Sunday, October 31

A Crazy Thought: Sanity Should Prevail

While watching Jon Stewart's "Rally to Restore Sanity," I was struck by attention paid to the idea that many people are fed up with extreme views and the fanning of their flames by the 24 hour news cycle. It is logical that we the people would be wanting to stick a fork in the Tea Party and say it is done. However there is the small matter that the issues they have raised are not necessarily all "conservative."

For instance, the effectiveness of government is not the providence of extreme conservatives, many progressives and moderates are just as frustrated by the political processes of government. Regardless of whether people think that government should be big or small, I think the point we all agree on is: it should work. Frankly big ticket items that Congress debates like wars and health care should raise hackles--they are incredibly expensive. The difference in wars and health care though is that we have waged war for a long time and the return on the investment is not always so hot. How much will health care end up costing? Well, depending on the election, we may not ever know, despite having a couple of model programs that the government runs (The VA and Medicare) that actually work pretty darn good.

Is our disdain of government limited to the majority party du jour or the fact that regardless of which party is in power, the ability to make laws that serve people over other more monied interests is questionable. Whether you fear corporations, millionaires, or labor unions' influence, the major point is that all American people are disadvantaged by decisions that are not intended to be in our best interest.

The hope that I take from seeing thousands of people turning out for a pseudo-political rally is that we realize the joke is on us. We realize that our government is only as good as those who represent us. Fortunately, many politicians are reasonable and decent people, despite what the 24 hour news cycle tells us. It is true that there are some folks with rather extreme views representing people who also share these views, but most are people who want to do the job they were sent to do, but are isolated from the moderating voices.

If pressed, I'll bet most would agree that if they could be assured that they could be elected without taking PAC money, they would--as long as other men or women would do it too. If pressed, I'll bet none of them would add "pork" to bills, if the folks back home wouldn't throw them out if they didn't take care of pet projects. Politicians, like the rest of us, use the tools at their disposal. Also, if politics could be moved into the realm of the non-partisan and parties had less control over who the "strong" candidates are, perhaps we could expect more reasonable people to seek offices. Perhaps, if more third party candidates ran, a more even keeled government might be formed.

But who am I kidding? Jon Stewart, I'm not. I'm a guy in Iowa who has witnessed sausage being made for a little too long. And as soon as this mid-term election comes and come the Caucuses. Whatever end of the spectrum you are on, be prepared to be used for photo opportunities or join the fray. There is sanity in it--somewhere.

Monday, October 25

Early Voting Report

If turnout at the local HyVee grocery store is any indicator, turnout for the mid-term election is going to be much higher than anticipated. While my wife and I were there, there were no less than 40 voters lined up to cast early votes (among Sunday grocery shoppers who were unpleasantly surprised to be squeezing through the voters). I'll leave it to the much more agile John Deeth and the auditors at the Johnson County Auditors Office to determine the statistics, but it may be that there is some reason to believe that close races will be that much closer.

The hot buttons in this area are, of course the vote to repeal the 21-ordinance, retaining district and supreme court justices, and less visably, the call to change the constitution for a phased in penny tax to fund water conservation efforts in the state. This may be the lowest flying object under the radar, but if it goes through, it may well help to protect Iowa's waterways from toxic runoffs.

With respect to the elected county and state office races, all of them are in play, except for Johnson County Board of Supervisors Sally Stutsman and Janelle Rettig, and State Rep. and State Senator Vicki Lensing and Joe Bolkcom who are running unopposed. Also Recorder Kim Painter and Treasurer Tom Kriz are also running without opposition. Of course, there are likely to be write-in votes for others, but there is no organized opposition to these candidates of which I am aware.

Thursday, October 21

Weighing in on a Local Issue: Yes to 21 or No to 19

Several years ago I ran for the city council in Iowa City. At the time I did not support invoking a 21-only ordinance for being in a bar after ten at night. Though I was absolutely sure that bars were making a killing selling to underage customers, I worried what would happen if these same kids ended up at house parties (because I had heard some awful reports). And, at that time, there were a number of other measures I felt could be undertaken that might have made things better and served to curb binge drinking.

