Freezing Rain and a Green New Deal

Earthrise by Bill Anders, Dec. 24, 1968

Ice turned to mush as rain fell Thursday morning. The surfaces of Lake Macbride and the Coralville Lake appeared to remain frozen as I drove on Mehaffey Bridge Road.

When I arrived at the home, farm and auto supply store it continued to rain. By the end of my shift a layer of ice had formed on my windshield and morning slush had frozen.

I started the engine and chipped at the ice. It took half an hour to gain enough visibility to drive. I decided to skip a monthly political meeting, emailed the secretary of my absence, and headed home.

Iowa is a red state now. Voters had an opportunity to return balance to state government in 2018. Instead they chose Republican control of the governor’s office and state legislature. Taking advantage of their mandate, Republicans plan to take more control of the appointment of judges by changing the composition of a commission that selects nominees for Iowa courts. We’re a red state now, and we don’t like it.

We’re not leaving the state. To even consider it would be an anomaly in lives we’ve come to accept. In the end, politics is something, but not everything. It is definitely not important enough to get stuck in the county seat as the world freezes.

I’m interested in what the Congress does to mitigate the impacts of climate change. Yesterday New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez introduced a resolution recognizing the federal government has a duty to create a Green New Deal. A draft of the resolution indicates the following goals for a Green New Deal during a ten-year national mobilization period:

  1. to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through a fair and just transition for all communities and workers;
  2. to create millions of good, high-wage jobs and ensure prosperity and economic security for all people of the United States;
  3. to invest in the infrastructure and industry of the United States to sustainably meet the challenges of the 21st century;
  4. to secure for all people of the United States for generations to come—
    (i) clean air and water;
    (ii) climate and community resiliency;
    (iii) healthy food;
    (iv) access to nature; and
    (v) a sustainable environment; and
  5. to promote justice and equity by stopping current, preventing future, and repairing historic oppression of indigenous communities, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and youth (referred to in this resolution as ‘‘frontline and vulnerable communities’’).

Who wouldn’t like these goals? Senator Edward Markey introduced the same resolution in the U.S. Senate.

It doesn’t take an advanced degree to understand a Green New Deal is dead on arrival in Mitch McConnell’s senate. While such goals need to be met to slow global warming, politics has ceased to be an endeavor of doing what needs to be done to ensure our mutual survival. Success of any legislation designed to advance a Green New Deal depends on recognizing the threat the climate crisis poses to society. Today, more people recognize there is a climate crisis. Our politicians, not so much.

Al Gore remained positive in his press release supporting the resolution:

The Green New Deal resolution marks the beginning of a crucial dialogue on climate legislation in the U.S. Mother Nature has awakened so many Americans to the urgent threat of the climate crisis, and this proposal responds to the growing concern and demand for action. The goals are ambitious and comprehensive – now the work begins to decide the best ways to achieve them, with specific policy solutions tied to timelines. It is critical that this process unfolds in close dialogue with the frontline communities that bear the disproportionate impacts today, as this resolution acknowledges. Policymakers and Presidential candidates would be wise to embrace a Green New Deal and commit to the hard work of seeing it through.

Failure to act on climate is the same as denial. I’ll support a Green New Deal while recognizing we can’t place all our hopes on a single, political solution. As we discovered during negotiations leading up to the Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, political solutions are far from perfect. They may be inadequate. Yet they are something and have value if they can be achieved.

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Rest of the Way Out

Light from Outside

Seems like I’ve been hunkered down and bunkered in since apple season. I’ve been thoroughly funkified. With 45 days left until spring I’m restless to get out of my lair.

The number of indoor places I spend time is limited: the chair or couch in the living room, the kitchen, the bedroom, the laundry room, the bathrooms, or in my writing room.

It was comfortable early on. Now I’m itching for something.

We live during an assault on reason. I mentioned in my last post the greatest threat to society is a weaponization of ignorance and apathy. Politicians are unable or unwilling to change the status quo, lobbying groups don’t want change, and the public doesn’t seem to care, Matt Field wrote in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. That’s a hell of a sticky mess out of which to gain traction.

