Favoring Tax Relief

Mad Hatter’s Tea Party – Photo Credit Wikimedia Commons

I favor tax relief.

The relief I favor is from worry that the state can pay its bills.

Each year the Iowa Legislature and Governor are required by law to create a balanced budget. The last two years, they couldn’t support their own budget as there was a revenue shortfall and mid-fiscal year cuts had to be made. These cuts equate with our government inadequately understanding the tax revenue stream.

In this environment it makes no sense for Governor Kim Reynolds to propose cutting taxes:

“The plan is projected to cut income taxes by $1.7 billion by 2023, while maintaining expected growth rates in revenue,” according to the governor’s web site. “Even assuming no dynamic effect (economic stimulus) from federal or state tax reform.”

Everyone who believes that stand on your head.

A revised tax policy may be needed. Before Republicans get carried away with the idea some basic housekeeping is required.

Let’s go a complete fiscal year without having to amend the state budget.

Let’s understand how the agricultural economy impacts tax revenues.

Let’s pay back the rainy day fund that was tapped to make up for revenue shortfalls.

Let’s understand the impact of the business sales tax cuts Governor Branstad made.

Let’s understand the impact of business tax credits given to the Iowa Fertilizer Plant, Apple and others.

Let’s do as a state what we should have been doing with our budget all along.

Reading the governor’s tax proposal is like entering the Mad Hatter’s tea party. The March Hare offers wine to Alice, only there is no wine.

“It wasn’t very civil of you to offer it,” Alice said.

~ Submitted as a letter to the editor of the Solon Economist

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Getting Across the Line

Two Loaves of Bread

Can low income workers and retirees afford social media?

The conclusion I’m coming to is no.

Social media has served to engage me in writing brief posts, in collecting news, and from time to time, in chatting with friends and acquaintances. It helps pass time during breaks at the home, farm and auto supply store. Social media posts have been the subject of conversations at home. A few clicks and I can view what friends from the old neighborhood are doing. I can follow news reporters to tailor my feed and quickly match stories with my interests. As I approach retirement and feel the suck of a vortex into the pit of aging these uses seem less relevant.

I don’t think of myself as old although my frame reminds me I’m not as strong as I was ten years ago. Something’s got to give and I’m pretty sure it will be my time on social media.

What will I do instead?

I’ll keep writing, turning my blog into a primary way for people to follow me and keep up with I’m doing. I’ll get back to journaling and work on bigger projects I have discussed on this site.

I’ll do the unpaid work at home that helps people of limited means get by: baking bread, gardening, preserving food, making our meals more from scratch, home exercise, exploring home remedies, learning how to fix things around the house, and useful chores.

I’ll decrease my driving to keep a smaller carbon footprint — I don’t really enjoy driving as I did. Maybe get the car out once a week to pick up supplies, twice if I need unexpected parts while fixing something around the house. There will be occasional social outings.

I’ll read books and magazines in addition to internet articles, mostly to serve my writing.

I’ll downsize and organize in preparation for when the final curtain falls.

Today is Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day — an odd coincidence. Rose Monday is past, Mardi Gras finished. It’s time to contemplate our mortality in light of love, hoping spring works it’s magic again. A rekindling of hope to get us through this ashen world.

It doesn’t take the internet to get by.

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Issues Come Home to Roost

Democratic Committee Volunteers Meeting in North Liberty, Iowa

In September I asserted we should be working to stop nuclear weapons and protect the environment. A year into Trump’s first term it’s clear I understated this need.

The Trump administration rolled out it’s nuclear posture review and oh brother. Obama was bad enough with the $1 trillion modernization plan he negotiated with Arizona Senator Jon Kyl to get the New START Treaty ratified. Our new president is off the charts mad regarding the nuclear complex, or as Rolling Stone‘s Matt Taibbi described him, “insane and ignorant.” There’s a lot to do to resist.

On the environment, it’s as if the Trump administration handed the keys to the front door to the wolves who have been howling and trying to get inside where we live. Ryan Zinke at Interior has reduced the size of some national monuments to make way for exploitation of oil and gas deposits; Scott Pruitt at the Environmental Protection Agency seeks to roll back regulations that protect us to loosen the regulatory chains he claims bind business; Rick Perry at Energy seeks to change the paradigm of growing renewable energy resources to one of increasing stockpiles of coal, oil and uranium. The plan was preconceived and executed with dizzying speed.

What to do to resist?

The focus has to be on electing Democrats in the 2018 midterm elections. Reason doesn’t matter to the Trumpkins. They understand political power. All efforts for the next eight months should be toward re-taking the U.S. Senate and/or House of Representatives, and to make inroads in the state of Iowa by electing a Democratic Governor and re-taking the house or senate or both.

