Is The IPERS Cake Baked?

Tres Leches Cake Photo Credit – Stu Spivack, Wikimedia Commons

The Cedar Rapids Gazette was sitting on the break room table last week at the home, farm and auto supply store, open to an article about IPERS, Iowa’s public employee retirement plan.

Written by Matt Sinovic of Progress Iowa, the first sentence asserted more of the usual fare from the progressive group, “Once again, Republicans in the Iowa Legislature are inviting an out-of-state attack on the economic security of Iowa families.”

Thanks, but I’d already had my allowable dose of confirmation bias that morning. I closed the paper and started my shift.

That would have been that, except my state representative, Bobby Kaufmann, raised the article in a July 21 update to his legislative newsletter list.

Finally, I want to address the conversations being had regarding IPERS. I want to ensure (sic) everyone that your retirement is safe and will continue to be. There was an unfortunate editorial in the Gazette. I am being complimentary when I call it misleading and partisan. Every two years a committee meets to ensure our retirement fund is solvent. That is all that is happening. Every two years members of both parties get together and examine our retirement system to make sure our promises can be kept. I have said it before and I will say it again: I am a HELL NO on any bill that would negatively impact the retirement promise that has been made to you.

“Sh*t,” I said to myself. “Now I gotta go read that stinkin’ article.”

A long-standing complaint of Blog for Iowa is the legislature does little to address long term plans for IPERS.

“As it stands, there is no long term plan for educational financing, Medicaid, IPERS or property tax reform,” Chad Thompson wrote May 24, 2005. “What we did get was some reshuffling of bank accounts and a further drain on the reserves we do have.”

When Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds brought up the idea of a task force to evaluate modification of IPERS last January, my nerves tensed.

Reynolds, who soon will become the state’s governor, said in remarks at a Scott County Republican Party fundraiser Jan. 26 (reported by Ed Tibbetts of the Quad City Times), that commitments already made to IPERS members would be honored. “I feel very strongly about that,” she said. However, she also raised the possibility of moving toward a “hybrid” system that would include the current defined benefit pension arrangement as well as a defined contribution component. The latter is akin to a 401(k) system that is common in the private sector.

While Reynolds’ statement garnered attention, IPERS did not seem like a high priority on its own.

Iowa Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald was quick to respond to Reynolds.

On January 30, 2017, I issued a statement telling IPERS members they should be concerned about the future of their benefits.

Since that time, my concern has continued to grow. After witnessing how quickly the legislature and governor were willing to move without input from the people would privatize the investment of employees’ and retirees’ pensions. Individuals will pay more and private companies will reap the benefit.

We have made adjustments over the years to ensure the success of IPERS. We do not need to tear this plan apart, but rather continue to manage it well.

In the context of Governor Reynolds’ and Treasurer Fitzgerald’s January statements, Kaufmann’s assurances raise a flag.

I read Sinovic’s article and one of his issues is the Reason Foundation will be involved with the biannual review Kaufmann referenced.

What should we care who reviews IPERS?

The Reason Foundation, established in 1978, is part of a dark money network of wealthy libertarians that has been at work in our recent elections, according to Jane Mayer, author of Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right. “Reason Foundation advances a free society by developing, applying, and promoting libertarian principles, including individual liberty, free markets, and the rule of law,” according to their web site. Their tagline is “free minds and free markets.”

Fitzgerald and Sinovic are saying the cake is baked regarding the IPERS solvency review. We don’t know the result, but can get a taste of what to expect by reviewing the law Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed this month. Here are some key features of the new Michigan public pension plan reported by the Reason Foundation:

  1. New hires will be auto-enrolled in a defined contribution retirement plan (DC Plan) that has a default 10% total contribution rate. DC Plans inherently have no risk of unfunded liabilities, and the maximum employer share for the plan (7%) is less than what employers should be paying for the current plan.
  2. However, if new teachers would prefer a defined benefit pension plan (DB Plan), they will have the choice to voluntarily switch to a new “hybrid” plan that, unlike the current “hybrid” plan offered to teachers, uses very conservative assumptions and short amortization schedules and splits all costs 50-50 between the employee and employer.
  3. Uniquely, the hybrid plan will have a safeguard mechanism that would trigger closure if the funded ratio falls below 85% for two consecutive years.
  4. And to top it off, the reform design improves certain actuarial assumptions and infuses the plan with $250 million in additional contributions to chip away at the pension debt.

Sound okay? Obviously any change will be viewed with suspicion by IPERS participants. I don’t agree with Sinovic that the Reason Foundation’s involvement is an “attack on the economic security of Iowa families.” What will annoy people is if Republicans try to slam through a hybrid plan similar to Michigan’s as Fitzgerald feared they might.

If, as Rep. Kaufmann indicated, the biannual review is simply to produce solvency, then good job for relieving unnecessary worry. As Fitzgerald indicated, “as state treasurer, an IPERS board member, and trustee of the Fund, I can tell you that Iowa has worked hard over the years to ensure IPERS is on solid ground. And we are.”

