Social Commentary Writing

Media’s Theft From The Commons

Iowa City Press Citizen Jan. 23, 2019

“Right-wing media have been laying the groundwork for Trump’s acquittal for half a century,” Nicole Hemmer wrote in the New York Times. “These tactics (i.e. minimize Trump’s transgressions and paint a picture of non-stop Democratic scandals) are not inventions of the Trump era. They are part of a decades-long strategy by the right to secure political power — a strategy originating in conservative media.”

For a student of history the story is not only about conservative mass media beginning in the mid-20th Century. It goes further back.

It’s been a few decades since I finished graduate school yet I remember we studied nineteenth century newspapers from the Old West in Kansas, Oklahoma, and the like. They were mainly gossip sheets in which people could and did say just about anything. Whatever was needed to engage locals and sell advertising, whether it was true or not. It is a part of human nature to want to hear gossip and the outrageous things that may or may not be going on in a community.

What’s different now is corporations have exploited this aspect of human nature to generate revenue. They’ve been successful at doing so. In a way, right wing media is yet another corporate theft from the commons.

One can’t make the argument that media has ever been without bias. Journalists, editors, and even historians have their implicit point of view which may or may not serve the truth or other human needs. I’m thinking here of the work of Howard Zinn, David Hackett Fischer, Clifford Geertz and others.

Joan Didion described it as well as anyone, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” What we hadn’t planned for was the malicious intent of people who would come to dominate news and information sources, and the role that would play in the stories we tell ourselves.

The first sign of trouble should have been when our favorite news personalities began to earn millions of dollars annually for what should have been a public service. That Sean Hannity earns $40 million per year is all one needs to know about FOX News. Even Walter Cronkite earned close to a million.

My media behavior toward this impeachment effort is similar to during the Nixon and Clinton proceedings. I tune it out. One exception though. While I’m still in bed, before I turn the light on, I pick up my phone and read Heather Cox Richardson’s daily letter. It’s about all that I can take. Is she biased? Of course. But my tolerance for the biases of Phillips Exeter Academy and Harvard where she was educated is a bit higher. Plus she feeds my confirmation bias.

Social Commentary Writing

Errand Day

Hot peppers gleaned from the garden before the first frost.

When we had insufficient income to pay bills few errands were run.

We made almost no home repairs, delayed maintenance on everything, and minimized activities that required resources not on hand.

Now that our retirement income is set, and supplemented with a couple of extra jobs, I can afford to run errands. Yesterday I did so for the first time in a while.

The day began in the kitchen. Using onions and Swiss chard from the farm I made frittata for breakfast. Next, I sliced apples and filled the dehydrator. Sunday is the county party’s fall barbecue so I tested a recipe for applesauce cake to see if it would fit in the foil pans I bought for potlucks. The recipe fit without modification. In between this cookery I managed to glean the garden, bringing in peppers and tomatoes that would be damaged by frost. The kale looks really good right now and a freeze would make it taste better.

I cut five pieces of applesauce cake, put them on a plate, covered with foil, then delivered them to the public library while still warm. The librarian was making tea so the timing was perfect.

Next stop was the orchard where I hiked half an hour up and down hills, picking five varieties of apples: Regent, Crimson Crisp, Mutsu, Fuji, and New York 315. I also got some Snow Sweet and Honeycrisp in the sales barn. The season is about over yet there are lots of apples remaining on the trees.

From the orchard I drove to the recycling center in the parking lot of the former Hy-Vee supermarket on North Dodge Street. This is my go-to place for paper and magazine recycling. With our new clean-up project we are getting rid of lots of old magazines, too many for the curbside bin.

I pulled into nearby Hy-Vee where I bought organic celery and a packet of Morningstar Farms Recipe Crumbles for a pot of chili planned over the weekend. I’d been discussing nutritional yeast with one of the orchard owners so I bought a small container of Bragg’s brand to try it. The recipe we discussed was serving boiled or baked potatoes with a sprinkling of nutritional yeast and a dollop of yogurt. I’m now one step closer to trying it. They did not have the organic mayonnaise I sought, so I continued to Trader Joe’s.

Trader Joe’s is a store on the island that is the Iowa River Landing. This 180-acre mixed use development borders on the weird side. An arena is being built there and there are high rise apartment buildings, a hotel, a university-affiliated clinic and retail outlets. Despite having a range of activities, there is no sense of community at Iowa River Landing. I picked up two jars of organic mayonnaise and two of French Dijon Mustard. Staff was very friendly.

