Tuesday, October 29

Want Representation? Progressive Voters Need to Show Up in Iowa City

There is an important City Election around the corner and, for some, it is already "over"--they've early voted. But for the rest of us, we have until  Tuesday Nov. 5th at 8 pm to vote. And why should you?

In the last 4 years, we have seen more changes to city ordinances that affect the civil rights of people in our community than in the past. Why should that be a concern to you? Because it will cost all of us in the long run, either in the resources for collecting of petty fines, the addition of police officers, or in the constant cash flow to downtown businesses being seen as a unfriendly place to go and yet always with a hand out to "create" business.

Our current city council is truly downtown business-centric and, in their actions, they think whatever is good for downtown business is good for the city. In the meantime, the businesses on the east, southeast, and west sides of town are struggling. In part, it is because of years of representation of the core, largely to the exclusion  of the outlying areas of town. With 33 neighborhood associations, it is clear that residents here value other parts of town than just the hub.

However, to have a voice that advocates for outside of downtown, we have to elect people who understand the needs and have a desire to strengthen all parts of the town so that jobs can be created closer to where they live, shop, and where their children go to school.

Now that downtown has its own taxing entity, it should mean that other resources are freed up to assist the outlying neighborhoods to make improvements without all the TIF funding. And there has been some movement in that direction. However, they are for mostly to improve walk-in medical facilities that had fallen to disrepair by a large landlord rather than for affordable housing, child care facilities, and other needed services that people value.

Further, our city needs to continue finding ways to grow sustainably, improve bikeable and walkable and public transportation features so that the number of cars on the roadway can decline over time. Building on a more compact footprint should create economies in some cases, but has not proven so in the core of the city. Therefore, it is incumbent that in other parts of town, smaller communities within the community need to have the basic shops, housing, and other resources so that we have a city that can support all kinds of workers, not just those with higher incomes. When people have to spend more than 35-40% of their wages on housing, they can't afford other necessities or to save money to invest in themselves or their community. Affordable housing near work, schools, and shops allows a person to be less dependent on owning a car and more likely to be stable in their home.

There are three people running for the City Council who understand the needs of a diverse and vibrant community. They are Royceann Porter, Kingsley Botchway, and Rockne Cole. Voting in the bloc of them will balance out who is represented and will ensure that progressive minded people who are equally interested in how Iowa City grows with the livability and sustainability of it have multiple voices on the council.

Do yourself and your values the service of voting for these three great choices, our great city and its future are in your capable hands.

Monday, April 22

Do We Dare Understand?

Like many of you, when I heard about the explosions in Boston, it frightened me. And that is what terrorism does, it frightens and begs explanation. As the story unraveled and we learned that the terrorists were two brothers who had emigrated to the US with their family, something changed. Yes, they set off bombs and yes, people were killed, but now they were not "foreigners" but disaffected immigrants who's reasons for doing what they did are largely unknown. It didn't make their acts any less horrific, but the narrative changed.

And then the manhunt and the mortal wounding of one of the brothers. Citizens of Boston being told to stay off the streets while police and military personnel combed the area for the suspect. Finally, there was a celebration when the wounded suspect was  reported to authorities who swooped in with explosive flash caps, robotics, and heat seeking technology and brought the seriously injured brother in.

And then the flag waving began. People who wanted to show themselves and perhaps the world that America and its ideals won't be stopped by bombers sang loudly at sporting events and unfurled the flag for all to see.  They proclaimed as loudly as possible that we are indeed the "land of the free and the home of the brave."

And that is the part that I have a hard time  understanding. Why do we need to wave the flag every time that something unspeakable happens? Is it possible that our own propaganda has been in the background of these events. Is it possible that we can just appreciate the fact that something that could have been, and I say this with the utmost respect to the persons who were killed and injured and their families and friends--far worse?

