Tag Archives: Washington DC

So long, Chief . . . and well done

I used to call him Chief. Jack Barnes was a retired Navy chief petty officer. I made his acquaintance while I worked as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News in Texas.

Barnes hailed originally from Perryton, then spent a couple of decades defending the nation.

I was saddened recently to learn of Barnes’ death in December at the age of 68. I heard he suffered from an aggressive form of cancer. I am not going to comment on the end of this patriot’s life, but rather on what he did to enrich the lives of other patriots.

Barnes was the driving force behind a project called “Honor Flights.” He declared it his mission to shepherd World War II veterans to Washington, D.C., to tour the memorial erected in these veterans’ honor. And to show them as many other sights as they could squeeze into a brief visit to the nation’s capital.

He worked tirelessly with Southwest Airlines to arrange to transport these veterans from Amarillo to Washington. Over time, he expanded his mission to include Korean War and then Vietnam War veterans. Given that the Korean War began only five years after the end of World War II, it became imperative, as Barnes saw it, to bring veterans of that war to D.C. to show them the Korean War memorial that honors the sacrifice of those who fought on the Korean Peninsula.

And, of course, the Vietnam War veterans also were invited aboard these Honor Flights. We, too, are getting a bit long in the tooth these days and Barnes wanted to treat the men and women who served in Vietnam to the same honor he delivered to the World War II and Korean War veterans.

Jack occasionally would ask me if I wanted to take part in an Honor Flight, given my own meager experience in the Vietnam War. I never found the time to take him up on his generous offer.

I lost contact — more or less — with Barnes after I resigned from the Globe-News in August 2012; we would see each other on occasion, at the grocery store or at a public event. But I surely knew of the work he continued to do to honor our World War II veterans.

Of the 16 million Americans who served during WWII, only a diminishing fraction of them are still with us. They’re all in their 90s now. Time is not their friend.

Barnes, though, was dedicated to these men and women and sought to honor them the best way he knew how. He honored them greatly with his diligence in escorting them to Washington, to see the memorial that is dedicated to their service in the fight against tyranny.

Jack Barnes was a proud man who spread his pride generously. His work should live on forever.

Rest in peace and well done, Chief.

Happy Trails, Part 34

A word to the wise: Read road signs very carefully when traveling far from home. If you fail to do so, you might find yourself tooling down some road to nowhere … but it will cost you!

My wife and I returned home this past weekend from our latest sojourn across the United States of America; we opened our mail and found a notice from the Interstate 495/95 Express Lanes toll authority in northern Virginia.

We had been assessed a “toll violation” because in June we found ourselves driving in the “express lane” with no way on God’s Earth to get off.

The violation won’t cost us an arm and both legs, so we’ll pay it. I called the toll authority this morning to “protest” the notice. I was told after explaining to the robotic-sounding “customer service representative” that the “invoice is still valid.”

I applaud the toll authority for being so efficient in its handling of my call. Believe me, I actually doubted I was conversing with a living, breathing human being even though she gave me her name when she picked up the phone on the other end of the line. That’s the good news.

The bad news, if you don’t mind my calling it that, is that the toll authority representative didn’t quite grasp the nature of the “protest” I was filing. It’s not that my wife and I don’t think we broke any rules; we did when we ended up on that express lane. It’s just that the highway was under construction, rendering the GPS on our truck virtually useless, the signage was imprecise, traffic was heavy and we found ourselves — quite by accident — on a toll road without the proper “express pass” tag attached to our vehicle.

Furthermore, we had to travel several miles southbound from suburban Washington, D.C., toward our RV campsite before we could exit the express lane.

This all happened while we were visiting our niece and her husband, who live in Washington. We drove to a metro train station, and rode the train into the district each day of our visit. We would return to the Franconia-Springfield Station, drive our truck out of the parking garage and then head back to our RV site.

Somehow, on this particular evening, we got a bit befuddled by the road construction. On June 12, zigged when we should have zagged and got caught in that seemingly endless journey along an express lane.

Hey, that kind of thing happens to out-of-towners, am I right?

I told Robot Lady we’d pay the fine. She offered nothing in the way of a word of sympathy for our anxiety or frustration over the signage, heavy traffic and road construction. She merely instructed us to “stay away from the left lane when you see those white signs.”

Gee. Thanks. Will do.

Happy Trails, Part 25

The trail along this retirement journey isn’t entirely, um, happy.

I won’t throw up my hands, I won’t surrender, I won’t cease exploring new adventures across our vast continent. I’ll have to learn some patience as we continue to battle individual communities’ unique methods of controlling and directing traffic flow.

We recently found ourselves guided — mistakenly, I believe — onto an express lane of Interstate 95 between Washington, D.C., and our RV campsite in suburban Virginia. How in this world we got into that lane is a mystery to both of us.

Traffic was stalling terribly in the “regular lanes” of southbound traffic; meanwhile, we sailed along in the express lane with virtually no one else in our lanes.

We were able to exit at Woodbridge. I might get some form letter from the Virginia Department of Transportation. It might contain a traffic ticket for all I know.

I’m not sure how to handle a ticket. Do I pay the fine? Do I challenge it? I’m tempted to challenge a fine if it comes. I think it’s an easy case to win. I’ll await something to come in the mail.

