Into Fall

Box of Onions

Crate of Onions

The first leaves on our Autumn Blaze maple tree turned over the weekend — a reminder of summer’s imminent end.

A lesson learned this season was of the limits of worklife and the tendency to let personal things go when engaged in a big endeavor.

The garden, yard and house cleaning fell to the bottom of the priority list as I worked four jobs. It is ironic that in a year when my skills as a gardener improved, I was unable to keep up with the weeding and harvesting, which when combined with the lack of mowing for a month, created a jungle in our back yard. The birds and rabbits may be happy, but I was not.

Harvesting will continue. The garden paid for itself many times over. The question is what level of abundance is enough? I’m already thinking about preparing the plots for winter. It won’t be long before I pull the plants, stack the cages, roll up the fencing and mow. It assuages my guilt from leaving so much produce — tomatoes and pears especially — in the field.

Thunder and lightning blew past the orchard Sunday afternoon and I was released from work early. Because of the lightning, I skipped the greenhouse work at the farm — we don’t work when there is lightning. The storm created an opportunity to rest and after finishing my last post during Trish Nelson’s hiatus from Blog for Iowa, I did.

This week I hope to finish the onion trimming work and move on to what’s next. The presidential election is sucking up oxygen, so dealing with that is out there.

More importantly, what do I want to do next with my remaining years.

I used an on-line life expectancy calculator which determined I have a 75 percent chance of living past age 80, with an estimated life expectancy of 87 years. If that’s true, there’s a lot of living to do.

It will take a full day, maybe two, to clean up the tangled mess the yard and garden have become. Some time — not too much — must needs be spent learning to choose my occupations wisely.

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August Politics – 2016 Style

Burgundy Apples

Burgundy Apples

Hillary Clinton spent three days in California this week raising money for her campaign and for those of selected state parties.

Meanwhile members of the corporate media complained it has been a long while since she gave a press conference. Republicans complained about the trip for many reasons summed up simply as “it’s Hillary Clinton so it’s bad.”

I would comment further about the complaining, and the repeated calls among Republican supporters to lock her up, but what the hell. There is nothing with which to charge her and the illusion of something being there sustains them in their time of Donald Trump.

Sadly, I revert to the commonplace: let sleeping dogs lie.

My support for Hillary Clinton hasn’t wavered this election cycle, nor will it. The rise of the World Wide Web — with its increased visibility of the human condition — has changed politics forever. I don’t know if it is good, bad or irrelevant. We know more about what people are willing to say in public and it’s a poor reflection of the homes and K-12 schools in which they came up. Hillary won’t fix these things or what ails society — what politician could? I’m not sure they need fixing.

2016 makes the need for people to get along in society crystal clear. Not just locally, but globally. We are doing a wretched job of that right now. It may be beyond humanity’s capacity to get along, even if our lives depend upon it, as some of us believe they do.

Instead of trying to say something profound, I’ll post a video: Patty Judge’s first television ad. We haven’t tuned on our TV set for a couple of years, but she’s trailing the incumbent by 8 points and needs our help.

Watch this, then write a check or volunteer or both.

That’s all I have to say about the 2016 campaign as summer turns to fall and communities get busy with school, the harvest, and with looking forward to next year’s hope.

I believe there is reason to hope and so should you.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

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August Is No Recess When Working Poor

Working the Garden

Working the Garden

School is out for Iowans who work yet remain on the margins of society.

There is no recess from the constant demand to secure basic needs of food, shelter and clothing. The add-on expenses of transportation, health care, interest on loans, and servicing addictions? It’s a question of what gets priority each week.

Last summer I wrote about two issues: how work is not valued adequately and how compensation is a murky endeavor at best. There is a third: the resilience of people who work and are poor.

This August I work four jobs writing, in retail, and on two farms. After a 25-year career in transportation and logistics, our family balance sheet looks better than most of my low-wage peers. I can afford the experience. I’m one of the few workers who keeps a balance sheet because most live paycheck to paycheck sustaining their lives with inadequate income. I don’t see how people can make it, but they do.

