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Living in Society

Grassley and Social Security

Autumn at Lake Macbride

Like many Americans, after my paid work life ended, I planned to use my pension from Social Security as a basic financial support system. So far, so good.

I’m not sure I’m finished with paid work. The prospect of earning a couple hundred dollars a month to supplement my pension remains. A disruption in Social Security could devastate our lives, leaving the future uncertain. We need a contingency plan for dealing with changes to Social Security.

The Social Security system is a key campaign issue in 2022. Republicans and their libertarian financial backers have not liked Social Security since FDR proposed it. The latest is the Republican proposal to sunset all laws every five years, about which I wrote in August. Feeling some pressure from challenger Michael Franken, U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley spoke to reporters, including Caleb McCullough, who published this story in the Cedar Rapids Gazette on Sept. 29.

Grassley: No sunsetting Social Security, Cedar Rapids Gazette, Sept. 29, 2022.

Grassley adopted a majority view of Social Security with this article. While he hits some highlights — not changing the benefits for current and soon to be retirees, and removing it from sunsetting every five years — his statement is vague enough to leave anything open. Grassley said any changes to Social Security would involve “broad consensus.” What we don’t know is if he means the consensus of all U.S. Senators or just the Republican caucus.

Do voters believe him? I posted the clipping on Twitter and the answer was a resounding no in the replies. Of course Twitter serves as an echo chamber for views, so reading those replies is not a scientific data collection method. There was consensus among posters Grassley could not be believed.

Since leaving the workforce during the coronavirus pandemic I spend more time at home. I try not to think about worrying things all the time. Yet it is like the embers of a campfire waiting for new wood to burn. For the moment, I’ll warm my hands on the present, vote Democratic, and watch for new information in my news feeds.

Categories
Sustainability

Approaching Danger

Flood water from Lake Macbride reached within 600 feet of our home on June 14, 2008

We did not fear the 2008 flood, even though it rendered roads and bridges near us impassible and destroyed significant parts of Cedar Rapids and Iowa City. There was a lesson to be learned from it.

As the water level rose, flowed over the Coralville Dam spillway on June 10, then back-filled Lake Macbride, it would have taken much more than there was to flood our home near the lake. When the flood crested on June 15, we were relieved.

Lake Macbride is part of the water storage system for the Coralville dam and the reservoir created behind it. 2008 flooding was greater than any in recorded history, yet the system worked as well as it could have given the volume of water. Because news media were focused on the natural disaster, we had plenty of information upon which to make decisions: Should we sand bag the house? Should we move everything to the upper level? Should we evacuate? By closely monitoring the news, we were able to survive with minimum disruption in our lives.

The Aug. 10, 2020 derecho was another catastrophic weather event, only this time, there was little advance warning. The City of Cedar Rapids may never be the same after much of the tree canopy was destroyed. Straight-line winds have become a repeating occurrence on our property. The 2013 event did more damage than the derecho, yet in the latter electricity was out for four days. It took time to recover from this event, have a tree service remove broken limbs, and clean up debris. Everyone in the neighborhood had piles of firewood after the storm.

To what extent were the 2008 flood and the 2020 derecho made worse by climate change? In his essay on the 2008 flood, Eugene S. Takle summarizes where we are.

When rare and extreme weather events seem to increase in frequency, either locally or regionally, both statisticians and thoughtful lay people begin to wonder if something unusual is going on. They ask not only whether climate change was involved, but also — and more urgently — whether such extreme conditions will be repeated soon or nearby. The question is much more than academic…

Was Climate Change Involved by Eugene S. Takle. Published in A Watershed Year: Anatomy of the Iowa Floods of 2008, edited by Cornelia S. Mutel.

Our troubles as a society lie elsewhere, outside the rational thinking of scientists.

The lesson learned from these natural disasters is to be alert and pay attention to what one can’t control. The lesson applies to more than natural disasters.

Sixty years ago I did not foresee where we would arrive in our politics and society. The idea that corporations could and would spend countless fortunes to manipulate voters to support candidates who did not serve their best interests is mind-boggling. Yet here we are.

Everything is corrupt, including political office holders, news media, law enforcement, our judiciary, our distribution system, and an extraction economy that impoverishes people who remain out of plain sight. It is a harsh judgment, yet is increasingly and undeniably true. We may have been able to survive floods, derechos, and straight line winds, yet our biggest problem is one we made for ourselves.

The approaching danger to be addressed is one of our politics. Republicans controlled both chambers of the Iowa legislature and the governorship after the 2016 election. They used their majority to advance policies that serve interests which align with right-wing conservatives and business concerns. At the same time, 45 of 150 Iowa legislative races have candidates running unopposed this cycle. The apparent lack of interest in running for office is as much a problem as the Republican trifecta.

