Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Turn Around Bright Eyes: The Solar Eclipse Play List

I saw a very slim crescent moon last night which means you can now watch the moon and literally count days until it passes right smack in the way of the sun on the August 21 total eclipse.

I've got about a 5 1/2 hour drive to Columbia, Missouri, where I'll be watching the eclipse, and when I have a drive, I need a playlist. It's unfortunately old and uncool, but long time readers know I quit caring.

Let 's get THIS over with first:

Bonnie Tyler's overwrought camp classic has very little if anything to do with astronomy, even if you really stretch and count "your love is like a shadow on me all of the time." Eclipses do involve shadows but they don't happen All Of The Time. In fact, on average any given place on Earth only sees a total eclipse every 375 years. (Carbondale, Illinois is above average and double dipping; they get another one in just seven years on April 8, 2024.)

"Total Eclipse Of The Heart" is just a turn of a phrase by Jim Steinman, the man who gave us Meat Loaf. And if either the moon or sun were heart shaped there would be serious issues with gravity.  But because it's the only song most people can think of that actually has "Total Eclipse" right there in the name, we'll be hearing it all of eclipse week, just like we heard "1999" all over again that one New Years.

Pink Floyd's The Dark Side Of The Moon is a better listen, and concludes with astronomical accuracy: "There is no dark side of the moon really. Matter of fact it's all dark." The closing song is even called "Eclipse" and it runs just over two minutes, the approximate duration of totality.

As the narrator notes, "dark side of the moon" is often used incorrectly to refer to the FAR side of the moon that perpetually faces away from Earth. The far side of the moon will be the LIGHT side of the moon during the eclipse, and the near side will be the dark side as it blocks the sun. You may be able to glimpse the surface features of the moon, lit by "earthshine," during totality.

Despite claims by Tori Amos on her 2007 American Doll Posse album, there is absolutely no "Dark Side Of The Sun." Tori clearly flunked Astronomy 101 and needs to listen to They Might Be Giants:

Nice beret. They also offer classes in Turkish geography.

Let's see what more we can learn about eclipses from our playlist.

"Moon Shadow" by Cat Stevens - because an eclipse is the moon's shadow on the earth. If you're being followed by a moon shadow, it'll catch up to you very, very quickly since it's traveling at about 1600 MPH.

I always found this song's imagery of losing parts of your body kind of disturbing when I was a kid. And if I ever lose my eyes... well, then, I guess I won't see the eclipse, will I?

Planet Earth is still mourning the loss of Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell but you can sing "black hole sun, won't you come" as you wait for totality, because that's what it looks like. His later effort with Audioslave, "Shadow On The Sun," is astronomically inaccurate. Honorable mention: "Under The Big Black Sun" by X.

"Blinded By The Light" - You can choose the Springsteen original (the eclipse is only 78% total in Asbury Park, New Jersey) or the Manfred Mann hit version, but you'll be Blinded by The Light if you look at the partial phases of the eclipse without proper eye protection. For this reason, "Cheap Sunglasses" by ZZ Top should not be on the playlist.

My eclipse glasses are Stevie Wonder/Ray Charles dark, but looking at the sun through them looks like a rising orange full moon. Honorable mention: U2's "Staring At The Sun."

"Total Eclipse," Iron Maiden: From the classic The Number Of The Beast album, which you know is totally kick-ass because the cover looks like Tipper Gore's nightmare.  This one captures the superstition and fear ancient societies felt about eclipses:
Cold as steel the darkness waits, it's hour will come
A cry of fear for the chosen worshipping the sun
Mother natures black revenge on those who waste her life
War babies in the garden of Eden shall turn our ashes to ice
They could have just cranked this one to 11 and it would have scared the shit out of the sun-eating dragon. Speaking of goes to 11, you do NOT want to hear Spinal Tap's "Rainy Day Sun" on August 21.

"New Moon On Monday," Duran Duran: Because the eclipse is on a Monday and a total eclipse only occurs at new moon. No word on whether a lonely satellite will be visible during totality, but it may be a cold day; there will be a noticeable temperature drop even in places with a significant partial eclipse. The loss of light is enough that it'll affect solar power generation.

"Earth And Sun and Moon," Midnight Oil: Actually that should be "Earth and Moon And Sun." The lineup of Earth, sun, moon would be Bad.

