Wednesday, July 30

Iowa City School Board Race

With the wild summer that we have been having, it would be easy to forget the Iowa City Consolidated School Board races that are about to begin, as the filing deadline is August 1st. There will be at least four candidates vying for three seats. Incumbents Patti Fields, Toni Cilek are running for reelection and Richard Tiegs, and Michael Shaw will run for the three seats.

Toni Cilek graduated from University High School in Iowa City and received both her BS and MA from the University of Iowa. She is a Clinical Associate Professor in the Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology. Toni is the parent of four children, three past and one current student in the ICCSD.

Patti Fields graduated from Solon High School and received a BA in Spanish from the University of Iowa. She is Director of Community Impact at the United Way of Johnson County. Patti and her husband Jeffrey have two sons in the ICCSD.

Shaw received his bachelor's and master's degrees in social work from the University of Iowa. He has worked for more than 25 years in a variety of capacities as a social worker and youth worker, including as the Family Resource Center coordinator at Grant Wood Elementary.

Richard Tiegs is a former PTO president at Coralville Central Elementary and part-time administrative assistant for the Presbytery of East Iowa.

With the change approved by the Iowa House and Senate and signed into law by the Governor to extend terms to four years, beginning in September 2009, school board elections will only happen during odd-numbered years.

In this election, the public will be able to vote at "centers" anywhere in the county.

The school board election is September 9th.

Unitarian Universalist Like Me

While the story of an armed gunman, Jim D. Adkisson, opening fire on strangers at a Unitarian Universalist church in Knoxville, Tennessee is several days old, the killing has weighed heavily on my mind. As a Unitarian Universalist, I wanted to understand the motivation of the killer who shot into a crowd of people who practice my faith. It is perhaps the most telling thing about UU's, to want to understand and not be condemning of others, to question, and to be compassionate.

According to the AP, the gunman wrote a four page letter where he expressed "hatred for gay people and what he called the liberal movement." The "liberal" policies that incidentally allowed him to receive food stamps and unemployment insurance during the two years he was without work, and allowed him to stay in his home so that he could hatch such a despicable act against people that he had no real knowledge about. Joe Barnhart, one of the victims, said "The liberals that I know are like the conservatives I know. They may criticize each other, but they don't go around shooting each other."

Sadly, people like Jim Adkisson are around us and perhaps John Prine was right when in song he implored us to say to complete strangers, "hello in there, hello." There are a lot of people who are disconnected from the rest of us and some may do unspeakable things if left to the voices in their heads.

Unlike those he killed, he will live to have a chance to understand his act. But, as Joe Barnhart said, if Adkisson is convicted, perhaps he should "never see the light of day in an orderly society" again.

Monday, July 28

Setting Up the Chessboard

As the November election nears and I hear candidates on both sides talking more about the need to put more troops into Afghanistan, I am concerned about ratcheting up of the war machine. It seems that our government intends to strategically use a situation that most agree has been given the short shrift (that is stabilizing the government in Afghanistan against a counterinsurgency by the deposed Taliban regime and capturing Osama bin Laden) to pump up the pressure on Iran, which it conveniently neighbors.

If you add the Iraqi border on one side and the Afghani border on the other, you can easily understand why the Iranian government might feel increasingly threatened. If ever there was a time to apply diplomacy, this would be it.

Who's Taking Votes Away from Whom?

As a disclaimer, I am a registered Democrat, so what will follow is defense from a person whose ox will surely be gored. However, if small "d" democracy is about anything, surely fairness is high on the list.

John Deeth, who I consider to be a friend and ally, wrote in his blog that "[Ralph]Nader and [Cynthia] McKinney are expected to draw votes away from Barack Obama, while [Bob]Barr is expected to take votes from John McCain."

I don't disagree with John's assessment, but I do disagree with the presumption that Democrats and Republicans should be automatically given the benefit of being the one's that votes are being "taken" from. As it stands, the major parties already have a distinct advantage over any other candidate (tell me where on the Iowa tax form anyone can check off a box to make a donation to a third party?), plus election rules favor the two parties.

