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Living in Society

Summer Holiday

Police boot on a car violating street parking rules in Skokie, Illinois, June 25, 2022.

Thank you readers for sticking with me as I work through how to write in public in 2022. To write more meaningfully, I’m taking summer holiday to recharge my batteries and find inspiration for the next chapter of this blog.

I am working on some projects, which I will post here, notably, my upcoming interview with progressive talker Thom Hartmann scheduled this week. I’m also reviewing his upcoming book. I’m filling in a few days at Blog for Iowa this summer and anything I post there, I’ll cross post here. If I write any letters to the editors of newspapers, I’ll also cross post here. Mainly, I’ve gone on break, though.

As Robert Johnson wrote, “And I’m standing at the crossroads, believe I’m sinking down.”

I hope you will rejoin me in the fall.

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Living in Society

Second Amendment Not Good Enough for Republicans

Iowa Capitol

Republican lawmakers twice passed an amendment to the Iowa Constitution which will appear on the Nov. 8 ballot. I urge readers to vote no.

According to House Majority Leader Matt Windschitl, “The Freedom Amendment is the proposal to enshrine in our state constitution protections for our Second Amendment rights.”

Most Americans appreciate the Bill of Rights. So do I. Here’s the Second Amendment:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

What Republicans propose isn’t the same:

“The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. The sovereign state of Iowa affirms and recognizes this right to be a fundamental individual right. Any and all restrictions of this right shall be subject to strict scrutiny.”

Whoa buddy! This isn’t the language written by the founders in 1789. It is lawyered up with terms like “sovereign state” and “strict scrutiny.”

Republicans are tampering with our Second Amendment rights. They would infringe on rights that stood since the founders wrote them and the states ratified the Bill of Rights. 

Readers should pay attention on Nov. 8 and vote no on this bogus constitutional amendment that reduces our rights, protecting nothing.

~ A version of this letter appeared at the Des Moines Register on June 23, 2022.

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Living in Society

No Summer Vacation in Politics

Iowa Democratic Party Chair Ross Wilburn at the state convention, June 18, 2022.

My dance card is rapidly filling and there is no relenting until the end of the year. With the primary elections in the rear view mirror, it’s hammer down until the Nov. 8 election.

I attended what I hope is my last state Democratic convention in Des Moines on Saturday. I participated in the Senior and Retiree Constituency Caucus where we briefly heard from Admiral Mike Franken. The agenda for the caucus was unclear since officers had previously been elected and there was no new business. Some attendees complained about the types of benefits currently received from Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other retirement programs. They wanted more benefits, which is understandable. What Democrats need to do in the midterm election is elect majorities in the U.S. Senate and House so we can at least retain what we have. If Republicans win majorities, they have stated publicly they intend to sunset Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid every five years unless the Congress extends them. While Biden will veto such legislation, I’m not sure voters understand this is at stake.

Parade season, a mainstay of political campaigns, is upon us. At the convention I overheard someone who lives in a rural area say, “People are hesitant to walk in parades because they don’t want to get yelled at for being a Democrat.” There has always been some support and hate from crowds at parades. Part of being a Democrat is standing up to both the good and bad by walking in community parades along with any member of the community that wants to join. While voter concerns about harassment in heavily Republican areas are understandable, it doesn’t have to be that way. Republicans could choose decency and respect for people with whom they don’t agree. We Democrats can’t give up before we get started.

The political speeches at the convention were fine. The messaging was consistent: set aside our differences and focus on winning in November. Much is at stake. Continued Republican rule could be disastrous for everything we have come to rely upon in our government. It has already been a disaster.

I’m having to decline invitations to political events because there are so many of them. I don’t know what we can win this cycle, yet we are about to find out. Tally ho!

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Living in Society

Personal Transportation

2019 Chevrolet Spark LT

Our 2002 Subaru reached the end of its life. The frame is dangerously rusted and other repairs are needed. We can’t get parts for it. If we could find used parts there is no assurance of their quality. If repairing it was possible, what else might break that we couldn’t find parts to repair? We decided to replace the vehicle as quickly as is practicable.

The fact we need motorized personal transportation is a result of our 1993 decision to live in a rural area. Back then, living within commuting distance of Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Coralville, North Liberty and the Quad-Cities sounded good. I wanted the flexibility for work. Over time, I worked in all of these places. When in February 1999 I took a job in the Quad-Cities, gasoline was $1.029 per gallon. We inherited a 1989 Cadillac in excellent condition and I continued to commute rather than relocate there. Things have changed since then. We retired and turned our lives inward.