And while the end of totality may be bittersweet, the Beatles' "Here Comes The Sun" is an easy choice.

If you want less music and more actual information, nationaleclipse.com is a great resource. You're probably too late for a day off work or booking a hotel, and traffic may be challenging on E-Day. (Normally when I say "E-Day" I mean Election Day.) But I've seen a heavy partial eclipse, in 1979, and even that is pretty cool.

A total eclipse, though, has been on my bucket list since the March 7, 1970 eclipse that Carly Simon so famously sang about. Pro tip: If you flew your Lear jet up to Nova Scotia, you'd be in one of the worst places to watch with just 57% totality.

Not on the list: "It's Alright Ma I'm Only Bleeding," Bob Dylan. Opening line "Darkness at the break of noon" should make it an automatic. But he loses points for the astronomically impossible "eclipses both the sun and moon," and gets crossed off entirely for "even the president of the United States sometimes must have to stand naked." Not even Melania wants to see that.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Caucuses set for February 5, 2018

For me the big news out of Saturday's Democratic state central committee meeting wasn't the much-deserved election of Troy Price as the new party chair. It was the approval of the 2018 Caucus To Convention Calendar:
  • Caucus: Monday, February 5
  • County Conventions: Saturday, March 24
  • District Conventions: Saturday, April 28, sites to be set later by district committees
  • State Convention: Saturday, June 16, Des Moines
Good. Now I can get some work done.

There had been rumours of Saturday, February 3, but those didn't materialize. I've always liked the Saturday idea but historically, there have been Jewish objections. (My Saturday night idea never caught on.) We tried it once, in 2010, and got our usual low off-year turnout.
Technical tangent: Officially, the governor year caucuses aren't "off year caucuses," they're just "caucuses." The same precinct-based process except no presidential stuff. The "off year caucus" is a county-wide event held in the spring of odd years that functionally is just a big central committee meeting where we pass resolutions. In my opinion, the off-year caucus is one of the less useful things we do. And it's cost me this paragraph. From here on out, any references to "off-year" mean governor year, not odd year.
The reason for going back to the traditional Monday is probably because, as near as I can tell, Republicans have chosen the same night. That's not as critical in an off-year, but it's essential in a presidential year.

The caucuses are a party meeting, not an election, and the check and balance against people participating in both parties is holding them at the same time. All it would take would be one person in a presidential year bragging about attending both caucuses and "voting" twice, and there would be a likely fatal wound to our First in The Nation status.

Any discussion of caucuses, even off year, invariably leads into a discussion of process and First, and that's what happened yesterday on my Twitter feed (that's now my primary medium, though the ole blog stays around for long form stuff like this).

My sense is that most people who are willing to give up First and just vote in the June primary have no concept what that will mean. In January 2020 they'd be asking "where are the candidates? It's only five months till the primary!" In May 2020, Presumptive Nominee will be in California and New York raising money.

See, people forget that most nomination contests don't play out like 2008 and 2016, with a close campaign going through every primary state and every state having at least some significance. (Though `16 wasn't really that close.) Most years are more like 2004, when one candidate gets a big lead and the others recognize reality and quit. The June state ballots look more like this:
However, in the last 18 months I've heard more and more Iowans saying yes, they would be happy to give up the hoopla and simply vote in a primary. I'm actually more agnostic on that existential question than people think. Part of me would rather get paid extra overtime in a presidential primary than burn vacation days doing stuff that is almost exactly like my job to set up caucuses. But I just want people to understand that it's an either/or trade off.

Anyway, if you're really interested in the presidential year stuff go back and look at my posts from that era; my thoughts haven't changed much. But since I'm not good enough for the caucus review committee, what do I know.
 Let's get back to the matter at hand: February 5, 2018.

These caucuses may draw a bit more attention than a typical off-year cycle because of the large field for governor. As anyone reading a political blog on a weekend knows, Iowa law requires a candidate to win 35% in a primary to be nominated, or else the party convention chooses a nominee. Republicans had an epic convention in the 3rd CD in 2014, and since then convention loser Brad Zaun has been trying to change the law and institute a runoff instead.

Democrats haven't had a convention because of the 35% law in a long time. The last I know of was in a Waterloo legislative seat in 2002. There was some talk of it in 2006 when we initially had four serious candidates for governor plus a Some Dude. But not long before the caucuses Patty Judge dropped out of the governor's race to become Chet Culver's running mate.