Westward to a big box home improvement store where I sought a replacement baseboard register for one of the bathrooms. Borrowing a tape measure from staff, I found the one I needed. On the way out I made an impulse purchase of a small bottle of 50:1 fuel mix for my trimmer. Expensive, but the right fuel is important for high-speed, small engines. My trimmer has been repaired twice since I purchased it so paying extra for proper fuel.

Final stop on the loop of the county seat was a drug store where I bought sundries, then drove home through three roundabouts and over two lakes.

Later that afternoon we went to the public library where Jacque delivered a book project she’d been working on as a volunteer and picked up the next. While she reviewed things with staff, I browsed the used book cart to see what was available.

I eschewed community cookbooks this time (how many of those can a person digest?) and bought good copies of a couple of works on my reading list. I also bought Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  by Philip K. Dick and In Her Kitchen: Stories and Recipes from Grandmas Around the World by Gabriele Galimberti, the latter of which I read last night. What a marvelous book of women’s stories, recipes, and photos of the women with their ingredients facing a photo of the dish they created.

Moving from low wages to an adequate retirement income won’t make us rich, except in the ability to get out, run errands, visit with friends, and buy things we need to sustain our lives in a turbulent world.

Nuclear Abolition Social Commentary

Anniversary No One Wants to Remember

Wildflowers – Summer 2019

Friday will be the anniversary of one of the most sensational mass murders in United States history.

While the Aug. 9, 1945 atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Japan was far worse in terms of premeditation, number of human deaths, and physical destruction, I’m talking about the 50th anniversary of the murders of actress Sharon Tate and friends, followed the next night by the murders of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca.

I’d be willing to bet major news media coverage mentions the Tate-LaBianca murders and not Nagasaki. We’ll see grainy images of the late Charles Manson whose colleagues committed the crimes. Then the narrative will move on, perhaps to one of the president’s posts in social media, or some both-sider discussion of administration policy.

No one was prosecuted for the bombing of Nagasaki, even though it was the greater crime. Who will even remember Nagasaki other than nuclear abolition advocates and the few remaining people who were there?

Here is bomber co-pilot Fred Olivi’s account of his experience dropping the atomic bomb on Nagasaki:

Suddenly, the light of a thousand suns illuminated the cockpit. Even with my dark welder’s goggles, I winced and shut my eyes for a couple of seconds. I guessed we were about seven miles from “ground zero” and headed directly away from the target, yet the light blinded me for an instant. I had never experienced such an intense bluish light, maybe three or four times brighter than the sun shining above us.

I’ve never seen anything like it! Biggest explosion I’ve ever seen…This plume of smoke I’m seeing is hard to explain. A great white mass of flame is seething within the white mushroom shaped cloud. It has a pinkish, salmon color. The base is black and is breaking a little way down from the mushroom.

One would think the “light of a thousand suns” eclipses sensational coverage of a gruesome murder binge fifty years ago. We’ll see if major news outlets see it the same way on Friday.

Politics Social Commentary

Jimmy Carter and Prejudice Against Women

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

On Jan. 19, 1976, the day of the Iowa precinct caucuses that started Jimmy Carter on a path from relative obscurity to becoming the Democratic nominee for president, I was in U.S. Army Basic Training at Fort Jackson, S.C.

I didn’t really care who became president because anyone would be better than Richard Nixon.

As we now know, “Uncommitted” won the presidential preference that year getting 37 percent of the delegates with Carter coming in second with 28 percent. He became president and served for a single term from 1977 until 1981.

On July 19 Carter announced he was losing his religion. “Women and girls have been discriminated against for too long in a twisted interpretation of the word of God,” he said.

After six decades in the Southern Baptist Convention, at the point when leadership determined that women must be subservient to men, he decided to leave.

“At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime,” Carter wrote. “But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.”

The view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief, he said.

Read Carter’s entire article in The Age here. What is the context for Carter losing his religion?

Earlier in July and before Carter’s letter, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced creation of the Commission on Unalienable Rights to examine the role of human rights in US foreign policy. It is expected the commission will be a vehicle to roll back protection of human rights in US diplomacy.

“What does it mean to say or claim that something is, in fact, a human right,” Pompeo said at the State Department according to CNN. “How do we know or how do we determine whether that claim that this or that is a human right, is it true, and therefore, ought it to be honored?”

“Words like ‘rights’ can be used for good or evil,” he said.

