Juke Box

Juke Box – Don’t Dream It’s Over

There is something about the Hammond B-3 organ. We’ll look back on these coronavirus pandemic videos with fondness one day, I predict. (hat tip to David Shorr).

Make it a great weekend!

Don’t Dream It’s Over by Crowded House.
Living in Society

Franken Will Represent All Iowans in U.S. Senate

Michael Franken

I’ve been with retired Admiral Michael Franken enough to know he would make an excellent U.S. Senator. My comparison is with Tom Harkin, with whom I also spent time. Harkin was arguably Iowa’s best senator to date. If elected, Franken could also be one of the great U.S. Senators from Iowa.

Franken and I both served in the military. In my conversations with him – about his leaving the Navy after the election of the 45th president, about how he would control the military budget by knowing where the pork is hidden, and about ending the nuclear arms race – he is much like me. Many of us seek that in a candidate.

What makes him different from typical politicians is Franken is doing the work of a campaign by visiting all parts of Iowa and speaking with everyday people instead of to the limited network of party activists. He is positioning himself to represent all Iowans, something his opponent has forgotten in his many years of living in Washington, D.C.

Franken is doing things candidates are expected to do, flipping pork burgers at the State Fair, walking in parades, shaking hands with people wherever he goes, and considering a constituent question before he answers it.

Instead of electing Chuck Grassley again, we should send Michael Franken to the U.S. Senate because he is the best person for the job.

~ First published in The Little Village Magazine on Aug. 18, 2022.

Kitchen Garden

Donating Potatoes

The rest of the potato harvest. It was a good crop.

In August there is plenty of extra garden produce for donations to the local food pantry. Potatoes are popular and I could easily have donated this whole bin. They all would have been taken. Potatoes are elemental.

After a period of rodents eating potatoes while they were still in the ground, I decided to plant in containers. That solved the problem. When I think of the future, I should plant six instead of four containers so I have more to donate. What we have will serve us until they are gone before the end of the year.

We cook potatoes in four primary ways: roasting; grated to make hash browns; as an ingredient in soup; and boiling. All of the smallest ones are used for soup. Every once in a while I use boiled potatoes to make potato salad. Whatever I make with potatoes gets eaten up because they are especially good.

I used to leave the containers buried and replant in the same location each season, using a little composted chicken or turkey manure as fertilizer. This year, I moved them and used soil from the two composters. The production was robust. Given the small amount of time and care it takes to grow potatoes, it is well worth it to have a fresh, great-tasting vegetable. Digging up the containers and harvesting potatoes has become a milestone in the garden season.

The food bank is a nice option to get what I produce into the hands of people who need it. The garden is at the point there are too many cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini, and bell peppers. There will never be too many potatoes. It’s hard to believe a few years ago we didn’t have a food bank. It has become a vital part of the community in which we live.

Living in Society

Are Pollsters Also Trolls?

Newport Precinct Polling Place, Nov. 3, 2010.

These days it is a debate whether to answer the telephone when an unknown number rings. Monday I picked up a phone call from the 641 area code, which runs from Ottumwa to Mason City. It was a pollster administering poll number 19985 IAHD091. How do I know that code? The text message the firm sent me 15 minutes after I completed the telephone interview led to a Survey Monkey poll with that number as the header. It was the Republicans calling about House District 91.

I’m still curious about local politics, and the kind of questions asked during a telephone poll can be revealing of the funder’s tactics. I felt like a miner striking pay dirt during the 1849 California Gold Rush.

It is common practice for Iowa House Republicans to poll a number of districts in late summer of an election year, usually at least 10-15 districts, according to a person familiar with the practice. House District 91 is an open seat after redistricting and leans Republican. Iowa Republicans follow a well-developed and targeted playbook to maintain their majority in the state house. They don’t want to leave anything to chance when it comes to picking up an open seat, so putting a poll in the field is an inexpensive investment.