It seems to me that if anyone's votes are being taken, it would be these lesser known candidates. If the $$$ playing field were level, does anyone honestly believe that the plurality of the vote would go to any one party? It is interesting to me that anyone who is not brand D or brand R is often labeled as obstructionist (not by John, of course) to one or the other major party's chances for election. The fact is that the two major parties do not cover the gamut of ideas that people would like to see enacted and these third party and independent candidates offer those ideas.

Having said this, the result of third party candidates and independents on elections, as the game is currently played, is they can sometimes have an effect on the outcome. It seems to me that if the Big Two want to put the threat these candidates pose to rest, their candidates should do what they do to members of their own parties while campaigning for their party nomination; usurp the good ideas. It seems like a "win-win" proposition.

Friday, July 25

An Arresting Development

Four Iowans were arrested today while attempting to make a Citizens' Arrest of Karl Rove in Des Moines, Iowa. Citing Iowa Code provisions for making Citizen's Arrests as well as citing Federal Statute violations they claimed Rove had violated, the four were stopped at the gate of the Wakonda Country Club in Des Moines where Rove was scheduled to speak at a Republican Fundraiser.

The four arrested were retired Methodist minister and Peace and Justice Advocate, Rev. Chet Guinn, 80, as well as three Des Moines Catholic Workers, Edward Bloomer, 61, Kirk Brown, 25, and Mona Shaw, 57. All four were cited for trespassing and released.

The four maintained that they were acting within the guidelines of Iowa Code that obligate private citizens to make such an arrest if they believe a felony has been committed and turn Rove over to police officials to bring Rove before a judge for formal indictment. By law, a federal judge should consider the charges and determine if an indictment should be made.

Brown and Shaw made a similar attempt last March when Rove spoke at the University of Iowa, Iowa City. Brown and Shaw were arrested and released without charges following that attempt. Deaths in the Middle East since the March attempt number in the thousands including, 151 more US troops have been killed in Iraq, and 284 killed in Afghanistan as well as far more citizens of those two nations.

Rove remains unindicted and recently refused to cooperate with a Congressional subpoena in the Valerie Plame leak investigation. Despite mounting evidence of Rove's wrongdoing concerning leading the U.S. to war as well as other actions, Congress and the U.S. judicial system remain reluctant to bring charges against either Rove or the Bush administration.

To date there have been 4125 US Military deaths in Iraq, 896 in Afghanistan, 66,775 casualties (wounded as well as those removed for other injuries and illnesses), and more than 200,000 Iraqi and Afghani citizens killed and many, many more wounded.

Photos at:

Fact Checking the Ads

The good folks at the FactCheck have these disclaimers to ads from McCain and Obama.

Thursday, July 24

Rove-ing Vigilantes

Iowa-based activists, the Des Moines Catholic Workers, plan to attempt a second arrest of Karl Rove when he visits Des Moines on Friday.

According to their press release,

Des Moines Catholic Workers, Catholic Peace Ministry and allies will
attempt to confront Karl Rove again when he appears in Des Moines
tomorrow. Rove, the "architect" of the Bush administration and chief
author of the lies that led the nation to the so-called "War on
Terror," is returning to Iowa to speak at a Republican fundraising
luncheon on Friday, July 25.

(See )

Last March, Des Moines Catholic Workers Kirk Brown and Mona Shaw
attempted to make a citizens' arrest of Rove when he spoke at the
University of Iowa. Brown and Shaw were placed under arrest inside
the hall during that attempt and later released with no charges were
filed against the two.


Rove remains unindicted and recently refused to cooperate with a
Congressional investigation into the Valerie Plame matter. Despite
mounting evidence of Rove's wrongdoing concerning leading the U.S. to
war as well as other actions, Congress and the U.S. judicial system
remain reluctant to bring charges against either Rove or the Bush
administration. Recent evidence includes Articles of Impeachment that
will again be presented by Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich tomorrow.
Vincent Bugliosi's new book "The Prosecution of George W. Bush for
Murder" carefully lays out a case against Bush and his administration
for war crimes and felony murder. Bugliosi was prosecutor for the
Charles Manson Family murders and author of the book "Helter Skelter,"
which dealt with that crime.

