Thursday, May 31, 2007

Once In A Very Blue Moon

Once In A Very Blue Moon

Twice, actually.

Tonight: a second full moon of the calendar month.

Tomorrow: Nanci Griffith at the Iowa City arts fest; she once made a wonderful record called "Once In A Very Blue Moon."

I found your letter in my mailbox today
You were just checkin' if I was okay
And if I miss you, well, you know what they say...

Just once... in a very blue moon
Just once in a very blue moon
Just once... in a very blue moon
And I feel one comin' on soon

No need to tell me, you'd like to be friends
And help me get back on my feet again
If I miss you at all... it's just now and then

Just once... in a very blue moon
Just once in a very blue moon
Just once... in a very blue moon
And I feel one comin' on soon

There's a blue moon shinin'
When I am reminded of all we've been through
Such a blue moon... shinin'
Does it ever shine down on you?

You act as if it never hurt you at all
Like I'm the only one who's gettin' up from a fall
Don't you remember?
Can't you recall?

Just once... in a very blue moon
Just once in a very blue moon
Just once... in a very blue moon
And I feel one comin' on soon...

Signature/Veto Guide

Signature/Veto Guide

I'm a couple days late but Culver has signed and/or vetoed everything now. Of most interest to me: he signed off on opening the absentee envelopes early.

Other stuff that doesn't fit elsewhere:

  • The Hill notes Obama not coming to this weekend's Dem Hall Of Fame dinner in Cedar Rapids. Hardly a Screw Iowa strategy, but...

  • NPR political trivia guru Ken Rudin looks at how well skipping the caucuses has worked for Presidents Clark, Lieberman and McCain.

  • Larry Sabato has the special election outlook including the possible race in northeast Missouri where Republican Kenny Hulshof may become president of the University of Missouri. Fired Up Missouri is displeased.
  • Wednesday, May 30, 2007

    Super Sunday, Super Tuesday

    Super Sunday, Super Tuesday: Football In The Way Of Campaigning

    Has anyone else noticed that the Feb. 5 mega-primary is two days after the 2008 Super Bowl? Why does this matter?

  • Real People who do not live, sleep, eat and breathe politics will be distracted. Sunday nights are a great time to catch people at home, but in this case, the whole critical two-days-out evening is shot for campaigning and phone banking. Will some campaign, in crunch-time isolation from the real world, be dumb and call into San Diego when the Chargers are third and goal?

  • With the first de facto national primary, a Super Bowl ad might be a good buy -- or would it? The first rule they teach you when you campaign in Iowa is don't door-knock during the Hawkeye game, and a political ad could be seen as an unwanted intrusion. Jim Nussle ran ads during the Hawkeyes last year, to a huge statewide audience and to no avail. To get past that "I'm in my leisure time" barrier, a Super Bowl political spot would have to be fun and creative to the gold standard level of most Super Bowl ads. The Bill Richardson job interview spot was catchy by the standard of political ads, but it wasn't Super Bowl, cultural catch phrase, wardrobe malfunction water cooler memorable.

    (Richardson, by the bye, made a baseball error when he declared himself a fan of both the Red Sox and the Yankees. Any fan will tell you it is metaphysically impossible to support both sides of an arch-rivalry like the Red Sox and Yankees, or the Bears and Packers. Worse: he said it to the Boston Globe.)

  • NFL audiences normally lean somewhat Republican -- not as much as NASCAR, says demographics firm Scarborough Research, but noticeably. The classic communication study "Super Bowl: Mythic Spectacle" by Michael Real touches on all sorts of psychology -- use of force, coaching authoritarianism, military metaphor, women as spectators and not as participants, and social Darwinism. These usual partisan and gender leanings are muted somewhat by the sheer size of the Super Bowl audience, as non-fans watch their one game of the year at parties or just "for the ads."

  • The game is in McCain's Arizona.

  • Compared to other pro sports, and by design, the NFL is more volatile from year to year as to which teams make the playoffs. So it's impossible to predict which teams will be a factor. Looking only at last year's playoff teams, the biggest political impact would be a San Diego Chargers vs. New York Giants game affecting three primary states (as the Giants play in New Jersey) and three candidates (Hillary Clinton, Rudy Giuliani, Duncan Hunter).

  • Obama's Monday Night Football promo plugging himself and the Chicago Bears topped the Youtube charts last fall... but as a Packer fan I'm hoping he won't be distracted by another Bears Super Bowl appearance.
  • Linkfest


    A few random connections.

  • National stuff all over the place on the Obama health care plan. Talking Points Memo has one-stop shopping. Locally the Press-Citizen has two versions and the Register has one. The Obama meting with local electeds and VIPs ran a bit late as the TV interviews ran long.

  • Gov. Culver is in West Branch today for a ground breaking ceremony at Acciona Energy North America's wind turbine assembly plant.

  • desmoinesdem has a Kos diary urging folks to get active on newspaper web sites.

  • Iowa City's fall election moving forward with district C incumbent Regenia Bailey hosting a campaign kickoff tonight at the Englert at 5:30.

  • TalkLeft has an incredible series of sexist, too much information excerpts from Carl Bernstein's Hillary Clinton book.
  • Tuesday, May 29, 2007

    Obama Health Care Live 5/29/07

    Obama Health Care Live 5/29/07

    Text of Speech

    9:33 and live from University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics with the Obama health care event. This is today's national centerpiece - "biggest event since the announcement" says one staffer. Seven TV cameras so far.

    The Obama camp released some details early. The broad outlines:

  • Every American would be required to carry health insurance, with a sliding income-based subsidy scale.
  • A National Health Insurance Exchange to monitor insurance
  • No pre-existing conditions
  • Paid for by cost savings and repeal of Bush tax cuts

    I’m guessing this event will be long on wonk and short on rally music, with more national press in attendance than a typical event. A big feather in the cap for UIHC and SEIU, all these national stories going out with the Iowa City dateline.

    Lots of purple and gold SEIU presence, signing folks up for their Health Care Voter campaign. Nothing formal on the endorsement front - that decision comes in September - but folks sure seem happy with Obama.

    9:39. The Secret Service has been added to the mix since the Earth Day rally but the presence is not obtrusive yet. Just the pins, a few extra traffic cones, but to examination of the lap top bag at the press table.

    Local heavy hitters abound - Dick Myers (ex-state house Dem leader and major local figure), Sarah Swisher (SEIU leader), Sam Becker (retired faculty) - and SEIU's Pauline Taylor on break and in scrubs. The Obama crew has kindly set up wifi - usually anything on the UI campus is a dead zone if you're not faculty-staff-student.

    9:47. Dick Myers says traveling around the state "it's amazing how many people want to support" Obama and the key is translating that into caucus attendance. Amy Correia from the Iowa City Council is here and says she's on board. Also seen: local co-chair Sue Dvorsky, Tom Gill of the Coralville council and ex-county attorney Pat White. He was one of the big Kerry players last time; not clear whether he's endorsed or what his influence will be now that he's retired. (Retirement hasn't dulled Dick Myers' influence any...) TV cameras now up to eight.

    10:00 at the press pre-brief. All the stops are pulled out: advance text, plan outline, costs... first obtrusive SS presence as the sniffin' dog walks through.

    More local sightings: Mayor Ross Wilburn, long on board. Coralville key activist Diana Lundell - past Edwards supporter, still not formally committed, "checking it out" (as is Pat White). State guru Paul Tewes, saying UIHC may be "largest teaching hospital in Western Hemisphere" which helps explain the rollout being here. He also praises Iowa City up and down, but he's standing next to the mayor when he does.

    10:08. The brief itself starts with "Obama Campaign Officials." Doesn't sound like anything new here, but should give us the talking points. Cost and affordability related to lack of coverage. The only change for the already insured is lower costs, the uninsured will be insured. Portability, subsidized for low income, easy to enroll. Private insurance plans have to meet standards of the public plan. " for insurance" is the analogy. You may be buying from the gov't plan, you may be buying from the private plan that meets the standards. Net cost $50-65 billion a year. "And this'll be done by taxing the rich?" asks a national print press type. "Repealing the Bush tax cuts" says the staffer. Obama plan strengthens coverage for low income, mandates coverage for kids, lets young adults stay on parent's plans until age 25. "Shared sacrifice" with gov't, individuals, employers. "What number of employees?" "An exemption for small employers," says staffer, "don't have exact number yet. Uh, less than 50."

    How this saves costs: 1-gov't shares in catastrophic costs. Obama wants to make sure savings "end up in the people's pockets, not insurers and drug companies." If you eliminate the upside risk, premiums go down. 2-Major emphasis on preventive care, plans requires coverage of various forms. 3-Emphasis on increasing quality of service. Sounds paradoxical but it's not, example of post-op infections.