I’m cautious when writing about peers because my narrative is grounded in real people with lives. It is important to show respect and maintain their privacy. I won’t write about anyone with whom I am currently working unless they already are a public figure. That rules out most everyone.

A significant number of my peers are aged 14 through 18 and live at home with parents or grandparents. Their money is spent on personal expenses and they are full of confidence and hope — enough so to be inspiring. There are also spouses and significant others where the partner works a big job with benefits and their low wage income adds to the household. There are the “special people” whose stories are so different they garner attention easily.

The person living in a car with her dog, boarding her horse with a co-worker while figuring out what to do next; the woman in an abusive relationship attempting to hide bruises with makeup; the man who has trouble standing for a shift on a concrete floor yet tolerates it because he needs the income; the small-time loan shark recently arrived from Chicago who heard from friends there are jobs and cheap living in the Cedar Rapids – Iowa City corridor. These stories capture the imagination, but in my view are too “special.” I’d rather write about plain folk like myself. My takeaway is no one who works for low wages has given up and that too is inspiring.

Many of us have lives where there is more to do than time allows. We have to set priorities. Approaching Medicare age it is hard for me to keep up with everything while working fours jobs. I don’t. Mowing the lawn falls to the bottom of the list and the long grass becomes habitat for birds and small animals. The garden is producing with abundance and I struggle to preserve enough of it for winter before it goes to compost. I have trouble staying awake on my daily drive across the lakes to work in Coralville. My challenges aren’t unique. The thing is I’ve worked a big job with benefits and wouldn’t go back for anything.

Once a person accepts the decency of most people, and what we share in interests, working poor are no longer a cipher or story for journalists and social scientists. They are one of us, more than we acknowledge.

If August is no recess, life is still pretty good because there are people who behave as if the amount of money we make is less important than seeking ways to help each other get along. That is as good as it gets.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

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Dave Loebsack 10 Years In

Representatives Collin Peterson and Dave Loebsack - July 2013

Representatives Collin Peterson and Dave Loebsack – July 2013

When I first volunteered to support Dave Loebsack for congress it was a dicey endeavor.

In 2004 I’d supported Dave Franker and he was not the best of candidates. He seemed a throw-away placed on the ballot next to Jim Leach to fill an empty slot. He was serious about his candidacy, but others were not. “Slot-man” would be a good moniker for Franker as he filled the space on the ballot and had very little real support. I was skeptical Loebsack, a Cornell College political science professor, could get elected either.

Leach lost me when he chaired the House Banking Committee’s investigation of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s real estate investments in the Whitewater Development Corporation near Flippin, Arkansas. What else was there to do but support Loebsack? I was in.

Each Tuesday I faithfully arrived to volunteer at Loebsack’s campaign office in Iowa City. What I found, through hundreds of phone calls, was people were tired of Republicans, including Leach. After a while it became clear Loebsack stood a good chance of upsetting Leach. I’m glad he did.

Ten years in, Loebsack has had his ups and downs in support among people who first elected him. While some called for a primary challenge, the only person who did challenge Loebsack, State Senator Joe Seng, ran a weird and subdued campaign and never stood a chance. As recent elections of Terry Branstad and Joni Ernst indicate, the days of Harold Hughes and Tom Harkin liberals in statewide elected office are well over until something changes in the electorate. While no politician is perfect, and other bloggers may argue the point, Loebsack has been liberal enough when it mattered most.

This year Republicans nominated their own slot-man, Coralville surgeon Chris Peters. Since his first re-election, Loebsack has faced a doctor four times and a lawyer once. It is as if Republicans believe the professional class is somehow most qualified to beat an incumbent congressman in Iowa. None of them has gained adequate traction and there is little to indicate 2016 will be their year in the Second Congressional District.

What distinguishes Chris Peters from previous Loebsack challengers is his libertarian leanings. What I mean here is his feeble attempts to participate in the populist uprising against neo-liberalism, as described recently by Martin Jacques in the Guardian.

“Populism is a movement against the status quo,” Jacques wrote. “It represents the beginnings of something new, though it is generally much clearer about what it is against than what it is for. It can be progressive or reactionary, but more usually both.”

