Wednesday, August 3

Iowa City: City of Tomorrow--Today?

With the construction cranes whirling about in the skies near downtown and the earth movers and construction barrels on Dubuque street, you'd have to be both blind and deaf to not notice the growth and renovation occurring in our Iowa River city/town center. It seems that with anything that people find value in and with apologies to W.P. Kinsella, if they come, we will build it. And that is not necessarily a bad thing. How we grow, though is open for discussion and has serious repercussions.

As with all places, people cannot agree on what constitutes good growth. For instance, in the free market world, all growth is good and any attempt to control that growth is sacrilege. For people of social conscience, growth that creates more equity is desired and believes the levers of government should be used to accommodate that.  People craving environmental justice believe that growth that uses more inputs or does not encourage reuse, recycling, and reducing is an unsustainable model and also believe that policy and law should be used in making decisions. And, of course, there are moderations between all of the mindsets. Still, how would you like to be the City Council who has to address those concerns around growth?

So first, it is important to articulate the priorities around growth so that at least we can understand how decisions might or should be made. For instance, if the environment is given top priority, what does that mean to social equity or to unrestricted growth concerns? If growth for growth sake is the rule, what does that mean to the other concerns. If social equity is top-listed, what does that mean to the other philosophies? This is why commissions and boards were created. Ostensibly, they are intended to do the deep thinking that supports decisions that are best for all concerned. However, as these boards are political appointments, they can be swayed to favor certain ideas over others.

To that end, should boards be required to be balanced? Should representatives from the "big 3" interest areas be appointed, as opposed of the x number of applicants? I'd say that is more important than other factors such as gender or racial balance (albeit, worthwhile goals). The more the debate is inclusive of opposing mindsets, the more likely a compromise can be reached that will be less optimal for the special interest and more so for the whole. The city council can choose to implement such an agenda or it can be crafted into the City Charter.

But what else? Typically the city makes changes to master planning documents on 10 year cycles. The public and others are invited to make input to the process. However, this also means that there are prolonged periods when the master plan is static. Would it be better to have a plan that is like moving pieces around a chess board. What I mean is say an environmental goal of the city is to reduce its carbon footprint by 20% by 2030, does this require every project developed to find ways to do this or treat it as a cumulative result. If projects 1 to 10 put the city on a trajectory to reduce the footprint by 1%, could that mean that the remaining projects must make up the remaining 19%?  Policy would help to determine this. Good policy, in this case, rewards good actors and reduces the bad ones.

What if plans submitted for consideration were required to address the priorities that the city has identified as essential for its residents. If a city RFP stated clearly what the environmental, social equity, and growth goals are and the projects submitted would be awarded on that basis? Or better, incentives were laid out with the goal of meeting those goals -- 100% for each project?

Currently, there are organized forces that want things their way with limited intrusiveness and those who want to build a dreamscape without regarding the needs of right now. Surely there is a way to marry these ideas in a way that everyone involved is equally annoyed, not with each other, but with the limits of democracy and technology.

Tuesday, July 26

The Bern Doesn't Go Away

I have been a proud Bernie Sanders supporter since 2008 when I first heard him make the case that the Billionaire class had to be stopped. I became a supporter for his candidacy in 2015 when he made an impromptu stop at an event that was being held in the basement of the then Unitarian Universalist church building in Iowa City. He said very few words, but he let us know that what we were doing mattered. Later in the spring, at the request of Rod Sullivan, a county supervisor and long time political friend, I volunteered for the kickoff event here at the Robert A. Lee Recreation Center where Sen. Sanders spoke to an overflow crowd. I thought to myself, a balding Jewish guy, is there something that I don't know about the American taste in men? To say I was shocked at the turnout and the subsequent "political revolution" is to put it mildly.

Fast forward to last night's speech where he called on us to back Hillary Clinton and VP nominee Tim Kaine. Like most Sanders supporters, I was conflicted. I mean the DNC had been undermining his campaign, there have been reports of voter fraud, and loads of other accusations, some proven, some supposition. And I'm angry about those things. But, and it is a big "but", Sanders spoke to my heart last night and more so to my head. As he has said innumerable times, this campaign was never about him, but for what we wanted from our government. He instilled the idea that a political revolution was the only thing that would change things--and categorically, he is right. But, just as revolutions don't succeed just because you declare them, they must be fought on the landscape on which they are drawn. That is to say, to change politics, we need to fight both from the inside and the outside. And that is what Sanders and his supporters have done best. The Democratic Platform is the most progressive one of all time because Berners were working with Clinton supporters to make it. Perfect? No, far from it--but improved!

