Memorial Day 2019

Flags at Oakland Cemetery

The president is said to be considering pardons for convicted war criminals as we go into the Memorial Day weekend.

Jamelle Bouie names some of the criminals under consideration in a New York Times article.

Last year, a federal jury in Washington convicted Nicholas Slatten, a former security contractor, of first-degree murder for his role in killing one of 14 Iraqi civilians who died in 2007 in a shooting that also injured more than a dozen others. Matthew Golsteyn, an Army Green Beret, was charged late last year with the murder of an unarmed Afghan man during a 2010 deployment. Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL who served in Iraq, was reported to authorities by his own men, who witnessed him “stabbing a defenseless teenage captive to death,” “picking off a school-age girl and an old man from a sniper’s roost” and “indiscriminately spraying neighborhoods with rockets and machine-gun fire.”

It is the president’s prerogative to grant pardons. What does it say about our country that he picked these men?

It says nothing positive on a day set aside to recognize those who gave their lives for our country.

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A Veil of Reasonable

Tom Miller Photo Credit – Iowa Attorney General’s Office

On Wednesday, May 22, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds line-item vetoed HF 615, the justice system appropriations bill, to remove sections 24 and 28 pertaining to the role of the attorney general.

The law would have “required the approval of the Governor, Executive Council, or Legislature to prosecute any action or proceeding, including signing onto or authoring amicus briefs or letters of support, in any court or tribunal other than an Iowa state court,” according to the press release.

While she vetoed that part of the bill, Reynolds said the law had brought Attorney General Tom Miller into discussions about their respective roles. In the transmittal letter accompanying the bill, Reynolds wrote,

As a result of the Legislature’s leadership on this issue, Attorney General Miller and I have had the opportunity to engage in a thoughtful discussion about the appropriate balance of authority between the Governor and the Attorney General with respect to Iowa’s involvement in litigation. And ultimately, Attorney General Miller agreed to my proposal to adjust our litigation practices in a manner that I believe addresses my core concerns without amending Iowa’s current statutes.

Attorney General Tom Miller said his agreement with the governor was made in good faith,

This agreement allows my office to continue to protect Iowans through consumer enforcement actions, which are primarily filed in Iowa courts. It also allows me to express my opinion on matters affecting Iowans before federal agencies and Congress.

Republicans got the leash out but avoided collaring the popular Miller.

In part, the ability to reasonably negotiate differences between state-wide elected officials is part of what makes Iowa different from nearby states like Wisconsin and Kansas. We look at them and say to ourselves as Iowans, “Dear God! Let’s not be like them.” That Reynolds and Miller were even able to discuss and negotiate a better solution to Republican dislike of his activities is something. It is also something else.

While Miller, first elected in 1978, is the longest serving attorney general in the United States, he will eventually retire or die in office. That he is a Democrat is less important to his longevity than the way he looks after the interests of Iowans. When Miller’s seat becomes an open race to replace him, electing a Democrat is not assured. If anything, the office of attorney general will lean in the direction of state government’s majority party.

There are one-offs like Democratic Auditor Rob Sand, who won statewide election despite Republican dominance in other offices. If Reynolds has the same longevity as Terry Branstad, Democrats holding statewide office may well be sanded off in the woodshed of Republican re-making of the state. By vetoing sections of the HF 615 pertaining to the attorney general, Reynolds is playing the long game in politics, looking after her own interests as much as settling an immediate political dispute.

We live in an open society and Republicans have been working to shape it according to their image. In many ways they have been successful. The longer it is before Democrats win a majority in the legislature and re-take the governor’s office the more permanently Republican initiatives penetrate our culture and become the background against which we live our lives. Democrats failed to stop Republicans in 2018. 2020 remains our last best hope to do so. Flipping the Iowa House of Representatives to Democratic is both doable and a primary goal for Democrats this cycle.

A veil of reasonable envelopes the judiciary budget bill and the settlement between Reynolds and Miller. One hopes the outcome is indeed reasonable, and not the vapid dealings of a Republican party looking out for their own long-term self-interest.

