Tag Archives: election

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


Sunset

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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And Thanksgiving Suddenly Arrives on Halloween


Halloween masks

Some of the Halloween masks made in a reality TV exercise by students in one of my MMU classes. The one with the balloon was judged the winner.

I could be writing about the weather—we’ve had a consecutive string of nights well below freezing, so-called “hard” freezes that would be the end of mosquito season except they aren’t the first we’ve had.

But, truly, that’s pretty normal for this time of year. So the weather feeling like Nov. 1 right before All Saints Day just is not a huge shock to the system.

No, I mean I’m inordinately pleased, almost euphoric this morning because burdens have been suddenly and unexpectedly shifted into my future. It’s paradise in procrastination land—thanksgiving for the delayers.

I was feeling bad Tuesday because I had a meeting set late in the afternoon with my boss about a major at MMU, and little known to her, I’m supposed to have written a proposal to revamp said major that was to be the topic of our meeting. Yesterday, before the meeting, I was scrambling around trying to find my notes from consultations with other faculty members, and I can’t locate them. So I was expecting a somewhat awkward and vague meeting, full of empty promises to “get right on that,” when in fact I had already been on that and already dropped the ball.

But, it turns out the meeting is next Tuesday. Well, poke me with a fork and call me meatloaf. Hip, hip, hooray! I still have to find those notes and write that darn proposal, just not right this second.

I was in a good mood when I went to bell choir rehearsal, and something odd is happening there that continued to happen yesterday. I cant’ say why. I struggle a lot in the bell choir, and I feel bad sometimes that I’m holding everyone back. I’m definitely the most non-musical person in the room. We were going to play a new song, and the director said something like “we may eliminate the 16th notes,” and I was probably the only person in the choir wondering: What the heck does a 16th note even look like? And what sadist would call for a note that lasts for a quarter beat, a time interval so short you can’t even chew a bite of pizza once (that’s my musical time interval—an eight note is one quick chew). I’ve heard legends of these things called 16th notes, but no, I don’t want to try to play one and I want to protect my virgin eyes from ever seeing that abomination.

Bells

Boo! Spooky, right? I am going to play all of these bells, yes I will. Wish me luck. These are the bells I will ring for my Christmas solo.

Anyway, what’s odd? I feel like I’m doing slightly better than usual this fall. I’m actually reading the music and following along. I still get lost, still slow people down, but not as often as usual. I’m even going to play a solo song at an upcoming Christmas concert (blog fans, it’s Dec. 16 at 2 p.m. in the Memorial Chapel at Cedar Memorial—the big cemetery in town—yes, it’s true, they hold a big Christmas concert in a cemetery chapel, trust me, it’s fun). That means I’ll be ringing something on the order of 8 notes, not 2, my usual trick. And, we’ll see—but with practice, I’m sure I can do it. Slowly, ever so slowly, music is becoming less mysterious to me.

Well, they say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. I say they lie. And, according to an episode of “Myth Busters,” by the way, that adage about canines is totally libelous to old dogs. According to their tests, old dogs take pretty much exactly the same amount of time to learn new tricks as young dogs do. So there.

I voted

Yes I did on Tuesday, one week before Election Day. Done.

Anyway, despite being stressed and tired, my normal state during musical practices, I would say bells went well, as they have in recent weeks. Knock on wood, I don’t want to jinx myself, but there you have it—after about 3 years, I finally am staring to feel like I can actually play two notes. So after practice, I pedaled home in the dark, and when I met my lovely spouse, her first words were: “Want to go and vote?”

My first reaction was “no,” because I’m old-fashioned and vote on Election Day. But that’s only a week away and there is no chance in Hades that I’m changing my mind now. Audrey had gotten a call about a satellite voting station in our neighborhood, and what the heck?

So, I cast my ballot. If Romney wins, and the zombie apocalypse results, you don’t have me to blame. We then went to a restaurant for supper, and I had a steak. I don’t often eat steak, but I fairly often crave steak, and there was a delicious bloody dead cow on my plate.