The telephone survey seemed different from the online survey sent via text message, although they were likely the same questions asked differently. The main give-away that the poll was from the Republicans was the issue list I had to use to decide which would be most important in deciding my vote for state government: the Second Amendment and gun rights; border security; public school education; pro-life and family values; inflation and the cost of living; gun control measures; crime and public safety; women’s reproductive rights; government spending; and healthcare. Some of these are written in dog-whistle language understood without an interpreter only by Republicans who speak it. I picked public school education because of these so-called issues it is the one that garners the largest part of the state budget.

The survey began by asking how I would vote (probably in-person at the polls on election day), whether Iowa was on the right or wrong track (mostly the wrong track), and if I would vote Republican or Democratic for Congress (definitely Democratic), the pollster name-checked, in this order, Elle Wyant (they pronounced Elle with two syllables rather than the normal single one), Joe Biden, Brad Sherman and Kim Reynolds.

I strongly support Deidre DeJear for governor and Elle Wyant for state representative. I voted for Joe Biden in 2020 rather than that other guy, I told the pollster. I thought they snickered after saying I think of myself as independent. We got back on track when I characterized my views toward politics and government as somewhat liberal.

Whoever this person with a strong non-Midwestern accent was, they were likely doing a job for which they needed the compensation. I doubt they were represented by a union. I’m more curious about how they got my name and phone number, although the Republican voter tracking software is legendary for aggregating information from multiple sources.

My takeaways? The pollster was not trolling me. Republicans have a well-oiled machine that will tell them where their problems lie in winning House District 91. They will adjust their plan accordingly after reviewing the poll results. They are a serious, formidable opponent, even if their candidate is a fringe preacher in a non-denominational Christian church who puts his campaign barn sign on the Interstate next to those supporting the 2020 Republican candidate for president. Yes, one is still there.

When I was campaign manager for a Democratic house candidate in 2012, the state party did a district poll. The call I got after they read it was something like, “spend all your time in the non-Johnson County parts of the district.” It wasn’t specific guidance nor was it particularly helpful as while we abandoned liberal parts of the district, the Republican made inroads there. He won enough votes to put him over the top during the general election.

Polls are another piece of information about the competitive environment in a house race. I welcomed the chance to participate for the information it gave me. Will they count my results twice, since I answered via telephone and via Survey Monkey? Probably not. Can Elle Wyant win as state representative? I hope so.

There are 84 days until the polls close on election day.

Kitchen Garden

Basil in the House

Pulling basil leaves from the stem.

This year I grew basil under row cover. It has been the best crop ever.

I harvested a full basket of it. When the leaves were washed and air-dried on the counter, I pulled them from the stems. The aroma of basil permeated the entire house. It is a welcome time.

The kitchen produces fresh pasta sauce when basil comes in. When I use fresh, home grown tomatoes and garlic, fresh basil makes pasta sauce that has me stopping to take note. It is that good!

Most of my basil goes into pesto. I’m still using last year’s production and the new vintage will keep in the freezer until winter. I experimented with kale pesto, mustard greens pesto, and others. It is a local tradition to make pesto with garlic mustard leaves after removing them in a futile attempt to control its invasive growth. It tastes good, yet it is not the same. I am a basil boy when it comes to pesto.

A few times each season I’ll make a cheese pizza with fresh basil leaves thrown on top after baking. In season, basil is a mainstay of our Iowa vegetarian kitchen.

Basil does not keep long, on the counter, in water, or in the refrigerator. I tried freezing the leaves on a baking sheet, although I find myself using dried basil leaves instead of frozen fresh. I put a batch or two of basil leaves in the dehydrator and let them air dry. It provides most of what we need until next year’s crop.

A kitchen is not as alive as it is during August when basil, tomatoes, garlic and onions are all in. It is a time gardeners and chefs await all year.

Living in Society

Aging in America – Part II

On Aug. 14, 1935, Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law. FDR is rightly credited with leading the United States out of the Depression and re-framing the relationship between government and society. It is hard to imagine what modern life would be like without The New Deal.