Still, with three serious candidates, a primary stalemate could have happened if things had broken exactly even. It almost happened to Republicans in 2002 when nominee Doug Gross was at just 35.6%, and Culver only won with about 39.

This year the field is even bigger with six serious contenders and a couple more guys who are a notch or two above Some Dude. And the overall process awareness, activist interest, and internal contentiousness level is higher than it's been in a long time. So we can expect very high attendance by the off-year standard, though certainly nothing approaching the Who Live In Cincinnati levels Johnson County saw in 2016.

In 2006, Johnson County saw preference groups in a handful of precincts. I'm not sure if rules have changed but at that time preference groups could happen if 15% of the room wants them.

That could be a training issue, as it was in the 2012 presidential year. Chairs went in expecting no preference groups and were startled when Uncommitted groups emerged. In some places in 2012 people were simply told, incorrectly, "there are no preference groups."

My sense is that compared to a presidential race, even compared to an Obama vs. Uncommitted "race," the governor nomination four months out is still very inside baseball, even to the core party activists who attend this stuff. My sense is also that by the time we get to February 5 the field for governor will shrink and the urgency of a caucus strategy will recede.

Still, the smart campaigns will have a strategy. Even without alignment, there may be contested races for the delegate seats that usually go begging in an off-year. And with alignment you may see some strange coalitions. Attendance will likely be low enough that the groups will default to Candidate Putting Most Emphasis On Convention vs. Everyone Else In Uncommitted.

So the work of scheduling the sites and recruiting and training the chairs begins. Once again, in Johnson County the Republicans and Democrats are planning to work together, and I highly recommend that approach to everyone else.

Typically in an off year we cluster our caucuses, hosting multiple precincts in different rooms of the same building and doing some of the explanation and presentation stuff in one large group. That also means that in the places where you can't recruit a chair or where your chair is a rookie, there's an experienced "cluster commander" on hand to help. I've run as many as three caucuses at once, with the caveat that one was just the one person who showed up and another was three people.

Clustering is tricky and you can overdo it depending on the geography of your county. In 2012 Chicago was telling us that they wanted five sites total in our county. The emphasis was on the live video link with the president (which one of the Uncommitteds called "the Obama Nuremburg rally").  We pushed back to add a couple more in the outlying towns. We weren't going to tell Solon they had to come in to the east side of Iowa City. On the other hand, some small counties may choose to have just one cluster, and then the same exact people will meet in the same exact place on March 24 for the county convention.

Anyway, friendly advice. Now is the time to get started on this stuff, and now is the time to talk to your county leaders about it. And if you want a better process, don't complain, volunteer.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Lazy Dynamite or Power Cut?

There was never any PLAN for a five week hiatus, it just happened that way. With the legislative session over, I didn't feel the need for long-form hyper-detailed posts, and as for local stuff, I have a Grand Unifying Theory but what I know I'm not saying.

I kept tweeting, of course - Twitter's really my main medium now. But all I really intended was a brief British Election Break.
But when I saw people on Facebook saying "I didn't know you had a blog," I knew I had been slacking.

I still don't have anything lengthy to say so I'll just look back over June, string the fragments together, and hope it turns out like side two of "Abbey Road" and not like side two of "Red Rose Speedway." Younger readers may need to look that up.  I had to explain my joke "I heard rumours but I prefer Tusk" to a young prospective candidate this week.
Trump came to Cedar Rapids and I mostly ignored him.

There was the debacle in House District 22 where Democrat Ray "The Streak" Stevens didn't get his papers turned in. Confession: I would have made the same mistake in 1996 when I was a late-starting convention candidate, but the state party had a staffer follow up with me. So whose fault?

It was always a long shot, but maybe a lost opportunity: the two Republicans (Slightly Silly and Very Silly) split the vote almost equally with the winner at only 44%, and the Libertarian drew off a few.

Sadly we have another special election with the death of Fairfield Democrat Curt Hanson. This one promises to be much more competitive; the 2009 special in which Hanson was first elected drew national attention and outside spending.

And there's a special election for Iowa Democratic Party chair... but no one seems to want the job.
I'm less upset by fireworks than most of my liberal friends, perhaps because I have teenage boys and thus used to unpredictable loud noises. But I never understood why fireworks were SUCH a high priority for Republicans and why they are considered SO important as a FREEDOM! thing.

