Monday, June 30, 2008

You Sunk My Battleship

You Sunk My Battleship

Yesterday's quote of the day is Wes Clark on McCain: “I don’t think getting in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to become president." The GOP will certainly howl, but I'm reminded of JFK. When he was called a hero for his PT109 adventure, he said: "It was involuntary. They sank my boat."

If you're my age, you'll remember "You sunk my battleship!" from TV ads (which, having seen Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle, I can never hear without cringing again.) This game box is a classic: Daddy and Little Johnny playing while Mommy and Suzy do the dishes.

When will we know the VPs? Taegan Goddard says: first week of August.
The Obama campaign would like their pick to be after McCain's if possible to give them a nice run up to the Democratic convention in late August. However, the Olympics begin in Beijing on August 8 and run about two weeks.

Therefore, both campaigns will have a limited window to announce their picks.

With this poll showing Mac under 50 percent in his home state, I say Obama should get directly in McCain's face and name Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano as his running mate. She's very popular at home and the right age to be the 2016 heir apparent. Might make the Clintons mad, because it would make Hillary very clearly NOT the number one woman in the party, but to complain would be to admit that is isn't about sexism, it's about Me Me Me.

On the GOP side my Iowa Indy colleague Doug Burns says McCain's best pick is Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

As for the Olympic-centric timeframe, the always quirky Strange Maps says China's historic insularity can be best understood by thinking of China as an island. And a Tienanmen photo I'd never seen before: a couple hiding from the tanks under a bridge. Makes me think of that Bruce Cockburn song, "Lovers In A Dangerous Time."

More political geography at the Washington Post as the Virginias trade places.

In the Iowa blogosphere, the long-running State 29 is planning and/or threatening to close shop. Quitting is one thing, but that delete key is forever. I'm reminiscing about several of the really good Iowa blogs that have died in the three or so years since we grew a critical mass Iowa blogosphere; my most missed is Patriot Skullface.

I took yesterday off from the blogosphere to recover from that 16 hour convention liveblog. Looking back I see about a bazillion typos, and I can't decide whether to clean that up, or leave them in as documents of the fatigue factor.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Democratic Convention Liveblog 3

Democratic Convention Liveblog 3: Tired Up, Ready To Go (home)

Straight up 8:00 -- 11 hours into the convention.

The remaining crowd falls into four categories:

  • The folks who really, really care about platform.
  • National delegate candidates.
  • Friends of national delegate candidates (I fall into this group).
  • Staffers and/or people serving on the standing committees like rules.

    The last platform voting is happening. The most contentious platform discussion was the Israel-Palestine conflict. More heat than light on this subject. Three lines are deleted:

    We support:
    1071 25. Keeping the US Embassy in Tel-Aviv until reaching resolution.
    1073 We oppose:
    1074 26. Israeli settlement activity on territory captured in the Six-Day War.
    1075 27. The Separation Wall.

    The affirmative action chair vote is on either ballot four or ballot five, but since we've narrowed from three candidates to two, this'll be decisive. Folks are starting to grumble, openly, on the mike, about the attrition rate as it affects national delegate candidates.

    A result at last: Elector (candidates), Audrey Lindaman and Joe Judge. The ballot counting is the bottleneck, as it always seems to be. Tully has tried several tactics to entertain the troops, including reading silly Bush quotes and conducting a "who has the most children" contest (the winner had more than ten).

    8:45 and Sandy Opsvedt has been re-elected to the DNC. Health care, civil rights, and environment get voted as the platform priorities; a year and a half ago when the campaign started it might have been the war, the war and the war. The last ballot on DNC male is happening.

    12 hours in, preference groups at long last happen. "Edwards, if there's anybody left, you can meet in the hallway and I'll be happy to talk to you" says Tully, a former Edwards guy.

    12 hours in, preference groups at long last happen. "Edwards, if there's anybody left, you can meet in the hallway and I'll be happy to talk to you" says Tully, a former Edwards guy.

    The toughest ticket to Denver is for men. Obama chooses four women and one man, plus a male alternate. Clinton chooses three women and a female alternate. (This is because the party leader/elected official delegates are disproportionately male.) It's not announce but I was told Edwards, contrary to original reports, is also now all female. All other affirmative action guidelines are voluntary, but male and female delegates are separate votes.

    Food, by the way, is long since closed.

    Rob Hubler's still here working the room; he tells me the key to winning on his tough turf is letting people know who he is, and letting people know who Steve King really is. "Thie year could be better than 1974," he says. He's part of a father-son candidate team; his son is taking on party-switcher Doug Struyck in Council Bluffs.

    22 men -- it keeps going up -- are running for the one male Obama spot. Leading contenders look like Davenport Mayor Bill Gluba and Coralville State Senator Bob Dvorsky. Speeches are variations on How Much I've Done For Obama And The Party (for older candidates) or How Wonderful Obama Is (four younger candidates). Sam Becker makes his best case as the youth candidate: "I'm 85, so I'll make everyone else seem young."

    30 female candidates; I panicked when the alphabetically ordered names filled the first video screen and were only in the B's, but they skewed disproportionately to the beginning of the alphabet. We can hear what we think are fireworks outside; either that or a sudden thunderstorm, or a band elsewhere in the building. The female candidates' speeches are similar but a few more people drop in their affirmative action categories (female veteran, Hispanic woman, Asian Pacific Islander woman, woman with disabilities, 50+ woman, etc.) looking for an edge.

    I'm offered a Snickers bar, which reminds me of the ad: "Not going anywhere for a while?"
    Team Obama has finished ballot one at 10:30, and is killing time with Open Mike Night. Dick Myers fires up the troops. "There is only ONE party in this United States of America that believes in civil and economic justice, and that is the DEMOCRATIC Party!" Myers concludes.

    Investigative journalism has determined that the booming noise is a kid-oriented Christian rock band next door. Members of Team Hillary were straggling out of the convention, having completed two balots in the time Obama completed one. They had 13 people running for four spots -- again, all women. Team Obama takes a pro forma, yet recorded, vote to say the three Edwards people -- Catherine Crist, Tammy Watson Caroso, and alternate Catherine Wilden -- are OK.

    10:54 and that pro forma Edwards vote passed. Male candidates have been winnowed from 22 to 11. We go through jokes and songs. "They asked John McCain if he wore boxers or briefs and he said depends." I liked it the first time I heard it, when it was a Bob Dole joke.

    Women narrow faster -- from 30 down to 9. One of the people I promised votes to is eliminated. "Last call," says the rules committee, and though they mean ballots I wonder how close we are to bar time.

    11:27 and the third ballot on Obama men cuts it to five. Dvorsky and Gluba still in there. Bad news: male alternate is a separate election, and the ballot will be the 21 men who unsuccessfully run for delegate. Guys are strongly encouraged to drop out.

    11:42 -- the second ballot actually elects three women: Jan Bauer, Faith Bromwich and Mary Campos. Third ballot on the one last woman. Six candidates remain, so probably at least one more vote. Another attempt to get men to quit the alternate race.

    Down in the Clinton room, they're standing down between ballots, the field narrowed down to nine. The Edwardians are probably home asleep by now.

    Last vote of the day. No, we're not done; we're just rolling over into Sunday. The men only narrow from five to four on the fourth ballot. Only one woman drops this ballot. Sooo.... we got to ballot five for men and ballot four for women.

    While they count, the entertainment bar is lowered; we've sunk to knock-knock jokes and watching YouTube clips on the big screen. Makes one long for the glory days of a bright green Bruce Braley eight or so hours ago. Democracy in action, dear readers, democracy in action.

    The delegate attrition rate has dropped and we're in stalemate. Everyone remaining is a passionate supporter of a remaining national delegate candidate. One candidate drops off per ballot. Bob Dvorsky drops off (so my promises have been met.)

    Another half hour, another ballot, another one person of each gender drops off. At this point fatigue is outweighing news, so it may just be time to call it a night.

  • Democratic Convention Liveblog 2

    Democratic Convention Liveblog 2: Chips and Chat with Tom Vilsack

    1:52 and lunch is over. Tom Miller is at the podium as people drift back.

    The long hours of a convention are a great equalizer, as we all dine on the same concession stand burgers and fries. I spotted Tom Vilsack, nibbling on some chips at the back of the hall by himself, and decide to interrupt his lunch. As we talk, a few other delegates gather around and join in.

    Party unity will happen, says the man who started the race as a candidate himself, then signed on with Hillary Clinton. "A) we've got a great candidate," Vilsack now says of Obama. "B), we can't afford 4 more years of Bush on steroids."

    "This is truly a historic election for America. I grew up in the era of Brown vs. Board, segregated schools, segregated communities -- and here we are," said Vilsack of a nomination process that left an African-American and a woman as the last two candidates.

    "As president, you can't micromanage. You have to deal with the stuff at the top. A president provides the direction and vision -- and Obama was able to provide the vision."

    Still, Vilsack says, there's work to do. "The universe of people who that nominated Obama is not enough to elect him. The family has to grow. And when a family grows, there's growing pains."

    Vilsack has no regrets about siding with Clinton until the nomination was settled, and mentioned loyalty. "The only national people who helped me in `98 (in my first run for governor) were Paul Wellstone and Hillary Clinton," he said.