    I was right, this is way wonky. 4-Info technology, making medical records compatible and at point of delivery. Not a public record, privacy is addressed. Want to make sure these systems are available at rural and small town places, not just major hospitals. 5-fighting the drug and insurance companies to hold down costs. Health info technology re-emphasized. "Strong emphasis on public health and prevention." "What's the incentive here," asks reporter, "will there be a penalty if you can't quit smoking?" Campaign says noooo, no no no.

    10:27. Just to clarify: this is all staff, no candidate. About 10 reporters in here including me. No TV cameras, looks like all print. The mighty Underrated One, Mike Glover, is among us. I bail and make my way back to the main event.

    TV cameras now up to a dozen including one that took my spot so I'm on the floor. My partner in crime Tom Lindsay is here, full court press coverage today. The hall is packed now, more lab coats in evidence.

    Pauline Taylor

    10:35 and the show is underway. Nurse Pauline Taylor introducing. Telling health care stories of her late husband, a beloved local activist. More sightings: county auditor Slockett, law professor/blogger/activist/former FCC member Nick Johnson. Pauline moves on to story of SEIU organizing at UIHC, and the Iowa for Health Care project. Intro ends with emphasis on universal aspect of Obama plan.

    Now introing, Rosie Hussey, small business CEO from Mason City.

    10:41 and he's on. Thanks all the people but not by name, too many to name.

    Discusses Decorah small business owners who got hit with cancer. Now facing bankruptcy and spending 40% of income on health insurance. He's sticking close to prepared text.

    Calls the uninsured "a hidden tax." Talk of administrative costs, outdated technology. Camera shutters going non-stop. "the biggest obstacles are those who profit most from the status quo - drug manufacturers and insurance companies."

    This feels very very different from the other times I've seen Obama. The relaxed feel was there in the introductory remarks, but this is all business, no casual asides. "Every American has the right to affordable health care" is the first applause line.

    Of drug and insurance: "While they get a seat at the table, they don't get to buy every chair" (applause) Talks of his health care record in Illinois legislature.

    "Coverage without cost containment will only shift burdens." Outlines plan (which the staff already did, see above.) We get a casual aside as he says "If you have children" and a baby cries "right on cue." Allow "temporary Bush tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans to expire" gets applause.

    He saves the more memorable description of info technology for himself: "moving from a 20th century health care industry based on pen and paper to a 21st century industry based on the latest technology."

    Hanging from the rafters to see Obama

    10:57. Outlines cost containment - again, as outlined by staff. Past the halfway mark of the prepped text. Preventative care gets applause, "if we listen to our wives when they tell us to stop smoking" gets laughs. I notice the glass teleprompter plates for the first time. I also notice that he's adapted the Full Obama jacket-no tie look with a white shirt and matching white tie.

    11:06 and speech wraps with LBJ and Truman references.

    11:17. Chasing the scrum. There's some press time set but it's one on one TV interviews. TV cameras talking with Sarah Swisher and Dick Myers. Secret Service dude is watchful, chewing gum. Jesse T. is teasing me. Also sighted: state senator Bob Dvorsky (husband of county Obama co-chair Sue Dvorsky), and Attorney General Tom Miller, a very early Obama endorser.

    11:26. There's also a low-key meet and greet for elected officials. A couple Linn County legislators are here: Todd Taylor ("still looking around") and Ro Foege (previously committed to Edwards.) Nick Johnson says he's "leaning this way." Most of the non-elected, non-press, non-staff, non-SEIU types have thinned out. Signing off at 11:35; watch for photo update.

    11:40. Five vans lined up motorcade fashion at the exit, under a watchful Secret Service eye.

    Observations: no Q and A, no comparisons to other candidates, no rally rah-rah and few signs, very much on message.
  • Primary Leapfrog: Michigan's Moves

    Primary Leapfrog: Michigan's Moves

    In the wake of Florida moving its primary to January 29, Michigan has been expected to move to an earlier date as well. Blog-star Chris Bowers of MyDD cites this tip from an anonymous Michigander:
    My local Democratic club, and my county party, have been told to secure caucus sites for December 8th and 15th, and January 5th and 12th, along with our scheduled February 9th. The list of sites are to be submitted by June 1st, so it would seem these are the only possible 5 dates.

    While Bowers thinks Michigan is bluffing, he still expects Iowa to move to January 7.

    Meanwhile, the Union-Leader reports that New Hampshire's secretary of state is, so far, OK with the Florida move, thugh he isn't setting the date yet.

    Monday, May 28, 2007

    Norwegian Bicycle Lift

    Norwegian Bicycle Lift

    Too late for Bike To Work Week but this is one of those so simple why didn't I think of it ideas: a bike lift for those killer hills.

    You'd lose some of the workout advantages, of course, but I'd love one of these on the Brown Street hill where I live now, or on the killer Benton Street hill where I'm moving in a couple months.

    You kind of have to look at the whole photo set to really get it but it's sort of like an escalator. One foot over the bike, the other on the track.

    Saturday, May 26, 2007

    Illegal Space Aliens

    When We Were Discussing Illegal Aliens, Senator McCain, This Wasn't What We Meant

    "Illegal immigrant Earth creatures make me very angry indeed!" - Marvin

    "It's no more amnesty than I am a Martian" - John McCain, who also reportedly is very angry indeed.

    Scheduling Lessons

    I Learned A Schedule Lesson From John Edwards

    What I learned is I should have trusted my instincts.

    When the weekend schedule came out with the last Friday stop in Washington at 5:45, and the first Saturday stop at 9:00 in Marengo, it seemed obvious to me that he was staying in Iowa City. I tried and pried, couldn't find anything out.

    I was headed out of town anyway, so I caught the Washington stop. And while I was writing it up in a Fairfield coffee shop... John Edwards was hangin' on the Ped Mall like I do most summer Fridays.

    Look at those gaps in the schedule, folks. There may be "surprises" like that.

    Friday, May 25, 2007

    Edwards Wraps Up Small Town Friday in Washington County

    Edwards Wraps Up Small Town Friday in Washington County

    John Edwards wrapped up a Friday of small town stops at the Washington County Fair Building with a brief speech on the “sacred contract” with the troops and families and about 25 minutes of question and answer with the audience.

    After driving at unofficially high rates and arrive in Washington IA at 5:52 for a 5:45 event I find that today’s campaign standard time is “about 20 minutes behind.” Not bad for the last event of the day. Music is a Mellencamp-free Motown set with Smokey singing “The Way You Do the Things You Do” and Aretha’s “Baby I Love You” (yes, I know it was on Atlantic not Motown). The Washington County folks are passing a petition on changing the county supervisor election system.

    No TV crews, just local print, mostly photographers. There’s a nice cordoned off press area that I have to myself. It keeps shrinking as more chairs are added for the crowd. The Fort Madison event seemed to be the big media hit for the day.

    6:02 and the county chair is introducing the dignitaries – which is the county party exec board. No higher-up electeds except the chair who’s on the city council. Wash Co is traditionally GOP, but an occasional Dem can win here. “They haven’t told me how long to talk.” “Stretch” says a staffer. “Pass the hat,” says the party treasurer.

    Phil Collins? “Take Me Home?” That’s a hip choice – for the 1988 caucuses… “272 signed in,” reports the staffer – the Edwards campaign is always diligent with the crowd counts. I catch a drawl of “y’all” from one of the staffers handing out the DVD that was mailed out a few months back,

    6:23. State 29 was giving Hillary a bad time for running 45 minutes late… another local is intro-ing Roxanne Conlin who will intro Elizabeth who will intro John. Interesting she’s on board, and she notes that “given her background.” Her intro can be summed up as “electability.”

    6:31 and Elizabeth’s intro-ing while John’s rolling up the sleeves. It’s casual Friday so John has jeans. A kid baseball story becomes a political metaphor “we don’t care how he gets home, just so he does.”

    6:34 and John is on. The obligatory Elizabeth health reference to start. The Sacred Contract is quickly outlined: health care, job security for vets and families.

    “Bush is using the term global war on terror to justify every bad thing he’s done.” Rejects the term, says we need to undermine the causes of terrorism. We need to be seen as a force for good in the world again. The short version of the speech for a new crowd. (For longer versions: Iowa City in January, Cedar Rapids in April.)

    6:40 and on to questions. First questioner suggests simply considering terrorist individuals as criminals. Edwards cites new Gore book and contrasts politics of fear vs. hope. As long as world belies America is at war with Islam, we can’t lead. A whole generation is sitting on the fence and we need to be able to lead again. “Close Gitmo” gets applause (unlike McCain’s crowd).

    Next questioner wants to bring manufacturing jobs back to U.S. Edwards: Some of the jobs aren’t coming back. But still many things we can do. Need standards in our trade policies. “Trade hits certain people like a laser” when a plant closes. We need a safety net for those people and communities. Need to end oil addiction, that’s 1-2 million new energy jobs. Broadband Internet to small towns.

