Down at the Twist and Shout

It’s time to focus on yard and garden for the weekend. But not before a little bit of musical fun.

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No Surrender by Jack Hatch

No Surrender by Jack Hatch

If interested in Iowa Democratic politics, read No Surrender: Building a Progressive Agenda for Iowa with the Five Securities by former state senator Jack Hatch. Read it now.

There are few long, contemporary narratives about the state of the Iowa Democratic Party. Hatch’s 2016 book recounts where we are, where we have been and where we could go.

The importance of the book is twofold.

It serves as a great way for political newcomers to get up to speed on Democratic politics. The results of the 2016 general election activated people around the state to become more involved in politics. No Surrender serves as a briefing book of major policy issues and how Democrats addressed them. Our approach stands in sharp contrast to Republicans, according to Hatch.

The author has standing to address flaws in Democratic approaches to elections and governance. A 22-year state legislator, chair of the White House Task Force of State Legislators for Health Care Reform, and 2014 gubernatorial candidate, Hatch tells the story of the rise of Democrats in 2006 and what we did while occupying the governor’s mansion and holding majorities in both chambers of the legislature. He also recounts how we fell. To be effective going forward, politically active Democrats need the sense of history No Surrender provides.

As with most contemporary political writing, there is a short shelf life to this book. Nonetheless, Hatch asserts Democratic values are more enduring: a progressive tax system, better jobs and livable wages, soil and water protection, life-long education, and health care for all.

Hatch lays out how a focus on policy could contribute to Democratic electoral wins and effective policy-making going forward. No Surrender provides a framework for policy-making much needed in these turbulent political times.

~ First posted on Amazon.com

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Civilians Should Control Our Military

Woman Writing Letter

Civilian control of the military is an American value our president doesn’t appear to share.

A report last Friday from the American-led military coalition in Iraq indicated scores of non-combatant civilians huddled in basements for protection had been killed in U.S. bombing raids with as many as 200 casualties.

During a 2015 interview on NBC, candidate Trump made his intentions regarding Islamic State and their assets clear.

“With ISIS, you kill them at the head. You take the oil,” he said. “That’s where they’re getting their money. If you bomb the hell out of it, you bomb the hell out of it. You’ve got to stop their wealth. They have tremendous wealth.”

It is one thing to destroy the economic assets of the Islamic State and quite another to kill civilians as coalition forces attempt to drive them from Mosul.

The official government position is that rules of engagement with enemy combatants have not changed with the new administration. At the same time, coalition partners indicate the rules have been relaxed. In the fog of military explanations the truth is obscured.

If the report is true, we know why. It’s because the president turned our wars over to his generals and shouldn’t have. The president’s disregard for civilian control of the military is evidenced by the fact the Congress had to pass a law to enable former Marine Corps General James Mattis to become Secretary of Defense.

Our president should be hands-on when it comes to our wars in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan. There is little evidence he is and innocent people are paying the price.

~ A letter to the editor of the Solon Economist

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Republicans Shell the Democratic Party

Polling Place

“The objective is to destroy the coherence of the enemy’s defense, to fragment and isolate enemy units in the zone of attack, and to secure operationally decisive objectives.” U.S. Army Field Manual No. 3-09.22

The political battlefield changed during the first session of the 87th Iowa General Assembly. Democratic efforts to hold the line while in the minority have been difficult at best. One distasteful bill after another has been signed into law by the governor.

On Dec. 1, 2016 I wrote, “The current Iowa Democratic Party should be completely blown up — new people, new office, new strategy, new tactics, new everything.”

I still believe that, although Iowa Republicans are doing some of that work without us. They are doing everything they can to weaken the Democratic hand in 2018 and beyond.

The swing toward Trump and more general Republican values has been an eye opener. What worked in 2006, the last time Democrats elected a governor, won’t work now. The good news is people who were not politically engaged before 2016 are getting involved in protecting what’s left of Democratic values in government — even if the horse is out of the barn.

The General Assembly has devolved into the majority saying, “f*ck you we’re doing whatever the hell we want.” The debate about bills seems mostly among Republicans. Egregious bills restructuring Iowa’s politic landscape are too numerous for a short post. I’ll mention just one: House File 516

While a majority of Iowans support use of identification at polling places, if passed by the senate, HF516 may impact marginal voters in Iowa who either don’t have an ID or are discouraged from participating in the process. Democrats have relied on those votes in the past. The bill passed the House on March 9. The Senate companion bill, Senate Study Bill 1163 passed subcommittee March 1. The bills are solutions looking for a problem.

“There is the ‘fake’ problem of ‘fake’ people casting votes – it is simply not a problem in Iowa,” Iowa Senate Minority Leader Robb Hogg said in in his 2017 opening day remarks at the state capitol. “People aren’t risking severe criminal penalties to cast an illegal vote. We don’t need government barriers to voting in Iowa. Voting is a fundamental right.”

“The fact is voter ID laws are intended to suppress the vote of the elderly and disabled, people who are home bound and/or do not normally drive,” Eva Mitchell posted on the Iowa Democratic Party web site.

