Thursday, March 3, 2016

An open letter to Sen. Grassley

The following is an open letter to Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley:

Dear Sen. Grasssley:

Over the past several years, I have had the honor of interviewing you a few times. You had a special relationship with my former boss and you visited Belle Plaine several times. On several other occasions, your staff called our office to set up phone interviews with you from your Washington office.

So it is with these memories in mind that I must regretfully say I am disappointed in you. For many years, you have represented this state admirably. In fact, on at least one occasion I was able to tell you that even though I am a registered Democrat, I always voted for you when I had the chance. You always represented your constituents well, often going against the wishes of your party. Your service has been a no-nonsense style as you often were not afraid to cut through the red tape that Washington seems so fond of to get results for us.

But now, as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, you have apparently fallen in line with your party's leadership, drank the Kool-Aid of obstructionism and decided you will not allow any discussion of a nomination for a judge to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court.

What happened to you? Surely with your experience, you have the opportunity to show the way to other members of the Senate and allow the government to function even in an election year. Of course, President Obama is not from your party. But he has shown that he won't make any radical nominations. In fact, one of the rumored candidates is a woman from our state who you wholeheartedly supported for another judgeship. She went on to gain unanimous approval from the Senate.

Don't you think there is a good chance that our president, who has 12 years experience as a constitutional professor, realizes the gravity and importance of this nomination?

You have said that you think that the new justice should be appointed by the next president. Are you saying that President Obama should refrain from doing his job for his last year? If you employed a worker for your farm and signed him to a multi-year contract, surely you would not want to pay him for the final year of that contract if he failed to do the work. Perhaps more importantly, would you trust a President Trump (God forbid) to nominate the next justice?

I can only guess that you think that if you join your Republican colleagues in blocking this nomination you can somehow save a dying political party. But you risk doing this at the expense of what has been a truly noble legacy of your service. Do you want to be remembered as someone who allowed partisan politics to govern his final months in office? You are running for re-election, but this move might be just the thing that pushes the voting majority to the other candidate.

You still can change your mind. Take the high road. Please reconsider.

Currently a disappointed constituent,

Jeff Orvis

Thursday, February 25, 2016

What's this Trump candidacy all about?

By Jeff Orvis

At first it seemed like just another publicity stunt. It had been a few minutes since Donald Trump had been the center of attention on a TV show, voting people off with a robust “You're fired!” But when he announced he would be a candidate for president, I doubt few took him very seriously.

From the outset, the Trump candidacy was anything but normal. As the richest person vying for the nation's top office, he vowed that he would not need to solicit campaign funds, that he was his own man and would fully fund his own campaign. On the plus side, he would not have to answer to any big campaign contributor. On the down side, he would apparently not have to answer on any of the voting public.

Many of us thought this must be a joke, that we would wake up one morning and he would say, “April fool!” There would be plenty of time to turn our attention to more traditional candidates to decide who would be the leader of the free world. So far, we haven't heard those words and as the weeks and months continue to dwindle before the November election, Trump continues to jet around the country on his own plane, telling it like it is, at least how he thinks it is. He continues to draw media attention with more and more outrageous statements each day.

Many of us are far from happy with the way we elect our president and other public officials. The little guy seems less and less important and thanks to Supreme Court rulings and the failure of Congress to pass any meaningful election spending reform, money means more than votes when it comes to winning an election.
So after months of growing weary of constant campaign commercials and appearances by dozens of candidates, I suspect that some people are drawn to Trump as a sort of anti-candidate, as some kind of a joke.

The thing is, there are a growing number of voters who aren't laughing anymore. They are being won over by his campaign style, his bluntness and unfortunately aren't considering just what four years of a Trump presidency might be like. And I'm beginning to wonder if even Trump himself has stopped to realize what at least four years in the White House might really be like.

Being the President is much more than brokering a business deal, or building a Manhattan high rise or an Atlantic City casino. It is not a monarchy. You have to know how to compromise with 535 other men and women in Congress. And as much as we might like, it's tough to fire them if you can't get them to act as you think they should.