    How did you get interested in poverty? It’s a huge moral issue, reporters wonder why… it’s what I care about. “When the Democrats don’t speak up for those who have no voice, our party has no soul.” (applause) After 2004, Elizabeth said “you just lit up” on the subject of poverty and “this is what you want to do.” Katrina also a factor. Edwards talks about his various activities, kids to college programs, etc. Then he adds “But you wouldn’t have heard about that, you all been talking about my $400 haircut.” Many laughs. “It wasn’t worth it.” More laughs. Back on topic. Talks about a two job mom who had to turn off heat to buy school books then was afraid human services would take kids away.

    A balding man says “I wish I had your hair” and asks about health care: “how are you gonna pull this off when others have failed?” Edwards: Most Americans now favor dramatic change on this (also war, energy, etc.) If a plan appeals across lines of ideology, it has a better chance. “And I actually have a way to pay for it.” Outlines Health Market plan. Government plan is “Medicare plus”, or subsidized premiums if choose private plan. No preexisting conditions, mental health parity, portability. To pay for it, get rid of Bush tax cuts – $90-100 billion a year (applause).

    What can a president do to increase unionization? Edwards uses the “labor is greatest antipoverty movement” line, which still gets applause. A president can talk to America about the importance of labor. Card-check unionization, no permanent scabs (my word not his). A legal environment that’s more conducive to organizing. Need to organize the service economy, those jobs can’t move. If they’re unionized, a good middle class life, if not, poverty. “Just that simple.” American gets to decide which. "This is not just about unions, this is about empowering America."

    7:06 and that ends the questions. He makes the pledge card pitch and Jackie Wilson sings "Higher and Higher" (didn’t Obama play that too?) The crowd diligently starts to fold their own chairs.

    After ten minutes or so of the handshake scrum while we hear R.E.M’s “Orange Crush” (the music gets a little more casual post-speech as people start to leave), the staffers usher the press types into a kitchen off the main hall for a fast five minutes of questions.

    The reporters focus on Edwards’ rejection of the term “global war on terror.” Edwards doesn’t back down:
    “My reaction is to the entire term. It’s the use of a political term to beat up people and justify behavior that is not justifiable. It’s very calculated. And when I said that, you saw not only Bush, but Cheney and other administration officials reacting… they’re terrified they’re not going to be able to use this term.”

    “I will keep this country safe – but in a smart way that will undermine the forces supporting terrorism.”

    Asked what should come next following Thursday’s war funding votes, Edwards said, “What should happen in September is what should have happened this week – setting a deadline. (Congress) should not have backed down. I want all the troops out by March – all of them.”

    The staffers usher Edwards out the door. Elizabeth is still mingling with the last hangers-on in the hall, literally holding a baby. Also still there is State Rep. Nathan Reichart, D-Muscatine (I'm still grateful to him for helping my long-ago campaign, and eventually he knocked off the guy that beat me); asked if he’s endorsing he says he’s “just checking it out.”

    (Special thanks to wifi hotspot the Chocolate Cafe in Fairfield.)

    Auditors Examine Changes in Election Law

    Auditors Examine Changes in Election Law

    The 2007 legislative session, the first with Democratic control and a Democratic governor in 42 years, completed several major changes in election law. In the state's courthouses, 99 county auditors are looking at those changes and figuring out how to address them.

    Same-Day Registration

    In the single-biggest change, Iowa joins neighbors Wisconsin and Minnesota in allowing Election Day voter registration. Same-day registration passed a Democratic-controlled Legislature in the 1980s, but was vetoed by the Republican governor at the time, Terry Branstad. Gov. Chet Culver signed House File 653 on April 4.

    Under Iowa's new system, voters registering after the old deadline (10 days for primary and general elections, 11 days for other elections) would have to show identification and proof of their address such as utility bills or leases.


    Democrat Jamie Fitzgerald is the new Polk County auditor. After serving as first deputy for 4 1/2 years, Fitzgerald took office in January when his predecessor, Mike Mauro, became secretary of state. "There have been numerous studies throughout the United States to ascertain why so few of our citizens participate in our election process," Fitzgerald said. "An often-cited factor for this dilemma includes making the voter registration and voting process seamless. Minnesota has had same-day registration for 30 years and has enjoyed higher participation rates amongst their citizens."

    Republican Janine Sulzner, Jones County auditor since 1994, disagrees.
    "Responsible voting, I would hope, requires thought on the part of the voter, and a 10-day period should not have been too much to ask. I don't know if there are enough safeguards available to protect against fraud with same-day voter registration."

    "The forms of identification required will not be easily available," said Democrat Grant Veeder, Black Hawk County auditor since 1988. Registering fraudulently is a class D felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of $750 to $7,500. Veeder calls that "a powerful deterrent" and notes that in Black Hawk County, several people were convicted and fined after the 2000 election either for voting twice or voting in spite of an active felony conviction.

    How to adapt

    Auditors are still adapting to the big changes same-day registration will bring. "We expect our precinct election officials will be processing more new registrants, but will be spending less time on the phone checking on registrations," said Veeder, whose county includes the University of Northern Iowa.

    "Precinct officials have spent a lot of time, especially in precincts with large student populations, calling the Election Office to verify registrations," Veeder said. "Which way the trade-off will tip is hard to tell."

    Fitzgerald said that Polk County is looking at a combination of increasing the number of poll workers in areas that historically have a higher rate of address turnover such as university and apartment areas and using technology to help direct voters to the proper polling location.

    Though Jones county is much smaller and more rural than Polk or Black Hawk counties, Sulzner says poll workers who have heard about same-day registration are worried.
    "They will bear the brunt of this change. I don't think anyone could envy our poll workers on Election Day, especially after these duties were added to their already hectic day. I have tried to calm their fears explaining that the additional work will likely take the place of the many provisional ballots they have been processing that were due to unregistered or improperly registered voters.

    "The simple fact is that our poll workers don't perform these duties on a regular enough basis to remember how to deal with all the situations they are faced with on Election Day, and now we've added even more. Training can only do so much."

    The election day registration law won't take effect until Jan. 1, 2008. Sulzner said that will be troublesome for this fall's school and city elections. "Voters are not going to get that message and think they can register on Election Day already this fall," she said. "Someone is going to have to do a major press campaign on this very issue."


    Veeder says many students won't have the necessary proof of identity, even if they are aware of what they need ahead of time.
    "Hopefully students will be educated in advance about their situation. We have asked the secretary of state's office to prepare informational literature for colleges and for political parties and organizations that will be running get-out-the-vote efforts on campuses.

    "Ideally, voters and GOTV campaigns will realize that the best option is for the voter to register in advance for the election so that they will already be on the voter roster and probably won't need any identification at all."

    Another option is for same-day registrants to have a voter who is already on that precinct's voter roster vouch for them. Fitzgerald notes that a pre-registered voter may only vouch for one same-day registrant in his or her precinct; in Minnesota people can vouch for up to 15 same-day registrants.


    Along with the unsuccessful VOICE (Voter Owned Iowa Clean Elections) public campaign-finance bill, equipment issues generated the most discussion among activists. Senate File 369 requires a paper trail for touch-screen direct recorded electronic (DRE) machines, and calls for an eventual phase-out of those devices. The accessibility requirements of the 2002 federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) eventually would be met by a ballot-marking device, such as the ES&S Automark, which allows a voter with visual disabilities to mark an optical scanned ballot.

    Polk and Jones counties both use the Automark. "We have had incredible feedback about the convenience and ease of using these machines," said Fitzgerald. But Sulzner said using the device is very time-consuming, particularly for a general election with a long ballot. "I really think if the Legislature had to vote a general election ballot using the Automark, they would be quite less than impressed, and may be willing to re-evaluate their thoughts before they phase out touch screens altogether." Sulzner notes that even with the Automark, a visually impaired voter "still has to rely on the testing process and the integrity of the county auditor."

    Sulzner said she chose the Automark over a touch screen as the accessibility device so that all votes would be marked on the same type of ballot. Veeder agreed with this advantage. Black Hawk County currently uses a DRE for the accessibility device, but Veeder says he is seriously considering moving to ballot-marking devices.
    "The marking devices are now available for use with the Diebold optical scan system that we have had since 1995," said Veeder. "In addition to the trends in evidence in state and federal legislation, a blended system with ballot marking devices has the advantage of requiring vote tabulation from only one system, while our current blended system requires each precinct to tabulate vote totals from our optical scan machines separately from our DRE machines, and then uploading them separately by modem to the courthouse."

    Voting Systems By County (Secretary of State; .pdf)

    Increasing the Pool of Poll Workers

    House File 618 makes high-school students eligible to become poll workers. Auditors applauded the move, though they said it will have limited impact. "I really want poll workers that I can rely on for more than one or two elections," said Sulzner.