My unpopular but strongly held opinion: The 4th CD is unwinnable for a Democrat, but we need someone credible who can run, maintain dignity, and boost the rest of the ticket. That's a lot to ask of someone for a no-shot race. Do any of our 74 candidates for governor live there?
Ross Wilburn does: I discovered the former Iowa City mayor's (he moved to Ames) committee for governor without even trying. I was looking at the Iowa Ethics website looking for SCHOOL candidates when I saw his committee had been sitting out there for a week. So I tweeted it and it looks like I was first.  Mainstream press accounts started about six hours later, none mentioning my minor scoop.

I finally found a clip that sums up my feelings about the platform committee:

Must follow Twitter Accounts:

I don't really have an ending so I'll close with a reprise of the British election beginning like Pink Floyd closed "Animals."

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Once Again, No Supervisor District Vote in Johnson County

Linn County looks set for yet another election about government reorganization on August 1. But once again, a deadline has passed, and Johnson County will not be considering a change to a district system for electing county supervisors this year. So I'm doing the every other year update of this post.

Johnson County Republicans have been on-again, off-again working on a district petition for several years, with varying degrees of intensity. It's hard to collect over 7700 signatures (10% of the presidential vote) without people hearing about it.

In 2008, when Republicans needed more than 7,000 names in just two weeks for a recount of that year's conservation bond, petitioners were grabbing random Pentacrest passers-by.  So it was clear at least a month ago, when campus calmed down for finals, that nothing was happening, and today's deadline is just a formality.

A successful petition drive would have forced an August 1 special election like the one Linn County will have. Linn County voters will see three choices:
  • An at large system, like Johnson County now has
  • A system where supervisors must live in a district, and only voters in the district vote on the seat. This is the system Linn County voted for in 2007 that took effect with the 2008 election.
  • A modified district system where supervisors must live in a district, but the entire county votes on every seat.
Last year, Linn County voters elected to reduce the number of supervisors from five to three. That would have required a new map with three districts instead of five - which may still happen. But that's now on hold till after the election, since voters may choose the at-large plan instead.

The politics in Linn County seem to have changed; many of the people who advocated for five supervisors from districts in 2007-08 were advocating for three supervisors last year (pay raises seemed to be the issue), and seem to favor at-large representation now.

In addition to now a third separate vote to re-arrange the Linn County Board of Supervisors, the city of Cedar Rapids voted in 2005 to change its form of government from one of the last commissioner systems in the nation to a part time mayor-council system.

As for Johnson County, the push for districts seems to have peaked a few years ago and centered around a perceived "lack of rural representation." Beginning in 2009, we've had three Board members living within about a mile of each other on the east side of Iowa City: current members Janelle Rettig and Rod Sullivan, along with first Terrence Neuzil (who moved to the west side and then resigned for a job out of state), and now Mike Carberry. They're presently joined on the Board by Lisa Green-Douglass of rural North Liberty and Kurt Friese of rural Iowa City. All are Democrats, which almost - almost - goes without saying.

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors was long dominated by moderate to conservative rural Democrats, nominated in relatively low turnout June primaries (while the students are out of town) and elected with token or no opposition in partisan general elections. While they weren't all the traditional farm boys, as recently as 2000 all five supervisors were rural, even though nearly 60% of the county population lives in Iowa City proper. So rural voters frustrated by "under" representation may, in fact, have been upset about losing the historic OVER-representation they had.

District advocates may also have been looking to Linn County. The 2011 five district map created a rural "donut" district (with one bite taken out near the airport) that encompasses almost all of Linn County outside the Cedar Rapids-Marion urban area.

This time, if Linn County chooses districts, they're dividing by three, not by five. Redistricting law requires cities to be divided into as few districts as possible.That means Cedar Rapids, with almost exactly 60% of the population, will be split into two, with some small rural fragments or maybe Hiawatha or Robins added on (I haven't done the math in that much detail) to pad the population to a third of the county each. The third district will be dominated by Marion and will include most of the outlying parts of the county.