One of those initiatives happened. There is now a keg registration, so that there accountability if someone should hold a house party and underage drinkers are there, the responsible party is the person who registered the keg. I'm not saying it has stopped house parties, but it is a deterrent. I also supported raising the age of alcohol servers and restricting the use of alcohol at community events, neither of which has happened.

However since that time, a few things have swayed my thinking on this topic. First, and foremost, I now work at The University of Iowa and have had a better look at the problems that underage drinking can cause. Secondly, the bar owners had not done a whole lot but give lip service to curbing their enthusiasm for selling to minors, as the police statistics prior to the enactment of the current ordinance showed. Finally, and most damning, the number of people who are underage and come from other communities continued to climb. Call it civic pride, but I don't want somebody's child being harmed in my city or on the way home to their own.

Also with the recent decision to let establishments make "split venues" and students still able to go to places that make 50% or more revenue from food after 10 pm, I don't feel that folks will have to roam the streets for entertainment. And nor will entertainers. Plus, the incremental evidence since June shows that the ordinance is doing what you'd hope a law would do, it's reducing underage alcohol offenses.

I believe that the culture of alcohol goes beyond people under 21, and from a perspective of fairness, I wish that the legal age of drinking would go up to 25. Why 25? Because, statistically, that is when alcohol related offenses generally begin to decline. However, a couple of extra years of maturation may do two things, turn the tide for a group of people who desperately need their wits about them so that they can get through college and two, help change the culture of drinking, even if it is ever so slightly.

Realistically do I think that people will circumvent the law? Of course, but a lot of young people are not looking to get into trouble. Some need a compelling reason to stay out of it. Morality cannot be legislated, but laws can help some people to do the right thing by themselves.

As far as what will or won't become of downtown Iowa City's economic heartbeat, time will tell. I do believe that nature abhors a vacuum and with the number of built-in customers in and around it, things will likely be fine. At the worst case, perhaps the rents and real estate values will come down and more people who'd like to live and work downtown could. That's one unintended consequence with which I could live.

Waiting on the "Declaration" of Independents

In July I got an email from the Democratic Party to complete a survey. They ask if I was a Democrat. I honestly had to reread the Iowa 2010 platform and agreed with six of the priorities:
1. We oppose corporate personhood.
2. We support a single-payer health care plan for all citizens.
3. We oppose the Defense of Marriage Act.
4. We support separation of church and state.
5. We support energy independence with locally-owned renewable, eco-sustainable sources.
6. We support removing the cap on Social Security contributions.

What was absolutely missing in these priorities are the Economy and jobs. Democrats used to be the party of the working class person. They still are to a lesser extent, it helps if you are a member of a union. But when the economy and jobs don't make your top priority list, there is definitely trouble in River City.

There are some pretty significant disconnects for both Democrats and Republicans in their platforms and that causes pain for their candidates who ostensibly run on them. Why? Because they are not running for Democrat or Republican, they are Republicans and Democrats running for offices that require getting more votes than the next person. In other words, platforms are nice, but elections are won by keeping your party happy and winning over those people who have their own agenda--these are the Independents.

What I'm focusing on are the Independents who are notorious for "voting with their pocketbooks." Since the early 2000s, their pocketbooks, like many of ours, have shrunk considerably--despite tax-cuts by both Democrats and Republicans. While soccer Moms and Dads have disappeared in this year's dialogue because of the roar of the Tea Party, they are still out there and many of them are not excited about their choices. They are concerned about what will happen next.

For them, a Congress that will help them keep more money in their pockets is better than a Congress that they perceive will take more money out. Now, in fairness to Democrats who are in tight races and somehow being perceived as hurting working families, they(and no one from either party) wants to retract the middle class tax cuts that happened in the Bush and Clinton years. The difference is where the line is drawn. Democrats argue for drawing the line at individuals making less than $200,000 and families reporting less than $250,000 which equals 97 to 98% of all Americans. Republicans argue that any new tax is bad for the Economy.

