Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Parents, politics, music and more

“I know that the twelve notes in each octave and the variety of rhythm offer me opportunities that all of human genius will never exhaust.” — Igor Stravinsky

PAUL AND I have been working on an exhibit for the Des Moines Symphony for many months, though the lion's share of the effort has decidedly been his. It's debut was Saturday night at the Civic Center for the season-opening performance of the symphony, and Friday was the installation.

Paul hard at work Friday afternoon.

One of the violinists checked out his photograph when he came in for rehearsal Friday.

This banner doesn't appear very big, but it's 16 feet long.

While we were working Friday afternoon, I heard someone playing the piano in the concert hall, and when there was a break in the action because Paul had to go to the office or the hardware store to get another part or tool, I tiptoed in to listen. 

It was the symphony's guest star performer, Nareh Arghamanyan, rehearsing. I enjoyed having a front row, private performance, noticing the sections she practiced the most, and getting a heads up on what the encore would be. Oh my goodness, what a phenomenon she is.

Tired as we were Friday night after finishing the installation, we went to Mama Logli's for a little Pigmania, Racko and jig saw puzzling. It's always good for Mama's spirits and ours as well.

Paul was back at work Saturday morning except on behalf of his parents. He spent five hours power-washing the exterior and deck of their house as the final step towards listing it for sale. They've moved into a retirement community and are loving it. It's like staying at a resort: indoor swimming pool, housekeeping service and a buffet restaurant. Since their new digs are in the same part of town and so much like their former house in layout and feel, except sized down, I think the transition has been easier emotionally on all concerned than we might otherwise have expected.

While Paul was helping his parents, I was making phone calls for Bruce BraleyStaci Appel and other Democratic candidates. It was a busman's holiday, though, for sure because all week long I've been calling genetic scientists every day for hours on end on behalf of one our Brainstorm clients. I must be really committed or masochistic to spend Saturday making yet again more phone calls.

When he was done power-washing, Paul dashed home to clean up and collect me, and we drove back to Paul's parents for dinner. We had planned to take them to a movie, but his mom was a bit too tuckered. 

Although I would have been happy to postpone it, Paul voted for still going to the movie because jazz pals Jason DanielsonTanner Taylor, Jim Eklof and Mark Grimm were playing later that night at The Continental, and Paul wanted to hear them. And what does that have to do with whether or not to see a movie? Since his buds weren't set to start playing until 9:00 PM, as tired as he was, Paul said that if we skipped the movie and went home after dinner, he'd crash and burn and never leave the house — so we went to the movie as a means of staying in Des Moines and staying awake. Such is the life of the wife of a trombone player.

My Old Lady stars Maggie Smith, Kevin Kline and Kristin Scott Thomas. Everything comes right in the end, but the movie was much darker (literally and figuratively — would it have killed them to bounce some light when they filmed??) than I anticipated, and some of it hit close to home for both of us. 

Four members of my Rotary Club were in the theater at that showing — David Walker, Paul Easter, Karma Cahill, and me. It made me laugh that we were all there. We should have had a signup sheet!

We were both DAT (dog-ass-tired) by Sunday, but it was back to the Civic Center for tear down, and since we were going to be there anyway, we didn't want to pass up the opportunity to take in the concert beforehand. Des Moines is fortunate to have such an excellent, well-supported, professional symphony.

First up was Procession of the Nobles from Miada by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. It was brisk and uplifting. Next was featured artist Nareh ArghamanyanShe's Armenian, and the piece she and the orchestra played was Piano Conterto in D-flat Major by Armenian composer Aram KhachaturianA mere 25 years old, Nareh is a brilliant pianist who has already made debut performances throughout Europe and the United States. She began playing the piano at age five, and ten years later she became the youngest student ever admitted to the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna. She's just amazing.

The second half of the program offered Prokofiev's Symphony No. 1, his so-called Classical symphony. I'm not a huge Prokofiev fan, but I've always liked this one. Paul thinks it's merely "okay", being philosophically opposed as he is to any piece that excludes trombones.

