Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Iowa Greens Sue Davenport

Greens Sue Davenport Over Petitions

The Iowa Greens (joined for some reason by the Wisconsin Greens) have filed a federal lawsuit over petitioning rights against the city of Davenport, reports the always interesting Ballot Access News.

The Greens tried to get signatures to get presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney on the ballot during last year's Bix Street Fest, but that event bans petitioning. "The city lost a similar case in 1999 over the same issue," writes Richard Winger.

Obradovich and the Objective Paradigm

Obradovich and the Objective Paradigm

I haven't yet commented on the big changing of the guard at the Register, with Kathie Obradovich taking over the old Yepsen job. But once she was up and flying, it only took me a couple days.

Obradovich replies to reader responses to her first column, ans one reader writes:
I was troubled by your comment “I skip the primaries and register as no-party.” In my opinion the primaries are the most important part of the election process.

Obradovich responds:
The primaries are important and I plan to pay a lot of attention to the winnowing process and encourage voters to do likewise. What I plan to avoid is registering as a Republican or Democrat, which is required to actually cast a ballot in a primary.

I don’t like having to refrain, but as a journalist I choose to give up some opportunities for direct participation in order to avoid sending mixed signals about my party preferences.

It's that kind of self-disenfranchisement, opting out of primaries in a journalistic form of priestly celibacy, that was Yepsen's tradition, a tradition that's clearly continuing. That was also what led me to quit journalism in the first place in 1992, staying out of the business until a new paradigm grew and pulled me back. But to each her own.

But Obradovich continues:
Most voters can switch parties or return to no-party status after a primary without having to explain it.

As I noted at great length last week, if you're not a Democrat, you shouldn't choose the Democrat's candidates. If you're not a Republican, you shouldn't choose the Republican's candidates. On this point Obradovich and I find both agreement and disagreement: she opts out of primaries herself, yet condones "switching back."

It's fully within your legal rights, of course, but if you're asking "how soon can I switch back" when you're getting your primary ballot, you shouldn't be voting in that primary in the first place.

More Iowa Republican Trial Balloons

More Iowa Republican Trial Balloons

The Iowa Republican leads their story with Cedar Rapids wunderkind Christian Fong, but also floated some more trial balloons for downballot state candidates yesterday, including some great understatements:

  • George Eichhorn "will need to really step it up after his last performance running for the U.S. Senate" if he hoped to become Secretary of State. No kidding: the guy was the de facto insider choice, recruited to the race late to head off the embarrassing Steve Rathje and Christopher "Not Tom Harkin" Reed.

    In case coming off two losses in a row is a bad way to start a statewide race, the mentioners also mention Matt Schultz of the Council Bluffs council.

    Either way it's a tough race. Dems have held the office almost continuously since 1986, except for the four year Paul Pate interregnum. The last three people in the job seem to have used it mainly as a stepping stone: Elaine Baxter for two congressional bids and Pate and Culver for governor. But for Mike Mauro, who came out of an elections background as Polk County auditor, it seems to be the dream job. The 2008 general election went down with much less strife in Iowa than 2000 and 2004, though in fairness Culver's two presidentials were much closer than Mauro's first.

  • Iowa Republican also looks at the 2nd congressional district, notes Rathje and Reed, and offers, again, brilliant understatement:
    Neither Reed nor Rathje ran great campaigns the last time around but with a smaller geographic to cover, we’ll hopefully see a more intense primary. If the fundraising isn’t better this time around, we’ll have a repeat performance. Benchmarks by both men need to be set and met before they are seriously looked at as candidates.

    IR also throws the names Teahen and Miller-Meeks out there. MMM has a bit higher profile, blogging semi-regularly. She's also been mentioned for state senate, but the "Doctor's Notes" are focused on federal issues. The name Loebsack appears nowhere.

    My bet is that the doctor keeps her name out there, but sits out 2010 and waits to see the map in 2011.

  • Over in the 3rd CD, 1996 candidate Mike Mehaffey has already been mentioned as a potential Boswell opponent, but IR adds: "Dave Funk has been talking with key individuals about taking on Boswell this time around. Dave Funk is a former military man with good conservative views. He’s also the Safari Club’s Iowa Chapter President. The Safari Club is dedicated to protecting our freedom to hunt and wildlife conservation worldwide."

    So that brings guns into the mix -- an issue on which Boswell has always leaned rightwards.

  • Also, Story County Treasurer Dave Jamison is mentioned for state treasurer, joining Sen. Randy Feenstra in the mix.
  • Monday, June 29, 2009

    Ten Years since Stanley Election

    Blast from the Past: Ten Years since Stanley Election

    History lesson: It was ten years ago today that Iowans went to the polls in a statewide special election, as Republicans overplayed their hand in the dawning days of the Vilsack Administration.

    The GOP still controlled both halves of the Legislature, despite Vilsack's win, and the governor plays no role in the constitutional amendment process. So they rushed through the second passage of two constitutional amendments backed by Iowans for Tax Relief, that took caps on taxation and spending that were already in the law and locked them into the Constitution. Colloquially, these were known as "the Stanley Amendments" after Iowans for Tax Relief leader, and former U.S. Senate contender, David Stanley.

    But rather than putting them on the 2000 presidential ballot, the Republicans scheduled a hurry-up statewide special election for June 29, 1999. It was the first statewide special since we voted on liquor by the drink in the Harold Hughes era. Two ideas: 1) They wanted to get the spending caps in place immediately for Fiscal Year 2000 2) a special election the Tuesday before the holiday weekend equals low turnout.

    The GOP geared up a presidential-level vote by mail campaign, but Democrats and labor were quick to respond. The special election itself, and its cost, became an issue. To everyone's surprise, both amendments went down to narrow defeats.

    Calendar Commission Continued

    Calendar Commission Continued

    A few blogs with lots of detail from Saturday's DNC "Change Commission" meeting. No Iowa bashing detected, with superdelegates emerging as the hot topic.

    Here's the highlights:

  • Demrulz liveblogged. The discussion ended with a look at caucuses from Mitch Stewart of Team Obama. Bullet points:

  • Some states have a good process, or at least Iowa does ; unclear how many other states share that commitment. (Deeth notes: that may have been a shot at the total meltdown in Nevada)

  • States should be allowed flexibility.

  • Caucuses can be an excellent voter registration and party building tool.

  • Problem of difficulty of participation, e.g., by those in military will be hard to address in an unassembled caucus. (Deeth acknowledges: Hillary had a good point here)

  • Serious organizational problems at some caucuses in 2008 – largely due to record attendance. (Deeth says: DEFINITELY talking about Nevada... your caucus may not have been perfect, I know I didn't do a perfect job running mine. But Iowa's problems were 99.99% either simple misunderstandings or limits on physical space.)

  • DNC should develop some optional, standardized rules and procedures for caucuses.

  • DemConWatch (an excellent source last year for the delegate count) has multiple posts and notes the underlying contradiction: "If a state knows its delegates will be eventually restored in the name of party unity no matter what rules are broken, why should the states worry about breaking the rules in the first place?"

  • Commission member Suzi LeVine of Washington State discusses one incentive for late states: "It’ll be very difficult without incentives to get the states to voluntarily change their dates, spread the map or move to a same day primary. Two ideas raised were: bonus delegates for later states and allow later states to do a winner take all strategy."

    The Republicans still allow winner take all, but Dems banned it after 1972. I'd say chances are slim that the process and diversity obsessed Dems will go along.

  • The Frontloading HQ blog has some interesting graphs of how delegate allocation has moved earlier from 1976 to 2008.
  • Linux Distributions and the Paralysis of Choice

    Linux Distributions and the Paralysis of Choice

    Linux advocates like to brag about the number of choices people get with open source software. Windows offers very few choices, beyond dropping to your knees and begging "please, PLEASE let me keep XP! How much is a downgrade from Vista?" And Mac World even locks you into the hardware.

    Linux offers literally hundreds of niches, a distribution for every need. But is that so much of a good thing that it's scaring people away?

    Too often, someone dipping their toes into the waters of Linux is met by enthusiastic geeks who, in an over-eagerness to show off their knowledge, move too fast into debates over the merits of Arch vs. Mandrive vs. Slackware vs. Damn Obscure Linux. (I've been guilty myself and I promise this post will be command line free.) The newbie (n00b in 733+speak) gets overwhemed and retreats.

    Sheena Iyengar of Columbia University studies consumer choice and finds that too MUCH choice can be de-motivating. (See full paper or nice summary by Derek Sivers). Iyengar went to the grocery store to get her data. Customers were offered jam samples, and the people who chose between six kinds of jam were ten times more likely to buy jam than those who had two dozen flavors to choose from.

    Or, as Sivers writes, "if you ask your customers if they want extensive choice, they will say they do – but they really don’t."

    It's pretty much the same problem with Linux, although the jam aisle may be the wrong place to look. "The tortilla chip is a perfect comparison, because the basic chip is always the same: it is made of corn," writes Carla Schroder. "Every brand has its own variation on this basic chip: more salt, less salt, more grease, less grease, more crispy, less crispy, thicker, thinner, different shapes, white, blue, yellow corn, different flavorings. Underneath all Linuxes are pretty much the same; the differences are things like bundled software, user interfaces, configuration tools, and customized functionality."

