Epistemological Crisis

Frozen lake, Dec. 21, 2020.

It’s no secret there is an epistemological crisis undermining the authority of knowledge. It may be the most significant problem to grow out of the Reagan administration. That the discussion of creationism versus evolution returned during the 1980s was only the beginning.

There is a difference between justified belief (a.k.a. facts) and opinion and it is epistemological. That is, “relating to the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope, and the distinction between justified belief and opinion,” according to At issue is that solutions to other pressing problems rely on the ability of Americans to separate opinion from facts, something we as a society have become less able to do. Al Gore recently summarized our current situation as follows:

And though the pandemic fills our field of vision at the moment, it is only the most urgent of the multiple crises facing the country and planet, including 40 years of economic stagnation for middle-income families; hyper-inequality of incomes and wealth, with high levels of poverty; horrific structural racism; toxic partisanship; the impending collapse of nuclear arms control agreements; an epistemological crisis undermining the authority of knowledge; recklessly unprincipled behavior by social media companies; and, most dangerous of all, the climate crisis.

Al Gore, New York Times, Dec. 12, 2020

Unless we can agree there are facts, and how to distinguish them from opinions, we may have reached the end of the long, good run that was the American republic.

During the time since Reagan, moneyed interests gained hegemony in our government and society. Thom Hartmann put it this way in his forthcoming book The Hidden History of American Oligarchy: Reclaiming Our Democracy from the Ruling Class:

Billionaire oligarchs want to own our republic, and they’re nearly there thanks to legislation and Supreme Court decisions that they have essentially bought. They put Trump and his political allies into office and support a vast network of think tanks, publications, and social media that every day push our nation closer and closer to police-state tyranny.

Thom Hartmann, The Hidden History of American Oligarchy: Reclaiming Our Democracy from the Ruling Class, to be released February 2021.

It is particularly distressing American oligarchs used the cover of the coronavirus pandemic to increase their grip on the nation and extract taxpayer money intended to alleviate the fiscal crisis it caused. In normal times this would be unthinkable. These are not normal times.

In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act which deregulated use of the public air waves. Regulations put in place in the 1920s through the 1940s were largely repealed. The result has been to consolidate most media under half a dozen corporations which now control the message. Perhaps Sinclair Broadcast Group is the worst in that they distribute editorial pieces from the corporation for inclusion during on-air broadcasts. All of the media corporations play a role in the deterioration of knowledge.

In 1987 President Ronald Reagan directed the FCC to cease enforcement of the Fairness Doctrine. In 2011 the Obama administration removed it from the FCC rules completely. Broadcasters no longer had an obligation to present balanced or fact-based information. The significance to the epistemological crisis these actions brought is hard to overstate.

What do we do about it? For those of us on small, private blogs it is easy: have a basis in fact if we run a story, focus on inquiry and understanding. As Tom Nichols pointed out in his book, The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters, “None of us is a Da Vinci, painting the Mona Lisa in the morning and designing helicopters at night. That’s as it should be. No, the bigger problem is that we’re proud of not knowing things.”

With their 40-year head start, it will be challenging to overtake the oligarch puppet masters who bought much of our government. Hartmann has a dozen ideas to get us started. Gore and Nichols have more. The bottom line is the truth matters, scientific methods matter, and while religious belief plays a role in human culture there is a difference between things we take on faith and those that can be verified through scientific methods.

At the Oct. 22 presidential debate, Joe Biden said, “We’re going to choose science over fiction.” It’s a starting point on a long journey, one which we all should join.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa.


Toward Sustainable Pandemic Recovery

Image of Earth 7-6-15 from DSCOVR (Deep Space Climate Observatory)

The climate crisis continues in the coronavirus pandemic.

The pandemic with its economic downturn threatens years of progress addressing climate change and sustainability. It’s now or never for the environment.

Governments are expected to spend trillions of dollars in stimulus to get the economy going again. Addressing the climate crisis can’t wait. Climate solutions must be integrated with stimulus spending.

“We now have a unique opportunity to use (the economic crisis) to do things differently and build back better economies that are more sustainable, resilient and inclusive.” said Saadia Zahidi, World Economic Forum managing director.

WEF warned that “omitting sustainability criteria in recovery efforts or returning to an emissions-intensive global economy risks hampering the climate resilient low-carbon transition.”

