Monday, August 31, 2009

Proposed Federal Law May End Late Primaries

Proposed Federal Law May End September Primaries

Ballot Access News points us to a NYT piece that says pending legislation may put an end to September primaries.

The second Tuesday of September is school board election day in Iowa (only in odd years now), but it's also long been the second busiest day of the primary calendar for state and congressional races. Our neighbors in Wisconsin and Minnesota pick their nominees on this late date.

But Sen. Chuck Schumer tucked a provision into a defense bill to require states to mail general election ballots to overseas and military voters at least 45 days before a general election. New York State election officials say this means the primary will have to push back at least to the last week of August.

Iowa's been a June primary state since we started having primaries in 1908. We did September primaries in 1966 and 1968 and August 1 in 1972. The moves were due to the court-ordered redistricting battles of the era.

Growing up in Wisconsin September seemed really late for trying to get the party's act together after a primary. But that's not even the latest date; Hawaii has traditionally gone in late September and Florida has seen October runoffs.

My beef with Iowa's primary date is less about how early or late and more peculiar to my hometown: it tends to be either a week before summer classes start or the second day of class, and UIowa types (students, yes, but staff too) are out of the loop and either gone or just getting back. So the date sneaks up on people.

Of course, that's only my second biggest complaint about Iowa's primaries; blatant crossover by How Soon Can I Switch Back Republicans tops my list...

Media Monday

Media Monday

  • The latest journalism obit, this time from Mother Jones which posits the NPR pledge drive model:
    Many Mother Jones readers already help by writing checks beyond the price of a subscription; it's those checks­ that pay for our reporters and earn the attention of the Times and others who have spotlighted our reader-supported model as one promising avenue for journalism.

    What it's going to take is for many more Americans to decide that quality reporting—be it on local school boards or Iraq or climate negotiations—is as vital to their lives as box scores and celebrity spats.

    With print paper readers getting older and older, serhaps expanding the obituaries would be a good, if only stop-gap, move for newspapers. Of course, it has its limits; I used to work for a radio station that read obits on the noon news and the joke around town was that we were losing listeners as they died of old age.

  • While we're on the subject of obits, the Old Gray Lady looks at the Obama haters and the age gap.

  • Meanwhile, the mostly free craigslist is thriving and here's a look under the hood.

  • And has Facebook jumped the shark? Seriously, I'm not interested in your Farmville score...
  • Saturday, August 29, 2009

    University Heights election

    University Heights election looks hot

    University Heights, the geopolitical island on Iowa City's west side. looks to have its hottest city election in ages this fall.

    Development and re-development issues at the St. Andrews Church site and Olive Court, and apartment vs. home owner questions, seem to be driving the action. The neighborhood pot has also been stirred to some extent by the Roosevelt School closing.

    Incumbent mayor Louise From faces a challenge from former school board member Alan Leff, who was also the UHeights city attorney until recently.

    In the race for five two year council terms, all five incumbents - Andrew Dudler, David Giese, Stan Laverman, Brennan McGrath, and Amy Moore - are running again. Former council member Patricia Yeggy is attempting a comeback after two years off. The four first-time challengers are Zlatko Anguelov, Michael Haverkamp, David Pedersen and Larry Wilson.

    Friday, August 28, 2009

    Kanner Never A Student

    Kanner Never A Student

    Our first ever town vs. gown city election is already producing misleading information from official sources, as witnessed by today's Press-Citizen:
    City clerk Marian Karr said the most recent elected city councilors who were enrolled as UI students were Steven Kanner from 2000-03 and David Perret from 1976-1983.

    Registrars at both the University of Iowa and Kirkwood Community College report that Kanner was never a student, either during his campaign or council tenure.

    Kanner was 39 when elected in 1999 and was sworn in a week after his 40th birthday. Hardly the profile one thinks of when one thinks of "student." (Perret was 26 when first elected in 1975.)

    The "mistake" seems like a dog-whistle for the townies: Kanner, who won by only two votes in 1999, was widely portrayed as an uncooperative gadfly during his one term. (Disclaimer: I voted for him and helped on the campaign a bit.) Calling Kanner a "student" seems like an effort to tar 2009 student candidates Jared Bazzell, Jeff Shipley and Dan Tallon with a guilt by association brush. Why not just put up Dickens and Mims yard signs at City Hall?

    Thursday, August 27, 2009

    Iowa City Primary

    Looks Like Iowa City Has a Primary

    On deadline day a third student, Dan Tallon, filed for the at-large race, setting up a likely city-wide October 6 primary to eliminate one of the five candidates.

    I say "likely" because the city clerk is still checking signatures on Tallon's petitions, and if someone bails by Tuesday's drop-out deadline the primary gets nixed.

    Presumably townies Terry Dickens and Susan Mims will get through the primary, and it'll be one of the three students (Tallon, Jeff Shipley and Jared Bazzell) who gets knocked out. But that still sets up a town vs. gown November 3 election, which we've never had before.

    Tallon addressed the Council last month (page 49 of this 58 page pdf transcript) in opposition to the Field House liquor license denial (which passed unanimously).

    District B candidates Mark McCallum and incumbent Connie Champion go straight to the November ballot.

    University Heights barely dodges a primary with two candidates for mayor and ten for council. One more in either and they would have had their first primary in memory.

    Clips on Filing Deadline

    Clips on Filing Deadline

    While we wait for this afternoon's Iowa City filing deadline, here's some clips:

  • Not the Onion: Illinois Republicans forget flag, pledge allegiance to guy wearing flag shirt

  • Digby looks at Obama's left flank and sees Ralph Nader:
    Obama mobilized a whole lot of young people who have great expectations and disappointing them could lead to all sorts of unpleasant results. Success is about more than simply buying off some congressional liberals or pleasing the village. It's worth remembering that a third party run from the left is what created the conditions for eight long years of Republican governance that pretty much wrecked this country.

    After 2000, what is it going to take for the Democrats to realize that constantly using their base as a doormat is not a good idea? It only takes a few defections or enough people staying home to make a difference. And there are people on the left who have proven they're willing to do it. The Democrats are playing with fire if they think they don't have to deliver anything at all to their liberal base --- and abandoning the public option, particularly in light of what we already know about the bailouts and the side deals, may be what breaks the bond.

  • Nirvana's Krist Novoselic writes again on Washington's top two primary:
    Most people don't understand the merits of the latest court challenge. I found this out during my short-lived candidacy a few months back. People asked me about my protest, and I'd find myself explaining basic concepts on how the right of free association is derived from the First Amendment of the constitution and why it's important. Most people come around and agree, but some can't get past the antiquated notions of party members as "hacks" or "party bosses."

    Voters originally passed the top-two because they hated exclusive, pick-a-party primary ballots. Since then, most people haven't given the new election law and the legal trouble it's in much thought. Voters just want more choices. A simple way settle the court hassles, while preserving the wide-open choices in the primary, is to drop the "prefers party" business and instead have authentic party candidates on the ballot. And if you think those party candidates are hacks, don't vote for them. Under such a primary scheme, as I propose, you could vote for whomever you like.

  • The myth of saving the planet by unplugging your chargers - debunked.

  • Biden 2016!
  • Wednesday, August 26, 2009

    Kennedy first senator with web site

    Kennedy first senator with web site

    Via Reddit: The first member of Congress with a website was... Ted Kennedy. 1994:

    Champion, McCallum, Bazzell, Shipley File

    Iowa City Council: Champion, McCallum, Bazzell, Shipley File

    Developments in the Iowa City Council race the day before filing deadline: one expected, two not:

  • Two students get into the at large race: Jeff Shipley and Jared Bazzell filed.

    Bazzell has been involved with the James Gang community group, and Shipley is the current nonvoting "student liaison" to the city council.

    If the field stays is it is, it sets up two downtown business types (Terry Tickens and Susan Mims) vs. two students, and if all else is equal and until I learn more I'd lean towards the kids. We haven't had a student on the council since David Perret in the 70s and even he was a townie/student.

    Student campaigns have notoriously tanked in the recent past, whether from the right (John Lohman, 1997) or the left (Brian Davis, 2001; Rachel Hardesty 2003). None of them made it past the primary. But if there is no primary, we'll get to see how a student does in a city general election. Without the massive motivator of the 2007 21 bar measure, what happens to turnout?

    In my college towns in Wisconsin we had a true ward system with councils of a couple dozen members, and we always elected a student or three from an all-dorm district. Hmmm...

  • Connie Champion filed for re-election in District B. There had been retirement rumors after Mark McCallum announced his candidacy, but those didn't last long. McCallum has still not, months after announcing, opened a campaign finance committee, but he filed late Wednesday.

    Champion would be the first council member elected to a fourth term since Iowa City went to its current hybrid district/at-large system in 1975. Dee Vanderhoef tried for a fourth term in 2007 but lost.