    Vilsack also seems to have no regrets about his own short campaign. "I just didn't have the resources. But it turned out best for the party," he said.

    "When I started to run, they told me I needed $20 million. Well, add a zero to that," he said of Obama's internet-driven fundraising. Vilsack sees that as an opportunity for one of Iowa's congressional candidates.

    "If Becky Greenwald can capture the Internet, then her fundraising capacity gets expanded dramatically and she gets attention from D.C.," said Vilsack. "Before you know it, Tom Latham gets knocked off. That's sort of what happened with Dave Loebsack."

    Delegate Nicole McVey introduces herself and says she attended school with one of Vilsack's sons. "Is that an iPod?" Vilsack asks, pointing to McVey's small Nano. "My iPod has 150 or 160 songs on it," said Vilsack. "I do a lot of travel by plane, and music helps make the flight seem quicker."

    Back at the convention, Jack Kibbie is implausibly introduced to the tune of "Jumping Jack Flash" by the Rolling Stones. The trifecta "has happened three times in 100 years, and I was there for two of them."

    "We're still on time," insists Rob Tully at 2:02 p.m. as Leonard Boswell is introduced to Congressman John Hall's "Still The One."

    Dave Redlawsk says the Edwards group has identified the people it wants to send, and the campaigns are in agreement to honor the delegate split as elected at the county conventions. He's not sure yet whether that will be logistically be done within a unified Obama group or within three separate preference groups.

    In the most heated platform fight, a resolution to "Honor the party's 34 year commitment to labor by supporting 'broad scope' negotiations in the strongest possible terms" passed. Informally, this has been called the "Screw Culver" amendment. Another resolution passed that demand equal access to party materials to all party candidates is also passed. Some primary challengers got shut out; this is the response.

    At 2:23 the convention is moving toward votes for Democratic National Committee. One man and one woman get elected. Contested races are happening. On the female side, Miriam Tyson has a well-organized challenge to incumbent Sandy Opsvedt, (it's pronounced "up-street") but there's about 10 candidates.

    More faces from the lunch hour:

    Sam Becker of Iowa City is running for Obama national delegate. "I don't have much chance,"he said over lunch, "but I'd love to go." Becker is a retired communication professor of such stature that the Comm Studies Building was named Becker Hall when he retired. "I've always been active, but I never even attended a county convention before, let alone a district or state."

    Michael Blackwell is running for Black Hawk County supervisor. The fall race has four candidates for three seats: three Democrats and a Republican incumbent. Blackwell, a minister who is in countless community activities, says he hopes Obama has long coattails.

    Back at the female DNC race, time limits on speeches are being strictly enforced. This office is chosen by the convention as a whole; will Opsvedt's Clinton support hurt her with this Obama-leaning convention?

    2:58 and male DNC candidates are speaking. Incumbent Richard Mahacek has several challengers. (Johnson County's Dick Myers endorses him.) The three campaigns have named their party leader/elected official delegates. Team Obama is sending Attorney General Tom Miller, Lt. Gov. Patty Judge, and Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie. Team Hillary is sending the Vilsacks -- Tom and Christy. The Edwardians have chosen State Rep. Ro Foege. Gender balance rules mean that the Obama group has to name four women and one man for their at-large seats.

    During a lull, Bruce Braley speaks via video (the actual Braley is in the district doing flood work). A technical glitch renders the congressman bright green, but that gets fixed. We're all waiting for the DNC votes to get counted; Tully has scolded us to color in the lines of the bubbles. In other logistical notes, repeated requests to increase the room temperature (several delegates are bundled in blankets). No one adopts Hillary's "turn up the heat" chant.

    Becky Greenwald speaks at 3:40. "Send George Bush's wing man home for good," she says of Tom Latham, the best line in a list-of-issues speech. (Bashing No Child Left Behind always seems to get the loudest applause in these types of speeches.) She likens her long-shot to Loebsack, just as Vilsack did. "When Dave Loebsack is sworn in for his second term, I'll be standing right beside him."

    Rob Hubler gets big applause at the initial mention of running against Steve King, and speaks of "cringing with embarrassment." "I have people tell me that I'm the guy that's right for Iowa and Steve King is just plain wrong for Iowa." He attacks King more than Greenwald attacked Latham -- but then there's so much material to work with. "Western Iowa needs a servant, not a King."

    More balloting: state affirmative action chair, second ballot on female DNC.

    I'm sharing my power strip with Amanda Hagge, proprietor of the Galaxy Deli in Clinton. Speaking of Clinton, she's wearing a Hillary shirt -- but, as she notes, an Obama button. How enthusiastic is she about the button? "I'm a little disillusioned, but I'm a Democrat," she says. "He's our least experienced candidate in history, but.. well, OK. 'd feel better with her as vice president." Hagge says she'll be less enthusiastic about her fall campaign activities, but nevertheless names a long list of doorknocking and house parties and phonebanking.

    4:45 and there are dozens of candidates for presidential elector. Technically they are candidates for candidate for elector, since no one is an elector until their party carries the state. No one ever gets it right, no one cares except me. I almost make this point to the convention, but I have this outlet instead. Bottom line is, there's one male spot and one female slot, so each nomination means more voting.

    They're stretching for time while they compile the list of candidates for elector (candidate), so they call on Kevin McCarthy for a speech (a snippet of CCR's "Fortunate Son" as an intro). "Remember the Iowa House," pleads McCarthy, saying that's the GOP's real target this fall.

    A technical note: The laptop is a dual-boot system, and I'm having better luck connecting to the internet when I'm booted in Linux than when I'm in Windows.

    Another ballot for Male DNC. Mahachek and four others. In his superdelegate capacity, Mahacek started with Edwards, then switched to Obama.

    The PLEOs are officially elected (see names above), and chair Scott Brennan nominates the "unpledged add-on delegate." It's Mari Culver. Rob Tully's periodic "we're still running on time" announcements have ceased.

    5:10 and platform debate on minority planks. It only takes 10 percent of the platform committee to make an issue "controversial" and trigger automatic six minutes of debate and vote. It's items that a few, few people care passionately about, occasionally getting complicated by double negative grammar ("vote yes to remove this from the platform.") This esoterica will probably be shoved aside quickly once it's time for another DNC or other such ballot.

    In an interesting moment, the plan about taxing marijuana is "controversial," while the two words "legalize marijuana" were not. For a moment I wonder if I am at the Libertarian convention, until the vote is, true to Democratic form, to tax.

    What might have been: today's convention is choosing literally the LAST Democratic National Convention delegates. We're past the deadline, but got an exception because of the flood. If the nomination had been in question, the street would have been lined with satellite trucks and the hall would have been packed.

    As predicted, platform debate is shoved aside at 5:50 to vote on presidential elector (candidate). 30 candidates for two slots, as the Long March continues. The attrition rate of delegates is starting to be noticeable. The platform debate feels like the album track between the hit singles of votes.

    6:39 and the third ballot on DNC. Three women remain and four men. They've combined the ballot and announced "you have to vote for both a man and a woman for your ballot to count." Party rules prohibit vote-gaming strategies such as bullet voting (voting for only one candidate in a multi-candidate race). But male DNC and female DNC are different elections, and what if you want to vote in one election and not the other? Fortunately no one raises this point on the floor.

    7:06 p.m. and the attrition rate is accelerating. The elector (candidate) candidates narrow from 30 to 17. Going to be a long night. Someone moves to suspend the rules and choose electors by lot, causing some mirth.

    Mike Carberry of Iowa Global Warming offers a speaker review, delayed by seven hours. Jean Carnahan gave a completely different speech last night as keynoter of the Hall of Fame dinner; all the other dignitaries gave essentially the same remarks.

    Democratic State Convention Liveblog 1

    Democratic State Convention Liveblog

    10:13 AM and hello from the floor of the convention, Technically, from the floor of the Obama preference group. The convention convened and then immediately broke into preference groups; Obama being the largest stayed in the main hall.

    The lone person staffing the Preference Change table seemed to be attracting no business, but said earnestly that there had been some movement, all toward Obama.

    Powers that be said the event was "closed press" until 10 AM; the good professor Redlawsk noted that all IDP events are open to the public and no one really had a good answer. Since I'm seated as a delegate anyway, I'm in one of those grays areas we bloggers land in sometimes, but here's the gist.

    Team Obama's leadership is pushing unity and wants to let Team Clinton and Team Edwards the number of people they earned at the county conventions. However, it sounded like they want those people under the Obama banner. The subject of a convention roll call, which has popped up nationally in the last 48 or so hours, was raised, and not really answered. Though there were some skeptical questions, the unity message was generally well taken in the Obama camp.

    Now it's 10:20, 20 minutes after the preference group caucuses were set to end, and Team Hillary and Team Edwards are just returning. First delay of many, I suspect.

    "They say we won't be electing national delegates till 4:30," says Senator Bob Dvorsky, running for a trip to Denver. "AM or PM?" I ask.

    1101 delegates seated thus far, just over a quorum.

    10:28 and Harkin gets announced to one of the six standard approved campaign rally songs. I don't even wan to name it, it's been so overdone, but the singer was a Wilbury and the song has an air of steadfast defiance. Figure it out. The entire song plays... and Harkin does not actually appear. Uhh... woops.