Sustainability should be integrated into recovery efforts because the health crisis, economy, and environment are inextricably connected. There is only one chance to manage this recovery. Trillions can be spent only once. Given the scope of the climate crisis, its pressing urgency, society must choose to address the climate crisis now.

The International Energy Agency has ideas on how to do that. They developed a 174-page essay titled “Sustainable Recovery.” However, no single solution applies to global matters. We need multiple solutions implemented synchronously.

Global carbon dioxide emissions reduced by 17 percent in April as people sheltered at home, industry reduced production, and automobile use slowed. Since then, emission levels surged back. A conscious decision to integrate smart energy use into the recovery is needed. The issue has been politicized so thoroughly it seems doubtful any such action will be taken in the United States. One is being political whether they say something about climate change or not when discussing the economic recovery. We must persist in demanding a solution.

Fiona Harvey, environmental correspondent for the Guardian reported, “The world has only six months in which to change the course of the climate crisis and prevent a post-lockdown rebound in greenhouse gas emissions that would overwhelm efforts to stave off climate catastrophe.”

No one knows how long we have. It’s common sense that stimulus money could be used in a holistic way. Ideas are out there. What’s lacking is political will.

That few in our government talk about addressing the climate crisis as we “open up” the economy is part of the problem. Oil and gas interests have so infiltrated our government politicians don’t want to hear about solar or wind generated energy, even if they are the least expensive and least damaging regarding carbon dioxide emissions.

Think about it though. When has doing what makes sense gotten so politically out of fashion? Among other things, that needs to change.

Al Gore recently said, “Moving forward from COVID-19 means we have an obligation to rethink the relationships among business, markets, government and society. We must deliver a sustainable form of capitalism.”

That’s not going to happen without a change in our government.

People ask me how I plan to address the climate crisis. My answer?

It’s time to stand up for what is needed in our country right now: moral revival and transformative change. That means voting for Democrats in November.

Postscript: Since I wrote this post Joe Biden released his plan to ensure the future is “‘Made in All of America’ by all of America’s workers.” The word climate is mentioned once in a paragraph to “apply a carbon adjustment fee against countries that are failing to meet their climate and environmental obligations.” I support Biden for president and encourage readers to read his Made in America plan here. Like any plan it will be subject to modification if Biden is elected president. One modification I expect is to integrate addressing the climate crisis in the plan.

~Written for Blog for Iowa

Living in Society

Iowa Summer Pandemic Politics

Iowa Summer

Independence Day is over! Time to get rolling on the fall campaign to elect Democrats! Not so fast…

The 2020 general election cycle has been like no other. Iowa didn’t stand a chance of influencing the national debate after the precinct caucuses yielded a field of five candidates who were awarded national delegates. Joe Biden, the presumptive nominee, placed fourth with six of 41 delegates, according to the Iowa Democratic Party website. A botched reporting process took Iowa out of the limelight as we didn’t certify caucus results until the race had moved on to New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Then the coronavirus hit the state. On March 9, Governor Kim Reynolds signed a disaster emergency proclamation regarding COVID-19. Political campaigns moved on line, conducting fundraising, voter contact, forums, and other events via telephone, text, email, and video conferencing. We got to know Zoom.

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on political campaigning is far from over. There is expected to be little door-to-door canvassing, few in person events, and forget about the usual slate of county and state fairs, parades, pancake breakfasts, fish fries, and chili suppers. Politics in the pandemic seems much less significant than the public health emergency coupled inextricably with the economic downturn the pandemic is causing, to be honest. Whatever our federal and state governments are doing to mitigate the pandemic, it’s not working. The president’s recent guidance, parroted by the Iowa governor, is, “we need to live with it.”

On June 2 Theresa Greenfield became our nominee for U.S. Senate and all Democratic attention could turn to defeating incumbent Joni Ernst. In the age of Trump it seems possible to defeat the incumbent senator who had a solid win against Democrat Bruce Braley in 2014. The race will be tight and a lot of money will be spent by the candidates and political action committees.

In Iowa’s four congressional districts we have a slate of outstanding candidates in Abby Finkenauer (IA-01), Rita Hart (IA-02), Cindy Axne (IA-03) and J.D. Scholten (IA-04). They are working their campaigns and appear to have resources to do so. We can also expect each of them to be underdogs in the campaign cash department as Republicans have an unlimited supply of big dollar donors and political action committees just as in the U.S. Senate race.

