Congress Could Take A Lesson From These Oklahoma Restaurants

Editor’s note:  The article below is from The Washington Post and is about how customers in some restaurants in northeastern Oklahoma are donating meals to other diners.  This is as American as one can get.  This spirit was what built this country.  Neighbors coming to the aid of neighbors to build a barn, gather a crop or milk their cow.

Unfortunately, this is in stark contrast to what we see daily in Washington where cooperation is a four-letter word.  Just this week Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell said his only mission is to block anything President Biden attempts to do.  Forget the needs of the people, don’t develop alternate policy, don’t go to the table to compromise.  Just be against.

This is NOT leadership.  Instead it is a sad display of just how out of touch with reality Washington now is.  McConnell should visit some eateries in Oklahoma to re-discover what this country holds dear.

“In a growing number of restaurants in Oklahoma, the walls are decorated with hanging receipts.

Anyone can walk in, pull down a receipt and order a meal free of charge. The receipts are put there by customers who prepay for food and tack them to the wall, leaving them on offer for anyone who is hungry.

Since early February, restaurants in the northeastern corner of Oklahoma — in towns like Miami, Grove and Vinita — encourage people who are short on cash to pick up a prepaid meal receipt and enjoy everything from three-egg omelets to chicken-fried steak, no tips expected, no questions asked.

“Maybe if we can show people what it’s like to take care of your neighbor during a time of need, it will spread throughout the United States,” said Bless Parker, 51, the volunteer mayor of Miami (pronounced my-am-uh). “We want to bring back the old hometown values that I saw when I was growing up here as a kid.”

During the historic Arctic blast earlier this year, Parker helped homeless people get into church shelters, and around that time he and others decided they needed to do something to help people who were having a tough time during the coronavirus pandemic in Miami, a former mining town with a population of about 13,000.  About 23 percent of Miami’s population lives in poverty, according to the 2019 Census. The median annual household income is about $36,000.

Sandye Williams, an assistant manager at the Miami Walmart, said she remembered a story she had seen in 2019 about a restaurant in Arkansas where customers had bought meals in advance for those in need and posted the receipts on the wall for anyone to pick up.

On Feb. 3, Williams tagged Dawg House restaurant owner Jennifer White in a post about the story, saying, “Look at this. I would pay for a meal once a week.”

“I loved the idea and thought I’d give it a try,” said White, 28. “I want people in my community to be fed whether they have money for a meal or not.”

When White posted a sign near the entrance inviting her customers to buy $10 meal receipts and post them on the cafe’s giving wall, word spread quickly in Miami, she said.

The mayor, who regularly pops in for lunch at the Dawg House, was the first to buy an extra meal and post the receipt on the wall, she said. “We don’t like to ask questions in Miami and we don’t judge,” Parker said. “Sometimes, people just need a little help. They need somebody to believe in them.”

Hours after Parker’s receipt went up the wall, another local restaurant, Zack’s Cafe, decided to get on board with the idea. And a few days later, Montana Mike’s Steakhouse joined in.

“It seems like we’ve had a rise in homeless people in our area lately, and I thought it would be great to help them to get a meal,” said Lacey Perry, 28, who runs Zack’s Cafe with her husband, Zack Perry.

“Giving customers an opportunity to do something good for someone else is a great idea,” she said.
Her regular customers immediately agreed, and a local church pledged to put the first $100 worth of receipts on the wall.
The giving wall concept soon spread to surrounding towns, including Vinita, which has a population of 5,423, where Beth Hilburn runs the Hi-Way Cafe on historic Route 66.

Hilburn, 52, said she invited her customers to buy something extra from the menu such as a slice of pie or a cheeseburger, then post their contribution beneath a sign she printed:  “If you are hungry or know someone who is … these tickets have been paid for in advance by previous customers. Please grab a ticket and eat!”

About 100 people have taken her up on the offer to exchange a receipt for a free meal in the past two months, she said.
“It’s a discreet way for somebody to get a good meal without feeling embarrassed, Hilburn said. “Our waitresses know not to make a fuss or draw attention to it.”

Anyone who takes a receipt off the wall is a customer, she said.

“I’ve had people tell me this is the first time in a long time that they’ve been able to have a meal in a restaurant,” Hilburn said. “So there is still a lot of hurt and hard times out there.”  The restaurants’ Facebook pages have been flooded with comments about the giving walls from local customers and out-of-towners alike.