These arguments miss the point. Under the guise of “election integrity” Secretary of State Paul Pate is working to adopt a nationwide agenda to create conditions more favorable for people to vote for Republican candidates. Republican operatives believe they do better in elections when the electorate is constricted. With less voters, their minority views on almost everything have the potential to dominate our elected offices and the legislative agenda. To my point, they are doing that now, without a Voter ID law. Any Voter ID law signed by the governor will force Democrats to develop a new playbook for future campaigns.

The Democratic Central Committee elected political consultant Derek Eadon as chair on Jan. 21. I met him during the 2007 Obama campaign. He seems like a decent guy. A lot is resting on Eadon’s shoulders as Iowa Republicans won the 2016 presidential contest by 9.6 points, and took control of the Iowa legislature.

If and when a Voter ID bill becomes law Democrats will have to adjust. What is more concerning is the Republican artillery barrage has only just begun. They control the legislature now and will until the 88th Iowa General Assembly begins in January 2019. People say the second session of a general assembly is less toxic but I don’t believe that — not now, not ever. Conventional ideas about politics flew out the window last year.

It rots to be in a defensive position. The key to maintaining viability as a party is to hunker down, let the shells fall where they will, and rebuild. It is incumbent upon the new party leadership to focus not only on people who register to vote as Democrats, but to build an electorate that supports our candidates.

For now, Democrat activists resist, constituents should contact legislators, and, if Eadon and his leadership team are worth their salt, rebuild our defenses to conduct a counter attack to recapture the legislature. This is possible, indeed likely over time. Time is the one commodity in short supply for Democrats as Republicans reshape the political landscape.

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Saturday at Home

Baked Carnival Squash

After a Saint Patrick’s Day meetup with friends in Iowa City I drove home, parked my car in the garage and haven’t moved it since.

It was too cold for outside work on Saturday so I stayed in, did laundry, cleaned the bird feeder, wrote, read, and cooked dinner of bean soup, Carnival squash and applesauce cake.

The ambient temperature is expected to rise to almost 60 degrees, so I’m planning to work outside after a shift of soil blocking at a community supported agriculture farm.

I read Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History in its entirety this weekend. Her combination of background information with personal stories of field trips is eminently readable. I can’t remember a day so absorbed in a book since leaving transportation. The main takeaway is how uncertain scientists are about changes in earth history over the long term and the consequences of our lifestyle.

Japanese Beetles

The broader meaning of words like “Anthropocene” is not settled, nor agreed. What I know after this immersion, and after reading Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Haran, I am ready to move forward with something other than narratives of how homo sapiens swarmed over the planet like Japanese beetles.

I buy more bird feed since working at the home, farm and auto supply store. Counting whole kernel corn, I have five different varieties in the garage. Each type attracts a different bird and we enjoy watching them through the French door off the dining area. Some days I feel like picking up a 20-pound bag on sale, and do. I went overboard with 50-pound bags of whole corn and millet, although sparrows seem to really like the millet. There is no science to my purchases.

Bartering is making this year’s garden planning a lot different. Part of the barter system is trading labor for a spring and fall share. Each side of the deal can be defined monetarily. I get a credit of $13 per hour for labor which is applied to retail price of the shares. I use greenhouse space and materials to germinate seeds and care for seedlings until planting in my garden. I will also acquire onion sets and seed garlic through the farms. Where there is a clear financial value, the barter system is simple and easy. This part of the exchange translates into things we can use in our garden or kitchen.

The exchange for specific produce is more complicated.

Canned Tomatoes

Tomatoes are a large part of summer. Last year I planted them in three different garden plots. This year I’ll decrease my plantings to what we’ll use fresh and rely on the farms for canning tomatoes. In 2013 the farmer provided crates of tomatoes which I canned. We split the canned goods 50-50 that year. That was a bit disadvantageous to me considering the amount of work. We haven’t finalized the split, but both farms I work on produce many more tomatoes than needed for their members. One farmer wants lots of canned tomatoes. Something can be worked out.

Bell peppers were a garden failure last year and for many previous years. I’m eliminating them completely. The farms produce bell peppers with a high frequency of imperfect fruit. I plan to trade labor for these seconds and get all of my bell peppers from them. In addition to fresh eating, I seed and freeze them to use throughout the year. We did a 50-50 split on these in 2013, however, this year I’m considering a straight trade of labor hours against a to be determined cost per crate.

There are a number of items we don’t use much in our kitchen but are abundant on the farms. I don’t plan to grow any kohlrabi or cabbage. Should be no problem getting what we need without occupying space in our garden. I’ll barter for some additional broccoli for freezing.

Likewise, I don’t plan to grow lettuce outside my small plot of Belgian lettuce. In between the spring and fall shares that’s coming from bartering.

Summer squash is abundant and available from the farms as are many kinds of greens: collards, chard and “braising greens.” I will grow my own kale and spinach, and everything else will be bartered from the farms.