The Iowa Senate seems out of reach for Democrats this cycle but we could make headway in the 18-32 minority, setting the stage for a majority in 2022. In the House of Representatives, flipping the majority to Democratic is within reach in 2020. If we could gain a House majority that would buffer the worst impulses of the Republican Senate and governor.

What’s an active Democrat to do? Get involved with electing Democrats.

While the way we support Democratic political campaigns may differ this cycle, the endgame is the same. Keeping track of voter contacts and make sure we reach out to everyone possible. In the pandemic that means participating where one can in virtual phone and text banks, and staying in touch with candidates through Facebook pages and virtual events. It also means adding politics to the list of things one discusses with friends and relatives. We each need our own list of people we seek to convince to vote Democratic whether it is provided by the party or not.

Politics has been weird this cycle. I’m okay with change yet the lack of person to person contact at events, door knocking, and fund raisers is unsettling. I have been walking in parades with Democrats and Democratic candidates for 20 years. Partly, I am involved in politics for this type of in person interaction. It’s hard to get fired up about a Zoom call the way it is to obtain a fresh list for door knocking.

The Iowa Democratic Party is being cautious about the risk of campaigning in the pandemic. An IDP employee explained it this way in an email.

The fear is that we might alienate Dems who are being extra cautious right now if we start showing up at their doors. The phones are the best option we have without in person contact being on the table, but hopefully it will become an option again soon.

Rank and file Democrats like me have little choice but to support what the state party and campaigns want to do. The thing is, we need to get everyone possible to vote for Democrats.

It’s clear no preference voters, along with some Republicans can be persuaded to vote for Joe Biden. They may not be willing to vote Democratic in federal and down-ticket races so we need to be nuanced in our approach to potential ticket splitters. We want those Biden votes for sure. If they are willing to pull the lever for Theresa Greenfield as well, that’s better. The secret sauce of Dave Loebsack’s long tenure is appealing to this type of ticket-splitting voter. A one size fits all campaign as we’ve run them previously hasn’t been as nuanced as 2020 demands.

My advice if you are reading this post is do three things: 1. Set a monthly budget to contribute to your favorite Democratic candidate. Almost anyone can afford a recurring small donation to the Iowa Democratic Party; 2. Make a personal list of people — friends, family, neighbors, and social groups — to contact about the election and then do it. Some may be resolute about their support for a candidate we do not prefer. Don’t beat them over the head with it but have that conversation; and 3. Get involved with formal party activities virtually or in person if they exist. The basic needs of the coronavirus pandemic — washing hands, social distancing, wearing a mask or shield in public, staying home if sick — are straight forward. If events support these precautions, they are worth considering for participation.

Summer is here, as is the pandemic. Democratic politics will adjust and move forward, hopefully toward victory in November.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

Living in Society

Thom Hartmann Interview, Part I

Thom Hartmann

If the Iowa precinct caucuses created doubt about the efficacy of our voting process, we are not the only ones with concern.

Thom Hartmann, the number one progressive-talk-show host in the United States wrote the book, The Hidden History of the War on Voting: Who Stole Your Vote and How to Get It Back. It will be released by Berrett-Koehler Publishers on Feb. 11.

Blog for Iowa reviewed the book here and on Jan. 21 interviewed Hartmann about it and his work as a progressive. Hartmann was engaged and spoke freely about his book, about his concerns about voting in the U.S., and about his work as a progressive writer and radio personality.

We will run the interview in multiple posts, beginning with Hartmann’s comments about this book. The interview was transcribed from audio and is presented with only minor grammatical corrections for clarity.

BFIA: Can you tell me about the background, why you came up with this Hidden History series?

Hartmann: I’ve noticed a couple of trends. One is that people have less and less time to read books, and myself included. But I think it’s just ubiquitous. Spread across the culture. You can blame screens, you know, or phrenetic lifestyle, cause of the bite that Reaganomics is taking out of the middle class. I’m sure it’s a whole bunch of different factors but the simple reality is people don’t just sit down and spend ten, fifteen, twenty hours reading a book like they did twenty-five, thirty years ago.