Iowans benefit from international trade in soy, corn, beef and pork. To the extent they do, they tend to favor what Jacques describes as the “hyper-globalization era systematically stacked in favor of capital against labor.” This is the hallmark of neo-liberalism, something both Republicans and many Democrats participate in. The Trump campaign is opposed to neo-liberalism and wants to take us back to a freaky version of 1950s America in the midst of the post-World War II economic boom. That may play well among Republicans in predominantly white Iowa, however, voters have not embraced it.

Peters has not distinguished himself from the Republican pabulum about taxes, free market solutions, isolationism and school choice to his campaign’s detriment. He embraces the swill of ideas. Trump may win Iowa, and if he does, it will be because of the Republican Party of Iowa’s well-organized ground game. If one talks to Republicans rationalizing support for their 2016 presidential nominee, the argument is less about Donald Trump and more about supporting their party when party means something. Peters should latch on to the coat tails if he is anything other than a slot-man. He didn’t ask for my advice.

What enables Dave Loebsack’s re-elections is the popular appeal of his story of growing up in poverty and the importance of government programs in lifting him up. As a Congressman he appears to have followed Bob Dylan’s advice in Subterranean Homesick Blues, “Don’t wear sandals; Try to avoid scandals.” While not the most flashy member of congress, he shows up for work and attempts to serve constituents. Loebsack spends almost every weekend with constituents in the district — those who support him and those who don’t. This gives him a reliable finger on the pulse of the district, something a doctor could appreciate and any challenger would find a formidable obstacle.

Will Loebsack get re-elected? Not unless voters stand up for him again. As a seasoned campaign operative and political science professor, Loebsack knows how to manage his re-election effort. He built a political mechanism to seek insight into the district and has established relationships with movers and shakers in the Congress. (One almost tires of his stories about who he met last week in the Congressional gym). Loebsack brings a who’s who of prominent politicians to the district. Recent guests included Steny Hoyer, Deborah Wasserman Schultz, Collin Peterson, Tammy Baldwin, Tulsi Gabbard and others. This cements his relationship with many of his politically active supporters and helps build relationships he will need to get things done in the Congress.

Dave Loebsack’s chances are pretty good for election to a sixth term. My only regret is he is limited to two years at a time.

I don’t presume to know Loebsack’s plans but he has sponsored legislation restricting the revolving door from the Congress into lobbying. Expect him to follow his own bill and stay in Congress at least until full retirement age. If he seeks to remain in Congress until then, that means we’ll likely have to re-elect him in 2018.

I’m in now and will be in in 2018 if we are that lucky.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

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A NATO Nuclear Weapons Problem

B-61 Nuclear Bombs in Storage

B-61 Nuclear Bombs in Storage

One risk of U.S. nuclear weapons deployed in NATO countries is that security may fail and bombs could fall into unknown hands.

During the recent coup attempt in Turkey, Turkish forces surrounded the U.S. Air Force base at Incirlik (where several dozen Cold War era B-61 gravity bombs are vaulted), cut off electrical power, and temporarily closed the air space around the base as they repelled the coup attempt.

“General Bekir Ercan Van, the commander of Turkey’s Incirlik airbase, which is used both by the Turkish Air Force and NATO forces, has been detained by Turkish authorities accused of complicity in the attempted coup,” according to RT News and covered by the Wall Street Journal (Paywall). “The senior Turkish military commander was arrested along with over a dozen lower ranking officers at the base. A government official has confirmed that the general has been detained.”

The bombs were secured… this time.

Is the risk of nuclear weapons deployment worth the reward? It isn’t.

During a recent heavy rain storm, water got into our basement where a box of political memorabilia was dampened. I spread the contents on the living room floor to dry, and while putting them away found half a dozen responses from U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley during my advocacy to ratify the New START Treaty with Russia signed April 8, 2010.

Grassley responded in a formulaic manner, indicating staff had written the response. In his last letter before the Senate vote, which I believe Grassley wrote, he acknowledged my advocacy and said simply he disagreed. New START was ratified without Senator Grassley’s vote.

While the existence of nuclear weapons and their deployment is said to be an apolitical defense strategy, it isn’t. As long as U.S. nuclear weapons exist and are deployed, there is a risk of a security failure after which they could fall into the wrong hands. I’m not the first to say nuclear weapons serve no practical purpose and can never be used.

