Always Skeptical of a Sen. Grassley Idea

In a media release several weeks ago, Senator Chuck Grassley said, “it appears that the standard of care and quality controls at many state veterans homes falls well short of those required by other government supported nursing homes.”  The statement was referencing the number of COVID deaths and infections in veterans homes across the country.

How many is many?  Grassley’s source for this information is media reports.  From the information provided by Grassley in footnotes, a handful of media reports were listed Although some media reports cite statistics provided by the government, the statistics used by Grassley are flawed.  The largest nursing home in most states are the states’ veterans homes.  For example, a veterans home such as Iowa’s, located in Marshalltown, serves four hundred patients.  What nursing home comes close to serving that many patients?  The government supported nursing homes referred to by Grassley include a vast number of homes with fewer than fifty patients.

Also, other ‘government supported nursing homes’ means those nursing homes, most of them privately owned, receiving federal Medicare and Medicaid supplements.

The Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown is not one of those facilities that falls short of requirements or expectations mentioned in Grassley’s letter to Denis R. McDonough, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.  Prior to the Pandemic, I visited the IVH monthly to see a childhood friend who resides there.  The care, treatment, and respect he receives from the employees at that facility is exceptional.

The IVH is clean, sanitary, and well-managed by the supervisors and union employees I am in contact with on every visit.  There are no concerns that I have about the facility.  I have no concerns about my friend and fellow veterans.  However, at this time, visits are limited, non-contact, restricted, and brief due to the IVH’s attempts to keep COVID out of the buildings.

Yet, the message Senator Grassley wants you to hear is that state-operated nursing homes for veterans are not as good as civilian nursing homes.  Nor is the oversight and reporting to the federal Government Accounting Office as forthcoming.  This comes from a Republican official who has complained about the government overreaching into businesses and private lives.  His message now screams for new regulations and government oversight.

I am skeptical.  Personal experience with Senator Grassley has often led to showing that he has alternative motives for some of his concerns.  I am not very convinced that his statement is out of concern for veterans.  My belief is that he would like to see state-run veteran homes close or turn the facilities over to private corporations to operate.  The result, of course, would be breaking unions, and padding the pockets of corporate run nursing homes.

One of the media reports Grassley referred to in his letter was followed up by the same reporter writing about a nursing home in Iowa which was cited for violating ten federal regulations and eight state violations.  A resident had to call 911; staff were seen by a state inspector sleeping on the job; toxic mold was discovered in 80% of the building, including residents’ rooms; bedsores were left untreated; the facility had no building maintenance for almost a year; and a “woman’s breathing apparatus was found to be ‘plugged with hard, caked secretions’ from not being cleaned.”  State fines were proposed, but not imposed.  This could be the exemplar of what could come for veterans if state veteran homes were privatized.

Senator Grassley may have a sincere desire to be concerned about the care veterans receive.  However, that sense of feeling that he has a subliminal thought to break unions is what causes me to doubt his sincerity.  He’ll proudly show you his union card, but that’s a little like me showing you my Farm Bureau card from back when I was a member in order to obtain cheap health insurance.

“Though these facilities have implemented some Government Accountability Office recommendations,” Grassley writes, “recent media reports highlight additional oversight gaps that may have fueled the death toll among facility residents during the pandemic.”  He wrote this in his letter after the VA has implemented three of the four recommendations of the GOA.  The fourth recommendation is in the process of implementation.

Senator Grassley believes that our “veterans deserve the best possible care after giving so much for our country.”  I agree. I only want to make clear that when Senator Grassley seeks to improve oversight of veterans nursing homes in America, Iowa is the model, and he should take time to visit.  Basing decisions on hand-selected numbers and media marketing can be dangerous and damaging.

Marty Ryan has been a constituent of Chuck Grassley for far too many years.

This essay appeared first in a Fall issue of the Prairie Progressive, page 7, and later in December it was posted by Bleeding Heartland.

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There is No Vaccine Mandate

The Sixth United States Circuit Court of Appeals published an opinion last month upholding the Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS), issued by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), requiring businesses with more than 100 employees to implement what many are calling a vaccine mandate.

The United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the matter this past Friday.

There is no vaccination mandate.  The ETS allows “employers to “opt out” of any vaccination policies).”  There are several ways in which a business may continue without requiring employees to be vaccinated.  Businesses may require employees to wear a mask rather than be vaccinated.  However, those employees who do not want the vaccine, must be required to “test for COVID-19 weekly.”  There is also the option of having employees work from a remote location, such as their homes, and those who work exclusively outside are exempt.

Iowa’s Governor Kim Reynolds claimed in a statement that “We are in the height of a workforce shortage and supply chain crisis, and I have no doubt these issues are only going to be compounded by this poor decision.”  She needs to reconsider.