So I wanted to come out with a series of small books that were books that a person could read in a weekend or maybe even in a long afternoon. I also have been just an absolute history fanatic my whole, entire life. My Dad wanted to be a history teacher when he grew up, a college professor. He had to drop out of college because Mom got pregnant with me and that was the end of that. But he had 20 thousand books in his basement; a lot of them were history. And we talked history all my life, you know, until my Dad died.

I proposed this to BK Publishers, said I’d like to do a series about things that are contemporary issues that have historical roots that most people are unaware of the roots. They don’t know where this came from, how this came about.

The first one we did was the Hidden History of the Second Amendment which is kind of self explanatory. The second was the Hidden History of the Supreme Court and the Betrayal of America. That is how the Supreme Court basically flipped us into oligarchy in the 1970s and it also takes on the issue of judicial review, something most people don’t know anything about the background of and how angry Thomas Jefferson was about it. The third one was the Hidden History of the War on Voting. I argued it should be titled “Republican War on Voting” because there is no Democratic war on voting. They didn’t want to make it seem too partisan.

It’s fairly evident when you read the book who’s trying to prevent you from voting and who isn’t.

BFIA: Thank you. In the voting book, which is the most recent one I read, is there anything you would like to highlight in particular.

HARTMANN: I think the big aha! For a lot of people who have read the book has been Red Shift and voter suppression. Red shift is something that started showing up around 2000 in the United States.

Around the world exit polls are the gold standard to determine if an election has been fraudulent or not, whether there is election fraud. Historically, and in fact, most countries in the world vote by paper ballot. They don’t vote electronically. As a result it takes a couple of days to count the vote.

Every European Country, Canada, take your choice. I lived in Germany for a year and when they have elections in Germany they call the elections when the polls close because they do it based on exit polls. Exit polls are never more than one tenth or two tenths of a point off, even though it takes them four days to count the vote. We saw this in the U.K. very recently with Boris Johnson.

In the United States our exit polls had always been within a tenth of a point or so of our election outcome. But in 2000 this strange thing started showing up. It got really bad in 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2008, when what showed up was that in a handful of states, that started out four or five and now it’s more like ten or fifteen, the outcome of the election is anywhere from two to five percent more Republican than the exit polls. And that’s why it’s called Red Shift toward the Republican Party.

And for a long time, and this is not a secret, the exit polling companies were so freaked out about this they didn’t know what to do. I mean this was a crisis for them in the 2004 election, the John Kerry-George Bush election. There was substantial Red Shift, including in Ohio where George Bush supposedly won that election.

So when we first saw these changes in numbers, how they almost always benefited exclusively Republicans, we concluded and they seem to follow the widespread adoption of electronic voting machines. The first guess of most people was that this was rigged or hacked voting machines.

I think one of the things we have learned in the years since then, particularly over the last ten years or so, that Republicans are more open and up front about their strategies. We’ve gotten access to some of their memos going back 15, 20 years, (showing) that what they have been doing in states where the Republicans control the state they throw hundreds of thousands of people off the voting rolls in the year before an election, in particular they do it in the Democratic cities.

And then when those people show up to vote they’re told, “Oh I can’t find your name on the roll, but here is a provisional ballot you can vote on this.” They don’t realize that provisional ballots are only counted if an election is contested. So those votes literally never get counted, with very few exceptions.

But when they walk out of the voting place and speak to the exit pollster, who says, “How did you vote?” They’ll say “Oh, I voted for John Kerry.” And they write that down as a John Kerry vote, neither the pollster nor the voter realizing that because the voter will be on a provisional ballot that that vote will never be counted.

In most states if you want to your provisional ballot votes to be counted you have to show up at the secretary of state’s office within 48 hours, and prove that you are who you are, and where you live, and you are a citizen, and basically go through the whole process of re-registering to vote, or proving that your registration was inappropriately removed, which most people don’t even know they have to do much less know that they can do.

I think that’s probably a better explanation for Red Shift because the red shifts seem to be the worst in the states that had the most aggressive voter purges.

Click here to order your copy of The Hidden History of the War on Voting.

~ Watch for future installments of this interview coming soon.

Living in Society 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.


Book Review: The Hidden History Of The Supreme Court

Thom Hartmann Photo Credit – Thom Hartmann Website

The Hidden History of the Supreme Court and the Betrayal of America by Thom Hartmann is a quick but important read for people who want to review the history of the Supreme Court.

