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal by Honken and three other federal prisoners who are set be executed in the next few weeks.

There are currently 62 federal prisoners sentenced to death, including Dylann Roof, who killed nine parishioners at a Charleston, S.C., church in 2015, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who participated in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. Of those prisoners, 41 percent are black, 43 percent are white, and 14 percent are Latino, Asian, or other.

Iowans rejected the death penalty in 1962 for many reasons. Sentencing has proved to be arbitrary, racially biased and motivated by vengeance. The death penalty has not been found to be deterrent, and there have been too many cases of wrongful convictions. In Iowa, a conviction of first-degree murder results in a sentence of life in prison without parole.

Iowans Against the Death Penalty opposes the July 17 execution of Honken and the other three men who set to be executed this summer.

Make no mistake, Honken is a dangerous criminal who has admitted his guilt for his heinous crimes. In addition to the crimes he has been convicted of, Honken expressed intent to escape from incarceration and kill additional people including accomplices in methamphetamine manufacturing and distribution, law enforcement investigators, and a federal prosecutor. Honken should be incarcerated for the rest of his natural life. But no one should be put to death by the government. No one.

Iowans have rejected vengeance.  The federal death penalty should be abolished as well.

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What a MESS!

Our Army company was a unit called permanent party, which meant that the company’s headquarters were stationed permanently at Fort Lee.  Most of the companies at Fort Lee, while I was there, were teaching units, and they taught quartermaster and cooking.  Our company was a quartermaster (supply) company that supplied petroleum.

While I was there, our mess hall was named “Best Mess on Post” for eleven out of thirteen months.  Record-keeping, cleanliness, dining hall ambiance, and, of course, the taste of food, plus a few other criteria, were the determining factors.  I was proud of my record-keeping.

As the mess hall clerk, I had told the mess sergeant, Sgt. Bush that I had difficulty working during the day when everyone wanted to sit in the mess hall office and talk.  The office was air-conditioned (I got that AC from the supply sergeant Gonzalez, as well as the one in the dining room, each for a 30-lb can of coffee).  Eventually, Sgt. Bush agreed that it might be easier for me to work nights and get some paperwork done and give up my seat in the daytime to one of the assistant mess sergeants.  We had so many of them, and they didn’t do anything.  They didn’t have to do anything; we had two E-6 cooks who were chefs in real life.  One was a chef in Boston; the other in Baltimore.  So, I worked nights with the night bakers – Jack and a guy who reminded me of Louie Armstrong.  I remember him only as Sarge.

Sarge was a short black man with a noticeable limp and a continuous smile.  I doubt it was a war injury, but he really waddled more than limped anyway.  He could bake some amazing pies, cookies, and cakes.  Jack was more of a bread expert.  Both could bake with their eyes closed.  They did – figuratively.  Jack was stoned most of the time, and I think Sarge was waiting to get off work so he could mix the milk he took from the mess hall with his Scotch at home.  That’s the first time I had ever heard of that concoction.

Jack and I would give Sarge a ride home after we shut the place down.  Sarge would sit in the back seat of Jack’s car and smile, holding on tight to his milk.  Jack and I would sit up front and smoke a joint.  Jack was, without a doubt, the most professional pot smoker I have ever seen.  He could roll a joint with one hand, drive with his knee, and fiddle with the buttons on the dash.  He wouldn’t let me roll the joint.  He actually did better with one hand than I did with two.  He was also one of those drivers who have to look at you while talking.  I hated it when he turned to talk to Sarge in the back seat,  while still rolling that joint, or smoking it.  Jack and Sarge were the two happiest people I have ever known.

Jack was from Omaha.  He spent part of his time in San Diego before being drafted. He married a Southern California blonde, both with heavy dependencies on drugs.  I had smoked pot before, but Jack introduced me to hashish, LSD, Ecstasy, methamphetamine (yes, in 1970), THC tablets, black beauties, mescaline, reds, phenobarbital, magic mushroom, Quaaludes, and probably several other narcotics that I can’t remember.  Jack could only get little amounts and if we were getting addicted, there was no more of the particular drug to keep up with the addiction.  It was after Jack was discharged (honorably as a sergeant) that I was introduced to heroin.  I snorted it once and had a doobie laced with it another time.  I refused to shoot anything into my veins.  I did not like heroin one bit.  Notice that I have never tried cocaine.

It’s possible that someone knew we were a disaster waiting to explode, so Jack and I were sent out to the edge of the post and told to clean mobile cooking equipment in a Quonset hut.  For the first few weeks we didn’t clean a thing.  We smoked some pot and drank some Boone’s Farm Apple or Strawberry Hill.  Occasionally, we would Ripple wine (87¢) instead of the more expensive Boone’s Farm ($1).