  • If Iowa City winds up with no primary, it would be the first time since 1991 (and we had a school bond vote in October of that year anyway). But as of Tuesday afternoon University Heights, the other Johnson County city with a primary system, had two candidates for mayor and nine for five council seats. Three for mayor or 11 for council would mean a primary--and it's been at least 30 plus years since that's happened...
  • Harkin the Senior Junior Senator

    Harkin the Senior Junior Senator

    I can't add anything eloquent to the eulogies of Ted Kennedy. So I'll fall back on trivia.

    After 23 years John Kerry is the senior senator from Massachusetts. That makes Iowa's Tom Harkin, sworn in one day after Kerry, the junior senator with the highest seniority. Or the senior junior senator.

    At least until Grassley has to run next year.

    Technically, it's a tie, as Jay Rockefeller was sworn in the same day as Harkin. But Harkin's ex-House status outranks Rockefeller's ex-governor status. (Correction: Rockefeller got sworn in two weeks late in 1985, choosing to complete his term as governor. Either way Harkin's ahead.)

    So Iowa ranks near the top in collective seniority, but still far behind West Virginia with Rockefeller and all-time Senate longevity champ Robert Byrd.

    It's a far cry from Iowa's revolving door senator days of the 1970s, when retirements (Hickenlooper, Hughes) and defeats (Miller, Clark, Culver, Jepsen) saw no Iowa senator re-elected from 1966 to 1986.

    Tuesday, August 25, 2009

    School board lines shaping up

    School board lines shaping up in Johnson County

    School elections are harder to handicap than partisan general elections. Turnout is low, voter cues like party are absent, and factors like local geography play a bigger role.

    The September 8 school board election may also sneak up on people thanks to calendar quirks. It's immediately preceded by Hawkeye home opener weekend and Labor Day on Monday.

    In another complication the ballot for the Iowa City district includes two candidates -- Josh Kaine and Jeffrey Manthey -- who quit the race after the deadline.

    Geography may play a bigger role than usual in the Iowa City contest. Anne Johnson of North Liberty is campaigning on the third high school issue, and incumbent Mike Cooper is also from rural North Liberty.

    Despite the board's high profile decision to close Roosevelt Elementary after the 2010-11 school year (full disclosure: I'm a Roosevelt dad) no one from the Roosevelt parent's group emerged as a candidate. The only candidate identified with the older elementary schools is Sarah Swisher of the Longfellow neighborhood, and several of her signs have popped up near Roosevelt.

    Signs don't vote, goes the old saying, but a commonly seen cluster is Cooper, Johnson and April Armstrong. The three are also hosting at least one joint coffee.

    Partisanship may also play a role in the officially non-partisan election. Even mentioning affiliations in a non-partisan context is controversial. "It isn't the party that matters at the board level," writes mid-term board member Patti Fields, who's also an active Democrat. "It is about the work and dedication. Give me a candidate that represents more than one issue and understands the hard work involved."

    That said, it's no secret that Swisher is a former Johnson County Democratic Party chair. Tuyet Dorau has also had some Democratic involvement, though she's currently registered with no party (as is Johnson). Dorau was also seen working the crowd at Rep. Dave Loebsack's health care forum, which produced a Democratic-leaning crowd.

    Cooper, Armstrong, and Jean Jordison are registered Republicans, though none are highly identified with the local GOP (as was, for example, 2007 candidate Deb Thornton).

    Voters can vote for three candidates, but don't have to use all three choices, lending a "Survivor" aspect to the proceedings: a vote for your second or third choice could push your first choice to an off-the-island fourth place.

    Unlike the other Johnson County school districts, Clear Creek Amana has three separate contests this year for three seats. Elections almost always break out on Clear Creek vs. Amana lines, even 15 years after the two districts merged. It makes me wonder how my father-in-law, former CCA superintendent Bob Steele, ever managed to shoehorn the two districts together.

    District 2 incumbent Kathy Zimmerman won 97 percent in the Amana precinct last year, where she ran for a special one-year term as part of the transition to four year terms. And that 97 percent isn't unusual for Amana; I've seen 99 more than once. Zimmerman's opponent, Eileen Schmidt, ran last year for a different seat as a write-in, and won 82 percent in Tiffin despite not being on the ballot.

    Clear Creek Amana has often seen write-in campaigns, which usually play out below the radar. There will be at least one write-in winner: District 4 incumbent Mike Croco moved out of the school district and no one filed for the seat.

    At large CCA candidates Barbara Kounkel and Aimee Pitlick are both first-time contenders. Pitlick signs have popped up in the Tiffin and Oxford area.

    Solon has seen a series of high turnout elections in recent years after a battle over school library books that were seen by some as too gay-friendly. David Asprey almost defeated Dick Schwab in 2005, then won a seat in 2006. He's up again this year, along with his former campaign manager Lianne Westcot, who was appointed to the board last year after board member Ben Pardini's death. Schwab, meanwhile, is attempting a comeback after a year off the board.

    With four candidates in a vote for three contest, the Survivor aspect in Solon means people may vote to block--that is, vote for the three other candidates to prevent their least favorite candidate from winning. That may help the fourth candidate, Gene Lawson, who's not prominently identified with either side.

    Lone Tree is simple: Three seats, three incumbents running for re-election. Lone Tree has seen write-in races, but those were in city elections during a contentious era on the city council.

    The regional and partisan splits may ripple into the Kirkwood levy question. In the 2005 Solon contest, the Yes totals on a Kirkwood bond measure and a Solon school levy almost exactly mirrored Schwab's vote, while the No count lined up with Asprey's numbers. And if a partisan, tea party dynamic turns up in Iowa City, the mood may be reflected in the Kirkwood levy totals.

    Monday, August 24, 2009

    Mims Files for City Council

    Mims Files for Iowa City Council

    We knew this was on the way but former school board member Susan Mims has made it official and filed for Iowa City council. That brings the official at-large field to two for two seats, along with businessman Terry Dickens, with no more rumors in the air just three days before the filing deadline.

    Over in District B (basically everything east of Governor), we may see a race with Mark McCallum announced and incumbent Connie Champion reportedly running. But neither has filed yet.

    The Iowa City district system is convoluted; the whole city votes on the seat but the candidate has to live in the district. However, if there's a primary, only the district votes in the primary. Got it? It's also called a primary but it's not a party primary; still with me? I can think of a lot of other ways to do it: Partisan elections, a true district system... but for now this is what we've got.

    It'll take one more District B contender (assuming McCallum and Champion both file) or three more at large to trigger an October 6 primary. If the field stays this small, it would be the first city election since 1991 with no primary.

    So progressives, time to step up. I don't want to write myself in but given the city's current priorities I may have to.

    Iowa State Dumps Dorm Land Lines

    Iowa State Dumps Dorm Land Lines

    Which makes sense since I know no one under 30 who uses a land line, and that age line keeps creeping up.

    My first dorm phone number was one digit off Domino's. We used to take orders. The fun part was a half hour later when they'd call back and demand free pizza (this was back in the days of the 30 minute guarantee, before too many drivers got killed and the liability costs overtook the free pizza costs.)

    Linux Monday: The Economics of Free

    Linux Monday: The Economics of Free

    On the net, the default price is zero, and Linux and open source fit well into that ideology. Old media, not so much. Journalism and the music industry are struggling. They face much the same dilemma: when the product is free, how do you make money?

    Journalism is adapting from a pay model that's as old as the printing press, and digging in its heels with ridiculous plans like the Associated Press' scheme to charge bloggers $12.50 for a five word excerpt. And the music industry has yet to accept that recordings are no longer the money making product, but have become a promotional item that sells concert tickets and t-shirts. Instead, they prefer to sue their own customers.

    The Linux community, 18 years in, is dealing with the economics of free much better than the old media. In part that's because open-source has always been about free.

    "In the past, the media was a full-time job," says Wired editor Chris Anderson. "But maybe the media is going to be a part time job. Maybe media won't be a job at all, but will instead be a hobby." And indeed, that's how it started for me, as a just for giggles pastime that got serious and eventually (for a year and a half) turned into a paying gig.

    That's sort of how Linux grows and grows: a geek needs a driver for one odd piece or hardware, and learns some marketable skills in the process.

    But still, doesn't somebody have to feed the beast with some $$$ at some point?

    "Basically it's a sophisticated variation of a loss leader, like giving away razors so you can sell blades," writes R. McDougall at Climbing The Hill:
    No matter what you make, someone will always either manage to break it; or find some flaw they would like improvement in -- especially as time and market conditions change. So you sell support and contract upgrades.

    But since everyone else can just take a copy and distribute it themselves, won't you have endless competition?

    Well yes, but the hard truth is that's probably in your own long-term best interest. There is collective benefit to having competition.

    As the creator of the software you have competitive advantage amongst any pretenders; you know it best, and your superior skill will tend to win out in the end. So the only people you are really competing against are other experts.