At 168 pages, the book takes readers through the founders’ vision of the courts, the Powell Memo, the growing influence of fossil fuels companies on the court, judicial review, and the constitution’s preference for property rights over human rights. Hartmann also covers the court’s involvement in key American movements and issues, including labor, abolition, racism, abortion, environmentalism, and the rise of the TEA Party. The final section of the book offers solutions to “save the planet, democratize, and modernize the Supreme Court. It’s a page turner.

“But isn’t Hartmann preaching to the choir?” engaged readers might ask.

What’s important about this book is it exists at all.

Blog for Iowa, and others like it in Iowa and around the country, rose up in the years after the 2004 general election offering an alternative voice to right wing talk radio, evangelical Christianity, and a media landscape where the Fairness Doctrine no longer applied and cable news companies gained hegemony with partisan, conservative messages 24/7. In addition to progressive national and state-based blogs, radio and television personalities competed to gain a progressive audience. Thom Hartmann is one who survived and thrived. He is currently the number one progressive talk show host in the United States according to the about the author section of the book.

The purpose served by The Hidden History of the Supreme Court and the Betrayal of America is presenting a narrative of the key elements of the Supreme Court’s history to a progressive audience.

So often ideas about the Supreme Court are formed by snippets of information in various media about specific decisions, the judicial nominating process, and groups like the Federalist Society which lobby the government for appointment of certain types of judges. Increasingly social media is a key driver for informing our opinions, yet it presents an incomplete picture. It is not enough. What has been lacking is a more comprehensive look at the supreme court told in language that is easy to understand. Hartmann delivers that and more.

Here’s a clip of Thom Hartmann reading from his book. The Hidden History of the Supreme Court and the Betrayal of America is available from the publisher and most places where books are sold.

~ First published at Blog for Iowa

Living in Society

Organizing the Organizers

Rural Newport Precinct

The Democratic Party seems on the brink of descent into a primal ooze as we now debate political staffers forming unions in campaigns. What’s there to debate?

Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg gets the overarching policy right. “Freedom means the ability to organize in order to hold employers accountable and advocate for fair pay,” according to his website.

To the extent political campaigns employ anyone, those employees have a right to organize. That said, the articles, discussion and posturing about unions and campaign organizers organizing a union are a distraction from the need to defeat Donald Trump, hold the Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, and gain a majority in the U.S. Senate.

I have some questions about organizing the organizers.


Suzan Erem, who has been a consultant to labor unions, recently posted on Facebook, “no self-respecting union organizes workers whose jobs have at best an 18-month shelf life.”

Either an individual campaign provides a living wage and acceptable working conditions for employees or the candidate suffers the consequences in a primary election. If workers organize a union, the candidate should be willing to sign a contract quickly and get on with the campaign. When there are grievances, they should be timely addressed.

It is important to remember pay and benefits are not what leads talented people to work on a political campaign. The question of organizers unionizing should be a self-motivator for Democratic candidates. Employees have the choice to organize and it should mostly be part of the background noise of a campaign. It should be a non-issue.


“An unnamed person has alleged to a federal agency that the union representing some employees of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign did not properly address a grievance,” Sean Sullivan wrote in the Washington Post. A dispute between a labor union (United Food and Commercial Workers in this case) and a represented member is never good. When it escalates to the National Labor Relations Board, lawyers get involved.

As Sanders and his staff spend time and resources on this NLRB case and resolving any other grievances with their union, the clock continues to tick toward the Iowa Caucus and the dozen states with primaries and caucuses on or before Super Tuesday. Managing labor, organized or not, will take bandwidth.

When the union appears to botch the process as suggested in Sullivan’s article, it is a burden on everyone involved. Some other priority will be neglected while time is spent on this grievance. News outlets may pick up on the NLRB case and neglect covering candidate policy.

To What End?

The period of employment for paid campaign workers is relatively brief. Anyone who has worked on a campaign knows a lot of hours are involved. If it’s too much, why wouldn’t an employee go to their supervisor and ask for relief. If they are not satisfied with the way it is addressed, move on to what is next. It’s not like campaign organizing is a permanent career even if one is still working at it after beginning in the 2008 cycle.

Organizing a union is not always a speedy process. In the meanwhile, the election is just around the corner, after which employment ends for the most part and any union becomes moot. If the campaign is successful there may be another job in Washington, D.C. If it is unionized it would be a separate bargaining unit.