Our need for transportation is real. We have the same existential errands as other septuagenarian retirees: getting groceries and other household items, medical appointments, and occasional trips to the county administration building to take care of business. With the coronavirus pandemic, our trips for socialization have diminished, yet that may change going forward. It all takes transportation.

We spent time researching what kind of vehicle we wanted to purchase and first decided on a new plug-in electric hybrid like the Toyota Prius Prime. A number of friends drive a Prius and they recommended it. The future of personal transportation is electric and we were ready to make the transition.

After family discussions I called the dealer to discuss ordering a plug-in electric and secured a loan to pay for it. It turns out dealerships are subject to allocations from the manufacturer, all Prius products are made in Japan, and the waiting time for a Prius Prime to be delivered is well over six months. In fact, the dealer said he couldn’t accurately predict how long we would have to wait after specifying and ordering a car. For other Prius models, the wait time is less, three to six months according to the dealership. We couldn’t wait that long with the issues affecting our auto.

Our go-to dealership for used cars is the Ford-Chevy dealer in a nearby small town. I arrived around 1:30 p.m. on Thursday and they had my contact information in their computer database from the last purchase. We discussed new vehicles and they have the same problem Toyota does: allocation of vehicles from the manufacturer is less than demand and there is a long waiting time. We looked at used vehicles.

Their website had 147 used vehicles in inventory, but the in-person inspection revealed only a couple of them were suitable for us. The sales representatives at this dealership are paid on salary vs. commission and made a conscious effort to be honest and straightforward about the cars without exerting any kind of sales pressure. I identified two options and went back home to discuss. We returned to the dealership later that evening to buy a 2019 Chevrolet Spark LT. Used cars are currently expensive and selling quickly. We didn’t want to miss the opportunity on this particular vehicle. It took longer than anticipated to finish the paperwork so we returned the following day to meet with the business office and finalize the deal. The vehicle was delivered to our home less than 24 hours after I first arrived at the dealership.

On Saturday we went on a day trip to Des Moines in the Spark and it meets our expectations. As a subcompact hatchback, the cargo space is less than we would have liked, yet it will serve until we are ready to go electric. It drives well and there are a number of electronic gizmos to figure out, including how to display Google maps on the touch screen using my Android mobile device. When I bought my first auto in the 1960s, accessories like that didn’t exist. The fuel economy is better than our 2002 Subaru. We were able to make it to Des Moines and back without refueling. Importantly, we can start planning trips again.

I don’t want to contemplate the day when I have to give up driving. I have octogenarian friends who continue to drive and hope to be able to go at least that long. I don’t relish the thought of moving into a city to be closer to amenities. We navigated this crisis in personal transportation and reached a point of stability for now. That may be all we can ask in June 2022.

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Living in Society

Bits and Pieces of a Life

Newly installed bench on the state park trail, Spring 2022.

Mid-June, the garden is in full production and expected to remain so until September. With everything going on in society — politics, transportation, and malarkey from Republicans — it has been difficult to focus on writing. Maybe at some point I can walk to this bench and take a rest. Not now, though. There is too much else to do.

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Living in Society

Dissolving Society

Rural Polling Place

If Iowa Republicans had their way, society as we know it would be dissolved, leaving scattered family units headed by white, male patriarchs. We would enter a life that was a combination of a Darwinian struggle for existence, non-denominational religion, and rugged individualism. Such families would have many children. Women would be allowed to continue to vote… for now. If one listens to Republican rants from the state capitol, some already believe their chosen tribal relationships are in place.

When Republicans declare war on trans people, or others who don’t lead what they consider to be a traditional life, they will fight until every one of them has been run out of the state or marginalized. The same applies to what’s taught in schools. It’s a crusade. The culture wars are more sinister if we don’t recognize their inherent neoliberalism.

Without saying what they were doing, Governor Kim Reynolds and the Republican crew embraced a conservative form of neoliberalism that includes private school vouchers, reducing taxes, gutting government spending, reducing licensing requirements, and tactics such as under funding the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to minimize the impact of regulations on business. Their unspoken goal is to enable the invisible hand of a global free market to work its magic. It’s as if they were students of Adam Smith at Milton Friedman’s Chicago school. There was even a Grover Norquist opinion in the June 7 edition of the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

Understanding the commonalities between Iowa Republicans and neoliberalism doesn’t make us feel better. It helps us understand what is at stake during the coming elections.

Thom Hartmann says the end of the neoliberalism era that began with the election of Ronald Reagan is at hand. What’s next? Voters gave Obama a chance to make changes. When he didn’t or couldn’t make needed changes in our politics, they gave Trump a try.

