Fall Work Session

Apple Harvest

Continuous daily work shifts since July 31 have taken their toll. It’s  been challenging to find time for mowing, cleaning, repairs and household chores. It’s also been hard to get enough sleep. And to write. I need time to take care of things.

Monday and Tuesday are job-free so I can prepare for winter. Yard maintenance is high on my to-do list as are catching up on community organizing and the apple harvest. I want to get organized for the next few days, but not too much. I plan to go with the flow of time for a while.

This week U.S. Senator Joni Ernst held a few town hall meetings in the state, including one in Iowa City. I’ve read every news article I could find about the event and I don’t see a political downside. Tough questions were asked of her, including some by people in my social network. Ernst gets credit for holding a public meeting in the liberal bastion simply because the senior Iowa senator has not for so long.

Iowa is a state that voted for Donald Trump by a 9.4 percent margin. In 2014, Ernst beat Democratic candidate Bruce Braley by a margin of 8.3 percent. The wide margin is significant. Ernst is enabled to point to it and say she represents Iowa when she votes for legislation many of us find reprehensible. I can’t think of many policy issues where I agree with Ernst, yet she won the election big. That she would hold a town hall meeting in the county that voted for Hillary Clinton and Bruce Braley only reinforces her status with the people who elected her. Ernst is not the senator Iowa City wanted in 2014 nor the one they want going forward. The lesson is Johnson County liberals don’t elect people statewide and Ernst knows it.

The topic of the day was the Graham Cassidy bill to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Graham Cassidy was a loser from the git go. Reaction to the bill has been lopsidedly negative. With Senator John McCain (R-AZ) announcing he will vote no should it come up for a vote, it seems dead in the water.

Graham Cassidy dominated news media attention obscuring some important health care issues.

The Affordable Care Act is barely affordable, even with the federal insurance premium subsidies. If a person gets sick, the co-pays and deductibles are high enough to disrupt the financial life of those who qualify for participation in the ACA Marketplace. The total monthly premium for health insurance under the law is much higher than anyone can afford. It is also more expensive than the cost of Medicare. If the government were about saving money, those eligible for coverage under the ACA should be enrolled immediately in Medicare.

Health care sucked under the ACA. I had coverage through the Marketplace for two years and experienced something new. My doctor raised the issue of Essential Health Services during my annual appointment, saying what he could and could not do. Rather than listen to my questions as his predecessors in the small, rural clinic did for 20 years, he injected politics into my appointment. He was afraid to give me treatment either because of the ACA or because of instructions from his employer. I did not return to see him and he has since left the clinic.

Health care in Iowa has been bad on many fronts. The mental health consolidation was incomplete at best, failing to include a program for disabled children. Outsourcing Medicaid to private companies has been a costly disaster that delays patient treatment and provider compensation. Despite one of the best healthcare organizations in the country it is difficult to get needed care in this state.

The idea that Medicaid would be block granted to states, as proposed in Graham Cassidy, is one more in a thousand cuts to Iowans. The lesson is Senate Republicans don’t have a clue how to make health care meaningful, cost effective and do no harm.

My fall work session will address our family’s health care transition to Medicare as we both become eligible in January. It’s one more challenge to sustaining a life in a turbulent world.

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Letter to Iowa Senators on Graham Cassidy

I do not support Graham Cassidy and hope you will ask your senate colleagues to gather more information about the impact of the bill on Iowa populations before scheduling a vote. More specifically,

1. CBO score: Delay holding a vote on the measure until the CBO scores the bill and the public has a chance to evaluate it.

2. Impact on veterans: Elimination of Medicaid, as the bill is said to do over time, would have a disproportionate negative impact on veterans. Many military veterans I know fall within the federal poverty guidelines and it would be wrong to leave them behind by eliminating Medicaid.

3. Impact on Nursing Home Residents: It seems cruel to kick nursing home residents off Medicaid. Like most people, our family is working to live on our own for as long as possible. That’s not possible for people with limited means as their health deteriorates toward the end of life. Ending Medicaid would disproportionately impact seniors who rely upon it. It would be just plain mean and not reflective of who Americans are as a society.