A requirement to wear hardhats, safety gear such as goggles and ear plugs, steel-toed boots, and many other safety features to protect the employee and those working around the employee came through the same process.  This ETS is just another example of what OSHA does.  Protecting employees on the job, to ensure that more employees are available to do the job will improve the status of workforce shortages by reducing absenteeism and providing a healthier environment for workers.


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Learning to Read

Children today read at a very early age.  When I was a child in kindergarten, learning colors was the big deal.  Reading didn’t come until first grade.  “See Spot.  See Jane.  See Dick and Jane.”

In 1955, I entered kindergarten in the Vail Public School at the age of four.  I would turn five a month after school began.  Catholic schools didn’t provide kindergarten in the 1950s.

My memory of kindergarten is rather shaky, but as an adult, my mom filled in some details.  One of those memories was precious.

The kindergarten teacher was Mrs. Boeck.  She talked to mom one day and told her that I had an exceptional memory.  Would mom help me to memorize the words in a book so that I could pretend to narrate while other kindergartners acted out the story of the book?  Mom agreed.

By the way, I did have a unique memory.  I can’t say that it was a photographic memory or that I had perfect recall, but I never had a calendar to write things down until I was in my forties.  Then, I wrote things down on the calendar because that is what people did.  I was also whiz at Trivial Pursuit.  I remembered things that didn’t matter.

Mom didn’t help me memorize; she taught me how to read.  I was far ahead of my classmates in that respect.  Several of them caught up to me as we progressed through elementary school.  Many surpassed me in high school.  My fault – I never truly applied myself.

The big night came in the kindergarten room.  All the parents were assembled in big people chairs.  The kindergarten chairs were arranged in the front to represent trees.  It was an imaginary forest.  No longer do I remember the story, but I do recall Anne and Glen as two of the main characters.

Mom was proud.  She told me that my aunt thought her son should have had the role of narrating the story.  He didn’t get the part that was mine, but he may have had a more memorable part in the event that evening.  Immediately prior to the beginning, mom said you could hear him yell as loud as anything: “I have to go to the toilet.”  I guess my aunt nudged her husband, my uncle, and said: “you take him.”

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Christmas Memories

Christmas Was Magic

— Stephanie

When I was a small child, my parents would put up the tree Christmas Eve and hang the stockings. So when I went to bed, everything was empty and barren. Coming down the stairs Christmas morning, the tree would be lit up and filled with decorations, candy canes and tinsel. Presents were piled high all around the tree and the stockings were filled, sometimes overflowing. A toy train would be chugging along, tooting its horn as it circled the tree on its metal tracks. It was easy to believe in Santa. The funny thing is I don’t remember any one specific gift that I received as a child, it was the tree that was so
incredibly magical for me.

This was a cherished tradition, passed along from my mother’s family. It would have been wonderful if my children could have experienced this kind of magic, but with marriage comes compromise and their father wanted the tree up early and decorated so that he could enjoy it before Christmas. My parents enjoyed the tree well after Christmas, one year it was still up right before Easter. At that point, it was pretty much a fire hazard.

My children probably wouldn’t have relished the contents of my stocking. Every year there would be a quarter in the toe, an orange and the filling would be mixed nuts in the shell. There would be new socks and a plastic candy cane filled with chocolate candies, but that was it. For me, it was perfect. My kids, they would probably have considered it child neglect.

My favorite Christmas was when I found a twenty-dollar bill at church a couple weeks before the holiday. No one claimed it so the minister gave it to me. That was a lot of money back then and I was able to buy my two older brothers, three older sisters and my parents all presents that year. Watching them open my gifts filled me with such joy. Yes, that was the best Christmas of all.

The Christmas Bicycle

— Marty

For as long as I can remember, opening Christmas presents at the Ryan home occurred on Christmas Eve.  Santa Claus came in from the basement.  Odd, don’t you think?  Of course, we didn’t have a fireplace.  My cousin made fun of us because their house had a fireplace and Santa could come in through the dirty old chimney.

The big mystery on Christmas Eve was “who is playing Santa this year.”  It began with John Kenney and ended with Tom Meehan and a few other guys in between.  I always waited to see Santa lift his faux cotton beard to take a shot of whiskey that he was offered in the kitchen, out of sight from the kids.  I spotted this tradition by accident.

One year, as the presents were being brought up from the basement, I noticed a gift that was too large for wrapping paper.  It was a red and white 28-inch bicycle.  That had to be mine.  I focused on nothing more than that bicycle, waiting in unbridled anticipation of whose name would be called when that present was handed out.  The owner of that bicycle was the last name called – Marty.

The bicycle was leaning against the cupboard in the kitchen by the portal leading to the living room, where everyone was gathered.  That was the first time I had seen the whiskey tradition.  It was my annual ritual from that Christmas Eve until I left home.