Still the light from outside beckons us to go there.

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Out of the Polar Vortex

Snow Melted First over the Septic Tank

The ambient temperature is 45 degrees, a 73 degree swing since early Thursday morning. Warming is part of the polar vortex, just as the cold was. Temperatures are forecast to return closer to normal after tomorrow.

I had planned to prune trees today but am concerned about rapidly changing temperatures. If the sap starts flowing the purpose of waiting until winter to prune would be defeated. Maybe next week will be better once temperatures stabilize below freezing for a week or so.

Feb. 5 is the Iowa Environmental Council’s lobby day in Des Moines, followed by the Sierra Club’s lobby day the 6th. I noticed IEC scheduled 30 minutes for discussions with legislators. That’s about right because very little gets decided in one-on-one lobbying sessions, regardless of whether one’s legislators are supportive of climate action. What’s needed for change is a broad coalition and a dominant issue.

With the polar vortex we are living in a changed climate. Mitigating its effects is beyond the scope of the Iowa legislature. What can be done?

“In my view, the actions we take over the next 2-3 years are critical,” State Senator Rob Hogg wrote in an email. “The need for climate action has never been more urgent. Please take action personally and in public. Invite more people to get more informed, more involved, and do more.”

Hogg was trained by Al Gore as a Climate Reality Leader in 2008. He enumerated ideas with which to approach legislators for climate action, including “energy efficiency, renewable energy, electric vehicles, forests, prairies, soil conservation, and pre-disaster hazard mitigation to safeguard our people and our property.” Each of these items has its own constituency and many of the groups supporting them will be at Tuesday’s lobby day. What will get done?

There is a stability of operations among IEC members that works against substantial change. Some organizations, including some to which I belong, seem caught in a rut around a specific solution to the climate crisis. These formal, recurring events seem ineffective to me. I wrote about a 2015 trip I made to a similar lobby day in the Iowa City Press Citizen here. I’m not sure what, if anything was accomplished.

Some advocates believe climate denial among members of the legislature and elsewhere stands in the way of changing human behavior regarding climate change. I believe it is something different.

“I’m convinced that the greatest threat we face isn’t climate change denial,” climatologist and geophysicist Michael Mann wrote. “It is the weaponization of ignorance and apathy that is at its core…”

The weaponization of ignorance and apathy is something better to work on than any pet project. How does one do that when calcified lobbyists and citizen advocates petition the legislature for such issues? We need a more diverse group of stake holders than are in the IEC. Something bigger needs to happen to bring people together. I don’t know if the polar vortex is big enough even if it should be. What I know is if we wait to address climate change until it is too late the question will be moot.

This polar vortex is drawing to a close but it’s easy to predict there will be others. Many will have forgotten the polar vortex as they get absorbed in the big football game this afternoon. It is up to us to remind people of our common interest in sustaining our lives in a turbulent world. If we don’t, who will?

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One Year from Presidential Delegate Selection

Iowa Caucus Goer

One of the first things we did after moving to Lake County, Indiana was register to vote. Being a Democrat, I voted for Michael Dukakis in 1988, which was our first general election as Indiana residents.

I remember complaining about Iowa and the other early states for giving us Dukakis, whose nomination ultimately gave us George H.W. Bush. Indiana is one of the last states to vote in the presidential primary system so we had little say in the matter.

Dukakis placed third in the Feb. 8, 1988 Iowa caucuses with 22 percent of delegates. Dick Gephardt won the most with 31 percent and Paul Simon was second with 27 percent. As the contest illustrates, Iowa isn’t the decider here. We couldn’t even winnow the field of Dukakis.

We are one year away from the 2020 Iowa precinct caucuses and a lot of Democrats are running for president, the winner being determined by number of delegates, not votes. County Supervisor Rod Sullivan posted his top 25 candidates and that’s not even everyone. I don’t intend to spend much energy learning about them this early, mostly because I will vote for the Democratic nominee whoever it is.