“One of the main reasons I love our small town!” a Miami resident commented on the Zack’s Cafe page.

Customers who take receipts off the giving walls are often too shy to say much about the free meals, but no words are necessary, Lacey Perry said.  “If they’re even a tiny bit embarrassed, we do our best to make them comfortable,” she said. “You can see in their eyes that they’re thankful.”

Some of the free meal recipients have returned to put a meal ticket on the wall to help somebody else once they’re able to, Perry said. She estimates that more than 300 free meals have been ordered at Zack’s.

“Everyone in town has been willing to give what they can,” she said.

At Montana Mike’s, general manager Jennifer Highton said she recently took a phone call from a man in Chicago who wanted to purchase several meals and add them to the wall. “He’s never been here and doesn’t know anything about us, but he loved the idea and wanted to be a part of it,” said Highton, 31. “With help from people like him, maybe … we can keep this thing going.”

Osama Bin Laden

May 2 marked 10 years ago that a group of Navy Seals dropped into Bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan and rid the world of this terrorist.  The History Channel has just devoted several, several hours to some excellent documentaries looking back at 9/11, what was happening on board Air Force One immediately afterwards and the planning and execution of the raid to get Bin Laden.

It was excellent television in a time when I can’t say that very often and certainly caused viewers to reflect on these times–as well as the times we are now experiencing.

We have all seen the unbelievable destruction of 9/11.  Still it is hard to grasp the panic and chaos that gripped not only New York City, but the entire country.  We were dumbfounded and waiting for the next shoe to fall so to speak.  Thankfully, that did not happen.

President George W. Bush was reading to a Florida classroom of elementary students when he got the word.  As quickly as possible, he was aboard Air Force One and on a course to who knows where.  Bush wanted to immediately return to the White House, but staff and security finally dissuaded him that this was not a good idea.  The plane he was on is amazing in its capabilities. But many aboard it that day felt they were little more than a sitting duck to someone wanting to down it.

Finally they climbed to 45,000 so that they were high above most other air traffic.  And after more than an hour, they were joined by two jet fighters who, ironically enough, were from Bush’s former National Guard unit in Houston.  Their first stop was in Louisiana to take on fuel.  Then they headed to a base in Omaha.

And while flying at 45,000 feet was great for safety, for the most part it took them out of range for most communications which were critical.  From Omaha, the plane headed for Washington so Bush could speak to the American people and assure them as best possible that every measure was being taken to insure the safety of everyone.

The segment on the raid was fascinating.  Hundreds, if not thousands, of people devoted untold hours following leads that might lead them to Bin Laden.  They were looking for a needle in the haystack and no lead was too small to be ignored..

At long last, due to carefully planted informants, they settled on a three-story, heavily fortified structure in a small village about 160 miles inside of Pakistan.  Then the real work.  A carefully screened group of Seals with extensive experience were selected to begin training for this mission.  They studied models of the compound and most importantly, went through numerous training exercises on a too-scale mockup of the compound.

All of this was under the watchful eye of Admiral William McRaven, who had the wholehearted support of President Obama and everyone with knowledge of the mission.  And there were not many as this endeavor was highly secret.

Two Blackhawk helicopters departed on a moonless night to fly the 160 miles to the target and drop the Seals.  Unfortunately, one of the Blackhawks crashed into a compound courtyard.  No one was injured and the helicopter was blown up before the team left the site.. It was later theorized that because the night air was warmer than expected, this affected the Blackhawk’s ability to hover.

The Seals moved quickly.  Every thing had been planned to the minute.  Resistance was minimal.  They found Bin Laden on the third floor and he was quickly dispatched. At one point, one of the Seals thought he saw a son of Bin Laden stick his head around a corner and quickly retreat.  The Seal called the man’s name and the head came back into view  He was shot.

It was critical that Bin Laden’s body be brought back so that positive identification could be made. He was put in a body bag and loaded on a helicopter.  As soon as everyone was back at the base, McRaven came to see the body and Bin Laden was removed from the body bag.  The admiral thought they had their man.  Bin Laden was 6 feet 4 inches tall.  McRaven looked around the room, spied the tallest guy there and asked him how tall he was.  6 feet, 2 inches wax his response.  So McRaven asked him to lie down next to the body.  After a pause to make sure he heard correctly, the soldier complied and the admiral noted that the body was about 2 inches taller than the soldier.