    The bill limits underage poll workers to a partial day, and Fitzgerald says this may limit his use of high-school students. "We do not split our Election Day shifts, and have had limited, if any, problems finding people who would like to serve."

    Maintaining an adequate pool of poll workers is a chronic problem, said Veeder. "We are always looking for good reliable help."

    "Civics education is a valuable side effect" of HF618, says Veeder, "but our first responsibility is to operate an efficient and accurate election that enfranchises all qualified voters."

    Auditors saw House File 546, allowing voters registered with no party affiliation to work at the polls, as more significant, though they have had different experiences with this as a past barrier. "I really haven't had much problem with this," said Sulzner, "but having the option of using nonpartisan officials will be helpful." In contrast, Fitzgerald said Polk County has had to turn away many qualified and energetic potential poll workers because of the requirement that they had to be a member of one of the two recognized parties in Iowa. Veeder said he has seen some people refuse to work rather than choose a party. "But in our experience, people who are interested in working will more often agree to declare an affiliation."

    Still, the need for more workers remains. Veeder says his office is contacting human resources director organizations to ask their members to start programs to give their workers paid time off to be poll workers, explaining that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has such a program. Sulzner suggests making poll worker duty similar to jury duty, with employers required to allow service and with equitable compensation.

    Still on the Governor's desk

    Two changes not yet signed into law were included in Senate File 601, an omnibus bill passed on the final day of the session.

    One provision would require auditors to open the outer "return carrier" envelope of mailed absentee ballots in order to inspect the inner affidavit envelope for errors. While the affidavit envelopes, containing the ballots inside an additional secrecy folder, would not be opened until Election Day, auditors would notify voters of any mistakes that could keep their vote from being counted. Fitzgerald calls this "second-chance absentee voting" and likens it to Election Day voting that allows voters to re-mark their ballots if they have over-voted an office by marking more candidates than allowed. "It will reduce the number of angry voters who are told their ballots didn't count when it's too late to do anything about it," said Veeder.


    Sulzner joins Veeder and Fitzgerald in recommending that the governor sign the bill, but said she has reservations that election staff may be accused of handling ballots inappropriately.
    "I think we're all aware of the frequency with which voters don't seal their ballots inside the affidavit envelope at all, and I think we're asking for trouble once we get inside that outer envelope. Will we eventually be forced to hire a Democrat and Republican to jointly perform this task each day? And then have that session videotaped? I like the ability to help the voters through some of the unfortunate technical errors they make, but unfortunately we can't do everything for the voter, and there will be voters we won't be able to contact."

    Another provision in the last-day bill, which has been the subject of veto rumors, would effectively eliminate the ballot courier program. After a 2002 incident in which Democratic Party staff forgot to return 44 Johnson County absentee ballots on Election Day, the 2004 Legislature passed the courier law requiring ballot "chasers" who pick up ballots to go through training, leave receipts with voters, and complete paperwork tracing the custody of ballots. The courier law failed to prevent a similar incident in Woodbury County in 2006.

    "Couriers were established because of the perception that other people were voting for voters who requested absentee ballots," said Veeder, who supports the legislation. "We hadn't seen any significant evidence of this kind of abuse, and the kind that we most often suspect -- family members voting for other family members -- wasn't affected by the courier system."

    Sulzner said she opposed the courier system from the beginning. "I think it put ballots in the hands of people who never should have had them, and made it more difficult for those who relied on trusted family members to deliver their ballots."

    Fitzgerald said the law kept spouses from returning each other's ballots, noting the odd scenario that "they were able to mail the (spouse's) ballot to our office, but could not hand deliver it to us."

    What Else and What's Left

    Other issues that received less attention were still considered important by auditors. Veeder said House File 848 contained many technical items that auditors have been trying to get into law for several years. The bill's chief sponsor was Rep. Mary Gaskill, D-Ottumwa, former Wapello County auditor. Sulzner was pleased that one provision of HF 848 allows voters in city or school elections in smaller districts that open their polls at noon to vote absentee at the auditor's office until 11 a.m. on Election Day. "I've had to turn people away for this very reason in the past, and it was quite unfortunate."

    Sulzner says one problem not addressed by the recent legislative session is the lack of a first day to request an absentee ballot. She supports a return to the 70-day limit that was repealed before the 2004 presidential election:
    "Too many voters don't remember signing the request in the summer when the door-to-door campaigners are coming through, and then when we send the ballot in September, they throw them away. Then our poll workers have to deal with additional issues when that voter shows up at the polls on Election Day."

    Veeder would like to see future changes in the school election process. "School board elections have the lowest turnout of any regularly scheduled elections," he said. "If the terms were changed from three years to four years, then elections could be held every two years with the terms staggered, and school election costs could be cut in half." Veeder noted this change has been proposed in the past without success.

    Loebsack Votes Like Democrat

    Loebsack Votes Like Democrat

    The Gannett papers, of which the Press-Citizen is one, round up Dave Loebsack's votes and conclude:

    Loebsack, who campaigned as a candidate for change and narrowly ousted 30-year Republican Rep. Jim Leach, is keeping his promise. He has voted with the Democratic majority 100 percent during his first four months in office...

    They get some local Republican quotes sating This Is Bad, but apparently the national GOP is shrugging its shoulders. Launching a campaign against freshman Dems for "voting like Nancy Pelosi," they've left Loebsack and fellow Iowa first-termer Bruce Braley off the list.

    Thursday, May 24, 2007

    War Roll Calls and Iowa Delegation

    War Roll Calls: Braley, Loebsack in Second-Strongest Anti-War Group

    Thursday night's U.S. House vote extending war funding through September is being cast as a Democratic cave-in, even though most House Democrats including Speaker Pelosi opposed it. The major votes thus far in the House reveal some significant nuances.

  • Roll Call 186 on March 23 provided funding and attached timelines, and passed 218-212. 14 Democrats were opposed, an odd mix of the bluest of Blue Dogs and the Not Another Dime contingent. The Iowans voted on party lines. Roll Call 265 on the conference report (April 25) was almost identical.

  • Roll Call 276 on May 2 was the veto override vote, which led 222-203, well short of the 2/3 needed. Here, the Not Another Dime contingent (John Lewis, Maxine Waters, Barbara Lee, etc) voted Yes with the majority of Democrats, but the hard-core conservative Dems like Jim Marshall of Georgia voted no. This separates the people who voted No on Roll Call 186 for the "right" vs. "wrong" reasons. (Kucinich voted "Present" just to draw more attention to himself.) Again, Iowans on party lines.

  • It gets more interesting with the McGovern amendment to deauthorize the war on May 10 (Roll Call 330). That failed 171-255. The Democrats split 169 yes, 59 no, revealing a conservative contingent of about 50 that was willing to vote for timelines on Roll Call 186, but not for deauthorization. That group includes Leonard Boswell, who voted with Steve King, Tom Latham, and all but two House Republicans. Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack, however, voted for deauthorization.

  • Thursday's vote, Roll Call 425, was opposed by 140 House Democrats including Loebsack and Braley. Boswell joined 86 Democrats and all but two Republicans in voting yes.

    This latest vote gives us a House Democratic caucus split into five unequal groups. I haven't done a member by member analysis so this is rough math.
    Not Another Penny: 8.

    130, including Dave Loebsack and Bruce Braley, voted for deauthorization and against the blank check bill passed Thursday.

    30 take the odd position of voting to deauthorize, but if we can't get that then we'll give Bush what he wants.

    Opposing deauthorization, but willing to vote for a funding bill with timelines, were about 50 including Leonard Boswell.

    6 or 7 House Dems are pro-war.

    Thus, despite the criticism tossed their way, Dave Loebsack and Bruce Braley are in the second-strongest anti-war group in the House, behind only the tiny handful of Not Another Penny folks. Meanwhile, Leonard Boswell is taking the weakest Democratic position except for the handful of openly pro-war Dems.
  • Harkin: Close Gitmo

    Harkin Introduces Bill to Close Guantanamo

    The ACLU touts Tom Harkin's intoduction of the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility Closure Act of 2007, a bill that requires the president to close Gitmo within 120 days of enactment.

    A hat tip to leading civil liberty/law site Talk Left.

    Van Alien Hall

    Somehow Fitting

    Given that the building is named for the great space scientist James Van Allen, this altered sign on campus is oddly appropriate. Anyway, it gives me one more excuse to plug SETI@Home, the alien detector you can use on your very own computer. (That's space aliens, Congressman Tancredo, not Mexicans.) I'm only running it on seven machines now, the oldest was so slow it wasn't detecting enough aliens.

    Wednesday, May 23, 2007

    Hillary Lowers The Bar

    "Leaked" Clinton Campaign Memo on Iowa

    The buzz of the moment is the Hillary Clinton strategy memo, leaked and quickly denied with much love for corn and pigs offered, arguing for a Screw Iowa strategy.

    Ohhh, this is no accident. This isn't a sign of lack of discipline or intra-campaign strife. This is a deliberate, strategic move.