But the bike.  What a beautiful bicycle it was.  The frame consisted of three small, curved bars rather than the solid straight bar most bicycles had of that time.  The handlebars were innovative as well.  It was sleek.  I couldn’t wait to get on it and ride.

I was into assembling model car and trucks at the time, so I had paint for plastic models.  Because I couldn’t ride the bike in the winter, I brought it to the basement and carefully painted white stripes on every part of the red bike that made up the frame.  When finished, it looked like a peppermint cane.  My mom was not pleased.  But, hey!  It’s my bike!  Even though I didn’t believe in Santa Claus, this bike was between me and Santa; mom had nothing to do with it.

I had that bike until I was old enough to drive a car.  From the first warm day in late winter to the first cold day in early winter, I was on that bike.  It had to be the best Christmas present a boy could want.  That boy was me!

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The following essay was previously published in the Prairie Progressive

Three feral cats have adopted our backyard natural habitat. One is an old tiger-striped tom that’s been wandering the neighborhood for years. The other two showed up last summer as adorable
black kittens, one male, one female, scrounging the ground for any leftover birdseed. Wild birds have flocked to our yard for ages and the cats upset the habitat’s balance and my serenity. So
every morning before sunrise, you’ll find me feeding cats, followed by the birds, hoping that full stomachs deter the cats from attacking the birds. The two male cats get it, they eat and go off for naps. The female cat, like clockwork eats the soft food, leaps off the deck to partake of the bird seed course and then goes hunting for dessert. One morning, she gave me her yellow-eyed feline stare while gripping a dead sparrow in her mouth, clearly communicating, “What did you expect? Cats will be cats.”

The instinct to hunt, the challenge of outsmarting your prey isn’t reserved for wildlife. Sports is where we can observe the culture of the wild played out by civilized men. Football even has a wildcat formation. It’s designed to confuse the defense by replacing the traditional quarterback lineup with a different positional player to take the snap from the center. It isn’t used much, because savvy defenses have learned how to defend against it. But that’s the intriguing part of football, the quest to figure out a way to win by outsmarting your opponents, without breaking the rules or at least not getting caught.

Coach Bill Belichick with the New England Patriots has won six Super Bowl rings; more than any other coach. He said he thought he was within the rules when operation Spygate was exposed. During a game with the New York Jets on September 9, 2007, New England
videotaped the Jets defensive coaches’ play signals from New England’s sideline, which was considered an unauthorized location by the National Football League (NFL). Belichick was given the maximum fine ($500,000), the team was fined $250,000 and lost its first round draft pick.

Quarterback Tom Brady has won seven Super Bowls, yet he was suspended four games for being the mastermind behind Deflategate. He allegedly ordered the deflation of footballs before the 2014 American Football Conference against the Indianapolis Colts, thereby giving the Patriots an edge and winning the game. The team was fined $1 million dollars and lost 2 draft picks.

Please, don’t bring up Bountygate to a Minnesota Vikings fan. The New Orleans Saints were punished for paying out bounties to intentionally injure opposing players. It reportedly took place from 2009 to 2011. Minnesota fans continue to stew over the 2009 NFC Championship game, where Vikings quarterback Brett Favre was repeatedly targeted and eventually seriously injured by the Saints players. New Orleans went on to win the Super Bowl that year. Upon discovery of the numerous premeditated assaults, the NFL commissioner doled out punishment to the coaching staff: Head coach Sean Payton was suspended for the 2012 season; defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was suspended indefinitely, but this would be overturned the next year; and general manager Mickey Loomis was suspended for the first eight games in 2012. The team was fined and gave up a couple draft picks. The Super Bowl win still stands.

In comparison to these other Super Bowl champions, Aaron Rodgers’ behavior is strikingly mild. He could be dubbed the king of winning games by drawing the opposing team into penalties. Rodgers is known for tricking the defense to jump off sides, catching twelve men on the field during substitutions and the infamous Hail Mary throw down the field to draw a pass interference call. It wins games and it doesn’t break the rules.

Rodgers drew heavy criticism by bucking against the NFL vaccination policies. After testing positive for COVID, it surfaced that he wasn’t vaccinated but had earlier told reporters who asked about his vaccination status, “Yeah, I’m immunized.” Last summer, Rodgers brought a holistic approach as an alternative to vaccination to the NFL. He was turned down.

Some players will remain vaccine hesitant; their bodies are their livelihoods. When
asymptomatic, unvaccinated Vikings safety Harrison Smith tested positive for COVID at the same time vaccinated Vikings offensive lineman Dakota Dozier wound up hospitalized, it doesn’t help the vaccination argument.