Most working people have an opinion about unions. I do too, and mine is multi-faceted. Unions have good intentions yet outcomes for rank and file members vary in efficacy. During a presidential campaign, especially during the primary/caucus portion of it, the main organizing has to be getting enough votes to get the candidate to the next stage whether it’s winning the primary or the general election. Organizing a union has to be done quickly and efficiently or it becomes a distraction.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa


Taking Seeds from the Prairie

Lake Macbride State Park, Summer 2019.

Is it wrong to collect seeds from a prairie restoration project for use in a home garden or another prairie restoration project?

I posed the question on social media. While the responses weren’t that many, they were a unanimous yes.

Not so fast!

“Stealing is stealing,” Cindy Crosby, author of The Tallgrass Prairie: An Introduction wrote.

A prairie manager I know was out for a stroll on his site when he came across a woman cutting buckets of blooms. Horrified, he said, “Lady, what are you doing?” She replied testily, “Well I tried to cut the flowers up by the visitors center for my party and they wouldn’t let me. So I came out here.”

Wildflowers will replenish themselves, right? Maybe and maybe not.

I asked our local state park ranger for his thoughts about harvesting seeds from prairie restoration areas. His response was speedy and made sense, “You are good to take seeds from the plants but just do not remove the plant itself and you will be ok.”

That’s good enough for me. I’ll be watching the patch of restored prairie for seed formation and try some of the varieties in our home garden.

Prairie used to cover more than 85 percent of Iowa land, according to the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge. Today less than one tenth of a percent of original tallgrass prairie remains in the state. A prairie restoration project, like the ones at Iowa state parks, is a work of human hands and culture.

People like Cindy Crosby have a personal investment in work they have done to restore prairie. Even if such restorations are anything but natural, and a constant struggle to keep invasive plants like garlic mustard at bay, they add cultural value in the form of habitat for plant and animal species and the narratives spun around them. We should tread lightly in their work, take what we need, and leave the rest.

Additional Reading:

Tuesdays in the Tallgrass, a blog by Cindy Crosby.

Tallgrass Conversations: In Search of the Prairie Spirit by Cindy Crosby and Thomas Dean.

Restoring the Tallgrass Prairie: An Illustrated Manual for Iowa and the Upper Midwest by Shirley Shirley.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

Living in Society

State Auditor Rob Sand Speaks… Briefly

State Auditor Rob Sand and State Senator Janet Petersen waiting to go on stage at the Zach Wahls birthday fundraiser in rural Iowa on July 14, 2019

State Auditor Rob Sand spoke at the Zach Wahls birthday fundraiser in rural Johnson County on July 14. He was brief.

Sand’s brevity is becoming a feature of his political tenure. Those of us who hear a lot of political speeches appreciate his willingness to be brief, be brilliant, and then be done.

Blog for Iowa wanted to hear more from Sand so we asked him to participate in a questionnaire via email. He said yes. The questions and Sand’s responses follow, published without significant editing.

BFIA: What do you feel is most important about the first six months of your tenure as auditor? Why?

Sand: In just six months we have accomplished a lot of what we set out to do during the campaign. The office has never promoted efficiency, which I said I would do. Our new PIE initiative (public innovations and efficiencies) will do just that. In addition, very soon we have two individuals with law-enforcement experience starting in the office. I campaigned on the need for professional diversity in the office, and we are making it happen.

BFIA: In my previous article I pointed out the municipality that was dissatisfied with your predecessor’s annual audit of their books. How do you view the role of the state auditor’s office in helping counties and municipalities meet their statutory audit and financial review needs?

Sand: The most significant departure under my time in office will be that we will begin providing real assistance on efficiency and innovation. Historically, the office has not used its ability to do that. That changes now. We should always be doing everything we can to save taxpayer money.

BFIA: I noticed you are a hunter. How did that become a feature of your public appearances as auditor. What is your view of how Iowa DNR expends resources to support hunting and wildlife in the state?

Sand: I believe that most Iowans are interested in not just policy but also who you are as a person. I grew up hunting and fishing with my dad and still do it today, so it is a way for people to get to know me a little bit. Plus, there are endless puns is to be made about finding bucks.

While I have not done a specific review of DNR in my six months in office, I can tell you that the state needs to do a better job supporting hunting and fishing generally. There were a number of bills last year which were harming the ability to add public land for hunting or any other use.

BFIA: What do you like best about the job? Least?