By the time I made my first payroll contribution to Social Security in 1968, the program was stable. One hoped to be able to earn a pension or save money for retirement but I didn’t know how that would unfold during my work life. The job I held as a stock boy in the drug department of an early big box store wasn’t intended to pay for the retirement of a 16-year old entering the work force. I knew then Social Security would be there for me when I retired, no matter the financial outcome of a lifetime of work. This freed me to do other things, like being a teenager.

As I wrote in 2017, the Social Security Administration is currently doing fine. It follows a plan that begins to deplete the trust fund in 2034. In the current Trustees Report, that date holds true. The problem is longer term.

Social Security and Medicare both face long-term financing shortfalls under currently scheduled benefits and financing. Costs of both programs will grow faster than gross domestic product (GDP) through the mid-2030s primarily due to the rapid aging of the U.S. population. Medicare costs will continue to grow faster than GDP through the late 2070s due to projected increases in the volume and intensity of services provided.

A summary of the 2022 Annual Reports from the Social Security and Medicare Boards of Trustees, Social Security Administration website.

The Republican plan to address this can be found in U.S. Senator Rick Scott’s plan to rescue America, in this sentence, “All federal legislation sunsets in 5 years. If a law is worth keeping, Congress can pass it again.”

When asked about sun setting Social Security and Medicare, Senator Scott said, “No one that I know of wants to sunset Medicare or Social Security, but what we’re doing is we don’t even talk about it. Medicare goes bankrupt in four years. Social Security goes bankrupt in 12 years. I think we ought to figure out how we preserve those programs.”

The fact is Democrats are talking about it and have introduced appropriate legislation to address the long-term problems presented by the Trustees. For Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, fixing the program is straight forward, “As Republicans try to phase out Social Security and raise taxes on more than 70 million hardworking Americans, I’m working with Senator Sanders to expand Social Security and extend its solvency by making the wealthy pay their fair share, so everyone can retire with dignity.” Warren and Sanders introduced The Social Security Expansion Act in the U.S. Senate.

The weasel-words of Senator Scott are evident. Rather than offer solutions to long-term problems, he speaks vaguely about the people he knows and what they believe. The only purpose this serves is to raise doubts about choices pensioners like me made over the last 54 years. It is a scare tactic from Republicans’ long list of them.

As much as I’d like to see Democrats and Republicans engage together in solving the long-term issues with Social Security and Medicare, I don’t think that’s possible in today’s divided Congress. As President Joe Biden has demonstrated with a series of recently passed legislation, finding common ground and passing laws is possible even in the toxic political climate of Washington, D.C. We need to do more of it.

Pensioners and other senior citizens vote, so I’m confident Social Security will be addressed at the ballot box. Just give us the facts, without your political spin, and we can make a good decision. Today we appear to be in the spin cycle.

Sorting the facts from bogus assertions is an ongoing issue. Democrats have a good story to tell about expanding Social Security. We need to bring Republicans in, if we can, and solve the long-term problems. If we can’t bring them in, we must solve them on our own.


Print More Letters

Woman Writing Letter

When I open the Press-Citizen, the first thing I seek is letters to the editor. There have been less of them printed. Indeed, I’ve been trained to look for them only on Wednesdays and Saturdays. I counted only two issues in the last 24 days (as of Aug. 8) with letters.

This important forum has been de-emphasized. I get it that newspapers are under pressure to turn a profit and an opinion editor costs real dollars. Still, engaging reader-written content must count for something.

I’ve been writing letters since 1974 and accept the medium may be reaching toward obsolescence. It has been an outlet for my writing and a way to get my views in the commons for feedback. I’d like to see more people writing letters from diverse viewpoints.

If only the Press-Citizen could regularly print them

~ Published in the Iowa City Press-Citizen on Aug. 13, 2022.

Living in Society

Aging in America – Part I

Vegetables drying on the counter after harvest, Aug. 10, 2022.

The first thing I noticed upon my April 20, 2020 retirement is nothing changed. We were entering a period of living in a global pandemic, and a main goal was to live to see the other side of it. Since then, it has become clear the coronavirus pandemic will change, yet not end.