How is it logical to the independent voter that voting for a progressive or even blue dog Democrat will hurt them financially? The crux is in the idea that the remaining 2% whose taxes would go up will withhold spending, thus hurting the small business person or working stiff. Categorically, this is goofy-think. If the middle class receives tax cuts, they are likely to spend money on stuff they haven't been able to buy, pay down debt, or even "gasp" put some money into savings. All are a good thing while the economy is stagnant. Money spent either on debt service or put into savings goods frees up money to be lent and money spent keeps or puts more people to work.

Also, if those who have been not been paying their "fair share" are fully in the mix like the rest of us, the debt on the rest of us comes down fairly dramatically in a much shorter time frame and at no significant hardship to those in question. This may be unpalatable to those in that 2 to 3% range, but they aren't going to go on a peanut butter and mac and cheese diet over it either.

Also, if we ever hope to transform our economy, we need to free up resources from things like war and national defense and use it to rebuild our nation's infrastructure. For example, electricity can be generated and delivered relatively cheaply from sources other than oil or coal on smart grids and people can be moved from region to region by high-speed rail, if the investment is there.

We need education that train/retrain people to work in the new economy. Democrats are investing in this by making it possible for more people to go to college or technical schools.

Reviving the economy calls for everybody who wants a job to have one. Democrats and Republicans both are off the mark in pointing their fingers at each other. It is possible to invest both in public works to build infrastructure and invest in the private sector to build new capabilities. There is no magic to this. What is lacking is a confidence that the investment will pay off. Partisan bickering and gamesmanship are the Debbie Downer of confidence being restored (as well as lobbying efforts that attempt to quash competition).

If this election is a referendum on who "gets it"--the frustration that the Independents feel about their wallets, the Republicans will likely mop the floor with the Democrats who have been tone-deaf with this issue on November 2. If the election hinges on thoughtful people who are demanding a functional government, it may turn out to be a much closer race than expected and we'll all be better off for it. In any case, it will make 2012 a much more interesting year.

Thursday, October 14

Something for the Rankin File

Time magazine mentions Jeanette Pickering Rankin as a top ten political prodigy. My public school education failed to fill me in on the amazing Ms. Rankin, who was the first woman elected to Congress. She was from Montana and a progressive Republican back when there was such a thing.

As a young woman, she was a teacher and later a social worker and became involved in the Women's' suffrage movement. In 1912 she became the field secretary of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Rankin was among eight thousand suffragettes in a 1913 march in Washington, D.C., before the inauguration of Woodrow Wilson.

Rankin returned to Montana and helped to organize the successful Montana suffrage campaign in 1914 which allowed women the right to vote there. As war in Europe loomed, Rankin turned her attention to work for peace, and in 1916, ran for one of the two seats in Congress from Montana as a Republican and became the first woman elected to the U.S. Congress (as well as the first woman elected to a national legislature in any western democracy).

Rankin used her fame and notoriety in this "famous first" position to work for peace and women's rights and against child labor, and to write a weekly newspaper column. In 1918 she led the debate that was integral to the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in the House of Representatives. Two years later, after three-fourths of the state legislatures ratified the Nineteenth Amendment, all American women were constitutionally guaranteed the right to vote.

Rankin made history in yet another way; she voted against U.S. entry into World War I and violated protocol by speaking during the roll call before casting her vote, announcing "I want to stand by my country, but I cannot vote for war." She was criticized for her vote by former allies in the suffrage movement as opening the cause to criticism as impractical and sentimental.

The Republican Party in Montana, unhappy with Rankin's antiwar stance, kept her from running for a second congressional term by gerrymandering her district. She ran for the Senate, but lost the primary and launched a third party bid, which lost overwhelmingly in the general election.

After moving to Georgia, she farmed and founded the Georgia Peace Society in 1928 which unsuccessfully lobbied the Georgia legislature to pass a state constitutional amendment banning war. In the first half of 1937, she spoke in 10 states, giving 93 speeches for peace. She supported the America First Committee, but decided that lobbying was not the most effective way to work for peace.

By 1939, she had returned to Montana and was running for Congress again, supporting a strong but neutral America in yet another time of impending war. Though elected by a small margin in 1940, Rankin arrived in Washington now as one of six women in the House and two in the Senate.

