Parade and Fragments

Sprayer in the Solon Beef Days Parade

A summer parade in Iowa is a chance to showcase lives for the entire community.

Farmers, restaurateurs, insurance agents, bankers, retailers, construction companies, government organizations and more cleanup their equipment and parade it through town handing out treats and small gifts along the route.

People line the street to watch, sitting on lawn chairs, standing under shade trees and chatting with friends on the sidewalk. It’s mostly for children yet adults get involved as well. Anyone can stand almost anything that marches by in the span of a couple of minutes.

Solon Beef Days Parade Watchers

I.

In 2013 our situation got dire. I had run out of money and held no job that paid enough. Not wanting to return to transportation, I took one low wage job after another to earn enough to get by. Most of the work involved standing on concrete floors, which precipitated a case of plantar fasciitis. Not only did my feet hurt, on a physician’s advice I gave up jogging after 37 years because of it. While the condition is resolved, it persisted until I left full-time work in 2018.

Expenses got delayed during this period, as did preventive health care. It wasn’t clear how tight money had been until I began taking Social Security benefits which brought relief.

II.

An Early Thanksgiving

The story begins with the proximity of relatives. Our maternal grandmother and grandfather made visits to our home. I never knew my paternal grandparents except in stories and photographs. As much as anything, my grandparent story is about my relationship with Grandmother from my earliest memories until she died Feb. 7, 1991.

We were lucky to have her with us for so long.

Grandmother had five children and 15 grandchildren. She spent more time with our family because of our proximity. She lived with us off and on during my early years, but eventually maintained her own apartment. In later life she lived at the Lend-A-Hand, a residence for women at the time, then moved to the Mississippi Hotel where she lived the last years of her life in an apartment until moving to the Kahl Home for a brief period. Grandmother had many sisters and a brother. We had a lot of relatives, or so it seemed.

III.

I read The Overstory by Richard Powers. It engaged in a way most fiction fails to do. The author must have spent an enormous amount of time researching trees, forests, and the culture around them. He wove them into a spellbinding narrative. I could go on gushing about the book, but just pick it up and read it. If you do, and are interested in the environment, I doubt there will be any regrets.

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Getting Attention on Climate Change

Ed Fallon in His Garden

Ed Fallon is a friend of Blog for Iowa and we support what he does with his radio program and his advocacy against oil and natural gas pipelines in Iowa.

He caught the attention of Democrats in Cedar Rapids last weekend with a performance art piece, staged by his group Bold Iowa, in which three individuals posed in a gallows with a noose around their neck, standing on blocks of melting ice under a sign that said, “As the arctic melts the climate noose tightens.”

While many on social media and in-person viewers of the piece took a dim view of this direct action, if you know Ed at all, not thinking things through is a feature, not a bug of his work. There is no denying deterioration of the Greenland ice sheet, the Arctic, and the Antarctic ice shelves is a planetary problem that could cause environmental disruptions not seen in living human memory. Bold Iowa’s performance piece was successful in that social media was abuzz discussing its meaning and appropriateness. It was unsuccessful in that major media outlets did not appear to be covering it with the notable exception of the Cedar Rapids Gazette which ran a story on Wednesday framing the piece a racially callous because of its use of a noose, invoking for some an association with lynching in American history.

“We underestimated the way it may trigger folks who either are concerned about the rise in racism in this country, in many respects because of Donald Trump,” Fallon said in an interview with the Gazette. “And also people who were affected by a family member who maybe committed suicide by hanging. … Our focus is to get people to understand just how urgent of a situation climate change is. We really are at a point where human extinction is a possibility.”

In a July 16 email, Fallon wrote he planned to write a blog post about the incident while promoting his Fallon Forum podcast, saying,

Pascha Morgan joins (the Fallon Forum) to discuss Bold Iowa’s provocative performance art, which involved a gallows (representing the threat of extinction) and large blocks of ice (representing accelerated ice melt in the polar regions).

Bold Iowa’s action demanded that Democratic presidential candidates make human survival their first act as president. The banner above the gallows declared, “As the Arctic melts, the climate noose tightens.”

The action received some enthusiastic support. Yet despite what organizers thought was clear messaging, it also experienced some strong pushback. In addition to this week’s live on-air discussion, I’ll publish a more in-depth blog later this week, responding to criticism of the action and apologizing to people offended by the imagery.

Thursday, July 18, Fallon made a post titled An Error of Judgement on the Bold Iowa website. In it he apologized to people offended by the imagery of the noose and accepted full responsibility for what he called an error in judgement. The post also ran as an op-ed in this morning’s Cedar Rapids Gazette.

