Thursday, November 10

What Happened?

So let's say you are on an airplane and you are not really a big fan of air travel--maybe you've had one too many bad flight experiences in the past. You look outside the window and notice what appears to be smoke coming from one of the engines. You hit the call button and summon over the flight attendant and he or she says I'll let the captain know. Over the loudspeakers you hear:  "Ladies and Gentleman, this is your captain speaking, the smoke that you are seeing is not a serious problem. We'll be at our destination shortly. Please sit back, relax, and enjoy the rest of the flight. Thank you." And yet, you see more smoke and so does everyone around you.

Now, let's rewind the tape and try again. You summon the flight attendant and this time when they tell the captain what you've seen, the captain comes on and says "This is the captain speaking, our plane is on fire and I will need to emergency land it immediately. Make sure your seat belts are really tight, tuck yourselves down, and I promise you I'll make sure you get out of this alive because I am the best, most skilled  pilot ever!"

Which pilot would you like at the helm in that harrowing example? Probably the one who has a plan and promises you will not die, right? Now imagine that this plane is the USA and the pilots were Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump and the passengers are the American public. That may sound extreme, but let me continue.

This election happened in what feels like very tumultuous times both here and abroad. Many people are uncertain of the future for themselves and their families. Wanting to latch on to a sense of security and someone who made them believe they'll be safe seems to be the most important factor of how this election went. Being plain spoken versus  high-minded or even gracious was not a factor, but wanting the pain a large group of voters seem to be experiencing and to be heard and feeling that political insiders had rigged things against us certainly were. Perhaps it was the threat of more change was too much for those of us who are trying to keep our heads above water or fearful of people whose culture and values differ from the majority culture. Maybe we have become too isolated and insulated from others thanks to our technologies and class separations. All I know is we could be asking why we are so polarized for a long time to come and fear what will happen next in the uncertainty that accompanies that understanding.

One thing that I have concluded is that while a number of people believe that the government does not work for them, they chose a leader who believes he, as the head of the government, can make us great again. I don't know how to reconcile this incongruity, but I would ask all of us to recall that America's greatness or lack thereof is in the thoughts and actions of all of us. If greatness is the goal, we have to be responsible and act in a way that lifts us up as a nation. Maybe our own insecurity in acting to be better people is what happened? In which case, "We, the People", are both the problem and the cure. 

Sunday, November 6

This Election: Earning the Benefit of the Doubt

When I was growing up, I didn't always obey my parents' wishes. Being raised in the Jewish faith, the rites of manhood are a big deal. However, I was a natural born skeptic and when I was just about thirteen, I threw my Bar Mitzvah study materials down a convenient storm sewer and joined the Baptists to play Little League that summer. I felt that manhood could wait until I was ready for it. My Mother, to her credit, did not blow a gasket and let me do what I wanted to do. She was like that. She often gave me the benefit of the doubt, regardless of how it made her feel. In 2008, we as a nation did that for a junior Senator from Illinois and again in 2012. In 2016, despite the acknowledged governance experience deficit between Hillary Clinton and her opponent, we--in Iowa any way--are currently bending the benefit of the doubt toward him. Why, I wonder?

I find it highly unlikely it is because of her deficit of "honesty" compared to her opponent who by some measures of fact checkers  has told untruths upwards of 75 to 90% of the time on the issues. I doubt it is because a "leadership gap", Hillary has served as Secretary of  State, as Senator from New York, and as First Ladies of the United States and Arkansas. She was even the Senior class speaker at Wellesley and took on a seated Senator in her remarks to her graduating class. Her opponent has run a privately held family business and that is about it. I doubt it is because of her charisma or personality. We had  "Silent Cal" Calvin Coolidge who chose not to run after a term and nobody cared, as well as Millard Fillmore who ascended when Zachary Taylor died and of whom  a Yale history professor quipped that “to discuss…Millard Fillmore is to overrate [him].”

What I think it is that she is simultaneously a powerfully polarizing, and popular figure (and recognized as such year after year in public opinion polls) and also a seasoned politician (which in this climate is not necessarily seen as a plus). The latter makes her seem less than authentic and the former is challenging to a binary thinking nation. Why else would an apparently narcissistic, inexperienced candidate have the tailwind that her opponent does? Some say that she is overly political and has not been accountable for actions that she has taken. Yet, when those acts are judged against her peers (e.g., attacks on U.S. Embassies or unprotected mail servers), her record is certainly better than most others in the positions she's held. Other have tried to treat her affiliations as indictments on her character, yet won't apply the same rules to her opponent when it comes to his tax records or business practices. They do not treat his record or statements made against men or women as anything more than "guy talk." This tells me that a double standard is in place and it is frankly sexist.

This election has been at times ugly, it has been divisive, and it has been exacerbated by sexism, classism, and racism and to a large degree the opposing candidate has turned it to his favor in a P.T. Barnum sort of way. But when I think of what is at stake with regard to the Supreme Court justice choice, attending to the worsening global environment both in terms of war and climate change, the need to have a leader who can orchestrate a working government, to address health and social safety nets, in addition to attending to social justice and immigration reform issues, and it is abundantly clear that the two parties see very different paths forward.  Both candidates promise to right the economy and have very different plans to do so. It should also be clear that one of these candidates deserves the benefit of the doubt.  My chief worry is that it is being awarded to the wrong person.

Truth in advertising tells me that I must confess that my original choice for President was Bernie Sanders and I was very downhearted when it became clear that he was not going to be either the Democratic candidate nor going to run independently. I struggled with my doubts about Hillary Clinton's willingness to take on the Big Banks, to fight against big money in politics, and other things that Bernie  so strongly campaigned. And I thought about whether I was being fair in my assessment of Hillary, going as far as doing a side by side comparison of where she and Jill Stein and even Gary Johnson stood on my most important issues. I added to my mix the likelihood there would be enough votes to elect whomever I would choose and I realized that while Jill Stein was 2% more aligned with my ideology, the fact that she was not on all the states' ballots disqualified her for me, knowing that she would not be able to amass enough electoral votes. I also considered that in Iowa, as tight as the race has been, my vote--if nothing more than a protest vote-- would likely have a double whammy effect that I was unwilling to allow. So, despite my trepidation and less than full-throated enthusiasm, Hillary Clinton's record and stated positions has caused me to give her the benefit of my doubt.

In my case, trading in Hebrew books for a baseball mitt did not lead to either moral decay or a stellar baseball career. However, what my Mom's belief in me making decisions for myself  instilled a sense of fierce independence and an ability to trust my choices. I have already voted and, in a small way, I hope I have partially paid back a long over-due debt to my Mom who passed away last year by casting my vote for Hillary Clinton--despite the doubts I have, I have no doubt that she is the best choice. I will forever feel the Bern, but there is no doubt I'm with Her now.

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.