Despite how we might not agree with some of the decisions our Presidents have made, we have grown to expect them to know how to rejoice in national accomplishments as well as know how to lend a sympathetic ear to people grieving from the loss of soldiers or innocent people in the line of fire during domestic massacres.

A former president said, “The buck stops here.” We expect our president to know more than how to invest that buck. In fact, one of the things Trump would have to do if he was elected would be to surrender all of his financial dealings to a blind trust until he left office. For someone who has spent years playing with vast amounts of money, can we really expect him to turn over the keys to someone else while he motorcades to Andrews Air Force Base to meet a military transport with the bodies of dead soldiers?

I guess I'm not fully convinced Trump will see this campaign through until November. As the Republican party scrambles to find someone who can sideline him, he continues to laugh all the way to the ballot box in one primary after another.

It's clear that Trump is a guy who likes to be in charge. When he suddenly realizes that even as president, he can't fully be in charge, he might decide to end his candidacy and throw his support behind someone else. Of course, he has alienated virtually every other candidate of both parties. But maybe that's what he wants. The next few months will be very interesting.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Looking for a holy endorsement?

By Jeff Orvis

As we are thankfully entering the home stretch in the presidential caucus race lunacy, have you noticed the latest weapon in the arsenal of several candidates? God.

Some of the folks who want to be our next president have recognized that many of us who live in this state are proud, God-fearing folks. I'm sure they would love to have a verbal endorsement from the Big Guy, but short of that, their campaign commercials assure us that they are true believers. Of course then in their next commercial they claim they are the best bet for keeping us safe by pledging to bomb our foes into oblivion. Then they say the other candidates are no good for us and we are certain to face disaster if the other guy is nominated and elected.

At least so far they have stopped short of claiming that they are more religious than their opponents, but stay tuned, there's still time for that.

Then there are the people who are campaigning to let God in our schools and in our city halls and court houses. I've probably written about this before, but as a reminder, wasn't this country founded, at least in part, by people who were attempting to escape the government-mandated religion of England?

I understand where some of my well-meaning friends are coming from. Many of us are taught from an early age that belief in God is the only way to live and to eternal life. We are also instructed to share our belief with everyone we meet. But I have never heard, at least from the New Testament, any decree that we must cram our beliefs down the throats of our neighbors, my way or the highway.

What makes this country great is the fact that we are a wonderful melting pot of folks with all sorts of beliefs. One of our basic beliefs is that we should not infringe on the rights of others to believe what they want, as long as they do it in a peaceful manner.

Several years ago, my mom was facing emergency surgery. She was a life-long Christian who took every opportunity to profess her belief. As she was meeting with her surgical team, she told them that she believed that there would be someone else in that operating room guiding their every move. She told them God would be there. Then her anesthesiologist had a perfect two-word comment, “And Buddha.” Those words assured her that while he was not necessarily a Christian, he believed in a superior being that guided his every move as well.

And that's why I object to having one organized religion as a part of our public school curriculum, why I don't think a monument of the Ten Commandments has any place on public property and why we should question any candidate for any office that seems to indicate that a vote for him or her is necessarily a vote for God.

The day we elect a president with only a Christian-based agenda is the day we relegate our Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim and other neighbors to second-class citizenship. I don't have any problem with a candidate professing his or her faith and saying he or she lives by the principles they believe in. But the inference that if you aren't Christian, you should look for somewhere else to live is just plain wrong. What do we say to that Buddhist anesthesiologist or that Jewish lawyer or merchant or that Islamic professor of ancient history?
There would be great value in a public school unit on the world's comparative religions. It could lead to greater understanding an tolerance. But only if it was taught with the help of representatives of other religions as well as Christianity.