    Rules committee member Sandy Dockendorff makes a cryptic announcement: "If you have filed for national delegate, and you are NOT an Obama first choice person, you need to come see me." One person cheers loudly at the recognition that something must be up with the preference groups.

    10:35 and we actually get Harkin; someone blows the cue, stops, then plays the same intro song AGAIN.

    Here's Harkin:

    After the intros and shoutout to all the campaigns, he praises leadership on flood - significantly placing Culver first then the congressional delegation.

    The candidates names got varying levels of applause, Obama the loudest and Edwards rivaling Clinton.

    On to the partisan rah-rah. "This year is gonna be even better than it was two years ago. This year reminds me of 1974, when I was first elected to Congress." That's the Watergate landslide.

    In the 5th CD: "the King has no clothes." Reminds us of `74 when he and Berkley Bedell won the turf that now makes up the 5th." Also a shout-out to Becky Greenwald and the Iowa-Mississippi no women jinx.

    As for Obama, he uses "Yes We Can" and "Yes We Must" -- as he voiced the second, I was expecting Hilary's "Yes We Will" instead. Some McCain bashing goes over well. Saves his own race for last. "People might say I have an easier race, but I have a healthy respect for anyone who wins a primary" like Reed did. "I'll hold nothing back to see that this Senate seat stays in Democrat hands."

    "I have always fought for bold and progressive change," citing the laundry list of issues. "But in recent years we have gotten badly off track. I want to use my seniority in the Senate to help President Obama make that change."

    Obama is right in that "this year's election is about rising above partisanship. People want to change the way that Washington does business." Cites his own record in bringing parties together, with of course the ADA first on the list.

    "I'm the most vetoed Senator in the United States Senate" draws big, laughing applause.

    The word UNITED appears over and over behind the podium. It's not an airline sponsorship. The smaller font below says FOR A STRONGER IOWA. And united is Harkin's final pitch at 10:58. At the VERY end he throws in the "Yes we will."

    Looking around there's not much evidence of Edwards and Clinton beyond the sticker and button and shirt level. The scattered flyers from National delegate candidates all look like Obama, there's no banners or signs.

    Patty Judge mostly talks flood and praises, then intros, the governor. No major scene as Culver takes the stage; there's been speculation he'd get a cool reception from the labor-heavy crowd.

    After praising party leaders and offering standard predictions of victory, Culver calls flood "one of top ten worst natural disasters" in US history and tells several stories thereof. Possible special legislative session in August. He's leaving the convention to visit the 100% evacuated town of Oakville.

    So, the reception after the labor bill veto is not nasty, but more just indifferent, as compared to Harkin, who always holds the attention of a partisan crowd.

    "It is now 11:30 and we are still on time," brags convention chair Rob Tully, former party chair and congressional candidate.

    Tom Vilsack is up, as the serious unity efforts begin. I landed in the check in line at the same time as Vilsack; he says he's now fired up and ready to go (in Obama speak). A bystander asks, "You have to check in like a regular person?"

    "I am a regular person," he replied, his own short campaign for president long forgotten.

    Back at the speech, he repeats the "fired up and ready to go" line. Primary process celebrated our diversity and proved "all people regardless of race or gender can be the next president of the United States." He's in full oratory voice early in the speech, shouting "It -- Is -- Democrats -- who" (insert issue here) and "To Those Who Would" (insert attack on Democrats here), "Don't -- Go -- There!" "Peace! Peace! PEACE!" gets them on their feet.

    Former Senator Jean Carnahan is next; apparantly pinch hitting for Claire McCaskill, who was scheduled to keynote on the original convention date. They play Tom Petty again, this time "American Girl" which Hillary used briefly. They skip the line that I think of in the context of Clinton's campaign:

    God it's so painful when something that's so close
    is still so far out of reach

    But Carnahan, like McCaskill, was with Obama.

    The speeches have stalled the politicking somewhat. Some hubbub toward the back but most folks are doing the polite in their seats thing. Carnahan's rhetorical device is to tell semi-lengthy, low-key, folksy, Roosevelt-Truman era stories to illustrate Democratic programs.

    Of the congressional delegation, only Leonard Boswell has been sighted thus far; the governor made note of Braley being on a flood-related district trip. Despite the earlier "on time" brag, one should note that it's now noon and no actual, concrete convention business has been conducted.

    "You started something in Iowa: you started Barack Obama on his road to the White House," says Carnahan, drawing her first long applause. "And when you start something in Iowa, you finish the job." In front of me, Charlotte Eby and Mike Glover start typing faster, so I guess we all are pulling the same Carnahan quote.

    Now the formal business begins, at 12:04: a state constitutional amendment about bylaws and notices. As minor acana as it gets; but then, I was the only person in the state to file a credentials challenge so I'm not one to talk.The kind of thing very few people care about, but they care about it passionately. Most of the rest of the press corps begins to pack up, signaling the beginning of the Long March. I'm promised to stick around to the bitter end or close to it, dear readers.

    An abortive attempt to find a cup of coffee lands me at the One Iowa table, positioned as a demilitarized zone between the pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli tables. "We're a gay and lesbian group, so we're used to being the controversial ones," says the One Iowa volunteer, "but not now."

    After precious little business is done, at 12:37 an hour recess for lunch. "We're still on schedule," Tully says again.

    Friday, June 27, 2008

    Iowa Top Pickup Chance

    Iowa: Number One Dem Pickup Chance

    So says the Washington Post:
    The emergence of Obama and the centrality of the Hawkeye State to the launching of his candidacy has turned the state into the best pickup opportunity in the country for Democrats this fall. The massive amount of money Obama spent to identify, organize and turnout voters in advance of the Jan. 3 caucuses looks like a good long term investment heading into the general election. In neither of McCain's presidential primary bids did he run an active campaign in Iowa -- a major disadvantage in the fall.

    That's at the top of a countdown format list. More lists:

  • Congressional Quarterly lists some upcoming hot House primaries.

  • NPR's Ken Rudin lists the one-term wonders of the Republican Class of `94. Winners like Militia Steve Stockman, Andrea Seastrand, and Michael "Not Dan Rostenkowski" Flanagan.

    Also, my morning "no drama" headline doesn't mesh with the AP take. I'm not quoting or linking here, but their version of the Big Story is, roughly, Cool Reception For Chet. We'll see... tune in all day and all night tomorrow for the 18 hour or so liveblog.
  • No Drama Expected at Dems State Convention

    No Drama Expected at Dems State Convention

    The Iowa Democratic Party's state convention looks a lot less dramatic now than it did from the perspective of late April.

    The primary season, after a six-week hiatus, had just kicked into high gear again with Hillary Clinton's Pennsylvania win, yet Barack Obama had math on his side. Every delegate seat was filled at Iowa's April 26 congressional district conventions, and it looked like the June 14 state convention could be a fight-to-the-death battle for some of the last available national delegates. Never before had those late in the game delegates meant so much.

    But everything has changed.

    In the nine weeks since Iowa Democrats gathered at the district conventions:

  • John Edwards endorsed Obama;
  • The May 31 DNC Rules and Nominations committee meeting finally settled the Florida and Michigan fight;
  • Obama mathematically clinched the nomination with a superdelegate surge on June 3; and
  • Clinton folded her campaign and endorsed Obama on June 7.

    Then the flood of 2008 postponed the convention and gave the party two more weeks to unite. Now, instead of an OK Corral showdown, the convention falls the day after presumptive nominee Barack Obama makes his first joint campaign appearance with former rival Hillary Clinton, in a town with the you-gotta be kidding-me name of Unity, New Hampshire. (As if that weren't over the top, the two actually tied in Unity in the New Hampshire primary. Try selling that as a movie script.)

    Still, the convention is the place to be Saturday for Iowa's Democratic politicos. Speeches from all the usual suspects, platform (included in the .pdf convention book) and committee fights for those who enjoy such things, and most importantly the last chance to get a ticket to Denver.

    The convention is choosing ten pledged delegates to the Denver national convention, that are proportionally divided by presidential preference. If everyone shows up and no one changes their minds, here's how the delegation looks:

    State Convention, Des Moines, June 28
    State Delegates2500
    At Large National Delegates10
     State DelegatesNational Delegates

    In addition to the pledged delegates, and one unpledged "add-on" delegate chosed by party chair Scott Brennan (who has endorsed Obama), the state convention will also elected six pledged party leader and elected official delegates, which should break down as Obama 3, Clinton 2, and Edwards 1 if everyone shows up and no one shifts.

    Of course, that's a big if.

    The Obama campaign is still making efforts to get delegates to the convention, but the urgency seems to have lightened up since Clinton's withdrawal. More attention is now focused on John McCain and the fall.

    Supporters of defeated candidates traditionally stick together in Iowa, then formally switch to the presumptive nominee after the state convention. Clinton should be viable, while Edwards is borderline. But all the numbers may shift if people decide to stay home and clean up after the flood instead.