    Clearly she's an experienced geek, because as we all know the tortilla chip is one of the primary geek fuels along with pizza and caffeine. She know that each chip, micro or tortilla, has its purpose. But the analogy shows that we cope with greater numbers of choices all the time, whether it be foods or even other large-ticket items like cars.

    We're able to do this in part because we can categorize. Sivers says we can handle a menu of about three to six choices, so we cope better if our choices are clustered. We choose the breakast menu or the lunch menu or the kids menu, then we choose within that menu.

    But with open source, there's no one person in charge, so the menu gets jumbled. Since I'm just as qualified as anyone else, I'll offer my own menu. I assume that if you're here, you're a relative beginner.

    I've never run a server, never run a netbook, never done extensive system recovery, never set up a full-blown media center.I've set up general purpose desktops, and I've run some distributions designed to run on old, low-resource desktop machines.

    My preferred distribution is Ubuntu, currently the most popular. But if I were recommending something for the absolute beginner, I would go with Linux Mint. It's based on Ubuntu, and thus the new release schedule runs about a month behind, but the functionality is almost identical so the online help that's available applies to both.

    Why Mint over Ubuntu? The Ubuntu project leaves a few things out for assorted legal and copyright reasons. Most of those are related to media playback. There's many variations of this 10 Things to do After Installing Ubuntu Linux post. And they aren't hard things. But Linux Mint does a lot of them for you. Erlik at From Windows To Linux explains the advantages of Mint over Ubuntu in a bit more depth.

    If you have an old machine that you want to make functional, the leaders are Puppy Linux and Damn Small Linux. I found Puppy just a little bit easier and have it running on one machine.

    And if you have kids, Qimo is very good. It's also Ubuntu based, but it installs with a kid-friendly interface: large icons and lots of educational games. It also works well with older low-resource machines, a smart move since the kids often get the hand-me-down computer.

    Sunday, June 28, 2009

    Calendar Commission Off To Low-Key Start

    Calendar Commission Off To Low-Key Start

    It flew mostly below the national radar this weekend, but the first meeting of the Democratic Party's "Change Commission" got started on its review of the nomination process and calendar yesterday.

    The commission was part of the peace deal between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton at last year's convention. Iowa is represented by Attorney General Tom Miller, an early Obama backer.

    Iowa's first place, and use of a caucus instead of a primary (a key criticism from Clinton forces), don't seem to be in immediate danger yet. "Considering President Barack Obama’s victory in the leadoff caucuses last year, it is unlikely Iowa will face the aggressive challenge to its position it normally does," writes Tom Beaumont on a brief blog note.

    The biggest change may be the demise of the superdelegates, elected officials and party leaders who have gotten automatic delegate seats since the mid-80s.

    "We can probably let go of the superdelegates," former superdelegate Elaine Kamarck told ABC (one of the few outlets to mention the meeting). "Their deliberative role has in fact been supplanted by a very, very public process."

    As I've noted before, dumping the superdelegates puts top officials in an awkward spot. I'm thinking of my own district convention, where four Obama national delegate seats were available, and 84 people ran for those spots. And that was with the party's top officials out of the mix. Get rid of the superdelegates, and those congressmen have to run against the apple-cheeked newcomers. I don't have a good answer here.

    The commission is supposed to push the calendar back a month, writes The Hill, with most states allowed to start in March and the "pre-window" states (which were us, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina last time) going in February.

    "Already, key RNC members David Norcross and Bob Bennett have spoken with the DNC's (James) Roosevelt as the two sides seek to work together" on the calendar, writes The Hill.

    Perhaps anticipating a later calendar, Iowa Democrats have moved their gubernatorial cycle caucuses later, to a currently scheduled Monday, Jan. 25, 2010. That's nine days later than in 2006 and also avoids, by one week, the conflict with the Martin Luther King holiday that we had in 2004 and 2006. Some activists were unhappy that they had to choose between MLK commemoration events and the caucuses, and here in Johnson County we passed resolutions opposing the schedule conflict.

    Saturday, June 27, 2009

    Last Thoughts on Michael Jackson

    Last Thoughts on Michael Jackson

    I've spent much of my adult life arguing for the importance and significance of pop culture. So I have no choice but to address the legacy of Michael Jackson. No, not the grotesque collapse that accelerated over the latter half of his life, other than to note that before all the surgery and skin treatments he was a very handsome young man.

    I want to look at the art itself.

    And as I do that I find it hard to connect to Michael Jackson's legacy outside the context of the sheer popularity. That's probably my bias toward people who were primarily writers, like Lennon and Dylan. Jackson was more like Elvis, primarily a vocal interpreter (though he did write some, where Presley only "wrote" as a way to pocket royalties). And he was a masterful interpreter with unique phrasing, so good that even one line, dropped into someone else's otherwise mediocre record, made a hit, made a connection so solid that it's an ad hook today. So much paranoia and energy in just seven words: "I always feel like (perfect pause) somebody's WAAA-ch'n me-eeeeeee..." You could smell the smoke from the paparazzi flashbulbs.

    In the immediate wake of his death, much was made of Jackson's career longevity, his first number one at age 11 in 1970. But he hadn't had a major hit since 1995, so the last 14 years of his career was simply being famous for being famous. (Quick: Name one song off his last record, Invincible from 2001.) So that's 25, 26 years, similar to a lot of his peers. Springsteen, Madonna, Stevie Wonder, Elton John, Prince... argue about the cutoff dates of their viability as vital, major artists as you will, but all are in the ballpark. Hey, next year's the 20th anniversary of Mariah Carey's first album.

    Skip ahead 1:20 or so unless you really want to see Bill Cosby's lame setup.

    It seems so much longer because Jackson was so small when we met him, the little boy who danced and phrased like a pro of many years--which he already was. They weren't his words, "The Corporation" wrote them, that's the actual songwriting credit they used. Best pros on the Motown staff. But little Michael owned those words forever:

    "OH! Bay-b' give me one more chaaaance..." yeah, we've all been there, but he brought you to that empty place where she used to be but wasn't anymore. This little kid made you believe, suspending all disbelief, HE'd been there, and he sounded so joyous singing it, yet with just enough anguish on the yelps and pleas, you KNEW there was no WAY she could resist coming back to him or, he made you hope just for three minutes, to you.

    He was ELEVEN and it was his FIRST RECORD. His second and third both knocked the Beatles out of number one. That amazing start, the four number one hits in a row in less that a year, is the most unique music he ever created. No child sang like that before, or since, not even Stevie Wonder. And the dancing. No one could move like Michael, except maybe James Brown on a really good night at the Apollo.

    But from there, Jackson was just very, very good at genres others created: Philly soul and session pop. But the real R & B trailblazer of 1979 wasn't Off The Wall, it was "Rapper's Delight" (a genre Jackson never embraced).

    Rock guitar in a dance context in 1982? Yeah, "Beat It" was great. But Prince did the same thing on "Little Red Corvette" at the same time--and played the solo himself.

    Breaking the race barrier at MTV? "Billie Jean" was great, but that was a marketing triumph and corporate hardball: CBS threatened to pull the rights to the label's entire roster (which would have deprived us of a lot of bad pseudo-concert lip-synching by REO Speedwagon and Journey; that was how low the bar was set pre-Jackson) if MTV wouldn't add him. And as much as "Thriller" every hour on the hour was the peak of his reign, it was also about the time we first began to wonder "hey, isn't this a little overkill?"

    The legacy as I see it, as summed up in that Christmas of Thriller, is that Michael Jackson may have been the last pop music star who transcended the bounds of pop music itself, the barriers of age and class and race, in more than just a tabloid way. Well, MAYbe Madonna at moments, but she was always a polarizer, which Jackson didn't become until the end of his viable career and for reasons other than the music.

    Much was made in retrospect out of the symbolism of Nirvana knocking Michael Jackson out of number one in late 1991, and indeed, Cobain was a new breed of star: a niche star. As big as he was, grandma didn't know or care who Kurt Cobain was, and Cobain wasn't trying to speak to everyone. (What does "alternative" mean when you're bigger than Michael Jackson? Cobain never figured that out, and it killed him.)

    Now, the popular music market, the media market as a whole, is micro-fragmented more that it was back before "Billie Jean" and the MTV color line. It may just be my age showing, and seeing the biggest star of my era die makes my age show. Or it may just be the technological changes that make everyone with an iPod their own DJ, their own station with one listener. Perfect micromarketing. When there was only one MTV, everybody damn sure knew who Michael Jackson was. Now the TV channels have jumped from the low dozens of the early 1980s to the mid-hundreds of today, with more music channels than there were channels period.

    White adult popular music has retreated to the big hair, big hats, big boobs alternate universe that's misnamed "country" but is really rock with a slight twang and a narrative song structure, or given up on staying current entirely (too old to be cool and old enough to not care) and hiding in the nostalgic netherworld of classic rock where "new" means you might hear the new Motley Crue reunion song that sounds like the ninth best track from "Girls Girls Girls."