What is or isn’t a human right has been debated even though the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948 by the United Nations. One can assume the same impetus that led Pompeo to embrace the Rapture is at work in this commission. I expect a new attack on women’s rights driven by the same prejudices Carter discusses in his letter.

At 94 years, Jimmy Carter continues to serve our nation and a global community. If there is justice God will forgive him for losing his religion to continue his efforts in pursuit of women’s rights.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

Politics Social Commentary

Why Racism?

Thom Hartmann Photo Credit – Thom Hartmann Website

Racism is a feature of the Trump administration geared toward activating marginal voters who support his racist statements to get them to vote to elect Republicans, posits Thom Hartmann in the clip below.

“When Trump said this he knew exactly what he was saying,” Hartmann said on his eponymous program, referring to the president’s statement addressing four Democratic U.S. Congresswomen, “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”

Hartmann explores racism related to the president’s comments, answering the questions “Why won’t the GOP comment on Donald Trump’s racist comments?” and “Has the GOP now moved so far to the right that this will get Trump re-elected?”

He suggests politics as we know it — each party’s base voting for their candidates with the middle or swing voters being targeted for conversion each election cycle — has been turned on its head by the president.

I don’t know if he’s right, but it’s food for thought as we enter a high summer of RAGBRAI, sweet corn, tomatoes and vacations.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

Social Commentary

Data Points To Corporate Influence

U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C.

Is the Ohio federal court’s recent release of Drug Enforcement Agency data about manufacture and distribution of oxycodone and hydrocodone pills significant?


I found last week’s Washington Post presentation of scrubbed data engaging for the ten minutes or so it took to drill down to Iowa and the county in which I live. Readers can do likewise by clicking here.

The data doesn’t change much. If anything, it confirms what I wrote in 2016:

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.

According to data, Iowa took delivery of 562,927,414 of these pills manufactured by Actavis Pharma Inc., SpecGX LLC., and a few other companies between 2006 and 2012. They were delivered to Walgreens, Wal-Mart, Hy-Vee, and a number of other independent and chain pharmacies.

I live in Johnson County, which took delivery of 12,158,306 pills, or enough for everyone to have about one per month. Two days a week I drive by the Walgreens in Coralville which received the highest number of pills in the county. I had no idea, and in the long view, I’m not sure it’s significant. In part, the opioid epidemic is driven by availability and ease of access. The drug companies are making sure the pills are available.

There is a human aspect of the massive distribution of narcotics. The Washington Post intends to mine the data for stories beginning with those of southwestern Virginia where my father’s family first appeared in the 17th Century, and distribution of opioids was highest in the country. I haven’t enjoyed the coverage of Norton, Virginia and surrounding Wise County.

For comparison, Wise County took delivery of ten times the number of oxycodone and hydrocodone pills as Johnson County, Iowa, with the highest number delivered to Family Drug in Big Stone Gap. In Norton, Virginia, 306 pills per person were delivered according to the Washington Post. Dennis Boggs of Norton summarized the problem to the Washington Post. “There’s not a lot to do,” Boggs said. “It gives them something to do around here.” He was talking about using these legal narcotics.

“What they did legally to my state is criminal,” Senator Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) told the Post. “The companies, the distributors, were unconscionable. This was not a health plan. This was a targeted business plan. I cannot believe that we have not gone after them with criminal charges.”

Manchin has a point and it serves mine. Pharmaceutical companies are executing a business plan, one that includes substantial influence of the Congress. If the human misery of easy opioid availability is hard to take, look at it from a business standpoint. Companies are working an abstract plan designed to maximize revenue and profits within current regulatory framework. Once lobbyists have set the rules for prescription, manufacture and distribution of opioids like oxycodone and hydrocodone, such regulation turns out to be very little regulation at all, at least when it comes to protecting the public.

This distribution of oxycodone and hydrocodone is a different face on the same problem, the influence of corporations on our government. It is important not to be distracted by the drama.

Last year Governor Kim Reynolds signed HF 2377 into law. The law focuses on narcotics users and those who prescribe them in hope of reducing the number of opioid users in Iowa, according to the governor’s press release. The vote for the bill was unanimous in both the Iowa House and Senate. Given the comparatively low level of opioid pill distribution in Iowa, revealed by the Washington Post data, aren’t there other, bigger problems for political focus? Things like fixing Iowa’s disastrous privatization of Medicaid which impacts lives as well.