Catholic Workers will work within the guidelines of Iowa Code that
obligate private citizens to make such an arrest if they believe a
felony has been committed and turn Rove over to police officials to
bring Rove before a judge for formal indictment. By law, a federal
judge should consider the charges and determine if an indictment
should be made.

Old Blackwater Keeps on Rolling

According to the UK Guardian, US private military contractor, Blackwater, is getting out of the mercenary security end of its business.

Company executives said they are moving away from security work in the wake of close media scrutiny of private contractors' behaviour in Iraq, particularly a Baghdad shooting involving Blackwater employees that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead. The incident is under investigation by American law enforcement.

Besides having four of their own contractors killed in Falujah, the incident mentioned above, and other peccadilloes--CEO and Founder of Blackwater, Erik Prince has an interesting view of his company being a "gun for hire" and its ramifications for others in his line of work.

"The experience we've had would certainly be a disincentive to any other companies that want to step in and put their entire business at risk,'' Blackwater founder and chief executive Erik Prince told an Associated Press reporter who was given a daylong tour of the company's headquarters.

Red State Road Trip Day 13: The Cost of Energy

See for yourself...

VOICE in the Wilderness

What will it take for Iowa to enact legislation that will lessen the power of the pocketbook of wealthy lobbying interests on the laws that affect the rest of us? VOICE (Voter-Owned Iowa Clean Elections) is an effort to do just that.

Why do we need VOICE? Common Cause says this about clean election law benefits:

• Makes candidates and elected officials accountable only to the public interest, rather than powerful special interests

• Saves taxpayer dollars by reducing inappropriate giveaways to campaign contributors

• Makes elections fair by leveling the playing field for candidates

• Allows politicians to spend less time fundraising, so they can spend more time addressing national priorities

• Gives all citizens, regardless of wealth, a fair shot to be heard and participate in every step of the democratic process

• Reinvigorates our democracy by helping to reengage voters and increasing voter turnout

However, for legislators that control what makes it to the legislative "funnel" (what bills are moved toward the governor's signature), such as Mike Gronstal, the prospect of VOICE legislation frightens them.


Well, it is about winning elections--and who has the competitive edge. Voter-Owned Elections is a voluntary system for state elections where candidates can choose to run using public funding instead of constantly fundraising and accepting monies from power groups hoping to wield their influence. It provides qualifying candidates - those who collect a set amount of signatures and $5 donations from within their district - with a set amount of money from a public source if they promise to refuse money from all other sources. I stress, it is voluntary.

For a wanna-be representative running for the Iowa House, that limit would be $15,000 of public money for a primary and $30,000 for the general election (unless they are running unopposed). For a job that pays $25,000 a year, it seems reasonable. However, the concern is that if one candidate opts in and their opponents don't, this could leave them in a huge cash disadvantage, even though the system allows the VOICE candidate to receive up matching money up to $60,000. But, if your opponent is spending $250,000 (which has happened in some high profile races in Iowa), $60,000 can seem paltry.

What is the unspoken threat of VOICE is that people do not take into account is that it allows for more than two kinds of candidates to run for office. VOICE actually creates an opportunity for a diversity of candidates to run for office and, perhaps, break the hold that a two-party system currently has--not to mention, making it harder for power brokers to buy party-line votes for their issues.

So, how does VOICE stand a chance to win approval, given it apparently bites the hands that would feed it?

Speaking just for me:

1) Voters should demand it by supporting candidates that sign a pledge to support and are willing to lead on VOICE legislation.

2) An organized effort to lobby sitting legislators needs to occur with the mantra: support VOICE or else.

3) If all else fails, push it to state referendum and/or change the Iowa Constitution.

Wednesday, July 23

Naysaying a Naysayer

Wall Street Journal Opinionist, Bret Stephens said yesterday that "Al Gore gave a speech last week "challenging" America to run "on 100% zero-carbon electricity in 10 years" -- though that's just the first step on his road to "ending our reliance on carbon-based fuels." Serious people understand this is absurd. Maybe other people will start drawing the same conclusion about the man proposing it."

Mr. Stephens, who was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum (which is "committed to improving the state of the world" and has its own agenda relating to energy production and greenhouse gas reductions) is clearly no expert on innovation, nor does he defend his flimsy position very well.