    Current hit music, if that can be defined in the download era, is of, by, and for the kids and exclusively for the kids. A quick scan of the top ten finds me familiar with only the Black Eyed Peas. My daughter tried to tell me who Lady Gaga was the other day and I had no idea. I manage to catch up a year or so behind the curve, but only because I make an effort.

    But I was a top 40 nerd as a kid and I remember the radio randomly shuffling genres, the bizarre back to back segues determined by Casey Kasem's math. (As he famously complained in Negitivland's banned single "U2", Kasem had to come out of uptempo records to do dedications about dead dogs.)

    As late as 1979-80, the beginning of Jackson's adult career, look at the chart toppers that surrounded "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough" and "Rock With You." The "phoney Beatlemania" of the Knack. The pure pop sap of Robert John's "Sad Eyes" and Tennille wanting the Captain to Do That To Her One More Time. The last hurrah of the Eagles (endless reunions don't count, just ask Mojo Nixon). Styx with proto-power ballad "Babe." Queen playing ROCKABILLY. The ahead of its time video cynicism of one hit wonder M and "Pop Musik." Herb freakin' Alpert. And weirdest of all, ultimate album act Pink Floyd with a children's choir and a number one hit.

    All that stuff was on the radio and the charts next to each other. Maybe you couldn't relate to every single record, maybe your parents couldn't relate to every single record, but it was all in the same approximate universe.

    And that was the world where Michael Jackson ruled, providing brief We Are The World cultural unity in a world that's gone.

    Friday, June 26, 2009

    Boswell a Yes on Clean Energy Bill

    Boswell comes around on Clean Energy Bill

    Credit where it's due: Leonard Boswell was NOT one of the 44 Dems who voted against the American Clean Energy and Security Act, as the whole Iowa delegation voted on party lines. And we needed every vote: it passed only 219-212 (three not voting and the Hilda Solis seat still vacant). Eight Repubs crossed over to vote yes.

    So I guess public pressure, calls, and even unsuccessful primaries help.

    Grassley: No Public Option

    Grassley: "We need to make sure that there’s no public option."

    Yep, that's what he said:

    When (MSNBC's Norah as opposed to MSNBC's Kelly) O’Donnell double-checked that Grassley was saying that a public option was a dealbreaker for Republicans, he replied, “Absolutely.”

    Sorry to be brief, I'm distracted. Aside: Who's really happy Michael Jackson died? Mark Sanford and the Iranian government.

    Thursday, June 25, 2009

    Mid-American Spends It Again

    Mid-American Spends What It Takes

    Mid-American Energy is running full-page and half-page scare ads this week urging a no vote on the Clean Energy bill in the U.S. House, due for a Friday vote.

    Of course, they've spent big bucks on campaigns before. Back in the 2005 Iowa City Public Power referendum, they spent at least half a million dollars, outspending us little Public Power do-gooders by at least 25 to 1 on the way to a two to one victory. (Labor screwed the progressives on that one, too--I say that as a union member--but it was mostly Mid-American's doing.)

    Put another way: Mid-American spent more on that race in 2005, in a CITY REFERENDUM, than Loebsack and Leach spent the next year in a CONGRESSIONAL race.

    And it was all straight corporate money from us the ratepayers. "It's not enough to employ their lobbyists, now they are spending OUR money to ask US to defeat the best piece of renewable energy legislation and a cap-and-trade bill we have seen," writes Tom Carsner of the current ad campaign.

    "Mid-American, Iowa's electric cooperatives, and the GOP are full of crap," writes Sierra Club staffer Mark Kresowik (who says in his mass email that he's speaking for himself here. "And then Congressman Boswell bought their nonsense hook, line, and sinker."

    Mark's urging calls; I'm more about voting them in and voting them out. But here's the numbers:

    Loebsack: (202) 225-6576
    Braley (officially on board): (202) 225-2911
    Boswell: (202) 225-3806
    King, Latham: why bother?

    Haley Barbour as Alf Landon

    Haley Barbour: The Alf Landon of 2012

    Mississippi governor Haley Barbour comes to Iowa today, in the wake of his sudden promotion to head of the Republican Governor's Association. Any trip to Iowa prompts speculation, and Barbour is starting to seem like the only grownup in the room, the least objectionable option for a party with few choices.

    The religious wing vetoes Mormon "cult member" Mitt Romney and the business wing vetoes economic populist Mike Huckabee. Gingrich is toxic, Palin is laughable. Jindal is not quite ready and screwed by his state's off-cycle calendar (his re-election is two months before the Iowa caucuses). Jeb Bush is screwed by his last name. And anyone in Congress is committed to a play to the base, no on everything strategy.

    Sure, the lobbyist background doesn't help, but I get the sense that Barbour is at least acceptable to both Money Republicans and Jesus Republicans.

    We Dems like to brag of realignment and claim that 2008 was our 1932, setting the stage for "40 More Years" (as James Carville titles his new book). That would make 2012 into a 1936 style landslide... and Barbour, a semi-boring no drama governor of a solid Republican state, starts to look like Alf Landon.

    No one else really wanted that worthless 1936 Republican nomination, except extreme isolationist William Borah and the just-beaten Herbert Hoover, defending his record in much the role that Dick Cheney is playing now. Landon was nominated by default and had the loud backing of conservative publishers, the Fox News of his time. FDR won 46 states and Landon's once-promising career was over, but it's hard imagining anyone else doing better.

    Republicans had just better hope Barbour doesn't have a girlfriend.

    Christopher Reed Looking at Loebsack Race

    Reed May Get Into Congressional Race

    Is Christopher "Not Tom Harkin" Reed looking for a new nickname: Not Dave Loebsack?

    Reed, the Republican's 2008 Senate nominee, is telling his Facebook friends that he's running for Loebsack's 2nd District seat.

    Reed sparked a fair amount of controversy late in the campaign in the Iowa rightosphere, charging that the Iowa Republican Party was undercutting his campaign. The most attention he got in the traditional media was after his one debate with Harkin, when he called the senator "the Tokyo Rose of Al-Qaida."

    It turned out to be Harkin's easiest re-elect by far. Reed did manage to carry five western Iowa counties. But none of that turf is in the 2nd District, where Loebsack beat Mariannette Miller-Meeks (who the rightosphere really, really REALLY thought would pull an upset despite any objective evidence) by nearly 20 points.

    If Reed does get in, we'd see a partial rematch of the 2008 Senate primary. Third place finisher Steve Rathje, like Reed a Linn County businessman, now has "for Congress" instead of "for Senate" on his website. All we need now is George Eichhorn to complete the set.

    (He's not a 2nd CD resident, but you don't have to live in the district to run. Back in 1998 the Natural Law Party ran an entire congressional slate that all lived in Fairfield...)

    Wednesday, June 24, 2009

    The Lieutenant Governor Card

    The Lieutenant Governor Card

    With Chris Rants joining Bob Vander Plaats as an officially announced candidate, the 2010 primary season is beginning in earnest. Now is as good a time as any to look at an aspect of the race that won't be on the ballot: lieutenant governor.

    2006 was unusual in that three candidates named running mates before the primary. It was the first time anyone had done that since 1990, the first time number one and number two ran as a ticket.

    Iowa changed its system with a 1988 constitutional amendment. Before that, lieutenant governor was an independently elected office with its own primary and general election. The lieutenant governor had some clout as well, presiding over the state senate.

    But that power went away with the amendment. No longer an independent officer with a statewide constituency, the lieutenant governor now has a constituency of one. (Technically, the party convention nominates, but that's been a rubber stamp so far.)

    Since the switch in 1990, the running mate spot in Iowa has been used primarily for two purposes: getting a rival out of the race and gender balancing the ticket. Sometime it serves both purposes. Since Jo Ann Zimmerman, the last independently elected lieutenant governor, broke the gender barrier in 1986, the office has been exclusively female.

    In the first election by ticket, 1990, incumbent Republican governor Branstad obviously wasn't going to keep incumbent Democratic lieutenant governor Zimmerman. So she started out running for governor. But after the deadline to get off the ballot, House speaker Don Avenson made her the running mate. Zimmerman thus had to 1) get people to NOT vote for her in the primary and 2) run for re-election against the governor she was serving with.

    To replace Zimmerman, Branstad picked state senator Joy Corning, who embarked on an eight year trip to obscurity. Not as obscure as failed Republican running mates Almo Hawkins (1998) and Debi Durham (2002), perhaps. But when she started talking circa 1996 about maybe running for governor herself, Corning was ignored.

    In 1994 Democrats had their woman, Bonnie Campbell, at the top of the ticket. She picked Leonard Boswell, who weathered the disastrous Campbell campaign without damage. He's the only running mate, successful or failed, who has escaped an electoral dead end thus far. (BVP's fate is yet to be determined.)

    While Sally Pederson made a name for herself in the Vilsack years, she never did run on her own. I vividly remember the flyers going around the 1998 state convention at the moment she was to be nominated and asking "who?" Pederson's duties came to be defined largely in political terms, as she served as state party chair and lieutenant governor concurrently.

    2006 saw the only all-male ticket, as Jim Nussle got BVP out of the race very early. Chet Culver did the same with Patty Judge, but he got gender balance out of it too. Not to be outdone, Mike Blouin named Andi McGuire. All this was, for the first time since `90, before the primary and entirely unofficial, since running mates aren't on the primary ballot.