The last piece in the concert was the Suite from the Firebird by Igor Stravinsky, who BTW was a student of Rimsky-Korsakov's. It's perhaps Paul's all-time favorite piece of music ever written, and he teared up listening to it. I'd forgotten that I like this piece as much as I do, much more, actually, than the Prokofiev that I was all set beforehand to prefer.

After the concert, we tore down the exhibit, hauled it back to our office and unloaded it. On the way home we dropped off a birthday card, cupcake and candle at Dena Logli Randolph's in honor of her 96th birthday — and wondered what had become of our weekend.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Cat does the dishes

“I hate housework! You make the beds, you do the dishes and six months later you have to start all over again.” — Joan Rivers

TOMORROW IS the last day of the month, I'm behind on Hey Look posts, so you get cats! Could be worse.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Vote with your remote

“Constantly being called ‘black ugly nigger’ — those words together.” — Viola Davis

I'M A Viola Davis fan. A brilliant actress who has not received the opportunities her talent should otherwise command, she's finally caught a break debuting tonight on ABC as the star of a new TV series called How to Get Away with Murder. In so doing she's breaking new ground for herself and us. 

Certainly there's nothing new about a television crime drama. What's unusual is the star's age, race and color: she's a 49-year-old, African-American woman who's much darker-skinned than we're used to seeing on the small or big screen, at least in a leading lady role. Viola has been frank about the ways her age, sex, race and color have been major obstacles for her. 

I suggest that we all get behind this gifted actress in her new show. I'm certain she'll be far beyond good, and the bonus is that in the process, we can vote with our remotes — for diversity, inclusion and expanded sensibilities.

Here's a New York Times Magazine interview with Viola Davis from September 12, 2014. You go girl!!

Viola Davis as You’ve Never Seen Her Before: Leading Lady!
By Amy Wallace
September. 12, 2014

“Even when I get the fried-chicken special of the day, I have to dig into it like it’s filet mignon,” Viola Davis said. She was speaking not of meals, but of roles. During her 30-year career as an actress, Davis has played a crack-addicted mother (“Antwone Fisher”), the mother of an abducted child (“Prisoners”) and the mother of James Brown (“Get On Up”). Her characters often serve to “hold up the wall” of the narrative, she said, like the empathetic best friend in “Eat, Pray, Love” or the kindly stranger in “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.” Or the kindly mental-institution psychiatrist in “It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” the kindly rape-treatment counselor in “Trust” or the kindly medium in “Beautiful Creatures.”

“I always got the phone call that said: ‘I have a great project for you. You’re going to be with, hypothetically, Vanessa Redgrave, Julianne Moore, Annette Bening,’ ” she said, sitting in the living room of her San Fernando Valley home, barefoot on the couch in a gray T-shirt and leggings, her hair wrapped under a black turban. “Then I get the script, and I have a role that lasts for a page or two.”

Yet over and over again, Davis has made these marginalized characters memorable. She earned her first Oscar nomination for eight minutes of screen time as the mother of a possible victim of molestation in “Doubt.” Four years later, she spent months conceiving an intricate back story to enliven Aibileen Clark, a housemaid with a sixth-grade education, in “The Help.” Davis earned her second Oscar nomination but soon enough returned to playing yet another government functionary or military officer. “I have been given a lot of roles that are downtrodden, mammy-ish,” she said. “A lot of lawyers or doctors who have names but absolutely no lives. You’re going to get your three or four scenes, you’re not going to be able to show what you can do. You’re going to get your little bitty paycheck, and then you’re going to be hungry for your next role, which is going to be absolutely the same. That’s the truth.”

This fall, Davis, who is 49, is finally getting her shot at the anti-mammy. As the star of “How to Get Away With Murder,” a new series on ABC, Davis plays Annalise Keating, a flinty, stylish defense lawyer and law professor who employs her top students to help her win cases. After those students become entangled in a murder plot on their Ivy League campus, viewers will wonder whether Keating herself was involved in the crime. Davis plays Keating as cerebral and alluring, a fierce taskmaster who uses her sex appeal to her advantage, with a handsome husband and a lover on the side. It’s the kind of woman, in other words, that she has never gotten to play.