In any case, the unnamed "serious people" he is referring to must not be the same serous people that Al Gore and others rely on for their scientific, technological, and innovation policy ideas.

Stephans then goes on to state "an inconvenient fact. In 1995, the U.S. got about 2.2% of its net electricity generation from "renewable" sources, according to the Energy Information Administration. By 2000, the last full year of the Clinton administration, that percentage had dropped to 2.1%. By contrast, the combined share of coal, petroleum and natural gas rose to 70% from 68% during the same time frame.

Now the share of renewables is up slightly, to about 2.3% as of 2006 (the latest year for which the EIA provides figures). The EIA thinks the use of renewables (minus hydropower) could rise to 201 billion kilowatt hours per year in 2018 from the current 65 billion. But the EIA also projects total net generation in 2018 to be 4.4 trillion kilowatt hours per year. That would put the total share of renewables at just over four percent of our electricity needs."

What he fails to say is that because of the ravages of global climate change and their potentially lethal effects, that this plan is not only doable, but necessary. And what he does not say is Gore's plan will have to compete against traditional energy production giant's agendas to succeed. The Wall Street Journal would not likely bite the hands that feeds it.

Society's Social Needs Let's Fix Them

Populist Jim Hightower was quoted sometime ago in The Sun magazine as saying "Conservatives have historically seen people falling through the cracks in society and said, That's the way things work, survival of the fittest. Liberals see people falling through the cracks and say, We've got to do something about those people falling through the cracks, so we need a strong government that can provide programs and assist those people. Populists say there shouldn't be any cracks; let's fix them."

Whether the issue is education, employment, affordable housing, veteran care, or health (including mental health) care, we have to push our elected leaders to stop with the band-aid approaches and to set policy that allows every American to have good education, a decent place to live, work that supports their family's basic needs, and access to affordable health care. If we can do these things as communities, much of governmental spending for stop-gap domestic policies will decline in the long-run.

To do this though, we need to stop finger pointing and start planning. How a person ends up in desperate straits is irrelevant. The thing that matters is how we find a way to move forward.

There are some initiatives that we need government to ride herd on. If you read my post about energy policy, it is my belief that government does need step in and establish a course to address the serious affects that global climate change poses. However, with these domestic issues, it is probably good that states and localities develop solutions that work. As I note the pulling together of concerned citizens to address the aftermath of the flooding here in Iowa, I realize that this is also a way to address these day to day ongoing problems that are never addressed to the level they deserve.

So, Gov. Culver, once you get your blue ribbon panel's report about how to address the flood aftermath, challenge localities to address the social needs I've outlined. I'd be glad to volunteer.

Tuesday, July 22

Fear-Based Energy Policy

There is significant evidence that tells us that global climate change is real and sufficient science to safely say that human beings have had much to do with it. But, even if man were to be totally devoid of responsibility, there is ample evidence that shows that greenhouse gases, e.g., the particles of carbon dioxide per million, have increased and there are actions that could reduce or, at worst, not allow the level to increase.

Add to this that oil production, has already peaked (or will peak by 2020) due to the limited potential for future finds and increased demand. Whether this is true is certainly debatable, but in all cases, the production for oil slips precipitously by 2050.

The hopeful person would see this as an opportunity to introduce new energy technologies, increase those technologies that already are known to work, and reduce those technologies that contribute to CO2/greenhouse gas increases. At the very least, it should be an opportunity revisit public energy policy for long-term solutions, rather than short-term political gains.

However, in reality, economic forces and politics that are "fear-based" are in place. These are the voices that say that we can't possibly replace an oil-based economy with clean, renewable energy--and certainly not in ten years, as Al Gore is famously promoting. These voices also tell us that we must dig for oil everywhere we can to be spared the disaster that not doing so will surely rain down on us. Even those who are playing both sides of the fence, like oilman T. Boone Pickens, who has said that the current energy situation is not one we can "dig our way out of" is promoting natural gas as a car fuel, despite the continuing problems that methane (aka natural gas) would bring in the form of greenhouse gases.