    "Decide what it is you do that provides value to someone with money," McDougall concludes. It seems that if the main product is free, the money is in the niches.

    Which is part of why I believe that ultimately it will be political interest groups that finance journalism. Just as software has expanded from the either/or Mac/Windows "choice" to the plethora of Linux distributions, TV has expanded from the Big Three to hundreds of channels.

    That means there's no market for namby-pamby neutrality anymore. The indifferent and undecided aren't watching news at all anymore. Walter Cronkite's avuncular that's the way it is has been replaced by the open advocacy of Olbermann and Maddow, Limbaugh and O'Reilley. When they get the facts right, it still functions as journalism. It's still the traditional model of advertiser support, though the ads are more niche-oriented. But perhaps the model will shift to the more overt partisan press we see in other countries.

    That model it makes us, the sudience, do some of the work of weighing the competing ideas, just like we Linux users have to do a little of the work on our end. You may not have to compile the whole package, whether that package is a story or a program. But you'll be expected to play at least some active role and be informed about what you're using.

    Saturday, August 22, 2009

    Loebsack town hall

    Loebsack Iowa City town hall

    9:10 and after 45 mins of the UI wifi staring at me like a giant middle finger, I gave up so I'm on the phone. (The site was moved from the library to the UIowa campus because a bigger crowd was expected, but the UI campus is wifi-unfriendly to the general public, you need a university ID. A long time pet peeve.)

    The crowd is split but intermixed. The Dems have preprinted Obama font signs; some say THANK YOU

    The Rs are more handmade a big banner from the gallery says “it's not about health care, it's about govt control of your life”

    I count maybe 300 people so far

    Ed Flaherty has a GRASSLEY RETIRE sign

    One woman with a "Obama is not my doctor" shirt

    Crowd old by Iowa City standards (If you're coming here from outside Iowa: Iowa City is home to the University of Iowa, the ur-liberal college town. 70% for Obama last fall.)

    A lot of Dems wore their Obama campaign gear but no one in Loebsack gear.

    School candidate Tuyet Dorau here

    There's a small cluster of leading local Rs. Deb Thornton has an "unemployment, change is wonderful" sign.

    Some sign war in gallery, as Dems are seated near R banner.

    One R banner says “look up FASCISM in the dictionary” so we're officially in the over the top rhetorical zone.

    I'll go on a limb and say Dems outnumber Rs, but Rs disproportionately represented for Iowa City

    Loebsack staffer struggles with audio and says “we might not be able to please everyone.” Kind of a meta statement I think. Crowd decides they would prefer shouting to the sound system--again a meta statement...

    Loebsack introduced, far more cheers than boos.

    Loebsack asks for opinions and not just questions. holds up phone book sized bill.

    “I voted for HR 3200” (applause) and got an amendment on direct care workers underpaid and under appreciated

    “There's nothing partisan about preexisting conditions” applause

    caps on catastrophic (I think I typed that wrong and meant no) and real chance for uninsured to get insured

    Q and a starts. First woman wearing flag hat and is anti choice anti euthanasia. Scattered applause.

    Dave: nothing forces any provider to do abortion or provide any coverage. There's a lot out there about the bill that isn't true. Hyde amendment applies to this bill.

    Nothing in this bill applies to euthanasia (applause) Some politicians stoking those fires (not named)

    Crowd about 500, room full.

    Next ? preexisting conditions

    Dave: there is nothing in this bill that would stop you getting covered.

    Dave says bill won't kick in till 2013 but they are trying to speed it up.

    Next ? unfunded liabilities Medicare social security and prescription.

    I see Tom Fiegen here (US Senate candidate)

    ? becomes a deficit question, some shouting in response “have a heart” says one “get a job” in response.

    Dave says we'll fully pay for this deficit neutral; some scoffing from Rs.

    Dave notes he'll be a first time grandpa this fall.

    “I take responsibility for my spending votes we had to deal with the issues immediately” some shouts but I can't get details. (I'm seated first row)

    Dave "so far of the five forums I've had this one has had the least interruptions" audience applauds itself.

    next ? preventive care.

    Dave says its included and gets applause from Rs for phrase “personal responsibility”

    Single payer ? gets big applause.

    Dave says HR676 is Medicare for all (big applause) I'm a cosponsor. It's publicly funded private care

    Someone angrily yells "socialism!" and gets applause in a “that's a good thing” way. Welcome to Iowa City

    Dave says I can't tell you about the hypothetical “will I vote for 676” if it gets to floor … but again I'm a cosponsor. (Laughter)

    Question about insurance administrator salaries and suggestion to use use credit union as model.

    Paul McAndrew (politically prominent Dem attorney) gets random pick. (Questions have been written and names drawn at random, staffer brings mike to original questioner and lets them speak.) McAndrew: I can't afford to insure small business employees.

    Dave: Business will have to provide but smallest are exempt from having to cover. Level of exemption raised from 250k payroll to 500k. Small business owners tell me they want single payer (applause) that would level the playing field for them. Small biz can also get aid for part of costs.

    Shouters shushed down, they seem isolated. The conversation has never been stopped and Dave just rolls with it.

    Big applause at words “public option”

    “When I was elected I had a a choice of 12 or 14 health care plans. It's a good deal and I want everyone to have the same deal.”

    More shouting: “a bunch of professors have indoctrinated my daughter” from the same woman who shouted socialism

    Dave says co-ops still not well defined and I still have ?s.

    Shouting escalates a bit but none of it is coordinated, no chants etc

    Dave says there are three separate house bills multiple senate bills.

    Scattered boos at the name Grassley.

    Will the public option cover all?

    Dave: no coverage for illegal immigrants; applause from Rs but some Dems grumble.

    Dave: Congressional budget office estimates that by 2019 only 4% on public option consumer makes choice. Tax dollars start public option but after that premiums will pay.

    another wellness comment from audience

    Someone shouts "run against Grassley", so let's start that rumor.

    We have us a deather! Scattered applause and boos as he goes on. Dave and staff says let him finish.

    The guy goes on for quite some time audience gets impatient. It finally ends with how do you pay.

    Dave keeps composure and emphasized choices. “But I respectfully disagree that everyone will go on public plan.” The guy shouts “are u calling me a liar”

    Dave says this will not lead to rationing (applause) I won't vote for anything that'll lead to rationing or euthanasia and the President won't sign anything like that, that's not what's in here (applause and shouts)

    Last ? hospice care

    Audience member shouts “we want your health care,” which I think is what Dave said

    10:43 and done. Most of crowd stayed to end so a jam at exits; if there's a riot outside I don't know about it.

    Afterword: No riots seen on the way home. An aside to the UI tech staff: why do you let your wifi connect just enough to change my Windows configurations, but then lock me out at the end? If you're going to demand a password, ask for that first so I don't waste my time.

    Update: Gazette and PC say 700 people.

    Loebsack town hall

    see other post

    Friday, August 21, 2009

    Something to Braley rumors after all

    Something to those Braley rumors after all?

    Bruce Braley just happened to publish a Huffington Post piece ("Putting Party Before the People on Health Care") that just happened to get shared with the press list...

    No on 21 gets overseas attention

    No on 21 gets overseas attention

    After sitting through an hour and a half of jail discussion yesterday I stumbled onto this article from the UK's Economist:

    "Two local magistrates in South Carolina recently ruled that banning 18- to 20-year-olds from drinking or possessing alcohol is unconstitutional. Public officials, including the former attorney general of South Dakota, have called the 21 law a failure."

    Why can't our local officials step up (sorry for the reference) the same way? Hey, anybody wanna run for city council?

    Meanwhile the dorms cope by the just don't get it move of ... raising alcohol fines

    Thursday, August 20, 2009

    Swisher Wins City Fed Endorsement

    Swisher Wins City Fed Endorsement

    In a not surprising move, the Iowa City Federation of Labor endorsed Sarah Swisher for one of the three available Iowa City school board seats.

    Swisher, one of the founding leaders of SEIU Local 199, also co-chaired the 2003 Yes For Kids bond campaign. She stressed equity issues as one of her main reasons for running.

    “What we are is a segregated district in 2009 in liberal Johnson County,” she told delegates. You probably won't hear people using language like that because it makes people uncomfortable to talk about poverty and color, but it's very real and it isn't acceptable.”

    The labor group held out the possibility of a second endorsement for Tuyet Dorau, who also attended. A matter of a missing questionnaire (a prerequisite for any labor endorsement) held up final consideration.

    Surveys from North Liberty high school backer Anne Johnson and Weber PTO leader April Armstrong were considered and rejected. "I think there's only one person here who scored high enough to even consider," said City Fed president Pat Hughes after the surveys were discussed.

    Jean Jordison and incumbent Mike Cooper did not complete labor surveys. Josh Kaine and Jeff Manthey are on the ballot but have announced their withdrawal from the race.