Johnson County's census math is different, and in our case districts may be the most certain way to assure no rural supervisors at all. According to a 2013 in-depth analysis of census data by redistricting consultant Jerry Mandering,  a Johnson County district system would produce three districts dominated by Iowa City, one district dominated by Coralville, and a final district that's more than half in North Liberty. 

Back to that "almost*", the case for districts in Johnson County was also partisan, as we had not elected a Republican supervisor in over 50 years. That argument was undercut during the middle of the 2013 district petition drive by John Etheredge's upset win in a low turnout special election. It proved a Republican, and a rural one at that, CAN win county-wide, under exactly the right circumstances. However, Etheredge lost to Rettig and Carberry in the high turnout, highly partisan 2014 general election, where we were the number one Braley county and the only county Jack Hatch won.

In the alternate universe where a petition plan was dropped on Johnson County today and a district plan won on August 1, Sullivan, Green-Douglass, and Friese would have had the four year terms they won last year cut short. Districts would have been drawn and all five supervisors would have been on the ballot next year. Also, depending on the specifics of the plan and the details of the map, someone may have been forced to choose between moving, stepping down, or duking it out in the primary..

Instead, the three supervisors elected last year stay on until 2020. The two elected in 2014, Rettig and Carberry, both seem likely to seek re-election next year; Carberry briefly looked at running for governor but decided not to jump in. Pat Heiden, who lost narrowly to Friese for the third and final ticket through the 2016 primary, also looks likely to run again.

There was, briefly, another effort at supervisor districts this year - in the legislative session. A proposed bill would have forced all counties over 130,000 population - suspiciously, that number is set just under Johnson County's 2010 Census total - to adopt the plan where supervisors must live in a district, and only voters in the district vote on the seat. But that bill went nowhere.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Good Signs In Solon With Whitehead Win

It's easy to read too much into a one precinct small town election for low stakes - just a seven month term on the Solon city council.

Yet Lauren Whitehead's strong (64-36%) win over the briefly appointed incumbent, Dale Snipes, is interesting and positive on multiple levels.

Solon has the traditional core of the small town it long was, with an outer layer of a fast growing exurb full of commuters. Northeast Johnson County, the piece that's in Republican Bobby Kaufmann's House district, was ancestrally Democratic but has been trending red in recent years. The city of Solon slipped from 60.6% Obama in 2012 to a less than majority win of 49.3% for Hillary Clinton last fall. When the third parties are factored in, it was an 17 point swing to the GOP - about normal for small town Iowa as a whole, but in counter-trending Johnson County, it was a weak spot.

So a Democratic win on challenging ground is good - and it's fair to call it a "Democratic win." Whitehead was very active in the Clinton campaign, both in the caucuses and in the fall, and her high profile party activism was a sharp contrast to Snipes, who had a typical small town city council non-"political" image.

Snipes had been elected to the council before in a low-profile race like that, the uncontested 2015 election, then resigned mid-term when his work schedule changed. When it changed back, and when another council member resigned, Snipes was appointed back.

Solon has had a series of resignations and appointments, for a wide variety of reasons - a mayor moving up to city manager, a council member moving outside the city limits, a couple others. Because the 2015 election was uncontested, the signature bar to force Tuesday's election was extremely low. Snipes' appointment would only have lasted five months, but with the bar low, folks decided that one more appointment was one too many.

(The national mood is such that people want to vote on stuff - though a recent appointment following a double resignation from the Oxford city council is now past the petition deadline and there won't be a special election there.)

Barring some kind of divisive issue, small town campaigns are typically who-you-know matters, and Snipes seemed to stick to that traditional low profile. Whitehead approached the small town campaign like a modern campaign - social media presence, targeted door knocking, absentee requests, and bullet point issues focused on openness and accessibility.

So the question Tuesday was whether the old ways would work again, or whether Solon was changing and a Campaign campaign would work - and the answer was resounding. Turnout wasn't a record, but the benchmark was artificially high because there was a large bond issue on the ballot in record year 2011. So 14.6% for an off-cycle date (the day after a holiday) for a seven month term is solid, and near the high range for a Solon election.

Also noteworthy: Over the last 25 years, there's been a pattern in Johnson County. When one side forces a special election with a petition, that side loses, the cost of the election becomes an issue, and the appointee wins. Whitehead's win marks only the second time that an appointee was defeated in the special election - the other was in chronically divided University Heights in January 2011.