I’m low on the strategy totem pole to have much to say about big picture Democratic politics anyway. My role as a member of the county central committee will be to help run our precinct caucus. Increasingly that means making sure the event is accessible, efficient and fair. It’s not about party building because after delegate selection, people want to get the heck out of there. Whoever manages it must create a welcoming environment where people are treated with respect. We had new attendees and a good discussion in 2018. I kept the contact information for everyone who showed up in case we need volunteers in 2020.

I have opinions about presidential candidates and here are a few of them.

We don’t need or want a septuagenarian billionaire. That’s what Republicans are expected to run and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg at the top of the Democratic ticket could be disastrous.

Being a current U.S. Senator is not a positive resume point. The biggest challenge Democrats face in 2020 will be regaining a majority in the Senate. We need as many experienced hands there as we can get. The last election in which we won a Senate majority was 2008 and even then, every legislative initiative Democrats pursued was challenging. There are good people among the senators running or considering a run. The only one I have ruled out is Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders who lost the primary in 2016 and is not a registered Democrat. The one I like the most is Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar who has not thrown her hat into the ring.

The only potential candidates I met besides some of the U.S. Senators are Joe Biden, John Delaney, Tulsi Gabbard and Julián Castro. Of these I like Castro, former mayor of San Antonio, for president. He sat with us in a darkened room during a power outage to talk policy a couple of days before his formal announcement. The rest of them are okay. Biden seems unlikely to announce a third campaign for president, Delaney has been campaigning in Iowa for a year and has not gained traction, and Gabbard is having problems during her campaign launch.

I don’t know much about the rest of them yet a couple are interesting.

I spent a lot of time in South Bend, Indiana where Pete Buttigieg is now mayor. The city was decimated after Studebaker closed its plant in 1963. There continues to be cultural detritus from that event. I spent time at the former Studebaker proving grounds during my transportation career and recruited truck drivers in the city. I’d like to learn what Buttigieg did to create a more positive cultural and economic environment in South Bend. My interest in economic and cultural change in the rust belt is probably not a reason to support him for president.

The other candidate I find interesting is Marianne Williamson. She talks and acts nothing like a politician. Williamson has her own following after being a New York Times best selling author. In her announcement speech Williamson mentioned proximity to Alan Watts and Ram Dass which places her in an era I thought was long gone. About 70 people attended her Iowa kickoff event in Des Moines last night, which wasn’t covered by our local newspapers. “People sang along with the final song of the opening band and introduced themselves to the people sitting around them.” wrote Des Moines Register reporter Robin Opsahl. I don’t know if caucus-goers will have the patience for the many discussions Williamson proposes we have. She’s likely right we need to have them, but that’s no reason to support her for president.

There is no question the presidential primary season is upon us. The field will hopefully shake out by the end of summer so there will be less homework to do. The fact I’m engaged at all a year out is about living in Iowa again.

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Dispatch from the Polar Vortex

Winter in Iowa

Editor’s Note: This email was sent to members of our home owners association at the beginning of the polar vortex of 2019. As I write this note, the outdoors ambient temperature is 26 degrees below zero and one person in the county seat has died from exposure.


As you likely know, ambient temperatures are forecast to get down to -25 degrees by 8 a.m. tomorrow morning and to -30 degrees overnight tomorrow. After that temperatures are expected to warm through Saturday and Sunday when it is forecast to be in the 40s.

That’s a seventy degree swing in a couple of days, which can be hard on things like water and sewer lines.

19th century British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli said, “Be prepared for the worst and hope for the best.”

We will do everything reasonable to get service back up as soon as possible if it is interrupted. Asking a contractor to work in wind chills like we haven’t seen since we moved here is not reasonable. I plan to contact our main contractor Wednesday and discuss the situation so we know our options in the event of a breakage.

What you can do to prepare for a potential outage is keep a temporary water supply if you don’t already.

In our household we keep a large Rubbermaid beverage container filled with water to use for washing hands and cooking in case we lose water.

We used to buy bottled water to have on hand but quit doing that over the years. It is an option.

If we know there will be an outage ahead of time, we fill up our two stock pots and keep them on the stove to be boiled and used to wash up in lieu of a shower, or as otherwise needed. We have also filled up coolers in the bathtub to use to flush the toilet.