As we know now, everything was bein closely monitored by a small group back in the White House.  McRaven immediately called the president and reported that they had the right guy and told him about using the solider as a measuring tape. As McRaven tells it, there was then a long pause before President Obama said, “We can spend $60 million on a helicopter but we don’t have $10 for a tape measure?”

DNA later made a positive identification.

One of the climatic scenes in the documentary was when the observers exited the White House only to encounter thousands gathered chanting USA, USA.

Without doubt, this was one of the finest moments in the history of this country.  However, it is impossible not to reflect on our country just 10 years later.  Whereas on a May night in 2011 we were united as one, that is definitely not the case now.  We are more divided that perhaps ever before.  And the last time a crowd gathered near the White House, they were encouraged to march down the street where some stormed our own Capitol.

Congress is at a total stalemate.  The only thing that matters is winning–not for the people–but for themselves.

A few weeks ago the head of the FBI told us that domestic terrorists are now considered as much a threat to us as those from overseas.

To say things are a mess is an understatement.  Unfortunately it will remain that way until the citizens of this great country refuse to be duped by the loudest, most unreasonable voices in the land and elect people to public office who are honestly public servants, not power hungry demagogues and hypocrites.

And that is what we will do if we truly claim to be patriots.

 

 

A Man On A Mission

Some of us are old enough to recall the 1976 movie, “Network”, that left us with the famous line, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.”

The movie won four Academy Awards and the famous line expressed sentiments that are felt by too many to count today.  We are shackled to cable TV news that is a constant regurgitation of what is wrong or right, depending upon which political persuasion. that particular channel shills for.

Like so many, Timothy Israel was fed up, especially with congress where political action committees and their millions of dollars are all powerful and make sure incumbents are insolated with their money to ward off challengers.  Consequently some serve for decades and new faces are few and far between.

In the 2020 election cycle, of 11 categories of PACs, $419 million in political action committee contributions went to incumbents, while less than $4 million went to challengers.  In December, 2020 the public disapproval rating of Congress was 82 percent.  But since when did Senators and Congressmen begin caring about what the public thinks?

Whether Timothy Israel knew numbers such as these, I don’t know. But he knew our present system is broken and it’s folks like him who are forgotten in Washington these days.  He hit on the idea that if we term limited our Federal legislators and didn’t give them virtual life time contracts, perhaps things might improve..

But what is so interesting is that Timothy is not a political activist, he’s never marched in a line to protest something.  He is “everyman” American.  Just like your neighbors and members of your Sunday School class..

Timothy grew up in Albany, GA.  After a four-year tour in the Navy ferrying submarines between the U.S. and Europe, he went to Nashville and became a “roadie”:. One of the crew members who travel with country music stars and make sure all the amplifiers, lights, etc. are ready for the performance.  He did this for nearly 30 years.

But the pandemic brought live concerts to a halt and Timothy was out of a job.

And at some point in 2020 he came up with a plan.  He would walk across the country to bring attention to the need for term limits. So last December he filled a back pack with supplies and got a friend from Albany to drop him off in Key West, FL.  His destination was the state of Washington. about 4,000 miles away.

And on December 22, 2020 he took his first step.  Amazingly all he had was his conviction.  There was no support crew scouting out locations to spend the night, no one to fetch him food, no one hustling up media interviews..  Just Timothy, his back pack, his walking stick and a sign saying we need term limits.

Fortune smiled on him when he finally reached Tallahassee, more than 600 miles from Key West.  He was interviewed by a local TV station and someone with the group, U.S. Term Limits saw it.  This organization has been in business for 20 years and works across the country.

They stepped up to provide Timothy some ground support, a van to sleep in each night, food and two nights a week in a motel.  And maybe best of all, because of this support, he was able to get rid of about 20 pounds in his  back pack.

I learned of Timothy’s trek on the internet recently.  As best I could tell, he was in Alabama at the time.  So I went on his web site and donated $50.  Within a few minutes I got a response on email thanking me.  He was in Centerville that night and was heading up U.S. 82 the next day toward Tuscaloosa.  I told him I would find him.  And sure enough, there he was on the left side of the four-lane trudging along about 20 miles from Tuscaloosa..

A truly nice guy.  Slightly built and neatly dressed.  To cars and trucks speeding by, he’s just another guy hiking along a road, like we see on occasion.  Doubtless few realize the enomomity of the task he’s attempting.  Walking from Key West to the state of Washington is not a feat to be attempted by the faint-hearted.

We all like to bitch and moan about the national state of affairs.  For most, that is all we do, but not Timothy Israel..