Our support for Ed Fallon’s work continues. If one reads Fallon’s book Marcher Walker Pilgrim: A Memoir from the Great March for Climate Action there is a clear sense of the haphazard way Fallon goes about planning direct action. The fact is people continue to talk about the performance art piece five days after it happened. To the extent fingers are pointing at Ed’s quirky and in this case considered yet somewhat tone-deaf approach to direct action as the problem, the performance art failed.

Listen to the Fallon Forum live Mondays, 11:00 – noon CT on La Reina KDLF 96.5 FM and 1260 AM in central Iowa. The program is also available on podcast later in the day at FallonForum.com.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

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Algae and the Politics of Denial

Algae Bloom in Lake Erie, Oct. 5, 2011. Photo Credit – NASA Earth Observatory

During his July 8 speech on the environment, the president mentioned his administration’s fight with “toxic algae” in Florida 50 miles from his Mar-a-Lago resort.

Bruce Hrobak, a bait and tackle shop owner in Port St. Lucie, Fla. gave a testimonial at the event about the great job he thought the federal government did to help his business which was “devastated by toxic algae from Lake Okeechobee.” His praise was about more than the government.

“You jumping into this environment brings my heart to warmth, knowing that what you’re doing is going — is the truth,” Hrobak said. “It’s going wonderfully. My business in 2018 was so horrible, we — I own two stores — we closed several days a week because of, you know, the algae and people being frightened, if they were afraid to touch the water and everything. I have a marine mechanic — I just wanted to say really quickly — has a bad infection in his arm from the marine algae and stuff.”

Mr. Hrobak gushed about the attention his problem had received and mentioned his wife was yelling at him less because business was better this year. People laughed and applauded. Rhetorically anyway, Trump halted advance of the red tide.

Iowans are familiar with the problems of algal blooms. The nutrient-rich soup that comprises our lakes and streams has been a hindrance to public recreation. We’ve restricted access to public beaches and educated kayakers, swimmers and boaters about the dangers of exposure to blue-green algae and the microcystins they produce. Iowa’s response to the problem amounts to shrugging our shoulders.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources doesn’t plan to follow new federal recommendations for beach water quality that could lead to more public warnings about toxins in the water, according to a June 20 Cedar Rapids Gazette article by Erin Jordan.

Instead of adopting federal standards for algal contamination, an Iowa Department of Natural Resources spokesperson told the Gazette, “The group does not agree with the formula and science used to develop the eight micrograms per liter for cyanotoxins microcystins standard.”

Arguing with science is the new normal for government doing what it wants. The other new normal is the president asserting he has addressed a problem when in fact he is ignoring it.

Mother Jones reported July 12 on a toxic algae problem not being adequately addressed by the administration:

In June, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration projected a Massachusetts-sized dead zone would alight upon the Gulf of Mexico, driven by a vast algae bloom fed by fertilizer runoff from the upper Midwest. As the bloom decays, it sucks oxygen out of the water. As a result, as NOAA puts it, “habitats that would normally be teeming with life become, essentially, biological deserts.”

And on Thursday, NOAA predicted that Lake Erie, which provides drinking water to 11 million people, will also experience a massive harmful algae bloom, starting in late July. The bloom is fed largely by phosphorus runoff in the Maumee River basin in Ohio, where the land is dominated by corn and soybean farms as well as massive indoor hog farms. Phosphorus is a key nutrient for plant growth, and farmers apply it to fields in the form of fertilizer (which comes mainly from phosphate mines in Florida) and hog manure.

People argue in social media that algae blooms are a naturally occurring phenomenon, that they are nothing to worry about. While that is partly true, they do occur naturally, they are fed to grow very large by agricultural runoff. For political reasons, government won’t connect the dots and take action on the much larger issue of nutrient runoff.

“Science is a fundamental part of the country that we are,” Neil deGrasse Tyson said. “But in this the 21st century, when it comes time to make decisions about science, it seems to me people have lost the ability to judge what is true and what is not… When you have people who don’t know much about science standing in denial of it and rising to power, that is a recipe for the complete dismantling of our informed democracy.”

The president is addressing red algae in his back yard. What has he done about blue-green algae for the rest of us? He denied us a solution and distracted us from the problem. This while his minions in the audience for the speech stood and applauded.

We’ve go to do something better.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

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Heat is Here

July 18, 2019

I stood outside in early morning darkness where there was a refreshing yet decidedly warm breeze.

