Debate Watching

Re-used Elizabeth Warren Sticker

Lightning strikes illuminated a dark November sky as I drove my aging Subaru toward Solon for a debate watch party at El Sol Mexican Restaurant.

El Sol is one of the treasures of our community. Not because they stayed open an extra hour so we could watch the Democratic debate in Atlanta until its end, but because they contribute to the community in countless ways each year.

That the Elizabeth Warren campaign chose to hold a watch party in town, and picked this family-run restaurant, is evidence of how personalized they have become.

Whether Warren will win the nomination is an open question. Based on Saturday’s Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom poll, winning the Iowa caucuses is within the reach of four and maybe more candidates. Iowa matters less to Democrats than it did during the 1976 cycle, or even in 2008 where Barack Obama did two things: won the delegate count and contributed to dividing the party in a way that persists until today. As I wrote previously, the aggregate of early state caucuses and primaries through March 3 Super Tuesday will be more meaningful in determining who is viable and who has a path to the nomination. It could be Warren. It could be another.

The politically correct way to post about a chosen candidate on social media is to assert a best-picture narrative about them without reference to other candidates. Coralville political activist and Kamala Harris supporter Nick Westergaard stated it succinctly in a post promoting Harris on his Facebook page. “If you have a candidate already,” he wrote, “write your own post like this and talk about them there.” Such political correctness has to do with getting through the time until the Feb. 3 caucuses without fracturing the party further on social media. Social media means a lot less than its denizens, the author included, assert. What matters more is the statements people make in-person and off line.

I knew half of the attendees at the Warren debate watch party and half I met for the first time. It was hard to hear the television set so we couldn’t catch every sound bite. We talked more generally about the community, politics and our shared experiences. I spent most of the evening chatting with a local activist I’ve known for decades.

Two issues about the general election process won’t go away.

Will the 2020 electorate pick a woman as president? Among Democrats, nominating a woman as our candidate to face the Republican nominee can be done. Elizabeth Warren is in the top tier of candidates and I believe both Amy Klobuchar and Kamala Harris could be within striking distance, at least in Iowa. Based on conversations within my precinct, I believe Klobuchar and Warren could both be viable. The general election is where doubt arises about electing a female president. There continues to be resistance to electing a woman, especially once one gets outside the privileged liberal centers of the state. Johnson County, where I live, voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. We were the only county in the state to do so. The other edge of this sword is we won’t have a female president unless we nominate one.

Giving up private insurance in favor of Medicare for All will be a non-starter, especially for people who were covered by private insurance during an illness. I hear this everywhere, including at the Warren debate watch party. This objection cannot be overcome through policies, snappy arguments or well-crafted verbiage. A significant, nonpartisan slice of the electorate wants government out of their health care insurance decisions. As we are painfully aware, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was lauded by many Democrats but fell flat among people who felt it was an intrusion into their personal lives to be mandated to get insurance or face a penalty. Because “Medicare for All” is weighted with diverse meanings in the electorate, it seems unlikely to go anywhere as presented by some Democratic presidential candidates.

When Medicare was signed into law in 1965, it was possible only because Lyndon Johnson had a broad mandate to make bold, progressive change. The same mandate of the 1964 election is not replicable today after the rise of conservatives, right-wing talk radio, the Moral Majority, cable news, and dark money institutions like the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society. There is also substantial division among Democrats. Even if Democrats retain a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives and gain a slim majority in the U.S. Senate, the time after Obama’s election when Democrats controlled the executive and legislative branches of government is a reminder of how little can get done in an age of political obstruction.

Even though our debate watch party was small in comparison to those in the county seat, I was glad for the chance to meet new people and talk about politics. I’m not sure of the value of the actual debates. Certainly news media outlets benefit by having stories to write, yet the short responses and interactions of candidates don’t serve the electorate well. Even though the staging makes it look like an even competition, it’s not. What mattered more was conversations at our table as the talking heads faded to the background.

I look forward to the ultimate presidential nominee, something we won’t know until spring at the earliest. I left two bucks in the boot near the restaurant door to support a new fire station as I returned to my vehicle.

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Under the Weather

Mom with her family about 1957.

On a bleak, drizzly Sunday morning I visited our parents’ grave with my sister. Cemetery workers had piled sod on top of Mom’s grave with a carve-out for the foot stone designed to look like Father’s. We are waiting for delivery.