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2019 Summer Reading

Summer Reading

The myth of relaxing on a towel at a beach, sunglasses and sunscreen on, reading a book may not exist for most of us in Iowa. The beach nearest us has been closed in recent seasons because of the risk of exposure to microcystin and E. coli bacteria, both harmful to human health.

Nevertheless, reading is an important part of summer activities, and essential for people engaged in society. Our home owners association has a monthly meeting at the public library where staff politely boots us out in June and July because it falls on the same night as the summer reading program. Summer reading is one of the most important programs at a public library.

When I write “reading,” I mean books. A lot of our time is spent reading news articles which, while important, does not involve the kind of commitment as reading a book cover-to-cover. I started the Goodreads Reading Challenge last year and it helped me stay focused on reading. I’ve read 16 books this year and you can see which ones on my Reading List page.

Here, in no particular order, is a list of ten books on my bedside table for reading this summer:

Where the Light Enters: Building a Family, Discovering Myself by Jill Biden.

The Tallgrass Prairie: An Introduction by Cindy Crosby.

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore.

The Overstory by Richard Powers.

Pacific by Simon Winchester.

Milkman by Anna Burns.

The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow’s World by Charles C. Mann.

The Uninhabitable Earth: Life after Warming by David Wallace-Wells.

Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein.

Energy: A Human Story by Richard Rhodes.

While beaches may be closed due to environmental pollution, I plan to find a shady spot on our property or a comfortable chair inside to crack open a book from time to time this summer. Please do leave a comment with what you are reading this summer below.

Happy summer reading!

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Mud-suctioning the Garden

First Pick of Kale, May 20, 2019

Spring rain continues and I must decide whether to put seedlings outside while I’m at the farm this morning.

The first wave is in the ground, but the second is delayed so long I worry about them getting root bound. I discussed this with a farmer friend and she said not to worry. I don’t know. The basil is looking dire.

Greenhouse seedlings are coming in faster than I can get them in the ground. Yesterday I processed two trays of tomatoes, moving soil blocks to larger containers while I wait for the ground to dry. I expect they will develop more root structure before I get them in.

There are so many seedlings I grabbed another pallet from the garden to hold them all outside the garage. Moving them back and forth is getting to be a production.

I finished turning over the plot for the second wave. I broke a sweat, the work felt good. The process should be called “mud-suctioning” because with every spade of dirt the sound of suction-release was evident. Water stood in the bottom of the divots dug previously. Rain had beaten down the divots dug last week, making breaking them into soil suitable for planting easier. That is, if the ground ever dries.

May has been a month of tension for this gardener, made worse by climate change. Wet springs combined with not enough time to garden has delayed planting and weeding. Even with May troubles we manage to harvest something.

The first wave of plantings is beginning to produce. We had kale and radishes, and harvested from the long-standing, ever-producing plot of garlic planted years ago. There is plenty for our kitchen.

Fresh kale, radishes and spring garlic in our salad of local farm-grown lettuce was welcome for dinner last night. Our spring share included lemon balm, of which I made tea to reduce anxiety and restlessness. I think it’s working. There is some left in the ice box if it isn’t.

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Cleaning the Gutters

Garden Viewed from the Roof

During Saturday morning rain gutters overflowed on both sides of the house. As soon as it stopped, I climbed up a ladder and cleaned them out.

The blockage was mostly leaves from the pin oak tree which sheds them with new spring growth.

At 67 years my roof-walking days are numbered. I’m thinking of my octogenarian uncle who died from a fall from his roof in Alabama. I’m somewhere in between roof-walking and having someone else do it.

Garden ground continues to be too wet for tillage, the next task on my spring to-do list. I went through the lettuce seedlings in the garage, transplanting the best ones into larger containers, and turning the rest into dinner salad. I got my hands dirty with soil, just barely. This wet spring is getting old.

It was another light day at the farm with only 20 seedling trays to prepare. I had seven trays left in the greenhouse and brought the three with tomatoes home. More planting backlog.