    In other matters, the City Fed made plans for the Sept. 7 Labor Day Picnic and urged members to attend Rep. Dave Loebsack's Saturday forum.

    "I'm not too worried about Dave doing us wrong on either health care or the Employee Free Choice Act," said Hughes.

    Wednesday, August 19, 2009

    Wednesday Clips

    Wednesday Clips

  • Beloit College gets its annual moment in the sun as it publishes its "Mindset List" to remind old foger professors just how young the incoming freshman class is so they can update their pop culture references.

    This year's list seems more out of touch than past years, and fills too many spaces with variations on the fall of the Soviet Union. And Cobain goes unmentioned.

  • The Economist looks at the downside of the death of the land line:
    Landlines are the platform for many public services, such as emergency response. And taxes on landlines are the basis of the complex system of subsidies to ensure universal service, meaning an affordable phone line for all.

    The phone network is thus not just a technical infrastructure, but a socioeconomic one. The more Americans abandon it to go mobile-only or make phone calls over the internet, the more fragile it becomes: its high fixed costs have to be spread over ever fewer subscribers. If the telephone network in New York State were a stand-alone business, it would already be in bankruptcy.

  • Without acknowledging the many rational people of faith, Johann Hari blames the religious mindset, or perhaps the fundamentalist mindset, for the birthers and deathers:
    They are taught from a young age that it is good to have "faith" -- which is, by definition, a belief without any evidence to back it up. You don't have "faith" Australia exists, or fire burns: you have evidence. You only need "faith" to believe the untrue or unprovable. Indeed, they are taught that faith is the highest aspiration and most noble cause. Is it any surprise this then percolates into their political views? Faith-based thinking spreads and contaminates the rational.

    This kind of mania can't be co-opted: it can only by over-ruled. Sometimes in politics you will have enemies, and they must be democratically defeated. The political system cannot be gummed up by a need to reach out to the maddest people with the maddest fears.

  • Closer to home, we only have one Iowa City council candidate. Am I gonna have to do this myself?
  • Tuesday, August 18, 2009

    Loebsack revises town hall schedule

    Loebsack revises town hall schedule

    In general: same bat times, bigger bat locations. The Iowa City meeting moves to campus, so I may have to liveblog from the phone.

    Also checking my notes closer I see Dave as Iowa's only House cosponsor of HR676, the single payer bill.

    Here's the new schedule:

    Congressman Loebsack Announces Venue Change for Town Halls

    Congressman Loebsack has changed the venues for his Town Hall meetings to ensure that more individuals of Iowa’s Second District can attend the events and have their voices heard on issues of importance to them. The Congressman’s Town Hall scheduled in Tipton for this weekend has been postponed out of respect for the family, friends, and community members attending the funeral of Johnnie Behrle. The Congressman will reschedule this Town Hall meeting as soon as possible.

    Saturday, August 22
    9:30 - 10:30 Iowa City
    University of Iowa – MacBride Hall Auditorium
    **Location Change** 17 North Clinton Street

    1:00 – 2:00 Muscatine
    Muscatine High School Auditorium
    2705 Cedar Street

    4:00 – 5:00 Columbus Junction
    Columbus Community High School Gymnasium
    **Location Change**
    1004 Colton Street

    **Postponed** Tipton

    Saturday, August 29
    9:30 – 10:30 Washington
    Public Library
    120 East Main Street

    12:30 – 1:30 Fairfield
    Fairfield Arts & Civic Center - Expo Hall
    **Location Change**
    200 North Main Street

    2:30 – 3:30 Ottumwa
    Indian Hills Community College – St. John Auditorium
    **Location Change**
    525 Grandview

    4:30 – 5:30 Bloomfield
    Southern Iowa Electric Co-op
    **Location Change**
    22458 Highway 2

    Saturday, September 5
    10:30 – 11:30 Keosauqua
    Village Cup & Cakes
    220 Main Street

    1:30 – 2:30 Centerville
    City Council Chambers
    **Location Change**
    312 East Maple Street

    3:30 -4:30 Corydon
    Wayne County Hospital - Cafeteria
    417 South East Street

    Saturday, September 12
    2:00 – 3:00 Keokuk
    Public Library Round Room
    210 North Fifth Street

    Monday, August 17, 2009

    Senate looks like friends and neighbors

    Senate looks like friends and neighbors rather than Braley

    So the Politico thinks Bruce Braley might jump into the Senate race. Well, no guts no glory, but I'm not convinced. Like I keep saying, all his moves early this year -- his big role in Henry Waxman's overthrow of John Dingell at Energy and Commerce, his subsequent appointment to that same committee, and his Populist Caucus -- are Beltway moves, not home front moves, which tells me The Alliteratively Named One is gearing up for a long House career.

    Iowa Republican takes that Register puzzle piece of high name ID plus fundraising ability plus 75 percent likely and is fretting about Mike Blouin instead.

    Anyone thought about Vilsack? Not Tom: Christie.

    But let's assume the field stays where it is: Bob Krause and Tom Fiegen, with perennial Sal Mohamed thrown in for good measure. How does that shake out?

    There aren't a lot of benchmarks for Democratic Senate primaries in Iowa. The last one was in 1992. Jean Lloyd-Jones had a rough rollout that spring. Another legislator had an ethics issue and Jean was doing duty as Ethics Committee chair. In a low-information low-turnout primary all anyone remembered was "Jean Lloyd Jones" and "ethics" in the same sentence, and 40 percent voted for The Other One.

    That would be Rosanne Freeburg, who was one of the craziest candidates in recorded memory. No one is accusing either Krause or Fiegen of that. Sal, maybe, but believe me, Sal's a model of decorum compared to Grandma Goofy. I can't remember if Freeburg endorsed Perot before the primary or after, but she ran as an independent and, in an Everyone But Grassley debate, sang "God Bless America" in the place her closing statement should have gone. (That was a running joke between me and one of my Republican friends for years, and is an object lesson in the futility of the empty chair debate scenario.)

    So that's not a good example. The better antecedent may be the 1998 governor's primary. Neither Mark McCormick or Tom Vilsack were especially well-known at the time, and it shook out as a friends and neighbors contest. In places where one of the two was well-known, there were landslides. McCormick won big in Carroll and Ames, and narrowly in Polk County, but Vilsack rang up Kim Jong Il size landslides in his Senate district for a slim win.

    So who has friends and neighbors where? Krause is based out of Fairfield now, but his legislative district was in north central Iowa. He ran statewide for treasurer, but that was 31 years ago. Blouin took almost as long of a break between campaigns (1978 to 2006) and came in a close second in a three and a half way race. But two terms in Congress and high profile jobs after is more residual name ID than an unsuccessful down-ballot run.

    Fiegen is from Cedar County and practices law out of Cedar Rapids. The district where he won in 2000 ran east into Clinton and Scott counties and north into Jones. That's where he knocked off Senator For Life Jack Rife. The district he lost in 2002 (paired with Richard Drake in redistricting) and 2004 (when Drake stepped down and Jim Hahn went from House to Senate) ran south to Muscatine and just barely nicked Johnson. So basically everything between Iowa City-Cedar Rapids to the west and the Quad Cities to the east, and more recent service and candidacy.

    Another factor will be competing contests. With no primary challenges to the governor or congressional delegation on the horizon (but remember Ed Fallon started late against Boswell) and Dems still seeking candidates against Latham and King, it looks like the action will jump from Senate down to courthouse. And the Republicans will be staying in their own primary for once to vote for governor. A smart candidate will spend time in places that have high turnout local primaries. So we'll see you here in Johnson County--not a bad drive for either Krause or Fiegen.

    One caveat: The 1992 and 1998 races I cite were in the era when the internet was a mere novelty in politics. We had some email lists as far back as 1993 around here but that was cutting edge. Fiegen and Krause are both on the social networks, and one of them could catch on.

    Primaries are good things. Obama was a better general election candidate for having faced Hillary. And either Fiegen or Krause will earn some name ID out of a spring campaign. They've already benefited from the earliest start against Grassley in at least 20 years.

    Chuck Grassley has shown his true colors more in the last few weeks than he has in the last couple decades. The run against Grassley always used to be the benchmark test for the straight ticket D vote, but his health care stunts have given whatever opponent he gets a bit higher ground to start from.

    Sebelius: Surrender or Slip-Up?

    Sebelius: Surrender or Slip-Up?

    The buzz of the late weekend was HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius saying the public option was "is not an essential part" of reform. The administration quickly walked that back, saying she "misspoke."

    There's history of that, as least from my experience as this remark landed me at the top of Drudge for one wild afternoon. But maybe a Sebelius "misspeak" is like a Joe Biden misspeak: off-message, maybe, but not off base.

    Don't get me wrong, I agree with the good doctor Dean that "you can't really do health care reform without" public option. (I still wish Dean had HHS and Sebelius was back in Kansas getting her Senate run ready. That's three Senate races the president screwed with his cabinet: Kansas, Arizona, and us.)

