Saturday, April 28, 2012

Last Days of Roosevelt

A big date is coming up on our family calendar: May 30 is 6th grade graduation at Roosevelt elementary. We're excited that Hayden is making the big move to Northwest Junior High next year. Ethan has a big switch next year, too: his first year at school on his own, without big brother.

And it'll be a different school. As locals know, this is the last school year for Roosevelt Elementary. So Hayden is a small piece of Roosevelt history as a member of the very last 6th grade class.

It may have been a pragmatic decision for the school board, closing down an 81 year old school that was too expensive to upgrade, and building a nice new school on the west edge of the district for the rich kids.

But it's a tough blow for our working class Miller-Orchard neighborhood. We're home to about three dozen elementary age kids, just about a bus load. Quite a few of our families don't even have cars -- every time I drop the boys off at school I see cabs.

Koni and I considered moving because of the school closing, despite our love for this neighborhood and our immense back yard, one of the best kept secrets in town. We stayed but we're still trying to figure out how to juggle work schedules to get Ethan to school next year.

We're considered "too close" to our new elementary school, Horn, for a bus ride. And if you just measure the straight line distance, it's not far at 1.2 miles. The school district and bus company have determined that two miles is the bus radius.

But the trek takes a youngster up a very steep hill, past 11 huge blocks of apartments with busy driveways and occasional crime scene tape, along the busiest street on the west side. There's a sidewalk gap at the Benton Hill park. Estimates are it's a 25 minute walk each way for a grade schooler, in good weather.

The district does have some leeway "if hazardous conditions exist on the route." The most relevant ones relate to traffic: "number of lanes, speed limits and traffic volumes and patterns." Worth noting: with Roosevelt School going away, the school zone speed limit signs on the Benton Street hill go away, too.

The neighborhood is organizing. I saw two teams of doorknockers the other night, working my block and heading over to Douglass, the ovular loop between our house and Highway 1. They're urging neighbors and other concerned folks to contact the district; consider this my open letter. You took our school away, can't you at least help get our kids to the new one?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Obama in Iowa City 4/25/2012

A Botched Liveblog

Just enough feeble internet connection to keep giving me hope, not enough to do anything with it. Here's what I came up with.

10:52 and the Deeth Blog is finally on the air at the Field House. The past hour has been struggling with parking - there are no spots closer than my house so I'm on bike - and with technology. I'm still Oh-fer-infinite on successfully connecting a Linux box to UI wifi, so we're testing out the portable wifi hotspot capacity of my Android phone.

The band has just struck up in rousing C-SPAN marching band form; despite the young crowd and the student orientation of the speech we will not be Slow Jammin The News today thank you very much.

12:25 now and after a brief false alarm of connection, I've been grappling with technology for about an hour and a half. I was able to get the Gazette's Jenn Hemmingsen connected to my phone, but I can't connect.
The place had been jampacked since at least 11:15.  Local media (big L on our badges for Loser) is way in back but at least I got a good spot to see the stage. A few local politicos are near the back: Raj and Ravi Patel, Janelle Rettig, Dave Leshtz... and I get scooted away by a zealous local volunteer. At first I didn't realize she wasn't kidding... Other press reported the same issue. Seems this cluster of local politicos was right next to the space saved for CNN and CSPAN, so in our attempts to mingle with the locals we crossed the line that Must Not Be Crossed between local and national media.
Crowd for the most part it looks young, which of course is the idea today. There's a sitdown on the schedule with five lucky undergrads, and the focus of the speech is student loans. I liked it the first time I heard it... in North Carolina yesterday. And in Colorado last night, swing states all. The electoral college math is looking like Obama just needs a couple swing states to win, but Romney has to almost run the table.

But that youth demo is important. Obama needs Iowa, and to get Iowa he needs that high high young voter turnout (Johnson County: 70% Obama last time). And nothing fires up young voters like the excitement and hoopla of an in-person candidate visit, multiplied exponentially by POTUS status. The new to the process people like and expect the personal attention, unlike us jaded old-timers who know how lucky Iowa is... we're likely to see more presidential love as the year progresses.

The pep band has entertained us; I'm reminded of a James McMurtry line: “I can hear the marching band doing the best they can to play Smoke On The Water and Joy To The World” only in this case it's Tear The Roof Off The Sucka and the Time Warp. They really come to life on the Hawkeye fight song, though.

At 12:49 I get a brief false alarm of internet connection. Problems seems to be that I'm timing out before a page can load.

A roar of applause when a guy stands in at the presidential podium for a lighting check.  For some reason the Field House is Obama's fave IC location: a December 2007 pre-caucus visit, the health care victory lap in March 2010, now today. But the acoustics in the place are awful. (Heard a grumble from one of the locals about venue size as well: some folks didn't get in and us old timers all remember that Bill Clinton sold out Carver-Hawkeye in 1996. It would take work but Obama could too.) The place is a concrete bunker and even my 3G signal is weak. The Star Spangled Banner singer gets big cheers for going for, and successfully hitting, the high note in land of the freee-EEEEEEEEEE!

More Hawkeye gear than Obama gear today, and I think that's by design. This is after all a White House Trip, but the feel is Campaign except for the d├ęcor.  I think the band is trying to play Mellencamp's "R.O.C.K. In The USA" which was always my least favorite song on the Scarecrow album. Before you were born, most of the crowd...

The polling seems to show The Youth Vote not as in love with Barack as in 2008, but definitely not moving to Mitt.  So part  of this is a reconnect to the base thing, and again: the People's Republic=70% Obama.

The band stopped for a bit and the lack of music seems to be building the anbcticpation. 1:05 now and the scheduled speech time is 1:20. So most of the crowd has been standing two hours. The line was roughly three blocks long at 10:00 or so when I drove by; since there was no parking closer than home, I parked there and biked up. Band back in business, now repeating the set list.

Sally Mason gets intro'd to at first more boos than cheers (still mad about 21 bars, students?), but then the cheers overcome as enough folks realize "oh, crap, that'll be in the story." A quick crowd recon mission tells me this is about 95% young people here today. I can barely understand a word Mason is saying; “university” and “service” and “President Obama” pop out but no way to follow a sentence.