We may be a great and enviable people, but we are also confused. We are largely navel gazing and don't want to be concerned by other peoples' concerns as long as we are okay. Then, when something terrible happens, we thank God for making us special, but apparently not too special, and drag out Old Glory to remind others of why we are great and enviable.

We need to think about the difference between what we aspire to be and what we actually do. I do not know what the Tsarnaev brothers were thinking or the Columbine or Newtown gunmen or Timothy McVeigh, but I do think that they observed the difference between our flag waving ideals and the way we do business. Many people have made similar observations in the past, present, and will in the future. Many have acted in ways that address the grievance in a positive way, as opposed to engaging in senseless violence. And I suspect there will always be bipolarity between those pusing positive and by-any- means-necessary change.

Do we dare understand the motivation of these monsters? Or do we look in the mirror and agree that whatever shortcomings the US of A has, it is still the Greatest Country on Earth and we are proud to be Americans. Wrap the flag around that idea and get back to me.

Saturday, October 27

Today I Vote

I have been actually dreading going to the polls and voting. The weight that I feel as a swing state voter is a burden. But no one wants to hear from a martyr, so I'll just say that making a choice for the President of the US has been the most difficult of my life for several reasons.

On the one hand, I voted for Hope and Change in 2008, but in 2012, I'm voting for good sense. In 2008, we watched out economy tank in part by economic decisions that helped the few and cost the may a lot. I am not willing to go backwards and accept the policies that brought us to the brink again, but I also wonder what four more years of partisan bickering are going to do to us.

I do not believe that the men and women running for the highest office are perfect people or even that all their ideas will be impactful. Truly the eye has been off the prize in this election. While we have been worried about who will be the next president, the House of Representatives is not likely to be changed and therefore, either we will see the same political posturing in the House or the posturing will shift to the Senate, depending on who is elected to the presidency. So whoever we elect is going to be fighting an uphill battle.

The vast majority of people think that the House is largely ineffectual, but don't understand the ramifications it has on the person they elect to the presidency. Romney says elect him because he can work across the aisle, but how much work do you have to do when it is your party in power? Yet, as we experienced under Obama, even if you have the votes, the partisan shopping cart has to be filled first and that arguably has problems too. The Affordable Healthcare Act, while well-intentioned, is not a flawless piece of legislature and people have the right to be upset about those provisions that they feel will be detrimental to them.

This election is important, but more important is how do we as Americans deal with each other regardless of the outcome. The closer we get to the election, it would seem, the more confidence we have in spending money again (and that is where jobs come from). So, is it that we are a hopeful people putting our faith in false idols or that we are simply in need of a leader that can articulate our sense of confusion and frustration over where we are going? Or do we need a leader that can get deals cut?

What I see is that we need both. And that is what makes voting all the more difficult. I see President Obama, Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, and Rocky Anderson as men and women who do a great part with the first question. I see Governor Romney and President Obama as the deal makers. Whatever people may like or admire in a President, what they get done is what we remember.

As much as I would like to vote purely on my beliefs, I find that is not a way ahead. The way I see it, is to build support at the state level for candidates outside the big two and to seek either non-partisan elections or at least real alternatives to the big two parties. When around 40% of the electorate claims to be independent, there certainly is room for a third party or at least independent candidates that speak to that group. But that is not where things are today.

Until that happens, at the national level, it is still most important to vote for the person who is likely to do more of what you want and less of what you don't want.
- I want a president who is relatable and can clearly articulate his or her vision.
- I want the president to be straightforward and honest, but to wait until the facts are clear.
- I don't want a president that will repeal laws that impact women, nor do I want a president that will conduct drone strikes with impunity.
- I don't want a president who would make it harder for people to join or stay in the middle class, nor do I want one that would make everyone pay for the lifestyle of the rich.
- I do want a president that will improve the prospects for all Americans to receive a world-class education, but I want localities to figure out how to do that.
- I want a president that will make sure that we all have healthcare, but won't insist on fining us if we can't afford it. I want a president who wants to find a solution for allowing American workers and immigrants to both be able to work, but I don't want one who will close off markets unnecessarily.
- I want a president who supports the rights of workers to organize, but will step in if necessary if it is for the good of all.
- I want a president who doesn't want more people in jails and, at the same time makes it possible for those who have been to rejoin society without repercussions after having made restitution.
- I want a president who follows the Constitution, but does not treat it as a static document.
- I want a president that understands that we are a part of the world and not an exception from it.
-  Finally, I want a president who supports equal rights regardless of race, religion, sexual identity, or gender.