I was glad to visit before winter.

We met our brother at an Italian restaurant in the dying mall. We all had salads with iced water to drink, a sign of dietary requirements of the times. The food was good in a way Italian restaurants can be. The conversation started on Democratic politics. We don’t agree on who should be the next presidential nominee so we moved on to the topic of our family history.

Of our parents’ generation, aunts in Florida and Virginia are the only ones remaining. Sister contacts them every so often. I heard from both in the last five years via email or snail mail. Last time I visited my aunt in Virginia was in 1983. I haven’t seen the one in Florida for longer than that. Word is the family kept Cox Hollow when my great aunt died, and we didn’t discuss who owns the home place in the Appalachian hills where one branch of the family is buried. None of us have seen the family cemetery where ancestors who fought for both the Union and the Confederacy are buried. The stories we share as siblings are common ones, although each time we retell them some new nuance emerges. The luncheon was okay.

Suffering a cold for the last two weeks, I continued to make a life. I also cancelled a lot of plans.

Tonight I’m scheduled to attend a house party for the U.S. Senate candidate Michael Franken in Marion. We’ll see how I feel after work. The local Elizabeth Warren organizer arranged a Democratic debate watch party in town, which because it is so close, I also plan to attend. The debate starts at 8 p.m. local time and that is pretty late to be out for me. Organizing for the caucus doesn’t happen on its own and I hope to recover from my illness soon to help the effort.

The ambient temperature warmed and we are getting respite from wintry weather. We are in a dank, in-between time of hoping for relief from what ails us, and from the emotional burdens life presents. Thankfully today is another day to live.

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Presidential Coat Rack – Republicans

Lake Macbride Trail – Autumn 2019

Like a coat rack in the back hallway of our childhood home I hang memories on each of the American presidents who held office since graduating from high school.

The worn hooks are Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald J. Trump.

The memories are personal and integrated into who I am as an American living in Iowa. To the degree I’m American, these memories are sharable.

Book ended by the most reviled, Reagan and George W. Bush also deserve their own special place in hell. I worked to find some redeeming qualities about each of them. It was hardest with the current president.

I looked up President Trump’s inaugural address and listened to it again. My memory was turning off the video on inauguration day after the sentence, “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.” The speech came from left field, from a country I did not know.

Watching the entire speech for the first time yesterday I can see why his core supporters like him. I can also see truth in the Politifact fact-checking of the speech. Trump referred to “all Americans.” Since day one of his administration I haven’t felt included in this group. That feeling has been stoked ever since with little hope of resolution. For Trump, “all Americans” includes only his supporters.

The other memory of Trump is how outside interests funded by dark money have run the administration. It began when the Heritage Foundation sent out swat teams to investigate each aspect of the executive branch shortly after the inauguration. It continued with the Federalist Society proposing judges to fill the many vacancies held open by Senators Mitch McConnell and Chuck Grassley while Barack Obama was in office. Grassley recently pointed to Trump’s policy regarding the appointment of judges as a key reason for Republicans to hold their nose and support the president’s re-election effort. My memory is Trump as the disengaged, self-centered billionaire in an office he recognizes he has no capacity to manage.

While Ronald Reagan ranks among the worst presidents, his administration was buffered by his affable manner and effective use of media to convey a sense of warmth as him minions stripped away a society risen from the ashes of the second world war. His work was intentional and directed, like all of the Republicans who held this office. Reagan must be given credit for the intermediate-range nuclear forces agreement (INF) with the Soviet Union. It was a big deal then and gave those of us in the nuclear freeze movement hope. Trump, with the counsel of John Bolton, threw the INF into the trash heap.

My memory of George W. Bush is from Philadelphia, shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. I was on Interstate 95 heading into the Bartram Gardens area where I managed a trucking fleet. Bush’s motorcade was on the other side of the interstate heading back to the airport to return to Washington. In that moment, whatever hope I had Bush would pull the country together after the terrorist attacks was dashed. He made the trip early in the morning and finished by 10 a.m. It was a publicity event that had little impact on the national interest. It was unclear to me why he would spend so much money for what must have been a one to two hour publicity event. I remember other things didn’t make sense during the Bush administration. More than this, his invasion of Iraq made the least sense and proved to be a costly error. That is, unless one was a contractor who profited from the debacle.