Whitehead can't rest on the win, since filing for the full term in the fall is less than four months away. But she goes into that election as a strong winner.

Friday, May 26, 2017

A Punker Looks At 40: The Legacy of "God Save The Queen"

Lèse-majesté: the crime of violating majesty, an offence against the dignity of a reigning sovereign or against a state.

Next week will be clogged with tributes to the 50th anniversary to "rock's greatest record," the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper.

But an equally important milestone passes tomorrow: the 40th anniversary of the most controversial, dangerous and gloriously offensive record ever made.

Just a year earlier, Queen - the Freddie Mercury band, not Elizabeth Mountbatten-Windsor - had concluded their masterpiece album, A Night At The Opera, with an electric but sincere version of "God Save The Queen," just after the final gong of "Bohemian Rhapsody" faded. They closed the show with it for years. Rock royalty, indeed.

The Sex Pistols were rebelling as much against bands like Queen as they were against royalty. But the specific approach, the lese majeste of "God Save The Queen," was the most singular moment of the rebellion.

There's no way a mere American, receiving Queen the band, Queen the monarch, and the Sex Pistols all as transatlantic translation, can truly understand how obscene this perversion of the national anthem sounded in 1977 Britain. There's no way to explain the patriotic frenzy of the Royal Jubilee,  (Elizabeth II's 25th anniversary on the throne, and who would have thought SHE would still be around 40 years later). The Bicentennial kind of gets at it - but it would be like the Bicentennial with a living George Washington, or a descendant receiving Kennedy-style adulation, who was seen as the embodiment of the nation itself.

Even before you played the record - because it was most certainly NOT on the radio, so you had to buy it on reputation only, and that's IF you were lucky enough to find a store that would sell it - the obscenity began, with Her Majesty's face defaced by lettering that was then associated with ransom notes but now, precisely because of this record, is seen as "punk rock."

And as the record plays the nation that Hitler had bombed barely 30 years earlier, still full of millions of war veterans, was called "fascist." Elizabeth is lyrically, literally, stripped of her humanity - "she ain't no human being." The very notion of morality itself is rejected - "when there's no future, how can there be sin?"

The only American analogy I can come up with - and this is after decades of consideration - is Henrdix's  Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock, another deconstructed version of a national anthem. And you would have to package it with a burning flag on the cover.

But there were a lot more hippies and Vietnam War opponents in August 1969 than there were first generation punk rockers in May 1977. And while the 1960s preached peace and love, "God Save the Queen" was pure apocalyptic nihilism, ending with "no future for you."

"You don't write 'God Save The Queen' because you hate the English race. You write a song like that because you love them, and you're fed up with them being mistreated"- Johnny Rotten

The Pistols' recorded legacy is incredibly brief: less than 20 completed tracks with the core lineup of Johnny Rotten, guitarist Steve Jones, and drummer Paul Cook, most of which are on the one true album. Sid Vicious, of course, never really played; the bass parts are either by Jones or by original bassist Glen Matlock.

The legend is that simplicity and Do It Yourself were the punk ethos - but that was the bands the Pistols inspired. Their own record is dense and layered and highly produced. Because it was nearly impossible for the band to play live without violence, Jones had little else to do and spent endless hours in the studio, overdubbing and overdubbing layers of guitar, which is why no other guitars sound like the guitars on Never Mind The Bollocks. Those guitars, and Rotten's snarl and sneer, are the defining sounds of the band.

On the surface, taken just as lyrics, other individual songs are more offensive than "God Save The Queen," especially the abortion rant "Bodies" ("fuck this and fuck that/fuck it all you fucked up, fucking brat"), as is the never properly recorded "Belsen Was A Gas," which comes off more as a failed shock joke.

But it's the four singles, all included on Never Mind The Bollocks, that are the core of the legend.

"Pretty Vacant" is a great rocker, but the lyric is less shocking, other than Rotten's deliberate pronunciation of "vacant" as "va-CUNT." And "Holidays in the Sun" is a desperate goodbye, and thus has a greater humanity to it. The critics tend to look back on the first single, "Anarchy In The UK," as the masterpiece, and as it was first it may have broken more barriers. "I wanna destroy," indeed, though later punks like my hero Joe Strummer of the Clash had plans on how the rubble should be rebuilt.