Late on Christmas Eve, I watched a tremendous special, “May Peace Prevail on Earth.” It was presented by a group called the United Religions Initiative. According to the group's web site, “URI is a global grassroots interfaith network that cultivates peace and justice by engaging people to bridge religious and cultural differences and work together for the good of their communities and the world.”

While it was billed as a “Christmas special,” it did not attempt to promote one religion over another, but to recognize that billions of people around the world viewed Christmas Eve as the ultimate holy night and to celebrate those beliefs.

In an era where we are increasingly suspicious of some small factions of certain “religions” for their professed violent beliefs, isn't this the best time to check out what the URI is attempting to put forth? Isn't tolerance and understanding and not only what this country was founded on but a gift from God?

Something to think about.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Thoughts at holiday time that are good for every day

Note: Christmas is often a good time for reflection. Please accept this entry as my gift to many of you. And I hope you know who you are!

By Jeff Orvis


That may seem like a topic better suited for Thanksgiving, but as we have a little time around the Christmas and New Year holidays to reflect on what has happened to us in the ending year, it's a good time to take stock in some happenings and people that we all too often may take for granted.

When people sit down to write this sort of blog, there's always a danger that the reader may wonder why, if he or she is included, they are not higher in the order of thoughts. So as a sort of disclaimer, if you are mentioned, the order in which you appear has no bearing on how important you are to me. And if you think you should have been mentioned but aren't, remember the writer recently reached the official senior citizen status.

Senior citizen. When we were in our teens or twenties, we probably thought that designation was reserved for our grandparents. Few of us ever thought we would reach that age. We were too busy chasing grades, girls (or boys) and that first job. But I can tell you, from my limited experience so far, being a senior citizen ain't all bad. First of all, you've probably outlived all your teachers who would claim you can't use the word “ain't.” Then there's the ready-made excuse when you forget something that those things happen when you have over 60 years of memories to sort through!

So I can say I am grateful for being a senior citizen in fairly good health. Sure, there are some issues that I regularly visit with my medical professional about. But with God's help, I hope to be around for quite a few more years.

Of course I am grateful for my family. I have a police scanner playing all day here in the apartment and believe me, after hearing some of the calls our local law enforcement has to handle, having a family you love, am proud of and can count on is a true gift. My sister Missy and her husband, Richard, have been so supportive since Mom died and left me to be the executor of her estate and the years following. They have spent many of their married years living in bustling metropolises like Dallas, Shreveport and Jacksonville. They are probably still wondering why I chose to live in a town of just under 3,000 not once, but twice. But that's another part of this whole gratitude thing that I'll get to in a moment.

Two of Missy and Richard's closest friends are Lynn and Eric Johnson. I won't say I stole them as a second sister and brother, but they are proud Iowans! Lynn calls a few times each week just to check up on me. She is a big sports fan, although I'm still trying to convince her that the Cubs will be the next Chicago team in the World Series, not the White Sox. We had a mutual long distance celebration last winter when the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup. Yes, she's turned me into a hockey fan!

Eric and their son, Aaron, spent a Saturday a couple of years ago moving me here from Davenport, for which I am super grateful. Their younger son, Ethan, is starting a career as a teacher in the Davenport Schools. Sorry Ethan, I was going to say an “exciting career,” and I realize it is for you. But I never was a fan of math when I was in school.

Getting back to other relatives for a moment, my niece and nephew are raising young families and that's exciting. Laura has found the love of her life and she and Kevin are raising her son, Warren, who has started school. Warren recently relinquished some of the honors as most photographed grandchild in the world when my nephew, Chris and his wife, Erin, welcomed Gavin into the world. Laura, Kevin and Warren live in Jacksonville and Chris, Erin and Gavin recently moved to the Dallas area. And yes, I am scouting from afar, watching the physical development and sports interests of both of my grandnephews to see if I should alert the Hawkeye basketball or football offices of the possible future recruits.