To all of us I say, keep fighting!

So where do we go from here? We take a deep breath, we remember what the stakes are, and then we vote, if our conscience and logic allow, for Hillary Clinton. Not carte blanche, but with the understanding that if she succeeds, we have a chance to succeed. From the inside, we can push the agenda that Bernie ran on and has been fighting for his whole political career. We remember that politics change when the players in them change. Hillary Clinton is seen as the ultimate insider--First Lady, Senator, Secretary of State and, for most anyone else, that would be a ticket to the White House. But there is something different going on here. And this is what I most want to talk about.

We have been generous to a fault to men in public office who have been less than honest, less than faithful to others and their offices, and less than--period. In my lifetime, I watched my mother go from being a suburban housewife with the expectations that accompanied that, to the primary breadwinner of our household. I saw how hard she worked to make sure none of her children were wanting. In fairness, my parents were divorced and my father paid alimony, but it was not enough to put a roof over our heads, to clothe us, or to make sure we could go to college. My mother made that happen.

I watched my mother work as a realtor because the jobs she might rather have would not have afforded her the ability to earn what she was capable of--and even then, I watched her passed over for opportunities that were afforded men in her walk of life. Good enough to help her broker-bosses do very well for themselves, but not good enough! But my mother was not a complainer--she went to work everyday with the single-mindedness that even if she didn't matter to those she worked for, she damn well was going to matter to her kids, her friends, and her community. And she did!

My mother passed away last October. We packed away her belongings: her name tags from her various employers, her many awards for sales--all the trinkets of her life's work. She didn't love politics, but she was a lifelong Democrat, but not a joiner. She was very much a woman of her time--one part Cosmopolitan Magazine/Virginia Slims "you've come a long way, baby" and one part traditional mother figure who loved to bake brownies and make jello. But she was tough as they came.

I don't know what she would think about a woman as President; her memory was pretty shot by the end of her life, so I'll never know. But I think she would be proud that a woman who believes as she did that you should earn your own way, not blame others for the difficulties you have, and believe that as long as you could make sure your kids were okay, you'd be doing okay-- would be all right with her. I know, like her son, she'd likely not agree with everything Hillary Clinton did or does. She loved reading the Sunday paper and comment on something she was reading, the news of the world mattered to her. She was amazed when Barack Obama was elected. She called him the new JFK--and I know she loved Kennedy because in her desk drawer for years she kept the Chicago Tribune that reported his assassination. She wanted things to be better.

Bernie Sanders spoke to my heart, the same way that I think Hillary Clinton speaks to the hearts of many and specifically women and men whose lives have been shaped by the women in theirs. Electing her and more women in political offices across the world is a gigantic leap toward that may change politics forever. That is a huge weight and responsibility, but I've seen how, first hand, the desire to make a difference in your lifetime a woman could do that for her kids. Imagine what we could do for the children of our nation if we gave in to hope and pragmatic change that makes hope turn into reality?

I honestly believe that the political revolution lives on, how could it not with millions of Berners out there wanting to keep the fight going? However, I hope there is another voice that comes up, as it has for me-- that says: "there is a way forward and we must put aside our disappointment in the moment to have that future we may all believe in." Supporting Hillary Clinton, imperfect though she may be, is, in my estimation, the best way forward.

Tuesday, May 31

The Day After Memorial Day

The article said: "Have you remembered the soldiers who gave all?" And I had to think about that. Had I?
Then I remembered a passing instant when I looked at the bedraggled Marine Corps flag of my neighbor, Jack Royston, who died without ceremony at 93 a month ago and said, "Thanks for everything, Jack."
   But my thanks was for the life not given in war, but for the life lived as a husband, as a neighbor, and a father, and as a grandparent. It was thanks for the decency and struggle he lived his life; for building his own house as he could afford to do it. It was for his shirtless lawnmowing perched atop a John Deere mower which was as regular as any clock.
   For the many midnight calls by the county to assist his wife and take her to the hospital and the lights on in his kitchen that followed. It was for the way he carried himself with dignity whether it was on hobbled knee or pushing his trash can to the curb.
   I thanked him for the friendly waves and loud "halloos" from his doorstoop while collecting his morning paper. It was for the tour of his home-made woodshop and his stories of The Old Soldier's Home in Dayton, the city we had in common.
   He was a "desk jockey" during WWII and was glad for that. He was lucky to marry the girl of his dreams and make Iowa City his home for most of his life. To be able to make children's furniture and raise money through a charity golf tournament.
   Thanks for everything, Jack. A life lived in service to others is also a life to be remembered. After 93 years, Jack truly did give all.

