Traipsing through some old Texas haunts

Paulette Jiles

If you’ve ever had your car dented by a six-foot tumbleweed while driving down 287 near Amarillo, if you’ve noticed how the grass turns from brown to green between Longview and Tyler, know how to pronounce Waxahachie, Montague, Nacogdoches and Mexia, know the origins of the names of Travis County and the towns Bowie and Crockett, then you probably will have a somewhat greater appreciation of and affection for Paulette Jiles’ novels “News of the World” and “Simon the Fiddler.”

Each book takes the reader on a jaunt through quaint and rugged post-Civil War Texas. They fairly reek of authenticity.

In “News,” former Confederate Capt. Jefferson Kyle Kidd earns a living by traveling to out-of-the-way towns, reading for 10 cents a head to small gatherings weeks old newspapers from the big cities. In Wichita Falls, Kidd is offered $50 to take a 10-year-old orphaned girl who had been captured by the Kiowa and her family killed a few years earlier to relatives near San Antonio.

The child was reluctant to leave the only “family” she knew. Sounds a bit like the true story of Cynthia Ann Parker, who was captured by a Comanche and Kiowa raiding party. She later married Peta Nocona and gave birth to Quanah Parker — two more Texas town names.

In “Simon,” former Confederate conscript Simon Boudlin survives by playing his fiddle in small bands for music hungry bar patrons while pursuing the hand of an Irish lass who is the indentured servant of a former Union colonel, hoping to settle on a tract of land near the Red River. Much of Simon’s repertoire will be familiar to fans of Celtic folk.

Both books take the reader along twists and turns not unlike the streets of San Antonio, which are said to have been laid out by a drunk (pick your favorite ethnicity to slur) on a blind mule.

Here is an excerpt from “News:”

Captain Kidd took off his hat and shook water from it. Britt Johnson had rescued at least four captives from the red men. From the Comanche, from the Kiowa, and once from the Cheyenne up north in Kansas. Britt’s own wife and two children had been taken captive three years ago, in 1867, and he had gone out and got them back. Nobody knew quite how he had done it. He seemed to have some celestial protection about him. He usually went alone. Britt was a rescuing angel, a dark man of the Red Rolling Plains, cunning and strong and fast like a nightjar in the midnight air. But Britt was not going to return this girl to her parents, not even for fifty dollars in gold.

Why won’t you go? said Captain Kidd. You have come this far already. Fifty dollars in gold is a considerable amount.

I figured I could find somebody to hand her off to here, Britt said. It’s a three-week journey down there. Then three weeks back. I have no haulage to carry down there.

Behind him Paint and Dennis nodded. They crossed their arms in their heavy waxed-canvas slickers. Long bright crawls of water slid across the livery stable floor and took up the light of the lantern like a luminous stain and the roof shook with the percussion of drops as big as nickels.


Here is an excerpt from “Simon:”

Simon stood on a flatbed wagon and poured the notes out into the overheated air, unmoving, straight-backed, his hat cocked forward over his face. He had a high-boned face, bright hair, and light eyes and his music was enchanting.

A banjo player sat at the edge of the wagon. He was an old man who tipped his head carefully as if there were water in it and it might spill over. He was trying to hear where it was that Simon was going with the melody and to follow if he could. Simon drew out the last note with a strong vibrato and bowed to the applause, and when he raised his head he searched out the edges of the crowd like a hunted man.

After a moment he laid his bow tip on the old man’s shoulder to get his attention and smiled. “How are you doing?” he said in a loud voice. “Could be you want a cold drink. They have ice, I saw it in a pitcher.”

“All right.” The old man nodded. “Yessir, doing fine, but I think they done come.” The old man kept on nodding. He was cotton-headed and partially blind.

“Who done come?”

“The conscription people.” Simon was still and silent for a heartbeat, two heartbeats. Then he said, “Well Goddamn them.”

Good faith? Good grief

President Trump is expected to shortly sign an executive order intended to punish social media companies that fail to act in what the order describes as “good faith,” according to CNN, which reviewed a copy of the draft order.