If, as Fitzgerald and Sinovic believe, the end result will be major changes to IPERS similar in scope to the Michigan law, that’s something else entirely. Time will tell. Current IPERS participants are forewarned to pay attention.

Sinovic is free to publish his opinion about whatever he is paid to advocate. However, when he posts an article like the Gazette piece he does no favors for Democrats hoping to win back seats in the Iowa legislature in 2018. Readers can see straight through the hyperbole and associate his comments with the Democratic Party. Democrats become defenders of the status quo by default, a status quo Blog for Iowa has been complaining about for 12 years.

And seriously Republicans. You have to pick a Koch network think tank for the solvency review? One that while claiming to be non-partisan favors a certain outcome?

What’s needed in public discourse is a statement of what progressives are doing to ensure IPERS is solvent. We also need a chance to win elections, something Sinovic’s article didn’t help.

Posted in politics, Progressive Community | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Toward A New Electorate

Solon Beef Days, July 22, 2017

Sunday my spouse and I took the public library poster she made to the fairgrounds where the county’s seven libraries have a booth for the fair which runs Monday through Thursday this week.

We parked outside Building B, went in, and slid the foamcore board into a slot. It took a couple minutes.

A friend was there setting up an adjacent booth shared by Physicians for Social Responsibility, Veterans for Peace, PEACE Iowa and 100 Grannies for a Livable Future. We chatted for a while, about raccoons, chipmunks, single use water bottles, libraries and why I haven’t attended more events. We then went our separate ways: she and her son to Village Inn, and we to buy the first sweet corn of the season from a local farmer.

I could make similar connections with many fair booth sponsors, almost anyone could.

Last night I volunteered selling tickets at Solon Beef Days, which is the annual festival near our home. We sold about 500 tickets during my shift and had a brief conversation with each buyer.

I knew the voter registration of many who bought tickets. I remembered who they supported, which elections in which they voted, when they donated, and who lived in their households. It’s not that I’m snoopy or a gossip. It just comes with the turf of political canvassing near one’s home for two decades.

Some say we should volunteer to make phone calls and door knock on political campaigns to win elections. That may have once been true, however, the electorate is going through a profound change with the rise in importance of personal computers and cellular technology. That change is not finished.

James Carville is hard to stomach these days, but during the Bill Clinton campaign his fax machine and “rapid response” was a competitive advantage no one else had. It was an innovation that contributed to Clinton’s win.

People don’t talk much about Joe Trippi but he was one of the first to understand a virtual community and its implications for political campaigns. In his book, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Democracy, The Internet and The Overthrow of Everything he points to the moment he understood it.

“I sat at my PC, crying and watching as people eulogized David (Haines) and mourned him the way you would a good friend.

And that is the precise moment that I got it.

I was attending a funeral on the Internet.

This was not a bunch of individual people sitting in front of a television alone, watching a sad program, reaching on cue for the Kleenex brand tissue. This was a rich, fully realized community, a world of real people interacting with each other, sharing their kids’ first steps and crying on each other’s shoulders when they lost someone they cared about, someone most of us had never met.

Now campaigns have IT staffs but the Howard Dean campaign had Joe Trippi.

Today, people can always be in touch thanks to mobile communications devices and cellular technology. They are also increasingly suspicious of someone or something they don’t know or understand. I suspect that’s natural human behavior writ large as a defense mechanism to easy and increased electronic connectivity.

It’s not that people don’t know or want to know what’s going on in the broader world. World events are filtered by members of much smaller social groups, taking on more specific meaning.

Confirmation bias, the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories, increasingly plays a role in elections by drawing people into smaller, more personal networks of social relationships facilitated by electronic networking. An email, a knock at the door, or a phone call does little to penetrate such relationships in any positive way. Such personal groups may span time and distance but members are hardened into a set of beliefs that becomes resilient. That spells trouble for political campaigns trying to keep up. It deflates the value of phone calls and door knocking in political campaigns.

What to do?

My answer is pretty simple. Make friends with neighbors. Go to the county fair or a church social. Work with seniors in your community. Spend time talking to people at the town festival. Buy sweet corn from a local farmer. While these things don’t seem political, they represent a radical approach to succeeding in politics in response to the Trump phenomenon. Political operatives will adapt to the new model or hate it because small consulting firms that came up since the 2004 election may go out of business using the old one.

The potential exists for a new democratization of political campaigns but no one has cracked the code. That is, no one except Donald Trump, according to cognitive science and linguistics professor George Lakoff.

Maybe once we understand everything we like to hear on the internet is not true there will be a useful democratization of campaigns.

Until then, I’ll look forward to the next trip to the farm to get sweet corn, and my next outing tomorrow to be with people in the physical world. That’s where the action is and where the next winning campaign is being formed. Don’t get left behind.