Data can measure the success or failure of HF 2377. What is hard is to measure the intent and human impact of large corporation business plans. The newly revealed data is pointing to corporations as the problem in the opioid crisis.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

Review Social Commentary Writing

Parade and Fragments

Sprayer in the Solon Beef Days Parade

A summer parade in Iowa is a chance to showcase lives for the entire community.

Farmers, restaurateurs, insurance agents, bankers, retailers, construction companies, government organizations and more cleanup their equipment and parade it through town handing out treats and small gifts along the route.

People line the street to watch, sitting on lawn chairs, standing under shade trees and chatting with friends on the sidewalk. It’s mostly for children yet adults get involved as well. Anyone can stand almost anything that marches by in the span of a couple of minutes.

Solon Beef Days Parade Watchers


In 2013 our situation got dire. I had run out of money and held no job that paid enough. Not wanting to return to transportation, I took one low wage job after another to earn enough to get by. Most of the work involved standing on concrete floors, which precipitated a case of plantar fasciitis. Not only did my feet hurt, on a physician’s advice I gave up jogging after 37 years because of it. While the condition is resolved, it persisted until I left full-time work in 2018.

Expenses got delayed during this period, as did preventive health care. It wasn’t clear how tight money had been until I began taking Social Security benefits which brought relief.


An Early Thanksgiving

The story begins with the proximity of relatives. Our maternal grandmother and grandfather made visits to our home. I never knew my paternal grandparents except in stories and photographs. As much as anything, my grandparent story is about my relationship with Grandmother from my earliest memories until she died Feb. 7, 1991.

We were lucky to have her with us for so long.

Grandmother had five children and 15 grandchildren. She spent more time with our family because of our proximity. She lived with us off and on during my early years, but eventually maintained her own apartment. In later life she lived at the Lend-A-Hand, a residence for women at the time, then moved to the Mississippi Hotel where she lived the last years of her life in an apartment until moving to the Kahl Home for a brief period. Grandmother had many sisters and a brother. We had a lot of relatives, or so it seemed.


I read The Overstory by Richard Powers. It engaged in a way most fiction fails to do. The author must have spent an enormous amount of time researching trees, forests, and the culture around them. He wove them into a spellbinding narrative. I could go on gushing about the book, but just pick it up and read it. If you do, and are interested in the environment, I doubt there will be any regrets.

Politics Social Commentary Writing

Independence Day 2019

Flags at Oakland Cemetery -2012

Happy Independence Day… reluctantly.

I’ve not been a fan of the Independence Day holiday since military service. It’s not that I paid much attention to it previously. As a military officer I had time to reflect on the meaning of independence while stationed far from home among strangers.

People celebrate the Declaration of Independence and its grievances against the King of England. I don’t mind. While I’m as glad as anyone Elizabeth is not our queen, and Prince Charles will never be our king, Columbus’ “discovery” of the Americas was an affront to human society. 284 years later the damage had been done and the founders were formalizing a relationship with the King as the hegemony of natives had been diminished by disease and warfare.

Few things point out the advancement of pre-Columbian society, and what was lost, as much as the recent book, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann.

The premise of Mann’s book is there were societies in the Americas that were as sophisticated as any on the globe. They endured for multiple millennia, coming and going over time before Columbus arrived, cultures unknown to Europeans. The Declaration of Independence was an insider deal among participants who had no standing to occupy and exploit the Americas. Yet they did.

It was not unusual for Americans to side with natives at the time of independence, especially when compared to living under English rule. I side with Frederick Douglass who said,

Your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass-fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy-a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.

If I celebrate anything this day it is the renewed opportunity to get along with neighbors and friends, something I believe is critical to healing our broken Democracy. While we may not agree about the meaning of Independence Day, it is better to find common ground every way we can. We’ll need that in the Anthropocene Age.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

Environment Social Commentary

An Impossible Argument

Tagged Cow

I’ve been wanting to try the Impossible™ Burger and will have to wait.

I met a group of friends at a restaurant Friday where Impossible™ was printed on the menu. Since Burger King® decided to offer the plant-based burger nation-wide, smaller restaurants haven’t been able to get it according to our server.

The kitchen did have a Beyond Burger®, which I tried and was satisfied by my pub grub-style meal of a burger, coleslaw and Stella Artois®.