Pool report was filed from the sitdown with the five students at 12:59 so it won't be long. I'm picking up about every other word of Mason. There are a couple of sweet spots in the Field House where the acoustics work; I'm not in one.

The presidential seal has been affixed to the presidential podium (apologies to Paul Simon), known in the business as a “blue goose.” An attempt to get a U-S-A chant going fails. 1:17...

Dave Jacoby hustles in at 1:21. I'm spotting relatively few local politicos but that may be just my seats. (Later I spot Dave Loebsack and Tom Miller. Miller didn't have any more luck with parking than I did and was walking several blocks to downtown Iowa City.)

1:24 and national press rushes in. That means it's zero hour. UISG president gets the intro. Even less audible than Mason. Beatle-esque cheers for Obama. And much like the Beatles I can barely hear a word; can't wait to get the transcript so I can know what he said.

University of Iowa
Iowa City, Iowa
1:28 P.M. CDT
     THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, Hawkeyes!  (Applause.)  It is good to be back in Iowa!  (Applause.)  Can folks please give it up for Blake for that outstanding introduction?  (Applause.)  And I want to thank the University of Iowa Pep Band for firing everybody up. (Applause.) 
 There is some good hospitality here, and I should know.  I spent a little time here in Iowa, spent a little time here in Iowa City.  I’m glad that my hometown of Chicago will get to return the hospitality when your football team kicks off its season at Soldier Field.  (Applause.)
Thank God, no Bears reference. 
 I want to thank a couple guests -- first of all, your Congressman, Dave Loebsack, is here.  (Applause.)  Attorney General Tom Miller.  (Applause.)  State Treasurer Mike Fitzgerald.  (Applause.)  Your Mayor, Matt Hayek.  (Applause.)   The President of the University of Iowa, Sally Mason.  (Applause.)
He mispronounces Matt Hayek's last name which as an ex-Hayek supporter I fund amusing.

So I have come to the University of Iowa to talk a little bit about you and some of the issues you guys are dealing with every single day.  Now, I believe that college isn’t just the best investment that you can make in your future -- it’s the best investment you can make in your country’s future.  And I'm proud of all of you for making that investment -- because it’s never been more important.  (Applause.)

In today’s economy, there's no greater predictor of individual success than a good education.  That's at the top.  Right now, the unemployment rate for Americans with a college degree or more is about half the national average.  Their incomes are twice as high as those who don’t have a high school diploma. A higher education is the single clearest path to the middle class.

I know that those of you who are about to graduate are wondering what’s in store for your future -- because not even four years ago, just as the global economy was about to enter into freefall, you were still trying to find your way around campus, and now, four years later, you're looking at what it means when you leave this campus. 

The good news is, today our economy is recovering.  That's the good news.  (Applause.)  But I'll be honest with you.  It has not yet fully healed from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.  Our businesses have added more than 4 million jobs over the past two years.  (Applause.)  But there's still a lot of Americans who are out there looking for a job or at least finding a job that pays the bills and helps cover the mortgage.  There's still too many families who don't have that security, that basic middle-class security that started slipping away even before this crisis hit.

But what I want all of you to know is that the degree you earn from Iowa will be the best tool you have to achieve that basic American promise -- the idea that if you work hard, if you give it your all, if you're responsible, then you can do well enough to raise a family and own a home, send your own kids to college, put a little away for retirement.  It’s the idea that each generation is going to have a little more opportunity than the last.  (Applause.)  That’s at the heart of the American Dream. 

And I can tell you, as a parent now, when I see Malia and Sasha doing well, there's nothing more important to me.  And that’s true for American families everywhere, and it's the hope your parents have for you.  That’s the hope you'll have some day for your own kids.  And keeping that promise alive is the defining issue of our time.  I don’t want this a country -- I don’t want this to be a country where a shrinking number of people are doing really, really well, and then a growing number are barely able to get by.  I don’t want that future for you.  I don’t want it for my daughters.  I don’t want it for America.  (Applause.) 

I want this forever to be a country where everybody gets a fair shot, and everybody is doing their fair share, and everybody is playing by the same set of rules.  (Applause.)  That’s the America I know.  That’s the America I love.  And that’s the America within our reach if we work for it.  (Applause.)

And this is personal for me -- 

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  We love you, Barack!

THE PRESIDENT:  I love you back.  (Applause.)  I love you guys, and I believe in you guys -- that’s the most important thing.  I believe in you.  And I believe in your future.  (Applause.)
It wouldn't be an Iowa City Obama stop without a Love You Back.
 And I think about my own life.  My grandfather had the chance to go to college because this country decided that every returning veteran of World War II should be able to afford it through the GI Bill.  (Applause.)  My mom was a single mom -- my dad wasn't around -- and she raised two kids by herself with some help from my grandparents because she was able to get grants and work her way through school.  And I'm only here today, and Michelle is only where she is today, because scholarships and student loans gave us a shot at a great education.  That’s how we succeeded.  (Applause.)
 This country has always made a commitment to put a good education within the reach of everybody who's willing to work for it.  That’s part of what made us special.  That’s what kept us at the forefront of business and science and technology and medicine.  That’s a commitment that we need to reaffirm today.  
 Now, here's the challenge we've got.  Since most of you were born, tuition and fees at America’s colleges have more than doubled.  And that forces students like you to take out more loans and rack up more debt.  The average student who borrows to pay for college now graduates with about $25,000 in student loan debt.  And in this state, it’s even higher.  Americans now owe more on their student loans than they owe on credit cards.
 And living with that debt means you’ve got to make some pretty tough choices.  It might mean putting off buying a first home or chasing that great startup idea that you’ve got.  Maybe you’ll have to wait a little bit longer to start a family or save for retirement.  And when a big chunk of every paycheck goes towards loan debt, that’s not just tough on you, that’s not just tough on middle-class families -- that’s not good for our economy, because that money that could be going into businesses is going just to service debt.
 And as I said, this is personal for me.  I know something about this, because Michelle and I, we went through it.  And it wasn’t that long ago.  We’ve been in your shoes.  We didn’t come from wealthy families.  We needed loans and we needed grants to get our way through.  (Applause.)
 And that meant that when Michelle and I graduated from college and law school, we had a mountain of debt.  When we got married, we got poorer together.  (Laughter.)  So we combined our assets and they were zero.  (Laughter.)  Then we combined our liabilities and they were a lot.  (Laughter.)
1:36 and from what I'm hearing it IS the same as the NC speech, complete with the “we got poorer together” and “we just paid off our student loans” lines. I'm spotting national press checking their Facebook. Their headline is probably pre-written: PRESIDENT CONTINUES TO PRESS GOP ON STUDENT LOANS. The locals don't care--well, they do and they're largely in agreement but that's not the important part. The important part is he's HERE. Not in Berkley or Austin or any other college town in a safe blue or red state. Here in black and gold and very blue Iowa City in purple Iowa.