I think I've mentioned this before, but once again I am remembering to be grateful for the Belle Plaine family. When people ask me why I moved back here, even though I was entering the senior part of my life, part of it was economics. Part of it was apartment availability, but more important was knowing that many of my Facebook friends live here. It took less than an hour after I arrived back in town to be recognized and welcomed on Main Street.

I am also grateful for modern technology, specifically the internet and Facebook. I can sit here at the desktop or in my recliner with my Kindle and instantly be connected with friends and family from Florida to Texas, from Colorado to Vegas, from Washington State to Maine.

Through Facebook, I am grateful that I still have friends who tolerate my opinion. Even those who don't agree with me often present informed opinions of their own. I may not agree with them all the time, but at least they take the time to state their side.

As we prepare to dive head-first into 2016, there will be plenty of highs and lows for all of us. There always are. It's a presidential election year and by the time we are finished with our February caucuses in Iowa, we will be counting the days until the general election is behind us.

Maybe by the time we know who our next president will be, I will have unpacked the last of the boxes my move warriors moved for me. I may even clean out a bunch of stuff from my storage unit. Or maybe that resolution may have to wait until 2017!

Let's all hope and pray that when we stop to reflect on the events of 2016 this time next year, we will all have many things to be grateful for!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Moving no longer an easy task

Note: The following was written in the days immediately following my move. While awaiting the cable guy to transfer my service, I had no access to the internet, but access to the computer. This is the result of having a few days without communication with the outside world.

By Jeff Orvis

How many times have I moved in my just over 62 years on this earth? This is a question that I realize many people think about. If you grew up in a family where either or both parents were active military, you probably moved quite often. If you were successful in business and advanced up the corporate ladder, there were probably several moves in your life.

So what prompted this little trip down memory lane for me? I am in the latter stages of relocating to another address in this fair city. I say “latter stages” because although I have all my worldly possessions across town from where I was a scant six days ago, thanks to a small army of wonderful helpers, which I will talk about a little later, I am still on a treasure hunt for a few things hidden in poorly marked boxes and plastic totes. Where is that nearly open package of flour tortillas? I couldn't find my shampoo when I finally slowed down to try out my new shower. And I haven't looked for my laundry detergent yet and will probably need that in a few days.

What was moved and organized by a hearty band of volunteers is nothing short of a miracle. I wouldn't blame them if I asked them again for help in a move in the coming years if they were suddenly out of town. But the miracle came when I asked my aunt and uncle if they might drive over from western Illinois to help. I remembered that Donna, my aunt that is younger than I am, had been interested in seeing where I was living. Her ever-patient husband, Danny, is still young and healthy enough to try an adventure. Not only did he provide a lot of the muscle and transportation, I'm sure he is on a first-name basis with the clerks at Casey's, which supplied us with pizza for supper one night, as well as a couple of adult beverages and breakfast the next morning.

Knowing I would need some local help to supplement my relatives – I wasn't going to be much help in moving that living room and bedroom furniture, I got instant help from Rev. Charles Johnson. But when he showed up with his wonderful wife, Karen, I knew that she and my aunt, both recently retired teachers, would have a lot in common and would make quick work of packing and cleaning the kitchen in the old place. The last important volunteer was Bruce Gapstur, who was uncertain if he would be in town on Friday, but luckily he was. So I witnessed two work cyclones that day – Donna and Karen in the kitchen and bathroom area and Danny, Charles and Bruce in the rest of the apartment. I tried to help when I could, but I quickly realized that age and a tricky hip made my work more a person to answer the frequent question, “Where do you want this?” I love my computer and the internet, but I am a self-professed amateur when it comes to knowing how this thing works. Thankfully, I remembered my pastor, Steve Huebbel, knows a lot more about how this thing works than I do and he quickly figured out the tangled mess of cables and wires so I would have something to type on today.