I was not looking forward to today. It’s Halloween. Don’t get your knickers in a twist, I love candy, don’t mind giving it away, and am not one of those people who are confused about the meaning of Halloween and think it’s tied into devil worship and paganism an all that. For crying out loud, most Christian holidays, including Christmas, have pagan origins and we should just get over it and eat our Twix bars. Anyway, what I don’t like about Halloween is that Iowa College Media Association student newspaper contest entries are due that day, and that usually means I am on campus all weekend before getting them ready.

Except I was not this year, which meant that Halloween itself, today, was going to be devoted to searching through old newspapers with the kind of peculiar self-loathing that comes upon a newspaper advisor as he searches for something good in the past year’s worth of papers: Where is it? (Times kids, don’t take this as an indictment of you or your efforts, I think any communicator with experience will understand the melancholy of going through past efforts and wishing everything had turned out better, newer, faster, shinier—but mostly, just better. Trust me, it’s not you, it’s me.)

So I go into my e-mail, and I search for ICMA, and there is the message from the Iowa Newspaper Association with the rules. Sigh. Then I look at the rules.

Hold the phone, bar the door, break out the Champaign and drink a toast to yet one more last-minute reprieve. There I am, strapped in the chair, the guard is about to administer the juice, when suddenly in the ta-da nick of time, the governor calls.

The rules have been changed. The deadline this year is no long the day of ghouls—it’s Nov. 15.

Angels, descend, singing, playing handbells (Good King Wenceslaus, in case you wondered).

Even without a Reese’s (always and still my favorite on Halloween, but I’ll take that sweet candy corn, too) the day is looking up. I’ve already voted, I’ve eaten a steak, I have a few more days to write my major revamp and I have two weekends to put off my ICMA entries.

Score!

Cookie

And to top it off, just as I was polishing off this blog post, I hear Dr. Dennis, the psycho professor next door, saying “maybe Joe would like the last one.” No need to wonder, of course he would. Thank you, Dennis, and thank you anonymous psychology student who made a good Halloween even better.

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The End Game In The Grey Rust Belt States


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RealClearPolitics.com Electoral College Map on Oct. 25. Note the Confederate Grey zone. It’s mostly in the North, baby.

Well, well, well, flyover America, the middle ground, the old industrial-agricultural heart of this country, is suddenly important again. At least for the next two weeks.

I won’t turn this into a rant about political ads. Yes, they can be tiresome. But I’m happy to be in a place where my vote matters and where the presidential candidates are continuing to court votes. It’s an odd feature of the American political system that only a few of us, a minority of Americans, are in that position.

Live in LA? Nobody is after your vote, because your state is blue, baby blue, as blue as it can be, your steady is already in the White House.

Live in Houston? Ditto, except, you weirdo commie, you’re blood red state is going for Mitt no matter what you do. (Why is Red both the color of Socialism and Republicans? Clearly, using the logic of Fox News, it must mean that Republicans are Socialists. So there.)

But, if like me, you live in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, you’re in a state that at best is slightly tinted blue—still in play, still part of that upper Midwest grey zone stretching from Iowa and Minnesota to Pennsylvania that will pick the winner in this year’s campaign.

Well, I plan to enjoy my day in the sun.

Yet, if I were king, and direct election were off the table, I would like some changes to how we pick presidents.

Here is Joe’s list for reforming presidential campaigns:

  • Reverse Citizens United. Corporations are not “persons” in the sense that they have free speech rights like the rest of us. Find ways to enforce full disclosure, limit spending and tone down the outside groups that pollute our campaigns.
  • Make it easy to both register and get on the ballot. No false barriers to suppress voting turnout or prevent choices. I don’t even care if we have voter IDs—but let’s make election day a Monday, a federal holiday, and also have universal easy absentee ballot rules for anybody whose away from home on Election Day (a federal holiday).
  • Elect members of the Electoral College on a per-district basis. That would spread around the attention and campaign so that it’s not just the “o” states (Iowa and Ohio) that matter. It would not be the same as a national vote count, but at least it would spread the election around.

Anyway, it’s almost over. I hope, and think, Obama will still pull it out. Despite the Romney surge, the Electoral College math seems to favor the Democrats. And, whatever happens, I don’t want us to have a GOP President and a GOP Senate.

Still, come what may, life will go on. For now, I’m answering nightly phone calls from pollsters and political activists. And no, I’m not voting early.

Why cut the party short?

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