Once I'm reasonably sure it's the same speech, I give up on listening closely and focus on photography.
So we ended up paying more for our student loans in the first few years that we were married than we paid on our mortgage each month when we finally bought a small condo.  And we were lucky to land good jobs with a steady income, but we only finished paying off our student loans about eight years ago.  Think about that.  I’m the President of the United States -- (laughter) -- it was only about eight years ago that we finished paying off our student loans.  (Applause.)
 And let me tell you, it wasn’t easy making those payments, because once we had Malia and Sasha, we’re trying to save for their college education even as we’re paying off our own college educations. 
 So this is personal.  This is at the heart of who we are. We’ve got to make college more affordable for more young people. We can’t put the middle class at a disadvantage.  We can’t price out folks who are trying to make sure that they not only succeed for themselves but help the country succeed.  We can’t price the middle class out of a college education.  (Applause.)  We can’t do it -- especially when most new jobs in America will require more than a high school diploma.  Higher education whether it’s at a four-year institution or a two-year program at a community college -- it can’t be a luxury.  It’s an economic imperative every family in America should be able to afford.
 Before I came out here I had a chance to meet not just with Blake but with a number of other students, and we had a little roundtable.  And the stories they told me were so familiar.  One young man -- single mom, she had lost her job.  He was already about $30,000 in debt.  He was only halfway through here at University of Iowa.  Another young woman, her dad had been laid off at Maytag.  They were trying to figure out how to make ends meet.  She’s about to graduate.
Good local reference; lot of Maytag folks still haven't landed on their feet. (Only quibble with the student roundtable: five undergrads. Nothing wrong with undergrads, despite what the city council thinks, but a grad student at the table would have been good.)
 Now, what I told them is, you’re making the right decision, because over the lifetime of earnings you will more than earn back this investment you’re making.  But making it more affordable would sure help.  It would sure help.  (Applause.)
 Now, I’m going to have a specific request for you.  I’m going to need your help, Iowa, but let me briefly tell you what we’ve already done to try to make college more affordable, because I’m not just interested in talking the talk, I want to walk the walk.  (Applause.) 
 So before I took office, we had a student loan system where tens of billions of taxpayer dollars were going to banks who were the middlemen on the federal student loan program.  So they were getting billions of dollars in profits managing a loan program where they had no risk because it was all federally guaranteed loans.  So we changed that.
 And there were folks in Washington who fought tooth and nail to protect the status quo.  One of them said it would be "an outrage" to change the system where banks are managing this thing.  But the real outrage was letting them serve as middlemen and siphon off profits, while students were working two or three jobs just to get by.  So we kept at it, and we fought and we fought, and today we don't have middlemen.  That money is going directly where it should have been to -- the first place.  It’s going to help more young people afford college.  (Applause.)
 And then last fall, I acted to cap student loan payments faster, so that nearly 1.6 million students who make their payments on time only have to pay 10 percent of their monthly income toward loans once they graduate, which means if you decide to become a teacher or a social worker or a guidance counselor, something that doesn’t pay a lot of money, you can still afford to do it because you’ll never have to pay more than 10 percent of your income in order to stay current on your loan.  (Applause.) 
     And then we decided, you know what, you guys need more information about this whole process.  We want students to have access to a simple fact sheet on student loans and financial aid, so you can have all the information you need to make your own choices about how to pay for college.  So some of you know we set up this new Consumer Finance Protection Bureau to look out for consumers -- (applause) -- and so they’re now putting out a fact sheet called "Know Before You Owe."  Know before you owe -- which is something Michelle and I could have used when we were in your shoes.
 And then what we said was it’s not enough just to increase student aid.  We’ve also got to stop subsidizing skyrocketing tuition, or we’ll run out of money.  So the schools themselves have to keep their tuition lower.  (Applause.)  So we put out the challenge to colleges and universities.  And I’ve told Congress, steer federal aid to those schools that are doing a good job keeping tuition affordable and providing good value, and serving their students well.  And we’ve put colleges on notice:  If you can’t stop tuition from skyrocketing, the funding you get from taxpayers is going to go down.  We’re going to put money into the schools that are doing a better job.  (Applause.)  And we’re going to hold schools accountable. 
 Of course, as public universities like this one know, states and state legislatures also have to do their part by making higher education a higher priority in their budgets.  (Applause.) Last year, over 40 states cut their higher education spending. 
AUDIENCE:  Booo --
 THE PRESIDENT:  Yes, that’s not good.  These budget cuts are one of the biggest reasons why tuition goes up at public colleges and have been over the last decade.  So we’re challenging states: Take responsibility.  If you can find new ways to bring down the cost on college, make it easier for students to graduate, then we’ll help you do it at the federal level. 
So that’s what we’ve already done -- helped more families, more young people afford a higher education; offer incentives to states and colleges and universities to keep costs down.  That’s what we’ve been doing.  Now comes the tricky part -- we got to get Congress to do their part.  And that’s where you come in.  (Applause.)
There are a couple of things I’d like Congress to be doing this year.  First, they need to extend the tuition tax credit that we put in place when I first came into office, because it’s saving middle-class families thousands of dollars.  They get a tax break when they are helping their kids go to college.  That’s important.  (Applause.)
Second, we need Congress to safeguard aid for low-income students, so that today’s freshmen and sophomores know they’re going to be able to count on it.  We’ve got to make sure the Pell grants are there for people who need them.
Number three, we’ve got to give more young people the chance to earn their way through college by doubling the number of work/study jobs over the next five years.  That’s an achievable goal.  (Applause.)  And then most immediately -- and this is where I really need you guys -- Congress needs to act right now to prevent interest rates on federal student loans from shooting up and shaking you down.  That’s where you come in.  (Applause.) 
You see, five years ago, Congress cut the rates on federal student loans in half.  That was a good thing to do.  But on July 1st of this year, which means about two months from now, that rate cut will expire.  And if it expires, interest rates on these loans will double overnight.  And for each year that Congress doesn’t act, the average student with these loans will rack up an additional $1,000 in debt.  That’s basically a $1,000 tax hike on more than 7 million students around America, including 250,000 students right here in Iowa. 
 Now, let me see.  I’ll do a quick poll -- this may be unscientific.  How many people can afford to pay an extra $1,000 right now?
 THE PRESIDENT:  I don’t think so.  Stopping this from happening should be a no-brainer.  (Coughs.)  It makes me sick just thinking about it.  (Laughter and applause.)  Helping more young people afford college should be at the forefront of America’s agenda.  And it shouldn’t be a Republican or Democratic issue.  This is an American issue.  (Applause.)  The Stafford loans we’re talking about were named after a Republican senator; Pell grants named after a Democratic senator.  When Congress cut these rates five years ago, a majority of Democrats voted for it, but 77 Republicans in the House of Representatives voted for it too.