Posted in politics | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Final Week Of The Ernst Traveling Town Halls

Image (1) joni-ernst-the-perfect-Koch-investment.jpg for post 27491

Town Halls sorted by date and time. For a list of town halls alphabetically by county please go here.   http://www.blogforiowa.com/2017/06/20/schedule-of-joni-ernst-travelling-office-hours/

We attended town halls in Johnson County, Cedar County and Muscatine County last Tuesday.

In Johnson County the staffer merely took comments with no discussion. There were about 30 people and the main topics were health care and internet neutrality. Most comments on health care focused on how bad the Republican proposals were single payer being a much more encompassing system for a much lower cost. The staffer asked for comment cards to be filled out if a constituent wanted a reply. One person noted it would be the boiler plate standard reply and not really answer the questions.

In Cedar County there were 7 folks and the same staffer.The comments focused once more on the huge problems with the Republican health care proposals and all pointed to single payer as a solution that would lower costs and extend health care to most if not all citizens. Comments were also taken on internet neutrality. Once again the staffer merely recorded comments and asked that comment cards be filled out for an individual reply.

Muscatine County was a different staffer and quite a different scene. We arrived about 15 minutes early and the meeting was already in full swing. The staffer was making comments that statements that single payer was not cheaper and asking for sources. One woman who had lost her job to Branstad’s Medicaid privatization was visibly upset about the prospect of even larger cuts in Medicaid. The staffer had a running argument with her as she described her plight. Since the woman herself had to apply for Medicaid after losing her job she was simply scared. It was the first time in her life she had ever needed help. Another member of the audience told her she was the problem and she should get a job.

The town hall then descended  into almost anarchy with 6 or 7 conversations breaking out with some occasionally being heard above the din. After about 30 minutes one man declared “We wouldn’t have these problems if Obama hadn’t pushed through that piece of shit.” Another declared “republicans never got to see it.” Both were inundated with responses. The first man left  immediately, visibly upset and mad.

The town hall then broke up about 20 minutes before the scheduled end time.

July 25th Tuesday

Hardin County 
Tuesday, July 25, 2017
9:00 AM – 10:00 AM
Iowa Falls Public Library
921 Washington Avenue
Iowa Falls, IA

Audubon County 
Tuesday, July 25, 2017
10:00 AM – 11:00 AM
Audubon Public Library
401 North Park Place
Audubon, IA

Osceola County

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

10:00 AM – 11:00 AM

Sibley Public Library

406 9th Street

Sibley, IA

 Hamilton County 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017
11:00 AM – 12:00 PM
Hamilton County Courthouse
Meeting Room
2300 Superior Street
Webster City, IA

Shelby County 
Tuesday, July 25, 2017
12:30 PM – 1:30 PM
Harlan Public Library
718 Court Street
Harlan, IA

Grundy County 
Tuesday, July 25, 2017
1:00 PM – 2:00 PM
Kling Memorial Library
Conference Room
708 7th Street
Grundy Center, IA

O’Brien County 
Tuesday, July 25, 2017
1:30 PM – 2:30 PM
Primghar Public Library
320 1st Street NE
Primghar, IA

Black Hawk County 
Tuesday, July 25, 2017
3:00 PM – 4:00 PM
Waterloo Public Library
415 Commercial Street
Waterloo, IA

Harrison County 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

3:30 PM – 4:30 pm

Missouri Valley Public Library
420 East Huron Street
Missouri Valley, IA

July 26th Wednesday

Emmet County
Wednesday, July 26, 2017
10:00 am – 11:00 am
Armstrong City Hall
519 6th Street
Armstrong, IA

Palo Alto County 
Wednesday, July 26, 2017
1:00 PM – 2:00 PM
Mallard City Hall
605 Inman Street
Mallard, IA

July 27th Thursday

Fayette County 
Thursday, July 27, 2017
10:00 AM – 11:00 AM
West Union Community Library
210 North Vine Street
West Union, IA

Webster County 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

10:00 AM – 11:00 AM

Fort Dodge Public Library

Lobby Meeting Room

424 Central Avenue

Fort Dodge, IA

Winneshiek County 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

12:00 PM – 1:00 PM

Decorah Public Library

202 Winnebago Street

Decorah, IA

Allamakee County 
Thursday, July 27, 2017
1:30 PM – 2:30 PM
Robey Memorial Library
Conference Room
401 1st Avenue NW
Waukon, IA

Pocahontas County 
Thursday, July 27, 2017
2:00 PM – 3:00 PM
Pocahontas Public Library
14 2nd Avenue NW
Pocahontas, IA

Clayton County 

Thursday, July 27, 2017
5:00 PM – 6:00 PM
Strawberry Point Public Library
Meeting Room
401 Commercial Street
Strawberry Point, IA

July 28th Friday

Buchanan County 
Friday, July 28, 2017
10:00 AM – 11:00 AM
Independence Public Library
Freedom Room
805 1st Street East
Independence, IA

Delaware County 

Friday, July 28, 2017

11:30 AM – 12:30 PM

Manchester Public Library

Genealogy Room

304 North Franklin Street

Manchester, IA

Posted in Blog for Iowa, Joni Ernst | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Sunday Funday: Pardon Me! Edition

He's available for some

Wow are we ever in untrod territory! The current president has been exploring just how extensive his pardoning powers are. Many analysts speculated a few months ago that he would be doing this, but it seemed at the time that such speculation was kind of out there. Now reports are that that is indeed what he is doing.