What impact will he have?  Your guess is as good as mine.  But at this moment, that is not what matters.  Rather it is the example of one lone guy willing to hike 20 miles a day because he loves his country and feels it is on the wrong course.

We southerners often use the expression, “Bless his/her heart.”   The interpterion is left to the circumstances in which it is used.

However, if I have ever met someone who deserves a “Bless his heart,” it is Timothy.

I conclude with this personal plea, go on the web site linked above and chip in $25 at least.  It will be appreciated and also make you feel good.

When It Comes To Education, Too Many Legislators Just Don’t Get It

It was several years ago, I don’t remember how many.  But it doesn’t matter.  What does it that I remember the moments like they were yesterday.  I talked to the principals of two Montgomery elementary schools.  Both with about 500 students.

However, that’s where the similarities ended.  One was a magnet school.  One was a traditional school with a high rate of student  poverty.  I asked the principals of each how many members their PTAs had.  One had 800.  “We have all the mamas and daddies and most of the grandparents” I was told

It was a very different story at the other school where they had ONE parent member of the PTA.

Two entirely different cultures at these schools. One with a PTA that raises thousands of dollars each year to provide needed resources.  The other with no such support system.

And this is what most legislators seem to be clueless about.  It’s one reason I have suggested that every member of the legislature should spend at least four hours as a teacher’s aide in a classroom at a high poverty school.

Instead of trying to figure out where the blood is coming from, all we’re doing is looking for band-aides.

So we get things being considered in this legislative session like the bill by Senator Del March that says that any child can attend school in any system they wish to–so long as their parent pays “tuition” that equals the amount of local funding that system gets.  Which would be about $7,000 per student for someone going to a Mountain Brook school.

Or we get the bill from Representative Terri Collins that would give more funding to charter schools.  Or the one from Representative Charlotte Meadows to divert more money from public schools so that the Alabama Accountability Act can give out more scholarships to private schools–even though studies by the University of Alabama show these scholarship students are performing no better than their peers in public schools.

We’re simply tinkering around the edges.  Just moving the deck chairs on the Titanic.  Just scrambling for more band-aides, and ignoring the real problems of that school with one parent in their PTA.

We love to talk about “failing schools” in Alabama.  Each year we designate about 75 of them.  But we don’t have “failing schools,” we have “failing school communities.”

And in a high poverty schools, we think teachers can solve all the problems.  Which is about as realistic as thinking Nick Saban could be head coach at Vanderbilt and still win the national championship.  Why is Saban such a good coach?  It begins with him getting the top players in the country.  In 2020 his recruiting class was ranked number two in the nation, while Vanderbilt’s was ranked no 53.

So when we bring up bills like those above, we are mistakenly thinking that football players at Vandy are as good as those at Bama.  That they can run as fast, are as big and strong and blessed with as much overall athletic ability.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Still, we constantly hear legislators talk about how they want to give kids from poor homes an option.  Is it realistic to think that parents who won’t even join a PTA, will come up with $7,000 a year to send their child to a Mountain Brook school?

(And don’t forget that when the Alabama Accountability Act was first passed it said kids in “failing schools” could transfer to other systems.  This quickly sent a chill through Birmingham’s “over the mountain” schools and the bill was amended to allow systems to pass a resolution saying they would not take such children.(

So what should we do?

We should adopt the approach of “community schools” that look at the whole child.  Not just their academics, but the totality of their lives.  Health issues, mental health concerns, dental care, mentoring, tutoring. etc.  We should have classes that teach mamas how to raise a child.

This isn’t easy.  It takes a lot of extra resources.  But there are systems all over the country doing this.  Cincinnati is an excellent example.  Several years ago Montgomery began a pilot community school program at two schools.  Then we brought in Mike Sentance from Massachusetts to be state school superintendent and when he intervened and took over the Montgomery system, he stopped these pilot programs.  But this was hardly a surprise since he was not an educator.

Neither or Collins, Meadows or Marsh.  Instead of dealing with the real issues some of our students face, they trot out their bills claiming they will work magic.  Which is about as realistic as believing that Vanderbilt will be national champions this fall.

 

A Sudden Fall From Grace

By now, most folks in Alabama know that Secretary of State John Merrill’s future in politics crashed and burned this week when he admitted that he had had a three-year extramarital affair.

None of us are such prudes as to think such things never happen.  But most are not nearly so public and the person vehemently denying having one is an elected official.