    The key line is buried in the next to last paragraph:
    If she walks any from Iowa she will devalue Iowa (our consistently weakest state).

    This comes just days after a Register poll showing Clinton in third place with Bill Richardson within shouting distance. By publicly considering the Screw Iowa strategy, she in effect does devalue Iowa, and gets to have it both ways. She dramatically reduces expectations by making the case for Screw Iowa and acknowledging weakness. But by not openly dissing Iowa (as Gore `88, McCain `00, and Lieberman/Clark `04 did) she keeps a hand in the game and avoids offending Iowa supporters (most prominently the Vilsacks).

    Coming Soon to Iowa City

    Coming Soon to Iowa City: Obama, Biden, not Edwards

    Two Democratic candidates are coming to Iowa City soon, and a third is a near miss:

  • Barack Obama returns to Iowa City Tuesday, May 29, reports the Press-Citizen in what's sure to be a very different atmosphere than the massive April 22 Earth Day rally on the Pentacrest (attendance estimates ranged from 10,000 to "everyone in Iowa east of I-35"). Next week's University Hospital stop (details TBA) focuses on health care. The article prominently quotes SEIU's Sarah Swisher on the union's Iowa for Health Care initiative. That SEIU endorsement, whoever gets it and if there is one, is big...

  • Joe Biden, after postponing last week, will have a town hall meeting and meet and greet at 3:30 PM Sunday, May 27th at Shelter 2 in City Park. It's Biden's first Iowa City stop this cycle and he's the fifth Democrat to visit; Bill Richardson is the leading holdout. "The Senator will mingle for 20 minutes, speak for 20 minutes and then mingle again," say the Johnson County Democrats; will Biden be challenged by that 20 minute time frame or will he be as concise as that "Yes" debate answer?

  • John Edwards, coming off that lead in the Register poll, will be in eastern Iowa this weekend. With the schedule ending Friday night in Washington, Iowa and starting Saturday morning in Marengo, an evening, low key Iowa City event seemed a natural, but local Edwards supporters say there's not. The trip is focused on smaller towns with no place larger than Ft. Madison on the tour. Initially miffed, the locals now seem content with pledges of a visit in the near future. Edwards last stopped in Iowa City in January when he drew over 800 to the Iowa Memorial Union. (Reports from that event: Blogger interview, speech and questions.)
  • Tuesday, May 22, 2007

    Hamburg Inn Coffee Bean Caucus

    Hamburg Inn's Coffee Bean Caucus is OK Online, But It's Better With That Breakfast Smell

    Visits from two former presidents and one fictitious one, and a little creative self-promotion, have turned an old fashioned diner on Iowa City’s north side into one of the ritual stops on the caucus campaign trail. And this year the Hamburg Inn’s Coffee Bean Caucus – where diners vote for their favorite candidate by dropping coffee beans into labeled jars – has expanded onto the Internet.

    Hamburg Inn owner Dave Panther at the Reagan table with some of his mementos, including a two-page photo of Barack Obama's visit last month.

    I joined Hamburg Inn owner Dave Panther for a cup of that coffee in the Ronald Reagan booth at the Hamburg Inn, and he said Reagan’s August 1992 visit after a speech at the Hoover Presidential Library in West Branch was the first big event in the history of the Hamburg Inn as a political stop. A small plaque and a photo of Ronald and Nancy Reagan mark the corner booth near the kitchen. Even in heavily Democratic Iowa City, it’s usually full.

    The first major campaign appearance was during the 1996 caucus cycle when local supporters of Pat Buchanan brought him to the Hamburg. But it was in 2003 that the Hamburg Inn really cemented its reputation as a must-stop for caucus candidates. That March, former President Bill Clinton visited while in Iowa City for a University lecture. The Clinton table is two booths down from the Reagan table.

    The other presidential candidate named Clinton has not yet visited.
    “Our goal is to get Hillary here, and Obama back… Of the top six candidates we’ve had three so far – Edwards, Obama and McCain. I’d like to see Rudy Giuliani, and Romney, and McCain again. We’d get them all here if we could.”

    “It’s interesting to see whether what’s in TV is what they’re like in person, in a natural setting.”

    The Reagan booth also features mementos from the Hamburg Inn's January 2005 West Wing appearance.

    The Hamburg Inn was Wesley Clark’s only Iowa campaign event in 2003. In September Clark was in Iowa City for a University lecture scheduled before his late entry into the race, and he subsequently decided not to contest the caucuses. Also visiting in the 2004 cycle were Howard Dean, Dennis Kucinich and Elizabeth Edwards.

    Panther premiered the Coffee Bean Caucus in early 2004. “I heard of a Mexican restaurant that had done a poll with pinto beans, and I was thinking about what we could do.” He also liked the alliterative sound of “coffee bean caucus.” The 2004 coffee bean caucus ran from January 7 to 17, ending the Saturday before the January 19 caucuses.
    “We got an almost immediate response – I sent out some press releases, a Des Moines TV station picked it up, and from there the national people did and the ball just kept rolling. We even had foreign journalists from the Netherlands and Canada.”

    While the first Coffee Bean Caucus was a publicity smash, its track record as a predictor is 0 for 1 –Dean won the beans but John Kerry carried Johnson County and the state on caucus night.

    So far this year, both Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain have mentioned their Hamburg Inn visits in their local speeches. “Unfortunately I was out of town when Obama was here,” laments Panther, showing me a two-page photo of the visit in the New Yorker.

    Dan Gable and John McCain

    McCain’s visit was prominently featured in most coverage of his Johnson County visit earlier this month, in large part because wrestling legend Dan Gable joined him.

    Panther says most events are attended by a variety of people and not just strong supporters of a particular candidate. One exception was when director Rob Reiner and actor Martin Sheen visited the Hamburg Inn the week before the 2004 caucuses on behalf of Dean, and Kucinich supporters got wind of the event and packed the place. “I thought that was a little much,” said Panther (an assessment I shared at the time). He still cites the event as one of his favorites, along with a visit by Patch Adams, the real-life doctor who was the basis for the Robin Williams movie. Adams visited on behalf of Kucinich. “Kucinich was very active last time, we haven’t seen that this year.”

    The Reiner-Sheen event may have played a key role in winning the Hamburg Inn perhaps its biggest moment of fame, when the restaurant featured on the TV series The West Wing. Panther thinks Sheen, who starred in the series as the fictitious President Bartlet, brought the story of his visit back to the set and the writers worked the Coffee Bean Caucus into the show’s “King Corn” episode, where candidates are encouraged to back ethanol subsidies despite their actual views on the issue.

    This year, Panther has added a new twist to the Coffee bean caucus – an on line version at
    “I thought that since Johnson County is so Democratic, going on line would give us even more national prominence. We’ll get the actual coffee bean jars closer to fall.”

    Online voters answer three questions: home state, party identification, and candidate.
    “We’re linked to all the candidates sites on our site, and they can add the link to theirs. The idea is to have fun, but also to have an informed electorate.”

    The Hamburg Inn’s roots date back to the 1930s, and the Panther family has operated the North Linn Street location – officially called “Hamburg Inn Number 2,” though Numbers 1 and 3 are long gone – since 1948. Dave Panther bought the business from his parents in 1979. Photos of the famous visitors line the walls, along with pictures of the diner in the 1950s and multicolored chalkboards displaying the menu that includes a dizzying variety of omelets, breakfasts, burgers and malts. Panther recently remodeled the restaurant, adding one additional table without sacrificing the classic look of the anachronistic diner that regularly tops local popularity polls. “We want to look vintage, but not old.”

    Howard Dean and Christie and Tom Vilsack are among the many photos on the walls.

    Iowa politicians of both parties have made the Hamburg inn a regular stop. Pictures and letters from Senator Chuck Grassley and former congressman Jim Leach hang in the Reagan booth, and Dave Loebsack held events at the Hamburg Inn last year. “Tom Vilsack came here often,” says Panther, noting that Vilsack ended his presidential campaign a week before a scheduled Hamburg Inn event.

    Panther says he’s still thinking about who to support in 2008. He was not politically active before his restaurant leaped to caucus fame: “2004 was my first caucus. I thought the process was going to be more complicated. Now I’m getting more involved and more interested. It’s really stimulating.”

    “I didn’t realize how much fun politics could be.”

    Monday, May 21, 2007

    Primary Challenge for Kucinich House Seat

    Primary Challenge for Kucinich House Seat?

    The Columbus Dispatch is reporting that Parma, OH mayor Dean DePiero is considering a Congressional primary challenge to presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich:
    Cleveland-area political observers say that many residents of the 10th District are fed up with Kucinich's quixotic quests for the presidency and grouse that he does not pay sufficient attention to the district.