Can he pardon his staff and aides? His family? And of course himself? That seems to be a sort of an admission that any of those people are involved in illegal activities.

Meanwhile, in an interview he essentially called Jeff Sessions a spineless worm and Sessions agreed to that assessment a few hours later.

In another pronouncement he noted that the US senate now has only Republicans in it – the health care bill would lose 48 – 4 according to him. In doing so he also let out the big secret that Joni Ernst was hiding from Iowans on how she would vote. Little surprise that Ernst’s vote is on the side of huge tax cuts for billionaires. That’s how you keep your seat, not by help out the unwashed.

What will next week bring? For that matter, what happened last week? I can’t keep up any more.

1) The above mentioned interview was given to what failing fake newspaper?

2) Last Thursday, July 20th, was the 48th anniversary of what monumental human achievement?

3) In a move that had been anticipated, who resigned as White House communications director Friday?

4) The new man in the Democratic race for Iowa governor has what well-known name in Des Moines?

5) Senator John McCain has been diagnosed with brain cancer. What former president survived brain cancer in recent years?

6) As part of an ongoing lawsuit, DHS has been ordered to release visitor records to what off-site ‘White House?’

7) What percentage of Trump voters deny that Trump Jr. met with Russians despite his (Trump Jr’s) admission that he did?

8) What was the hottest summer in Iowa based on an average of reporting stations?

9) The spokesman for Trump’s legal team quit citing frustrations with warring factions. How long was he on the job?

10)The White House has been working to find primary opponents for what Republican senator who has been critical of the current president?

11) China signaled that it would be ready for war in a border dispute with what large neighbor?

12) The current president created much speculation when a second private meeting at the G20 conference with what other world leader was revealed?

13) Once one of the most powerful men in the country, what former Republican Speaker of the House was released from prison in Minnesota Tuesday?

14) Australian yoga instructor Justine Damond was shot by police after she called for them to check an intrusion in what major US city?

15) In Iowa, Kirsten Anderson won $2.2 million in a sexual harassment lawsuit against what group?

16) The administration nominated what totally unqualified Iowan to the critical science advisor role in The Dep’t of Agriculture?

17) Yet another Russian was reported to be at last year’s meeting between Trump, jr. and the Russians. This person has a history of what illegal practice?

18) Nearly defunct retailer Sears got a boost when what online giant agreed to sell Sears’ Kenmore brand appliances?

19) It was revealed Wednesday that Colorado has taken in about how much in tax revenue from marijuana since legalizing it in 2014?

20) As part of the investigation of the current president, what bank has agreed to turn over records of its dealings with Trump?

“Jesus never called the poor ‘lazy,’ fought for tax cuts for the wealthiest Nazarenes or asked a leper for a copay.”   — John Fugelsang

Answers:

1) New York Times

2) Neil Armstrong walking on the moon July 20, 1969

3) Melissa McCarthy – I mean Sean Spicer

4) Fred Hubbell

5) Jimmy Carter – the cancers are quite different though

6) Mara-Lago

7) 55%  

8) 1936. July 13th, 1936 saw Iowa with an average high of 113 degrees

9) 2 months

10) Jeff Flake in Arizona

11) India

12) Putin

13) Dennis Hastert

14) Minneapolis

15) the Iowa Senate Republican caucus

16) Sam Clovis

17) money laundering

18) Amazon

19) over $600 million

20)Deutsche Bank

As with all summers, the days are getting shorter not longer.

Posted in Blog for Iowa, Humor | Leave a comment

Branstad, Reynolds, Hogg And Jobs

gov-terry-branstad_lt-gov-kim-reynolds.jpg

The king is in China, but little will change

Remember the bogus numbers the Branstad administration would put out monthly on job creation? Branstad had set a goal of 200.000 jobs in 5 years which was a very lofty goal. Knowing that that would be one number that his administration would be judged by. So if the target is lofty and as governor his actual effect on jobs is much more dependent on factors outside of his control, what was a Branstad to do to show that he was meeting his goals. Remember that Republicans repute themselves to be the jobs party.

Also remember that it was his party that drove the economy of the country into a swamp of toxic mortgages and bad loans that saw people losing jobs at a record pace and the middle class seeing their life savings wiped out. Branstad was in the fortunate position to to begin his second shot at governor at a time when the Obama administration had righted the economic ship and was in the process of making steady solid economic growth.

Still the goals Branstad set were lofty. No doubt he new they would be nearly impossible to reach. So would he prepare the usual excuses blaming Democrats or would there be another approach? And the answer is a another creative approach. That was to only count job additions and not subtract jobs that go away. Or if it were your check book, you would only count deposits and not subtract any payments.