 Now, the good news is, the Senate introduced a bill last night that would keep student loan rates from doubling.  That’s the good news.  (Applause.)  And what’s also good news is some Republican senators look like they might support it.  And I’m ready to work with them to make it happen.  That’s good.  (Applause.)
 But I’ve got to tell you, the Republicans who run the House of Representatives have not yet said whether or not they’ll stop your rates from doubling.  And they’ve hinted that the only way they’d do it is if they cut things like aid for low-income students.  So let me scratch my head there for a second.  Think about that.  We’re going to help some students by messing with other students.  That’s not a good answer.  How many people think that’s a good answer?
 THE PRESIDENT:  No, I didn’t think so.  One of these members of Congress -- sometimes I like just getting these quotes, because I’m always interested in how folks talk about this issue. You’ve got one member of Congress who compared these student loans -- I’m not kidding here -- to a "stage-three cancer of socialism."
 AUDIENCE:  Booo --
That would be Todd Akin (R-MO). Worked better in North Carolina where they had a local loon to quote. The one time you really need Steve King, and he doesn't come through for ya.
 THE PRESIDENT:  Stage-three cancer?  (Laughter.)  I don’t know where to start.  What do you mean?  (Laughter.)  What are you talking about?  (Applause.)  Come on.  Just when you think you’ve heard it all in Washington, somebody comes up with a new way to go off the deep end.  (Laughter.) 
 And then, you’ve got the spokesman for the Speaker of the House who says, we’re -- meaning me, my administration -- we're just talking about student loans to distract people from the economy.  Now, think about that for a second.  Because these guys don’t get it -- this is the economy.  (Applause.)  This is the economy.  This is about your job security.  This is about your future.  If you do well, the economy does well.  This is about the economy.  (Applause.)
What economy are they talking about?  You are the economy.  If you’ve got skills, if you’ve got talents, if you’re starting a business, if companies are locating here in Iowa because it’s got a well-trained workforce, that’s the economy.  That’s how we’re going to compete.  Making sure our next generation earns the best education possible is exactly America’s business.  (Applause.)  Making sure that education is available to everybody and not just the few -- that is America’s business.  Our future depends on it. (Applause.)
  And then, some of them suggest that students like you have to pay more so we can help bring down the deficit.  Now, think about that.  These are the same folks who ran up the deficits for the last decade.  They voted to keep giving billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies to big oil companies who are raking in record profits.  They voted to let millionaires and billionaires keep paying lower tax rates than middle-class workers.  They voted to give folks like me, the wealthiest Americans, an average tax cut of at least $150,000 -- and that tax cut would be paid for by cutting things like education, and job training programs that give students and workers opportunities to get what they need to succeed.
 Now, does that make any sense?  Does that sound like folks who are really concerned with the deficit?
      AUDIENCE:  No!
      THE PRESIDENT:  How can we want to maintain tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans who don’t need them and weren’t even asking for them?  I don't need one.  I needed help back when I was your age.  I don't need help now.  (Applause.)  I don't need an extra thousand dollars or a few thousand dollars.  You do.
Pace and applause building...
We need to make sure everybody pays their fair share.  How can we continue to subsidize an oil industry that's making record profits instead of investing in things like clean energy that will help shape our future?  (Applause.)  Do we want to jack up interest rates on millions of students?  Or do we want to keep investing in the things that help us in the long term -- things like education and science, and a strong military, and care for our veterans?  Because we can’t have it both ways.  We can't do all things on the cheap. 
 And one thing I want to be clear about -- because when I talk like this, sometimes the other side, they get all hot and bothered, and they say, he’s getting -- he’s engaging in class warfare.  This isn’t about class warfare.  We want every American to succeed.  That's the point.  I want all of you to be rich.  (Applause.)  I want all of you to be successful.  We aspire to it.  That's what Americans do.  We work and we hustle, and we study, and we take risks -- to succeed.  And we don't expect a handout.  But we also understand we’re in this thing together, and America is not about just a few people doing well, it’s about everybody having a chance to do well.  That’s what the American Dream is all about.  (Applause.)
 You look at this auditorium -- everybody who's here, you’re here because somebody made a commitment to you.  First, your parents.  But it wasn’t just your parents -- the folks who decided, you know what, we’re going to set up a public university.  It was the folks who made a decision early on in this republic that said we believe that all men are created equal, that everybody is endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights -- those were commitments that were made by previous generations to future generations. 
 So somebody here had a parent or a grandparent who said, maybe I can’t go to college, but some day my son can.  (Applause.)  Maybe I can’t start my own business, but some day I can picture my daughter starting her own business.  Maybe I’m an immigrant, but I believe that this is the country, this is the place where no matter who you are, no matter what you look like, no matter where you come from, no matter what your last name is, you can make it if you try.  (Applause.)  That’s what we believe. (Applause.)
That is what we believe.  You and me, all of us -- we’re only here because someone, somewhere, felt a responsibility not just to themselves, but to this country’s future.  And now it’s our turn to be responsible.  Now it’s our turn to keep that promise alive.  That’s where I need your help. 
I’m asking everybody here, anybody who’s watching, anybody who’s following online -- send your member of Congress a message. Tell them you’re not going to set your sights lower.  Tell them you’re not going to settle for something less.  Call them, email them, write on their Facebook page, tweet.  (Laughter.)  We’ve got a hashtag -- #dontdoublemyrate.  (Laughter and applause.)  #Dontdoublemyrate.  #Dontdoublemyrate.  (Applause.)
  We asked students at North Carolina, then at University of Colorado to do this yesterday -- they got it trending worldwide for a while.  Let’s see if you guys can do even better.  (Applause.)  See how the Hawkeyes can do.  Because we’ve got to keep the heat on Congress until this gets done.  And I need your help to do it.  I need you to be heard.  I need you to be counted.
 Now is not the time to double the interest rates on our student loans.  Now is not the time to double interest rates.  Now is the time to double down on starting investments that build a strong and secure middle class.  Now is the time to double down on building an America that’s built to last. 
 If we work together, with clear eyes and a common purpose, I guarantee you we’ll meet our challenges.  We will rise to this moment.  And the reason I know that is because I believe in you. I believe in you.  (Applause.)  And it’s because of you that we will remind everybody just why it is that this is the greatest nation on Earth.
 Thank you, Iowa.  God bless you.  God bless the United States of America.
                    END               2:57 P.M. CDT
Cadence-wise it's vintage Obama, whipping the crowd up to an excited finish. By 2:06 he's done and gone. The handshake scrum puses oh so close to me, but there's a gulf of space between me on press side and the president on crowd side. That's OK, today wasn't for old guys like me anyway.