Richard Nixon was proof there would be consequences for lying liars who held the office of president. He did form the Environmental Protection Agency but that was only a calculation that doing nothing to protect the environment would hurt him politically.

Gerald Ford was a non-entity who was not Nixon and that is my memory of him. Instead of seeing his failure to get a grip on the economy, I entered military service and spent most of my time in a confined silo that interacted with the presidency in a much different way. I accepted the premise of his presidency, that it was a time to heal after the disaster that was Nixon.

Conservatives who gave us Reagan ultimately didn’t care for George H.W. Bush. Bush’s foreign affairs experience helped his administration deal with the breakup of the Soviet Union without going to war. The United States became the only super power under his leadership. In domestic affairs, Bush was a supporter of the Americans with Disabilities Act. While he had some redeeming qualities, conservatives continued to have too much sway in his administration. I was satisfied when Bill Clinton defeated him in the 1992 general election.

I also have memories to hang on Democratic presidents. None of them were saints. All of them did things I didn’t care for. They were welcome respite from a conservative movement that continues to gain strength long after the coalition that elected Ronald Reagan was formed. My story about Democratic presidents is for another day.

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Winter Thy Name is Denial

Squirrel Nest

What does a gardener do when winter arrives?

Despite the fact there’s snow on the ground, IT’S NOT WINTER! Please check back Dec. 21 for winter programming.

The apple harvest is finished and priorities shifted. While our orchard’s chief apple officer may favor kicking back creek-side for a post-season draw of Jameson Irish Whiskey, after apple season a home gardener must get busy doing everything neglected in better weather.

The inbox — digital and physical — overflows with unattended mail, outdoors work remains if snow melts and we get a few days of dry warmth. There’s laundry to do, winter reading to arrange, apples to preserve, a house to clean, and cars to winterize — a whole life compressed between first snowfall and January. Any remaining goals for the year need prompt action. November and early December can be a frantic rush to the finish line.

As leaves fell from deciduous trees a squirrel nest revealed itself high in our maple tree. I’ve hoped for this many years. What was a vacant, treeless place when we arrived in Big Grove has become a habitat. Wildlife sighting is frequent. In addition to newly resident squirrels, birds, foxes, raccoons, opossums, field mice and voles, deer, and every other type of animal native to the area shows up here and return. When I spend time in the garden or look through our windows to the yard I feel the community even if I’m the only human around.

I have a bottle of Jameson purchased years ago. It sits in a crate unopened because I have been too busy for kicking back and sipping. Maybe I need to take a lesson from the orchard operator and relax for a while. At least before accepting that winter will arrive and all that means.

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Climate Change Plans Before the Iowa Caucuses

Al Gore in Chicago, 2013

The climate crisis calls for us to dream big and fight hard because our future depends upon solving its underlying problems.

If I sound like Elizabeth Warren, it’s because last night I heard a presentation about her plans for climate action by staffers Spencer Dixon and Jackie Curnick at the campaign office in the county seat.

The expected positioning was present.

“What about a carbon tax?” one attendee asked. Dixon responded Warren believed with her plans a carbon tax wasn’t needed. The discussion drew in the Citizens Climate Lobby position of a carbon fee and dividend which friends have been lobbying in the Congress this week (HR763). Dixon wouldn’t endorse this plan.

“What about nuclear power?” another asked. Warren opposes construction of new nuclear power plants and plans to phase out existing ones. The suggestion of one attendee that current nuclear power generating stations continue to operate indefinitely belies the physical limits of reactors constructed in the 1970s and 1980s. Many pixels have been spilled explaining why.

Two things surprised me: Spencer’s assertion that public lands could be developed to help meet our electricity needs, and the U.S. should help colonize Africa and Asia the way China is doing to resist and potentially displace their hegemony. I don’t see how the former is different from what Republicans under Trump are already doing in their ways, and the latter is morally reprehensible. It’s not clear Warren herself would back these assertions and Spencer acknowledged that.

The top Democratic candidates have a plan for climate action. Republicans are coming along to a very limited degree. Former Republican presidential candidate Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) acknowledges a need for significant private sector investments and innovation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and switch to more green energy. Romney joined the newly formed, bipartisan U.S. Senate Climate Change Caucus. A president Warren would have to have some backing by Republicans for her climate plan to be durable. The Obama administration is a casebook in why executive orders can ultimately fail without legislative backing. Our participation in the Paris Climate Agreement was reversed with the stroke of a pen by the following Republican president. Obama may have had a plan for single-payer health insurance. Because of political realities what we got was the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act which thus far has proven durable despite countless attacks by conservatives. Any climate solution must be backed by legislation and according to Spencer, Warren has a plan for that.