This year, because of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade, the number of female voter registrations is up. It is hard to know what this means, other than that women who value the right to an abortion, to make their own health care decisions without intervention of politicians, are taking action by registering to vote for candidates who support that right. Whether this movement will persist after the Nov. 8, 2022 election is an open question.

The American political system is far from perfect. If we want to address the dangers of climate change in the form of extreme weather events, as we must, that political system is our only, best hope. We must all get more engaged than we have been.

Categories
Living in Society

Toward Summer’s End

Wildflowers along the state park trail.

The appearance of tall, yellow wildflowers is a sign summer is ending. By the calendar there are three weeks of summer left, yet the Labor Day weekend marks the end of trips and vacations, and the beginning of school. For some, school already started.

I finished planting in the garden and focused on closing out the last vegetables. I preserved enough tomatoes, peppers, pickles and greens. All that remains is finishing the plots, clearing them, and in October planting garlic.

Perhaps as a closing to summer, President Joe Biden gave a speech last night. I gave it a full B grade, although it is definitely worth hearing. If readers are so inclined, here it is.

Happy last days of summer!

Categories
Environment

Global Warming is Real

Drought-stressed corn crop in Cedar County, Iowa, 2012.

2022 has provided evidence in plain sight of the consequences of burning fossil fuels. The Greenland ice sheet is melting and expected to raise global sea levels by a foot. Such melting is already in motion and even if we stopped emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere today, it would have no effect on this destruction. A melting Greenland ice sheet cools the Northern Atlantic Ocean, which in turn slows the Atlantic Gulf Stream circulation and could lead to climate disruption on a massive scale.

From the American West to Europe to China, rivers are drying up. Our oceans are warming, causing fish and water-bound mammals to migrate to cooler places, disrupting fishing stocks. The upper Midwest is home to the largest global concentration of field corn. Continued high temperatures and lack of rainfall are expected to reduce yields. At $6.73 a bushel, corn is now roughly 50% above its 10-year average price.

None of this is good news. It is the truth.

In part, we got ourselves into this situation by ignoring scientists about the dangers of global warming. Here’s some more truth: President Lyndon Johnson, in a Feb. 8, 1965 special message to Congress, warned about build-up of carbon dioxide that scientists recognize today as the primary contributor to global warming.

“Air pollution is no longer confined to isolated places. This generation has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale through radioactive materials and a steady increase in carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.”

LBJ Presidential Library, speech on Feb. 8, 1965.

What’s a person to do?

There is little an individual can do. A solution will take governments addressing the physics of the issue at the highest level. It has become clear Republicans are the party of the fossil fuel industry and won’t take serious climate action. While some Democrats have fallen under the influence of fossil fuel interests and money, they were able to pass the Inflation Reduction Act which is the first legislation that addresses the climate crisis. We need more legislation to address the climate crisis, and that means electing more Democrats today.

The evidence of global warming is all around us. While everyone should get involved in what has become an obvious, global problem, the path forward in the United States is in retaining a Democratic controlled Congress and Executive Branch. No one wants to change their quality of life. However, life would be much better if we took action to control the changes caused by global warming by engaging in society.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Acorn Season in Iowa

Bur Oak acorns forming.

The remaining two Bur Oak trees in the garden made an abundance of acorns this year. They are weighing down the branches so they almost touch the ground. Acorns are welcome nutrition for squirrels who took up residence in trees I planted after moving to Big Grove in 1993. These particular oak trees were planted from acorns harvested the year our daughter graduated high school and left home. There were three trees, one for each family member, but the August 2020 derecho took one of them out.

The plan is to remove one of the remaining two after the garden finishes this year. It will allow the final one to grow to maturity. By the time it does, I’ll likely be too old for much gardening yet I hope to be able to appreciate its native glory.

It took an hour to harvest tomatoes yesterday. There were two and a half gallons of San Marzanos, a milk jug full of mixed cherry tomatoes, and a bushel of slicers. Today’s plan is to clean them all, remove the imperfect ones to make tomato sauce, and organize what’s left for optimum storage and use in the next couple of days. Tomatoes planted under the oak trees are looking better, so there will be a harvest of plums and Amish paste for canning. This season is running late across the garden.

While I reached into tomato cages to take fruit from the vines I thought about next year. I plan to continue the trellis system for cherry tomatoes and plant two additional long rows, one of mixed slicers and one of San Marzanos, Granaderos, and Amish Paste. The trellis will be longer, as we are using more cherries in the kitchen. It needs to be more sturdy so I may invest in t-posts for the upright supports and place them closer together. They will be flanked by the other two rows, which in turn will be flanked by bell peppers on one side and a mix of eggplant and hot peppers on the other. That would allow focus on that particular garden patch at the same time of year. One can tell fall is not far away by this contemplation of next year.