    (Anyone else wonder who Ed Fallon would have picked?)

    Judge has been the highest profile on policy of the three ticket-elected lieutenant governors. In a way, with her own statewide constituency built up over two Secretary of Agriculture races, she's almost a throwback to the independently elected era.

    Judge raises the stakes for the Republicans, and so does a potentially big field. If it looks close, the small advantage a running mate brings could make a difference in either the primary or the general. Des Moines Cityview suggests Rants go with former legislator Libby Jacobs. But the risk in the current Iowa GOP is a McCain-Lieberman type scenario where a convention, elected from the core of the core of the activists at low-turnout county conventions, refuses to rubber-stamp a running mate... and that strangles the campaign in the cradle. (Or aborts it if you prefer. Snarky, yet tasteless.)

    More lite guv trivia
    : Eight states have no lieutenant governor at all. In New Jersey the president of the state senate takes over, which led to four acting governors in one week in January 2002.

    18 states still elect the two offices separately. 24 do it as a ticket the way we do, though some have a separate primary for lieutenant governor. This can lead to shotgun marriages like Rod Blagojevich and Pat Quinn in Illinois, who weren't on speaking terms even before Blago got caught. Still, that's not the worst that's happened in Illinois. Remember 1986, when the LaRouchies won the primary and the only Adlai Stevenson could get out of it was by inventing the "Illinois Solidarity Party?"

    And Iowa's last lieutenant governor to move up was Robert Fulton, who took over for two whole weeks in January 1969 when Harold Hughes went to the U.S. Senate. He's still introduced as "former Governor Fulton" at party shindigs.

    Ghost of Nixon Offends

    Nixon Offensive from Beyond The Grave

    The Nixon tapes are a gift that keeps on giving, even after nearly four decades. Consider this gem released yesterday and uttered Jan. 23, 1973, the day Roe V. Wade came down:
    “There are times when an abortion is necessary. I know that. When you have a black and a white. Or a rape.”

    Where do I start? We have the implication of forced eugenics in the word "necessary." The rank order argues that he considered mixed race relationships worse. than. rape., indicating that his Strom Thurmond-George Wallace Southern Strategy was more than mere cynical rhetoric; he really meant it.

    The new batch of tapes re-reveal multiple levels of Nixon prejudices, but this one hit me closest to home, because of my own dear grandson. One wonders what our 44th president would say.

    I really can't do this quote justice. We need the ghost of Hunter Thompson.

    Tuesday, June 23, 2009

    Culver plays Offense with Western Iowa Trip

    Governor on offense with western trip

    It's not an Official re-election announcement, but an email from Governor Chet Culver's campaign committee landed in in-boxes this morning announcing a campaign swing via train through the western end of the state tomorrow.

    The vehicle, of course, has been a Democratic icon since way before Joe Biden. Harry Truman rode the very same tracks in his upset 1948 win. One of his major speeches of that campaign was in Dexter, where he unveiled the new definition of the GOP acronym as "gluttons of privilege," which Tom Harkin loves to quote.

    Culver isn't inviting such direct comparisons. He's stopping one town before and two stops after Dexter. But he is playing offense with this trip. All four stops are in counties he lost to Jim Nussle in 2006: Earlham (Madison County), Menlo (Guthrie), Atlantic (Cass), and Council Bluffs (Pottawatamie). The billed end-of-day event in Council Bluffs is a $10 a head county party event. (Presumably, fundraising god Mike Gronstal has a low-key heavy hitter event tucked in somewhere.)

    Now, granted, Culver only lost Guthrie County by 23 votes. But the symbolic swing through the more Republican end of the state is interesting at a time when Culver's ratings are at mediocre levels. If anything, Culver's problem is a lukewarm base rather than Republican-leaning voters.

    Perhaps the governor expects the upcoming Vander Plaats vs. Rants vs. whoever primary to become a presidential proxy war, and with potential contenders Mike Huckabee and Haley Barbour and John Ensign passing through, that's entirely likely. That amps up the hard right's stake in the race, helping Vander Plaats.

    The national handicappers don't have Culver's race on the radar yet, and it's not likely it will be until the Republicans settle their nomination. After that, even if the 2010 legislative session fails on high-profile items like the labor bills, if the left is faced with the prospect of a Governor Vander Plaats, they'll come around. BVP won't win a county east of I-35.

    Tuesday Clips

    Tuesday Clips

  • Register reports on Bill Northey fundraising letter... for re-elect as Sec of Ag, NOT for Guv.

  • One who IS running for Guv is Bob Vander Plaats, and Todd Dorman takes him to task for, in Mark McCormick's words, “suggesting lawlessness” on the marriage equality issue.

    So the question is, how badly does the hard right want the marriage fight as their main emphasis? Can they really be thinking, "Rants is OK, but a little too moderate for me"?

  • And look who's at The Iowa Republican writing about health care: a certain eye doctor from Ottumwa. MMM touches on some of the usual buzzwords ("rationing," "central government" data, etc). The name Loebsack is not mentioned.
  • Monday, June 22, 2009

    Save A Job With Linux

    Save A Job With Linux

    Last week one of my town's major employers, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, announced 130 staff layoffs. Our school district is coping with a budget crunch by, among other things, closing my kid's school. And my city is looking at staff cuts as well.

    Now, this being Monday, I'm going to say Linux can fix that too, right? Well, I won't go that far. But in the tough economy, local governments are starting to turn to open-source solutions to save money.

    "Why should our school systems be paying for proprietary software when teachers are being laid off?" asks network administrator Chad Wollenberg. He recently workes with a poor school district in rural Virginia that couldn't afford to "upgrade" from Microsoft Office 2003 (soon to be phased out) to the 2007 version.

    (Does changing MS Office versions ever REALLY feel like an upgrade? Or does it just seem to break a lot of stuff that worked fine while adding a bunch of functions you don't need? For the little bit of personal stuff I absolutely have to do in Windows, I still use Office 2000, which coincidentally is the last version you don't have to register online.)

    "(Wollenberg)'s not talking about major changes, like switching from Windows to Linux on desktops," writes Steven Vaughan-Nichols, who noted that even at Microsoft's discounted rate of $50 per license for schools, the "upgrade" would have cost more than $200,000.

    "By convincing them to switch to OpenOffice and Google Docs, Wollenberg saved them that money, said Vaughan-Nichols. "Or, to look at it another way, that was about four mid-level jobs saved."

    OpenOffice is cross-platform compatible and supports Microsoft Office formats. I regularly edit my checkbook, which is a simple spreadsheet, in both Excel and OpenOffice, switching between my Linux box and my wife's Windows machine, with no ill effects.

    On a larger scale, the city of Vancouver, BC is a leader in open source government. Last year the school district saved enough money to build a new computer lab in every school, simply by not renewing its Microsoft Office licenses. And the city council recently passed a resolution calling for the use of open source programs.

    Vancouver's pro-open source government philosophy ripples into the private economy as well. "From a recruitment point of view in the software industry in particular, a city which embraced openness and the internet would be that much more attractive to the kinds of technical, creative, and public-spirited individuals that I seek," writes developer David Ascher.

    The scale gets even bigger. A February study by MeriTalk argues that the federal government could save $3.7 billion for using open-source software; $13.3 billion for using virtualization technologies; and $6.6 billion from cloud computing such as GoogleDocs. The Obama Administration is reported to be interested in increasing government use of open source.

    Sunday, June 21, 2009

    Disney's Dads Aren't So Bad

    Disney's Dads Aren't So Bad

    The last thing I expected to do on Father's Day was write a stirring defense of Billy Ray Cyrus, but that's where inspiration has taken me. Everyone deserves defense from a cheap shot, and Brent Hoffman at Iowa Republican writes:
    Where have all the fathers gone? If you happen upon one of the “family-friendly” shows on the Disney Channel, you might notice the father is “missing in action” from most plotlines. When present, the father is portrayed as uninvolved, embarrassing or a bumbling fool whose entrance is greeted with a roll of the eyes. It often seems as if “Father knows Best” has been replaced by a single mother and her dysfunctional boyfriend.

    I find myself watching a whole lot more Disney than I ever expected to these days, even when I'd rather be watching Keith and Rachel. I've gotten so I can recognize individual Hannah Montana episodes in the first two minutes. But that's OK; sometimes being a dad means watching what the kids want with the kids (thanks but no thanks on that V chip, Tipper).

    So I have more than a passing familiarity with the Disney Empire's leading shows: "Hannah Montana," "The Wizards of Waverly Place" and the two incarnations of Zack and Cody's "Suite Life" (either in a hotel or on a boat), and dads don't come off all bad.

    Only Zack and Cody have the single mom and bumbling pseudo-father figure decried by the right. Indeed, Republicans should love "Wizards of Waverly Place." Sure, there's the obvious influence of Satan (not to mention Potter) in the magic theme. But the show not only centers around a nuclear family, they even run a small business together. In every episode, the kids get into some sort of jam as they learn magic, and it's often dad David DeLuise (who just lost his own dad, Dom DeLuise) who bails them out. In fact, a central premise of the series is a major sacrifice Dad made: giving up his magical powers to marry his non-wizard wife.