It’s really that focused, that simple. Will a Democratic government get us what we want? The Obama administration nationally and the Culver-Judge administration in Iowa stand as examples it won’t. Regaining political power will re-establish our dominance and hold the wolves at bay, and that may be the best we can hope for this year.

It would be something positive in a government currently overrun with pirates seeking to loot the treasury and pillage the commons. As a society we can do better than this. We must pick our battles carefully and from today’s vantage point there is a lot to bring us together to stem the tide against reason. Nuclear abolition and protecting the environment are both worth our efforts. There are broader currents to bring us together during this election cycle.

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Jambalaya Reprise

Vegetarian Jambalaya

In a throwback to my work at a major logistics company I made a batch of vegetarian jambalaya for this week’s lunches.

The dish was born in Thomas County, Georgia as I was sequestered in a hotel for four months implementing a logistics project at a clay mining and processing plant. I had access to what was then called the TV Food Network and Emeril Lagasse. I made the techniques I learned my own.

Here’s a recreation of today’s recipe:


2 tablespoons high smoke point oil
4 tablespoons butter
4 six-inch vegetarian sausage links sliced 1/4 inch on the bias
1/2 pound frozen sliced okra
2 cups diced onions
1 cup diced bell pepper
1 cup diced celery
4 cloves garlic minced
1 15 oz can red beans drained and washed
1 cup long grain brown rice
1 pint diced tomatoes
1 quart prepared vegetable broth
Salt, red pepper flakes, curry powder, prepared hot sauce to taste

In a Dutch oven, brown the sausage in cooking oil. Remove and set aside.
Melt the butter in the same pan and heat the red pepper flakes until aromatic.
Add the onions, celery and bell pepper. Saute until soft.
Add the garlic and stir together. Cook for five minutes over medium heat.
Season with salt, pepper, curry powder and hot sauce.
Add the pint of diced tomatoes and rice and stir together.
Add the quart of broth and bring to a boil.
Add the okra, beans and cooked sausage and mix everything together.
Cover and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to medium low so the liquid bubbles gently through.
When the rice absorbs the moisture, stir and serve with fresh, sliced green onions on top.
Makes six generous servings.

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Politics Saturday

Lake Macbride

Across the lakes in North Liberty, the first meeting of the county party’s arrangements committee will convene today at 10 a.m. Having served on platform, and with limited interest in credentials, rules and nominations, it’s the only one for me if I want to engage in local politics.

Caucuses are over with a bit of afterglow. According to our data management/membership chair John Deeth, Johnson County turned out 973 caucus-goers, tripling the previous record for an off-year caucus.

We are now in the primary phase of the 2018 midterm election campaign and it’s time for candidates to start their first canvass if they haven’t. Today, few primary voters even know who the heck some of these people are. It will be best if one of the Iowa gubernatorial candidates wins the primary with 35 percent of the vote. If no candidate wins that primary and it goes to convention, expect more division among Iowa Democrats. The key for personal survival is to pace ourselves if we want to be useful.

It is early to make primary picks as the filing period has neither opened nor closed.  At the same time, it’s hard to imagine anyone else jumping into the governor’s race. After two conversations, including an in-person one last night, I’ll be supporting John Norris for governor.

I found him near the sign-in table at a house party in Coralville and asked my question. There is a bill in both chambers of the legislature to deregulate public utilities. As former chair of the Iowa Utilities Board, I expected Norris to have some insight. He wasn’t familiar with the bill but said that deregulation would hobble Iowa’s renewable energy program. He obviously enjoyed talking about the subject and gave me a new perspective. We covered MidAmerican Energy, Bill Fehrman, vertical integration of Iowa wind farms, merchant sales of electricity and its relationship to public utilities, the nuclear plant in Palo, the impossible idea of building new nuclear power plants, and his work with energy policy and climate change in the Obama administration. There’s not much daylight between us here.

That was generally true about Norris’ policy discussion in a 17 minute speech for about 50 attendees. I felt déjà vu as I had been in that room before with another candidate and campaign. Norris laid out the issues the way I would, in similar language, emphasizing what I also felt was important. This was particularly true with the discussion about mental health services for children, and reversing the damage done by the 87th Iowa General Assembly to collective bargaining, women’s reproductive rights, and voter rights. With so many of my political friends already supporting John Norris, adding my name to the volunteer list became easy.

I haven’t gotten too deep into other statewide Democratic primaries. I expect to support Deirdre DeJear for secretary of state and the rest are undecided. In the three-way primary for Senate 37 I’m supporting Zach Wahls. Jodi Clemens has not drawn a primary opponent in House 73 and she’ll get my support after the primary.