    Swing State Project adds:
    DePiero would give Kucinich his first major primary challenge in years, but it's not yet clear how vulnerable Kucinich would be to such a campaign. One thing's for sure, though: Dennis' Presidential aspirations would certainly be complicated if he had to spend his time battling in Cuyahoga County instead of Des Moines and Manchester.

    Bryan at Buckeye State Blog is on board and has more local color.

    Note that as in 2004, Kucinich can simultaneously run for president and for re-election to the House; his only primary season win in `04 was for renomination while John Kerry was coasting to an Ohio presidential primary win.

    I've been arguing that Dennis is vulnerable, not as much on issues as for the Natural Law, new age, campaigning for a wife, trying for a win in Hawaii in 2004 after Kerry had mathematically clinched, bad toupee persona. Looks like DePiero sees an opportunity.

    More Leapfrog

    Democrats scramble to prevent Florida primary election fiascos

    The LA Times offers its take on the Florida primary date; this article actually names Gravel and Kookcinich:
    Strategists for Clinton vow that the senator from New York will campaign in Florida no matter what, underscoring her intent to build a campaign for the general election. Other well-known contenders such as Sen. Obama of Illinois, Edwards, Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) and Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson are not likely to forgo the fundraising riches of Florida, one of the country's biggest sources of campaign cash.

    That means that Florida's delegates could fall to the also-rans who appear on the state ballot but face no pressure to campaign there.

    Or, it could mean no candidate gets any Florida delegates. The Democratic rules also contain a provision that no candidate who receives less than 15% of the total primary vote may be awarded delegates, though party officials admit the rule is vague and it's not clear what would happen if the top vote-getters were disqualified.

    Article ends with a quote that seems to point to both the Screw Iowa attitude and the ultimate unimportance of the anachronism that is the national convention:
    "If the choice is Florida is relevant and has no delegates versus being irrelevant and having delegates, I'd choose being relevant with no delegates," Ring said. "We did this so 18 million Floridians could take part in the presidential primaries, not so a few hundred people can go to a party in Denver."

    Sunday, May 20, 2007

    Loebsack 7th Most Progressive In House

    Progressive Punch: Loebsack 7th Most Progressive in House

    The web site Progressive Punch has crunched the numbers on the votes so far this Congress and puts Iowa freshman Dave Loebsack at a lofty number seven. The top ten (do I need to even say, all Dems):

    1 Yvette Clarke (NY)
    2 Keith Ellison (MN)
    tie Hank Johnson (GA)
    4 Raúl Grijalva (AZ)
    5 Mazie Hirono (HI)
    6 Peter Welch, (VT)
    7 Dave Loebsack (IA)
    8 Barbara Lee (CA)
    9 Jan Schakowsky (IL)
    10 Steve Cohen (TN)

    Seven of the top ten are freshmen (the senior members are Grijalva, Lee and Schakowsky). And other than Loebsack and Welch, the rest represent urban and/or majority-minority districts.

    Around the delegation:
  • Bruce Braley is in a tie for 28th
  • Leonard Boswell is at #213 - the bottom Dem is at 232 and there's no Jim Leach-style overlap anymore; the last Democrat is just ahead of the first Republican.
  • Tom Latham is #329
  • And Steve King? Tied for 410th place.

    Over on the Senate side, Tom Harkin is 17th - below presidential contenders Obama (13), and Clinton (15) but ahead of Dodd (27) and Biden (33). Chuck Grassley is down at 71, below McCain (58) but above Brownback (85).

    The methodology

    After going through a number of steps and gyrations, we came up with a list of six hard-core progressive United States Senators (6% of that body) and 35 hard-core progressive United States Representatives (about 8-9% of that body). We take ANY VOTE in which a majority of those progressives voted in contradistinction to a majority of the Republican caucus then that vote then qualifies for the database. So, non-ideological votes such as National Groundhog Day: 429-0 with 6 absences, do not qualify for the database. Any vote in which a majority of progressives vote against a majority of Republicans qualifies for the database. The number of votes which qualify using this algorithm remains remarkably constant from one Congress to another, about half of all votes cast.

    There are some criticisms that could be levied against our methodology. One is that it treats every vote equally, when they're obviously not all equally important. Another is that lonely principled stands, that might be viewed by some as progressive, such as Barbara Lee's sole vote against war in Afghanistan, do not qualify for the database.

    The very handy site also offers breakdowns by issue area and look up your own reps features.
  • Saturday, May 19, 2007

    A penny here...

    A penny here, a penny there, soon you're
    talking real money

    The one cent SILO tax isn't even being collected yet and already:

    A majority of City Council members would support a 1 percent sales tax to boost city coffers, a topic sure to cause heated debate in the community.

    Council members told The Gazette they would support the tax if the money went toward certain projects, especially hiring more police and fire personnel and offering property tax relief.

    Ross Wilburn and, more aggressively, Dee Vanderhoef both mentioned sales tax at this month's early bird candidate forum.

    SILO had a killer yes argument even for those of us who on principle have problems with regressive taxation: the carrot of keeping money local and the stick of a legislative majority that was ready to impose it statewide if Johnson and Linn, the last two non-SILO counties, didn't sign on. The difference in money was roughly a high school.

    The local option tax has no such momentum. The Legislature would do well to consider more progressive options for local governments next session.

    Friday, May 18, 2007

    Quote Of The Day

    Quote Of The Day

    Jerome Armstrong has me rethinking my Republicans Nominate The Guy WHose Turn It Is Next theory. I've been thinking Romney's obvious opportunism was a killer, but With McCain slipping and Rudy taking the unlikely strategy of riding pro-choice Republicans - few and far between in a primary - to the nomination, I look at this from Jerome:

    Romney is a weak general election candidate, but he seems to be emerging as the only one that can please theocons. It's very difficult to gain traction within a primary against flip-flopping; as long as the final flop is in line with the orthodoxy, the rabid faithful will ultimately believe--- they have to as fundamentalists.

    Something to consider.

    Iowa City Weekend

    No live candidate appearances but there's a fair amount of interesting stuff in Iowa City this weekend:

  • Teleconference with Chris Dodd on ending the war. He'll be in Des Moines but you can hook up (no, not that way) at the Iowa City library, noon to 1.

    Loads of things going on in the Friday after work slot:

  • Bike To Work Week wraps up with a party at Fitzpatrick's starting at 5; prize drawing at 6:30.

  • Also at 5 (till 8) the Emma Goldman Clinic has its spring fundraiser at the Chait Galleries Downtown, 218 E. Washington St.

  • Don't forget the weekly peace vigil at the bus stop, 5:15 to 5:45.

  • And the centerpiece of Iowa City summer weekends, the Friday Night Concert Series, kicks off with the City High and West High Jazz Ensembles.

    Saturday morning you can pull some garlic mustard or hike for refugees. There's also a Teens for Peace happening; you can sleep in a little and still catch that.

    And at 12:30 there's an Iowa City Women for Edwards house party at Virginia Stratton-Coulter's north side residence; co-host Aletia Morgan from the school board.

    Saturday night the free movies start with "Grease".

    Sunday's early risers can join the Rainbow Run 5k pre-pride event.

    Cyclone Conservative has reset his poll (not at my prompting; he tells me the 17th of the month is reset day). The predictable Ron Paul landslide is already ensuing; my monthly vote for Generic Democrat is in the box.

    And a must-read Onion for cheeseheads everywhere: Favre Demands Trade To 1996 Packers.
  • Thursday, May 17, 2007

    Leach: Watch Iran

    Jim Leach Interview: Academia, Moralistic Politics, and Iran; Declines Comment on World Bank Post

    Jim Leach (Photo: Princeton University)

    Former Iowa Congressman Jim Leach says the potential for war with Iran is not getting the attention it merits. In a phone interview Thursday, Leach said:

    The largely unfollowed issue is whether there will be another war with Iran, and what is the role of Congress. The likelihood is there will not be a pre-emptive strike, but whether the possibility that there will be one is 5% or 45%… those are not trivial.

    The former congressman has most recently been in the Iowa news due to this week’s unanimous House passage of a bill renaming the Davenport federal courthouse in his honor. The bill was introduced by Congressmen Bruce Braley and the man who defeated Leach last year, Dave Loebsack. “I’m very appreciative of my former colleagues for doing this,” said Leach; “it was a very decent thing for Representatives Braley and Loebsack to do.” The bill has now moved to the Senate, where Chuck Grassley and Tom Harkin are joint sponsors and overwhelming passage is also likely.

    Since leaving the House, Leach has accepted a teaching position with the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, his alma mater. As we spoke, Leach was traveling to Chicago for a lecture at the Federal Reserve. Monday he is speaking at Princeton on “Moralistic Politics.”

    Certain issues can be compromised, while on others it’s next to impossible. The challenge is mutual respect. For example on the issue of choice, very few compromises are acceptable. Yet we need to remember that there are deeply moral people on each side. Some of these issues have been around a long time, and it’s not exclusively a Republican thing. It can be a Democratic thing too. Some liberals will assume that the only solution to a given problem is increasing funding for a social program, and that to restrain that funding is somehow “immoral.”