    The biggest delegate fights will be less about "who are you for" and more about "who gets to go." A seat as a national delegate is a highly prized political plum. The nature of the Obama campaign, drawing in newcomers, and a low threshold of signatures to run, is likely to increase the number of people who try for those few seats. At the 2nd Congressional District convention, 84 people, a mix of 18 year old first-timers and grizzled political veterans with decades of party activism under their belts, ran for four Obama national delegate seats.

    Combine that with party rules that require multiple ballots and a 50 percent majority for election, with only a few candidates eliminated each ballot, and delegates are in for a long day, and night. Past state conventions have run as late as 4 a.m., with skeleton crews of friends and supporters of that candidate for that one last alternate seat trying to outlast one another.

    In the moment, those battles, and those platform speeches, can seem like high drama. But the work that shift votes in the fall will be happening in other ways, and in other places. Legislative candidates, for example, will be few and far between at the convention Saturday, as doorknocking or local fund raising events are better uses of time. The Obama campaign is launching a nationwide series of "Unite For Change" house parties on Saturday, though in deference to the convention Iowa's events are on Sunday.

    Still, the critical mass numbers of the most dedicated of the dedicated at a convention can be a catalyst. The plotting and planning, in dozens of quiet conversations during interminable waits for the next ballot, will probably be the real product of the day.
  • Thursday, June 26, 2008

    McCain and Weekends

    John McCain Hard At Work

  • Going his pal Joementum one better, John McCain rested on the sixth and seventh day and doesn't work weekends... or, apparantly, weekdays either, as he hasn't voted in the Senate since April 8. Not that Obama and Clinton will get gold stars for attendance either. Obama last voted June 4 -- the day after the last primary, and you may recall he had a bit more competition through April and May than McCain did.

    Some of us old timers remember how Michael Dukakis spent weeks sitting at his governor's desk, which even he now says was a big mistake in this must-read from the UK that talks to several of the presidential losers. Makes me wish someone would write a new version of Irving Stone's They Also Ran, a collection of thumbnail biographies of presidential losers. There's a lot to write about since Wendell Willkie.

    Perhaps the would-be author can begin work on the John McCain chapter soon.

  • I remember hearing an NPR interview with George Carlin a couple years back when they discussed Seven Dirty Words, played an excerpt, and bleeped the seven words! Surreal, and I'm sure George appreciated the irony.

    But other than Seven Dirty Words, the media isn't discussing George Carlin's politics:

    How many networks have shown some of his most groundbreaking social commentary such as the following:

  • Religion is the biggest load of bullshit ever sold.
  • The U.S. loves to bomb countries filled with little brown people.
  • Both political parties are owned and operated by corporations.
  • Instead of putting drug dealers in jail, we should execute the bankers who launder the drug money.
  • Golf is an elitist, pretentious sport and homeless people should be given the golf courses to live on.

  • Not that I agree with Carlin's entire platform; I never got that golf=elitist image in my head because my dad golfed -- still does, six days a week -- at a regular guy, bowling alley on the side, kids welcome nine hole course and not Karl Rove's country club:
    Karl Rove attacked Barack Obama as “the guy at the country club with the beautiful date, holding a martini and a cigarette that stands against the wall and makes snide comments about everyone who passes by.”

    Must not be Augusta National. Which makes me think of Obama as the Tiger Woods of politics...

    Since Carlin wrote the bit 35 years ago, an eighth word has started to move into the Never Say On Television category. Mark Twain and Mel Brooks both used it.

    You can't call Barack Obama that word; Ralph Nader says he's trying to talk white. (Great scoop for our old pal M.E. Sprengelmeyer of the Rocky Mountain News, who lots of us writer-types got to know while he was in Iowa full-time for months on the caucus trail.) But why all the attention to Nader, when Cynthia McKinney and especially Bob Barr are going to be bigger factors? They each have something Nader doesn't: Barr has a constituency, largely inherited from Ron Paul. McKinney has race-gender identity politics and somewhat of a party organization, as opposed to the tiny handful of Nader's few remaining personal loyalists.
  • Wednesday, June 25, 2008

    Wednesday's Notes

    Making up for self-indulgence

    Damn, that Cheap Trick thing was self-indulgent and too damn long. Listen to them anyway, while you read some short stuff:

    A couple items from the always concise Ballot Access News:

  • Obama opting out of public finance may mean more $$$ for the third party candidates who qualify.

  • Colorado may have as many as 18 presidential candidates on the ballot. (Iowa's record is 14, back in 1992.)

  • This is what happens when a community organizer runs for president:
    Barack Obama could make major gains in at least nine states the Democratic ticket lost in 2004 if he can achieve a relatively modest increase in turnout among young and African-American voters, a Chicago Tribune analysis of voting data suggests.

    That potential helps explain why the Obama campaign chose to forgo federal funding and also why it is engaged in a massive voter registration drive.

  • Which begs the question asked in this MyDD diary: whose job is it to track down the information gaps in all those new registrations: the canvassers or the election office?

  • The third congressional incumbent bites the dust in a primary this year, as arch-conservative Chris Cannon of Utah loses to arch-arch-conservative Jason Chaffetz in what is, on paper, the number one GOP district in the nation. It's had a colorful history. Cannon first won the seat in 2000 when he knocked off arch-arch-conservative and certifiable loon Merrill Cook in a primary.

    With the congressional primary season roughly half over, two Republicans have been knocked off from the right and one Dem has been defeated from the left, pushing the magnetic poles of the parties incrementally further apart.
  • Cheap Trick

    Rockin' in Wisconsin with Cheap Trick

    When I was fifteen I wanted to have Robin Zander's hair.

    No one rocked a `70s-cut three piece suit like the lead singer of Cheap Trick. They cut a unique bifurcated figure in Dazed and Confused era rock, best illustrated by the second album cover, Cheap Trick In Color. Zander and bassist Tom Petersson on the front cover, on choppers, with their rock star manes. On the back, the two nerds on children's bicycles, with the subtitle "and in black and white." Drummer Bun E. Carlos looked just like my eighth grade science teacher, and it wasn't because my teacher looked like a rock star. Manic guitarist Rick Nielsen, the songwriting brains of the outfit, had his own mismatched dork fashion sense or lack thereof, complete with Wisconsincentric ephemera like a Point Beer button.

    Cheap Trick In Color was near-perfect, its only flaw being its brevity. It came out maybe ten minutes after the self-titled first album, which confused DJs by labeling its sides "Side A" and "Side 1" and featured the dirty old man classic "Daddy Should Have Stayed In High School." The producers of "Dazed And Confused", a movie that gets the feel of the era right, lost a great opportunity when they failed to make that the theme song for Matthew McConaghay's character. "I'm thirty but I feel like sixteen," Rick says in Robin's voice. Sounds very different at 44.

    The two albums are of a piece to me now, with short `70's running time and now home-burned onto one CD. I bought the vinyl albums together, a year after the fact, the way most of us did when "Surrender" blasted onto Midwestern radios in the summer of `78.

    It wasn't a national hit but in my town it was omnipresent, with its climactic imagery of your parents doing it in the living room to the tune of your Kiss records. And the rest of that third album, Heaven Tonight, was almost as good.

    There were three Midwest bands that hadn't broken out nationally that I remember from the summer of 1978. There were two decent FM rock stations in my home town, and three songs stood out: "Surrender," "Time For Me To Fly," and "Never Been Any Reason."

    (If I bought those records back in 1978, is it really stealing to download them 30 years later?)

    REO Speedwagon made it all the way from Champaign, Illinois, to the top, but only by getting wimpy. Singer Kevin Cronin had this way of making one-syllable words stretch, making up the difference by running other words together, as in their breakout hit "Keep On Loving You": "You played DAY-ud, butcha never fuh-LEY-ud…" Still, they had one of the great album titles of all time, with You Can Tune A Piano But You Can't Tuna Fish, and "Time For Me To Fly" is a real song. Nowadays, they play county fairs with Styx; that bill would have filled a stadium in 1981.

    Head East, from St. Louis, barely made it at all, their career arc being, like their album title, Flat As A Pancake. They fizzled the same way Kansas did, when one of the guys found Jesus. But "Never Been Any Reason" is a lost classic with its dated synth solos and its unintentionally homoerotic duet male lead vocal. If I had a band (the fantasy that never dies) I'd rearrange that and sing it with a gorgeous female vocalist, with a heart of gold and a tough cigarettes and whiskey voice, since "she" has the upper hand in the lyric putting "her" faithless man down:

    "You never give me no answers, you never tell me the truth
    There's never been any reason for me to think about you…"

    As long as we're fantasizing here, she'd have an ur-70's outfit of a fringe top and tight jeans. I'd have that Robin Zander hair, feathered and down to my shoulders, like I eventually grew and lost, and we'd sing "Never Been Any Reason" eyeball to eyeball into one mike, trading lines, duetting on the climactic "save my life I'm going down for the last time." Just singing. Sleeping with band mates is what screwed up Heart. But I'd replace at least one of the synth solos with a guitar.

    How far away was that fantasy from my reality? Do the words "debate camp" mean anything to you?

    So REO made the big time and Head East failed. Neither of them meant as much to me as Cheap Trick, who landed somewhere in between obscurity and true stardom.

    In 1979 they had their next album in the can, ready to go. But first, just for fun, they issued a souvenir of a tour of Japan, just for the Asian market. The rest is history.