Such action would fold, spindle and mutilate the First Amendment.

The order apparently is his tantrum response to Twitter attaching a fact check link to two of his Tweets railing against the use of absentee ballots in Nevada and other states.

CNN reports that the executive order reinterprets the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which provides immunity from litigation for websites that allow individuals to post commentary, unlike print publications that can be sued for whatever they choose to print, even though it may be from an outside source, such as a letter to the editor.

“In a country that has long cherished the freedom of expression, we cannot allow a limited number of online platforms to hand-pick the speech that Americans may access and convey online,” CNN quotes from the draft order. “This practice is fundamentally un-American and anti-democratic. When large, powerful social media companies censor opinions with which they disagree, they exercise a dangerous power.”

The proper response to speak one does not like is more speak, not gags. Trump has a bully pulpit he can use. Use it, but stop trying to gag others.

The First Amendment prohibits government from abridging speech or press. Private parties can do what they wish. Trump is government.


A Memorial Day reflection

“At a time in their lives when their days and nights should have been filled with innocent adventure, love, and the lessons of the workaday world, they were fighting in the most primitive conditions possible across the bloodied landscape of France, Belgium, Italy, Austria, and the coral islands of the Pacific. They answered the call to save the world from the two most powerful and ruthless military machines ever assembled, instruments of conquest in the hands of fascist maniacs. They faced great odds and a late start, but they did not protest. They succeeded on every front. They won the war; they saved the world.”    — Tom Brokaw in “The Greatest Generation

H.A. Mitchell

My father joined the Army when he was 16. He lied about his age.

He knew what was coming and was there when it came. He was in Pearl City that Sunday morning in 1941 when World War II began.

He spent the rest of the war hopping from island to island with his artillery unit. He said he chose artillery because he wanted to make a lot of noise.

I know he was in the Philippines about the time the survivors of the Death March of Bataan were rescued. The rest are a blur in my memory, though I recall him telling about how they censored letters home lest they fall into enemy hands and give away troop locations — you couldn’t write that the food was “good enough,” because the ship was at Goodenough Island.

He was a decorated hero, but said he refused to wear the Purple Heart so he wouldn’t have to explain exactly where the wound was located.

When he and his war buddies got to together they seldom talked about the fighting, only the antics, like climbing on the hood of a truck and stealing eggs out of the back of another truck as it slowly climbed a steep hill.

But one of his friends once let slip that Dad, a bulldozer operator, actually did that scene from a John Wayne movie in which the bulldozer operator raised the blade to deflect bullets while rescuing pinned down soldiers.

To hear him and his friends talk, it seemed like they spilled more beer than blood, but somehow still managed to win the war and save the world.

(Reprinted from a previous post.)

Welcome to the new normal, Nevada

The Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation sent out an email press release Friday morning reporting that the state unemployment rate for April stood at nearly 30 percent, the highest ever recorded and double the national rate.

The unemployment rate in Nevada was 28.2 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis and 29.8 percent on an unadjusted basis, compared to the national rate of 14.7 percent adjusted and 14.5 percent unadjusted.

Gov. Steve Sisolak, whose panicked order to shutdown most of the businesses in the state in overreaction to the little understood coronavirus, was quoted as saying, “Nevada is facing record high unemployment and the sheer numbers are difficult to comprehend. I am so pleased that DETR staff is working so hard to connect Nevadans to their benefits during this time, paying out more than 80 percent of eligible claims week over week. Nevada is working diligently to get people back to work as fast as possible, in a safe and responsible manner.” (Pay no heed to the fact the website that was supposed to allow unemployed gig workers to file was still down early today.)

David Schmidt, chief economist for DETR, pointed out that over the past year private sector employment in Nevada saw a 20 percent drop, while public sector employment fell only 3.2 percent. An attachment showed that the annual drop from April to April for the leisure and hospitality sector, which included shuttered hotels and casinos, fell 39.3 percent.