    But it's quite possible that even with the biggest Democratic majorities in decades we still don't have the votes, thanks to Blue Dogs and insurance insustry bribery campaign contributions.

    Nate the Great at FiveThirtyEight Silver
    counts votes better than anyone this side of Sam Rayburn, and he's reached the acceptance stage of grieving (though he says he's only at bargaining):
    The fundamental accomplishments of a public option-less bill would be to (1) ensure that no American could be denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition or because they became sick; (2) subsidize health insurance coverage for millions of poor and middle-class Americans.

    These are major, major accomplishments. Arguably, they are accomplished at too great a cost. But let's look at it like this. The CBO estimates that the public option would save about $150 billion over the next ten years -- that's roughly $1,100 for every taxpayer. I'm certainly not thrilled to have to pay an additional $1,100 in taxes because some Blue Dog Democrats want to placate their friends in the insurance industry. But I think the good in this health care bill -- the move toward universal-ish coverage, the cost-control provisions -- is worth a heck of a lot more than $1,100.

    Universal-ish. Sounds a lot like truthiness to me.

    Rachel Maddow, on the other hand, is not so pleased:
    But ultimately, if the president decides that he's going to go with a reform effort that doesn't include a public option, what he will have done is spent a ton of political capital, riled up an incredibly angry right wing base who's been told that this is a plot to kill grandma, grandma, and he will have achieved something that doesn't change health care very much and that doesn't save us very much money and won't do very much for the American people. It's not a very good thing to spend a lot of political capital on.

    Silver holds out hope that, down the road, public option will be addressed as a stand-alone provision. But Ross Douthat looks at the demographics. I'm not convinced by or knowledgable enough to endorse everything he says about costs. But he's dead on with the politics and demographics:
    If the Democratic Party’s attempt at health care reform perishes, senior citizens will have done it in, not talk-radio listeners and Glenn Beck acolytes. It’s the skepticism of over-65 Americans that’s dragging support for reform southward. And it’s their opposition to cost-cutting that makes finding the money to pay for it so difficult.

    And if you think reform is tough today, just wait. We’re already practically a gerontocracy: Americans over 50 cast over 40 percent of the votes in the 2008 elections, and half the votes in the ’06 midterms. As the population ages — by 2030, there will be more Americans over 65 than under 18 — the power of the elderly and nearly elderly may become almost absolute.

    So that means... let's see, the first boomers are now 63, and the last boomers, which is me (December 1963) are 45... that means we either have to do it now or we have to wait until after I die. Which should be sometime around 2050, depending on... well, depending on what we get done about health care now, huh?

    In any case, I hope Sebelius really did misspeak rather than tipping the administration's hand. But in the context of our current health care debate, a Sebelius "misspeak" is better than a Palin-Grassley flat out lie.

    P.S. Two more reports on Dave Loebsack's forums -- one at Bleeding Heartland and one from the Burlington Hawkeye.

    Sunday, August 16, 2009

    Loebsack forum roundup

    Loebsack forum roundup

    I didn't get to any of Dave Loebsack's health care forums yesterday. There were four; the Register went to Mt. Pleasant but I can't find any coverage of Ft. Madison or Burlington. The weather forecast made me prioritize The Smallest Farm, which was a smart call as I watch it rain. And there's enough stops on this tour that Dave should print T-shirts, looks like a meeting in every county. So I'll put on the beret for next week's stop in Iowa City.

    Back when he was just a college professor with a beard and no chance, Loebsack was a single payer guy. H He now says he doesn’t want “something completely government-run,” but favors a public option, writes the Gazette.

    Any single payer vote in this congress is no more than symbolic, but I hope to see him on the side of symbolism. I expect that even if we get the best possible bill now, with some sort of public option, we'll be revisiting this yet again in 20 years and will finally get single payer then.

    As for the atmosphere, Lynda Waddington reports on one reform supporter being shoved to the floor by an opponent. Todd Versteegh Twitters the GOP tape. Multiple sources note Emma Nemecek's “Obama lies/Grandma dies” sign.

    From the in box, Kate COwles terrls the Johnson County DFA list:
    When the starting time came, a staffer asked that everyone begin by quietly introducing themselves to the people seated around them. Then she announced that after Dave made some opening remarks, the following procedure would be used: someone from the audience would randomly draw a question from a basket, and the person who had submitted the question would then be invited to ask it at a microphone. The audience would be asked to stay quiet while each question was asked and while Dave responded so that everyone could hear. They had clearly planned a strategy to maintain order and civility. I saw one policeman in the room; there may have been more.

    And Wendy Barth bemoans progressive timidity:
    I think it was pretty close to even, possibly 3:2 ratio of GOP to left. HOWEVER, the left is simply too damn polite to put these people in their place. We were sitting next to a woman who was assaulted by a man who was screaming in her face for 5 minutes before the event even started. She fell to the floor and I stood up and got Security to come over. They were both led out of the room and both came back a few minutes later.

    I felt totally snookered as a progressive. Here is Loebsack standing on stage defending a health bill that I think sucks eggs, but since I was sitting in a room full of belligerent animals screaming insults at him I found myself defending him from them.

    Friday, August 14, 2009

    National Notes

    National Notes

    Believe it or not it's getting late in the cycle for candidate recruitment. Swing State Project says Dems have candidates in 313 congressional districts. The goal of course is 435; the record is 425 in 2006. Still openings in Iowa 4 and 5...

    Kos diarist BENAWU lists 300 districts with GOP candidates. Bruce Braley is as yet unopposed.

    Senate Guru looks at a guy Iowa Democrats know well and says that despite poor polls, Chris Dodd will be re-elected.

    Not even close: Last week I wondered wither six appointee senators at once was a record. Even geekier than me Ken Rudin has the answer: at one point in late 1946, thirteen appointees were serving (of a then only 96 member Senate). Only four of them managed to get elected, though some didn't run and two self-appointed governors (which is where this tangent started with the Charlie Crist situation) lost primaries.

    And Beam Me Up: Jim Traficant is getting out of jail.

    Thursday, August 13, 2009

    Leach sworn in at Humanities

    Leach sworn in at Humanities

    It's official: Jim Leach has been sworn in as chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities. NYT has more.

    Latham Worst At Progressive Punch

    Latham Worst At Progressive Punch

    By at least one measure, Tom Latham is the worst member of Congress.

    Watchdog group Progressive Punch has released its yardsticks, and measuring member voter scores vs. voting behavior of the district, Latham ranks number 434, with one seat vacant.

    While Steve King is considered Iowa's arch-conservative based on his rhetoric, in a highly polarized House Latham's actual voting record is very similar. Latham ranks below Steve King because the 4th district is labeled as "leaning Democratic" based on Barack Obama's narrow win, while King's 5th CD is safely Republican. So Latham ranks 77 points worse than his district for a last-place rank.

    Progressive Punch is notoriously tough; Dennis Kucinich gets a three star "acceptable" rating. All five Iowa members get a one star "intolerable," but the distinctions are clear. Dave Loebsack and Bruce Braley switch places depending on the measure, but on lifetime balance they're near the high end for non-big city districts. Leonard Boswell has been improving but still ranks near the low end of northern Democrats.

    Wednesday, August 12, 2009

    Bob Krause on Maddow

    Bob Krause on Maddow

    Senate candidate Bob Krause just did three or four minutes on Rachel Maddow, talking about the deathers and Chuck Grassley. Video: be warned there was a technical glitch and there was this bizarre half-black screen and mirror image letter thing going on. Krause starts at 4:07 in.

    Meanwhile Krause has a primary. Maybe Rachel has a couple minutes for Tom Fiegen too?

    Who knows: could health care make one of these guys the Elwyn Tinklenburg (Mele Bachman's 2008 opponent) of 2010, a netroots money sensation? Depends on if Grassley gets caught in the backlash.

    Health Care: Debating the Irrational

    Health Care: Debating the Irrational
    Or: Barack Obama and Barnyard Animals

    I've learned the hard way over the years that it's impossible to debate with an irrational person. That's the dilemma health care advocates face when dealing with the town hall mobs. However, I've also learned the hard way that comparing rhetorical styles is dangerous, because one is accused of comparing ideologies. (That's why I no longer write about a certain foreign policy issue.)

    But it's hard to watch the health care mobs without being reminded of the protests in the dying days of official segregation, especially when it's coexisting with the more clearly racially driven birther fantasy. (The real losers here are responsible conservatives with legitimate concerns about health care, lumped now into the crazy category).

    The racial subtext is accompanied by polls like the one at which notes that in overwhelmingly Republican Utah, only 13% of Republicans buy into the birther myths. But in Virginia and North Carolina, states that Obama won that have large black populations, that figure is more like half. Conservatives in whitest Utah are just as conservative as white Southerners but don't feel as threatened by the black neighborhood across town. Clearly there's subset of Americans -- older, more southern, and more conservative -- that are on some level uncomfortable with a black president.