The surge in Trump support in the 2020 Iowa election is due largely to a lie he perpetrated that he was a populist candidate. His policies did little other than support the flow of money to the richest Americans while impoverishing the rest of us. He was hardly populist despite the fandom. Governor Kim Reynolds and Senator Chuck Grassley enjoy the support of the grifting ex-president. Reynolds posted she was honored to have it.

Where do we go from here?

People don’t like neoliberalism when they know how it impacts their lives. I would argue Iowa under Kim Reynolds is a textbook example of it. We must point out the neoliberalism inherent in current Republican rule every chance we get. We must do so for as long as it takes to get voters to recognize it. Before that, we ourselves must understand and be able to articulate the meaning of neoliberalism in 2022 Iowa.

It is not helpful that voter turnout in the 2022 Democratic primary election was lower in our county compared to 2018. We hear about doing things different and rural outreach, yet 82 percent of Iowa’s Democratic primary votes cast were in the 26 most populous counties. It is hard to see how any rural outreach would benefit Democrats given that scenario.

Iowa Democrats have no one who stands out as a populist candidate at present. While President Joe Biden is doing good work, the slim majorities Democrats hold in the House and Senate prevent him from doing more. Given the partisan divide of the legislature, Biden has actually accomplished a lot in his brief tenure. Biden’s age is apparent in his mannerisms and speech, yet his policies reflect a righteous attempt to reverse the ravages of neoliberalism. He believe society as we knew it is something that should endure, as should we all.

Where do we go from here? It is an open question.

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Living in Society

First Night of Jan. 6, 2021 Hearings

Our television tuned to C-SPAN for first Jan. 6 Committee hearing.

C-SPAN filled the half hour before the Jan. 6 committee hearing with Republicans whining about how Democrats were the worst. House Minority Leader Mark Meadows reviewed how many days remain until the midterm election (153) and made it clear House Republicans will delay and obfuscate until then. Meadows didn’t say it specifically yet they predict regaining majorities in both legislative chambers. This will position Republicans to return to their radical agenda. God help us.

The benefit of the televised hearing was the committee created a narrative of what happened before and on Jan. 6, 2021 in Washington, D.C. The piecemeal manner in which information had been published as it became known made it difficult for regular citizens to make sense of it. This hearing was a remedy for that. Some things are very clear.

Donald Trump lost the 2020 presidential election. His advisors, including Attorney General Bill Barr testified they repeatedly told him he lost, beginning in November 2020. While under pressure to do so, Vice President Mike Pence did not delay the Constitutionally required electoral ballot count as Trump requested publicly and privately. Chants of “hang Pence” were heard on video footage presented by the committee. When the violence subsided, the count was made, indicating Donald Trump lost the election.

Trump supported the violence. “Aware of the rioters’ chants to ‘hang Mike Pence,’ the president responded with this sentiment: ‘Maybe our supporters have the right idea,’” Liz Cheney (R-WYO) said. “Mike Pence ‘deserves’ it.’”

When repeatedly asked to call off the mob breaching the capitol, the president declined to do so for a number of hours. In evidence presented during the hearing, Trump encouraged the mob to assault the capitol and stop the vote counting.

“The violence was no accident,” Committee Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) said as he opened the hearing. “It represented Trump’s last, most desperate chance to halt the transfer of power. And ultimately, Donald Trump — the president of the United States — spurred a mob of domestic enemies of the Constitution to march down the Capitol and subvert American democracy.”

The events around storming the capitol building were violent. We heard testimony from Caroline Edwards, a Capitol police officer who was injured while defending a barricade. 140 security personnel were injured. There was video footage of violent conflict and use of force to gain entry to the capitol. The video erased any doubt this was a peaceful demonstration gone wrong as some have asserted.

There was a crude yet clear plan for what to do. The Proud Boys, an American far-right, Neo-fascist organization that promotes and engages in political violence in the United States, planned to assault the capitol building. The morning of Jan. 6, they assembled near it, not on the Ellipse, where Donald Trump was to give his speech. The Proud Boys played a leadership role in planning and executing the tactics of the day’s events. Thus far, five leaders of the group were federally indicted on seditious conspiracy charges. Many other members and affiliates have been indicted on lesser charges. There could be more.

The two-hour hearing drained my energy yet I stuck with it until the end. President Trump was so far off the reservation with his lies about the 2020 election and his efforts to subvert it I needed the hearing to regain some sense of reasonable discourse. We will never be the same after the Trump presidency. It is hard to find a silver lining in that thunderstorm.

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Living in Society

Iowans Need a Voice not a Parrot

Woman Writing Letter

It’s time to elect a Democrat in the First Congressional District, one that will listen to voters after arriving in Washington. That person is Democrat Christina Bohannan.