When I had a moment to think back on the initial question that I posed at the start of this piece, I amazed myself. Trying to remember each place I had moved to from the time I took my first full time job in Independence to this weekend was like counting sheep when you try to sleep. I can remember what each apartment and house looked like, just don't ask me to remember the address of each place. Remember, I'm officially a senior citizen! Starting in 1977, I lived in seven places in Independence and this is the fourth residence in Belle Plaine. There were a couple of necessary moves to the Quad-Cities during those years. On the plus side of each of those moves, I've had great help from family and friends and usually settled in places where I didn't have to move appliances. But I do have a substantial record collection. The good news for my most recent mover warriors, a majority of those records remain in local storage, where they have been for several years!

In each of those moves, I have had wonderful and patient landlords and was never evicted. Most of the moves were an attempt to upgrade my surroundings, along with a couple of family considerations. My last apartment was really nice and I'm glad it already has a new tenant. I gave up a second bedroom and a garage for this move. But that apartment rent was based on fair market value, while since I reached that magical 62 year old birthday, I not only qualified for Social Security, but also senior housing with a welcome rent reduction.

Before I forget, I should also mention that my out-of-town helpers were very impressed with our local overnight accommodations. Jerilyn DeRaad and Jeff Brown have a wonderful downtown apartment they rent for overnight visitors. And once Donna and Danny got used to the trains roaring past just feet from their bed, they raved about their night stay.

What have I learned about this move so far? Besides the most important factor that God had a hand in giving me such wonderful helpers, I realize that I must be diligent in paring down my possessions. Sorry, Danny, I haven't decided to part with those VHS tapes I inherited from Mom and I promise one day I will have a workable machine to play them on. I am also learning to wean myself away from visual media, thankfully on a short-term basis. The cable guy couldn't come until today, meaning I was without TV and internet for nearly a week. WMT-radio is a poor substitution. I'm sick of Fox radio news and right-wing commentators. But WMT is also the local radio voice of the Chicago Bears. Fortunately, KDAT-FM is playing non-stop Christmas music, so in the coming few days I should be able to get in the proper spirit as I rest my tired muscles and continue the unpacking and arranging. One of the first things we did on Saturday was unpack, decorate and light my Christmas tree!

As I read what I have written so far, I realize most of it has been about me, along with some words of thanks to my great helpers. I pledge that my next entry with focus on other matters, perhaps the reason for the season!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

From local notoriety to a teachable moment

By Jeff Orvis

For a few days, Belle Plaine was in the news, both locally and nationally. After last night, because of the action of the Belle Plaine Board of Education, our little town faded back from the limelight, which is probably a good thing.

At issue was the decision by school administrators to end the practice of firing off a 21-gun salute to close the annual Veterans' Day observance. For many years, local veterans groups have presented a school assembly, complete with a flag ceremony, usually a guest speaker and the salute, followed by the playing of “Taps.”

But this year, it was decided not to allow guns in the school, even if they were handled by veterans and were loaded with blank ammunition. I haven't met our superintendent, but I can only suppose that with the tragedies of mass killings in schools and movie theaters in this country, along with the mounting body count of children through gun violence, maybe it was thought a change was needed.

This decision set off a social media firestorm. Fueled by the seemingly unending resources of the National Rifle Association, an Iowa gun owners group promised a protest at this week's school board meeting. More important to local residents, this decision seemed like a slap in the face of our veterans, along with several young people from here currently serving in the armed forces.

Another factor in this is how well received this annual assembly has been. I can remember when I was in school, some kids were less than attentive at some assemblies and more than once the whole school was called on the carpet by our principal. I attended most of the Veterans' Day assemblies when I was at the newspaper and I was constantly surprised at how well behaved the junior and senior high school students were for this program. I suspect one of the main reasons for this behavior was the fact that most of the students know someone who is currently in the military or are the children of veterans.

While I don't yet know the school superintendent, I am friends with several members of the board of education. I am not surprised, based on reports I have seen, that the board was not swayed by the sudden media interest, but did take the time to hear statements from members of the capacity crowd at the meeting. In the end, the board voted to allow the custom to continue as in the past.