Eggplant? If Johnny’s Selected Seeds proofs and sends Black Beauty seeds I’ll plant them along with Fairy Tale eggplant. The former can be sliced thick, baked and frozen. The latter are good for the kitchen while in season. There is always an abundance of eggplant at the farms.

Yesterday was the last winter Saturday of staying indoors. Going into the planting season it will also be my day off from the home, farm and auto supply store and the farms. Yesterday was a good day, made better by a feeling of accomplishment. As humans we sometimes need that.

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Kansas Wildfires

Kansas Wildfire March 2017 Photo Credit: Travis Morisse/The Hutchinson News via AP

Yesterday I loaded pallets of fence posts, barbed wire and bottled water on a trailer pulled by two farmers in a pickup truck.

They were bound for Kansas where wildfires fed by wind gusting at 70 m.p.h. burned 650,000 acres and killed thousands of cattle during calving season.

Tens of thousands of miles of fence need to be replaced. The home, farm and auto supply store where I work donated the items for Kansas ranchers in the aftermath of this month’s record-setting wildfires.

Farmers and ranchers re-earned the state its motto, Ad Astra Per Aspera (To the Stars Through Difficulty).

“We had the perfect storm,” Todd Domer of the Kansas Livestock Association said to CNN. “We had a wet summer and then kind of a dry winter and then you get wind on top of that and then anything that’s flammable will spark.”

The Kansas plains had become a tinderbox.

“It looks like the moonscape,” Domer said. “It just looks like a big sand beach that’s endless.”

I hope our small Iowa contribution will help ranchers recover from the worst wildfires in Kansas history.

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A Reluctant Analysis

Flooded Farm Near the Cedar River, Sept. 27, 2016

(Editor’s Note: A feverish writing session over two days resulted in this analysis of my house district. Maybe it’s too far into the weeds. Maybe it’s re-litigating a failed past campaign. Maybe there is something here after the fever has broken).

Progressive activists would like to see Rep. Bobby Kaufmann (R-Wilton) removed from the Johnson County delegation to the Iowa legislature post-haste.

Claiming ignorance about Kaufmann’s voting record, Democratic activists recently lamented that part of the liberal bastion is represented by a son of the Republican Party of Iowa chairman.

If people did their homework it would be clear the R after his name stands for Republican.

Those same activists suggested the state party help recruit a candidate against Kaufmann and others who ran unopposed in 2016. The sentiment belies progressive attitudes about IDP involvement in local races. Candidates recruited by the IDP have been viewed negatively, with prejudice.

Local activists worked to recruit a candidate against Kaufmann in every general election since redistricting. Kaufmann beat Dick Schwab in 2012 (9,068 to 7,016); David Johnson in 2014 (8,448 to 4,035), and ran unopposed in 2016 (12,388 of 16,889 votes, including write-ins and under votes). The attitude during the prelude to 2016 was that running someone against the incumbent would have been a waste of time and resources because of his popularity among district voters.

His success in Republican politics begs another question.

Is Kaufmann popular or just entrenched — part of the continuing Kaufmann family dynasty, the undeserving inheritor of the crown, embedded in the tribal loyalty of rural residents?

That’s hard to say. Kaufmann worked for his wins. During the 2012 campaign our team worked hard for the Democrat. Everywhere we went and in every aspect of the campaign, Kaufmann, his father and brothers worked equally hard. While less familiar with the 2014 campaign, little about his work ethic appeared to change.

At the end of the day, Kaufmann is a Republican. Senators Chuck Grassley, Joni Ernst, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio have all helped him raise campaign funds. He endorsed Rubio for president in the Cedar Rapids Gazette. He made a joint appearance with Tana Goertz, Apprentice finalist and state chair of Donald Trump’s Iowa campaign.

He is actively involved in the Republican House caucus, voting for SF 166 (Supplemental State Aid to Schools), HF 516 (Voter ID), HF 291 (Collective Bargaining) and HF 517 (Iowa Gun Laws). No progressive legislators voted for these bills.

What does the average Jane make of Rep. Kaufmann?

“Both (Democrats and Republicans) in Wilton vote for the Kaufmanns,” a district resident posted on social media. “Their roots run deep, and they remind voters about that all the time. They are also great at marketing their common folk ideals and charm, so people think how much they truly listen to them, and what independent thinkers they are, which we know is a bunch of $%&!”

On March 1, the Secretary of State reported active voter registrations in the district were again led by no preference registrants. The numbers were 6,360 Democratic; 6,392 Republican; 82 Libertarian; 7,884 No Preference; and 25 other. The appearance is the district could be a level playing field with the right candidate should one arise. It’s more complicated than registrations.

As Johnson County population continues to grow it seems likely Kaufmann will be sanded off in the woodshed of 2021 redistricting.

Until then, progressives should either quit complaining and work with Kaufmann where there is common ground, or join in a campaign to unseat him. I’m certain both money and shoe leather would be welcome in a struggle against the Republican flood that jumped the river banks in November.

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