    Billy Ray Cyrus -- who ever thought HE'D get a second act? -- is of course both TV dad and real life dad to tween star Miley Cyrus. Of course I have no idea how he rates as a real dad, but the fictional version does a pretty good job as a widower raising two teens alone. That's a TV tradition dating back to Andy Griffith (well, Aunt Bea helped a lot) and "My Three Sons."

    The premise of the series, a "normal" teen with a secret life as a pop star, is a bit of a stretch. But if you suspend the disbelief, "Ricky Ray" does a good job balancing his daughter's career and school, managing finances, letting his children test their responsibilities and reining them in when they deserve it. He's closely involved in the fictional Miley/Hannah's career as manager and songwriter, yet doesn't neglect his other kid for the "star" (despite the son's occasional protestations--which are portrayed as unjustified on the son's part). The kids are clearly his number one priority; in only one episode that I know of is he seen even dating.

    In fact, there's only one thing my kids watch on TV that portrays fathers in a bad light:

    Notice, of course, that he NEVER says "LUKE I am your father. Probably the most misquoted line in movie history.

    Me and the boys made up our own lyrics to sing to the tune of the Imperial March: "Darth Vader's bad/and he's Luke Skywalker's dad." (Second verse? "Jabba the Hut has a big big big fat butt.") At least they don't have to wait three years between movies like I did. We had trouble with the time line; my "old Star Wars' is their "new Star Wars." We finally agreed on the mutually acceptable nomenclature "Anakin Star Wars" and "Luke Star Wars."

    Oh, and one of Billy Ray's more recent albums includes the song "I Want My Mullet Back." Really.

    Should Parties Be Able To Expel Members

    Should Parties Be Able To Expel Members?

    Political parties get a bad rap. A dying generation of pundits like David Broder bemoan "excess" partisanship, while President Obama desperately tries to get a tiny handful of Republicans to sign onto his plans and make them "bipartisan." We're taught by the "objective" media to "vote for the person not the party."

    But in the post-civil rights era, as the Republicans have gone South literally and figuratively, American political parties have come to mean more than they ever have in our history. They now have at least some level of ideological consistency, and they provide necessary voter cues and structure to the political system. I've also found them, at least locally, to be a meritocracy. As a newcomer to Iowa City two decades ago, I was brought in and brought along, and the Democratic Party played the main role in making me the Respected Community Leader (ha!) I am today.

    But political parties are hybrid creatures, part private organization and part public entity. The party, as a body, is under a crazyquilt of 50 state laws and has relatively little say in its membership or candidates.

    In some ways, that's a good thing. Back in the bad old days, some Southern Democratic parties defined free association as Whites Only. But two recent legal cases raise questions about how much say a political party should have in defining itself.

    The Suffolk County, New York Conservative Party is attempting to expel registered voters. (Tangent: New York law lets candidates run on multiple ballot lines, and several small parties exist mainly for this sort of cross-endorsement, called "fusion.") The back story: the police union was in a dispute with the sheriff and packed the small but significant party to try to deprive him of the Conservative line.

    Small parties are extremely vulnerable to that sort of hostile takeover. Back at the turn of the century, the Pat Buchanan Brigade successfully outvoted the remnants of Ross Perot's Reform Party, prompting the lone Reform elected official, Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, to leave the party. The Reform lawsuits are still flying over that one, even though the stakes are little more than the last $15 in the party bank account. Last year in Florida, Republicans ran "moles" as Green Party candidates, hoping to draw votes away from Democrats.

    "New York election law has for decades contained a provision making it possible for a qualified political party to disenroll individual voters," writes Richard Winger of Ballot Access News, "if the party can show that the voters joined the party even though they are not in sympathy with its ideas."

    Iowa is officially considered a "closed primary" state, meaning that you have to be registered with a party to vote in its primary. But other states have deadlines or limits on party changes, sometimes as much as a year. In Iowa you can change party on the spot.

    Here in the People's Republic, folks openly refer to the June Democratic primary as "the real election" for courthouse offices. Literally hundreds of Republicans, including some names anyone in town would recognize, cross over to select the Democratic Party's candidates. In fairness, it sometimes works the other way, most notably in the 1994 gubernatorial primary between Terry Branstad and Fred Grandy. But Branstad himself called that a once in a lifetime event.

    Now, of course, under present Iowa law people have every right to do that. But the legal right doesn't make it right.

    It's not only party membership that's a live question. "My issue is with the way candidates can appropriate the name of a private group," said Wahkiakum County, Washington Democratic Party chair Krist Novoselic, who recently protested the state's primary law by filing (then quickly withdrawing) for local office under the label "Grange Party."

    "The Grange is a non-partisan organization that does not offer candidates for public office," wrote Novoselic, who is also a Grange leader and a grunge leader; he used to play in a band called Nirvana. "The Grange may spend time and money to try and make this clear through media communications. However, the Grange cannot rebut my party preference on the public ballot, the only place a voter is guaranteed to see my claim."

    Novoselic underscores a problem that local old-timers will recall: the embarrassing 1992 candidacy of "Democrat" Jan Zonneveld. He was, shall we say, eccentric, opposed many key Democratic Party issues, and endorsed Perot over Bill Clinton. But he'd collected the signatures, no one else filed, and as far as the law was concerned he was the Democratic nominee for Congress. We were stuck with the guy and had to come up with some very creative distancing strategies, as well as figuring out who to write in.

    It would be interesting to see how New York's party expulsion law and Novoselic's proposed changes in party labeling would play out if applied everywhere. Should Joe Lieberman, after losing the Democratic primary and endorsing John McCain, get to call himself an "Independent Democrat?" And Republicans seem bent on purging all hints of moderation from their party, yet Jim Leach and Colin Powell still get to call themselves Republicans. How do you distinguish between the vanishing breed of pure independents, who simply want to vote for a candidate, and cynical interlopers into a party?

    That's a tough call. People have sincere changes of heart. One of the greatest Democrats I know first ran for partisan office as a Republican, before joining the Democrats in Watergate-driven disgust.

    But people don't have multiple, back-to-back changes of heart. If you hosted the caucuses at your house, or gave the party thousands of dollars, or asked "how soon can I change back" when you get your ballot, you really shouldn't be choosing the other party's candidates.

    Friday, June 19, 2009

    Gopher Alert

    If I Kill Every Golfer Won't They Lock Me Up And Throw Away The Key?

    Out on the Smallest Farm last night and guess who's back:

    Know any place that sells plastic explosives?

    Thursday, June 18, 2009

    Harkin Slavery Resolution Passed

    Harkin Slavery Resolution Passed

    A Tom Harkin-sponsored resolution apologizing for slavery passed the Senate today.

    "It's long past due. A national apology by the representative body of the people is a necessary collective response to a past collective injustice," Harkin said. "So it is both appropriate and imperative that Congress fulfill its moral obligation and officially apologize for slavery and Jim Crow laws."

    But some House members criticized the Senate resolution because it specifically disclaims the idea of reparations to descendants of slaves. A House resolution, which does not mention reparations either way, passed last year, and a July 7 Capitol ceremony is planned to mark passage of the apology resolutions.

    Randy Feenstra in Down-Ballot Race

    Freshman Sen. Feenstra Looking at State Treasurer

    The Iowa Republican is reporting, or trial-ballooning, that freshman State Sen. Randy Feenstra is looking at a run for state treasurer next year against Democratic incumbent Mike Fitzgerald.

    Is Sioux County, the most Republican in the state (81 percent McCain, and even hapless Senate candidate Christopher "Not Tom Harkin" Reed won) a reasonable base for a statewide race? Feenstra "has been actively trying to raise his profile ever since" coming to the Senate in January, write the IR. He went to the state senate unopposed, in both primary and general, when relative moderate (by Sioux County standards) Dave Mulder was squeezed out after one term.

    It's a no-risk way for a mid-term state senator to boost his name ID. And Feenstra was county treasurer before going to the Senate so he can boast some qualifications. But his highest profile efforts in the Senate have been on gay marriage, not exactly a relevant topic to the job he may seek. Even Sioux County Republicans had enough of former senator Ken Veenstra's gay-bashing in 2004, when he lost his primary to Mulder.

    Mike Fitzgerald gets just enough attention (mostly from keeping his name in the Great Iowa Treasure Hunt unclaimed property ads) that he's weathered the weak Democratic years since he first won office in 1982, when he beat longtime Republican incumbent Maurice Baringer. (Baringer's previous opponent in 1978? Current US Senate candidate Bob Krause.)

    Fitzgerald went totally unopposed in 2006. He dispatched a relatively high profile candidate, future US Attorney and ex-Hawkeye footballer Matt Whitaker, in 2002 with just as much ease as he beat no-namer Joan Bolin (who?) in 1998: 55 percent each time.

    Downballot offices depend upon the straight ticket (actual or de facto) more than a governor does. In 2006, there was roughly a 3 percent dropoff between the total votes for governor and in the two contested downballot statewide races (Mauro vs. Allison last second replacement Hanusa for Secretary of State and Bill Northey-Dusky Terry surprise primary winner Denise O'Brien for Sec of Ag). That's less of an under-vote than I expected to see. The only way a Sioux County base helps is by getting more voters to mark their way down that ballot below the top of the ticket races, and a 3 percent boost in the northwest corner isn't enough to overcome a low-key, noncontroversial figure like Fitzgerald.