NFL players aren’t the only organisms looking for loopholes. COVID continues to mutate as its survival competes against vaccines. Wouldn’t it make more sense to learn from the pandemic and develop policies that promote a healthy work environment that applies to everyone, so that players, coaches and staff can protect themselves from all illnesses, instead of being politically polarized by COVID? But who am I to judge? I’m the one out there every morning doing my daily exercise in feral futility.

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Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Read No Evil

Censorship: “the suppression or prohibition of any parts of books, films, news, etc. that are considered obscene, politically unacceptable, or a threat to security.”

What is so attractive about shutting down the ability of another to read, see, or hear what may be offensive to you but not to others?

I feel like we’re back in the 1980s when government attempted to shut down rap music, performance artists, photography by Robert Mapplethorpe, and books that had been banned in earlier decades.

President Reagan’s Attorney General, Edwin Meese, established the Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography in 1986.  It was commonly known as The Meese Commission. “At the end, the commission issued a bulky two-volume report, much of it consisting of detailed narrations of the plots of pornographic movies dutifully set down by FBI agents who’d been assigned to view them – at taxpayers’ expense, of course.”  Not one of those FBI agents turned into a sexual predator.  However, the commissioners believed dysfunctional predators who had testified to the commission that “Porn made me do it.”  It was laughable.  More laughable was the fact that former Attorney General John Ashcroft had blue drapes made to cover the bare breasts of Lady Justice.

Recently, Toni Morrison’s book, Beloved, was the focus of a political advertisement in the campaign for governor in Virginia.  The novel, a Pulitzer Prize winner, is an “unflinchingly look into the abyss of slavery.”  A woman in the advertisement “describes how her 17-year-old [white] son was traumatized” by reading the book as it was assigned in a high school class.  The boy’s mother wants the book banned from the Fairfax, VA, schools.  Well, slavery wasn’t exactly as honorable as you might think.  It goes to show that not all books are banned because of sexual innuendo or content.  But most books are banned because of embarrassing sexual information.

Waukee, Iowa, parents are upset that books found in a school’s library are inappropriate for students of all ages [Des Moines Register, Friday, Oct. 29, 2021. Section C, Metro & Iowa].  Librarians choose books for a variety of reasons.  The Register article did not indicate where the questionable books were found.  It is very possible that the books were in the reference section.  And if you remember from high school, or even notice at public libraries, reference books are not available for check out.  Books that depict graphic images, explicit sexual content, and violent passages should be considered for viewing with assistance from an adult that can intellectually serve as a guide to the adolescent.

There are many ways to deal with printed material, movies, and music that may raise an eyebrow.  Adults are responsible for talking to their children about sex, their bodies, respect, and boundaries.  It’s not an easy task, but whoever said being a parent was a breeze?  In my day, we had to learn everything on the street.  And it wasn’t always pretty, nor was it explained in terms that were educational, respectful, and honest.  This matter is not like telling a kid there’s no such thing as Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy.  No, snickering was an essential cog of the street learning process.

Curiosity has been around since cats evolved.  Adolescents should be able to bring questions to their parents without worrying about consequences.  In the Register article mentioned above, a parent found a book in his son’s backpack “about a boy who lives with his grandparents and is searching to discover the truth about his family.”  The parent said: “I cannot write what I saw but found 33 different pages that contained sexual and or slanderous/vulgar content that if spoken in my house would be grounds for immediate discipline.”  [Emphasis added.]  I pity that young man who lives in his father’s house and not his parents’ home.

When I was a young boy, a group of us (boys and girls) sat around a HiFi set and listened to a couple of LP albums found in a stack of a girl’s mother’s records.  One was recorded by Redd Foxx.  If you grew up in the 1960s you know how dirty Foxx could be, but funny.  Another album we listened to was “Banned in Boston.”  Funny as hell.  None of us had adverse reactions to the material in those LPs.

Supreme Court Associate Justice Potter Stewart is credited with saying: “I know pornography when I see it, but I cannot define it.”  He didn’t say that.  It has been paraphrased to mean that, however.  What he did say was “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.”  [If you’re interested, the movie was The Lovers, a 1958 French film by director Louis Malle.]

When books, music, and films are censored, they go underground.  When anything goes underground, it’s impossible to control.  That’s where the devil lives, isn’t it?

I read Catcher in the Rye when I was young.  I didn’t think it was that great of a book.  I read it again later in life to see what I missed because it had been banned so many times.  I still didn’t get it.  Not only that, but once again, I didn’t think it was that great a piece of literature.  I’m surprised no adult stopped me from reading Wild in the Streets around the same time.  I loved that book, and it had more anti-authoritarian passages than Catcher in the Rye.

Decades ago, if a book, play, movie, or music was banned in Boston it was an indication that the material was on its way to being a best seller.

I’m sending my first book to Boston in hope that the Watch and Ward Society will recommend that it be banned.


Related blog:  Censorship Sucks!

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