Mike Owen at the ever reliable and accurate Iowa Policy Project takes a look at the real numbers and notes the chicanery that the Branstad administration put into producing the bogus numbers to make it look like they had achieved their goals.

Last week, IWD released its first report on monthly job numbers since Governor Kim Reynolds took office, and the “gross” gains line was gone from the official spreadsheet.

“So, for the sake at least of history, a little context:

Through the five years of the Governor’s goal, Iowa produced 92,100 new jobs.

Through the end of the Governor’s tenure, Iowa produced 106,900 new jobs.

In fact, we didn’t reach 200,000 under even the Governor’s counting gimmick until January of this year, a year late. Meeting the goal would have required 60 months averaging over 3,300 net new jobs a month. Instead, we have seen far less:

The actual job numbers and what they may illustrate remain more important than Governor Branstad’s spin on them. It would be a mistake to devote undue further attention to the fake numbers.

Likewise, it would be a mistake to attribute any general job trends — positive or negative, even legitimately derived with actual math —principally to state efforts. Much larger forces are at work. Plus, overselling the state role feeds poor policy choices, namely to sell expensive and unaccountable tax breaks, supposedly to create jobs, at the expense of the public services that make a strong business environment possible and make our state one where people want to raise families.

Iowa needs more jobs and better jobs. To understand whether we’re getting them requires responsible treatment of data, and honest debate with it.”

What prompted this look into the Branstad record was the weekly Rob Hogg email where he discusses the current Iowa budget mess where one of the big solutions to the mismanagement by Branstad/Reynolds and an ideologically driven legislature is to throw state workers out of their jobs.

Below is the email discussing the current budget mess from Senator Robb Hogg:

In case you missed it, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources announced another $1.2 million in budget cuts earlier this month.

These cuts eliminated the forestry bureau, terminated and did not replace the forestry chief, terminated and did not replace the state geologist, and eliminated the DNR’s trail crew program in which two full-time DNR employees worked with federally-funded AmeriCorps workers to maintain and develop trails and other amenities in state parks.

Check out this Des Moines Register article on the DNR budget cuts.

These cuts come on top of nearly a decade in reductions for the DNR budget, which was $22.1 million as recently as FY09. The Branstad-Reynolds-Republican budget for the DNR in FY18 is only $11.3 million, nearly a 50-percent cut over the last nine years.

Loss of DNR Trail Crew Hurts Youth Employment

Think about the loss of the DNR trail crew program. The DNR had already eliminated its state-funded “Restore the Outdoors” program, and now it’s turning away federally-funded AmeriCorps workers.

This program was important to maintain and improve the quality of our state parks. For example, AmeriCorps workers recently helped restore trails and make other improvements at Palisades-Kepler State Park in Linn County. In fact, in 2015, the DNR put Palisades-Kepler State Park on its “must hike” list because of the “Civil Conservation Corps and Iowa DNR AmeriCorps Trail Crew stone and native timber work incorporated throughout the trail system.”

The trail crew program was also important for youth employment and providing national service opportunities. According to Governing Magazine, unemployment for young people between ages 16 and 24 was still 7.2 percent in Iowa in 2016.

Although youth unemployment has fallen significantly since the Great Recession, it’s still too high. I believe every young person in our state should have an opportunity for national service. Eliminating the DNR trail crew AmeriCorps program is a step in the wrong direction.

Some people have said that DNR layoffs are just the beginning, with more layoffs to come because of the state’s current budget mess. However, other layoffs have already happened, most notably in corrections, where facilities were closed earlier this year in Allamakee County, Lee County, Page County and O’Brien County.

In addition, budget cuts have already hurt local environmental projects (like the $4 million cut to REAP), agricultural research (eliminating funding for the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture), and forced tuition increases (mid-year budget cuts to our community colleges and universities).

Share Your Ideas to Reverse Iowa’s Budget Mess, Get Iowa’s Economy Going Again

We need to reverse Iowa’s budget mess. I want to hear from you about your ideas to fix Iowa’s budget and get our economy going again. To start the discussion, here are two of my ideas.

First, let’s plug some of the leaks in our budget, like the Branstad-Reynolds administrative rule in 2015 that exempted industrial supplies from sales tax on top of existing exemptions for industrial machinery and equipment, and look at other tax credits that are not carefully targeted to serve the public interest.

Second, let’s get our economy going, by creating good-paying jobs and raising family incomes. Government layoffs, budget cuts, and recent legislation against the minimum wage and workers’ rights have taken us in the wrong direction. Branstad and Reynolds promised to create 200,000 new jobs and raise family incomes by 25 percent, but they haven’t gotten the job done.

I have other more specific ideas to get our economy going, create jobs and raise family incomes, but I’d like to hear from you first.

Over the coming weeks, I will be reaching out to ask Iowans to share ideas to get Iowa going again. Feel free to contact me at this e-mail address with your ideas – the more specific, the better – to help Iowa create a more prosperous future.

I hope to hear from you soon. Keep in touch.