But bile as bitter as "God Save The Queen" could never be duplicated, and rage this intense was unsustainable. The band self-destructed only months later. The one song more than any other, the one track that was not just part of rock history but of history itself, is "God Save The Queen."

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Reclaiming "Progressive"

I've been discussing and/or feuding in various online groups that call themselves "progressive." In the ongoing circular firing squad that the Democratic Party always becomes when we are out of power, one of the key bridgeheads up for capture is the word "progressive."

To be honest, I'm not happy that the Iowa Democratic Party created a "Progressive Caucus." The implication is that somehow everyone else is not "progressive," and that there's no other place in the party for "progressives." It's also an impossible term to define - "progressive" is whoever calls themselves that, and everyone is going to define it differently.

For some people it's about insurance.

In the context of internal Democratic discussion in mid-2017, "Progressive" is de facto defined as "Bernie." So I'm viewed with suspicion because in the end I decided for Hillary, as if I and all of the millions more people who voted for her than voted for Bernie somehow made that decision because we love stock brokers and investment bankers. She called herself "a progressive who gets things done," but that seems to have little resonance any more.
Rather than opting out, I'm hanging in there - trying to listen but correcting misconceptions, and claiming my share of that valuable word progressive.

At the risk of "unity," which the left-left is calling a false value anyway, I'm going to for the first time in a long time explain why I chose Hillary over Bernie. 

It may be blasphemy to say so, but politics is about more than positions and platforms. It's about style and skill sets as well as substance.  My problem is not with trying to move the Democrats leftward - I've been in that fight for 25 years. I made my choice for Hillary because I believed she could do the job and he couldn't. 

Not that inability to do the job matters.
Specifically: Sanders was visibly uncomfortable with any subject other than macroeconomics, especially foreign policy.  He had little to say about foreign policy because he knew that his actual foreign policy, pacifist isolationism, was not going to sell.  
Sanders also had no political plan for getting his ideas through a hostile Congress, other than, to paraphrase, the ЯevolutioN will sweep all opposition away in its wake - and even the biggest tidal wave can't overcome bad district maps.
And this wasn't a deciding factor, but it didn't help: the "revolution" rhetoric was nails on a chalkboard to me. Maybe that's because it sounded like me when I was a 25 years old "socialist" in grad school, before I dropped out and made my commitment to electoral politics.

The rhetorical irony of the Sanders campaign is that "progressives" and "socialists" weren't historically allies. "Progressive" is of course a term with century old roots. We had a whole Progressive Era led by Teddy Roosevelt - and the mis-labeled, white supremacist, anti-leftist Woodrow Wilson. Progressives were reformers, not revolutionaries, and in the 1910s, before World War One and the Bolshevik Revolution, progressives were usually against, not with, the Socialists.

And their three Milwaukee mayors.

The New Deal era was also reformist rather than revolutionary, amid real fear that the Great Depression would spark revolution.  

Teddy Roosevelt's Bull Moosers were the first of three Progressive Parties. There was also Fighting Bob LaFollette's 1924 party, which was a Wisconsin institution for a couple decades (in that era, progressives were Republicans, not Democrats).

Finally there was Iowa's own Henry Wallace and his short-lived 1948 party. It suffered from hostile takeover by actual Communists,which finally gets my circling around to my point.

For a whole bunch of historic reasons, Marxist class-struggle rhetoric never truly took root in America. It's understood in academic islands, like the one I live in, but it's not part of our political vernacular.

To choose a deliberatively provocative term, the rhetoric of revolution is un-"American." Or since I'm sure to be called a red-baiter for that, non-American. Not anti-American in the McCarthyism sense, but alien to the American political culture, and thus limited in ability to persuade. If you can't persuade, you can't win. I'm not saying that's fair, I'm saying that's a reality. "Revolution" is not going to take back West Virginia.

That's the barrier Bernie Sanders faced as he tried to take over the Democratic Party from outside with a class-based rhetoric explicitly labeled as "socialist." It had a high hipster factor, but the appeal to the actual proletariat was limited. (I attribute Sanders' primary wins in Appalachia less to class struggle and more to I Hate That Bitch. Those four words sum up the whole election - and sadly, certain parts of the left are just as bad as the right.)

Yesterday a bunch of potential 2020ers spoke at the Center for American Progress Ideas Conference, and a few half-noticed tweets from Elizabeth Warren's speech encapsulated why I always found her persona and rhetorical style far more appealing than Sanders.