School officials should not be condemned for introducing this proposal. In this ever-growing gun crazy culture, maybe this was a good time to consider whether a change would be in order. But on the other hand, we are losing dozens, if not hundreds, of veterans of our wars from World War Two to the present, each day. Also, many American Legion and VFW chapters are having problems staying afloat.

To be certain, I am no war hawk. I am of an age where I could have been eligible for the Vietnam draft. I did not agree with our involvement in that conflict, especially as it was commanded by a corrupt federal government. Through educational and physical deferments, I never served in the military. But I recognize the need for our country to have a strong defense today. Before we became involved in what has been called America's longest war, a career in the military was also a good alternative for many young people.

We should honor those who have fought for us. The 21-gun salute is a fitting way to remind all of us what price so many paid for our freedom. Thanks to our school board members for their decision. And thanks to our superintendent for having the courage to start a dialogue on this topic. If nothing else, it should serve as a teachable moment for classes where history and current events are taught.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

A brave look at religion and politics

By Jeff Orvis

They say the quickest way to start a fight is to begin a discussion on religion or politics. So while I often like to keep this blog light, if the discussion of either above topic bothers you, perhaps you should wait for the next entry.

Let me start by stating that I am a professing Christian and very proud and grateful for that fact. God has gotten me through a lot over my life and I recognize he is with me every step of the way. But one of the gifts I think He has given me is tolerance. And unfortunately, I see less and less tolerance in this country each day.
Some people seem to think if we just let God in our schools, everything will be okay. Others are shocked when state and county governments won't allow the Ten Commandments to be prominently displayed on the grounds of government buildings.

I believe in prayer. Lord knows, forgive the weak pun, that I have called upon him numerous times silently before taking a big test in school, as well as before building up the nerve to ask a particular girl to a dance. I also believe in the Ten Commandments and realize that as a sinner, I don't keep them each day. But that doesn't mean I don't try.

Our Sunday school teachers and clergy have done a great job of teaching us that belief in Christ is the only way to get to Heaven. My way or the highway and that highway is a one-way to a very unpleasant, very warm place.

It's been many years since I studied American history. But from what I remember, it seems that our ancestors, at least some of them, came to this country to escape a European country where there was only one religion. I have no doubt that the early settlers drew upon their faith to sustain them during those tough first years. But they did it without a federal government looking over their shoulders, telling them who and how to worship.

I have recently become aware of a term, Christian dominionism. My interpretation may be a bit off, but it seems to be the belief that this country is a Christian nation and the devout believers in this concept believe we will all be doomed if we don't allow prayer back in our public schools and the Ten Commandments in our courthouses and statehouses. Their belief is well meaning. If more people followed the teachings of Christ, this would be a more civilized and peaceful society.

But my question to these folks is, if we are a free society, where one of our cherished freedoms is to practice, or not practice, the religion of our choice, how is this a Christian nation? What about our friends and neighbors that have contributed so much to the growth of this country? Why isn't America just as much a Jewish nation, or Hindu nation or, perish the thought, an Islamic nation? Some of these religions have teachings I am vehemently opposed to, especially not admitting that women are equal and should not be treated with anything but respect.

Like it or not, and many of us don't, we have been catapulted into the 2016 presidential campaign. The latest fad of many of the current candidates, especially the Republicans, is to stand up in front of a group and say, “Vote for me, I'm a Christian!” I'm waiting for one of them, probably Trump, to slip and say that while speaking in a mosque or synagogue.

The point is, just as we have broken the color barrier in the White House and may soon break the gender barrier, there will come a time when we also break the bonds of believing that our president must be a Bible-carrying Protestant Christian. Other religions teach peace and compassion. The jury is still out on whether we will see any of these other folks in Heaven, but ultimately we don't have the final say in the matter.

The candidate that gets my vote will be the one who will indicate that they lean on a Superior Being for strength, but also one who freely admits that he, or she, wants to be the president of all Americans, regardless of what they do on Saturdays or Sundays.