Where the garlic will go this fall is not decided. This year’s crop continues to cure in the garage and the heads used have been healthy and tasty. I planted 100 head last fall and it produced plenty for the kitchen. Almost every seed planted yielded a head. When the curing process is finished, I’ll save the best heads for seed. This garlic originated on Susan Jutz’ farm and has been planted year after year for a very long time. It has good characteristics and stores well.

Soon I will mow the harvested garlic patch and use the plot to store grass clippings. With the recent rain, the yard grass is long and will make plenty for storage. I also need to tear down the failed onion patch and prepare it to store fencing. I need a sunny afternoon for this work.

We move through the gardening season so quickly any more. In late August, the work continues to be about tomatoes, peppers, greens, celery, and eggplant. Cucumbers and zucchini are about done. I hope to plant lettuce before the week is done. Acorns forming on oak trees are the sign I had better get going.

Categories
Living in Society

Processing the Intake

Bee seeking pollen in a thistle plant.

As daylight moves toward summer’s end, the amount of information available has increased dramatically. After a busy Monday, I have to stop the input and process what I’ve gained. In an ever-forward life, that’s hard to do.

In the next township over, one of the Iowa CO2 pipelines is planned to cross Johnson County. The public debate is whether private companies should be able to use eminent domain provisions of the law the way a government would to run these pipelines. If you got everyone involved in the projects – companies, government, land owners, farmers, and citizens – I’m pretty sure we could agree that these pipelines serve no useful purpose to the environment. During initial rollout of the plans, companies hardly mentioned the environmental impact of CO2 emissions on earth because there are and may be more markets for the commodity. This is mostly about being able to export Iowa ethanol to California, which has stricter air quality regulations than Iowa. Well maybe I’m wrong these folks wouldn’t agree.

In Iowa’s First Congressional District, Republican incumbent Mariannette Miller-Meeks has defined her campaign as one tapping into a mother lode of money and crazy policies in her national party. In a way this makes the race easier for Democrats as she will be out of touch with what all district residents want and need. It will be harder because of the endless well of dark money in politics agitating everything. Democrat Christina Bohannan is busy doing the work of a candidate all over the district. There is a lot to take in as I plan my engagement in the fall campaign.

I am disengaging in my position as president of our home owners association in a development with a population of about 250 people. Finding people to be on our all volunteer board has been challenging. I served on the board in three different periods since first being elected in 1994. There are real responsibilities with managing our public water system, roads, trash and recycling removal, and a separate wastewater treatment plant. We kept the board fully staffed since I returned in 2017, yet few showed interest in leading the effort. Both managing the activities and finding a replacement will take time I’d rather be spending elsewhere.

Our family decided to become home owners. We built new in 1993 and 29 years later, a lot needs attention. Lilac bushes planted in 1994 are now overgrown. Repeated straight line winds and a derecho knocked down trees and branches. We are at 12 years since last roofing the house. Major appliances need upgrade. The list of home repairs and upgrades is pretty long. We have to be ready to slow down, and that means making the house more livable as we age. We tend to avoid these projects because we don’t want to think about them and how we finance them on a fixed income. We have to get going or the to-do list will only continue to grow.

Seems like I spent a lot of my life developing game plans and this is no different. I know enough to stop the input of new projects and focus on optimizing the use of time and resources. I’ll give it until Labor Day. If planning goes on past then, it may drive me crazy.

Categories
Writing

Print More Letters

Woman Writing Letter

When I open the Press-Citizen, the first thing I seek is letters to the editor. There have been less of them printed. Indeed, I’ve been trained to look for them only on Wednesdays and Saturdays. I counted only two issues in the last 24 days (as of Aug. 8) with letters.

This important forum has been de-emphasized. I get it that newspapers are under pressure to turn a profit and an opinion editor costs real dollars. Still, engaging reader-written content must count for something.

I’ve been writing letters since 1974 and accept the medium may be reaching toward obsolescence. It has been an outlet for my writing and a way to get my views in the commons for feedback. I’d like to see more people writing letters from diverse viewpoints.

If only the Press-Citizen could regularly print them

~ Published in the Iowa City Press-Citizen on Aug. 13, 2022.

Categories
Living in Society

Aging in America – Part I

Vegetables drying on the counter after harvest, Aug. 10, 2022.

The first thing I noticed upon my April 20, 2020 retirement is nothing changed. We were entering a period of living in a global pandemic, and a main goal was to live to see the other side of it. Since then, it has become clear the coronavirus pandemic will change, yet not end.