Sand: Compared to prosecuting financial crime, which I was doing for seven years prior, it’s great to be able to wake up in the morning and work on making systems work better, and preventing bad before it happens. Prosecuting by its nature is entirely reacting to bad after it happens.

As for my least favorite part, I’m sure if I were a better politician I would tell you that every single moment is an honor. But since I’m honest, the part I like least are the trite and formalistic aspects of being an office executive from a paperwork and sign-off perspective. I prefer to dive in and do real work.

BFIA: What areas in state government seem ready to improve from an auditor’s viewpoint? Explain.

We are always on the lookout to make government more honest, operate with better integrity, and improve accountability. We also want to see improved efficiency. That applies to every part of government, and as soon as we stop looking for it or asking for it in one part, that’s where it will be needed most!

BFIA: What is your hope for the future of the state, from a personal standpoint.

Sand: I think we need a better focus on putting the public first. Partisanship needs to take a backseat.

A brief biography of Rob Sand can be found on his Wikipedia Page here.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

Living in Society Writing

When to Swallow the Red Pill

RAGBRAI riders stopped at the Norwalk Christian Church for pie. Photo Credit – Trish Nelson

Trish Nelson will be returning to the editor’s desk next week.

Among things she did while on hiatus was ride a couple days of RAGBRAI, posting this photograph of pies behind empty church pews. The image says something more although I’m at a loss to put words to it. It can speak for itself.

Time for me to go on hiatus for a while as well.

Tomorrow I return to the apple orchard where I work in the sales barn doing whatever is needed for the season. If I’m lucky, I’ll have great conversations with some of the thousands of guests who show up on a weekend. If I’m extra lucky, those conversations will be about apples, gardening and farming.

We political activists need to do our best work to elect a replacement for Dave Loebsack in the Second Congressional District and a U.S. Senator to make Joni Ernst a one-term senator. We also need to retain the hard-won seats of Cindy Axne in the third district and Abby Finkenauer in the first. If we have a candidate in the fourth district, there’s work to be done there as well. Those campaigns will have to wait until after the presidential preference in February, because a person can land only one plane at a time. I favor Rita Hart in the second district and Theresa Greenfield for U.S. Senate. There are no clinkers among those running in the primary.

As far as the Iowa caucus goes, I’m in the same boat as a lot of readers. I want to pick a candidate for president to work with after Labor Day. If I can’t decide which one by then, I may go to caucus uncommitted and join a group that needs one more person to be viable.

I expect to run our precinct caucus (because of a lack of volunteers) and don’t want to get into the unseemly discussions we had during the vote count in 2008. Being uncommitted would be a positive in that regard.

Democrats can’t afford to have winners and losers this cycle, so the pre-caucus dynamic is different from 2008 when there were 8-10 candidates for president and everyone worked hard for their guy or gal to be the one. The only thing that remains the same this cycle is Mike Gravel is running again. (Update: The afternoon of the day this was posted, Gravel suspended his presidential campaign).

Someone asked me who were my top three potential presidential candidates. I had to think, but came up with this answer:

Anyone other than Biden, Sanders, Warren and Harris needs a breakthrough by Labor Day (maybe Thanksgiving) to ouster these four poll leaders. Polls and second choices will drive the presidential preference Feb. 3.

If not this week, then soon, the less than one percenters will hopefully have made their point and gracefully exited the race to work on other Democratic priorities. I’m very sorry Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is in this group. She couldn’t get over the Franken blow back among Democrats I know and lost important donors. She is uncompromising on women’s rights.

Look at it this way. Once I figure out what/who I’m supporting I’ll swallow the red pill and follow the rabbit hole where it leads. With the primary in June, there’s plenty of time to work on Rita Hart and Theresa Greenfield after caucus.

Or look at it another way. If Warren had run in 2016, I would have worked hard to make her the nominee. I’m satisfied she’s not too old today. There’s no one else left in the top 4 besides Kamala Harris. I’m less than confident a woman can get elected in 2020. I don’t like most of the men.

So there’s my indecision. If I can’t decide by Labor Day I may not declare and throw my one preference to which ever group could be viable with it, except maybe Sanders.

The most important endgame is coming together once we have a nominee. Keeping the red pill in a waterproof vial for now.

Hope readers enjoy the rest of summer. Thanks for the clicks during the last five weeks.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa