Tag Archives: election

Amy Asks for Fence-Sitters to Commit


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Local TV camera operator at Amy Klobuchar event in Cedar Rapids Jan. 3.

Is Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) surging in Iowa?

I don’t know, although she did well in a recent debate, which helps her. And I saw her in person here today in downtown Cedar Rapids at a campaign rally.

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Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, speaks.

Complete sentences. Intelligence. Humor. A comforting Midwestern drawl. She seems such a sharp contrast with the current occupant of the White House. And so, I’m ready to commit. I’ll caucus for Amy Klobuchar at my local party meeting as Iowa again goes first in 2020 in the presidential sweepstakes.

The Iowa caucuses are an interesting institution, and taking part is not like voting in a primary. For one thing, candidate preferences are expressed in an open meeting, not via a private ballot. For another, voting can be in more than one round—in the Democratic party, if a candidate earns less than 15 percent support, her or his supporters can continue participating in the caucus by choosing another candidate.

Given the size of the Democratic field this year, with roughly 300 candidates vying for caucus votes (an exaggeration, I know, but only by a bit), there may be a number of runners-up who don’t meet the 15 percent threshold.

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So even if I start with Amy, I may end up with someone else before the night is over. Still, I am looking forward to the next Iowa caucus. Amy Klobuchar is the candidate I am looking for—a moderate Democrat who has won in Trump country before.

May she win there again, and may she soundly beat Donald Trump in the fall.

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The Party of Joe


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Yard signs seems on morning of Oct. 30 during my bike ride to work. Contrasting ideas at work here.

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The day before Halloween was both exhilarating and scary—a bit like Halloween, in a way. On Halloween, kids walk around in costumes to beg for treats. My wife and I dressed in business casual attire and went downtown hoping to get for some rhetorical hope.

I think we got it.

The news was that Joe Biden was coming to town. The former vice president was here for a campaign rally to boost Fred Hubbell, running for Iowa Governor, and Abby Finkenauer, running for Congress.

We had signed up online, as we were urged to do, but that didn’t seem to matter. When we got downtown, it took some time to find a parking spot, so as a mild, cool drizzle halfheartedly tried to start, we trudged a few blocks to wait in a line that stretched for over a block from the entrance to the Veteran’s Memorial Auditorium on Mays Island.

The night was damp and cool, but not cold and wet. We sometimes put up umbrellas, but then folded them (a trick our President seems not have learned) because it just was not worth it.

We ended up in line with a couple of other college professors, our colleague at Mount Mercy Dr. Joy Ochs, and her science-teaching spouse at Kirkwood Community College, Dr. Fred Ochs.

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The long line that leads to Joe.

The wait wasn’t all that long, and we had some pleasant chats as we worked our way to the door. At one point, a Planned Parenthood volunteer handed me a sign. I didn’t really want to hold a sign, and regretted my knee-jerk reaction to take it.

We got close. I could see Fred Hubbell chatting just a few people in front of us, and got my camera out—and like a Halloween apparition, suddenly he was gone. Still, there was a state House candidate, Eric Gjerde, next to us, so I snapped his image.

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House candidate I will be voting for.

And then we were in the lobby. A uniformed guard was by the door. “You can’t take that in,” he said of my sign, and confiscated it, much to my relief. And then we were in the auditorium. I was surprised at how lax security was—if there was a metal detector, I didn’t detect it.

And we were crowded together. Honestly, we were not squeezed all that much, and the space was large, so it was not uncomfortable, but I was glad I had decided by good camera would be too bulky to hold. At times, moving to take an image with a phone or little camera was challenging enough.

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The crowd inside, and Dr. Joy Ochs.

After a half hour or so, warmup acts began. A state party official spoke. A man in a wheelchair who has appeared in videos supporting Fred Hubbell spoke. A pause. Then, a high school girl doing a fine job with “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Next, Sen. Rita Hart, Democrat running for Lieutenant Governor, spoke. I was quite impressed—I had not heard her before. I kind of wish she was running for the top job, but maybe if Fred is elected, that’s the next step.

Next came Fred. He’s a good guy, gave a nice speech, which the crowd enthusiastically received, but to be honest, he’s not the best speaker in politics today. No matter, we liked Fred, and it showed.

And Fred introduced Abby. Rep. Finkenauer maybe sticks to her familiar message a bit too much, at least to my ears, but she is great to hear. She was excited, it showed, and the crowd loved her.

And she got to introduce Joe.

Joe, Joe, Joe. What a great guy. What a nice man. He spoke like warm honey, his distinct voice booming out and becoming animated. He got emotional at times, choking up when he spoke of how Iowans supported him as his son was battling cancer. He compared his early life to Abby’s.

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Joe!

And he took President Trump to task for irresponsible, incendiary rhetoric. It was nice that he himself was never insulting to any Republican, other than noting the President’s excessive language. Even then, his criticism was of what the man says, not of the man.

Unlike Trump, Biden can take a stand without belittling or insulting anybody.

“This is an election for the soul of American,” Biden said. Granted, that’s a pretty typical political line, but I feel that it’s true this time.

We can’t afford to be the ignorant, coarse country represented by the Donald.

I am feeling some trepidation going into the final week of the fall campaign. To me, the core of Trump’s support has been rock solid, despite or because of the ridiculous, hateful things he says. Trump has successfully painted media as “fake news,” and not because it is, but because it’s an easy excuse for the lazy of mind to hunker down in narrow ideological silos.

Well, Biden didn’t cure me, but he helped a lot. I feel a bit better now. I was in a crowd of like-minded souls, and it felt good.

I don’t know if a blue wave is coming, although I hope so. Trumpism is a national disgrace, the modern American nightmare. I hope my country wakes up and tosses off the yoke of xenophobia and nationalism.

I’m not sure it will. But it sure felt good to hear Joe, a nice counter balance to the latest bombastic tweets from the Twit-in-Chief.

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The Roots of the Extreme Immigration Debate


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Dr. Norma Linda Gonzalez-Mattingly, associate professor of education, speaks about the immigration election.

It was a little depressing to hear recent U.S. history. As part of a presentation tonight entitled “The Immigration Election: How Has Immigration Become a Hot Topic & How Has It Been Discussed,” Dr. Norma Linda Gonzalez-Mattingly, associate professor of education, recapped some past election cycles.

Presidents who promised immigration reform included Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Bill Clinton, George Bush and Barack Obama. Presidents who delivered immigration reform? Well, all of the previously mentioned resorted to changes in immigration policy via executive order because Congress failed to act.

And today, in 2016, we have two candidates who both promise changes to U.S. immigration policy. Don’t hold your breath.

For one thing, one of those candidates, Donald Trump, is running his campaign like a reality TV star. He makes broad, evocative statements that are good sound bites and, usually, both unsound policy and reflective of an odd alt-right “reality” that isn’t real at all.

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Well, at least there were lemon bars.

Thus, Trump promises a wall (it won’t be built) that Mexico will pay for (no way, hombre). And if Trump did somehow get the magic southern wall with the best technology built, how well would it work? It wouldn’t, but that’s beside the point. The point is to score TV ratings and inflame the passions of his base—and on both of those points, if not on any sound public policy, Mr. Trump is very good.

He calls Mexican immigrants rapists and drug dealers. He says all incoming Muslims should be banned. He wants “extreme vetting,” whatever that is.

Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, talks like she lives in the real world, and has an evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, immigration plan. But can President Clinton II get it through Congress?

The first President Clinton couldn’t. Granted, the Nasty Woman running today has some advantages over The Bill—she was a Senator and has some resulting connections that Bill Clinton never had. I’m betting President Clinton II would have a better chance than President Trump of actually doing something on immigration, but I would also bet that the odds against her accomplishing anything on this issue are also pretty steep.

And that’s partly what I talked about tonight. I was the other half of the show. Dr. Gonzalez-Mattingly ended her remarks by sharing a compelling anecdote from her hometown of Brownsville, Texas, in which she and her mother accidentally ended up harboring an illegal immigration girl that they found wandering the streets as they exited a store. They ended up taking the girl to their local Catholic parish, and aren’t sure how the story ended.

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Me, photographed with my camera by Dr. Joy Ochs, English professor and chair of the MMU faculty.

Then, Dr. Gonzalez-Mattingly talked movingly about her experience of voting this year. She didn’t need it, but she felt compelled to take her birth certificate with her. She was worried about the rhetoric this year, and how she would be treated.

She is Hispanic, and looks it. She is also a fourth generation American citizen, which, if that’s the standard you use to measure these things, makes her more American than I am (third generation—grandparents on my father’s side were immigrants).

The election this year has taken many twists and turns, but the odd and extreme rhetoric that has characterized the campaign mostly comes from one source—Donald Trump.

His followers think he is a refreshing breath of fresh air, willing to speak the truth. Most reputable fact check sites, on the other hand, find him to be consistently and wildly off base. The best way to understand what Trump says? You know he lies because his lips are moving.

But, while Trump has warped our political discourse, on the other hand it was President Nixon who began an organized attack on mainstream media and who also laid the groundwork for the “Southern man” strategy that has benefited the GOP for two generations. To some extent, the Trump candidacy is the illogical outcome of that trend going to its extreme. And possibly ending, if Trump goes down in flames—as seems likely, but we won’t know until after Nov. 8.

And Trump may be the most extreme example of egregious nonsense on the immigration issue, but it was Rep. Steve King, who it pains me to admit is a Republican from Iowa, who in 2013 said the U.S. is in danger from Mexican immigrants who have calves like “cantaloupes” from hauling heavy loads of Mary Jane through the arid Arizona badlands.

King was crazy and still is. But his remark showed the kind of rhetoric that the most deplorable of Republicans were getting into three years ago. And so today, we now have Trump.

God helps us. The American people will express their will in less than two weeks. It was painful for me tonight to read Trumps convoluted, inarticulate and borderline racist words when talking about his rhetoric.

America, I have a favor to ask. Please don’t make me do that for four more years.

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The News From Precinct Six


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Crowd in Peace Church, deep in Bernie country, looking out towards Hillary Town.

Man, I never knew there were so many Democrats in north Cedar Rapids. We’re a pretty white bread, GOP neighborhood, but several hundred showed up to pack the Peace Church for the Precinct 6 caucus Monday night.

In the end, it was pretty much a tie. The few Martin O’Malley people and a few undecided joined the larger Clinton and Sanders camps.

On the way, I decided to stick with my tribe and stand with Sanders. I can’t wish Hillary any ill will, and am sure I will vote for her if she is the nominee, but I went with my heart more than my head tonight.

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Audrey in Bernie area. The three behind her  are the O’Malley crew. Then, on the other side, Sandersville continues. O’Malley is the University Heights of Bernie Sanders.

I don’t know how things were at other places, but in Precinct 6 we were mostly a polite, if rather disorganized, lot. Despite the clear almost 50-50 split, which meant both Sanders and Clinton would get two delegates to go on to the county convention, they had to keep recounting and recounting. The totals added up to more than the number of people registered, until they realized they had under counted the registrations.

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Erika, a former ME of the MMU Times. Her first caucus.

In the meantime, I got to chat with Erika, a former Mount Mercy student who now works in marketing for a big accounting firm. I’m hoping to get her to come back to MMU to speak with one of my classes.

The meeting room at the church was a bit stuffy and got rather warm. After an hour and a half, my young grandson decided he was done. We tried to leave and got held up because their plan was to have the Hillary people leave first—and they would count again to verify numbers as people filed out.

But a cranky baby is a powerful motivator, and they figured they could count three Sanders votes first.

That’s my report from Precinct Six. How was your caucus night?

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There you go, Ben Sheller, I did it. Are you pleased?

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What Is The Opposite Of “Catastrophizing?”


I attended an interesting forum on Monday of this week where Dr. Jennifer Lee, an MMU assistant professor of psychology, spoke on pain.

Some people feel more pain than others, and a personality trait that is associated with more suffering from pain is “catastrophizing.” That is seeing any pain as more serious than it is. Dr. Lee noted that her husband and her mother can fall into this category—if her husband bumps an arm, it seems as if he can’t work out for 6 weeks.

Dr. Jennifer Lee listens to a question during her forum on her research into the psychology of pain.

Dr. Jennifer Lee listens to a question during her forum on her research into the psychology of pain.

My wife might claim that she, too, is married to a catrasrophizer. I’ll admit I have some personality traits in that direction, although that’s not enough for me to fit into a particular category—even if I do tend to tune into, and sometimes over-rate, my own pain.

As Dr. Lee pointed out, understanding that there is this personality trait, which leads to more pain perception, is not the same as saying that the pain is “all in your head.” In my opinion, the statement is slightly ridiculous anyway—in terms of our experience of pain, it’s always in our brains, so every pain—along with every other human experience we have—is all in our heads. And even if it is partly psychology that accounts for the pain that one suffers, that is not the same as saying the suffering is less valid. Pain that you feel that is enhanced by your personality and attitude is real pain—your experience of it causes you as much stress and suffering as anybody else’s pain.

I thought that was very interesting. Dr. Lee also noted, despite the fact that it flies in the face of conventional wisdom, that research indicates on average men have a higher pain threshold than women. She said the cultural attitude is based on the fact that women are able to withstand childbirth—but, she said, that one life experience does not tell us a lot about how people experience other pain in their lives.

So I felt it was a great speech filled with nice pain information. Still, most of all, I love the word “catastrophizing,” and I want to use it in many other contexts.

Besides wanting to use this newly found word, I also want it to have an opposite. Magnificentizing? That’s my word for the sense of extracting too pleasant or positive an experience from something—from having pleasure that is unduly amplified by your psyche.

I think I’ve seen some examples of “magnificentizing” in the wake of the recent city election.

For instance, Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett has handily won re-election. According to what I’ve seen in the media, he seems to  interpret that as an endorsement of his “open for business” stance and the flood recovery decisions.

Whoa there, big fellow. Don’t magnificentize. Speaking as a voter who cast my ballot for you, I can’t say I consider myself a member of Ron Corbett’s corps. I voted for you because you were running against someone else, and I didn’t want that someone else to be mayor of Cedar Rapids. I don’t care for many aspects of the “open for business” attitude, and I am perfectly willing to second guess some flood recovery decisions. You were the best of two options—that doesn’t mean that I or other voters who cast our ballots in your favor endorse all of your policies.

Then, there is the 1-cent sales tax, which was passed for 10 years to pay for street repairs. I feel that some city leaders have interpreted that as voter satisfaction with city spending and finances. That’s magnifencentizing. I voted for the tax because I agree the streets are in terrible shape and needs to be fixed.

But I am not a fan of sales taxes. And I’m not happy that the city has allowed its streets to deteriorate to this point—and I question whether raising a special tax and spending it on streets will help fix that underlying problem of street repair not being a high enough annual priority over time. So, for 10 years we can pay as we go for streets. At the end of that term, are we expected to again extend the tax because there is no other way to fix streets? Or does the 10 years of this tax mean we make up some lost time and at the end of 10 years implement a “normal” spending plan from other revenue that will keep the streets in repair?

I don’t know the answer, and I’m not going to magnifenctize and assume most voters agree with me. But those that do held their noses during the recent election.

It wasn’t all that magnificent. Then again, it wasn’t a catastrophe, either.