    But despite the rhetorical overlap, and in many cases the overlapping individuals, they're different issues. The birthers are clearly delusional, but there are rational reasons to oppose health care reform. Problem is, those tend to be self-serving, such as "I'm the CEO of a drug company and I want to keep making obscene profits," but at least that's rational. But the truth is too blatant and risks engagement. So the self-interested health care opponents are hiding behind the irrational because they know you can't argue with a crazy person without looking foolish for even trying.

    The segregationists, of course, had no shame, which had the side effect of making them more open about their arguments. So let's turn it on its head and look at how the health care mobs are different than the segregationists.

    First and most sadly, in their time and place the segregationist mobs too often represented a majority, or at least a local white majority. And they often had local authority behind them. That governor in the schoolhouse door, the sheriff with the hoses, they were elected. On the other hand, while we can argue about the specifics, there's a clear majority consensus that health care is broken and needs fixing.

    The segregationists also had a viewpoint and a plan, even though it amounted to little more than rejecting the premise and defending the status quo. One can imagine a dialogue:
    Freedom Rider: I am equal.

    Segregationist. No you're not.

    No real progress, but at least you agreed that you were talking about the same thing. Compare that to:

    Obama: "In the wealthiest nation on Earth, 46 million of our fellow citizens have no insurance coverage. They are just vulnerable. If something happens, they go bankrupt, or they don't get the appropriate and adequate health care they need."

    Health care mob: Hitler!

    Obama: WTF?

    The health care opponents don't even bother defending the status quo. They're just the No nothings. The segregationists were screaming no to things that were actually happening, trying to stop action, while the health care mobs are just trying to stop discussion.

    Imaginary dialog:
    Segregationist: No, I don't want my kid to go to school with Them.

    Supreme Court: Yes, that is exactly what Brown says will happen.

    Segregationist: No, I don't want Them to vote.

    LBJ: Yes, that is exactly what the Voting Rights Act will do.

    Compare that to:
    Palin: Obama wants to kill my baby.

    Obama: WTF?

    It's an old political adage, which I first heard in an LBJ joke. It's a close election in Texas and LBJ tells someone, probably John Connally, that they should start a rumor that the other candidate likes the sows in the barn a little too much.
    Connally: "Jesus Christ, Lyndon! We can't get away with calling him a pig-f****r!"

    LBJ: "I know. But let's make the SOB deny it."

    And that's what they're doing: Calling Obama a pigf****r and making him deny it. "Under the reform we're proposing, if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor," the President said yesterday. "If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan. You will not be waiting in any lines. This is not about putting the government in charge of your health insurance." In this statement, the lines are the pig, the government is the sheep, and choosing your doctor is the goat.

    Tuesday, August 11, 2009

    Tuesday's Clips

    Tuesday's Clips

    With the kids out of town for the week you'd think I'd be writing more. But we're in the middle of the annual Clean-a-thon. Anyway here's the clips:

  • Douglas Burns and Craig Robinson have both top ten listed the GOP field for 2012. Most intriguing pick: Burns puts Jeb Bush at #2 on the GOP side. (Don't laugh: Doug was the only guy on the planet who correctly predicted Palin...)

  • Whoever the GOP does pick, and despite all the health care noice, they're up against a president who has net plus approval ratings in every state and is only below 50 percent in Alaska and Wyoming.

  • "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread," wrote Anatole France, and Brabara Ehrenreich says that's our guiding principle today: making it illegal to be poor.

  • Karma of the week: "Idiot Protests Socialized Health Care and Then Has To Beg For Money To Pay Medical Bills."
  • Monday, August 10, 2009

    Linux Monday: Updating the Old Boxes

    Linux Monday: Updating the Old Boxes

    It's been a while since I've had a Linux Monday post; as with the lack of garden posts it's been a matter of more doing and less writing.

    We're just finished with curb-shopping season in Iowa City, and between scrounging and Freecycle I put together three more bootable machines. I also stripped for parts and unloaded seven more machines that had cluttered the basement, mostly of a Pentium II 400 vintage.

    How many computers is too many? According to me, I have a 16 port hub and I still have slots left, and hey, I shut a couple down with the thermonuclear temperatures of the past weekend. (When I close the office door it gets noticeably warmer. CPU's generate heat and that's why server rooms are air conditioned.)

    According to my wife it's some number less than what we have running now:

  • My good dual core laptop: technically a dual boot but almost exclusively in Ubuntu. I last actually used Windows on it in maybe... January? When I boot Windows, alll I do is... update Windows.
  • The old laptop, now in use by my wife and still on XP
  • Her old machine (2 GHz, XP) in use by one kid
  • A 1.4 gig machine running Qimo Linux for Kids that the other son uses
  • A 2 GHz Ubuntu machine that I use to test stuff on before I try it on the good laptop
  • A varying constellation of other Linux boxes used to play with distributions and detect space aliens.

    The ultimate goal, I keep telling my wife, is giving some of these away, which I've actually done once. I'd also like to set up a house-wide network with a server and firewall.

    I've got some Pentium III's running at 866 MHz and 1 gig. Those would crawl and stall in Vista but are nice and snappy in Ubuntu. But if all you're doing is searching for space aliens, you don't need a big, desktop-oriented setup.

    The flexibility of Linux means you can install a full-featured desktop, or a minimalist system. SETI@Home is all about the CPU speed, but with a low-resource distribution, that old machine is using less of its CPU to run itself and more of its CPU to detect aliens.

    The slowest machine I have up is a Celeron 700 that's running Puppy Linux. It seems to be really sturdy, and it's an old-style horizontal (as opposed to tower) case that physically fits into an odd nook. It went 57 days without a restart until I bumped the power cord. I originally had Damn Small Linux on this but Puppy was friendlier to my relative newbie skills.

    Even though Puppy is nice and reliable, there's a couple quirks. I need to manually reconnect to the net and manually mount the hard drive each time I restart. (You can save sessions to a removable drive, but with two months between restarts I just haven't bothered.)

    You can also take a full-feature distribution and tweak it for low resources. My basic setup for the the 866 and 1 gig machines is:

    1) a standard Ubuntu install
    2) run the Update Manager to get all the latest fixes
    3) SETI@home setup, and
    4) Fluxbox, a minimal desktop manager.

    This gives me options: All the bells and whistles of the full-featured distribution when I want it, low-resource speed when I need it. You can choose between Fluxbox and another desktop manager at login. Ubuntu's default is called GNOME; xfce and KDE are also popular. Each gives your desktop a different look and feel.

    The Fluxbox look and feel is very Smell The Glove: It's like, how much more black could this be? And the answer is none. None more black.

    To get anywhere you right-click anywhere and you get the menus. You can do some text-edit voodoo to customize them, but I haven't needed to. If you've installed Ubuntu and then add Fluxbox, all the programs appear on the menus. However, even though you see them, (such as GNOME Terminal) don't seem to respond to the Fluxbox menu. And when I open Nautilus, GNOME's file manager, then close it, my right-click menu is either gone or buried and I can't get anywhere.

    But I've also fired up Firefox and browsed away. The fonts are a little simpler but everything seems to work.

    I've also tried Blackbox, Flux's ancestor, as well. That works in a very similar fashion and is supposed to be a little bit lighter-weight. But I had trouble with it on one machine and it called up only a very limited menu.

    But if I had found Crunchbang first I might not have taken the standard Ubuntu plus Blackbox approach. #! is one of many Ubuntu-based distributions and works a lot like what I did on my own: a Blackbox-style right-click menu.

    Crunchbang, geekily abbreviated #!, is one of many Ubuntu-based distributions (such as Qimo and Linux Mint) Libe other minimal distros, #! is designed to boot from a CD or flash drive and load the whole system in RAM. That makes the minimalist distros ideal for system recovery, which is how most people use them.

    You could also do a full install of #!, but I just checked out the live CD. Unlike stright Ubuntu, which makes you take one extra step to enable proprietary media formats like Flash and .mp3, #! takes the Linux Mint approach and supports them from the get-go. Took me about 30 seconds to figure out how to connect the wifi and I was surfing.

    #! generally includes lighter weight applications that Ubuntu: smaller media players, Abiword for word processing instead of Open Office. It also has a lot of keyboard shortcuts and has a vibe of steering you to the command line.

    So I may do a full #! install on one of these old machines... but first I need a nice scientific organized system to determine speed and help me figure out which ones to shut off. What I should be doing, of course, is just booting to the command line and detecting aliens from there. But I'm not that geeky... yet.
  • Friday, August 07, 2009

    Kaine Quits School Board Race

    Kaine Quits IC School Board Race

    From the in box, Josh Kaine is out:
    After meeting with my campaign committee and looking closely at the shape of the school board election, I have decided to withdraw from the race. While I feel strongly about the issues that will face our next school board, I have personal and professional commitments that must take precedence over the time and energy needed to campaign. I wish the best of luck to the other candidates and for the next school board-- your work will not be easy.