    The big-in-Japan cliché at the grand finale of Spinal Tap was born with Cheap Trick At Budokan. It captured their energy better than the first three records had, became an import best seller, then got rush-released in America, in faux-import packaging. For the third time in a row, the cover had studs Robin and Tom on the front, duds Rick and Bun E. on the back.

    Bob Dylan had an At Budokan album that same summer, but Cheap Trick kicked his ass. The Japanese teenage girls screamed in Beatlesque fashion that was passé by 15 years at the introduction, and didn't stop the whole album:


    And we begin the ride with the indelible chords of that two chord classic that these guys have had to play to open every damn show for the last thirty years, because no more purposeful introduction is possible:

    Hello there ladies and gentlemen
    Hello there ladies and gents
    Are you ready to rock?
    Are you ready or not?

    It was that introduction and those two chords that prompted this rant. My MP3 player shouted "ALL RIGHT TOKYO!" in my ears and I had to stop in my tracks. Because "Hello There" doesn't work on random play. I had to go to the controls.

    Shuffle: Off.
    Select artist. A… B… C.
    Select Album: At Budokan.
    Play All.

    Four steps to set the Wayback Machine to June 1979.

    Because the live version of "Hello There" has to, HAS TO, segue with that perfect drum roll into "Come On Come On," which captured my adolescent virginal frustration as perfectly as only rock and roll can.

    Two "new" songs on that first side. There used to be these things called records that had two "sides." "Look Out" had been left off an album and the studio version didn't see the light of day until the box set. "Need Your Love" surfaced later in the year on Dream Police, delayed a few months by the surprise hit of Budokan. The live version was memorable for the extended jamming over nine minutes -- this is a three minute power pop band, remember -- and for Robin's monosyllabic intro. "I NEED… YOUR… luuuuuuuv," as the audience screamed. Between the two, there was "Big Eyes," harder than the In Color version, driven by that eight string bass that no one but Tom Petersson seemed to play either before or since.

    The "Ain't That A Shame" arrangement that opened Side Two started with the obligatory drum solo and ended with a shameless rip from John Lennon's oldies album. No one in Japan knew or cared.

    Then, the moment they became stars, as a piano ballad from Cheap Trick In Color got translated into a power pop classic.

    The April `78 Tokyo audience seemed to know just two parts of English: the band member's names and the song titles, so Robin kept the intros simple, slow and articulate for everyone to understand:

    "I want you… to want… ME!"

    That shout was a welcome respite on the radio in the summer of 1979, the summer I got my first kiss at that same debate camp, and the summer of Summer (Donna, that is). It meant three minutes of rock and roll relief on a radio clogged with the one hit wonders of disco, Number Seven on Casey Kasem when the top six were all disco.

    In retrospect, that was some great stuff. The long version of "Good Times" by Chic was one of the foundations of hip-hop. But as a teenager I was too young to catch the irony, too awkward to dance, too far out in the sticks of Wisconsin to comprehend the urban scene. And adolescent males are disproportionately guilty of homophobia, so before "YMCA" was a stadium singalong there was Disco Sucks. I just wanted the power chords. And Rick Nielsen gave them to me.

    The live version of "Surrender," with Robin's anachronistic intro of "it just came out this week" to the then year old song, had a more up-front version of closing couplets that were buried in the studio mix:

    Bun E.'s all right
    Tommy's all right
    Robin's all right
    Rick's all right
    We're all all right
    We're all all right
    We're All All Right

    (Strictly speaking, this isn't FROM Budokan. But it's the same arrangement and has the bonus (?) of The Nuge introducing the band.)

    "We're all all right" was a mantra in the summer of `79 for a Midwestern kid who couldn't dance. It didn't hurt that the guitarist looked like more of a dork than I was. Maybe it was crap pop culture, but it was MY culture.

    A quick run through "Hello There," rewritten as "Goodnight Now," then the rock and roll ritual of cheering for the encore of "Clock Strikes Ten" that you know is coming anyway.

    I wore out three -- THREE! -- vinyl copies of that record before transitioning to CDs in the late `80s.

    The Dream Police album got its delayed release that fall, and for about six months Cheap Trick ruled the small part of the planet that was not under disco hegemony. John Lennon himself called the guys up to work on his tragic final album.

    Rick Nielsen had accomplished two things. He'd made it to the big time, and at that same moment he'd burned through the back catalog of songs he'd honed over years on the Midwest club circuit. By the time I saw them in 1981, Tom Petersson was gone and they were touring behind the weak All Shook Up album, with less killer and more filler. Still, it was fun, as only someone's second-ever rock concert can be, and Rick's five neck guitar still sets the standard for excess. (Yes, each neck actually had a different function. There was a twelve-string, a fretless… and, uh, I can't remember the rest. Probably a contact buzz; didn't inhale on my own till college.)

    As it turned out, disco, not power pop, was more in tune with the future. Breaks and beats were what mattered in the `80s. Guitars lost their primacy as the solid foundation of the music and instead became overdubbed solo instruments, placed precisely between the bridge and the final chorus. While Run, D.M.C., and the late great Jam Master Jay had it both ways, scratching Aerosmith and in that unforgettable video literally breaking down the rock/rap wall, Cheap Trick slogged on.

    You could maybe scrap together a decent album out of the highlights of the next few albums and their countless one-off soundtrack throwaways. Just like Kenny Loggins, they were on every soundtrack of the decade, only Cheap Trick provided the filler between the Loggins hits.

    At the end of the `80s they had a Heart-style comeback, complete with the return of Tom Petersson. Slick overproduction, outside writers, and their first Number One. I was happy for my guys when "The Flame" topped the charts, but there wasn't anything really… Cheap Trick about it. They'd already perfected the power ballad a decade earlier, on the first album's "Mandocello," and that had some life to it. "The Flame" could have been Poison or Cinderella or anyone, a universal least common denominator. Plus if you listened too close, it was kind of a creepy stalker song, like "Every Breath You Take" only more pathetic than ominous.

    They followed it with a pointless cover of "Don't Be Cruel," right around the time Chuck D told us "Elvis was a hero to most, but he never meant shit to me." Then they slid back into the Where Are They Now file, switching labels as often as Rick switched guitar necks on that five-neck. Green Day played “Surrender” live, and Billy Corgan and Smashing Pumpkins paid indirect tribute to the era with “1979,” but it didn't help. The `90's were a hodgepodge for Cheap Trick -- A couple different greatest hits disks, the box set, a second self-titled album just to confuse discographers, a Robin Zander solo album (why?), the live sets from the club gigs and the hometown "silver anniversary" gig.

    For the 20th anniversary of Japan, they released an expanded, double CD version of Budokan. It was a dream come true: my favorite album from when I was fifteen was now suddenly twice as long.

    But still, it didn't feel right. I mean, the music was still great, but after a thousand listens it felt wrong without the sequencing, the extra songs shoehorned into the original concert order. It was like the Beatles' Anthology series that had come out a few years earlier: archaeological relics of the era, without the years of intervening memories attached. I like having the long version around, but when I regress to fifteen, I usually go back to the one-disk original.

    And 30 years to the week after the original shows, they went back to Japan, back to Budokan.

    "We're all all right" made a re-appearance in the Cheap Trick song most people know these days, their re-write of Big Star's "In The Street" that became the theme to "That's 70s Show." Having grown up in exactly the same time and place as the show is set, they get a lot of the details right. Though there was never anyone in my high school who looked like Laura Prepon.

    One of Nielsen's new lines in the TV theme sticks with me: "We're still rockin' in Wisconsin."

    Yes, we were.

    Tuesday, June 24, 2008

    Sutliff Says Goodbye To Historic Bridge

    Sutliff Says Goodbye To Historic Bridge

    The loss of a century old bridge, paved with wooden planks, isn't a blow to Johnson County's infrastructure. Traffic is flowing unimpeded at the new Sutliff bridge, built 25 years ago a quarter mile north of the unincorporated village.

    But the old Sutliff Bridge was -- past tense, as the damage is probably beyond repair -- more than a relic. It was the very symbol of the close-knit town.

    Sutliff sits in the far northeast corner of Johnson County, where the Cedar River takes a brief cut unto the county. The bridge was built in 1898 and replaced a ferry service that had become impractical due to a sandbar. The modern bridge was completed in 1983, and locals took over maintenance and preservation of the old bridge.

    But little is left to preserve now.

    "I don't think they can rebuild it," says the young waitress at Baxa's Sutliff Store and Tavern, sad but friendly as another set of gawking outsiders grabs a bite while surveying the town's loss. It's not that outsiders aren't welcomed; the bar has many regulars who bike up from Iowa City on weekends and take a mid-ride beer break.

    The store sits at the east foot of the old bridge. It's a turn of the 19th century building, and the former site of the general store. Dollar bills signed by patrons completely wallpaper the ceiling, and the place is full on a Monday night with everyone from children shooting pool to their grandparents.

    A framed poem on the wall recaps the history of the old bridge and the construction of the new:

    Now fast forward with me please to about nineteen eighty four
    because now the iron bridge can't do its job anymore
    That bridge and its wooden planks are old and must go
    so they built a new one up river, a quarter mile or so

    Now we all know the story about how the old bridge was spared
    to be enjoyed by others because somebody else cared...