    Still to be determined: the new nickname for Sioux County that would be a conservative analogy to my own People's Republic of Johnson County.

    John Edwards in Washington Post

    Edwards Speaks

    It's probably a coincidence, but just a day after John Ensign's presidential explorations were ended by news of an affair, John Edwards is in the Washington Post with his first lengthy interview since his own infidelity came to light.

    It's only a year and a half since Edwards pulled close to a third of the Iowa caucus vote, narrowly beating Hillary Clinton. He struggled on another month, but the game was really over after Iowa. It was always gonna come down to Hillary vs. Not Hillary, and he lost that competition to Barack Obama.

    Yet you'd be hard-pressed to find a third of Iowa Democrats willing to say they were with Edwards. Part of that is natural; everyone likes to say they were with the winner after the fact. But most of it is John Edwards' pariah nature since the revelations went public.

    Back in January I assembled a slide show for our local inauguration party, documenting the two year run-up to Election Day 2008. I went through my literally thousands of shots and faced the dilemma: what do we do with John? I had some great shots of him, and included some, but found myself telling the Edwards part of the story through other photos. Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne. Tim Robbins. Local supporters. And as much Elizabeth as I could get.

    That's why John Edwards has become persona non grata, while other cheaters have suffered less damage. People took it more personally because they knew and liked Elizabeth Edwards so much.

    Usually the spouse of the cheating politician is almost invisible, appearing only as an anonymous humiliated prop at the press conference. Mrs. Vitter, Mrs. Craig. There are exceptions of course, most obviously Hillary Clinton. But Bill's actual infidelity was trumped by the partisan overkill of impeachment.

    And Bill Clinton's persona was in part defined by his excessive appetites. We knew about the "bimbo eruptions" almost as soon as he walked onto the national stage, and we voted for him anyway. But the John Edwards persona was as much sincere as it was blow-dried, and once we didn't believe he was faithful to Elizabeth... we had trouble believing anything else.

    Getting caught cheating in itself doesn't seem to be a career killer anymore; that barrier fell between Gary Hart and Bill Clinton. It seems like the new standard is Cheating Plus. I cheated with a hooker or I cheated in the cruise bathroom at the airport. Ensign gets a trifecta: 1) I cheated 2) with a staffer 3) whose husband was blackmailing me.

    But the real champs are:

  • former New Jersey governor Jim McGreevy: 1) I cheated 2) with someone who got a cushy state government gob out of it 3) and oh by the way I'm choosing this auspicious moment to come out.


  • Congressman Vito Fosella of Staten Island: 1) I got caught drunk driving 2) on my way to the girlfriend's house 3) to get the baby.

    New Gingrich survived "I cheated on my wife with cancer" where John Edwards didn't. Part of that is Gingrich's shamelessness vs. Edwards' sincerity. But a bigger part may be the first Mrs. Gingrich's anonymity (Jackie, I had to look it up) vs. the high-profile Elizabeth Edwards. Caucus goers remember that at every event every event where Elizabeth was absent, John began the speech with an obligatory "Elizabeth's doing great" reference. The crowds to get handshakes and autographed books were nearly as big around her as they were around him.

    In a sense, when we found out John had cheated on Elizabeth, we felt like he had cheated on us. And that's why his rehabilitation will be so much tougher than others.
  • Wednesday, June 17, 2009

    Novoselic Drops Out of Local Race

    Novoselic Drops Out of Local Race

    Former Nirvana member Krist Novoselic has said nevermind to his candidacy for local office and withdrawn from the race for Wahkiakum (WA) County Clerk.

    In a blog post Friday, Novoselic said he had always planned to drop out, and that his "candicacy" was solely a protest against parts of Washington's "top two primary" law.

    "If there's a party label next to a candidate's name on the ballot, I want to know that the party is backing the candidate," wrote Novoselic, who had filed as "Grange Party" even though the Grange, a rural progressive organization, is nonpartisan and does not endorse candidates. Novoselic is head of both his local Grange group and the county Democratic Party.

    "Looking back, perhaps I should have chosen an organization which would have been more willing to protect its trademark," Novoselic wrote. "How about the Prefers Starbucks Party? Maybe Microsoft? The best would be the Prefers Walt Disney Party—-because claiming Disney would further demonstrate what a Mickey-Mouse system this is."

    Washington's Democratic, Republican and Libertarian parties unsuccessfully challenged the top two law in court. “I think Novoselic is spot-on in pointing out the flaws in this law,” Washington Democratic Party chair Dwight Pelz told the Longview Daily News, adding that the current system amounts to “a ridiculous set of rules.”
    North Korean Heir Apparent Tries To Whack Brother

    Close aides of Kim Jong-un, the 26-year-old third son and heir apparent of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, last week attempted to assassinate the leader's first son Jong-nam, KBS reported Monday citing Chinese government sources.

    Where have I seen that before? Oh, yeah...

    The Corleones with freakin' nukes. Think about it. Although Kim Jong Il appears to be Fredo to Kim Il Sung's Vito... this does seem to indicate that North Korea's current round of saber-rattling is being driven by its own internal politics of succession.

    Current reading: "Under The Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader" by Bradley Martin.

    Tuesday, June 16, 2009

    Fallon Calls out Boswell on Climate Change Bill

    Fallon Calls out Boswell on Climate Change Bill

    Ed Fallon pulls a jujitsu move on Leonard Boswell today, using the ghost of the 2000 election to bash the Boz for opposing climate change legislation.

    "If Boswell truly wanted to be 'on the front lines' in the fight to address climate change, he would throw his weight behind HR 2454," the American Clean Energy and Security Act, writes Fallon, who lost a primary challenge to Boswell last year."

    "As this bill stands today, I can't vote for it. I don't know of anyone else in the {House Agriculture} committee who can," Boswell said of the bill.

    The 2000 presidential race was a hot issue in last year's congressional primary. Boswell repeatedly attacked Fallon for supporting Ralph Nader that year, and even got Al Gore to endorse him.

    Fallon turns that around today, saying, "Gore lauded Boswell for being 'on the front lines' to address global warming. Perhaps Gore hoped that his endorsement would encourage Boswell to turn over a new leaf." And Boswell's overall record has improved a couple notches since Fallon's primary challenge. But he's still at heart a Blue Dog, likely to revert if the pressure is off. Fallon cites several poor Boswell environmental votes, some as recent as 2007.


    Blog for Iowa and Bleeding Heartland are both begging for a 5th District challenger to Steve King; maybe Leonard can move back to the farm and take his Blue Dog record to a Blue Dog district...

    Iowa Legislative Primary Challenges May Be Brewing in 2010

    Primary Challenges in 2010 Legislative Races?

    "Ed Fallon is preparing an Update that some Democrats won't like," the former legislator told his Facebook pals Monday morning. Perhaps it has something to do with his June 1 release that said he's working on recruiting primary challengers for legislative Democrats "who consistently stand in the way of progress."

    Primary challenges to incumbents in courthouse offices are relatively common, especially in counties where one party dominates the November general election. But challenges to legislative incumbents are relatively rare and portrayed as "divisive."

    In a sign of just how far a party will go to protect legislative incumbents, candidate Matt Ballard was denied access to the Iowa Democratic Party's database in his challenge to incumbent Geri Huser. Huser rewarded the party by opposing key labor and tax reform bills.

    Huser would be near the top of anyone's short list for a primary challenge. Fallon named no names, but Bleeding Heartland looks at the "six pack" of Democrats who blocked labor's priority bills:
    Good opportunities for primary challengers include districts that are relatively safe for Democrats in the general election. That points to "six-pack" members Huser (House district 42), Brian Quirk (district 15) and Doris Kelley (district 20).

    Challenging the rest of the group is somewhat more risky. McKinley Bailey (district 9), Larry Marek (district 89) and Dolores Mertz (district 8) represent marginal districts.

    In recent history, Republicans have been more inclined to primary incumbents. 2006 saw three legislative Republicans knocked off, including the two-fer in the Quad Cities: Dave Hartsuch beat Maggie Tinsman in Senate District 41, while in House 82 Linda Miller defeated Joe Hutter (who tried and failed again in the fall as an independent). On the other side of the state, Matt Windschitl unseated Paul Winderdyke in House District 56.

    Maybe the thinking is that the Dems may be maxed out on districts, so it's time for the "better" half of the Daily Kos mantra "more and better Democrats." Look at the 2006 Republicans: all three of the winners were to the right of the incumbents, so from the ideological perspective it worked. I'm sure conservative Republicans felt as warmly about Tinsman as labor Dems feel about Mertz. But Hartsuch almost lost that general election, and it's hard to envision a Democrat other than Mertz carrying her district; she only survived by a few dozen votes herself in 2008.

    Another barrier to primary challenges may be the timing. 2010 is the last election with the current map. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “When you strike at a king, you must kill him”, and an ambitious would-be legislator may want to bide her or his time. The new map may give them a better advantage against the incumbent, or even create open turf. So why make the enemies now?