The voices of true laissez faire/let the market work harbingers do not want to allow public policy to interfere with the invisible hand (which effortlessly guides the economy to cause change as economic forces declare). However, is anyone sincerely willing to play Russian Roulette with the survival of humanity? Is anyone truly Malthusian enough to wait for the invisible hand of economic forces to thin the herd?

And what of the transitionalists, like Pickens, who say that we need to transition away from fossil fuels and that natural gas, for one, is an important transitional fuel. If we don't move in this way, the argument goes, we will plunge our economy into a disarray that we can not hope to recover from.

But is it true, particularly if we accept that the type of renewable-based energy programs could be in place in ten years, that such a transition is necessary? In other words, if we only pursue the renewable energy path, would we be worse off in ten years than if we chose the path of gradualism and, perhaps, slow the trajectory for energy redevelopment to a more "reasonable" timetable?

The answer is yes only if we are talking about the world economies as static. Perhaps gradualism would be better than doing nothing in this unreal case. However, with the economies of Asia booming, particularly in India and China, the increased output of greenhouse gases put us--the global "us"--in real danger. So, the answer has to be no. Transitionalism will not a good use of time nor resources.

The best case is for an agreement to be drawn between the mega-economic states to make the 10 year plan work and to provide resources and incentives for it to happen. If we believe that the US can't do it alone, we must diplomatically join the forces that already see the benefits of working cooperatively.

Unfortunately for the USA, an election year gambit by the Republicans (and frankly, some Blue Dog Democrats) says we need to do more drilling and to bring the cost of oil down for the next ten years, which plays to some voters' fears that we cannot "do nothing" and be able to take care of ourselves and families. As we have learned the hard way, voters do not like change if it affects them in the wallet. It is sad how the public can be "feared" into war over oil, but can't be "feared" into preventing it by changing our habits where it comes to oil consumption.

Gordon Gecko of "Wall Street" fame may have believed that "greed is good", but that's not a lie we can afford to believe any more than we can afford to be led by fear tactics.

Monday, July 21

FAIR! Weather Friends

With the summer moving along, FAIR!, Johnson County's progressive voice for issues of importance to county residents is in need folks to get their hands dirty by joining with us to work on issues like broadening mass transportation opportunities, fighting for more and better affordable housing options, acting as watchdog for local government actions, and more. We need front line, wanna-be activists who will get involved.

With the recent floods, there will be ample opportunities to weigh in on issues including watershed conservation, as well as how the county and cities prioritize their budgets in the coming few years.

E-mail me for more information. We will also have a community meeting on 9/17 in meeting room A at the Iowa City Public Library from 6:30. Pencil it in your calendar, more details to follow shortly.

Listen to This VOICE--Hint, It's Not in Your Head

Voter Owned Iowa Clean Elections (VOICE) meeting this Wednesday in Iowa City
People matter more, money matters less!

The VOICE bill has been endorsed by many organizations including: Democracy for America (DFA) , The Sierra Club and I-Renew.
Event Info Host: Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement

Time and Place Date: Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Time: 7:00pm - 9:00pm
Location: Iowa City Public Library, Meeting Room A
Street: 123 S. Linn
City/Town: Iowa City, IA

Contact Info Phone: 515-282-0484

Saturday, July 19

No Values Voters Speak Out

Okay, it is an Onion spoof, but it is still enough to make you go "hmmm..."

Sparse Change?

Traditionally presidential political campaigns are high on ideals and low on results--for every big idea that is adopted, there are hundreds more that never see the light of day. Is it any wonder that the electorate is sour to Washington DC's ways and means?

Politics is the "art of the possible" and thus there are many mediums employed to create this "art". Legislation is sculpted by lobbying interests, painted by public policy gurus, digitally enhanced by spin doctors, and then sometimes acted on by politicians whose world view is occluded by the next election cycle.

Are we the "nation of whiners" that John McCain supporter and former Senator Phil Gramm says we are? If he means that we complain that those we send to Washington to represent us don't live up to our expectations, then, yes, we are guilty as charged. We like to think of our leaders as living up to their predecessors, after all this is the USA, land of constant improvement.