4. Essential Health Benefits: Insurance is by design intended to help all policy holders pay for the medical needs of every policy holder. Changing the basic framework of who is covered and at what cost requires more sunlight than it has gotten thus far. I oppose altering essential health benefits established in 2009 without agreement between all parties involved, including insurance companies, medical personnel, hospitals and clinics, and importantly, members of the general public.

Thanks for reading my message. Good luck in your deliberations over Graham Cassidy.

Regards, Paul

~ Submitted electronically to U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017

Senator Chuck Grassley’s response:

September 20, 2017

Dear Mr. Deaton,

Thank you for taking the time to contact me. As your Senator it is important for me to hear from you.

I appreciate hearing your thoughts about legislation proposed to replace the Affordable Care Act(ACA), or Obamacare. Obamacare has failed to deliver. While the ACA promised affordable care, Iowans saw their premium payments, copayments, and deductibles steadily rise significantly. While promised to keep plans if they liked them, Iowans lost their plans when Obamacare was enacted. Because of Obamacare’s failures, 72,000 Iowans currently don’t know if they will be able to purchase health insurance for 2018.

I support having the Senate consider the Cassidy/Graham bill. We need alternatives to Obamacare, which hasn’t worked, and that reality has been acknowledged across the political spectrum. Health insurance is much too expensive for too many Iowans. I like that the bill addresses one of the fundamental flaws of Obamacare. It returns power to individuals and states. It’s not perfect, but the bill recognizes that each state has different needs that each state is best equipped to decide how to meet. There’s also a phase-in period and the opportunity to make changes in the future. Keeping Obamacare as is will cause people to go without insurance either because Obamacare has collapsed in a state or face coverage that no one can afford to use.

You can be sure I will carefully consider any legislation that comes before the Senate, and will continue to support access to health insurance for Iowans going forward in my role as senator.

Thank you again for contacting me. Please keep in touch.
Sincerely,

Chuck Grassley

Senator Joni K. Ernst’s Response:

September 21, 2017

Dear Mr. Deaton,

Thank you for taking the time to contact me about the Senate’s ongoing work on health care reform. It is important for me to receive direct input from folks in Iowa on policy matters such as this, especially when they affect people on such a personal level.

As you know, the U.S. Senate considered various legislative ideas regarding health care the week of July 24th. Throughout the debate, I shared how the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is failing in Iowa, with choices dwindling and costs rising. Premiums have increased in Iowa up to 110% since the health care law went into effect. With Medica remaining as the only health insurance provider selling individual market plans in every county statewide for 2018, folks in the state’s individual market will endure another massive rate increase. The reality in our state is that continuing with the status quo is no longer an option.

On September 13, 2017, Senators Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Lindsay Graham (R-SC), Dean Heller (R-NV), and Ron Johnson (R-WI) introduced health care reform legislation, known as the Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson proposal. If enacted, this proposal would give states flexibility to innovate and design their individual markets tailored to the specific needs of their state.

This proposal would also reform the Medicaid program to a per capita allotment for its traditional patient population. As you may know, the federal government’s auditor has identified Medicaid as a high-risk program for more than a decade due to its size and growth. Therefore, it is important that we look at reforms, but also focus our Medicaid dollars on the most vulnerable in our society – the elderly, children, and individuals with disabilities.

To learn more about this proposal, Senator’s Cassidy website has more information here.

Further, Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) announced that the Senate Committee on Finance will hold a hearing on Monday, September 25th to discuss the Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson proposal. While I am not a member of the Finance Committee, I will be closely monitoring the committee’s work and look forward to receiving its analysis of this proposal.

Throughout the Senate’s work on health care reform, I have emphasized how we must pursue solutions that enhance competition, increase flexibility, and constrain rising costs. The ACA is unsustainable in Iowa, and it’s critical that we work together to address the evolving needs of our health care system, and ensure folks have a voice in their own health care decisions – and not Washington deciding what is needed in a health care plan.