On Feb. 3, the Iowa governor extended the state’s Public Health Disaster Emergency Proclamation regarding the coronavirus pandemic. She announced it would expire at 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 15. After that, “the coronavirus becomes normalized in daily, routine public health operations,” she said. Agree, or not, our lives of living with the virus continue, such normalization as has been dictated by the government has not made life like it was before we heard the words “coronavirus pandemic.”

This is the first of a series of posts I hope to write about aging in America. While my reach is not far beyond Big Grove Township, universal themes run though my life and I hope to think about and tap into them for my writing.

Since retiring during the pandemic I became a pensioner, which means there is a fixed income mostly from my Social Security pension. I feel flush with cash when the monthly check hits our bank account. That feeling diminishes rapidly until I’m waiting for the next check to hit. As long as there are no major crises, we’ll be okay.

A while back I inventoried every distinct part of my body. There were issues with every major system, and aches and pains accumulated over a lifetime of being physically active. I’m not as flexible as at age 30, yet can bend and crawl in the garden much as I have since our first small one in 1983. The frequent jogging I began during military service has turned into walking. I take a cholesterol medication which is fully paid by insurance. Everything else I do regarding inputs is completely voluntary. My frame seems sturdy, I feel healthy, and am mostly ovo-lacto vegetarian.

Most concerning is my ability to see. I wore eyeglasses since high school and now have a pair of transition lens glasses for general use and a special pair for the computer. I expect my cataracts to harden with increased age. My ophthalmologist told me they have already begun to do so. I have an ophthalmologist.

While my financial and physical condition are important, they are not my main interest here. There are questions to be addressed, if not answered:

  • What does intellectual development mean to a septuagenarian?
  • How should my diet change with aging?
  • What types of social engagement should be pursued?
  • What role will I play in Democratic politics?
  • What kind of creative output do I seek to accomplish?

It is hard to say how many posts this will take. Like with other big topics, they may not be immediately following each other. Writing about aging in America is a worthy topic, though. I will do my best to not be boring.

Living in Society

Doing What I Can

Garden tomatoes for slicing, August 2022.

Democracy can be subverted by a minority and that’s what the radical, conservative right is doing, according to David Pepper, former chair of the Ohio Democratic Party. The right realizes their views are unpopular on abortion, gun control, climate change, equal representation under the law, the economy, and other issues. Because they can’t win federal elections on their positions, their goal is to tear down democracy and the institutions built since the formation of our Democratic Republic in 1788 when the U.S. Constitution was ratified by the states. Our politics and our democracy are increasingly unstable.

People in a position to know remind us more often of threats to Democracy. What will it take to activate voters who normally sit out the midterms, voting only in presidential election years? As author Jane Mayer, Pepper and historian Michael Beschloss remind us, a lot of the action to subvert our democracy is happening at the state level. That’s true in Iowa as well as in other Republican-controlled states.

According to Pew Research, the economy was by far the most important issue to voters during the 2020 election, followed by healthcare. You wouldn’t know that in Iowa. Republicans seek to dismantle public schools, remove regulation from agricultural and other business operations, and rig the economy so it favors large-scale agricultural interests like those investing in Carbon Capture and Sequestration. The culture wars are in full engagement as Republicans pursue removing a woman’s right to control her body, transfer school funding from public to private schools, and attempts to regulate school curriculum to present a limited view of our history and lives in society. One could argue, and I do, that during the midterm elections we have to pay attention and address this radical governance.

Historian Michael Beschloss posted the following on Twitter Aug. 7:

Beschloss’ list is good and here’s how I would “do what I can.”

Supreme Court: Many of us realized the U.S. Supreme Court was an overarching issue during the 2016 presidential issue. It ranked highly in 2020. The damage of the 45th president appointing three young, conservative justices recommended by the right wing Federalist Society is done. There is no undoing a lifetime appointment to the judiciary in today’s political climate. We should watch what’s going on in the Supreme Court and support election of a Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate and a Democratic president.