The fact is that most of us don't really participate in the messy world of policy. The language of legal documents makes our eyes glaze over and so we wait for it to be cut up by the press and advocacy groups into easily digestible pieces. However, in legislation, like all things involving planning, the devil is in the detail. Buried in most legislation are bits and pieces that are added on, aka "pork". Sometimes the pork is tasty pork and other times it is a trade-off to get the legislation through committee.

The point of all this is that for real change to happen in Washington, we need to be better consumers and voters and push for things like clean legislation. Without insisting that the way business is done in Washington is changed, it won't make as much difference who we send there.

Friday, July 18

People Get Ready!

Summertime is a wonderful time to catch up on light reading, or so I thought when I picked up economist Jeffrey Sachs' latest called "Common Wealth--Economics for a Crowded Planet" (He also wrote "The End of Poverty"). In it he posits that there are six trends that are going to impact global poverty, the environment, and over-population: 1) Economic convergence or how poorer countries economies catch up to wealthier ones 2) More people with higher incomes 3)Wealth shifting to the Asian continent 4)Continued urbanization 5)Human impact on the environment 6) The "poverty trap" wherein some economies are unable to escape the factors that lead to hyper-poverty.

And Iowa has something to say about these trends...

Here's Sachs on Bill Maher's show from not too long ago.

Thursday, July 17

The Gore-y Inconvenient Truth

Al Gore said in a speech today, "It is only a truly dysfunctional system that would buy into the perverse logic that the short-term answer to high gasoline prices is drilling for more oil ten years from now." How about that?

As I have watched Congress go back and forth about what to do about the high price of gas, the economy, and our place in the world theater about climate change, Al Gore summarized it best in his speech by saying "We’re borrowing money from China to buy oil from the Persian Gulf to burn it in ways that destroy the planet. Every bit of that’s got to change."

His solution, to enact the equivalent of the 10 year plan that John Kennedy proposed to land a man on the moon before the decade was out. In other words, by 2018, the US will replace its dependency on fossil-fuel and replace it by "producing 100 percent of our electricity from renewable energy and truly clean carbon-free sources within 10 years."

Think of the economies that will create to retrofit the national electrical grid to accept electricity generated from solar cells as well as wind and geothermic power? Imagine the technological leaps that could be made if Exxon/Mobil, Wal-Mart and others sunk their huge profits in developing inexpensive solar cells and fixing the national grid?

Wednesday, July 16

Home from the Red States Tour

If you ever want to understand the differences between say Iowa City and elsewhere, a road trip will clue you in to the fact that there are deep divides in this wonderful country of ours, but there are also a lot of people who hover in the middle and swing right or left depending on their own experiences.

Days Four to Six: Mossy Grove, TN

I got back to Mossy Grove (actually they live on Whippoorwill Hill) in the evening of day four and ate pizza and watched the Tour De France with Charlie who is a mountain biking nut. We had a good time commenting on the commentators who we saw much more of than the actual leg of the race. It made me think of how TV news spends much more time with pundits who opine about a news story than with the actual news story.

As Charlie is a dedicated public servant, I spent day five with Gertie, a young rooster just learning to crow, and his eight soon-to-be-laying hens at the log cabin home of our friends. I sat out on their porch reading former Oklahoma Senator Fred Harris' autobiography "Does People Do It"--which I heartily recommend. Fred Harris, a Populist from Walters, OK never caught fire as a national candidate for the presidency, but definitely was a powerhouse in his own right. Coming from a state which is much more red than when he was involved with politics, Harris nevertheless was willing to stick his neck out when corrupt politicians were not doing the people's business.

That afternoon, Betsy and Phyllis returned from Chattanooga (which Phyllis calls, Chatta-Vegas--don't ask me why). They did their best to stimulate the economy by visiting folk artist Howard Finster's Paradise Garden, shopping at Hammer's-- where Betsy got me a wonderful shirt with a kayak motif, and many other little places that Phyllis knows about. They also spent time with Phyllis's delightful daughter, Avalon, and her English husband, Clynton.

The afternoon is a blur, but when Charlie got home, we ate a fine dinner with the natives at El Cantarito -- the food was muy delicioso! But even there was a woman with a Blue Tooth ear piece jutting out of her head. Seriously, it is okay to disconnect from the rest of the world, once in a while!