At this time, I am carefully reviewing the Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson proposal to see how it could affect insurance availability and affordability, as well as provide folks access to health care coverage. It’s imperative I hear personally from Iowans, such as yourself, on their unique experiences in accessing health care, so that we can secure the affordable, patient-centered solutions our state critically needs. I appreciate your feedback at this time, and look forward to hearing from you further as the Senate continues to work on health care reform.

Sincerely,
Joni K. Ernst

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Apples Toward Autumn

Deciduous Tree Leaves in Late Summer

Apples exercise hegemony over everything of late.

Yesterday our orchard’s chief apple officer cut a slice of Kidd’s Orange Red to sample and it’s been hard to think of anything else. A cross between Delicious and Cox’s Orange Pippin, developed in New Zealand by James Hutton Kidd, and introduced in 1924, the flavor is unbelievable. I’d say it was delicious but that would be an apple joke, favoring one parent over the other.

The orchard is in peak production. I picked one or two of each from the cooler to bring home: Gala, Crimson Crisp, Crimson Gold, Jonathan, Snow Sweet, and Jonafree. There are more than a dozen other varieties ripe for picking from the trees.

“Heat early in the growing season built sugar,” our chief apple officer told the Iowa City Press Citizen. “Sunny days with cold nights —like those in the past month — brought color and flavor.”

The Crimson Crisp apples are the best I’ve tasted this year. Food is about flavor as much as sustenance, isn’t it?

In our backyard the Red Delicious tree is ready to pick. This is a baseline commodity fruit apple for us. Like many home gardeners I make apple dishes from what is available. The fruit is smaller than usual because there are so many apples on each branch. There are plenty to make juice for drinking and apple cider vinegar, apple sauce, baked goods, dried apples and frozen slices for winter. Once they are picked, a mad rush to preserve them begins — I’m putting it off until Wednesday to work on a couple of other projects.

I took two bushels of kale leaves to the orchard on Sunday. I was surprised how many co-workers had never seen scarlet kale. Likewise my large leaves are much different from the bundles of small ones available in the grocery store. I asked one of my colleagues to compost whatever was left at the end of the shift. She said she wouldn’t but would take any remainders home. A gardener is always looking for outlets for kale.

In the garden, late pepper growth is happening. There should be plenty more Cayenne and Red Rocket hot peppers, some jalapenos, and maybe a few sweet bell peppers. The Fairy Tale eggplant is producing and there will be a few more large tomatoes. Some carrots survive but not enough to make a dish of them.

I took two days vacation at the home, farm and auto supply store next week to work in the yard. Garden cleanup, tree work and much needed mowing and trimming are on the agenda… also apple picking and processing. Here’s hoping the rain holds back those two days.

I’d move on to other work now except I can’t escape the complex flavor of apples. It dominates my waking hours and carries over while I sleep. As leaves on deciduous trees begin to turn I embrace the apple season, holding on until the last fruit falls, the last leaf turns to compost — sustaining a life in a turbulent world.

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September Has Been a Pisser

Backyard Fire After Irma

Last week was stressful as Hurricane Irma passed through central Florida over our daughter’s home.

They boarded the windows, sandbagged the doors and laid in water and shelf stable food for when the electricity went out.

“The whole house has been playing Settlers of Catan, which we never get to play enough,” she texted. “Next up is Fluxx, a rules changing card game. The lights have been flickering slightly, but we still have power and water. Every so often, the outside sounds a bit like a car wash.”

She and her housemates weathered the hurricane, suffering minimal property damage. Her final message in the hurricane series was

Stay safe out there. If anything, I am reminded that everywhere in the US, there is some kind of emergency that can happen. Please, pack a Go Bag, prepare a plan, know where your evac locations are. I love you. Stay safe. Be prepared.

It turns out the previous board of directors for our sanitary sewer district failed to communicate new requirements to comply with ammonia nitrogen standards when they all resigned without notice. I emailed the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to learn more and there is a multi-year process for compliance added to our agenda. Stress level kicked up a notch with this.

The week ground down with efforts to meet my tomato contract. Farmer Kate and I traded my labor for her tomatoes. To finish the deal, I prepared seven quart jars of diced tomatoes each morning and water bath processed them in the evening. The work is not hard but it blocks out other things. A deal is a deal and she met her part of it with an abundance of organic tomatoes. On Friday before work at the home, farm and auto supply store I delivered two cases of canned tomatoes. We each should have plenty to make it until the next tomato season.