We are learning that states have different methods of striping their highways. Some of them advise motorists in plenty of time about lane changes, or closure; others of them aren’t as careful.

My task now is to get ready for sudden changes in traffic flow.

It also is incumbent on me to stop whining about getting diverted by mistake along a route that takes us out of the way. Hey, we’re retired these days! Why worry if an unintended detour keeps us on the road a little longer?

Obama rising; GOP standing firm

Do you kind of get a sense that a huge political struggle is going to become the hallmark of Barack Obama’s final two presidential years?

The president’s poll numbers are up significantly in recent weeks. Congressional Republicans — feeling pretty flush themselves with their takeover of the Senate after the 2014 mid term election — are going to dig in their heels.


Get ready for the fight.

So many fronts. So many battles. So many hassles.

Ah, politics. Ain’t it noble?

Polling suggests Obama is scoring better with some key demographic groups. Hispanics and young voters are approving of the president once again. Hispanics particularly are buoyed by the president’s executive action on immigration.

But as GOP strategists are quick to point out, as noted in The Hill article attached, the president’s base is holding firm right along with the impenetrable ceiling that keeps him from soaring even higher. That ceiling is put there by stubborn Republican resistance to almost every initiative he proposes.

That’s where the GOP thinks it will win the day.

Well, what happens then will be — dare I say it — more gridlock and more “do-nothingness.”

Obama is planning to reveal a $4 trillion budget that will seek tax breaks for middle- and low-income Americans while asking wealthier Americans to pay more. There will be other areas of the budget that are certain to draw a sharp line between the White House and Congress.

The president believes the wind is behind him. Then again, Republicans believe they have the advantage.

All that talk about “working together” is likely to give way — rapidly — to more of what we’ve witnessed for the past, oh, six years.

Get ready for a rough ride, my fellow Americans.


Take care of the home folks

Memo to congressional incumbents all across this great land: You’d better pay careful attention to the people you represent in Washington, D.C.

That might be the most significant takeaway from U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s stunning, Earth-shaking defeat this week in his race for Congress from Virginia’s 7th Congressional District.


I still haven’t grasped fully what happened back in Virginia this week, when political novice David Brat smoked Cantor by 11 percentage points in a low-turnout Republican primary election.

Still, I keep reading from those close to the situation that Cantor had become too much a Man of Washington and less of a Man of the People Back Home. Perhaps they grew tired of him standing in front of those banks of microphones among House GOP leaders. Maybe they didn’t think it mattered to them that their guy was part of the GOP caucus elite in the House and that he was in line to become the next speaker of the House when John Boehner decided he’d had enough fun.

OK, now pay attention here, House Armed Services Committee Chairman-to-be Mac Thornberry.

You’re going to win re-election this November from the 13th Congressional District of Texas. You’re also likely to become chairman of a powerful House committee when the next Congress convenes in January.

This is just me talking, Mac, but you’d better start scheduling a lot of town hall meetings and photo ops back home in your district well in advance of the next congressional election, which occurs in 2016.

If Eric Cantor — one of the House’s more conservative members — can get outflanked on the right by a novice, then it can happen to anyone, it seems to me.

It well might be that in this political climate, no member of Congress — no matter how powerful and media savvy they are — is immune from the kind of political earthquake that swallowed Eric Cantor whole.

Yep, that means you, too, Rep. Thornberry.

FNGs making their mark on D.C.

The new breed of congressmen and women who have taken over the Republican caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives intended to change Washington for the better.

Their obstructionism has done the reverse. It has created a poisonous atmosphere in the nation’s capital.

I want to introduce a time-honored term to describe these folks, comprising mostly the tea party wing of their party.

Let’s call them FNGs.

Vietnam War veterans known the term well. It was used — often disparagingly — to describe the “new guys” who cycled “in-country.” They would walk off their plane wearing dark green jungle fatigues and shiny new boots. You could spot an FNG a mile away. The “NG” stands for “new guy.” The “F”? Well, it stands for arguably the most functionally descriptive term in the English language. I’ll leave it at that.

The FNGs who now populate a segment of the GOP have accomplished one important goal of their overall mission. They have made their mark. They’ve changed the debate in Washington. They have made their presence felt, just as they promised they would when they campaigned for their congressional offices in 2010 and 2012.

Perhaps the most well-known FNG has been Texas’s own Sen. Ted Cruz, the Republican pistol who blabbed for 21 hours in a faux filibuster to protest the Affordable Care Act and who has scolded his colleagues publicly for failing to demonstrate the proper commitment to bringing change. He’s been scolded in return by his party elders, such as Sen. John McCain, for impugning the character of current and former senators — such as Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

The FNGs now have taken us to the brink of default on our national fiscal obligations. It would be the first time in history that the nation has failed to pay its bills. The gray eminences of both parties know what’s at stake. The FNGs don’t have a clue. They’re about to find out if they stand in the way of a compromise reportedly being hammered out by two senior senators — Democrat Harry Reid and Republican Mitch McConnell.

Here’s some good news. They won’t be FNGs forever. It’ll take some time for them to get some seasoning. They’ll have to learn how to compromise and understand that other public officials represent constituencies with different points of view. Not everyone shares the FNGs’ world view.

I just hope they don’t contribute to the destruction of our government before they wise up.