By 2:06 he appears to be gone.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Who Else? A Sunday Summary

Tickets for The Prez get handed out Monday at the IMU to UI students/faculty/staff; I'm hoping to attend in press mode. It's been writer's blocked week for the one with the beret, though I'm sure a presidential visit to my city Wednesday will shake me out of things long enough for a decent live blog.

For today, I've stolen the Kevin Hall format from TheIowaRepublican: a brief clip weekly summary with at least one music clip.

 Sounds like Republicans had an interesting district convention day yesterday. Bleeding Heartland has the big takeaway: no public supporters of de facto nominee Mitt Romney were elected. Register has details too. Also noted by many: only one woman elected out of 16 seats. Now who's got a war on women?

Put that together with Iowa's national committee members walking out of a Romney meet and greet rather than sign a public commitment to Romney pre-convention (Scheffler: "I will support the nominee when we have a nominee") and not a good week for Willard in Iowa. Sure, there may be Romney supporters among the members who didn't state their endorsement, but it's clear support for Romney was a definite negative yesterday. (Congrats to Johnson County GOP chair Bob Anderson, elected yesterday. Anderson maintained a stance of chair's neutrality through caucus season.)

Wonder how these splits are going to play out in all those contested primaries, now just six weeks away as the incumbents slog through at least another week in session? The Branstache made a big endorsement in one of those races: no-incumbent Senate District 6, where he's backing Carroll mayor Adam Schweers. Maybe BVP will jump in to endorse one of the other two Republicans out of spite. Next weekend Democrats have their congressional district conventions, in a more harmonious atmosphere.

Two Johnson County Democrats are running for national delegate slots next weekend at the 2nd District convention in Ft. Madison. Senator Bob Dvorsky came close at the state convention in 2008, but washed out sometime around 2 AM on what felt like an eighth ballot. That's a hint of how hard it is to win national delegate: "I have supported and worked hard for Democrats in Iowa for over 40 years. I was the first senator in Iowa to support Obama and will work hard to re-elect President Obama and Vice President Biden. I’ve never had the opportunity to serve as a national delegate."

Relative newcomer Tim Judd of North Liberty is taking a very different approach, running an aggressive, almost legislative style campaign, He's also running for national platform committee and state central committee.

Expect a gender-balanced state central committee and delegate slate: because the rules are written that way. It's separate elections for male seats and female seats.

It's unlikely that the uncommitted slate, which won 1.5% of caucus night delegates and was viablie at the Johnson County convention last month, will even come close to the 15% viability mark at any district, though they may have some platform influence.

But maybe not on drug law reform, as President Obama ruined 4/20 by backtracking on medical marijuana. It's an underrated issue that costs both parties handfuls of votes; I've always had a pet theory that one of the big parties could decimate the Greens and/or Libertarians just be coming out for the Peter Tosh platform.

Gary Johnson, the former New Mexico Republican governor now running as a Libertarian, sees the opening. One poll, which names him alongside Obama and Romney, shows Johnson a 6% with Obama 5 ahead of Romney. Johnson asks of Paul supporters: "Where do they go? I don’t think they end up voting for Mitt Romney or Barack Obama.”

Well, one other place they could go is to Virgil Goode, who won the Constitution Party nomination this wekend. It's the former Virginia congressman's FOURTH ballot label. He was first elected as probably the last old-school. Byrd machine style conservaDem in 1996, and made your average Blue Dog look like Dennis Kucinich. He won as an independent in 2000, then switched to the GOP until losing in 2008. The Constitution Party is a bit obscure but remember: Ron Paul, in a snit with 2008 Libertarian nominee Bob Barr, endorse the Constitution Party's Chuck Baldwin instead.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Seng Votes With Senate GOP

Congressional challenger Joe Seng was the ONLY Democrat to vote with Senate Republicans on a key, tied vote on a Republican proposal that would prohibit poor Iowans from having a taxpayer-paid abortion in cases of rape or incest. Other than Seng, the vote was entirely on party lines.