The overnight low was 80 degrees Fahrenheit. I’m not sure if that’s warm enough to hinder apple production but scientists believe at some point failure to cool adequately at night does impact taste and texture.

They don’t fully understand the impact of climate change on apple production. For the home fruit grower it’s one more thing for concern.

The breeze dissipated with arriving sun. The forecast is clear and hot with ambient temperatures rising to the mid-nineties. We’re getting used to the heat, especially after the 2012 drought.

After sunup I went to an apple tree, picked one and ate it. The sugars are beginning to form but it is still a “green” apple.

Tonight begins the two-day festival in the small city near which we live. The ambient temperature is expected to peak around 6 p.m. when things are just getting going. Tomorrow is the parade through town when it’s pushing 90 degrees. I’m not sure it is a good idea to attend this year so am skipping the famous hay bale toss tonight and will re-evaluate the parade in the morning. A friend from across the lakes in Big Grove Township is running for sheriff so I want to be there to support him.

It’s blazing hot! We have an air conditioner and refrigerator with an ice maker that both work. There are also three bushels of vegetables that need processing. There will be plenty of inside work to keep me busy now that the heat is here.

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Toward a Challenger for Joni Ernst

U.S. Senate Candidate Theresa Greenfield, Walker Homestead, Johnson County, Iowa. July 14, 2019

Two of three people running for the Democratic nomination to be U.S. Senator from Iowa spoke at State Senator Zach Wahls’ birthday fundraiser at Walker Homestead in Johnson County on Sunday.

Clutching a microphone in one hand and her hand-written speech notes in the other, Theresa Greenfield of Des Moines went second to last in a 90 minute series of speakers that included five presidential hopefuls.

Eddie Mauro of Des Moines had arrived early to the event and introduced himself to some of the more than 200 attendees. When he stepped onto the stage surrounded by straw bales, he was the last of twelve speakers.

Kimberly Graham, a Democrat from Indianola, was first to announce her bid to challenge U.S. Senator Joni Ernst. While she did not attend Wahls’ event, there was substantial press coverage of her May entry into the race.

Of the three candidates, Theresa Greenfield is said to be the front runner, however, there are challenges ahead for whoever is the party’s nominee. Joni Ernst won the 2014 general election with 52 percent of the vote and in a recent Ann Selzer poll, more than 57 percent of Iowans approve of the job she is doing. The goal for Democrats is to prevent Ernst from becoming an institution, making her a single term senator.

Democratic activists I know haven’t begun to dial into the U.S. Senate race yet, focusing more on the February 2020 presidential caucuses. Following are some links to information about the three Democratic candidates, including the verbatim about page from their websites.

Kimberly Graham

Launch video

Website

About Page:

I’m Kimberly Graham. I never thought in a million years I’d run for office. But it’s time for a government “by the people, for the people.”

Senator Joni Ernst campaigned on a promise to “make ’em squeal” in Washington D.C. and get rid of corruption, but the only people squealing are Iowans harmed by her votes.

Because our “By The People, For The People” campaign will be funded only by donors like you, and *never* by corporate PACS, the NRA or the Koch Brothers, I won’t be influenced by lobbyists and companies whose only interest is increasing their wealth. Instead, I’ll be representing the majority: you and Iowans who deserve better representation than you’ve been receiving.

What I’ve seen from Washington D.C. the last couple of years is the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer and the middle class shrinking. We need more people from working-class backgrounds serving in government, representing the majority of us and not mega-corporations. So I’m running for United States Senate.

I lived in rural Iowa longer than anyplace else, for 24 years. I chose to raise my son in Indianola.

My maternal great-great-grandfather had a farm in Zearing and my paternal grandmother was born in Mt. Ayr. My dad was one of 11 siblings born in Des Moines. He was a Marine, later a bridge-builder, and mom was a clerk at the phone company. Neither of them went to college but had good union jobs and worked hard to give my brother and me a solid working-class upbringing.

I’ve been working since I was 14: in a dry cleaner, as a waitress, store clerk, and housecleaner. I worked my way through college. I wanted to help people for a living so I went to law school, paying my own way and taking out student loans. I still have student loan debt. Now I work as an advocate for abused or neglected kids in court.

Living in rural Iowa and raising my son, I watched as the furniture, clothing, shoe stores, and other businesses on the square closed after fast-food chains and mega-stores moved in.

I’ve watched farmers struggle with increasing costs while being paid less for crops, with fewer companies from which to purchase seed and being treated unfairly as our current president enacts tariff after tariff, harming family farms. Iowans want and deserve a level playing field and a real chance at thriving small towns and thriving cities.

I’ve watched medical insurance premiums, mine included, rise to the point that families are paying more for medical insurance than for housing. Many simply can’t afford insurance anymore. Medical care costs of a serious illness are bankrupting families and forcing them to spend their life savings. It’s not right, that in the wealthiest nation on earth, this is happening.

In my work as the guardian ad litem and attorney for kids of participants in Family Treatment Court, I’ve watched the opioid and meth epidemics rip families apart and damage our communities. I’ve seen veterans return from service, experiencing trauma, and not receive services quickly or locally enough.

Iowans deserve better. As I mentioned above, Senator Ernst campaigned on a promise to “make ’em squeal” in Washington D.C. and get rid of corruption, but the only people squealing are Iowans harmed by her votes. I support major campaign finance reform and sweeping anti-corruption legislation to return our government to The People. We must get Big Money OUT of politics. No more politics as usual.

I’m running for U.S. Senate because the government should truly be “by the people, for the people.” It should work for the benefit of the majority, not the small number of wealthy. I’m not worried about them. They’ll be fine whether they have 50 million dollars a year income or 40 million. But I am worried about the rest of us.

We need Medicare for All, farmers to be treated fairly, good jobs all over the state and a level playing field so monopolies can’t destroy farms and small towns. Iowans need clean air and water, a justice system that treats everyone fairly and equally, and good public schools that provide the same high-quality education to all children, regardless of whether they live in Clive or Creston. We need representation in the U.S Senate that isn’t bought by corporations, drug companies or any special interests.

My goal is to be the best senator money *can’t* buy. Please join me in a movement For the People, By the People of Iowa.

Theresa Greenfield

Launch video

Website

About Page:

Theresa Greenfield grew up on a family farm, where she and her four siblings learned the value of hard work and self-reliance. Her father Derald encouraged his daughters to do everything the boys did on the Greenfield farm, and at 16, Theresa and her sister began helping with the family crop-dusting business, meeting with farmers to negotiate terms, and mark out fields while Derald was in the air lining up his plane for the next job.

When the farm crisis of the 1980s hit rural families like Theresa’s, she did not give up on her dream to attend college. With the help of financial aid and multiple part-time jobs, she put herself through school. Theresa married and as she and her husband were expecting their second child, he was killed in an accident at his job as a union electrical worker. Theresa set out on a path to provide for her two boys as a single mom.

Theresa worked as an urban planner and then joined Rottlund Homes, where she rose quickly through the ranks and soon moved to Des Moines to lead the company’s Iowa Division. Today, she serves as President of Colby Interests, one of Des Moines’ oldest family-held real estate and development companies. She lives with her husband Steve in Des Moines and together they have four grown children: Tanya, a media specialist; Nick, a horticulturist; Phil, a healthcare consultant; and Dane, a soldier in the U.S. Army.

Now, more than ever, Iowans need more leaders like Theresa in the U.S. Senate: a farm kid with farm kid values whose get-it-done attitude will help get things done for working families — from investing in education, to making it easier for small businesses to thrive, to cutting healthcare costs.

Eddie Mauro

Recent Video

Website

About Page:

Eddie J Mauro is a business owner, father, coach, community volunteer and former teacher who is committed to working hard to improve the performance of our government and empower people.

Additional links to resources about the candidates would be welcome in the comments.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

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Can Democrats Change The ‘Roberts Five’ Majority?

U.S. Supreme Court

If Democrats hope to undo the conservative lean of the United States Supreme Court it won’t be as simple as Republicans had it in 2016.

Many said the 2016 general election was as much about the Supreme Court as it was about electing a president. It was a unique historical opportunity, where appointing two associate justices could impact the court for decades, with Iowa’s senior senator Chuck Grassley playing a key role as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

With the 2005 appointment of Chief Justice John Roberts and two recent associate justice appointments, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, Republicans have remade the high court in a way that consistently delivers opinions in favor of their interests.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) wrote about the Supreme Court and the “Roberts Five” majority in an April Issue Brief for the American Constitution Society:

It turns out that Republican appointees to the Supreme Court have, with remarkable consistency, delivered rulings that advantage the big corporate and special interests that are, in turn, the political lifeblood of the Republican Party. Several of these decisions have been particularly flagrant and notorious: Citizens United v. FEC, Shelby County v. Holder, and Janus v. AFCME. But there are many. Under Chief Justice Roberts’ tenure through the end of October Term 2017-2018, Republican appointees have delivered partisan rulings not three or four times, not even a dozen or two dozen times, but 73 times. Seventy-three decisions favored Republican interests, with no Democratic appointee joining the majority. On the way to this judicial romp, the “Roberts Five” were stunningly cavalier with any doctrine, precedent, or congressional finding that got in their way.