Notice how Warren's rhetoric has deeper roots in the American tradition. Teddy Roosevelt examples are much more relevant to real word American voters, as opposed to artificially grafting "ЯevolutioN" and "socialism" onto a political culture where those concepts are alien.

25 year old me - I actually wrote a paper on Sanders in grad school in 1990 - can't believe I'm saying this.
"Nevertheless she persisted" has become such a meme that it's not even always associated with Warren anymore, and the origin story is almost lost: it was when she was reprimanded for reading the Coretta Scott King's letter about Jeff Session on the Senate floor.  The civil rights era in general and MLK and Coretta specifically are authentically and iconically American, at least to half the country, in a way that "revolution" is not. It also acknowledges that African Americans and women, not the white working class, are the true base of the post-1960s Democratic Party.

And while Sanders attempts to invoke the civil rights era, it's invariably just a stepping stone to what he really wants to talk about, macroeconomics. 

Warren and Sanders, and to a 95% extent Hillary Clinton, have the same ideas, and we're all (except for my Republican friends) on the same team here. And I absolutely welcome the new people Sanders has brought to activism in general, especially the ones who want to tough it out in the party trenches.
(Pro tip: Activism in a political party is not the best kind of activism for everyone. If you can't in the end come together and back the winner, another kind of activism may be a better fit and I respect that. What I don't respect is having it both ways and waving Jill Stein signs at the Democratic convention.)
But the rhetorical style that thrills some is a turnoff for others. For every X number of 20somethings attracted by "revolution" and "socialism," there are Y voters turned off by the explicit old left rhetorical style. I understand X - because that was 25 year old me. But aren't we all embarrassed by our younger selves? So I'm part of Y.
And I contend that Y > X.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Election Law Changes Part 4: Stuff That Didn’t Happen

So as you’ve seen the past three days, the election law news from the Iowa legislative session is mostly bad. However, there were a few negative items that got some publicity yet didn’t pass.

The biggest surprise to me was that there was no attempt to ban satellite voting, which I was absolutely certain would happen. Satellite sites are mostly popular in urban Democratic counties, and they only really work in locations that have high population density and foot traffic, so they seemed like a prime target. But the only bill affecting satellites was a brief attempt at a minor restriction on sites in the very smallest city elections.

There was also no serious attempt to end election day registration. A bill was introduced by a few of the farthest right House Republicans but it was never taken up. Fact is, as in every state that allows it, election day registration became very popular immediately. The Krazy Kaucus also introduced a few other far-right fantasies: term limits, a US constitutional convention, and electing the members of the committee that nominates judicial finalists.

In the back and forth between the House and Senate over HF516, an amendment to close the polls at 8 PM, rather than 9 PM, for primary and general elections was dropped – a fact Terry Branstad bemoaned after the bill’s passage.

Cutting the early voting window to 29 days is bad enough. But at one point Senator Rick Bertrand introduced a bill that would have set the first day to vote early at just 15 days before the election.

Brad Zaun’s sore loser bill to abolish party conventions for primaries where no one tops 35 percent, and instead hold an August runoff, passed the Senate unanimously, but the House never took it up. That’s more consideration than Rep. Andy McKean got with a plan to move the primary to September, which would have caused federal problems. Overseas ballots have to be ready 45 days out, and other states that traditionally had September primaries (including New York and Wisconsin) have had to move them early to comply with that federal law.

One bill, aimed straight at Johnson County, would have required the state’s biggest counties to elect supervisors by district. I’ve elaborated much on that in the past. There was also a proposal to let rural townships secede from the largest counties (with the bar once again set right at Johnson County’s 130,000 census total) and join a neighboring county, and a truly bizarre Jarad Klein bill that would have let rural voters cast ballots in city elections. There were a couple of proposals to elect county officials on a non-partisan basis, which died quietly.

A perennial auditor item never came up: setting a hard and fast date deadline for returning absentee ballots. Current law requires a postmark the day before an election, but most local mail is no longer postmarked. Also getting no traction: efforts to allow mail-only elections in the smallest cities. This would save a lot of work for auditors and significant tax money for the small cities, but the concern seems to be setting a precedent for all-vote-by-mail. That would be too popular and make voting too easy, wouldn’t it?