Opposing even rape-incest exceptions isn't exactly a way to win over voters in a Democratic primary, but this is the most visible Senator Doctor Seng has been since getting a mulligan on his ballot p. He didn't raise enough money to file a campaign finance report with the Federal Election Commission, and to the best of my googling ability doesn't even have a campaign web site. Makes me wonder even more who's behind this bizarre effort...

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Drug Tests for Child Support: A hundred kinds of wrong

I have three children. None of them have my DNA; I annexed them with my marriages. The word "step" is not in our family vocabulary, except when it's absolutely necessary to explain to outsiders the precise nature of our blended family. The genetics make no difference to me; I just say "I have three children." Two grade school sons, a young adult daughter -- and now a grandson.

The only difference for me is that sometimes, my wife and I need to deal with a man we variously call "the other daddy" or, when we're particularly annoyed, "the sperm donor." He walked out on Koni when the youngest boy (now almost ten) was just two. I met the youngest days after he turned four, when he was sad and angry and acting out. Out of the blue he would say in a heartbreaking voice "I miss my daddy." On one occasion he told his pre-school teacher his daddy was dead.

He has grown into a joyful and enthusiastic young man, and after one of the brief and rare visits from the other fellow he started calling me Daddy. I suppose that's fair, since I've now been in his life longer than the guy he now calls "Daddy Chuck."

My sons' biological father is a textbook deadbeat dad, connected with others of his kind who call themselves the "father's rights movement." I recognize their fingerprints all over the proposal, which the Iowa Senate wisely killed immediately, by Senator Mark "Chickenman" Chelgren (R-Ottumwa) to require drug testing of women receiving child support.

Receiving child support. That's -- kind of a moot question around our house.

There are so many things wrong with Chelgren's proposal that even though it died a quick death, the corpse should be kicked hard. I don't even know where to start (shouldn't it, uh, be the deadbeat dads getting tested first?) It's offensive enough that states are trying to link public assistance to drug testing. Add child support to that mix, and you're basically calling it "welfare." No. Child support is pretty much the opposite of welfare. It's two private individuals making the arrangements to use their money to provide for their children.

But again: we wouldn't know much about that.

The "father's rights" groups are a network for deadbeat dads to trade tips on how to dodge their responsibilities. They think of child support as "alimony" and they rationalize their abandonment of their children to one another. My wife's ex has used every trick in the book. He works at a series of short-term, traveling jobs, staying one step ahead of garnishment. His house, his cars, his boats, his gun collection, all in his second wife's name. She has a nice income as a certified public accountant that's "hers." Our lawyer tells us it'll be difficult to touch that money, but it may be possible.

It's pretty clear my wife's ex loves his toys more than he loves his boys. And since in many states compliance is measured in length of time without making a payment, there's a token amount about once a year. He's behind by more than I earned last year, a year when I had two jobs for a while to make ends meet.

One of our fellow Cub Scout moms had the same problem, an ex who was $40,000 behind. The guy offered a... "creative" sob story to the courts and got his obligation reduced to $100 a month. For three kids. And even that doesn't always arrive. She's not waiting for it. She went back to school, got a nursing license, and is taking care of things herself.

Not good enough for Senator Chickenman: she needs to pee in a cup.

Whenever Koni tries to communicate directly with her ex about the issue, she's met with a barrage of insults about incidents dating back to their failed marriage. A lot of marriages that end are abusive, and withholding child support is one more way to continue financial abuse even past the point when the marriage has ended. The attitude is clear: I shouldn't have to pay That Bitch any of "My" Money. As if the money was about her.

Oh, sure, he lavishes material attention on the boys during his three weeks a year. He makes sure they see him paying for the school clothes and toys, and the travel destinations are exciting. My wife and I take them to the grandparents, and quietly pay the rent and the bills however we can. I love my children with everything I have, but kids are expensive. We're always able to get the things they need, but we haven't always been able to take care of what they want. Wants are easy to cover for three weeks a year. But during the other 49, we're the ones who have to tell them no. And -- this is sometimes the hardest part of all -- we have to keep our mouths shut about why. (They're getting old enough to see through it.)

Things are a little better now, but there were too many payday loans, late fees and near-shutoffs to count. No complaints; that's what real daddies and mommies do. But there's a certain sacrifice of dignity in all these things, and now Mark Chelgren wants to add a guilty till proven innocent drug test to those indignities.

Koni has some more useful ideas:
I would love to see any deadbeat parents be forced to take "parenting" classes. If any parent wants to see their kids, but not provide for them financially, they obviously have something to learn about being a good-even great parent.

People have argued and insisted that jail is not fair and just. The reality is that most deadbeat parents aren't even trying to pay a regular monthly amount-deadbeat parents think that the custodial parent should pay for the bulk of the kids care, and they are getting away with it.

Most states require parents who are divorcing to take a class-"Children in the Middle." But they don't always enforce it and there aren't penalties for not attending. What we need is a required class for co-parenting and financial concerns post-divorce. Then if the deadbeat parents' ego is too big for them to attend a free class for the benefit of the children, steps should be taken to limit their exposure to their kids, or go to jail.
Go to jail. That's where this is eventually going to end for Koni's ex, and at that point his second wife will very quickly find the money that "just wasn't there" to get him out. Advice to others in our shoes: in some cases the bail can be set as some large percentage of the back bill, called a "purge payment." You may also want to look into public property records of the ex and of a new spouse or other relatives. In more and more states, those are public and on line.

In the meantime, we get the good stuff. We know our boys are happy and healthy and safe, and we enjoy the million little details. A small voice late in the evening asking "Daddy, can I have a glass of white milk?" Watching him have to duck to cut under the freezer door, when he used to be small enough to run under it without slowing down. Getting ready for our first season of junior high football.