Merrill was once considered by many to be a rising star in state politics.  A graduate of the University of Alabama and SGA president while there, Merrill was elected to the state house of representatives from Tuscaloosa in 2010 and then Secretary of State in 2014.

Everyone knew he had ambitions for higher office.  In fact, not long after becoming Secretary of State to told some folks that his name was being floated as a potential gubernatorial candidate.  And he launched a bid for Jeff Sessions’ senate seat in 2019.. But this was soon aborted.

He also ran into hot water in 2015 when his name surfaced in a divorce deposition when the wife of a friend of his said she and Merrill had an affair. Merrill’s denials stretched credibility in light of the deposition.  A longtime attorney friend of mine has read the deposition and says it is very damning.

However, the straw that broke the camel’s back came to light this week.  On Tuesday, someone on social media mentioned his most recent liaison.  Merrill again went on the defensive, claiming the woman in question had been stalking him for a long time and they had not had a relationship..

Then the other shoe dropped on Wednesday when a taped telephone conversation between Merrill and the lady turned up.  It was  graphic and there was no denying Merrill was part of the conversation  At some point AL.com called Merrill and he immediately went into his denial routine.  Then they played him part of the tape.

At that point it was game over for the Secretary of State, who planned to run for Richard Shelby’s open senate seat in 2022.  He told AL.com that he would not run for the senate, or any other office, next year.  (The Secretary of State is term limited to only two terms.  Merrill is in his second term.)

Merrill is a tall, good-looking man and a tireless campaigner.  He is as good on the stump as anyone.

However, the fact that he has now been proven a hypocrite will follow him a very long time.  Merrill loved to sprinkle religious overtones in his speeches.  For instance, he told audiences that we no longer have any “morally uplifting” TV shows.  That we no longer have shows based on “biblical foundations.”  That people were too interested in things like “wife swap shows,”

The irony that he was ignoring the commandment about “thou shalt not commit adultery” is obvious.

And when you have someone who is proven to be a liar, cheat and hypocrite you certainly don’t see someone who should be trusted in any elected office.

(Though I must add, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that such qualities seem to be tolerated in Washington these days.)

Josh Moon Takes Del Marsh To The Woodshed

Editor’s note: John Moon of the Alabama Political Reporter, is one of the handful of investigative reporters left in Alabama.  As such he is used to taking politicians to task.  He recently took aim at Senator Del Marsh, a frequent opponent of public schools. for a bill he is proposing. Here are excerpts from his article:

“The bill, sponsored by Del Marsh, is the latest in a long line that takes from public schools and students that can least afford it.”

Somehow, State Senator Del Marsh managed to do worse. Yes, it was bad enough that Marsh brought to committee on Tuesday a bill that specifically allows public schools to deny entry to children with special needs — an abhorrent proposal and one specifically deemed illegal by federal law. And one the Republican-led committee passed in a 7-3 vote.

But despite the awfulness of such a proposal, that wasn’t the worst of Marsh’s time before the committee on Tuesday morning.

No, the worst of it was when Marsh, the biggest crutch for the Alabama Accountability Act, stood before the committee — while being questioned about his bill by Sen. Vivian Figures — and said that he was greatly troubled by Alabama’s current school funding structure and that he would love to see more money go to struggling schools.

“…. no one has done more to take funding from struggling schools over the past decade than Marsh.

Marsh was the primary sponsor of the 2013 Alabama Accountability Act, and he has been the sponsor of numerous “improvement” bills related to the Act. If you’re unfamiliar, the AAA was illegally passed and serves as a way to divert tax dollars that would ordinarily go to public schools and instead sends them to private, for-profit schools.

It does absolutely nothing to aid “failing schools” — most of which are located in economically depressed areas — but instead purposefully sucks money and students away from those schools and gives them to private schools.

He’s proposed legislation that has asked for more money for the AAA on at least two occasions. This despite the per-pupil allocation under the Act being higher for students attending private schools than it is for the students who remain enrolled in their zoned public schools.

Marsh also has asked for more money for the charters, proposing in 2019 that some local tax dollars also follow students to the charter schools.

Marsh is now back proposing yet another escape hatch. And of course, he’s also proposing a means to keep more vulnerable students — learning disabled kids this time — from clogging up the hatch. 

All of that is bad, of course. But it pales in comparison to the fact that it’s being proposed even while Marsh — and many, many others — knows where the real problem lies.” 

You can see the entire article here.