    Clearly this is the de facto community center, with a wide selection of bar food and no one worrying yet about the smoking ban that kicks in next week. One of the few signs of the 21st century is a small notice on the community bulletin board, mostly taken up with word of motorcycle rallies, that mentions the store's web site, The site shows the bridge in happier times.

    "With so many people suffering such massive personal losses it might sound silly, but it is very difficult to express what the Sutliff Bridge meant to me," said Rod Sullivan, chair of the county Board of Supervisors. Sullivan grew up on a family farm just east of Sutliff. "I don't think the loss has really sunken in just yet."

    Memorabilia of the bridge line the walls. A drawing of the bridge in its former glory carefully carved into a moose antler and a certificate noting the bridge's place on the National Registry of Historic Places have clearly been in place for ages.

    The patrons are stoic, chatting about cleanup and rented storage units. But their eyes turn to a new batch of flood pictures taken by a Sutliff child. They show the flood in all its rage, pouring over the wooden plank deck, with debris the size of fully grown trees piling up on the north, upstream side just before the eastern half of the bridge was washed downstream.

    The poem on the wall, written for a happier occasion, may now serve an an inadvertent epitaph. Its closing stanza:

    And the spirit of the place, well, it always will remain
    because seasoned old friendships, time cannot claim
    So I hope you will agree, now that my story ends
    You must do what it takes to keep old friends... friends.

    Smallest Farm

    Smallest Farm Post-Flood

    With Mom now a regular reader, I need to throw in more human being posts in and amongst the politics. The Smallest Farm is beginning to look like an actual Iowa corn field.

    We've way surpassed knee high well before the 4th of July, though that's an archaic benchmark anyway. The purple on my knee is not a giant bruise, it's mulberries. We've got several trees in the yard and way more berries than we can eat. (Best on vanilla ice cream.)

    The grape tomatoes are about full size, just waiting to get red.

    The flood waters never approached. In fact, we've now gone nine days with no rain, and on Sunday when I took these, I had to water. The rain barrel was nice and full from pre-flood.

    Pole beans have climbed to the top of the fence; rabbits got a few lower leaves but the beans are winning. The sunflowers, though, may be a lost cause.

    The first baby eggplant. Eggplant is tough, but the trick is to plant it in the middle of catnip...

    ...the most popular crop.


    Monday, June 23, 2008

    George Carlin Dead


    George Carlin's not dead.

    Thanks to our fear of death in this country I won’t have to die — I’ll ‘pass away.’ Or I’ll ‘expire,’ like a magazine subscription. If it happens in the hospital they’ll call it a ‘terminal episode.’ The insurance company will refer to it as ‘negative patient care outcome.’ And if it’s the result of malpractice they’ll say it was a ‘therapeutic misadventure.”’

    I have only seven words to say about that.

    Three interesting items about race and politics over the weekend:

  • You know that phrase "grandfather clause" that we casually throw around for, well, retroactive immunity? That's got a Jim Crow origin: you couldn't vote unless your grandfather could.

  • Guess who the Illinois Nazis are rooting for in the presidential election? Yep, Barack Obama. How does Illinois Nazi logic work?
    "Obama for president paves the way for David Duke as president," said Duke. "This is finally going to make whites begin to realize it's a necessity to stick up for their own heritage, and that's going to make them turn to people like me. We're the next logical (sic) step."

  • The inimitable Mudcat Saunders satirizes that mindset in a piece on Obama and The Appalachia Problem: "The Grand Dragon has scaled the weekly program back a bit. We were planning on burning seven crosses tomorrow night, but with gasoline prices being where they are, we can only afford to burn two."
  • Sunday, June 22, 2008

    Flood Survivors Seek Answers in Iowa City

    Flood Survivors Seek Answers in Iowa City

    A meeting between federal and city officials and residents of the flooded out Normandy Drive area of Iowa City started out folksy Saturday, but grew more tense as answers grew less specific.

    The more than 250 residents were more than happy with Dave Loebsack (pictured above with neighborhood resident Steve McGuire), offering applause for the congressman's physical labor sandbagging the neighborhood. Loebsack announced that he had canceled a visit to Iraq and Afghanistan that was scheduled for next month to focus on flood relief. "For some months to come, the district staff and I will be working almost exclusively on this," he said. "It's going to be a long process, no doubt about it. I know what I'm doing when I'm back (in the district.) It won't be sandbagging, but it'll be cleanup."

    But as questions turned to city officials, the neighbors grew more restless. When can we get back in our homes? Why should rebuild before we know about a buyout? How do we start the process? Some questions were answered, some remained unanswerable as officials tried several variations on "we don't know yet."

    "I've tried to do everything I could in Washington to get all the assistance that Iowans deserve," Loebsack said, praising the bipartisan efforts of Iowa's four Democrat, three Republican D.C. delegation. "All seven of us have been working in a bipartisan manner. The 2nd District is by far the hardest hit, so my office has been taking the lead in the House."

    "We got the President up to $2.65 billion" for a relief package, said Loebsack, who accompanied President Bush on his Thursday visit to Iowa City and Cedar Rapids. "But we have no idea how much this will cost yet."

    "If we approach this with the same attitude and collective effort we did with the sandbagging, we're going to be OK," said Mayor Regenia Bailey.

    Dave Wilson, head of Johnson County Emergency Management, said at least 6 million sandbags were deployed in the county. "Not all of them got wet. We were extremely proactive down here and suffered no major loss of infrastructure and no loss of life."

    "This is the first of what I imagine to be several meetings. No decisions have been made about anything," said McGuire, one of the meeting's organizers. "I know many of you now by your elevation," he said. "I'm 651.8," which wasn't enough. "People are struggling with where to stay, let alone where to begin."

    The neighborhood has set up its own web site, PVTFloodResponse (that's Park View Terrace, not "private". It's a nicer nickname that the "Mosquito Flats" that some old-timers still call the area.)

    Bailey said most mandatory evacuation orders have now been lifted ("Why not all," one person muttered at the statement) except for a handful of addresses on Normandy Drive. The Peninsula neighborhood, which was evacuated because the only access road was flooded, is now open. The city is offering updates on lifted evacuations on its web site and through press releases, and Bailey offered her personal cell phone number to neighbors whose computers were still sitting in flooded homes.

    "Automobile access should be in the next day or two," said City Manager Mike Lombardo. He was asked, with audience members applauding, why boat access was not allowed as it was in the 1993 flood. Lombardo, only two weeks into the job, couldn't speak to 1993, but said the 2008 decision was made to keep residents and rescue personnel safe.

    While most evacuation orders are lifted, access is by foot only, and an 8:30 p.m. curfew for areas within 100 yards of flood waters is still in effect.

    "Don't be in a hurry to get rid of the sandbags," says Public Works Director Rick Foss, By Tuesday afternoon, water should drop below the 712 foot level of the Coralville Dam spillway, but Foss reminded residents of the multiple peaks of the 1993 flood.

    Foss said the city will eventually pick up sandbags, but there's not yet a plan to get them moved from the side of homes to the curb. He also said he was unsure about which was a higher priority: removing snadbags SANDbags (though I like that new word, "snadbags") or removing damaged contents of homes.

    That question was answered, as residents, in unison, shouted "CONTENTS!"

    Residents also asked about temporary relief on property taxes, assessments, and utility bills. "It's minor, but every nickel is going to help all of us," said one woman.

    "Temporary tax relief would take an act of the city council and would have to be consistent with state law," said Lombardo, and the same would be true of utility rates.

    "I doubt that our property values have gone up in the last month," said one man to applause.

    Lombardo said there was no blanket answer yet on rebuilding.

    A FEMA representative said that if a buyout were to happen, it would be at the pre-flood market value of homes.

    As for rebuilding, City Planner Jeff Davidson advised residents to "Document everything. Photos, receipts." City staff also advised people with water in their basement to pump it down only a foot at a time, then wait an hour or so between pumping, to make sure water isn't backing up and to ease structural pressure. The city does not expect to give any homes a "red placard" indicating they are structurally unsafe.

    Residents also asked for pumps to be placed on two low spots on Normandy Drive to speed the process, but Foss said that was technically unfeasible. He said some sandbags had been removed to allow drainage.

    A FEMA representative said half to three-fourths of the residents have filed by phone already. Residents will get two packets in mail: a white one from FEMA and a brown one from the Small Business Administration. FEMA will also send a representative to look at each applicant's home.

    "Why do we want to rebuild?" asked one resident, seeking the definitive buyout answer that never came. "Should we start rebuilding if we don't know for sure if we're going to be bought out?"

    While residents seemed to begrudgingly accept answers from city officials, the greatest ire was reserved for the Army Corp of Engineers' management of the dam. McGuire said there would be a meeting about hydrology, but noted, to sarcastic laughter, "We don't have a representative from the Corps here."

    "Are we expendable when it comes to a flood?" asked one neighbor, while another muttered, "They raised the water plant, so they don't care about us anymore." The old Iowa City water plant was nearly closed in 1993; a new plant is on higher ground.