Day six started at Lynda's for a high cholesterol, heart-stopping breakfast that was nonetheless great! One of the waitresses there has been known to wear a t-shirt that depicts Jesus Christ beating the tar out of George W. Bush--she picked it up at the local flea market. An interesting thing about eating there was that the owners also sell shoes right next door to the cafe. So, in between the smell of eggs and bacon is also the redolent odor of shoe leather.

We packed a picnic and went for a short hike, where Charlie plucked a red mushroom that Betsy insisted on taking home with us and then took a swim. The swimming hole had a slew of people in and around it. There was a girl's softball team, a Harley club, and assorted families and people in the dating mode. The water was great, but I just couldn't get over the putrid smell of decaying nature which reminded me of the floods in Iowa.

Day Seven - Mossy Grove to Vandalia, Ohio

Regrettably, we departed Tennessee after an early morning thunderstorm decorated the landscape in watery goodness. We stopped in Cincinnati to visit friends. While there, we found out there was a "Extreme Home Makeover" home being built in the neighborhood, so we went to gawk.

To say that EHM is a spectacle would be an extreme understatement. There were security fences and security guards. Buses brought in spectators and hundreds of people stood in the hot sun watching the house being constructed by volunteers and the designers. The family it is being built for has children with severe spinal deformities.

There were EHM t-shirts to be had and the sponsoring companies had a lot of product placements all over the street. Apparently the production company buys a blanket insurance policy to cover the damages to people's lawns and sends the neighbors on vacation (or pays them a fee) so they can build day and night.

It makes me think what could be done to alleviate the plight of the poor, if we put our collective capitalistic minds to it.

We arrived in Vandalia later that night and hung out with my family until the kiddos had to go to bed. My niece, Aly, had a high fever, so she was relatively reserved compared to her normally bubbly self. My nephew, Rien, was in his room building something mechanical. My brother-in-law is a rabid Reagan Republican (and a fan of all things Fox News)and is going to vote for John McCain, very reluctantly. Interestingly, he and my sister are both socially conscious people, but see the government as getting in the way of people helping themselves. As you can imagine, we have limited conversations about politics, but we do agree that George Bush has made a mess of things.

Day Eight - Vandalia, OH to Peoria, IL

We started the day with breakfast with Mom and Rien at the Waffle House--my arteries are still thanking me for that. After tugging weeds from Mom's garden and other small things, we bid adieu to the good folks in Ohio and started back to Iowa. Somewhere around Indianapolis, I thought it would be nice to stop for the night somewhere that Betsy and I could enjoy by ourselves.

We ended up in Peoria, and lucked our way into a hotel by the Illinois River (Thanks to an accommodating concierge at the Embassy Suites) that had a jacuzzi. As Betsy pointed out later, it had a similar motif as the cabin in Tennessee without the charm of authenticity. Still, after days of long drives, it was nice to have a break before getting back in the car--particularly since it had the iffy A/C since early in the trip.

Day Nine - Peoria to Home

We began with the "extended continental breakfast" at the hotel where Fox News was blasting from the TV and some beauty product conventioners were discussing the great workshop they attended the day before. There were also the usual boisterous children who liked to thump into us every chance they got.

We drove the unimpressive two and a half hours and arrived home to the silence of our dogs who had been napping in the shade of their pen. Their vocal abilities returned quickly when they realized it was good old mom and dad. Our cat has been less forgiving--imagine a cat with attitude...

Friday, July 11

My Own Red States Tour

Greetings from the road! My wife Betsy and I am out to see friends and family while simultaneously doing some business and attending a national conference. While not intending to emulate Chris Hume's Red State Road Trip 2, I have my own observations of our travails.

Day 1: Drove from Iowa City to Mossy Grove, Tennessee

The road was less congested and I saw fewer license plates from out-of-state than in the past. The big thing I noticed were the number of trucks rumbling along. The cost of diesel along the way varied from $4.31 a gallon to $4.63. Given the amount of trucking that is done and the cost to deliver goods over long distances, it should not surprise anyone that the cost of most everything is going up. My friends who support locally-grown initiatives should be able to make the point that locally grown also means less expensive, as well as healthier. Of course the down side of locally grown is when floods drown your crops.