    It's past the dropout deadline so he stays on the ballot.

    Governors Who Self-Appoint Lose

    Governors Who Appoint Themselves to Senate Lose

    Florida Sen. Mel Martinez, just a day after voting Yes on Sotomayor, pulls a Palin and resigns. It's not a total shock as he long ago announced he wasn't running; one possible angle is he's looking at the presidency of Florida State.

    Fellow Republican Gov. Charlie Crist is already up and running for the seat. Q: Why not give yourself a year's head start? A: Because you will LOSE.

    NPR's Ken Rudin looked at this the day after Rod Blagojevich was arrested, as we were speculating that with nothing to lose he might just appoint himself to the Obama seat. He lists nine self-appointees in the era of popular election to the Senate. "Only one was able to win a subsequent election on his own. Kentucky Gov. Albert B. "Happy" Chandler (D), who came to the Senate in 1939, won in a special election in 1940 and again in 1942."

    The last to try was Minnesota's Wendell Anderson in 1976 when Walter Mondale became vice president. I grew up on the border and I still remember the ads about his attendance: "Wendell Anderson appointed himself to the Senate then didn't show up for work."

    "They're still calling that 1978 election the 'Minnesota Massacre,'" writes Rudin. "Republican Rudy Boschwitz trounced Sen. Anderson in November. Gov. Perpich lost his bid for a full term to GOP Congressman Al Quie. And in the race for the other Senate seat — a special election necessitated by the death of Hubert Humphrey — the Democrats carved each other up in the primary and the seat went to Republican Dave Durenberger."

    Charlie Crist is one of the smarter Republicans around these days. He won't set himself up for the bashing a self-appointment would bring. He'll find himself a loyal, Ted Kaufmann style place-holder.

    I don't know the modern record for number of appointed senators sitting at once, but this will make five and we could get up to six if Kay Bailey Hutchison follows through on her will-she-or-won't-she resignation to run for governor. (Texas has a hybrid system: immediate appointment followed by hurry-up special election).

    And saddest of all: if he missed a vote on a Supreme Court nominee, Ted Kennedy must be in worse shape than we thought.

    Friday clips

    Friday clips

    You got a live blog last night so I'm slacking this morning:

  • Obama's popularity slip is mostly people who didn't back him in the first place, says Tom Jensen at Public Policy Polling:
    Some people who didn't vote for Obama may have expressed approval for him in the early days of his term because they felt like they needed to give a new President a chance, but the reality is that Obama is setting out to do what he said he was going to do when he got elected, so if you didn't like what you heard last fall you inevitably were going to end up not liking what you heard when he started governing. The higher levels of approval he initially showed, particularly from Republicans, were inevitable going to fall.

  • At Kos thereisnospoon argues, "Republicans will vote for the final bill because they can't afford to be seen as obstructing on healthcare reform." But I don't buy it; they're about the base and the base is more in the place Craig Robinson describes at Iowa Republican:
    If Grassley takes a strong, principled stand against Obama’s healthcare proposal similar to the one he took against Judge Sotomayor or his recent statement about former President Bill Clinton’s visit to North Korea, Grassley will be able to put all of this behind him quickly. However, if he ignores the loud and constant pleas from the Republican faithful begging him to just say no to Obama’s health care proposal, he should expect nothing less than a stiff primary challenge.

  • Ron Gunzburger at Politics1 (one of the oldest and best political sites dating back to 19freakin97) gives us a great Godfather analogy: "Substitute the Senate Republicans for the Barzini family, and sub in Max Baucus for Sallie Tessio, and, well ... you get my view of what Baucus is doing to health care reform."

    And though Gunzburger specifically opts against this outcome, we all know what happened to Tessio:

    Notice how the likeable Tessio dies offscreen, while rat-bastard Carlo is slowly garrotted kicking and thrashing on-screen. For the record, Abe Vigoda is still alive.

  • Closer to home, Karen Kubby looks back at the glory days of 1993-95 when progressives were one vote short of Iowa City council control. Is ANYBODY gonna run for this thing, or am I gonna have to do it myself? Filing starts Monday...
  • Thursday, August 06, 2009

    Johnson Couny Dems: August

    Johnson County Dems: August

    It's the first Thursday again and the elected official quotient is higher this month that in recent times: Bailey, Harney, Lensing, Bolkcom, Jacoby, Dvorsky, Sullivan, and candidates Rettig and Swisher.

    The BBQ date is set for Saturday 10/24 in Hills. We'll have Neuzil pork so it's an official BBQ, in addition to other goodies.

    Caucuses will be more or less clustered to about a dozen centers for the 57 precincts.

    While we stuff a mailing, Joe Bolkcom is gonna talk health care. Meanwhile, Janelle Rettig is handing out invites to her kickoff event: Wed. 8/19 5-7 at the Legion.

    Bolkcom says we've made good progress in Iowa on kids health care with HAWK-I. "Iowa is seen as a leader across the country in health reform. But the challenge is we have about 300,000 Iowans who don't have coverage. Most of them just can't afford it. 80% of them work one or more jobs. That's why it's so important to make progress at the federal level. We really need a public health insurance option."

    "The principles of the president's plan : Lower cost, preserve choice, improve access, increase quality." Get out and show support because calls are running against. "We think Senator Grassley has stopped listening to Iowans. We hope to go to a lot of his town meetings."

    Bolkcom doesn't think it's worth pursuing without public option. "The status quo is quite expensive. The public option is the fundamental change that is going to drive reform. I'd like to see single payer, but that really isn't in the debate now."

    "Voters trust Democrats on this issue and we need to deliver by the end of this year." Bolkcom's got a meeting:
    Joe invited you to "Iowa City Health Care Town Hall" on Tuesday, August 18 at

    Event: Iowa City Health Care Town Hall
    What: Informational Meeting
    Host: Joe Bolkcom
    Start Time: Tuesday, August 18 at 7:00pm
    End Time: Tuesday, August 18 at 8:00pm
    Where: Iowa City Public Library, Room A

    "I suspect mostly people who want constructive will be there," he says as an audience member mutters "tea party freaks."

    "Are the blue dogs selling us down the river?" Joe: "This bill will go to conference committee and I'm hopeful that whoever's on the conference committee has the president's goals in mind and the outlier ideas fall away. Democrats have to have this bill. The moment is now to drive this thing home."

    "I don't believe the president is in favor of taxing present employer provided benefits."

    My Twitter is blocked here at the school district.

    Team Loebsack will be having town halls as well; Iowa City is 8/22 at 10 AM at the library. Full schedule (will clean up spacing later):
    August 15th

    9:30 AM Cedar Rapids
    343 Cedar Hall, Kirkwood Community College
    6301 Kirkwood Blvd. SW

    12:00 PM Mount Pleasant
    Civic Center
    307 East Monroe Street

    2:00 PM Fort Madison
    City Hall Council Chambers
    811 Avenue E

    3:30 PM Burlington
    City Hall Council Chambers
    400 Washington Street

    August 22nd

    10:00 AM Iowa City
    Public Library
    123 S. Linn St.

    11:45 AM Tipton
    Cedar County Extension
    107 Cedar Street

    2:00 PM Muscatine
    City Hall Council Chambers
    215 Sycamore Street

    4:00 PM Columbus Junction
    City Hall Council Chambers
    232 2nd Street

    August 29th

    10:30 AM Washington
    Public Library
    120 East Main Street

    1:00 PM Fairfield
    Fairfield Public Library
    104 W. Adams St.

    2:30 PM Ottumwa
    Ottumwa Public Library
    102 W. Fourth

    4:15 PM Bloomfield
    Bloomfield- Davis County Hospital
    509 N. Madison

    September 12th
    2:00 PM Keokuk
    Public Library Round Room
    210 North 5th Street

    Robin Roseman will take over 2nd vice chair from the departed James Moody. It's a contested race at candidate development. While votes are counted, Ruth Spinks gets elected membership chair. Brad Selken wins candidate development and I'm pulled back in at data.

    Mike Carberry announces I-RENEW Sustainabilty Expo Sept. 12-13 in Norway (Iowa not Scandinavia.)

    Brad Selken talks Repower Iowa doorknock weekend of 8/28-30 and phone efforts.

    Al Bohanan of West Branch promos the August 15th 2nd CD Dems workshop in West Liberty.

    Rod Sullivan: "We can't let legitimate concerns be couched in the terms of racism. Stand up to it and speak out."

    Ed Flaherty notes tomorrow's anniversary of the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, 45 years ago. "It was based on lies and pretense, we know that know," and draws analogy to October `02 Iraq vote.

    Paul Deaton notes today is Hiroshima day. "As late as when I was in the service this was still a real issue being dealt with in the military."