    Loebsack, however, tried to remain positive, offering a toll-free office number (866-914-IOWA) and personal help removing waterlogged carpet despite an aging lower back. "Things are going to be even better than they were before, no doubt about it."

    Saturday, June 21, 2008

    Flood Relief Meeting Liveblog

    Flood Relief Meeting Liveblog

    Hundreds of Normandy Drive neighbors here at the Iowa City Libramy for FEMA info. (Still not as many as we had caucus night). City, church, FEMA and congressional folks are here for stage one of rebuilding.

    I suspect this won't be the most readable thing; just the easiest way for me to take notes.

    "We got evacuated," says Holly Berkowitz. "A foot of water in the house." Roberta Till-Retz and Jae Retz were luckier: "Just in the basement."

    At 3:12 we begin. "I know many of you now by your elevation," Says Steve McGuire ("I'm 651.8" which isn't a good thing.) "People are struggling with where to stay, let alone where to begin." "This is the first of what I imagine to be several meetings. No decisions have been made about anything."

    The body count looks like 200 or so.

    Regenia Bailey: "If we approach this with the same attitude and collective effort we did with the sandbagging, we're going to be OK." She's withdrawn some evac orders. ("Why not all," someone mutters.) City staff is touring area and making assessments. People are beginning to re-enter on foot.

    Video of damage. The nighborhood has set up its own web site, PVTFloodResponse (that's Park View Terrace, not "private". A nicer nickname that the old "Mosquito Flats.")

    Some people are being politely asked to clear out to make space for those most directly affected.

    Q and A. Margaret Cook asks about temporary property tax relief, and will the city remove the sandbags. "Do we rebuild? W need to make that decision in the next month or so." City Manager Mike Lombardo: "Temporary tax relief would take an act of the city council and would have to be consistent with state law." No blanket answer on rebuilding. Lombardo just started the city manager job about two weeks ago. Welcome to Iowa City. Rick Foss: City plans to pick up bags, but not sure how to get to curb. City needs to prioritize contents of homes vs. sandbags: "CONTENTS," says the whole crowd at once. Dave Wilson, Johnson County Emer Management, says at least 6 million sandbags in the county. "Not all of them got wet. We were extremely proactive down here and suffered no major loss of infrastructure and no loss of life."

    "Don't be in a hurry to get rid of the sandbags," says Foss. By Tues. afternoon, water should drop below the spillway. "I doubt that our property values have gone up in the last month," says one guy to applause.

    Deb Neff asks about water bills based on interior vs. exterior. "It's minor but every nickel is going to help all of us." Rick Foss says they'll keep folks updated on utilities, still need to hold off on usage. Lombardo says adjusting rates will be similar to tax cuts.

    "Process questions: what's next?" FEMA representative: 1/2 to 3/4 of the neighborhood has filed by phone already. There's a filing center at the fairgrounds, also small business and IRS filing. Many people muttering that they registered by phone but have not received FEMA packet yet; FEMA rep says 3-5 days. People hollering that they got their packet but it doesn't have filing info. "Can we put a link on the site?" McGuire asks his webmaster.

    The questions seem to be getting faster and more intense. They get to teh chase: you get two packets in mail: a white one from FEMA and a brown one from SBA. FEMA will also send someone to your home. Fill out and return home loan app. Or go to the FEMA center, fill it out, turn it in. Takes 20-30 minutes. Up to $240,000 available in two chunks. You can file your claim even if you're still flooded.

    "Why do we want to rebuild? Why do I want to take out a loan on property that might flood out again next year." City says they're not expecing to give any homes a "red placard" indicating it's structurally unsafe. Most will be limited re-entry with some repair (mostly electrical) needed before re-occupancy.

    Jeff Davidson: "Document everything. Photos, receipts."

    Water in basement: Pump down a foot at a time, wait an hour. Make sure it's not coming back in. Also shut off water before they test it. Ed Moreno: There was a water main break on Taft as the water came up. With water receding, they'll pressurize and flush system, starting that process today "If we turn the water on and it's flowing, we'll think there's a leak in the system."

    Loebsack's here.

    Who should be pumping sewage-filled basements: professionals or homeowners? No one wants to touch the question. They can't start the lift station yet, and don't want to cuse structural damage to homes. Ground water and river levels need to stabilize. "At this stage, a little more contaminated wate in the neighborhood isn't going to make much difference." Be careful in the neighborhood.

    "It's going to be a long process, no doubt about it. I've tried to do everything I could in Washington to get all the assistance that Iowans deserve. All seven of us have been working in a bipartisan manner. The 2nd District is by far the hardest hit, so my office has been taking the lead in the House." He's canceling trip to Iraq/Afghanistan to work here. "I know what I'm doing when I'm back. It won't be sandbagging, but it'll be cleanup." Offers to help but notes bad back. "We got the president up to 2.65 billion. But we have no idea how much this will cost yet."

    Loebsack was just in Oakville, going to CR and Palo. 866-914-IOWA is office toll free number. "For some months to come, the district staff and I will be working almost exclusively on this." "Things are going to be even better than they were before, no doubt about it."

    Resident: What if we're in the middle of rebuilding when there's a buyout offer, and how should that affect our decisions? "Should we start rebuilding if we don't know for sure if we're going to be bought out?" Also, why can't we use boats like we did in 1993 (applause)? Lombardo: We're still gathering info on buyout programs, will do it soon as we can. Boat decision was based on flow rate and public safety staff. "What about NOW," asks everyone. They want to get in bad. Lombardo sticks to the public safety staff point. "Automobile access should be in the next day or two."

    FEMA: Flood insurance shouldn't affect buyout; if there is one, it's at pre-flood market value.

    "Are we expendible when it comes to a flood?" (605 Eastmoor) (Muttered: "They raised the water plant, they don't care about us anymore.") We're going to meet about hydrology, says McGuire; "We don't have a representative from the Corps" to much sarcastic laughter. Bailey: There's non-car access during daylight hours except for five lots on Normandy Drive. People want to know ASAP; she hands out her cell phone number.

    "I don't understand why pumps haven't been put on Normandy Drive yet." (applause.) Put pumps at the two low spots. Foss: Until water stops flowing, pumps are just circular. They pulled some sandbags to allow drainage.

    Lucille Gregory: what about seniors who'll have trouble with the physical labor? Bailey: many people want to come in and help out, United Way is coordinating and matching people with volunteers.

    Friday, June 20, 2008

    Iowans Split on FISA Vote

    Iowans Split on FISA Vote

    His primary challenge safely over, Democrat Leonard Boswell voted with most House Republicans in favor of passage on the FISA bill that includes full immunity for telecommunications companies.

    Iowa's other two Democrats, Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack, voted against the bill but were on the short side of the 293-129 roll call. (Loebsack was back in Washington after missing some votes to deal with flood issues in his 2nd District.) Republicans Tom Latham and Steve King joined all but one Republican in support of passage.

    Boswell was one of 21 "Blue Dog" conservative Democrats who signed a Jan. 28 letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi endorsing the Republican version of the FISA bill. The issue was mentioned in Ed Fallon's primary challenge to Boswell, but got buried in mountains of mailings attacking Fallon for backing Ralph Nader in 2000.

    The bill now moves to the Senate where a similar bill has passed. The House leadership version passed its own version in November which did not include retroactive immunity, but it stalled in the Senate under threats from President Bush, who has said he will veto any bill without the immunity provision.

    Harkin Building Blue Vote Extended

    Harkin Building Blue Vote Extended

    Remember, back before the flood, Tom Harkin's Building Blue contest? That's been extended.

    Folks who want to give Harkin their email address and give a state legislative candidate $5000 more of Harkin's money now have until June 30 to vote.

    The finalists, each of whom have already been designated for $2000 from Harkin, are, on the Senate side:

  • Incumbents Jeff Danielson, Tom Reilly, and majority leader Mike Gronstal;
  • House member Swati Dandekar, running in an open Senate seat; and
  • Challenger Sharon Savage.

    House finalists are:

  • Incumbents Elesha Gayman, Eric Palmer, Mark Smith and Andrew Wenthe; and
  • Open seat candidate Gretchen Lawyer.
  • Bush in Iowa City, Coralville

    Bush in Iowa City, Cedar Rapids

    Marine One over the Coralville Strip.

    George Bush said last week he's seen a lot of disasters as President, and Thursday he checked out one more: our very own floods right here in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City.

    Nothing brings out bipartisanship like a natural disaster, and Bush was accompanied on his trip by a fair share of Democratic local leaders: Senator Tom Harkin, Governor Chet Culver, Congressman Dave Loebsack, and mayors Kay Halloran of Cedar Rapids and Regenia Bailey of Iowa City. From his side of the aisle Bush brought along his budget director, former congressman and defeated gubernatorial candidate Jim Nussle.

    "We are just doing everything, obviously, to make sure we can to get the federal assistance in Iowa to come here," said Loebsack of the goal of the trip. "That's the bottom line."

    The president offered the appropriate levels of shock and concern, but no details beyond "We're going to help you recover."

    Nussle was more specific, citing a pending supplemental budget bill that includes an additional $2.65 billion in relief for Midwest flooding. "The funding is there and, as I say, checks are already being cut even before Congress passes this next supplemental bill," Nussle said.