And I am voting today.

Wednesday, October 24

Consequences: Voting Your Conscience or Wasting Your Vote

Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson argued last night at the Free and Equal debate held in Chicago for supporting a third party candidate. “Wasting your vote is voting for somebody you don’t believe in,” he said. “I am asking everyone watching this nationwide to waste your vote on me … and then I’m the next president of the United States.” And around 1% of the voters in the 50 states are likely to do so, but it won't be because they believe they are wasting their vote.

In the current political environment (and that of the last 200 plus years), third party candidates have been choked out by the stranglehold that the two major parties and their supporters have on the election process. Whether it is ballot access, the ability to be heard at public debates, or being covered by the press, with few exceptions, the system is severely gamed against diversity of opinion. And that is a shame.

So is voting for a third party candidate really a waste of your vote? It depends on your reason for casting it. If you are protesting the current system, than it is likely to be a waste. But, if you are voting to support the ideas of the candidate, it is a good thing. It means that you are paying attention and realize that the two major party candidates are ignoring really important issues.

For instance, if you were waiting to hear either President Obama or Governor Romney or their running mates to discuss global climate change and its impact on the economy, the environment, global politics--you are still waiting. According to an article in the Christian Science Monitor, "Not once during the three presidential encounters or the single vice-presidential debate did the subject come up." Had you been watching the Free and Equal debate (which can be seen here), you would have heard a lengthy discussion from the Green Party's Jill Stein, the Justice Party's Rocky Anderson, and also Johnson about it, the legalization of marijuana, and other issues that aren't being bandied about by the other parties' standard bearers.

When the candidates were asked what amendment that they would make to the US Constitution, two said that they would have term limits, one said she would outlaw corporations as having the same rights as people, and the other would enact a equal rights act which would be inclusive of women and those with LGBT identities. How many times did Romney or Obama address these topics?

However even the most educated voters need to consider the unintended consequences of their choices (remember Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004?). For instance is imminent peril to the planet more important than who sits of the US Supreme Court? Are assassination drone strikes by the CIA and imprisonment  without due process more important than national security or the best a democracy has to offer? These are the tough decisions that voters should be making rather than feeling that they are settling for the lesser of two evils (or that a vote for third party x is really a vote for major party y).

In the end, the best vote is made by the educated voter--and having the strength of your convictions probably doesn't hurt either.

Tuesday, October 9

Investing In Careers


By day, I spend my time helping college students to plan for and execute their career plans. It is a job that I am impassioned to do and yet, I genuinely worry that we are a nation of job-seekers rather than careerists. What's the difference, don't jobs make careers? A career by definition is "life's work" and the summing of jobs that add up to something greater than the sum of the parts. It is something that we plan for, strive toward, and readjust as we understand ourselves, our talents, and the needs that we can fulfill for others, as well as ourselves.

This morning I ran into a letter by Jim Martin of Boulder, Colorado and I truly liked the premise it. Mr. Martin's letter asked why don't politicians talk about investing in career creation rather than job creation? The problem is that I don't believe that politicians can help us to do it, if they are driven in investing solely in job creation.


Martin says, "It used to be that work was more than just a way to pay bills; it was also about following your life's passions, finding your calling or developing a vocation. It was a tangible way to complete us as people.
This country was built by people with passion, vision and determination, by people pursing [sic] dreams, noble causes and some trying to actually live out their uniqueness in their work and play. They did this by pursuing careers not in just finding a job!"