My DNA may be a genetic dead end. But I'm a real daddy.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Mitt's SNL problem may be solved

How “Saturday Night Live” can hurt Mitt Romney, the Washington Post's Chris Cilizza posited over lunch today. The default show opener has been Mitt Romney, played by Jason Sudeikis, in a bunch of awkwards situations from debates to unfriendly dogs (you knew they'd pick on that) to this week's disconnected pandering:

Cilizza recommends damage control: "While Romney can’t control how they present him, he could take matters into his own hands and try to get on one or more of the shows. It’s always harder to make fun of someone who’s a good sport." I'll be honest, when the setting moved from the CSPAN podium to the stage, I almost expected the actual Romney to show up alongside Sudeikis and deliver the show's classic intro line... but instead we had Faux Romney botching the line as "Hey, New York, let's start the show."

Granted, this characterization isn't one for the ages. SNL spoiled us all last cycle, as Tina Fey's Sarah Palin may have been the most devastating comic characterization in TV history. I'll bet millions of people still think it was Palin herself who said "I can see Russia from my house." Still, it's still defining Romney as clueless, awkward and out of touch.

Romney may get lucky here. Sudeikis, who has a booming movie career, is widely expected to leave the SNL cast at season's end, taking his Romney and his Joe Biden with him. Perhaps he'll show up for a couple cameos; don't forget that Fey was a former SNL cast member when she protrayed Palin. In any case, I don't expect parodying Mitt Romney to be an important task in December anymore.

Now that I think of it, SNL viewers have only seen Fred Armisen's Brack Obama once all season. And if he's ever brought back, Armisen needs to get one part of the characterization down better: Obama laughs at his own jokes.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Sunday Clip Show

Haven't had the beret on much this week but I have lipped-n-saved a few things worth a comment or two.

  • Kathie Obradovich is out today with her rough equivalent of District Of The Day, looking just at the top races. A pretty good list, but she misses West Liberty Democrat Sara Sedlacek's strong challenge to House Ways and Means chair Tom Sands of Wapello in House 88.

  • Meanwhile leading House Republicans deny that they have, Kevin McCarthy's word, "epic" problems with primary challengers.

  • And in this redistricting-driven election cycle, it's important to remember how unusual the Iowa system is. Nicholas Stephanopulous writes:
    Most foreign observers consider it bizarre, even pathological. Compared to other countries with similar electoral systems, the American model of redistricting is an extreme outlier. And not only is the U.S. model different from its peers, it is also inferior. When it comes to elections, it’s clear that American exceptionalism is a vice, not a virtue.
    "Some people got no appreciation for art," said redistricting consultant Jerry Mandering.

  • Right wing think takers the American Legislative Exchange Council, better known by acronym ALEC, have been under fire this week for their hard-right draft legislation; they're the people who gave you Stand Your Ground and the Battle of Madison. Corporate sponsors Coke and Pepsi have pulled their sticky syrupy dollars, but now activists are targeting the legislators themselves. Progress Iowa offered a handy-dandy checklist of 21 Iowans... hey, what's Democrat Brian Quirk doing here?

  • Team Obama is hitting the state Tuesday with a set of a half-dozen youth-oriented events. The centerpieces is here in Iowa City with OFA's Mitch Stewart and Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement Kalpen Modi -- beter known to you as Kal Penn of Harold and Kumar fame. 5:00 Tuesday at the Sheraton.

  • And in case you've forgotten, another handy-dandy checklist of Obama accomplishments.
  • Thursday, April 05, 2012

    Geek Vs. Dork

    The most fundamental mistake one can make in politics is pretending to be someone you're not. Mitt Romney has struggled with this throughout his two presidential campaigns, from his classic rendition of "Who Let The Dogs Out" to his relating more to NASCAR owners than NASCAR fans.

    Romney must on some level realize that who he really is has some negatives. In the primary season, the reality of his efforts to govern Massachusetts with a solidly Democratic legislature were anathema to the fundamentalist, tea party mood of the Republican base. And as he shakes the Etch-A-Sketch for the general, his framework is still a corporate head-chopper of great inherited wealth.

    So how do you work with that? Mark Halperin writes (emphasis added):
    Romney's unending string of gaffes that reinforce his image as someone who is hopelessly out of touch with the real lives of real people."

    "Romney's prospects rely on two tracks: abandoning the effort to be likable and settling instead for awkwardly endearing (though his public image is a long way off from that) and using a series of upcoming framing speeches to condemn the Obama economic record.
    In other words, ROmney is trying to re-position himself on the nerdiness spectrum. Allow me to prove that I belong on this spectrum, too, by using a Venn diagram.

    Romney clearly belongs in the social ineptitude part of the diagram, and that image may be permanently cemented. And the perception that he will say or do anything to get elected also lands him in the obsession circle. Thus, Romney is defined as a dork. If he is able to make the social ineptitude somehow endearing, he may be able to land on nerd by fall. (Note that George W. Bush was outside all three circles and beating these guys up in gym class.)

    Barack Obama, in contast, is clearly a guy comfortable with who he is.

    He's been called a Vulcan more than once, and here is is living long and prospering with Classic Trek actress Nichelle Nichols. The intelligence-obsession combo clearly lands the president in the Geek Zone of our Venn Diagram.

    But the geek personality isn't as important as the fact that Obama embraces it rather than denying it. Even when Obama's policy negatives have climbed, polls have showed that his personal popularity has largely endured, outside the core of haters. That genuineness and authenticity that he projects is one of the keys. And in the fall, genuine vs. phony matters more than geek vs. dork.

    Monday, April 02, 2012

    Numbers That Mean Less Than You Think

    Iowa Republicans are spending the evening high-fiving one another over voter registration statistics. They've been doing this every month lately, as the Democratic lead that peaked after the 2008 caucuses dwindled.

    The celebrating is heartier than usual because the lines have crossed and yes, there are now more registered Rs than Ds in the state. New Chair AJ Spiker trumpets:
    “The failed policies of the Obama presidency and the Obama Democrats have opened the eyes of many voters to the benefits of the Republican Party ideals of lower taxes, less government intrusion, and the protection of individual liberty. More than 1 in 10 Democrats have fled the Iowa Democrat Party since Barack Obama was elected President, and today for the first time in years, there are more registered Republicans than Democrats."
    So that's the explanation Spiker imagines: "Gee, I hate Obamacare so much that I'm making a special trip down to my county courthouse to change parties."