The reason I mention this is the American Farm Bureau Federation was running down products like these burgers for being “ultraprocessed.” In a June 4 blog post, author Teresa Bjork invoked reality to straighten people out,

In reality, meat and milk imitators are ultraprocessed foods. They are made from a long list of ingredients, including sodium and added flavors and colors, to improve their taste and nutrition.

One suspects increased availability of veggie burgers, and the Burger King® marketing decision, is taking a bite out of cattle producer market share. Likewise, the reason ovo-lacto vegetarians like fake meat is not for the salt content, but for how it fits into our lifestyle as comfort food. No matter how bad things may get for us personally, we want the sensation of eating foods that are traditional in our culture. Let’s cut to the chase.

The single biggest way to reduce our impact on Earth is to avoid consuming meat and dairy. Maintaining herds of livestock is a land use policy that encourages the ongoing mass extinction by taking land thus depriving other species of habitat.

“Meat and dairy provide just 18 percent of calories and 37 percent of protein, (using) the vast majority – 83 percent – of farmland and producing 60 percent of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions,” according to the Guardian.

We can do better than that.

It’s no secret people should consume less processed food, particularly simple sugars and carbohydrates, for dietary reasons. For the Farm Bureau to favor meat and dairy production of their members is also not surprising. What is fake here is not the burgers, it’s the straw-man argument to protect what Farm Bureau sees as its own interests.

From time to time many Iowans crave a tasty burger. Getting one without politicizing it may be impossible.

Garden Social Commentary Writing

On a Holiday Weekend

Lake Macbride Trail May 24, 2019

A brilliant, partly-cloudy sky hung over the landscape as I made my way east on Interstate 80.

Rain broke long enough to allow a trip to Davenport to visit Mom and a friend I met in grade school.

Mother insisted on making coffee and it was the best I’ve had in a while. It took her longer than it would have me, but I stood with her and helped as best I could. At age 89 she wanted to do it so who was I to object?

She’s joined the cohort of octogenarians who dread the thought of going into a nursing home when staying at home no longer works. This dread is almost universal among Americans and with good reason. Almost everyone I know who had experiences with a relative checking into a nursing home has a horror story or two about neglect and mistreatment.

I believe the problem with nursing homes is, like with other modern social phenomena, mostly because of the decline in K-12 education, the rise in private and home schooling, and the dominance of FOX News and right-wing radio among people who continue to be radio listeners or view television broadcasts and cable. People have been dumbed down and will swallow almost anything they hear repeated often enough.

Nursing homes don’t have to be as bad as they are, but education and social learning haven’t prepared us as well as they could for getting help with aging relatives. Most people can’t afford an in-home nurse when someone requires 24/7 attention. A nursing home has become the best opportunity to enable a loved one to live their final time on Earth with dignity. Indignities regularly imposed on residents become exceptionally objectionable because of this.

I met my friend for lunch at an Italian-style restaurant. Italian restaurants usually have fresh salad offerings and this one was no exception. They offered some “Chicago-style” dishes which apparently are gaining popularity in my home town. Like with Mother, my friend and I had an engaging visit.

I got sleepy and stopped at the rest area halfway home to walk around. A great thing about Iowa rest areas is they have clean rest rooms and drinking fountains with free, chilled, filtered water. Refreshed, I made it home okay, passing presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard’s advertising billboard outside Iowa City. One may try to get away from it, but politics never takes a holiday.

At home, I mowed the lawn as best I could, breaking a sweat. The ambient temperature was moderate and the sky remained bright. As I mowed around the garden, the grove of fruit trees, and lilacs, I was reminded of how much yard work remains to be done to get the property in suitable shape. My solace can be found in the Meriam Bellina song,

One day at a time sweet Jesus
That’s all I’m asking from you
Just give me the strength
To do everyday what I have to do.

Yesterday’s gone sweet Jesus
And tomorrow may never be mine
Lord help me today, show me the way
One day at a time.

I need to make another pass to pick up the grass clippings for the garden.

The garden patch has standing water in divots dug last week. When I mowed near the ditch the sound of running water informed me it hadn’t dried out and might not this year. Gardeners on social media are getting their vegetables planted, and this is the latest start they can remember. The wet spring has been problematic, although all is not lost… yet.

Soon corn farmers will have to turn to beans if the ground doesn’t dry out enough for planting. With China no longer wanting corn and soybeans because of U.S. tariffs, the prospect of plummeting soybean prices is real, and farmers will take it on the chin… again.

All in all Saturday was a positive day in a turbulent world. Hopefully I’ll get some garden time in when I return from the farm this afternoon.