    Matt Beltrami is the new Organizing For America... organizer.

    Bob Dvorsky among several others plugs Curt Hanson ("a solid guy'), Sotomayor, and notes that yesterday's Cedar Rapids health forum drew all of six teabaggers. And that's it from here.

    Sotomayor Confirmed

    Sotomayor Confirmed 68-31

    "My prediction (May 28): a 69 to 29 roll call. Dems lose one vote, either Kennedy or Franken, to absence. GOP loses one vote: by the time it gets to the floor Jim Bunning will have been forced out of his re-election race and will quit coming to work just to spite Mitch McConnell."

    Update with roll call details via The Hill:
    Nine of the 40 Senate Republicans voted for Sotomayor: Sens. George Voinovich (Ohio), Judd Gregg (N.H.), Kit Bond (Mo.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Susan Collins (Maine), Olympia Snowe (Maine), Mel Martinez (Fla.), Richard Lugar (Ind.) and Lamar Alexander (Tenn.). Bond and Martinez are not seeking reelection.

    Neither are Voinovich and Gregg. I called all the retirees as yes and I gave Sotomayor "two of three wild cards" -- Alexander, Graham and Kay Bailey Hutchison. I was wrong on Orrin Hatch. I was right in predicting Jim Bunning's retirement but wrong in calling him a no show.

    Dems were as I predicted unanimous with Kennedy absent.

    Seinfeld wins 90s Poll

    Seinfeld wins 90s Poll, Branstad Far Behind

    One of the shortcomings about my polls is that I never set a cutoff date. But votes have slowed to a trickle and in one sense at least the verdict is certain:

    Terry Branstad, the former Iowa governor on the (maybe) comeback trail, may have done well in Iowa Republican's poll, but he lost this one by a country mile, way down with the Hammer pants and the late unlamented 5 1/4 inch floppy (360k is about 20 seconds of an MP3).

    So it's not Stop! Terry Time. What did come out on top? We have a three-way split near the top:

    Chinese Democracy notwithstanding, a return of the original Guns N' Roses lineup finishes third.

    (Technically this is `88 but that's still the middle of Branstad's second term.)

    The amazing thing is that all of the original five members are still alive, though Celebrity Rehab fans know Steven Adler is a mess. (You know you've got problems when you're kicked out for being too much of a junkie for Slash.) With Scott Wieland out, Velvet Revolver needs a new singer...\

    Second place is (was) my hair. I was prepared to post old pictures if I won. Too late.

    But the clear master of my domain is a Seinfeld comeback. Sorry, Terry: my readers say no soup for you.

    Wednesday, August 05, 2009

    Bike Ban: Culture War on the County Road

    Bike Ban: Culture War on the County Road

    The "Citizens for Safety Coalition of Iowa" (sic) (CSCI) effort to ban bikes from Iowa's rural roads is about more than the accidents and the liability costs. It's an interesting bank shot in the culture war.

    Sure, there are legitimate worries about bike vs. car safety. Though as a biker who's been hit (just a bruise), drivers need to worry more about liability while bikers have to worry about death.

    But that's not why this is being pushed right now. Bikes are a cultural symbol with a lot of connotations. And it's the connotations that are unpopular with older rural voters--also not coincidentally one of the few remaining groups that leans Republican.

    This culture war rhetoric goes unspoken in the "Safety Coalition" rhetoric. It doesn't need to be said. It's there between the lines. Bikers, mostly city folk riding out from the city then back, smell of the environmentalist, the do-gooders who gave us lower speed limits, smoke-free taverns and want to ban meat. (Tangent: my pet conspiracy theory is that PETA is secretly bankrolled by anti-environmentalists because their tactics and extremism give everyone green a bad name.)

    Machismo plays its part too. Rural culture is a motor culture of trucks and tractors. A recreational vehicle is a camper or a four wheeler, and fresh air and the great outdoors is hunting. And bike clothes tend to be just a little bright and tight and, well, you know, flamboyant. Definitely not camouflage or even blaze orange.

    One of the comments from the CSCI site Ed Fallon shares is telling: "I know I looked forward to turning 16 and being able to drive so I'd NEVER have to use a bike again!" To a lot of people, a bicycle is still seen as a child's toy, not a legitimate means of transportation or adult recreation.

    Rural distances play a role. As a seven-year bike commuter I've found that, over short distances like a mile or two, the bike is actually the fastest door-to-door commute, once you take parking time into account. But once you leave the stop and go traffic and get out on the highway, you're at a disadvantage. Rural distances, even on the Lone Tree to Iowa City scale, are such that people assume every endeavor involves a car, and a mile behind a biker is a couple extra minutes.

    And that's why there's nothing bikers can do to make rural motor culture happy. No safety training, licensing, or fees will help. No millions of dollars brought into the state by RAGBRAI will satisfy. To make the pickup truckers happy, bikers will need to go 60 MPH, and even Lance on the Tour de France is going about 25.

    It seems CSCI literally wants bikes to go away, or at best back to the playground. And conservatives want this to be a rural-urban wedge. The petitions, ostensibly for a constitutional amendment, are in no way binding since Iowa does not have initiative. And nothing will get to the floor--Gronstal and Murphy will see to that for one thing, and anti-bike rage isn't a front-burner issue for most folks yet.

    This is designed to throw at a handful of rural Democratic legislators, perhaps by setting up a procedural vote roll call that'll be featured in a mailing. "John Deeth" (hey, I ran in a rural district, and they didn't like bikes, as witnessed by that dead-end trail at Conesville)-- "John Deeth voted for big city bike riders (not bikers, that's reserved for Harley riders) over family farmers," it'll say, and they'll have my picture with infamous cyclists Joe Bolkcom and Ed Fallon.

    Remember the periodic attempts to legalize dove hunting and portray a no vote as anti-gun? Watch for a day wasted on the bike ban about next March (silly season at the legislature) and the mailers in October. I'll bet my Trek on it.

    Tuesday, August 04, 2009

    Critter Catastrophe on Smallest Farm

    Critter Catastrophe on Smallest Farm

    Koni: "I saw that gopher again today and he's the fattest gopher ever." That's probably because he, or someone, harvested the Smallest Farm's corn crop before Farmer John could! All that was left of the first batch was broken stalks and some half-gnawed ears.

    Hayden has a solution:

    Once upon a time a beaver ticked off John. So John used C-4 explosives to kill it.* But it didn't work.

    So he called Sarah Palin. She shot it like it was a moose and she got in a helicopter and flew away. The End.

    I swear to god that, verbatim, is what my nine year old wrote. There's some dispute as to whether the critter is a gopher or a beaver.

    * Have I mentioned that the boys have seen Caddyshack?

    Tuesday Links

    Obama Confesses: Not Born In USA!

  • Happy birthday to the president: The birthers have the details wrong, but Obama finally confesses!

  • Health care advocates, be ready for your congressional town meeting when (if) there's an August recess "district work period." The Teabaggers have their marching orders. I'm a free speech absolutist, of course, but in Pete Visclosky's Indiana district some simple steps let everyone get heard without a riot. The important part is BE THERE.

  • Whose fault is the Great Depression of Journalism? Why, Harry Potter's, of course:
    Researchers first studied quotes from the first six books regarding the media, and based on the overall categorization of those quotes, they determined the three main frames in which media is viewed: Government Control of Journalism, Misleading Journalism, and Unethical Means of Gathering Information. Based on these frames, researchers argue the Harry Potter series does not put the media in a positive light. Because of this, children could potentially perceive the news media in general as untrustworthy and controlled by the government.
  • Monday, August 03, 2009

    Fong has Campus Campaign Plan

    Christian Fong, Big Man On Campus

    O. Kay notes that GOP governor hopeful Christian Fong has recruited campus coordinators at 10 Iowa colleges.

    He'd better have an absentee strategy, then. Iowa's early June primary is at about as student unfriendly a time as possible--almost as bad as a Jan. 3 caucus.

    Branstad Gives Me a 90s Flashback

    Things To Bring Back From The Early 90s

    Early August is the anniversary of my move to Iowa, 19 years now. Back then I had hair and was occasionally teased for an extremely slight resemblance to the then-governor.

    This year I'm greeted by a deja vu to that era, as Terry Branstad takes a look at the comeback trail. (Aside: That era was my first career as a journalist and I talked to many of the leading Republicans. Grassley, Leach, Lightfoot and Nussle were all generous with their time... but we had a hell of a time getting Team Branstad to call back.)

    I can't decide what I miss most from that era so I'll let you the readers help. (Write-ins welcome in comments.)

    What Should We Bring Back From The Early 90s?
    Terry Branstad
    Hammer Pants
    The Berlin Wall
    Newt Gingrich oh, wait, he's already back
    5 1/4 inch floppy disk
    Guns N' Roses Original Lineup
    Nicole Brown Simpson
    Deeth's Hair
    Free polls from