Our first stop was in a little town in Missouri called Frankford. There are about 351 who live there. My wife needed to use a restroom so we stopped at the only general store there. While I perused the map, she went in and related that she was greeted with Missouri warmth--grunting and figurepointing to the bathroom. She told me that the men there were drinking coffee and griping about George W. Apparently they are not benefiting from high gas prices or uncertainty about their crops.

We went through St. Louis and crossed over into East Saint Louis. I will say that compared to ten plus years ago, East St. Louis is looking a lot healthier; apparently healthy enough for Larry Flynt to have a "Hustler" Club there off the interstate. Road Porn, yee haw!

We stopped in Evansville, Indiana along the way to get a bite to eat at a restaurant called LA--so much for eating locally--right? Evansville borders Kentucky and is the largest metropolitan community in the tri-state area.

From there we trapsed across a couple of "parkways" and found ourselves in Bowling Green, Kentucky--home of Western Kentucky University--the Hilltoppers, I believe. I saw a bunch of guys in hard hats with coolers walking along the roadside. The looked hot and dirty and so I assumed they were miners, at least until I looked across the road and saw the WKU football stadium which apparently they are working to enlarge--so much for stereotypes!

I will say that the natural aspects of Kentucky are amazing--rolling green, green, and more green. Some of the small towns along the way have seen better days, but rustic seems to fit the landscape there.

As we got into Tennessee, my sense of direction took leave of me and we wandered a bit off the track. Eventually we got to Wartburg, where my friend Charlie met us at the local Sonic drive-in restaurant and got us back to his place, which entailed going up and down steep, gravelly, one lane "roads." We ate late, but the blackberry cobbler was worth the wait!

Charlie and Phyllis are our great friends that we have known since our days in Texas. Charlie works for Big Guv'ment and Phyllis is an artist. They live in a great log house--to call it a cabin does not do it justice. They have a garden and raise chickens and their home faces a mountain range--though, perhaps technically, they are hills. With their own well water and five acres, they could be self-sufficient. But, they kind of like electricity and haven't harnessed wind power--yet.

Day 2 and 3: Drove from Mossy Grove, TN to Washington, DC.

Betsy's plans were to stay with Charlie and Phyllis while I made my foray up to DC to deliver a report to the National Career Development Association and do some networking there. The drive was pretty straight forward up north interstate 81 to US 66 (yes, I got my kicks on route 66) to the outer loop to 270 to getting lost in Maryland. Oh and my car air conditioner decided to accumulate all of its condensation in the carpeting of the front floorboards along the way--not good.

My friend George Wimberly, who I used to work with at ACT put me on the straight and narrow to find his place in Olney and I bunked in with him for my stay. George is the Director of Professional Development and Social Justice at the American Educational Research Association these days. He has become a gym rat and was looking ripped (not LL Cool J ripped, but in the general neighborhood). DC agrees with George, who, like me, originally hailed from the great state of Ohio.

We commuted in on the Red Line to DC and I decided I wanted to get off at K street where George's office is located. Bad move. It was 23 blocks in the mid-morning humidity and rain of DC, meaning I arrived soaking wet and sweaty--perfect... This led to my first observation of DC, everything drips there--whether it is the dripping of sarcasm, sincerity, jewelry, or condensation on the chrome handle of a urinal---there is much dripping. Fortunately conference business went well.

While sitting in a conference lounge, CNN was making a big deal about what Jesse Jackson said "off mike" on Fox. The media loves "Gotcha!" Fortunately, it is likely to help, not hurt Barack Obama that Jackson did it. Oh, and there was a story about what may have been the stone that was used to seal Jesus' grave, but that was not as "sexy"--although the back and forth between biblical scholars smacked of Hannity and Colmes.

George and I reconnected in the evening and I got to see the working class of DC at a local hangout called the Matchbox schmoozing, boozing, perusing, and excusing (typically to crack text on their Blackberries or get/make a cellie call). Many snippets of conversation were mixed with the business of government and business of getting busy--surprise, as the average age of those I was around was the mid-twenties.

More to come.

For Chris Humes latest installment, go here.