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Congress voted to declare war against Japan. Rankin once again voted "no" to war, this time saying "As a woman I can't go to war, and I refuse to send anyone else" as she voted alone against the war resolution. She was widely denounced by the press and her colleagues. She left elected for good.

The next twenty years of her life were filled with trips all over the world, including India, where she studied Mahatma Gandhi's nonviolent philosophy. She made Watkinsville, Georgia her home base, though she also spent much of her time at an apartment in Carmel, California.

In the 1960s Rankin established a self-sufficient women's co-operative on her Georgia farm. Rankin traveled around the country making speeches and lobbying politicians for peace, just as she had for women's suffrage more than fifty years earlier. In 1968, at age 87, she led a march on Washington; as thousands marched to the Capitol, they called themselves "The Jeannette Rankin Brigade." She continued giving speeches against the Vietnam War until late in 1972, when she became ill and physically unable to travel.

Upon Rankin's death at 92 in 1973, $16,000 in proceeds from her estate were earmarked to assist "mature, unemployed women workers." This seeded the Jeannette Rankin Foundation, which has been helping mature, low-income women succeed through education since it was chartered in 1976. Since 1978, over $1.3 million in scholarships have been awarded to over 600 women.


Friday, October 8

United Oui Stand

Attention all foreigners. You may not have been aware, but both major US political parties in our country are now blaming you for everything. For example:
- Why aren't enough Americans working? It's the damned foreign illegals or the damned foreign companies who are buying influence to keep hardworking Americans out of a job.
- Why no Cap and Trade? That would put us at a disadvantage with the foreigners.
- The economy is sinking, it's because the Chinese own our banks and the Arabs control our oil.
- Manadatory Health care insurance? Damn you Canadiens!

With such animosity, what is today's foreign country to do? Well you could try to fight us, but that would just make us fight back and you (and I) really don't want that, do we? No, a much more civilized solution is to become part of the United States.

Nations of the world, simply call (or text) us and ask how you can become part of the exceptional United States. With membership comes priveleges. If you act now, you can have your choice of having either a "red" state or a "blue" state designation. As a bonus, you will receive a democratic voice in governing this great land that we will now likely have to call the United States of the World, given that it will cover all the continents, not only the Americas.

Also, to all you currently non-American people, by joining the the US of W, you will likely actually have a leader who is more like you (but less corrupt), and is hampered by a very large Congress that can't get anything done. You will have access to our over-crowded public schools--but then a lot of you don't have any public schools. You will be able to set money aside for your retirement that will be guarenteed to be siphoned off by one of the parties. You will be able to worship in any church, mosque, or synagogue of your choice, as long as you accept Jesus as your personal savior and protest in a free-speech zone that is not anywhere close to what you are protesting.

Also, you will be able to help us out of the trillions of dollars in debt that we are in. that is the least you can do so that our grandchildren won't have to foot the bill for all the drunken sailor spending that has been going on.

Of course there will be some challenges to overcome, like will Iowa continue to be the first in the nation-state caucus in 2012 or will some ground have to be ceded to Dubai or some other middle eastern state? Will Federal workers get Ramadan and Tet off? Will sub-Saharan state residents have to deal with childhood obesity? Also, and very importantly, how will we fit all 244 stars on the US flag?

Given our history of developing an instant liking to everybody who is called an American (or now maybe "Worldian"?)--we will likely be more likely to love our brothers and sisters who live below the Mason-Dixon line (or perhaps the Equator) as long as they don't unionize and do learn English. So, no matter if you are living in the artic circle of in the land down under, we will welcome you with the same live and let live spirit that we did for native people on our current continent and immigrants (before the melting pot). Remember, we have a Manifest Destiny to live up to and you would be doing us a solid, as well as getting back into our good graces.

Imagine this, gone will be starvation, joblessness, and war (unless there is a civil war--but why? We're all Worldians now). It will also be easier to collect taxes from corporations who won't need to shelter their incomes in other countries' banks. And best of all, global climate change will be under control because we couldn't sit by while our fellow countrymen are being flooded out of their homes, could we?