    Well, that ain't how it works in the real world. People don't change affiliation to Make A Statement. Sure, it's been known to occur. But what usually happens is they change affiliation when they're required to in order to participate in a specific contest. Changing party is not like tattoo removal surgery; it's more like "I want a Republican ballot today."

    The Register inadvertently notes this:
    On Aug. 1, 2006, there were 606,168 active registered Democrats statewide and 590,165 Republicans. That was the first time Democrats had been ahead since 1994...
    1994. Sure, that was a huge GOP year. But more important to party registration numbers was the epic Republican governor primary between Terry Branstad and Fred Grandy, which set turnout records Branstad himself said would never be broken. In Johnson County, GOP registration leaped four percentage points in one day, and it took about six years, until the 2000 presidential election, to gradually return to its pre-`94 levels.

    That's because a lot of those people who intend to be a Party Member For A Day don't follow through until there's some other compelling reason to change. The Register continues:
    The year 2006 was when the Democrats took control of the Iowa Senate and Iowa House, and Democrat Chet Culver cruised to victory in the governor’s race.
    More significant than the general election zeitgeist of 2006: Democrats had a hot primary for governor between Chet Culver, Mike Blouin and Ed Fallon. Oh, and Sal Mohamed. But on the GOP side, Jim Nussle had engineered a leveraged buyout of primary opponent Bob Vander Plaats by making him the running mate. So the casual voters interested in influencing a contest became registered Democrats.

    Iowa's Democratic registration numbers in the immediate aftermath of the 2008 caucuses were artificially, unsustainably high. And since that date the Republicans have had two big contests to get people to switch over, while Democrats have had none.

    The sharpest shift in registration came in the high turnout, bitter aftermath 2010 Republican primary for governor. After four terms in office, Branstad was barely able to get half the vote, and Bob Vander Plaats never did endorse him. A much better drama than Roxanne Conlin vs. a couple also rans in a yawner Democratic senate primary.

    The intra-party battle of June, not the GOP victory of November, meant more to expanding Republican rolls on paper. In a sense, bragging about your registration gains is bragging about how divided you are. The best thing for Democratic registration stats would have been a primary challenger to Chet Culver.

    The 2012 Republican caucuses, with mass party-switching for Ron Paul and a dead heat result, also spiked GOP registrations compared to the Democrats, who had an "organizing opportunity" that attracted few but the faithful.

    In between these big primary and caucus spikes, the normal statistical trend is toward dis-affiliation or non-affiliation, as new voters not required to choose a party to participate in a specific race get registered and as those as those Party Members for a day get around to it. Since Democrats were at an all-time high, they've had more of those casual registrants to lose.

    The Register's Jennifer Jacobs makes the most valid point, tweeting: Each Iowa political group – Ds, Rs, independents - lost numbers between last month & this month, records show. Rs just loss fewer than Ds."

    That's because a lot of counties mailed new voter cards to all registered voters, listing their new post-redistricting precincts and legislative districts. Some of those cards get returned to auditors as undeliverable -- which means the voter gets put on an "inactive" status, which is a first step in the cancellation process. Democrats tend to be younger, tend to be more mobile, so they get more inactivations. Independents, even more so. Demographically, Republicans tend to be more situated -- and of course a lot of them had just freshened up their registration addresses on caucus night.

    None of this is to deny Republicans their moment of celebration or to say registration statistics are completely meaningless. But they don't mean as much over a short period of time as Iowa Republicans are pretending they do. You need to look back over longer time frames, like decades, so the statistical spikes of a specific primary or caucus even out. Iowa hasn't all of a sudden "turned Red" as Spiker headlines his release. We're as purple as we were last month and as purple as we were in 2000 and 2004.

    Sunday, April 01, 2012

    Four Score And Seven Vampires Ago

    If I had seen the trailer today instead of yesterday, I wouldn't have believed it. But apparently this is a real thing: Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter?!?

    This isn't a low-budget, Godzilla rubber-suit effort. No, it's a major Tim Burton epic. The book, it seems, was quite the hit a couple years ago. Spoiler alert, I guess:
    Lincoln and fellow vampire slayer William Seward are told that the vampires in the South intend to start a civil war so that they can conquer the north and enslave all humans of America. Lincoln is ordered to debate Stephen A. Douglas in what become known as the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Although Lincoln loses to Douglas (an ally of the Southern vampires), he gains a great deal of publicity and respect, which allows him to capture the Republican Party nomination for president and then the office itself.

    Lincoln's election triggers the secession of the southern states and the start of the American Civil War. Early battles, such as the First Battle of Bull Run go poorly for the Union troops after they are attacked by Confederate vampires...
    And John Wilkes Booth? Vampire.

    Most of the youngish crowd at The Hunger Games took the trailer in stride, but there were a few chuckles at the concept from some of us old timers. I, of course, thought it was the funniest high/low concept since Snakes On A Plane.

    There MUST be sequels. My top ten suggestions:

  • FDR Vampire Hunter: The Only Thing We Have To Fear Is Vampires Themselves

  • JFK Vampire Hunter: Ask Not What Vampires Can Do For You, Ask What You Can Do To Hunt Vampires

  • Richard Nixon Vampire Hunter: "People want to know if their president is a vampire. Well I'm not a vampire." (Followed quickly by the straight to home video Gerald Ford, Vampire Pardoner.)

  • Bill Clinton Vampire Hunter: I did not have sexual relations with that vampire

  • Andrew Jackson Vampire Hunter: I have had it with these M&@()#^F@)+ing vampires in the M&@()#^F@)+ing White House -oops, that's Samuel L. Jackson Vampire Hunter.

  • Transylvania is hiding weapons of mass destruction, says George W. Bush Vampire Hunter

  • Barack Obama Vampire Hunter: Yes We Can hunt some vampires

  • Ronald Reagan Vampire Hunter: Mr. Dracula, tear down this castle!

  • George H.W. Bush Vampire Hunter: Read My Lips, No New Vampires

  • Teddy Roosevelt, Vampire Hunter: Speak Softly And Carry A Big Stake