Rob

Senator Rob Hogg
Senate Democratic Leader
Cedar Rapids

Posted in Blog for Iowa, Branstad, Budget, Jobs, Rob Hogg | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Toxic Masculinity, Sexual Harassment And Iowa

iowa state capitolSeems like as we get older we slowly lose touch with the latest in trends and terms. This week the term “toxic masculinity” is new to my vocabulary, although the behaviors it describes are hardly new to our society. In fact, the behaviors that toxic masculinity describes seem to be on a dramatic rise which is why a term to describe it was needed in our discourse.

To quote Wikipedia on toxic masculinity: 

The concept of toxic masculinity is used in the social sciences to describe certain traditional standards of behavior among men in contemporary American and European society that are associated with detrimental social and psychological effects. Such “toxic” masculine norms include dominance, devaluation of women, extreme self-reliance, and the suppression of emotions.

Conformity with certain traits viewed as traditionally male, such as misogynyhomophobia, and violence, can be considered “toxic” due to harmful effects on others in society, while related traits, including self-reliance and the stifling of emotions, are correlated with harm to men themselves through psychological problems such as depression, increased stress, and substance abuse.

With that as a background it isn’t hard to connect the current president’s past and current behavior as one of the catalysts that has catapulted toxic masculine behavior into a major problem. If the president’s behavior on its own is bad enough as an example to follow, the fact that many in the dominant right-wing corporate media excuse and even cheer his behavior adds gasoline to an already disastrous fire.

It is not just the pussy grabbing comments of the current president that make him the leader of the toxic masculinity movement. Add to that his exhortations from a campaign rostrum to “beat the hell out of him” or “go ahead’ I’ll pay your legal fees” not to mention his grotesque imitation of reporter Serge Koveleski among many, many other examples:

To bring the discussion of toxic masculinity home to Iowa, a lawsuit charging a “toxic work environment” was brought by the former Iowa Senate Republican Caucus communications director Kirsten Anderson. A verdict was reached Tuesday in Anderson’s favor.  In the report by KCCI TV in Des Moines, Anderson had this response to the verdict:

“The verdict that the jury put down sends a strong message to the Statehouse (and) to Iowans, about workplace harassment and retaliation,” Anderson said.

Anderson said the memo she sent described a “toxic boys club” culture at the Statehouse.

“I’ve told the truth,” Anderson said. “The work environment is poor. It has been poor, it’s still poor and needs to change.”

This is not the first lawsuit decided in Iowa this year concerning gender. Just a couple of months ago former U of Iowa Senior Associate Athletic Director Jane Meyer was awarded $1.43 million in her suit against the U of Iowa Athletic Department.

In both cases the plaintiffs expressed hope that their verdicts would serve to reverse such behaviors. But as Kirsten Anderson noted in her comments above “the work environment is still poor.” So even the filing of the lawsuit did little to move the boulder of toxic behaviors.

In her comments on the trial the Des Moines Register’s Kathy O’Bradovich points out that:  

“Testimony detailed offensive jokes, racial slurs and abusive comments about women from Senate Republican analyst Jim Friedrich, who still works for the caucus.

Republican senators who testified were oblivious. Anderson’s previous supervisors had collective amnesia about past complaints about the work environment and harassment. Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, who was the Senate minority leader at the time Anderson was fired, continued to deny that she was fired for any reason other than her work performance.

It’s not entirely clear what Senate Republicans did to investigate the complaints reported before the trial. The Register’s Grant Rodgers reported that one staff analyst and attorney who testified, Tom Ashworth, said no senator or supervisor asked him a single question about inappropriate behavior he witnessed.

Meanwhile, throughout the country we see males especially seem to feel liberated by the comments and actions of their president to harass those of a different color or religion. On social media women especially are harassed. As if in a time warp we are seeing the rise of racist groups.

One thing that is really grating about this is that my tax dollars, your tax dollars and those tax dollars of all Iowans will be paying for the toxic boys club escapade. Sure would be nice if those in the offending group were assessed the damages. That would include those who did not stand up to stop such behavior. That would also be in line with the oft-stated Republican mantra of personal responsibility.

My estimation is that there were 24 Republican senators at that time. Thus each then-senator would have to pay about $10,000. That would also be in line with their mantra of penalties being a deterrent to future bad behavior. This harassment was not part of their official duties and has been prohibited for a long time.

Feels like we have hopped in a rocket ship backwards, doesn’t it? Thank goodness some juries in Iowa have the intelligence to see through the crap and administer justice.

Posted in #nevertrump, Blog for Iowa, Trump | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Democrats In McConnellville

McConnellville (Greensburg, Kansas May 7, 2007) Photo Credit – FEMA

Mitch McConnell must miss Harry Reid and Barack Obama.

Without their foil he’s got no one to blame but himself for failing to craft a legislative agenda to support the Republican president.

He tries to blame Democrats but it falls flat.

McConnell’s agenda is built on the flawed expectation that legislation can only be passed based on Republican priorities. The approach is bound to fail in a time citizens pay more attention to politics and increasingly hold members of congress accountable.