At Thursday’s county board of supervisors meeting a zoning application for a farm near here was considered and rejected unanimously. The controversy involves people I know in government and in the local food system. None of it is good for any of us.

“In one respect farming can be considered a tedious series of lawsuits, disputes and legal struggles,” I posted on Twitter. “Versaland bares that for all to see.”

I’m trying to understand the context and situation with more clarity and plan to write a longer post about local food in light of it.

September is always busy so there’s no surprise in any of the week’s activities and developments. Last night a group called the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition lavished praise and support for the 45th president. That was a pisser too.

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Weathering Irma

Water for Hurricane Irma

Friends and family in the path of Hurricane Irma are well-informed of its danger and preparing for the worst this weekend.

Walt Disney World, where our daughter works, closes tonight at 9 p.m. until sometime Monday,  presumably Irma’s schedule as well.

She is working today then hunkering down with supplies of water and shelf-stable food should the electrical grid fail. The open question is how much rain and wind will pelt central Florida.

“It’s not a question of if Florida’s going to be impacted, it’s a question of how bad Florida’s going to be impacted,” William “Brock” Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Friday, according to the Washington Post.

Irma maintained wind speeds of over 185 miles per hour for more than a day, the first storm in the world to do so.

Since 2007 I visited Florida several times. Each time people I met at the auto shop, convenience stores, retail outlets and elsewhere spoke of Hurricane Andrew and how it changed their lives. Floridians know hurricanes well. Surviving Irma is the focus for the next three days.

Environmental Protection Administrator Scott Pruitt commented about the link between Irma and global warming:

“Here’s the issue,” Pruitt told CNN Thursday in a phone interview. “To have any kind of focus on the cause and effect of the storm; versus helping people, or actually facing the effect of the storm, is misplaced. What we need to focus on is access to clean water, addressing these areas of superfund activities that may cause an attack on water, these issues of access to fuel. … Those are things so important to citizens of Florida right now, and to discuss the cause and effect of these storms, there’s the… place (and time) to do that, it’s not now.”

The upshot is in a backhanded way, Pruitt acknowledges the need to evaluate causation of large tropical storms. I’m confident facts will lead him to how global warming made Irma and other recent tropical storms worse. I may be overly optimistic but the truth matters.

Our household will be following the progress of Irma as it makes landfall in Florida and over the next 48 hours. Hoping the people of Florida withstand the death, destruction and economic consequences of this next in a series of major storms. I expect Floridians will be resilient as this is not their first hurricane rodeo. I trust our daughter will do what’s needed to weather the storm.

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Hand on the Button

Nuclear Spring in Sioux City

What do U.S. nuclear abolitionists do when the administration has no plans other than vaguely stated goals of “modernizing the nuclear complex” and spending money on a missile defense system that has never been proven to work?

Focus on a long term strategy toward the goal of nuclear abolition, using the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons as a hook and the consequences of nuclear war as the message.

It’s a tough row to hoe because the United States and other nuclear states stand in opposition to the ban treaty promulgated at the U.N., now open to signature.

A colleague in the nuclear abolition movement reported July 14 from New York:

The emotional electricity in the room was palpable. Everyone could feel that history was being made in Conference Room 1 at the United Nations headquarters in New York. And when the vote tally came in, it was followed with a roar of approval in the room. Bucking intimidation from the nuclear-armed superpowers, 122 nations voted to adopt the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons with one vote “no” and one abstention. It’s official: nuclear weapons are illegal!

I’ve never felt hopeful about the ban treaty because President Obama and his successor both indicated they would modernize our nuclear complex, investing more than a trillion dollars. President Trump’s recent statement while taking questions at his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey is disappointing on multiple levels.

“We are going to be increasing our budget by many billions of dollars because of North Korea and other reasons having to do with the anti-missile,” Trump said. “As you know, we reduced it by five percent, but I’ve decided I don’t want that. We are going to be increasing the anti-missiles by a substantial amount of billions of dollars.”