And it just makes sense. We have known for years that if we spread our democracy around, all of you would eventually get on board. So why not now? Help the US be that uber-sized shining city on the hill that visionary giants like Ronald Reagan and Ayn Rand dreamed of. States of the world, unite!

Tuesday, October 5

Fall Back Plan for the Future

As some of you may have noted, the Popular Progressive blog has been quiet in the last few months. This was wholly unintentional, but it is symptomatic of where the author has been with regard to the body politic. To press for progressive ideals is not a non-contact sport and it has become somewhat brutal when faced with the likes of the Tea Party and right-winged firebrands who cynically believe that we have become too progressive in Iowa and elsewhere.

Nonetheless, during my time away I have been taking in the voices of gloom and doom and they have given me some pause to reflect. As a person who works with trends and looks at them with a eye that wants to be able to explain what it all means, this is what I can conclude: we have come to the end of the age of quick fixes and easy answers. And had we actually been paying attention, our President, among others, was telling us from the day he was elected and since.

Unfortunately, many people have the mind set that all problems should and can be solved in an election cycle or else, throw the bums out and try again. That type of magical thinking works marginally well with sports teams (although as a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan, I can assure you that it doesn't always work). The President and Congress are dealing with the economic carnage of two wars, as well as banking and housing financing fiascoes that broke down the markets (caused by egregious policy/practice mistakes of the past--and yes, there is blame enough to go around for both parties, the industry lobbyists who convinced them it was good politics, the Gordon Gecko wannabes who recited the greed-is-good mantra to underlings who made it so, and the simple-minded consumers who accepted this false largess as their birthright). Add to this an emotionally charged "fixing" of an ailing health care system that is still some time from being realized and is it any wonder that people are questioning their allegiances?

Fast forward to the election that will occur about a month from now. With the pumping media storyline that Republican and particularly right wing voters are being "energized" to vote and lefties and Democrats being "disenchanted"--it would seem that results are already in and we'll go from having a party of "No" to a nation of "No."

And what do we get in return for our buyer's remorse, a promise to bring back the failed policies that created the deep hole that we find ourselves in. Like all efforts to turn the economy around, we have to remember that it is not like a family budget and it is more like a million headed hydra that generally works best if investment is occurring. If the private sector really is the answer, why is it so reluctant to step forward and lead us out of the recession? Is it that those who have feasted during the "good" times are still too bloated to stand up?

Instead, the spotlight has been shone on the one sector that is actually investing in helping the economy to reinvigorate itself. Unfortunately for it, but fortunately for the democratic process (and unlike a Fortune 500 company--where the CEO gets what they want)-- our elected CEO doesn't call all the shots. Opposing forces (and by this I mean members of Congress from both parties who are holding out their hand to interests who care not a whit about "the average American")count on these failures to weaken the position of those shaping policy and, while opinions may legitimately be different, real people are hurt waiting for the promised "trickle down" to happen.

Regardless of the outcome of the election, there is some serious work that needs to take place in this country:

1) People holding the purse strings need to pony up--if it is a business that isn't investing in its next generation or a billionaire who is sitting on his or her money, get off the dime. The government should not need to give you an incentive to invest in the country and the people who have gotten you to where you are today. There is something very patriotic about investing in solving your country's problems.
2) Gasbags, whiners, and blamers need to shut up and roll up their sleeves to give back to this nation what they have been fortunate enough to get out of it.
3) Regardless of what party or ideology you belong to, we are in the midst of a crisis of confidence in each other. United we stand, divided we shall surely fall. Find something that you can do in your hometown or state that can make a condition better--that was the pioneer spirit that created so much good in this land.
4) Reevaluate what is really important. Instant gratification is expensive as we have literally taxed our planet's limited resources to death. What if the measure of wealth was not how much you have, but what you do with what you have?
5) Reimagine the future for your family, town, country and help to create the plans that gets us there.

I do not doubt that we are bigger than our problems. I do believe that our short attention spans have clouded our ability to believe that things can and will get better. I close by repeating these words that Paul Wellstone said, "If we don't fight hard enough for the things we stand for, at some point we have to recognize that we don't really stand for them."