At some point the rain will break and the ground will dry out. When exactly that is is uncertain.

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Where’s the Beef Mayor Pete?

Pete Buttigieg Arrives at Wildwood Smokehouse and Saloon May 18, 2019

JOHNSON COUNTY, Iowa — If I ranked Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana in the third tier of presidential candidates, why did I attend his town hall meeting five miles west of the Herbert Hoover birthplace in West Branch?

In a field of two dozen Democratic candidates one voter’s personal choice of a candidate is not as important as supporting the eventual nominee. What matters more in Iowa is the senate and congressional races because without a Democratic majority in both chambers of the legislature any Democratic president won’t get much done.

I went to learn about the electorate and who is active this cycle to better serve my campaign work for whoever are the Democratic nominees for Second District congressperson and U.S. Senate. The good news is a lot of people I’d never seen before were in the crowd of several hundred. Everyone was glad to be there despite the body heat in the over-crowded room.

The attraction people have to Buttigieg is palpable. We’re looking for something different and in some ways Mayor Pete is that. He’s young, living in his home town, a Rhodes scholar, a military veteran, goes to church, and is well known in the Democratic party. That’s part of the allure.

He’s also a good orator and handles audience questions with due consideration and aplomb. As I mentioned in my review of his memoir, “he illuminates the example of South Bend and what’s possible in creating a more sustainable life in urban centers.”

Emblematic of today’s town hall meeting was the five panel mural of a bull hanging over the stage, combined with the penetrating aroma of freshly smoked meat and barbecue sauce. If a person enjoyed barbecue one might stick around for dinner service. It had me asking, “where’s the beef?”

It was a pretty skinny cow. Pete Buttigieg has skilled elocution. His ideas are not very deep. He touted newly released policy pages on his website and said his policy roll out was as good as any of his competitors. I’ve never heard any of the women who are presidential candidates refer to others as “competitors.” I suppose we might give that male-ism a pass, but Hillary taught us we are stronger together. The caucus process doesn’t have to be similar to a sports event. A lot more is at stake than the horse race, even if it does generate clicks and serve egos.

The only news out of the town hall meeting was Buttigieg embraced the Citizens Climate Lobby position of adopting a Carbon Fee and Dividend. No matter how dire the environment gets, a president Buttigieg will need a house majority and a filibuster-proof senate majority for a fee and dividend bill to pass. Look at the ability Senator Mitch McConnell developed to block progress when he was minority leader during Obama’s first term.

The real action at the town hall meeting happened outside the main stage and venue. People in line talked about expectations, others thanked a friend for inviting them, families rushed to their vehicles to make the day’s next event. The strength of those relationships is what gives Democrats hope. That combined with what we hope will be an ability to pull together.

I’m glad I had a chance to attend today’s event. In Iowa we don’t know how lucky we are to have a presidential candidate within 15 miles of our home. Based on today, my faith is strong that Democrats will pick an excellent candidate to face off with the incumbent president. I believe we will soon find the wind at our backs lifting our sails toward a better tomorrow. The idea and a lot of hard work will get us there.

~ For conventional coverage of the event read James Q. Lynch here. To view video of the entire event, Robin Kash of Neighborhood Network News posted it here.

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Political Checklist – President

Jimmy Carter at the Iowa State Fair, August 1976 – Photo Credit – Des Moines Register

I try not to inflate the importance of Iowa’s first in the nation caucuses. Whatever it was, the caucus process is less personal today than depicted in the media or by campaign consultants. Gone are the days of a Jimmy Carter-style candidate appearing unannounced at the Iowa State Fair to meet and greet people.

I’m okay with that and don’t seek a return to those times. They weren’t that great and for the most part, our politics has become smarter.

If I get a chance to meet the Democratic nominee for president in 2020 that’s good, but not necessary for me to go on living. I feel confident the Democratic nominating process will pick a viable candidate to challenge the incumbent no matter how individual campaigns muck it up. Democrats I know favor support of the eventual nominee over any transitory enthusiasm for another candidate on caucus night.