The majority leader gets credit for holding his caucus together when Senate Republicans were in the minority. His tactics were brilliant, however, since they won the trifecta in the 2016 general election he’s been like a ship without a rudder — demonstrating the craven, whining, victimized and ultimately ineffective strategy that has been present all along.

The same electorate that gave Republicans a big 2016 win will take their power away. Trouble is the corporate media narrative — that “Democrats don’t know what they stand for” will delay this inevitable outcome.

In a July 16 Associated Press article, Steve Peoples and Bill Barrow asserted the narrative in “Dems still strive to tell voters what their party stands for.”

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joe Crowley hesitated when asked about his party’s core message to voters.

“That message is being worked on,” the New York congressman said in an interview this past week. “We’re doing everything we can to simplify it, but at the same time provide the meat behind it as well. So that’s coming together now.”

The admission from the No. 4 House Democrat — that his party lacks a clear, core message even amid Republican disarray — highlights the Democrats’ dilemma eight months after President Donald Trump and the GOP dominated last fall’s elections, in part, because Democrats lacked a consistent message.

Many of us remember Bill Clinton’s famous campaign assertion, “it’s the economy stupid.” It made for good press stories almost three decades ago. Today the Democratic Party is both more diverse, and part of a larger electorate where party registration is less important. A simplistic and all-encompassing, “core message” would be so watered down as to render it meaningless. The fact there are political parties at all is less relevant than the cultural aspects of an electorate that can turn an Obama voter into a Trump voter. The narrative “Democrats don’t know what they stand for” is fake as a three-dollar bill. Just ask a Democrat and they will tell you what they stand for.

Democrats should not hope for relief from McConnell’s craven allegiance to libertarian financial backers. The Senate majority leader is a pawn in their game, one being played in shadows by a dark money network. A media narrative about Democrats lacking a consistent message plays to dark money strengths by asserting the problem in politics is us, not them.

In response to a Republican majority, Senator Chuck Schumer has been able to hold his caucus together, at least on the first couple health care bills. As Mitch McConnell’s tenure in the minority demonstrated, such tactics may create some wins, but are no substitute for strategy.

The trouble in McConnellville is different from the media narrative about Democrats. The majority leader’s expectation Democrats should join Republicans to craft legislation is laughable. The fact of voter engagement in politics by contacting elected officials effectively shut down the first three Senate proposals for repealing the Affordable Care Act. Voters are becoming more a part of the legislative mix than any political party is willing to acknowledge. Democrats should pay attention to this dynamic and leverage it for wins in 2020 and maybe 2018.

By the way, I miss Reid and Obama too.

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Trump – Six Months In

Trump: “American Carnage.” Obama: “I’m outta here.” Photo Credit: Getty Images

It’s been difficult to get a grip on our 45th president.

His first six months in office have been so different from previous Republican presidents there is no comparison.

An inability to relate to this president — on any level — contributes to a type of dissatisfaction that didn’t exist among ANY of his forebears.

My living memory goes back to Dwight Eisenhower. Our family was not an Eisenhower fan because we were Democrats. At the same time, talk about World War II and his role in the D-Day invasion of France became the subject of child-like war games in the neighborhood. We cut 34 some slack despite his Republicanism.

We began to like him after the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956. Our family was excited about the prospect of traveling via Interstate Highway because it reduced the amount of time it took to visit our relatives in Illinois, Virginia, Tennessee and Florida.When we visited Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, we drove past Eisenhower’s farm and wondered if he and Mamie were home.

Donald J. Trump is no Eisenhower. He’s not a Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush or George W. Bush either. I found plenty to disagree with in Republican presidents but also found some common ground with each of them. It was hard with Nixon, Reagan and George W. Bush. Despite the atrocities of their presidencies, Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Air Act, Reagan worked with Mikhail Gorbachev to reduce the number of nuclear weapons, and I was willing to give George W. Bush and “compassionate conservatism” a chance before he invaded Iraq post Sept. 11, 2001. No such commonalities exist with Donald J. Trump.

In January, I listened to a recording of 45’s inaugural address hoping for something positive to say about him. There was nothing. His assertions about “this American carnage” not only fell flat, I didn’t know what the heck he was talking about.

Barack Obama had teed up the ball for the next president to take a leadership role at home and abroad. As a golfer, 45 should have known what to do. Trump had neither interest nor the capacity to be a world leader. This was most evident during the recent G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. Every participating state affirmed their commitment to the Paris Agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. That is, every state EXCEPT the United States. 45 is even re-defining what “American exceptionalism” is.

45’s authoritarian style seeks to de-legitimize sources of information contrary to his assertions. He has little foundation to be an arbiter of truth or reality. He’s a man who perpetrated a lie about his predecessor’s birth in the United States. He goes on the attack against people with differing opinions, including governmental agencies, public figures, and members of the media. He is a septuagenarian who gets his news from cable television, more fit to be yelling at the TV than governing. His unscripted posts on Twitter make us cringe and provide distraction for a corporate media that could be better serving the public interest.