Fingers crossed we will make it through the cold spell without a line breakage.

If something does happen, the procedures for reporting a water problem are below.

I hope this is helpful.

Paul Deaton

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Soup for the Polar Vortex

Vegetable Soup on a Wintry Day

Monday I made a big pot of vegetable soup using what has become a standard process.

Mirepoix of onion, celery, carrot and salt sautéed in a couple tablespoons of vegetable broth.

Potatoes peeled and cut in large chunks, a 15 ounce can of rinsed, prepared beans, a pint of diced tomatoes, a quarter cup of barley, a half cup of dried lentils, a few bay leaves, two cups frozen sweet corn, a quart of home made tomato juice and vegetable broth to cover. I added lots of potatoes and carrots for texture and flavor. Toward the end of cooking I added a cup of frozen peas.

The soup cooks up thick and hearty, just the thing for subzero temperatures the polar vortex is bringing our way tonight and tomorrow.

Other soups I make are similar, adding every kind of vegetable we have on hand — after harvest or after cleaning the refrigerator. The limited number of ingredients in this recipe standardizes the outcome into something recognizable and delicious. Importantly, it is repeatable.

Over the weekend I sorted recipes, an act of curation. I found I’m much less attached to dessert recipes. Over the course of a year I make a few batches of cookies, an apple crisp or two, maybe a spiced raisin or applesauce cake. Those recipes are well used and written in my red book. I love dessert, but not that much.

The dessert recipes I kept included blueberry buckle, a seasonal item we serve at the orchard after the first blueberries come in from Michigan. The recipe our bakers use is called “Betty’s Blueberry Buckle,” but the one I have will serve.

While in graduate school I conducted a series of interviews with a subject for a class on aging. She had a letter from William F. Cody inquiring about his legacy in Davenport. I kept her recipe for custard for the memory, although I’m not sure if and when I might use it.

I find it hard to dispose of artifacts of consumption, although about half of the unsorted pile of recipes went into the paper recycling bin. That I got rid of anything is a sign of progress. So many things compete for attention that piles of artifacts, like these recipes, sit around indefinitely.

Winter is a great time to enjoy a bowl of soup and sort through the detritus of a life on the prairie. I look forward to spring.

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Addicted to Writing

Desk Work

I’m addicted to writing.

Since retiring in 2009 my morning routine includes making a French press of coffee shortly after waking, wandering downstairs with sleep sand in my eyes, reading at a computer for the first cup, then writing.

When I’m writing everything fades into background as I consider words on a screen. It is bliss.

This blog hit a record number of views in January with four more days to go. I’ve posted almost every day since apple season ended. If I consistently apply my skills as a proof reader and editor I can produce a post that engages readers without calling attention to the prose. I live for return readers and discussions in society about what I’ve written. That too is addictive.

I’ve become some kind of writer animal. The work is not really process, more like a habit that roots out meaning in a common life. Some days are better than others, but an intellectual or human side appears only irregularly.

The addiction worries me.

Cognizant of increasing age I’m reluctant to spend too much time writing. When I begin, minutes and hours go by in a mysterious vortex that sucks away time leaving a few hundred words. That’s not all bad, just worrisome.

With the economic security of income from diverse sources, I’m free to do what I want. From time to time I think about building a wooden bench to place under one of the trees I planted. In good weather I’d read poetry and consume Galoises and Pernod Ricard while immersed in sunlight and pondering the muse. I’ve been drunk in France after too many anise aperitifs and don’t smoke. As good as it sounds, I doubt that’s my future.

Process isn’t everything but it helps. If I were to improve my writing — take out some of the animal-like habits — that’s where I’d focus. Seeking raw material in memory and artifact, discovery of meaning in society, followed by writing, re-writing and more re-writing. Something positive seems likely to result.

As I finish my second French press of coffee I’m wide awake.

I’m drawn to this comforting place, surrounded by books, with a small space heater keeping away the subzero temperatures outside. I’ll ponder my craft a while longer before turning everything off until tomorrow. Such pondering making us human as much as writing ever might.

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