State governors, legislature, secretaries of state and election officials: This is the ball game in 2022. The prospects of electing Democratic majorities in the Iowa Senate and House of Representatives is bleak. In the nine Johnson County precincts in Iowa House District 91, there are only three volunteer precinct captains, including me and the county auditor. In a better situation, we would have nine. There are 10,759 registered voters in the district in Johnson County, 10,824 in Iowa County. Of these, 6,357 are Democratic or 29 percent. Republicans have a 1,717 registration advantage, which means Democrats must get out a lot of non-Democratic votes to elect our candidates. As I’ve written before, our gubernatorial candidate is running behind in the recent Iowa poll, and in fundraising. A focus on voter registration and contacting the right section of the 71 percent of the electorate that is not Democrat is what’s needed.

Congress in 2022: Our first congressional district has in Christina Bohannan a candidate who is working. Whether she can win is an open question, and polling is conflicted about where she stands. The campaign has done some outreach yet what I can offer is to include her when canvassing in my Iowa House District. In retired Admiral Michael Franken we have the strongest candidate for U.S. Senate since the last time Tom Harkin ran. I know Franken better than most Senate candidates I supported in recent years. He appears to be doing the right things to increase his name recognition. He says voters are weary of Grassley. Because of his long Navy experience most Iowans could view him favorably. We need to get the word out.

Presidency in 2024: I don’t expect Joe Biden to announce whether he will run for president in 2024 until after the midterm elections. If he runs, I will support him. He has arguably done the best job, in terms of passing legislation, of any recent president. More of the same is fine by me if he’s up to it. If Biden doesn’t run, it is a jump ball. I like Kamala Harris as vice president. I don’t believe the nomination should just be handed to her if Biden doesn’t run.

When we break political activism down like this, it is easier to get a grip on what is possible for one person to do to save our democracy. Save it, we must.

Home Life

Sweet Corn in Big Grove

Putting up sweet corn.

My spouse and I processed local sweet corn for freezing last night. It is a relic from a past when food preservation played a bigger role in home life. We have stories about our lives with sweet corn to tell each other. A simple truth is we can buy big bags of frozen, organic cut corn from the wholesale club for less cost. If local corn is good, the taste of summer on a cob, it is worth the extra effort to buy local and put it up.

We have frozen corn leftover from last season, so our needs this year aren’t that much. Our main supplier went out of business and we’ve been hard-pressed to find a replacement. That is, we haven’t found outstanding sweet corn this year. Weather conditions have been a problem, according to our local ABC affiliate:

ELY, Iowa (KCRG) – Over thirty years as a farmer, Butch Wieneke knows what high quality sweet corn looks, and feels like. That’s why selling anything other than the best, is not an option for him and his family.

Last Thursday, they made the tough decision to stop selling.

“It just dried up. The ears weren’t filling out and I wasn’t going to sell sub-par corn. It’s just…I’m not going to do that. I don’t care what price it is,” said Wieneke.

The quality of sweet corn can change very quickly, and because of the lack of rain Eastern Iowa saw last week, the personal and public orders stopped.

Now, they’re waiting and watching to see how the crops develop.

Libbie Randall, KCRG-TV9, Aug. 2, 2022.

When we moved to Big Grove, I decided quickly to outsource sweet corn growing, in the mid-1990s. After a year or two, I found corn takes too much space and the results were not as good as what farmers produce. Because of today’s shortage, I’m considering a patch of sweet corn in next year’s garden. We’re not ready to give up on the annual family tradition and if I can produce a couple of bushels, that would best serve our culture.

While August grinds into its second week with hot, humid temperatures and plenty of rain, I’m ready to return to daily writing. I’m thankful for the break, yet there are important happenings not being covered by traditional media. When I write such stories, people find my posts and view them. I don’t have an editorial calendar yet, although as something new, I blocked out time today to write one.

The rest of the year is expected to be like drinking from a fire hose as far as news goes. I may as well dust off the keyboard and dig in now that sweet corn is put up.