    Monday, June 15, 2009

    Defense Bar Underrepresented On Bench

    The Real Gap In The Courts

    With everyone from Justice Ginsburg to HW now praising Sotomayor, Kos diarist DParker notes a real gap on the bench:
    Criminal defense attorneys don't get nominated to the bench.

    Of the current Supreme Court justices, three have worked with the Federal Attorney General's Office and two with state Attorneys General. None have any criminal defense experience. Judge Sotomayor, with her prior work at the New York District Attorney's Office should fit right in.

    ...the result of having a bench with no one having experience defending alleged criminals is a trend toward interpreting the Constitution in favor of the State rather than the individuals it was written to protect.

    Linux Notes For The Week

    Linux Notes For The Week

    My Linux projects for the week were figuring out some file tagging in my music library and upgrading my son's Qimo ("Linux for kids") machine. Both went well, mu nine year old is happily playing, but the music will take more time due to sheer size.

    Our clips for the week:

  • Open source saving tax dollars: "The CIO of a Vancouver school board quietly moved to open source last March, Reimer pointed out. By deciding not to renew its Microsoft Office licence, he saved enough money to purchase a computer lab for every school in the city and schools are now allowed to install Firefox..."

  • Reasons Linux is great for your really old computer.
    There are hundreds of stories about people who pulled an old Windows 95/98/ME computer out of their basement, put some kind of Linux distro on it, and are in a computing heaven, blissfully unaware of the age of their computer. And you never hear about people pulling the same computer out and saying, “Wow! Windows 95 solves all of my problems! Good bye, modern computing!”

    Why is Linux so dominant in this category? 2009 software on a 1995 machine is much better than 1993 software on a 1995 machine.

    Windows XP, Vista and (soon) 7 have a number of support options, either from Microsoft, local geeks, or internet forums. They’re also too slow. Windows 95, 98 and 2000 are faster, but their support is limited to a few nice people dredging their memories to help you. On the other hand, Linux has tens of thousands of people willing to help you through forums...

  • On the modern end of the hardware scale, one ongoing debate is the use of 32 bit versions vs. 64 bit versions. The 64 but versions use the full capability of the system but there are software compatibility issues. Also, it's not an easy upgrade. This piece compares the actual tradeoffs in performance. As for me, I'm sticking with 32 but on the good laptop... for now.

  • If you're an ex-Windows user making The Big Switch to Linux, you might instinctively hit ctrl-alt-del to open Task Manager, only to find yourself immediately shutting down. But you can, with some geeking, change that.

  • Last, some software and keyboard shortcuts to try. I'm still looking, though, for a keyboard shortcut that'll paste into the terminal.
  • Sunday, June 14, 2009

    Obama has landslide support

    Obama has landslide support

    This is what the electoral college map would look like today based on Obama's approval ratings, according to Nate Silver. The map fails to illustrate the switch in Lincoln, Nebraska, but adds up to 445 electoral votes to 93.

    Obama flips Arizona (10 electoral votes), Arkansas (6), Georgia (15), Kentucky (8), Louisiana (9), Missouri (11), South Dakota (3) and Tennessee (11).

    In Iowa, Obama is sitting at an average of 60.3 percent approval, and if that were translated to electoral margin you'd have to go back to LBJ to see that here (Reagan underperformed in Iowa in `84, the heaight of that era's farm crisis).

    Silver acknowledges that it's an oversimplification but makes some interesting points:
    Obama's approval ratings are extremely strongly correlated with his November 4 results. If you take his election day total and add 6 points to it, you'll have a very good estimate of his approval rating in that state.

    There are a couple of places, though, where there is a little bit of a suggestion that Obama is overperforming or underperforming. His approval ratings are somewhat slack in the Southwest relative to his election day totals, although it is hard to reach a definitive conclusion since we only have one poll to look at in Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico. Conversely, there are some signs that Obama is overperforming in the Inner South or what we sometimes call the "Highlands" region -- states like Kentucky, Tennessee, and Arkansas.

    Bulldozing The Village To Save It

    Bulldozing The Village To Save It

    If you thought my plans for Iowa City were wild, you should see what they're doing in Flint:
    The government looking at expanding a pioneering scheme in Flint, one of the poorest US cities, which involves razing entire districts and returning the land to nature.

    Local politicians believe the city must contract by as much as 40 per cent, concentrating the dwindling population and local services into a more viable area.

    The local authority has restored the city's attractive but formerly deserted centre but has pulled down 1,100 abandoned homes in outlying areas.

    Mr Kildee estimated another 3,000 needed to be demolished, although the city boundaries will remain the same.

    Already, some streets peter out into woods or meadows, no trace remaining of the homes that once stood there.

    Way more radical than having the cops do the Five Dollar Footlong dance.

    As for responses to the print version of Freak Power on the Prairie, the range from a nomination for city manager to a sentence to clean up puke in Ames on VEISHA weekend wearing a Hawkeye sweater.

    Friday, June 12, 2009

    How The States Got Their Shapes

    How The States Got Their Shapes

    What I'm reading: How The States Got Their Shapes by Mark Stein. It's a breezy read, about four pages per state.

    Basic guiding principles:

  • 1600s surveyors were really, really bad.
  • Borders tend to extend themselves.
  • The 19th century Congress wanted to keep rough equality between state sizes.
  • Texas and California are the main exceptions because they had clout.
  • Thursday, June 11, 2009

    Smallest Farm at mid-June

    Smallest Farm at mid-June

    We haven't had a smallest farm update for a while so here's the crop report. No pics yet; I'm waiting until there's something that looks impressive and right now it would look like half-mulched weeds with some strategically placed sprouts.

    The south garden fence must still have some wabbit-sized gaps because the sunflowers are still getting eaten and the peas are a total loss, chewed off at the ground just as they blossomed.

    Everything else in the south is doing fine. Tomatoes and eggplants are a foot tall, with some baby tomatoes starting. The catnip-eggplant interplanting is working well as usual with no flea beetles seen. We've also got a couple baby peppers. I attempted to control the tomatillos in tomato cages but they're already spilling out.

    Cukes are sprouted and a couple inches high; I had to replant those once as well but that was because some of them just died, rather than wabbits.

    I deviated from the original plan and planted some zucchini and squash on the far south fence and those are also doing well. A combination of weather and scheduling kept me from following through with some of my intentions for the south garden, like carrots and onions, and these plants are sure to fill the gap. I tried to stagger the plantings to try and avoid the inevitable zucchini glut.

    In the middle garden, corn planting was finished last weekend and the first two of three plantings are sprouting. I've mulched them as much as I can with grass to keep the weeds down, and had to dig up and give away a bunch of bee balm to make room for corn. (I have more left if you want any, it spreads like crazy.)

    The pole beans are almost all sprouted; I had to fill in a couple gaps because wabbits got a few. But the reinforced fence seems to be working better on the middle garden. The tallest beans are maybe a foot up and starting to grab the nets.

    Along the south edge the squash family is doing well, including a couple that volunteered from the compost heap and got transplanted. The three giant pumpkins -- duly designated Ethan's, Hayden's, and Daddy's -- are OK so far; the trick will be keeping the pumkins growing once they start. Last year they rotted on the vine.

    The west annex is reverting to its weed patch roots but at least the weed patch includes a lot of cilantro. And the hot peppers in the small north garden are just starting to blossom, though the okra is going slow.

    And everywhere we look there's catnip, catnip, catnip...

    Wednesday, June 10, 2009

    Wednesday's clips

    Wednesday's clips

  • Politico on Creigh Deeds' landslide in the Virginia governor's primary: "The primary results were a brutal repudiation of the most famous man in the race: former Democratic National Committee Chairman and Clinton family friend Terry McAuliffe, who until recent days was widely seen as in command of the race."

  • Paul Krugman with some comparative politics:
    What would have happened if hanging chads and the Supreme Court hadn’t denied Al Gore the White House in 2000? Many things would clearly have been different over the next eight years.

    But one thing would probably have been the same: There would have been a huge housing bubble and a financial crisis when the bubble burst. And if Democrats had been in power when the bad news arrived, they would have taken the blame, even though things would surely have been as bad or worse under Republican rule.

    You now understand the essentials of the current political situation in Britain.

  • And we have another hip-hop Republican joining Michael Steele: Tim Pawlenty thinks the GOP should be ‘just like Eminem.’ Racist, homophobic, and peaked in 2001?
  • Tuesday, June 09, 2009

    Republicans Oppose Importing Terrorists, Prefer Domestic

    Republicans Oppose Importing Terrorists

    "This is the first step in the Democrats’ plan to import terrorists into America" -- John Boehner.

    Right. Because Republicans prefer their terrorists American-made like Scott Roeder.

    Women Winning and Not Winning

    Women Winning and Not Winning: Silver Raises More Questions

    With last year's losses by Democrat Becky Greenwald and Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks, Iowa stayed in the club with only Mississippi: we're the only two states that have never elected a woman to Congress or as governor.

    That's always subject to change, of course. Democratic eminence grise Jerry Hoffman was on Iowa Press the other week touting, of all people, conservaDem Geri Huser for the Grassley race a couple weeks ago, which would at least open up her legislative seat.