    Bush with Tom Harkin, Iowa City Mayor Regenia Bailey, Mari and Chet Culver.

    Details of the trip were played close to the vest -- even in the middle of a disaster, Iowa Citians are capable of whipping up a protest on short notice. But the giant Marine One presidential chopper is hard to keep under wraps, and it and two other look-alikes were hovering over the Iowa River at 1 p.m. A few folks who were in the loop greeted Bush with small flags along the motorcade route. The president spent about 90 minutes on the ground in Iowa City.

    In Iowa City, Bush toured the Normandy Drive and Southgate areas and the shelter at the county fairgrounds. Local media coverage was limited to a small pool of reporters, all from traditional media. At the Southgate area, he me with Dave Streb, owner of Streb Construction and a long-time Republican campaign donor. Streb and his crew had built an eight foot levee to protest the business and surrounding area, which was used as a staging area for relief efforts.

    "Congratulations to the local folks for showing compassion, working hard, giving hope and giving hugs," he said, though he didn't say anyone had done a heck of a job.

    Bush was widely bashed for delaying a visit to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and limiting his initial trip to a fly-over. In contrast, his eastern Iowa stop was his first public event after returning from a trip to Europe.

    (Photos: Iowa City Press-Citizen pool coverage)

    Thursday, June 19, 2008

    Iowa City Plans Benefits, Community Meeting

    Iowa City Plans Benefits, Community Meeting

    With Iowa City flood waters slowly receding, relief efforts are turning to fundraising and planning.

    Local musicians are hosting a benefit concert Thursday night at the Mill restaurant in downtown Iowa City. Eight local acts, headlined by Public Property and David Zollo, will play starting at 7:30. Admission is free, to encourage those who've been personally hit by the flood to attend, but donations to the United Way of Johnson County's 2008 Flood Relief Fund are strongly encouraged.

    The weekend's Pride Fest and parade have been canceled, but on Friday the Pride Committee is hosting a flood fundraiser from 6 to 9 p.m. on the second floor patio of the Iowa City Sheraton Inn. Music will be adjacent, as the Friday Night Concert Series resumes after a one week hiatus.

    On Saturday, residents of the flooded Normandy Drive neighborhood are invited to a 3 p.m. community meeting at the Iowa City Public Library. City staff, the City Council, FEMA, ad other representatived will be present. As of Wednesday, the neighborhood remained under six to seven feet of water, and officials could not adequately assess damage or predict how long it would take for residents to return home.

    Classes will resume Monday at the University of Iowa, though plans have not yet been made for relocating classes from the 20 buildings, mostly on the fine arts campus, that were flooded.

    Tuesday, June 17, 2008

    Iowa City Traffic Getting Back To Normal

    Knew This Would Happen

    With Iowa City working a fairly normal day, and most of the bridges closed, it looks like Football Saturday on Benton in front of my house. The only way out of our house with a car is to back out onto Benton Street -- tricky in the best of times, really hard in heavy traffic.

    My morning bike commute to the Admin Building was actually easier than usual; the single longest factor in my commute time is crossing Riverside, and it's still closed.

    Tuesday's Clips

    Tuesday's Clips

    Not much to tell; the water's dropping sloooooowly, the office opens back up today but not to public, the weather is good.

  • Dee Norton passed away. I last saw Dee on caucus night, when he and his wife Carrie were knocking thir socks off at my caucus, handling the new voter registration table.

  • Iowa has the third lowest percentage of federally owned land in the nation. The bottom ten is a mis of the urban east and the intensive-ag Midwest. We've got no big national forests, no massive military bases. The Rocky Mountain west has the high percentages.

  • Devo sues McDonalds. How perfect.
  • Monday, June 16, 2008

    Waters Receding Slowly in Iowa City

    Waters Receding Slowly in Iowa City

    Most of Iowa City has been spared the Biblical-level floods seen in Cedar Rapids, as the Iowa River passed its crest Sunday. A dry forecast for the next three days may mean Iowa City has seen its highest levels.

    At mid-day Monday, Iowa City was at an anticlimactic lull. The urgent preparations for the worst have ceased, but waters are still too high to begin cleanup work.

    The high water mark is most visible at City Carton Recycling, east of the river on Benton Street. With City Carton closed, city recycling pickup was cancelled, but garbage pickup proceeded normally. Power and water outages were mainly limited to evacuated areas.

    A high water mark is also visible at our benchmark, the IMU. Harder to assess is the damage west of the river at the virtually inaccessible fine arts campus.

    With water still rushing over the Coralville spillway, waters will drop very slowly in Iowa City, which will face a very different cleanup process than Cedar Rapids due to different hydrology and topography. Iowa City's central business district is uphill, not low-lying like Cedar Rapids, and was not damaged by flooding. But the areas that were flooded, like the arts campus and the Normandy Drive neighborhood, will face a longer wait to start cleanup. The Coralville Dam is holding Iowa River water back for a steadier release than the more dramatic crest and drop seen on the Cedar River.

    Sandbags that, fortunately, went unused at North Madison Street.

    Flood relief web sites are now online. The state of Iowa's site is at, while the eastern Iowa site is

    The Iowa Avenue bridge remains closed, with a high water mark visible behind the police line. But the Benton and Burlington Street Bridges remained open through the crest despite planned closings. Traffic was beginning to look normal again on Burlington Street by mid-Monday. While University Hospitals was relatively vacant, some non-critical appointments were taking place.

    Across the street from the Iowa Avenue bridge, there were no signs of the thousands of people who sandbagged the Lindquist Center Saturday. Campus was nearly deserted. Two young women had the west side of the Old Capitol to themselves, taking advantage of a perfect summer day with canceled classes to sunbathe, their backs to the river.

    (Personal note: The Deeth-Steele-Cox home, and the Smallest Farm, a block and a half outside the 500 year flood plain, remained dry through the crest.)

    Sunday, June 15, 2008

    Iowa City Watches and Waits

    Iowa City Watches and Waits

    Most of the sandbagging is done, and as of 11 a.m. Sunday the Benton and Burlington Street bridges in Iowa City were still open.

    While scattered preparations continue, there's nothing going on like Saturday's massive effort at the University of Iowa's Lindquist Center, where thousand of volunteers worked to protect the building housing the University's main servers.

    But Iowa City's fate comes down to this afternoon's weather. Thunderstorms are predicted, and the amounts and locations of the rainfall will make the difference for many buildings and homes.

    Scenes from Iowa City:

    Pumping water at the Lindquist Center, Burlington and Madison Streets.

    Looking across the river at the arts campus, the top of a futile row of sandbags is visible.

    Water behind the line of bags at the Laser Center.

    Our daily benchmark shot of the north entrance of the IMU. Couldn't get as close as usual; The west side of Madison Street is cordoned off, and campus rent-a-cops are enthusiastically enforcing the ban on bicycling bloggers, even though the street itself is bone dry.

    The Kirkwood Avenue bridge over Ralston Creek. The creek is the worry spot for Iowa City today, if rains are heavy.

    The Iowa City Crisis Center is in the creek's flood area. Keri Neblett says she's already heard every joke about the Crisis Center in crisis. Food bank operations are moving to Southeast Junior High "just in case," and nonessential files are going into storage.

    Hills Bank on South Gilbert Street.

    Sandbagging efforts at Los Portales on South Gilbert.

    Bags at a MidAmerican substation on South Capitol Street. That street is closed to cars a block to the south, but bikers and pedestrians are getting through parking lots and on the sidewalk.

    The flood was top of the national news yesterday, and satellite trucks are much in evidence. The Weather Channer did a live uplink from the parking lot of my office building. The stories seem to focus on extreme video, and the brevity of the TV format leads some stories to slop over, or even get wrong, the concept that Iowa City is on a different river and not "downstream" from Cedar Rapids.

    Saturday, June 14, 2008

    Obama Sandbagging

    Hey, Obama, When You're Done in Quincy, We Need a Hand in Iowa City

    When we said everyone was sandbagging, we meant EVERYone.

    Iowa City Quiet Except For Sandbagging

    Iowa City, UI Quiet Except For Sandbagging

    The University of Iowa fine arts campus, seen from atop the north parking ramp.

    On a perfect summer Saturday afternoon in Iowa City, the streets are mostly free from traffic. Pedestrians and bikes outnumber cars. Little seems to be going on -- except sandbagging.

    There's a lot of that.

    With water in the IMU, the focus of bagging has moved to the Lindquist Center home of the University's information services. Hundreds of volunteers were helping, and expected to finish before 5 p.m.

    Bags protecting the area between the main library and the Becker communication studies building.

    From across the river, Hancher looks like it's still dry.

    Note how much the water has risen at the north end of the IMU since yesterday.

    Debris piles up against the Park Road Bridge. Can't tell if the big item is a dumpster or a shed. Except for the crown of the bridge, the deck is under water.

    Pumping water at the west end of the Burlington Street Bridge. It's one of two still open. Benton Street is the other, two blocks from my house. But while I expected my street to look like the Coralville Strip on a football Saturday, it's actually quieter than normal. Iowa City has been through this before, and people seem to be well prepared and hunkered down.