On Feb. 3, the Iowa governor extended the state’s Public Health Disaster Emergency Proclamation regarding the coronavirus pandemic. She announced it would expire at 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 15. After that, “the coronavirus becomes normalized in daily, routine public health operations,” she said. Agree, or not, our lives of living with the virus continue, such normalization as has been dictated by the government has not made life like it was before we heard the words “coronavirus pandemic.”

This is the first of a series of posts I hope to write about aging in America. While my reach is not far beyond Big Grove Township, universal themes run though my life and I hope to think about and tap into them for my writing.

Since retiring during the pandemic I became a pensioner, which means there is a fixed income mostly from my Social Security pension. I feel flush with cash when the monthly check hits our bank account. That feeling diminishes rapidly until I’m waiting for the next check to hit. As long as there are no major crises, we’ll be okay.

A while back I inventoried every distinct part of my body. There were issues with every major system, and aches and pains accumulated over a lifetime of being physically active. I’m not as flexible as at age 30, yet can bend and crawl in the garden much as I have since our first small one in 1983. The frequent jogging I began during military service has turned into walking. I take a cholesterol medication which is fully paid by insurance. Everything else I do regarding inputs is completely voluntary. My frame seems sturdy, I feel healthy, and am mostly ovo-lacto vegetarian.

Most concerning is my ability to see. I wore eyeglasses since high school and now have a pair of transition lens glasses for general use and a special pair for the computer. I expect my cataracts to harden with increased age. My ophthalmologist told me they have already begun to do so. I have an ophthalmologist.

While my financial and physical condition are important, they are not my main interest here. There are questions to be addressed, if not answered:

  • What does intellectual development mean to a septuagenarian?
  • How should my diet change with aging?
  • What types of social engagement should be pursued?
  • What role will I play in Democratic politics?
  • What kind of creative output do I seek to accomplish?

It is hard to say how many posts this will take. Like with other big topics, they may not be immediately following each other. Writing about aging in America is a worthy topic, though. I will do my best to not be boring.

Categories
Sustainability

Hiroshima Day 2022

Hiroshima, Japan after U.S. Nuclear Attack. Photo Credit: The Telegraph

On the 77th anniversary of the United States dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, hundreds of diplomats representing the states-parties to the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), along with representatives from civil society, are convening at United Nations headquarters in New York for talks that will shape the future of the international nuclear arms control regime at a time when the risks of nuclear proliferation and nuclear competition are growing.

Godspeed to the delegates!

I have been writing about nuclear arms reduction since the nuclear freeze days in the 1980s. We don’t seem to be getting anywhere. When the 45th president was in office, he contemplated re-introducing so-called tactical nuclear weapons into our military arsenal and would likely have withdrawn from the NPT if given the chance. He rejected the idea of the U.S. eliminating nuclear weapons.

Where do we go from here?

Nuclear weapons should never be used again. Conservative forces that came to power in the wake of Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980 have been steadily deconstructing the nuclear arms protocols that took so much work to put in place. Unchecked, they will continue their work. It seems clear people with common sense about nuclear weapons need a new narrative. This gets to be a worn sawhorse, but we need to elect politicians willing to reduce and eliminate nuclear weapons in accordance with Article VI of the NPT, an agreement the United States willingly signed and ratified. Who knows if the treaty could be ratified again in today’s polarized U.S. Senate?

So another year passed without progress on reducing our nuclear arsenals. If anything, the war between Ukraine and Russia heightened international tensions and has nations keeping their arsenals in place until we know the outcome.

Let’s hope the NPT Conference produces significant results and a viable plan for compliance with Article VI. The United States should lead this effort, although we have been recalcitrant about hanging on to our nukes.

Today we must consider what it will take to make needed change.

Categories
Sustainability

A Solon Cemetery

View of the Saint Mary’s Catholic Church cemetery in Solon, Iowa on July 30, 2022.
Photograph of the now razed Saint Mary’s Catholic Church on Aug. 1, 2013. The cemetery was located around the church. Photo Credit – Wikimedia Commons.
The cemetery has a look of not being maintained. The closer the view, the more markers are found damaged and askew.

There are cemeteries like this across Iowa and the United States. I like the look of sunken and leaning monuments, and broken grave markers reflecting the passage of time. How is perpetual care done in places like these? Beyond mowing the lawn, not much is done except by family and volunteers. If I had family buried here, I’d maintain our burial site. What would happen after I’m gone? This cemetery is not featured on the current church website. I wouldn’t call it neglected, yet it is not a main part of the community.

Except for the image of the church, photography is by the author.