These cases fall into four categories according to Whitehouse.

(1) controlling the political process to benefit conservative candidates and policies;
(2) protecting corporations from liability and letting polluters pollute;
(3) restricting civil rights and condoning discrimination;
(4) advancing a far-right social agenda.

Even if a Democratic president returns to the White House in 2021, something far from assured, there may be only two opportunities to appoint associate justices when octogenarians Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Stephen Breyer die, retire or otherwise move on. Such appointments wouldn’t impact the ideological balance of the high court. In fact, if justice were blind, would there even be an ideological balance to talk about?

No amount of liberal outrage will fix this Republican-made court. What’s a Democrat to do?

First, understanding what’s taking place in the Roberts Court should be a high priority. A beginning is to read Senator Whitehouse’s article here to understand the damage done since Roberts was appointed chief justice.

Second, the Republican strategy of holding judicial appointments open until a Republican president was elected was a multi-year, long-term strategy that worked. Whether or not politicizing the court system is a good idea, one has to ask, what is the Democratic plan to change the mix of justices? There may be one. If there is, how is it actionable for rank and file voters? I’m not sure chasing third tier Democratic presidential candidates around Iowa before the caucus is a positive contribution to the effort.

Finally, Democrats must do a better job of picking their battles. Outrageous behavior is a feature, not a bug of the Trump administration and Republican legislators. There will always be an outrage as long as Trump is president, because if nothing is going on, he will gin something up. When Republicans make us feel outraged, they also maintain control of public dialogue. In order to break their hold on voters we must work differently that we have recently. It begins by de-emphasizing social media and talking directly to friends and neighbors about how to resolve the issues society faces.

It’s not a flawless approach, however, we have to do something.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

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Can A Democrat Beat Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell?

Former Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath announced she was running to beat Kentucky U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell in the Nov. 3, 2020 general election.

She raised $2.5 million during the first 24 hours after her announcement.

With 20 years in the United States Marine Corps and 89 combat missions under her belt, she demonstrated substantial courage and grit. If she can focus on one thing, beating McConnell, she may have a better path to election than any other recent challenger.

People are nit-picking her campaign apart after her July 9 announcement and it boils down to one thing: do Democrats want someone to take on McConnell or not? It won’t be easy for McGrath and it wouldn’t be easy for anyone. If there are better candidates out there, they should step forward.

What seems obvious from the blow back to McGrath’s campaign is we need a reminder of why Mitch McConnell has to go. Here’s Thom Hartmann interviewing Senator Jeff Merkley on that topic at Netroots Nation over the weekend.

It’s hard to tell whether anyone can beat Mitch McConnell in Kentucky. Democrats must step up and have Amy McGrath’s back if they are serious about taking the senate back.

Here’s McGrath’s biography from her campaign website:

Amy McGrath, a retired US Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel raised in Kentucky, is running for the US Senate to fix Washington and give Kentuckians back their voice.

Amy was born the youngest of three children to Donald and Marianne McGrath. Her father was a high school English teacher and her mother was one of the first women to graduate from the University of Kentucky medical school.

When Amy was 13 years old, she dreamed of becoming a fighter pilot, but women were not yet allowed to serve in combat roles in our military. So she wrote to her elected officials to ask them to change the law. She never heard back from her senator, Mitch McConnell.

Amy graduated from the US Naval Academy and overcame the odds to become the first woman in the Marine Corps to fly a combat mission in an F/A-18 fighter jet. She served 20 years in the Marines where she flew 89 combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, targeting al-Qaida and the Taliban, before retiring and moving back home to Kentucky to raise her family.

Amy lives in Georgetown, Kentucky, with her husband Erik, a retired Navy pilot and registered Republican, and her three children, Teddy (7), George (5), and Eleanor (3).

Amy became a Marine combat pilot to fight and defend her country and now she is taking the fight to Washington to solve the problems Kentuckians face in their every-day lives. Amy was a registered independent for 12 years, so she always prioritizes practical solutions over partisan interests. She’s not running for Senate to get rich and join the Washington swamp. Amy is ready to take on career politicians like Mitch McConnell and bring accountability and leadership back to Kentucky.

To learn more go to amymcgrath.com.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

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