    But in the meantime, Iowa still has its reputation as woman-unfriendly political turf, something some of Hillary Clinton's acolytes may still mention sotto voce (the Secretary of State herself is being a solid team player so far).

    So what exactly constitutes woman-friendly turf? Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight spots what he calls "the Palin paradox." Districts that are disproportionately male are disproportionately likely to elect female candidates. Most male, still frontier state Alaska (106 men to 100 women) has Palin and Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

    Silver notes that of the 25 most male "districts" (with whole states counted twice to account for two senators), nine (36%) are represented by women. But of the 25 most female districts, only four (16%) are. "After controlling for the district's partisan affiliation, male-dominated districts were more than twice as likely to elect a Congresswoman as were female-dominated districts."

    Nate doesn't have the answers, just the stats and some theories:
    If this really is being driven by the sex ratios, however, and it's being driven in this extremely counter intuitive way, it's one of the more fascinating things that I've come across. Perhaps in male-dominated areas, women are more likely to violate traditional sex roles including something like running for political office, which has traditionally been a male-dominated occupation -- the Sarah Palin frontierswoman caricature works well here. It would be interesting to know whether there more women actually running for office in male-dominated areas, or rather, whether they are winning more often when they do run.

    The thing that leaps out at me is that the most female districts are overwhelmingly (ALL of the top ten) African-American, urban, and Democratic (save for fluke Joseph Cao in New Orleans). The most male districts are a bit more Hispanic, though there's black seats here too (Eddie Bernice Johnson in Dallas for one), and some genuinely Republican seats pop up.

    It's an interesting echo of the hard-fought identity politics of last year's primaries. Still, we're talking relatively small margins in America; the most male district, in the poor parts of California's central valley, is 115.2 men to 100 women, and the most female territory, inner city Philly, is 82.3 men to 100 women. Nothing like China and India, where (shudder) selective abortion, variations in health care quality, and other cultural barriers have led to "100 million missing women" and a generation of "extra" men.

    Monday, June 08, 2009

    Novoselic won't vote for self

    Novoselic: Vote for me? Nevermind

    More local coverage on former Nirvana member Krist Novoselic and his campaign for county clerk: seems it is entirely about a challenge to Washington's "top two primary" law.

    “I’m voting for Kay Holland,” Novoselic said of his opponent, a fellow Democrat appointed county clerk in January to fill a vacancy. “I love Kay. She works hard in that office and she’s a good public servant. I’m behind her 100 percent.”

    "Under the current rules, candidates are allowed to list a party preference on the ballot," writes the Spokane Spokesman-Review. "The parties have no say in who uses the name."

    And that's Novoselic's beef: he supports the law itself, but wants parties to keep control over their names. In protest, he's running under the label "Grange Party." The Grange is a rural progressive group with 140 year old roots, but is nonpartisan and does not endorse candidates. Novoselic is head of both his local Grange and the county Democratic Party.

    One of my commenters suggests he change one letter and run as "Grunge Party." And I'm really sorry about that headline, but how could I not?

    Hennessy Out Of Council Race

    Hennessy Out Of Council Race

    Colin Hennessy, the only progressive getting out of the gate in the Iowa City council, is now telling people he's not going to run.

    Iowa City has had a rash of these abortive candidacies in recent years: remember Terry Donahue? Chuck Goldberg? Rich Lipman for school board?

    In any case, my platform is still available if anyone is interested.

    Iowa House District 90 May See Competitive Election

    Iowa House District 90 May See Competitive Election

    The first competitive state legislative special election in a few years is likely to happen soon in Jefferson and Van Buren counties, as four-term Rep. John Whitaker has reportedly been tapped for an Obama Administration appointment as State Director of the Iowa Farm Service Agency.

    If the weak tool of memory serves me correctly, this will be the first legislative special since December 2006, when Republican Rep. Mary Sue Freeman died before the general election. But that was a heavily GOP district; the last real fight was in the summer of 2003 when Paul Shomshor picked up a previously Republican seat in Council Bluffs.

    I've survived a couple of these hurry-up specials; the entire political infrastructure of the state descends on your district. Your doorknocking partner is likely to be a legislator. And that's what the Fairfield area has to look forward to.

    Jefferson is the larger part of the district, but the last two Democratic representatives have both been from Van Buren County. The district was the scene of hot House battles after long-time Republican Rep. Bob Kistler stepped down in 1994. Democrat Rebecca Reynolds-Knight narrowly knocked off one-term Republican Jerry Main in `96 and held on until 2002. The area was also the scene of key Senate races in 2002, when Republican Dave Miller narrowly beat Democrat Mark Shearer in a redistricting pair race, and in 2006 when Democrat Becky Schmitz knocked off Miller.

    The transition to Whitaker was interesting. In mid-2001, soon after the new districts came out, Whitaker was expressing interest in a second run against U.S. Rep. Jim Leach (he'd tried in 1986). But the DC types had already settled on Cedar Rapids pediatrician Julie Thomas, who was better able to self-finance. So Whitaker was squeezed out and a job shuffle ensued. Reynolds-Knight stepped down from the legislature and, after Whitaker won, she ran in the special for the county supervisor seat he gave up.

    But she lost, and Thomas of course had lost, so Whitaker came out of it the only one with a job. And he settled into it well enough that the GOP didn't try in 2008 and his only opponent was from the "4th of July Party." But with the personally popular Whitaker out of the picture, this could get interesting.

    Linux Monday Links

    Linux Monday Links

    My way too big inbox tells me it's a year ago this past weekend that I made The Big Switch to using Linux as my main (not yet only) operating system. To celebrate here's some Linux Monday links:

  • Linux ate my RAM! Actually it didn't. The best basic description I've seen yet on how Linux uses memory (and why you don't need a third-party add-on memory manager like you do in Windows):
    Linux is borrowing unused memory for disk caching. This makes it looks like you are low on memory, but you are not!

    Both you and Linux agrees that memory taken by applications is "used", while memory that isn't used for anything is "free".

    But what do you call memory that is both used for something and available for applications?

    You would call that "free", but Linux calls it "used".

    If your applications want more memory, they just take back a chunk that the disk cache borrowed. Disk cache can always be given back to applications immediately! You are not low on ram!

    Too many exclamation points! But that's just the kindergarten version of the page; the geek page is here.

  • Ubuntu keyboard shortcuts on a page unfortunately named "Windows tips tricks tweaks and hacks." But a lot of the common ones are Windows-similar.

  • Distributions for your old low-resource machine. I've got a Celeron 700 MHz happily detecting aliens with Puppy Linux.

  • A former Mac fan switches to Linux:
    On a Mac, it is easy to do the small things, but once you become a little more savvy, the Mac is harder to use and harder to learn.

    Macs have this weird, non-liner learning curve that starts very low and stays shallow for a while, but then gets “super-steep” - it is very difficult to be in the tech-savvy but non-pro middle ground.

    Linux’s learning curve starts a little higher - you really have to be able to install your own operating system and brave enough to try.

    However, Linux gives you a much smoother transition from novice to native, with very helpful people to guide you on the way.

  • After trying Windows 7, this writer stays with Ubuntu: "Much of what I would consider the pros of using Windows 7 are the pros of using any windows, except now it actually feels like using a modern OS that doesn't feel as bloated as Vista so I would say that Windows 7 is merely a "bonus". Perhaps those who characterize it as a service pack to Vista aren't too far off."

  • "I think all billionaires should give away the vast majority of their fortune," says Bill Gates, but giving away Microsoft software and source code is apparantly a non-starter.

  • In response to a common "Linux isn't ready for the desktop," here's why Windows isn't ready for the desktop.
  • Sunday, June 07, 2009

    Mahaffey Looking At Second Challenge To Boswell

    Mahaffey Looking At Second Challenge To Boswell

    Maybe this is why Leonard Boswell is in the DCCC's Front Line program for remedial help to those with special electoral needs: Congressional Quarterly notes that Mike Mahaffey, who gave The Boz a strong challenge in the open-seat 1996 race, is looking at it again.

    CQ rightly notes that it's essentially a different district. But Republican readers, I'm especially curious: How's Mahaffey's standing in the RPI these days. Will the $$$ flow?

    And Dems: when do we get smart about our long-term prospects with Leonard?

    Saturday, June 06, 2009

    Progressive Caucus Responds to Blue Dogs on Health Care

    Progressive Caucus Responds to Blue Dogs on Health Care

    For all the noise they make, the 51 House Blue Dog conservative Democratic group is outnumbered by the 78 House members (plus Senators Bernie Sanders and Tom Udall) Progressive Coalition.

    Yesterday the Progressives responded to the Blue Dogs on health care (h/t Kos):
    ...the overwhelming majority of CPC Members would prefer a single-payer approach. If a single-payer plan is not enacted, we agree with President Obama that there must be a robust public health insurance option like Medicare offered alongside the private plans....

    The CPC believes the public plan should provide a guarantee of coverage, affordable, high-quality and accessible healthcare, and lower costs regardless of income, health status, race, employment, or gender. We strongly oppose any conditions or triggers undermining and limiting the availability of the public option.

    Full text here (.pdf)

    Most of the Progressive Caucus members are from urban or majority-minority districts, but one exception is our own Dave Loebsack.