I agree that careers are created by personal initiative and supported by education systems that educate us fully, an economy that is looking for better solutions, and social and private entrepreneurship. If government were to invest into people's dream careers, we might have a more robust economy, but there is no guarantee--same as is true of the private sector jobs. Careers are often trial and error affairs where we fail and succeed to understand ourselves, our talents, and our value to others in the world.

Careers are deeply personal visions and whether it is a James Audubon painting the birds of America or Henry Ford making the car that would someday drive us to the brink of an energy crisis for our personal freedom, we have seen the upside and downside to people living their dreams.

Governments and economies thrive on us doing jobs that make stuff. To fuel the systems that require public dollars, taxes must flow and rely on industry to do it. The counterpoint to this is that we need to protect those systems that make all this industry happen and hence regulations that are non-medical Hippocratic oaths to cause no harm. Careers are more than jobs, they are personal expressions of self and the self has many complexities to it. We may cause harm to understand that we shouldn't cause it, but it is always in the interest in becoming better and doing better.

Politics does not value the ebb and flow of success and failure and governments are replaced if there is a general consensus that they are failing us. Offering people the opportunity to work is a way to stabilize them until they find their career path or to support them when their career path is on the downswing is a role that government should play (and we can argue whether Pres. Obama or Gov. romney has the better plan for that), but it is up to the rest of us to encourage people to find their passion, develop their skills, and support their endeavors.

This is where the government can really shine. Helping to build a foundation of education and supports self-discovery that creates the next Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Helen Keller, Dr. Martin Luther King is a great investment. But irrespective of what we do, it will still take the moxy of those individuals to step up. Because even the greatest society relies on the individual to create their own career.

Saturday, October 6

While I've Been Away...

We are thirty days away from the 2012 Presidential election and here in Iowa voters are already casting their votes. Since September 28th, early and absentee voting is underway, even as candidates and their surrogates are out in force trying to swing votes or to reach the 2 to 3% of Iowans who have not made up their mind.

Another important race to watch is between incumbent Democrat Congressman Dave Loebsack who is facing his hardest campaign to date from former John Deere lawyer and Republican challenger, John Archer in the newly reformed 2nd District. Loebsack will rely on heavy voter turnout in Linn and Johnson counties to offset more conservative strongholds in the southeast and Quad Cities support for Archer.

Also on the flip side of the ballot, for Johnson County residents is the bond issue to build a "Justice Center" or a $48 million combined jail and courthouse on the existing courthouse property. While few would argue that the current courthouse and jail are antiquated and, therefore, inadequate for current demand, the larger picture of whether a bigger jail is likely to lead to increased incarceration of minorities and students busted for minor offenses. While it is fair to argue the case, pragmatically, we are faced with inhumane conditions, lawyers who have no place to meet with their clients and arraigned defendants who are housed in six other counties at an increasingly higher expense.

Lastly, on side two of the ballot is the vote to retain Iowa District and Supreme Court Justices. David Wiggins is being targeted for removal because of his vote that supported same sex marriage in Iowa. What is more at stake is replacing an independent judiciary with political surrogates put forth by a nominating committee whose majority is of one party and approved by the Governor of the same party. The determination by those who want to push a state constitutional question that two other US Constitution rights already has covered is reliant to some extent on removing Judge David Wiggins. Iowans would be wise to keep a competent judge on the job by voting for his retention.

Monday, April 2

An Open Letter to Governor Branstad: I've Got a Beef, Dude

Dear Governor Branstad,


Let me first mention that I did not vote for you, but I did not vote for Chet Culver either. I generally didn't expect that you would be a good governor for working Iowans or for those of us who think that consumers should have the right to know what goes in their and their children's food. I am writing this to express my dismay at the political theater that you have most recently engaged surrounding BPI and the production of the meat by-product that they produce. I'd also like to state that I am not a Vegan and love a good hamburger, as you also appear to do. Lastly, I understand that you promised to create upwards in the neighborhood of 250,000 jobs and the threat to 200 employees in Waterloo at BPI because of legitimate concerns over how they make the "lean finely textured beef" trimmings product (that has been labeled "pink slime"--a nickname that both you and BPI wish for consumers to strike from our vocabularies) does not help. 