With the close election of Nov. 3, 2020, decided April 1, 2021 when Rita Hart withdrew her contest from the House Committee on Administration, Mariannette Miller-Meeks had a choice. Either address the concerns of a divided electorate much as Representatives Jim Leach and Dave Loebsack did before her or do something else. What she did was unexpected and unwelcome.

Almost immediately the congresswoman became a parrot for Republican talking points, adopting an “all of the above” energy strategy developed by the oil, coal and gas industries. Society must stop using fossil fuels. This policy is bad for her constituents.

NOAA recently noted carbon dioxide pollution in the atmosphere hit 421 ppm and continues to increase — more than 50 percent higher than pre-industrial times, a level not seen since millions of years ago.

Miller-Meeks’ junket to COP 26 with the Republican Climate Caucus resulted in her parroting the “all of the above” energy strategy including development of more fossil fuel capacity. Since Russian fuel exports were sanctioned in its war with Ukraine, Miller-Meeks doubled down on this misguided policy.

Voters need a voice in Washington, not a parrot of right-wing talking points. Miller-Meeks works for us, not the fossil fuel industry. She had her chance. It’s time to elect Christina Bohannan on Nov. 8.

~ First published in The Little Village on June 7, 2022.

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Living in Society

Election Returns Tonight

Solon baseball field.

Today’s task is to find something useful to do while waiting for primary election returns after 8 p.m. tonight. There are a number of results-watching gatherings around the county. I don’t like driving after dark, so it will be me at my computer staying up past my bedtime.

The county has a number of contested races with key legislators Mary Mascher, Joe Bolkcom, and Christina Bohannan deciding to leave the legislature at the end of this term. Usually, these have been secure seats where there was no contest, and re-election assured. Change is in the future of the Johnson County delegation to the legislature.

I’m also interested in Linn County’s races, particularly the Molly Donahue-Austin Frerick Iowa Senate Race. I favor Donahue. I would also like to see Liz Bennett win her state senate primary over Joe Zahorik. The rest of the contests are less interesting yet important to follow. Based on who filed in which district, it seems unlikely Democrats will gain control of either chamber of the legislature this cycle.

In my precinct, the U.S. Senate, Secretary of State, and County Supervisor primaries are the only contested races. Our precinct has been losing Democrats over the past ten years, so I’m interested in how we turn out and vote because I’m not sure how our state legislative electorate will evolve. Losing Cedar County and gaining Iowa County will no doubt make it more conservative overall. I’m watching the Republican race to challenge Elle Wyant, although it seems a foregone conclusion Brad Sherman will win among the six candidates.

The weather is forecast to be mild so I’ll work in the garden. I’m also writing a letter to the editor due to be submitted and published after the primary. There is plenty to do as we await the results. I’ll have more to say after the winners are known.

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Living in Society

Last Primary Rally

Michael Franken Rally at Lower City Park, Iowa City, Iowa on June 5, 2022.

When asked, most attendees at the Michael Franken for U.S. Senate River-to-River rally in Iowa City raised their hands to indicate they had voted early in the June 7 Democratic Primary election. In Johnson County, we like voting early. The River-to-River rallies may be the final hurrah for Franken, although the election is a jump ball between him and Abby Finkenauer. If he wins, he’s ready for the general election campaign. If he doesn’t… well, let’s not talk about that.

It’s an insular crowd in the county seat. When a friend introduced me as a member of the central committee, a woman said she didn’t know all the candidates on the ballot and the Democratic Party should do more to get the word out. I said I would raise the issue at the July meeting, She went to the farmers market to meet candidates. Some of them weren’t there when she was, and she was surprised when their names appeared on the absentee ballot. I suggested doing what I did: look at the sample ballot when published and research the ones where more information was needed. The farmer’s market is not where most county residents go to learn about candidates, I said. She didn’t believe there were any significant number of voters outside Iowa City and everyone should be able to find out about candidates at the farmers market. It takes all kinds to make a Democratic Party.

Present at the rally were political friends made during the run up to the 2008 Iowa Caucus when Democrats fielded eight major candidates and activists got to meet them all if they wanted. I worked Sunday’s rally crowd as time allowed. There were so many with whom to discuss politics and the pent up social longing created by the coronavirus pandemic. It was a picture-perfect day for it.

I’ll support the Democrat who wins the primary election in the general. I’ve had enough face time with Franken to have my issues addressed and some of them incorporated into his stump speech. It is hard to predict what Iowa Democrats will do on Tuesday, yet I’m hoping they pick Michael Franken for U.S. Senate.