    Leach applied this construct of moralistic politics to his thoughts on the Iraq War.

    In one sense it’s a judgment call, is this war wise or unwise. In another sense there’s the "just war” doctrine that’s deeply embedded in Judeo-Christian tradition Deeply moral people can reach different conclusions and we still have to respect that.

    I’ve never doubted that this year there would be a compromise that would involve funding with criteria - that’s been in the cards from the beginning. The Democrats have criticized the war but don’t want the accountability for leaving. There are Constitutional procedures in how you start wars, but very few in how you end them. The assumption was that Congress had the power of the purse strings and that was the way you could end. The funding will be tempered this year with benchmarks that are non-binding, and those can become active and have meaning as the next Congress may withhold funding.

    Leach declined comment on mention of his name for the World Bank presidency; we spoke just minutes before current head Paul Wolfowitz announced his resignation. Leach was also mentioned for the job while he was still in Congress at the time Wolfowitz was appointed. He seems happy with his new career:

    My wife and I have enjoyed being in an academic community. We prefer living there rather than in a political community.

    In his first semester, Leach, who was a Foreign Service officer before his 1976 election to Congress, is teaching a graduate course on Chinese and American foreign policy. His teaching may expand to upper-class undergraduates this fall. In addition, he has given various lectures on other subjects. Leach said he is writing a book on leadership that will include some examples from his congressional years. Progress has been slow during the semester but Leach hopes to focus more on the book over the summer.

    Asked how often he returns to Iowa, Leach said he had visited Kalona and spoke at a Mennonite Church just this week. When I expressed surprise that I hadn’t heard about the event, Leach said, “well, I don’t do press releases.”

    Despite cost of gas, motorists still driving

    Despite cost of gas, motorists still driving

    MSNBC says gas at $3.50 to $4 isn't deterring driving, and gets a killer quote that really nails the problem:
    “I drive 55 miles each way to work every day,” said Sandy Colden, of Medford, N.J., while loading groceries into her Honda Pilot SUV. “So I really don’t have a choice.”

    Sandy, you've made your choices. You choose to drive a big-ass car and you choose to live an obscene distance from your job. Pay up, and I hope it goes even higher.

    One can debate the exact dollar amount where driving habits change but here's a couple un-debatable factoids:

  • The U.S. has the lowest tax on gasoline of any industrialized country.
  • The U.S. has lower gas prices, even at current rates, than any other industrialized, non-oil exporting country.

    People don't recognize that the suburban sprawl, SUV, drive alone, edge city, rolling Walmart warehouse, RV towing a car lifestyle is not "just how it is," it's a choice - a series of millions of little choices, actually.

    Steve King, of course, sees a different problem: It's all the environmentalist's fault and conservation is bad.
  • Leapfrog Update

    Leapfrog Update: Florida Dems Considering Options

    The Miami Herald has a must-read for any Iowan worrying about leapfrogging caucus dates.

    Reading between the lines, it seems that Florida's move to January 29 was driven by the GOP legislature and governor, and the Democrats are left trying to choose from a series of bad options:
  • Hold a post-Feb. 5 caucus, in which activists around the state would gather to pick their favorite candidate. Top winners would split the full slate of convention delegates.

  • Any Iowan who's ever been to a March county convention after the nomination is clinched knows the downside of this one. You're watching the ball game on tape delay, but someone already told you the final score.

  • Beg the national party to bend the rule that only four states -- New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina and Nevada -- can vote before Feb. 5.

  • That's like expecting Officer Obie to thank us for being so brave and honest on the telephone, which wasn't very likely and we didn't expect it.

    Michigan, long an enemy of Iowa's pole position, will pounce on anything that violates the IA-NV-NH-SC-Everyone Else dance that was so delicately negotiated last summer. And when/if that happens, the New Hampshire Secretary of State is eager to enforce his state's law that New Hampshire hold its primary seven days before "any other similar contest," and the Iowa parties will loyally uphold our law to hold the first nominating contest.

    (I'm proud to be an Iowan, but what's to keep another state from enacting a contradictory law? Wouldn't that have to get settled in court someday?)

  • Accept the Jan. 29 primary date, even if its results won't matter at the convention.

  • This move imposes the political equivalent of a no bowls, no scholarships probation: Florida would lose half its delegates. Fair trade, says Floridian Ron Gunzburger of Politics 1:
    We'll bring about the end of the unfair schedule forced upon us by the strongarm tactics of the DNC and RNC.

    The Herald raises other spectres:

    Imagine: Hillary Clinton campaigns in Florida, wins the Jan. 29 primary, but gets no convention delegates -- but they go to an also-ran because he never set foot in the state.

    They don't actually say "Mike Gravel," but we all get the idea.

    Or: Clinton wins the Jan. 29 primary but loses the caucus to Barack Obama.

    Something like that happened in my native Wisconsin in 1984. The DNC has a policy of closed primaries for the presidency. Technically the caucuses are "closed" as you have to be a registered Democrat to play, but in reality they aren't as you can change affiliation on the spot. Wisconsin, however, has no party registration and has had a tradition of open primaries dating back to the Progressive era of the 1910's.

    In the early 1980s the DNC decided to make an example of Wisconsin, fought the issue to the Supreme Court, and won. So in 1984 Wisconsin Democrats had two events: outsider Gary Hart won the non-binding beauty contest primary. But the next weekend saw the one and only ever Wisconsin County Caucuses, won by stalwart Walter Mondale. After that the DNC felt it had proven its point and agreed to grant Wisconsin an exemption.

    And that's what all the leapfrog this year comes down to: proving a point. Who sets the nomination process - parties or states? The question is, who will prevail and what point will be proven?

    Wednesday, May 16, 2007

    Hillary's Playlist

    What, no Rage Against The Machine?

    I actually thought this was an Onionesque joke when it landed in the in box this afternoon - "Pick Hillary Clinton's campaign theme song?!?" But lo and behold, it's legit:

    Humor sells - witness the praise lavished on Bill Richardson's ads this week - and the video itself is a passable attempt at both viral campaign humor and I'm Just Regular Folks, Especially In Person (as we keep hearing, but as few non-Iowans will ever get a chance to experience). She even incorporates her own (in)famous vocals on the national anthem and solemnly pledges not to sing - but then fumbles at the end by adding an unnecessary "until I win" that weakens the punch line.

    Of course, the concept of "pick Hillary's theme song" presents endless humor possibilities, and you can insert your own punch lines.

    A musician only has to appeal to a niche, while a major league politician has to get to 50% or so. Cutting edge music should be challenging, and can often alienate or polarize audiences. This can be smart politics in the intellectual sense (see the collected lyric sheets of the Clash and Rage Against The Machine) but risky in the electoral sense. Even innocuous bland pop hits have the occasional lyric that can be parsed or taken out of context for unintentional humor. Or the artist has a controversial statement or lifestyle foible - musicians are good at those! - that you get attacked for. Or there's another song that you didn't even play at the rally and which you or your junior level staffer who actually picked the music has never heard of, and you get held liable for that too.

    If you try too hard you get caught looking phony, as when Jerry Brown dropped Midnight Oil lyrics into his speeches in 1992 without attribution. (Somehow, you got the idea that Jimmy Carter actually listened to Dylan.) And while artists lose a lot of control once music is released, they don't lose their voices and can bite back if they think you've misused their song. This most famously happened in `84 when the Reagan campaign mistook the grim lyric of "Born In The USA" for a rah-rah anthem and Bruce Springsteen, at the very top of his career arc, quite loudly corrected that interpretation.

    So we are left at rallies with bland cliches, and the list Hillary gives us to choose from is typical.

  • City of Blinding Lights - U2
  • Beautiful Day - U2

    I've been a U2 fan since "October" and even I never ever ever want to hear "Beautiful Day" at a political rally ever again. Some of Bono's "am I bugging you" speeches from "Rattle and Hum" would be fine; Bono in his self-righteous prime was a wonder to behold, singing about the Central America war and turning the spotlight right back on the audience. But instead we are offered the watered down and latter day version.

    Fortunately there's no John Mellencamp on this list. As progressive and as active as he has been, two or three of his songs are just so damn all-American that he's become a campaign trail cliche, killed by overplay just like "Stairway To Heaven."

  • Suddenly I See - KT Tunstall
    The sleeper of the bunch which means it's probably already been picked. (Update: Apparantly this song has some kind of "Devil Wears Prada" connection. Which still leaves me in the dark but at least explains it.)

  • I'm a Believer - Smash Mouth
    A cover of a song by a cartoon band (the Monkees) remade for a cartoon movie (Shrek). Should lock up the six year old vote (and perhaps their voting moms) in the summer of Shrek 3 marketing, but if movie marketing were a factor they could have gone with the Ramones version of the Spiderman theme. Of course that doesn't have the line "then I saw her face, now I'm a believer." And with that in mind...