With slow phased openings being allowed and contemplated by Sisolak, don’t expect many of those jobs to ever return. Many businesses are closing permanently as owners go broke. Others that are reopening at half capacity or less and need only half as many workers, except for those doing the disinfecting of every touchable surface.

As jobless benefits expire and the jobs fail to return, expect many to drop out of the labor force entirely. That will statistically cut the jobless rate. Others can be expected to leave the state in search of jobs elsewhere.

A jobless rate of less than 10 percent in the coming two years may not be likely.

While the shutdown was an effort to flatten the curve of COVID-19 hospitalizations to avoid a crisis, in Nevada the curve was flat, according to records obtained by the morning paper. And according to DETR, health care jobs were lost, too. Health Care and Social Assistance jobs fell 11 percent year over year and Ambulatory Health Care Services jobs fell 17.7 percent. Hospital jobs were unchanged in April, but there have been reports that hospitals have laid off staff due to the ban on elective surgery.

Was this trip really necessary?



Inspector general fired

Did you hear the news? The White House fired an inspector general. I didn’t think so.

Gerald Walpin

Gerald Walpin, inspector general of the government service program AmeriCorps, was canned while he was investigating whether a major Democratic donor tried to use AmeriCorps funds as hush money to keep female students at a charter school in Sacramento from complaining about sexual advances from the donor.

In addition to the possible use of hush money, Walpin had concluded that the misuse of AmeriCorps funds by the charter school was serious enough for him to press for criminal prosecution of the donor. Instead, the chair of AmeriCorps, also a major Democratic fundraiser, cut a deal to allow the man to repay much of the money.

The chair then led a campaign to have the inspector general fired on trumped up charges, according to news accounts.

Did I mention that the year was 2009 and the president was Barack Obama?

Did I mention that the firing probably violated a 2008 law meant to protect inspector generals from political payback and that then-Sen. Obama was a co-sponsor of the law? Obama’s stated rationale for the firing was he no longer had “the fullest confidence in” him as an inspector general. Congress showed no interest in pursuing the matter.

President Donald Trump has recently fired several inspectors general, which has angered some congressional Democrats.

“It is vital that I have the fullest confidence in the appointees serving as Inspectors General. That is no longer the case with regard to this Inspector General,” Trump said in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, using the “fullest confidence” line.

Congressional Democrats have launched an investigation of the latest firing by Trump.




Bill to counter virus shutdown woes has an aspect that would cost Nevadans

The so-called Heroes Act — allegedly meant to stanch the financial hemorrhaging caused by the lock down intended to curb the spread of the coronavirus and being pushed by House Democrats — has more ornaments than a Christmas tree.

Among other things, if passed, the bill would extend the $600 a week unemployment bonus through the end of the year, paying those thrown out of work by the government-imposed business shutdowns more to stay home than to return to work, incentivizing prolonged joblessness.

It also would bailout state and local governments, even those whose financial problems predated the coronavirus pandemic. It would forgive students, even for those capable of making repayments. It also would bailout the Postal Service.

Perhaps the most egregious aspect, again, is the proposed repeal of the $10,000 cap on IRS deductions for state and local taxes (SALT) that was part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed in December 2017.

According to the Tax Policy Center, three-quarters of any benefit from repealing the SALT deduction cap would go to households making $153,000 or more. The top 1 percent of households, those making $755,000 or more, would receive more than 56 percent of the benefit. The Center calculated repeal would cut federal tax revenues by $620 billion over the coming decade.

More importantly, the SALT cap stops forcing the residents of low-tax states like Nevada from subsidizing high-tax states like New York and California. Prior to the cap Nevadans were able to deduct about 1 percent or less of their adjusted gross income, while those in high-tax states could deduct more than 5 percent.

Calculated on a per capita basis using 2010 tax data, Californians claimed $2,116 in federal income tax deductions, while Nevadans claimed only $166 per person for sales tax deductions.

If the Heroes Act passes, Nevadans would again be paying a disproportionately higher proportion of federal taxes. This has nothing to do with remedying the woes created by the virus panic. It is just another sop to Democratically-controlled, big spending states.