I haven’t been paying enough attention to even know who-all is planning to run for county supervisor, although it’s already more people than the two seats up this cycle. Incumbents Mike Carberry and Janelle Rettig are both expected to run for re-election with Carberry already announced. Pat Heiden is making her second attempt at a supervisor primary win. Based on scuttlebutt that’s always circulating among township trustees, someone else could throw their hat in the ring. We’ll see how that race develops.

The other part of being useful in politics is knowing where one stands on the wicked problem of flipping the statehouse. Saturdays like today help iron out where things stand. Politics Saturdays are essential to personal balance and moving the ball forward.

Caucus attendees are activating to do something in November for a better politics. I’m with them and plan to help get the rest of the electorate activated as well.

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Taking Stock

Box of Work

We’re prepping for our annual inventory at the home, farm and auto supply store.

That means counting and labeling everything in the warehouse, and getting every possible item to the sales floor where hired staff can count it and customers can find it to buy it.

Inventory occupies a big space in the life of a retail outlet.

So it is with everything at home while getting ready for full retirement in 36 days.

We benefited from building a new home in 1993 by having to do very few major repairs. We changed the roof once, repaired the garage door, and that’s it. We’ve cycled through major appliances — refrigerator, dishwasher, washer and dryer — but have had very little work on the structure itself. A lot of little things require attention now.

In a flurry of emails this week I confirmed four part-time, seasonal jobs this year. One is writing for Blog for Iowa this summer, and the others are farm-related. Combine home repairs, these four jobs, my community organizing work, and political work during the midterm election cycle and there will be plenty to keep me busy in 2018.

Last night I ran into my former state representative Ro Foege at the warehouse club. I automatically shook his hand then apologized for spreading germs from my recent illness.

“I just came from the capitol,” he said. “I was exposed to a lot worse up there.”

I have a different view of political engagement this year. Mainly I want to be a helper of younger people who are engaging in politics. That means volunteering where I can, encouraging people, and contributing in ways people ask.

The metaphor of WYSIWYG, taken from the advent of computer graphical user interface, is an apt model for what I’m doing. The operative function of building an electorate presumes nothing and is rooted in a belief the 2018 general election electorate is not pre-made. It is being formed as we proceed through time and events toward election day. We have to pay attention to what is happening in real time and modify our activities to create a successful process.

It began with this week’s off-year caucus and engages voters with our many primary candidates for statewide and local offices. I see four remaining milestones for building the electorate: the June 5 primary, summer parade season, the fall campaign beginning on Labor Day, and the final week before the election. If we work early and smart, we should know where we stand as election day approaches. We should not freak out, just do the work.

Tonight after a shift at the home, farm and auto supply store I plan to meet Iowa gubernatorial candidate John Norris at a house party in Coralville. He may be the one for whom I’ll vote in the primary. More importantly, I want to see who is turning out for Norris and ask one or two questions if there is an opportunity. It’s not about my single vote, but about understanding the process. It’s not about me or him but who we are as Democrats in a state Donald Trump won by more than nine points. It’s about taking stock of our lives and effecting change in our government.

As some caucus-goers said Monday night, “we have to do something in November.”

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WYSIWYG of the Iowa Caucus


When it comes to the Iowa caucus, there’s little use pondering what might have been.

Despite a winter storm that brought roughly six inches of snowfall, attendance at our precinct caucus was stronger than in previous years when the weather was perfect. In 2014 four of us attended the Big Grove precinct caucus. This year there were eight, including the precinct captains for the 2008 campaigns of Barack Obama, John Edwards and Hillary Clinton. What was different about this off-year caucus is people I had not seen much in public showed up and hung around talking long after the caucus adjourned, mostly because “we have to do something in November.” We shared a sense that we are stronger together.

WYSIWYG. The caucuses are an interface with the electorate as it is being created, long before most voters engage in primary or general election campaigns. What you see is what you get.

Five rural precinct caucuses convened together at 7 p.m. at the new middle school. We heard from surrogates for a few statewide and local candidates and collected money for the state and county party. We broke into precincts to elect delegates and alternate delegates to the county convention, solicit volunteers for the platform committee and committee on committees, and elect two members of the party central committee. We did all that, ratified our slate, and adjourned by 7:30 p.m. While my car warmed up in the parking lot I keyed in our results with my mobile device on an Iowa Democratic Party web site.

When I arrived home, Jacque remarked, “you’re home early.”

“I was in charge,” I replied.

The morning after I hope we can get past zero sum gain politics where when someone wins, someone loses. The conversation our caucus had after adjourning centered on health care and the treatment delivery system — a complex problem, a wicked problem.

Wicked problems are not engineering problems, they can’t be solved. What we can do is work together to find common ground and solutions that work.

I hesitate to assign deep meaning to what happened last night. It was a glimpse at what the future will be, still a rough draft, with much uncertainty. The story of this electorate is being written in real time. It will be written by us all.

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