Friday, May 27

The Race to the Finish Should Lead to Philly

I was a mediocre runner back in the day, but even I understood the importance of running full-tilt to the end. Things happen, people drop out, get injured, find a second or third wind. So I understand why Bernie Sanders is neither dropping out or "phoning it in" at this time despite the rumblings. 900+ delegates have not been decided, the news about the State Department email issue has not made then Secretary Clinton look good, the polls in California have tightened, etc. And yet, some dyed-in-the-wool Ds are saying, "Wrap it up, Bernie. You made your point, but enough is enough."

    And I appreciate that viewpoint too. People have been under-estimating the Trump campaign in both parties and it is evident that the more free press he gets, the more the worry of a Trump Presidency becomes a real concern and hard to throw money at. Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders polling numbers show that in a head to head competition, they can win, but at the moment, it depends on which numbers you look at and whether you believe that they will hold currency when November rolls around.

    For that reason alone, I say let the Democrats play this out to the conclusion and see what happens between the end of the primaries and the Convention in Philly. There are a lot of cards to be played, not the least of which is unifying a fairly frayed party. I firmly believe that the Democrats who are accused of having to love their candidate, can still fall squarely in like with whomever is selection. But how this happens depends on some factors, for instance:

1) The role of the DNC at the convention. Clearly there is a rift between party Centrists and the left-leaning wing that Sanders seems to have built up. Debbie Wasserman Schultz is a lightening rod for a significant number of party members, but she has also be the spokesperson for the party. If it is seen that she is being thrown under the bus for unity and Chuck Schumer replaces her as scheduled, then things may not go well for Sen. Schumer, who is seen as another Clinton surrogate. On the other hand, if it becomes a battle royale between a Sanders leaner and Sen. Schumer, that doesn't help either.

2) If he does not win the nomination, significant face time for Bernie at the Convention and his tone in using his time will be closely scrutinized. If he begrudgingly is conciliatory or, as he has promised, backs Hillary Clinton fully and encouraging his followers to do as well, it will help. Likely as not, those who closely follow Sanders will join him, even though some younger or more skeptical may see him as then bought and paid for, if he does toe the line.

3) Choice of running mate by Clinton or Sanders will be important. It is not very likely nor advantageous for the eventual candidate to choose his or her rival. A fresh face or a highly esteemed neutral party will likely needed to change the conversation. There are lots of names bandied about, but if it is Sanders, he'll need either a progressive who is seen positively by Clinton's supporters and vice-versa for Clinton should she chose a more moderate running mate.

4) Focus on the prize. Whoever the next president may be, she or he will be naming at least one member, but possibly two or three more in their term. With a fractured military and unfocused foreign policy goals, a coherent policy must be constructed. And on top of that, living up to campaign promises will, be "yuge." Donald Trump in some ways is the least of their worries, but in the immediate space, must be dismantled in a unified way, but that will become more difficult as alliances on the R side are better formed.

There is not a real other option for the Democrats in terms of timeline. The will have to slog it out and get their house in order both in the backroom and in public at their Convention in Philadelphia. It won't likely be very pretty, but thankfully the finish line stretches further than November.

Thursday, May 12

Son of Popular Progressive

In 2013, I discontinued writing this blog. Then I learned that someone "spammed" the blog and people were not able to read my old posts, not even me. So, I did the only thing I could, I retrieved the blog and, like Dr. Frankenstein, I am bringing it back to life!

There has been a lot of good that has happened for the Progressives (both popular and otherwise). I intend to focus on the primaries and reconnect with old friends who never stopped blogging. If you are interested in following along, please do. Feel free to comment. Since I do moderate the comment section, please know that I believe in respectful (but humor is welcome) dialogue.

Concluding on the Frankenstein theme. There are some monstrous things going on out there, the least we can do is point them out and offer a better/different way to think about them. And with that, so long for now. Content will be coming.

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.