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10:18 p.m. And Obama Wins


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To some extent, Obama’s victory was blown in by Superstorm Sandy. It reminded us of how presidential he can be–and how much of a step up from Bush he is. President Barack Obama and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie talk with local residents at the Brigantine Beach Community Center in Brigantine, N.J., Oct. 31, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

CNN projects that President Obama has been re-elected—Wolf Blitzer just said that Ohio has put him over the top.

Well, I feel ready to exhale. Not exactly elated. The election was close, and there is a lot of unhappiness in the land. A fiscal cliff looms in the new year, Obama will have to deal with a GOP-controlled House that has been intractable in the past, and there are many unpleasant problems looming.

But, the jitters are over, the decision made—America is sticking with Obama. The northern rust belt states have spoken, Iowa stayed blue and Ohio put Obama over.

The reasons and ramifications for this win will be played out over time. Here are some of my first thoughts:

  • The big fight will be in the GOP for a while. This defeat is narrow, but is a stinging defeat. Last fall when I said Obama was a two-term president, it turns out I was right. One of the reasons is that the GOP in 2012 is a bit like the Democrats in the late 1980s. The Republicans are caught in the past, unable to see a path forward, unable to deal with shifting political winds and demographic trends. The Democrats of the 1980s came back in the 1990s when they found a new kind of candidate named Bill Clinton. It will be interesting to see where the GOP goes now.
  • The 2016 campaign began at 10:19. Neither party, at this point, has a natural leader. The closest to an heir apparent, Hillary Clinton, was wounded by the debacle in Libya. Perhaps she can recover, but right now the blue party is wide open. The red party is practically torn asunder. Who of the crowd of clowns who ran under the GOP banner this cycle would be a good choice in 2016? Rick Santorum? Michele Bachmann? Heaven help us, New Gingrich? 2016 will be a very, very interesting cycle, and because anybody with presidential ambitions can sense opportunity on both the left and right, both parties should give us exciting races.
  • Citizens United left us with a rather terrible political atmosphere—the political equivalent of trench warfare. We fought and millions died and not a darn thing changed. I am not wise enough to know what the legal solution can be, but unlimited PAC money from anonymous donors does us, as a barely functioning democracy, no favors.

I hope the political gridlock will be broken up, a bit, by this election. But I am not sure.

Well, that’s how I saw the first 14 minutes of the new Obama era. Romney hasn’t even spoken yet, but will soon. Then Obama gets to speak.

And then I can go to bed.

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Tune for a Wet Election Tuesday: The World Isn’t Ending


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Late afternoon sun over Cedar Rapids, seen from Mount Mercy University, Nov. 5. The day and the election cycle are coming to a close.

It’s all over but the counting. I’ll miss this election cycle, believe it or not. No—not the incredibly negative ads—but the sense that things are still up in the air and people are engaged in their government. Still, I think it was a scary election cycle partly due to the collapse of traditional media and the resulting information vacuum being filled with shouting.

This campaign has become so bitter, the battle so pitched, that close to half of the electorate is in for a big disappointment. There are all kinds of scenarios about how this election might play out—from a Romney popular vote victory with an Obama electoral win to a rather one-sided victory for one side or the other.

What’s really going on? Despite the odds I’ve seen, I’m not 80 percent sure that Obama will win. I think this election is almost impossible to predict. Whatever else happens, I do hope we have fairly clear-cut results at some reasonable hour today.

Well, life goes on. Audrey turns over another year today: Happy birthday, sweetie. You get to pick the network to watch election returns on tonight, but please, no Fox.

And the sun will come out tomorrow. Let’s recall the joint compact that has kept this Republic going. We can, and should, fight like cats and dogs for each election victory or defeat. And in between, we need to find ways to be governed and to govern. Whoever is elected faces some pretty steep problems in a dangerous world.

May wisdom guide the winner, whoever he is. May supporters of the winner not crow or brag too much—there is work to do. And may the losers not vow to obstruct and prevent—but rather to face the future and work together with the victors to find solutions.

That’s pretty naive, I know. But I can’t help it. The sun will come out tomorrow.

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