The Republican elephant in the room is how does any presidential climate action plan go into effect when in a best case scenario Democrats, with two Independents, might in 2020 win a slim majority in the upper chamber, not enough to stop a filibuster. The immediate reaction, and Warren’s position, is a new meme for Democrats, “abolish the filibuster.” In other words, if one can’t win the traditional way, change the rules. If the filibuster were abolished, that action would originate in the U.S. Senate, not in the executive branch.

After the presentation I spoke to other attendees and avoided the discussion of which Democratic presidential candidate’s climate action plan was the best. We’re not at a grocery store comparing canned vegetables, after all. The next president, if it’s not Donald Trump, must act on climate change. Plans notwithstanding, the expectation is Republicans will resist, obstruct and delay any meaningful changes as they have since the rise of Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) as the Republican leader. Winning the U.S. House and Senate is as important as winning the presidency.

The benefit of last night’s meeting was identifying Warren’s plans for climate action so there will be something to talk about when door-knocking potential caucus-goers. Climate change appears to be on most Iowans’ mind so that’s necessary and important.

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What Veterans Said On Veterans Day

Veterans for Peace

A post from Nov. 11, 2010.

Ed said we should wage peace and call it Armistice Day instead of Veterans’ Day.

“Frustrated because the population is so easily convinced that war is patriotic,” said Tom.

Jacqueline spoke about being in the Women’s Army Corps and the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps and said, “get in touch with our legislators.”

Sam said, “Contact our legislators and make it clear that we want out of Afghanistan.”

Alan was dismayed at our age and that “young people were absent.”

Conversation around the table at Hy-Vee’s free breakfast for all veterans centered on whether proof was required for the free meal for veterans at Applebees.

Tom said to his Facebook friends that are veterans, “Guys, thanks for serving. Have a great Veterans’ Day.”

Another Tom replied, “Thanks to us all the recognition we’re getting now is long over due. Thanks to all of us, regardless in the war zone or not we fought some type of war while serving and give praise to all men in uniform. God Bless and have a great day we all deserve it. S. looking sharp in that uniform Steve.”

A lot of us had our photos taken by the press and were interviewed.

Paul read the names of Afghanistan civilians who have been killed in the war.

Some didn’t speak, but just carried signs.

John asked for the e-mail address for Senators Grassley and Harkin to ask them to ratify the New START Treaty.

Bob talked about the potential Veterans’ National Recovery Center proposal for homeless veterans and asked for our help.

John said, “Peace is patriotic, and spread the word.”

James said, “Stop the wars.”

Faith said, “Have good success and I will help.”

Ralph said, “our list is our witness” and “we need gender balance on the board.”

“We need to get mad and have to be unhappy about the way the world is going,” said Dick.

Rose said we should “teach our children that peace is not a sissy thing.”

Bill said, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”

Martha said, “We didn’t pay attention in the Korean war. If we did, we would not have been at war again after.”

Ed said, “People didn’t love peace enough. Did not wage peace enough.”

Another Bill said “we should support active duty resisters.”

Karen said, “I agree with Bill.”

~ The author served in the U.S. Army from January 1976 until November 1979 with three years stationed in an infantry division near Mainz, Germany.

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2019-2020 Winter Reading List

2019-2020 Winter Reading List

Ten books queued on my bedside table for winter reading:

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick.

What I Stand For is What I Stand On: The Collected Essays of Wendell Berry 1969 – 2017.

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

A Life on the Middle West’s Never-ending Frontier by Willard L. ‘Sandy’ Boyd.

The Mosquito: A Human History of our Deadliest Predator by Timothy C. Winegard.

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond.

Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis by Jared Diamond.

Energy: A Human History by Richard Rhodes.

Presidents of War by Michael Beschloss.

Fault Lines: A History of the United States Since 1974 by Kevin M. Kruse and Julian E. Selizer.

I will add some fiction, cooking, and gardening books as winter progresses. Feel free to share what you are reading this winter in the comments.

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