  • Get Ready - The Temptations
    "Never met a girl that makes me feel the way that you do" indeed.

  • Ready to Run - Dixie Chicks
    While the political pun of the title is too corny, "Landslide" would have been even worse. At least this would have the advantage of pissing off Republicans. In fact, this may be one of the few things that could make Republicans hate Hillary even more.

  • Rock This Country! - Shania Twain
    I heard Robert John "Mutt" Lange's other proteges Def Leppard on the radio the other day and realized that if you twanged up the guitars and changed a couple gender pronouns you'd have Shania Twain. Now, if Lange (aka Mr. Twain) got her in the studio with AC/DC, that'd be really interesting. Anyway, she's Canadian and as for her singing, well... uh... she looks real purty in the videos.

    As we close out the southern state country music appeal department, why not go hell-bent alt-country and get Steve Earle on board?
    So come back Woody Guthrie
    Come back to us now
    Tear your eyes from paradise
    And rise again somehow
    If you run into Jesus
    Maybe he can help you out
    Come back Woody Guthrie to us now

    So come back, Emma Goldman
    Rise up, old Joe Hill
    The barracades are goin' up
    They cannot break our will
    Come back to us, Malcolm X
    And Martin Luther King
    We're marching into Selma
    As the bells of freedom ring

    Let's see: lifestyle foibles, controversial public statements, controversial songs... sorry, Steve, three strikes. Back to Hillary's playlist:

  • Right Here, Right Now - Jesus Jones
    Might have been kinda hip for the first Bill Clinton campaign. Actually, an ironic choice, since the context of "watching the world wake up from history" was all about the "end of history" that was in vogue for about a year as the Soviet Union collapsed. I think in this context "history" is vote-for-the-woman vote code for It's Time.

  • I'll Take You There - The Staple Singers
    I'm not going to say anything snarky about this damn fine soul classic. Just proves that you don't have to be cutting edge to be cool.

    So in my dream-world, filled with voters who are political versions of John Cusack and Jack Black in High Fidelity, what's my All Time Top Five list of Songs I Would Like To Hear At A Political Rally But Never Will?

    We'll start with the cynical:

  • "Elected" by Alice Cooper - wouldn't you respect someone who had the nerve to take the stage to "I wanna be elected"?
  • "Vote For Me" by Joe Walsh, the theme to his goofball 1980 run for vice president.
  • "Looking For The Next Best Thing" by Warren Zevon. The ultimate compromise song:

    Don Quixote had his windmills
    Ponce de Leon took his cruise
    Took Sinbad seven voyages
    To see that it was all a ruse

    (That's why I'm) Looking for the next best thing
    Looking for the next best thing
    I appreciate the best
    But I'm settling for less
    'Cause I'm looking for the next best thing

    More seriously, here's one that almost works:

  • "We'll Inherit The Earth" by the Replacements. From their slightly overproduced 1989 album "Don't Tell A Soul," this underrated song both expresses rage at the system and confidence in change:

    We can't hold our tongues at the top of our lungs

    We'll inherit the earth but don't tell anybody
    It's been ours since birth, and it's ours already

    But the top of my list is mimimalist. I'll immediately endorse any candidate who takes to the stage to the tune of...

    "New Day Rising" by Hüsker Dü. Recorded in the year of Reagan's Morning in America. Just the title phrase, screamed over and over and over again over Loud Fast Rules noise that would instantly alienate the 99.7% of voters who aren't fixated on `80s thrash punk... but what a noise, and just what we need: a new day rising.
  • Mayor's Bike Ride

    Mayor's Bike Ride

    Iowa City's Bikin' Mayor (see, he even has a sash so it must be official) Ross Wilburn led 200 cyclists Wednesday on Bike To Work Week's annual Mayor's Bike Ride.

    In brief bullhorn remarks before bikers left the Chauncey Swan ramp across from City Hall, Wilburn told the crowd that he hopes to see as many people at meetings when biking issues come before local government.

    Representing from the campaign trail were:

    The Edwards campaign, a Richardson staffer, and...

    Team Obama. County Supervisor Rod Sullivan said he'd ride with the Obama crew if "they slowed down to my speed." Also spotted with an Obama sticker was Coralville council member Tom Gill; Supervisor Terrence Neuzil was with the Edwards camp. Regenia Bailey from the Iowa City council stopped by, but she was Farmer's Market shopping rather than biking.

    These folks teamed up on the ride, but they were outdone by...

    this three man crew. (I think the guy in back was slacking.)

    A rare Iowa City sight: cars waiting for bikes! We had police escorts both in cars and on bikes (which had to be more pleasant duty than patrolling the Ped Mall for errant skateboarders).

    The low point of the ride was the hight point of the ride: the crest of the hill on Foster Road on the Peninsula. Just about everyone made it; photography gave me a nice excuse for a brief rest at the crest. (Most bikers kept a relaxed pace; my own ride was a bizarre, photography-driven mix of sprints and stops.)

    Senator Joe Bolkcom at the top of the hill. Before the ride he told the crowd that cycles have an important role to play in fighting climate change.

    It was all downhill from there, which if you're biking is a good thing. Past the dog park and...

    across the Iowa River Power Company bike and foot bridge into Coralville.

    At the end of the ride at Coralville's New Pioneer Co-Op, music and free bike fuel. No miles per gallon info available.

    The last word: A little hello to our four wheeled friends.

    Around The Interwebs

    Around The Interwebs

    A few items from the series of tubes this AM:

    Skipped the Faux News GOP debate last night; a quick skim tells me Huckabee zinged John Edwards and Rudy zinged Ron Paul.

  • From the right, Cyclone Conservatives looks at each contender and Sporer does a debate score card. Both of them score Huckabee and Giuliani on top. Cy hasn't reset his poll, which still shows a Ron Paul landslide.

  • Iowa Voice sums up all the national wingers so you and I don't have to.

  • Common Iowan looks in from the left.

  • The GOP is culling candidates a bit with no-chance businessman John Cox left out. The Republican field will probably thin faster than the Democrats because the August 11 buy-a-vote straw poll is a bigger event than the caucus itself. Looking back to the most recent contested GOP cycle, the summer 1999 straw poll winnowed out more candidates (Elizabeth Dole, Dan Quayle, and Pat Buchanan bolting to Reform) than the caucuses themselves (Orrin Hatch, as if that wasn’t obvious). I'd expect a similar number of candidates to drop out this August.

    Other subjects:

  • De facto Republican Joe Lieberman is hosting a fundraiser for official Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine, just after the Democrats have recruited Rep. Tom Allen to oppose her next year. Kos leads the chorus of blog anger.

  • Next door to Iowa we may see an open seat and special election in northeast Missouri as Swing State Report reports Rep. Kenny Hulshof is a finalist to be University of Missouri president. A tough district but it was long held by moderate Dem Harold Volkmer who fell to Hulshof in the massacre of `94. Hulshof won 61-36 last year with a lefty independent siphoning off 1%; Senate winner Claire McCaskill took 46% in the district.
  • Tuesday, May 15, 2007

    Falwell Dead

    Falwell Dead

    Jello Biafra said it best back in the day (NSFW alert):

    First hardcore punk record I ever got; this was the B side of the A Side with a title that began "Nazi Punks."

    "Planning a war with or without Iran." Damn. Still relevant.

    Vigil for COs

    Downtown Iowa City Vigil for Conscientious Objectors

    Twenty supporters braved the rain this noon for a silent ceremony honoring conscientious objectors.

    Jeff Cox speaking briefly before ten minutes of silence.

    Spokesperson Jeff Cox said the vigil, held at the Peace Pole outside the public library, was meant to:

    ...honor equally those who have refused to participate in any war in obedience to the commands of Christ, those who have followed the inner teaching of conscience, those who have refused to participate in an unjust war, and those who have simply recognized that war is the greatest evil known to humanity.

    Special mention was made of the 50,000 Americans who resisted the Vietnam War; Cox noted "there are no memorials to them."

    The crowd seemed evenly split between the Vietnam era and the Iraq II era. Among those present were Megan Felt and David Goodner, two of 11 people convicted of tresspassing yesterday for a sit-in at Chuck Grassley's Cedar Rapids office. After the rally, Goodner said the conviction is

    ...a sad comment on the state of democracy in our society when nonviolent peacemakers are considered criminals while people like Bush, Grassley, and the rest of the warmakers in our federal government commit war crimes and crimes against humanity yet go free.

    The judge chose law and order over justice.

    Sentencing on the misdemeanor chage is scheduled for July 6 in Linn County District Associate Court. Father Frank Cordaro of Des Moines, another of the eleven, said last night he anticipates time served (an overnight in jail) with perhaps a fine and court cost.