Modernization is not really his decision because the Congress must appropriate funds for it. It’s the normal checks and balances designed into our government by the framers of the constitution. However, what is in President Trump’s control is launching a nuclear war within a few minutes at his sole discretion. That can and should change.

Once accepted without vocal opposition, the president having his hand on the nuclear button should be challenged. No president should have sole discretion to unleash a human Armageddon that could end civilization as we know it.

There is chatter in the news media that President Trump won’t complete his full, four-year term. The better bet is he will and will mount a formidable campaign for re-election. Republicans in the Congress won’t impeach, and the 45th president won’t resign.

We shouldn’t be distracted by the hope this presidential term will soon be over. Regardless of who’s president, if the U.S. doesn’t sign on to the nuclear weapons ban, as it currently appears we won’t; if we won’t fulfill our obligation under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to which we are a party; others should be included in any decision to use nuclear weapons.

That change is something nuclear abolitionists can and should work on now.

To learn more, click on Martin Fleck’s report from the UN here.

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How Will Beginning Farmers Get Out of the Poor Farm?

Vegetable Farm

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors disagrees on how to use the property known as the “Poor Farm” and that’s okay.

There’s no surprise something will be done with the property, especially to those paying attention. Supervisors recently decided what that may be.

In June, “The Johnson County Board of Supervisors on Friday voted (3-2) to move forward with a plan to restore and develop the historic county Poor Farm, including increasing the amount of land leased to small farmers and adding permanent affordable housing,” Iowa City Press Citizen reporter Stephen Gruber-Miller wrote.

I accept the 3-2 vote because we don’t elect supervisors with differing views to agree all the time. We want a diverse group of five supervisors. One that creates enough friction among themselves to hone the use of county assets and community resources in a way to make society better for everyone in this liberal-dominated community. Supervisor Rod Sullivan laid out the case for the board’s decision in a June 23, 2017 post on his website Sullivan’s Salvos. I’m confident something positive can come out of the board’s decision to develop the long-neglected county asset.

I like the idea of using county land as a way to help beginning farmers get started. The idea is different from reality. If they don’t have capital, farmers lease land — a temporary solution in which a lot of hard work building soil health can come to nought if they have to relocate. The cost of farm land remains high in Iowa. Every beginning farmer with whom I’ve spoken said their start-up issue is not only access to land, but the ability to purchase it. The county could help farmers by changing the definition of a “farm” from 40 acres to something smaller. In some cases an acre or two was all that was needed to get started in business. The point is local food operators can make a living farming less than ten acres. Resolution of this challenge does not lie in developing the Poor Farm.

In Johnson County there is a concern that if the farm size were changed, developers would take advantage of a smaller farm definition and build single homes on a larger acreages to serve the affluent local market of highly paid workers and retirees. The concern is not misplaced. This board of supervisors has the smarts to figure out how to enable beginning farmers to buy smaller acreages while protecting any changed land use ordinance from what the county deems undesirable development.

The key unanswered question about development of the Poor Farm is how do farmers make the transition from government dependency to independence via a stint there? Using the Poor Farm to provide land access presumes things I’m not sure are accurate — particularly a level of farming competence I’m not sure many have. It also presumes there will be a high failure rate from beginning farmers who take advantage of the program but then choose another career path. It seems obvious a better apprenticeship for new farmers would be to work on an established farm with an experienced farmer, as some local operators have done. On-site, subsidized housing is a way to help new farmers financially and makes some sense. Answering the question of how to enable a successful farmer to use and then leave the Poor Farm is the dominating question.

The idea of a “poor farm” is so Midwestern 19th century. I resist the idea of isolating beginning farmers from the agricultural community or outside the infrastructure of the city with its proximity to work, transportation, shopping and church. I would have thought we had learned a better way in the more than 175 years since Iowa was first settled.

We elected our board of supervisors to do what they think is right. If we don’t like it, we can elect someone else. That’s the way the system works. Based on the way they are handling development of the Poor Farm I’m not ready to fire any of them yet, despite unresolved issues.

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