If you want to learn more about what happened during the Turkish coup and what it means, here are some links to articles about it.

The H-Bombs in Turkey by Eric Schlosser, author of Command and Control, The New Yorker, News Desk July 17.

Should the U.S. Pull Its Nuclear Weapons From Turkey? by Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. and Kori Schake, fellow at the Hoover Institution, July 20, The New York Times.

U.S. planes grounded at key Turkish air base in fight against ISIS after coup attempt by Dan Lamothe, National security writer for The Washington Post, The Washington Post, July 16.

Turkey Arrests Incirlik Air Base Commander by Julian E. Barnes, he covers the Department of Defense and national security issues from The Wall Street Journal, The Wall Street Journal, July 17 (Paywall).

The Coup and the Crackdown: Turkey and American Foreign Policy by Trevor Hill, senior fellow for the Cato Institute’s Defense and Foreign Policy Department, CATO at Liberty, July 18.

The U.S. stores nuclear weapons in Turkey. Is that such a good idea? by Dan Lamothe, National security writer for The Washington Post, July 19, The Washington Post.

How safe are US nukes in Turkey? by Barbara Starr and Ryan Browne, CNN, July 19.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

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Opioids: A Conjured Crisis

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack scolded the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine about opioid abuse on Friday.

The institution is not doing enough to train its soon-to-be health professionals on an opioid abuse epidemic that claims thousands of lives a year nationally, Vilsack said, according to the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

The university just got the word about its role in the opioid abuse epidemic last week. According to the article,

After Vilsack’s remarks, UI Health Care medical affairs vice president and dean of the medical college Jean Robillard told The Gazette the institution does plan to make changes in the way it teaches med students about prescribing opioids. He said the UI received information on it from the White House earlier this week.

Vilsack oversees the White House Rural Council, established by executive order on June 9, 2011 by President Obama. Opioid abuse is on a long list of maladies that impact rural communities. It is one issue among many the council hopes to address.

News media and politicians have made much of opioid abuse. Facts suggest at 28,648 (2014) annual deaths related to opioids — including heroin, hydrocodone and oxycodone — abuse is not a leading cause of death in the United States. It’s not even among the Centers for Disease Control’s top ten causes of death, with heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, unintentional injuries and stroke being much more prevalent.

What gives?

Fanning the embers of opioid abuse into a raging wildfire serves the interests of Big Pharma and its minions in the U.S. Congress. The opioid epidemic represents another opportunity for corporations to mold government in a way that serves their interests.

We’ve seen this before with methamphetamine abuse. Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town by Nick Reding makes the case that it’s less a drug’s addictive propensity than a combination of economic policy, government complicity with Big Pharma, and corporate policies that are behind the degradation of rural communities like Oelwein, Iowa, the subject of his book.

The short version is when meth had its fiery burn into the media atmosphere, corporations used it as an opportunity to control importation of key ingredients to a profitable cold medicine in a way that led to many small-scale meth lab busts in Iowa, and the rise of methamphetamine trade among Mexican drug cartels. The opportunity regarding opioids may be a little different, but why wouldn’t Big Pharma want another bite from the apple?

It is ironic that Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign, part of the “war on drugs,” was window dressing to her husband’s economic policies that drove the underlying causes of abuse and addiction, not only in small towns, but throughout the country.

People suffer from many types of addiction and neither government nor the insurance companies that drive health care are doing much to address them. opioid abuse is an issue, yet the bigger issue is related to the growing divide between the richest Americans and the rest of us, corporate influence in government, and a K-12 education system that inadequately prepares children to sustain themselves in a society where corporations have the upper hand.

Opioids? Schmopioids! Let’s have a conversation about appropriate school curricula, something Vilsack addressed Friday in a weird, special interest kind of way.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

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Not Quite A Tornado

This gallery contains 4 photos.

The rush of summer events is almost too much. August’s four jobs, combined with kitchen-garden work has been a constant whirl of activity. The lawn is showing my priority. It is long and tangled — a nesting place for rabbits, … Continue reading

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