When Iowa Republicans fielded 18 presidential candidates in 2016, I thought that really worked for them by increasing the number of events where Iowans could talk about politics. It solidified a sense of community among party members and is paying them dividends in state and federal government. Now that Democrats have fielded 22 23 candidates, what Republicans had doesn’t seem very likely. Let’s face it. We are too Democratic to develop that kind of culture.

The Democratic field is dividing into non-hierarchical tiers, like it or not. Here’s my take on for whom I might caucus as of this morning. Implicit is the idea I will finalize a choice and begin to work for a campaign after Labor Day. When I say “work for a campaign,” I mean in my political precinct.

Tier One: Possibilities

Given the long list, there are only three candidates I’d talk to my neighbors about supporting, Amy Klobuchar, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren.

I’ve heard Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar speak in person (in the 2016 cycle) and like her a lot. There is also pronounced grassroots interest in her campaign among my fellow Big Grove Democrats. She won her re-election for U.S. Senate in 2018 with more than 60 percent of votes cast. If she is nominated and fails to beat the incumbent, her senate seat is safe. If she wins the presidency, it does not seem assured a Democrat would replace her. I’m remembering the Al Franken-Norm Coleman 2008 election which Franken won by about 300 votes.

Kamala Harris hasn’t been to Iowa very often, but my perception is she is running a campaign the way it should be done. She won her election for U.S. Senate in 2016 with more than 62 percent of votes cast. If she is nominated and fails to beat the incumbent, her senate seat is safe. If she wins the presidency, the expected outcome of an election to fill her remaining term in California would be a Democratic winner.

Elizabeth Warren is one of only two candidates I’ve heard speak this year. Her policies align closely with mine and her campaign is the only one that’s reached out to me personally about joining. I’ve been contacted multiple times, by multiple organizers. She has a large Iowa staff, which seems needed to win the 2020 Iowa caucus delegate count. She won re-election to the U.S. Senate from Massachusetts in 2018 with more than 60 percent of the vote. If she is nominated and fails to beat the incumbent, her senate seat is safe. If she wins the presidency, the expected outcome of an election to fill her remaining term would be a Democratic winner, despite the permanent stain on Massachusetts Democrats for failure to elect a replacement for Senator Ted Kennedy.

Tier Two: Go back to the Senate and build a Democratic Majority

It is not necessary for all Democratic U.S. Senators to run for president. I like each of them for different reasons, however, Michael Bennet, Kirsten Gillibrand, Bernie Sanders and Cory Booker should join Sherrod Brown and Jeff Merkley in declining to run for president and work to build a Democratic senate majority.

Tier Three: Like them a lot, just not for president

Pete Buttigieg should run for statewide office in Indiana. He seems to have a bright future ahead of him in Democratic politics but after reading his book and listening to a couple of speeches on the internet, my judgement is he’s not ready to become president. A career model he might follow is that of Evan Bayh who was elected Indiana governor, then U.S. Senator.

Jay Inslee’s all climate policy agenda may be what’s needed, it doesn’t seem viable in the general election.

Montana Governor Steve Bullock should run for the U.S. Senate against Republican incumbent Steve Daines in 2020.

Beto O’Rourke should run for U.S. Senate in Texas again, this time against Republican incumbent John Cornyn in 2020.

Joe Biden could do the most good for Democrats by speaking and raising money for the eventual nominee.

Tier Four: Just give it up

The remaining candidates should just give it up. I met Tulsi Gabbard, John Delaney and Julián Castro and have nothing bad to say about them. The others no doubt have many qualifications and credentials, but that alone doesn’t make for a presidential nominee. I’d reconsider someone if they or their staff reached out to me, but none of them seems to have Iowa staff presence at Elizabeth Warren level or even what’s needed. None of them has been otherwise able to gain traction.

Eight months from the Iowa caucus it seems premature to cast any of this in concrete. Picking a Democratic presidential nominee is low priority on my political checklist. More about that later.

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