One morning, we drove into town to get a bottle of wine.  When we got back there were all sorts of vehicles surrounding our Quonset hut.  The area where we were located was also a place where soldiers were taught to drive all kinds of vehicles.  A trainee drove a deuce and a half (a two-and-a-half-ton vehicle that looks like a truck, but technically, there is only one truck on base, and that’s on top of the flagpole at headquarters) straight through our Quonset hut.  Had we not gone to town; we would have been killed.  The Quonset hut was demolished and there was field cooking equipment scattered over hundreds of square yards of the area.  At this point, no one could tell if the equipment had been cleaned or not.

Jack’s time in the service had run out and he was sitting for a week or two to transition out of the Army.  I was sent to the commissary to learn how to cut meat.  I still had about 10 months before my discharge date came around.  I just know that they tried their best to hide me, and I didn’t mind.

Previously posted related blogs:

https://iowappa.com/?p=1816 Order Up; May 3, 2020

https://iowappa.com/?p=1700  A Pattern Begins to Develop; August 28, 2019

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Symbolic Law

On Monday, June 29, Governor Kim Reynold (R-Iowa) signed into law Senate File 526, a bill “creating a blue alert program within the department of public safety for the apprehension of a person suspected of killing or seriously injuring a peace officer in the line of duty or due to safety concerns for a peace officer missing while on duty.”

The bill is not necessary; it’s symbolic.  What the bill allows can be done already without statutory approval.  No entity opposed the bill.  Why would they?  The bill is sort of a non-starter.  However, it is the epitome of what law enforcement lobbyists can accomplish in the Iowa Legislature, and probably throughout the nation.

The power of law enforcement at the Iowa Capitol can be overwhelming.  On any given day from Monday through Thursday, you can’t help but notice a sheriff, a deputy sheriff, or municipal police officer in uniform wearing a weapon on the side.  Often, the officer is accompanied by their respective lobbyist.  My question has always been: If they’re acting on behalf of the nonprofit law enforcement organization of which they are a member, why are they in uniform?  Why are they being paid?  Stew Barnes, Senior Des Moines Police Officer and representative of the Des Moines Police Bargaining Unit usually wore civilian clothes when attending meetings at the Capitol.  On the other hand, if they are on duty, is the employing agency allowing them to lobby on behalf of the nonprofit organization?  We need some ethics here.

Many of the laws passed pertaining to cops are for the special benefit of those occupations. Law enforcement has one of the best retirement plans in the state.  Many are with Iowa Public Employees Retirement System [IPERS], but some have a much better plan.  The Municipal Fired & Police Retirement System of Iowa is “66% of high three-year salary average (not including overtime). Members are eligible at age 55 with 22 years of service. Additional 2% per year beyond 22 years of service, not to exceed 30 years of service, for a maximum benefit of 82% of a member’s high three-year average salary.”

Government employees, local, state, or federal, have added protection in the form of the federal Bill of Rights.  A government employee is provided due process of law, the right to confront witnesses, and all the other protections usually offered to criminal defendants.  What you may not know, is that in Iowa, anyone with a law enforcement certification is provided with an additional set of protections.  Robert Rehkemper of the Law Firm Gourley, Rehkemper, and Lindholm, wrote an article four years ago on the matter of the “Officer’s Bill of Rights”, which is embedded in section 80F.1 of the Iowa Code.  I beg you to read Law Enforcement Bill of Rights – Special Privileges or Necessary Protection on the GRL website <www.grllaw.com>

The second subsection of 80F [80F.2] provides that a peace officer shall be reimbursed the costs of a defense for a charge which “was without probable cause . . . was filed for malicious purposes, [or] was unwarranted in consideration of all of the circumstances and matters of law attending the alleged offense.”  You are not provided with that equal protection.  See State v. Mathes, and State v. Mathes (Criminal case was dismissed.  However, Mathes was required to “reimburse the state for her court appointed fees.”)

When it comes to criminal law, cop lobbyists have been known to say that police don’t like to arrest someone for a simple misdemeanor because it’s not worth their time.  And a police chief once remarked that anything less than a felony is not worth the time or money.  If someone fights it, the officer has to go to court.  If that’s the case, how come young black men are being pulled off to the side of the road because a license plate light is not shining brightly?

For years, there has been an effort to pass a law that would require police to record custodial interviews.  It has never passed because police don’t want it passed.  One of the excuses includes the costs.  However, most law enforcement officials now wear cameras.  There are numerous grants out there, most of them from gambling receipts.  Gambling receipts are doled out to cities and counties in which there is no casino.  In Greene county, the fire department in Churdan received $3175 in 2012 for a thermal imaging camera.  Today, Jefferson, in Greene County, has a casino.  Any law enforcement facility can obtain equipment to record custodial interviews if it was mandated by law.  But recorded custodial interviews are still not the law.

Yes, police have a hazardous job, but so do packinghouse workers.  More packinghouse workers in Iowa have died this year because of their occupation than have police.   Don’t feel too sorry for the police.  Their collective interests are overly represented at the Iowa Capitol.

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