During a recent meetup some progressive Democrats were discussing the amount of work it will take to undo 45’s legacy, hopefully by winning the presidency in 2020. I differed. There is no undoing if the Secretary of the Interior enables fracking in the national monuments. There is no undoing if Medicaid is eliminated or hobbled with lack of funding. There is no undoing the damage caused by increased oceanic acidification and extreme weather events. There is no undoing acts of violence and hate crimes perpetrated in 45’s name.

There is no normalizing this president. Those behind the scenes in corporate board rooms, in moneyed resorts, and in every executive office in the government are like termites eating away a Democratic framework created through a lifetime of effort. I can relate to that, although not in a positive way. The termites are everywhere and we lack political will to hire an exterminator.

Even if I were a golfer, it would be difficult to get a grip on this president. It’s past time to accept that and work to protect our interests in the commons, and in government of, by and for the people. Those are Democratic values that won’t go away despite the solitary, authoritarian and incomprehensible figure the 45th president has become.

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Act On Climate — Scary Edition

Thunderstorm Rolling In

You may have seen David Wallace-Wells’ New York Magazine article titled, “The Uninhabitable Earth.”

It’s a scary article with frightful truths circulating on social media.

Half truths according to Michael E. Mann, director of Earth System Science Center at Penn State. Mann wrote on Facebook:

Since this New York Magazine article (“The Uninhabitable Earth”) is getting so much play this morning, I figured I should comment on it, especially as I was interviewed by the author (though not quoted or mentioned).

I have to say that I am not a fan of this sort of doomist framing. It is important to be up front about the risks of unmitigated climate change, and I frequently criticize those who understate the risks. But there is also a danger in overstating the science in a way that presents the problem as unsolvable, and feeds a sense of doom, inevitability and hopelessness.

The article argues that climate change will render the Earth uninhabitable by the end of this century. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The article fails to produce it.

Read Mann’s full take-down here.

If we are clicking on New York Magazine for our information about the threats of climate change then now, more than ever, it’s clear mental health care is needed in whatever healthcare bill Congress passes this year.

Taking action on climate (or anything else) based on fear would be as scary as Wallace-Wells’ article.

On Sunday, Al Gore was in the news about his climate work.

“Those who feel despair should be of good cheer as the Bible says,” Gore told Lee Cowan of CBS News. “Have faith, have hope. We are going to win this.”

The need to act on climate is all around us according to Gore.

“It’s no longer just the virtually unanimous scientific community telling us we’ve got to change,” he said. “Now Mother Nature has entered the debate. Every night now on the television news is like a nature hike through the Book of Revelation. People who don’t want to use the phrase ‘global warming’ or ‘climate crisis’ are saying, ‘Wait a minute. Something’s going on here that’s not right.'”

Gore is right. Don’t despair. Act on climate.

If you don’t know what to do, The Climate Reality Project provides an action kit to get you started. Click here to find it.

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Social Security Runs Out! (In 2034)

Last Thursday the board of trustees overseeing Social Security released its 2018 projection.

61 million beneficiaries — retirees, disabled workers, spouses and surviving children — will get an increase in monthly benefits. The forecast increase is 2.2 percent or about $28 per month on the average payment of $1,253. Not a lot, but something.

In low wage work world, where I spend a lot of my time, I meet sixty-somethings and we talk about Social Security. They have it figured out. They’d better take what they can from Social Security as soon as they can, because one never knows if the program will be around or for how long. The presumption is the Congress will do nothing to preserve it. I’ll tell you I’m living with a bunch of spoons. That’s to say, none of them is the sharp knife in the drawer when it comes to Social Security.

“Neither Social Security nor Medicare faces an immediate crisis — they both currently have surpluses,” Stephen Ohlemacher of Associated Press wrote. “But the trustees warn that the longer Congress waits to address the programs’ problems, the harder it will be to sustain Social Security and Medicare without steep cuts in benefits, big tax increases or both.”

Those “steep cuts” and “tax increases” need not come now, as some Trump Republicans have been suggesting. The program does need reasoned consideration about who we are as an American society and what, if anything we will do to keep people out of poverty as they exit the work force. The Congress won’t address it unless there is interest from the electorate. In a time when people have U.S. Senator phone numbers on speed dial, “interest” means often and specific contact repeated over and over.

Hillary Clinton concisely stated her position during her 2016 presidential campaign.

“We can never let Republicans cut or privatize Social Security — we should protect and expand it,” Clinton tweeted on June 3, 2016.

Clinton’s statement aged reasonably well despite other options. However, it’s useless for prominent personalities to address the long term issues Social Security faces if people who will use the program don’t speak up.

I encourage people to speak up about Social Security because its future is not guaranteed. A word of advice. Before you open your mouth and remove doubt you are an idiot, learn about the Social Security program here. No need to read all 269 pages of last week’s report, but familiarize yourself with the summary beginning on page two. Once armed with knowledge, and potential questions, contact your federal elected officials and suggest we should protect and expand Social Security now. You’ll be doing yourself a favor.

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