As the state's CEO, I can see how you would legitimately be concerned about the loss of jobs, although at the moment, the workers are on paid leave for 60 days while BPI seeks to reclaim the public trust or at least the confidence of customers who recently bailed on them. However your support does not seem to be about those workers, but rather the support of the company's management and their business practices.


 I understand that as a governor of an agricultural state, you are called to fend off attacks that could impact the larger industry that so much of our state economy is based on, but I also understand that many people legitimately want to know what they are feeding their families (or their schools are) and don't feel that this product passes the smell test (sort of like when McDonald's used earthworms in their hamburgers years ago). 


In fairness to BPI and meat by-product producers, it is not really their fault that people perceive their product as less than pure beef, certainly they are not covering up the process, and in recent days have gone out of their way to show how the product is made. However, this product originally was created to process animal feed and through calculated efforts has been approved by the USDA as okay for people too. It doesn't help that the process takes the leftover parts of the cow and send it through a series of steps that is reminiscent of the production of Soylent Green, albeit really purified, free-of-e.coli beef product. 


It is true that if the meat that is produced were labelled appropriately, then consumers could make an informed choice of whether they want to pay for 100% pure chuck or 80% pure chuck and the leavings of 20% of other parts of cattle that has been treated with ammonia hydroxide, frozen, and mixed into the other meat. 


But this is where I take exception to your actions after you visited the plant (Seriously, the lab coat and hair net? Not a good look.): 
To write to state superintendents and to say "If this product ceases to exist in schools, grocery stores and restaurants, it is estimated that 3,000 jobs could be eliminated. This product is proudly raised, fed, processed, packaged, transported and sold by parents of your school’s students. By supporting this great Iowa product and serving it in your schools, you will send a strong signal on behalf of those who rely on it for their living." is nothing short of political arm twisting bordering on extortion. It is the job of educators to educate and even I know that meat is not so healthy as other choices. However, I don't see you sending them letters to encourage more broccoli in school diets or to encourage them to remove vending machines with sodas and candy. 


Also, I don't see you addressing the workers whose jobs were taken from them and mobilizing workforce development resources to help find a new job, whether it is the 200 people who worked (and may yet be called back to work) in Waterloo or the other 2800 jobs (I'm sort of confused who these people might be, since BPI doesn't employ them), I'd think that you'd be most worried about making sure that they had the resources to go back to work as soon as possible.


Finally, it appears that the BPI owners have chosen to keep their South Dakota plant open, at the expense of the plant in Waterloo. I don't know if this makes you mad, but it would me, if I were governor. Iowa employees are hard working and don't deserve to be sidelined, but BPI has decided that its Iowa workers are less important, non-essential, and that  hurts. While you were on tour with Governor's Brownback and Perry, surely you got the sense of what those jobs are like to those who do them every day. Don't you think that  you owe them the kind of tenaciousness that you unleashed at the BPI press conference?


I have some small recommendations for you, lean finely textured beef, if you will: 1) Order that all beef in Iowa be labelled as to its content. If it is 100% pure lean finely textured beef, let it be proclaimed proudly. This would probably help create jobs, by the way. 2) Retract the letter you sent to the state school superintendents, let school districts decide locally what their course of action should be. 3) Put the state's resources to good use in helping the BPI workers to find a new job, if in 60 days they are permanently furloughed. 3) Boycott products from South Dakota--it will serve them right--their own governor didn't even go to the BPI event and they got to keep all of their jobs. Alternatively, boycott the Sturgis Bike Rally. 4) On behalf of fashionable Iowans, never wear a white lab coat and hair net again--it makes you look like the Pillsbury Dough Boy.