“How to Get Away With Murder,” which includes Shonda Rhimes among its executive producers, will be shown on Thursday nights after Rhimes’s two hit series, “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal,” a generous lead-in that the network hopes will result in an instant hit. But that will depend, in part, on whether viewers embrace Davis — “a woman of color, of a certain age and a certain hue,” as she says — in her new capacity. “I don’t see anyone on TV like me in a role like this. And you can’t even mention Halle Berry or Kerry Washington,” she told me, referring to two African-American stars with notably lighter skin.

To read the entire article click on this link.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Interview with Michelle Alexander

“It’s easy to be completely unaware that this vast new system of racial and social control has emerged."  — Michelle Alexander, author, civil rights litigator, legal scholar and university professor

TUESDAY night, I participated in a free webinar hosted by the Southern Poverty Law Center that featured Michelle Alexander speaking about teaching tolerance in the classroom — and her book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, which spent six weeks on The New York Times best-sellers list.

That session is now available online, on-demand. I've attached the link for you so you can watch it whenever it's convenient.

Before I get to that, however, I'm offering this New York Times article from March, 2012 that will, I'm sure, do a much better job of enticing you to want to either read her book or listen to this webcast — or both.

Drug Policy as Race Policy: Best Seller Galvanizes the Debate
By Jennifer Schuessler
March 6, 2012

Garry McCarthy, a 30-year veteran of law enforcement, did not expect to hear anything too startling when he appeared at a conference on drug policy organized last year by an African-American minister in Newark, where he was the police director.

But then a law professor named Michelle Alexander took the stage and delivered an impassioned speech attacking the war on drugs as a system of racial control comparable to slavery and Jim Crow — and received a two-minute standing ovation from the 500 people in the audience.

“These were not young people living in high-crime neighborhoods,” Mr. McCarthy, now police superintendent in Chicago, recalled in telephone interview. “This was the black middle class.”

“I don’t believe in the government conspiracy, but what you have to accept is that that narrative exists in the community and has to be addressed,” he said. “That was my real a-ha moment.”

Mr. McCarthy is not alone. During the past two years Professor Alexander has been provoking such moments across the country — and across the political spectrum — with her book, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” which has become a surprise best seller since its paperback version came out in January. Sales have totaled some 175,000 copies after an initial hardcover printing of a mere 3,000, according to the publisher, the New Press.

The book marshals pages of statistics and legal citations to argue that the get-tough approach to crime that began in the Nixon administration and intensified with Ronald Reagan’s declaration of the war on drugs has devastated black America. Today, Professor Alexander writes, nearly one-third of black men are likely to spend time in prison at some point, only to find themselves falling into permanent second-class citizenship after they get out. That is a familiar argument made by many critics of the criminal justice system, but Professor Alexander’s book goes further, asserting that the crackdown was less a response to the actual explosion of violent crime than a deliberate effort to push back the gains of the civil rights movement.

For many African-Americans, the book — which has spent six weeks on the New York Times paperback nonfiction best-seller list — gives eloquent and urgent expression to deep feelings that the criminal justice system is stacked against them.

“Everyone in the African-American community had been seeing exactly what she is talking about but couldn’t put it into words,” said Phillip Jackson, executive director of the Black Star Project, an educational advocacy group in Chicago that has been blasting its 60,000 e-mail subscribers with what Mr. Jackson called near-daily messages about the book and Professor Alexander since he saw a video of her speaking in 2010.

The book is also galvanizing white readers, including some who might question its portrayal of the war on drugs as a continuation of race war by other means.

“The book is helping white folks who otherwise would have simply dismissed that idea understand why so many people believe it,” said David M. Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “It is making them take that seriously.”

“The New Jim Crow” arrives at a receptive moment, when declining crime rates and exploding prison budgets have made conservatives and liberals alike more ready to question the wisdom of keeping nearly 1 in 100 Americans behind bars. But Professor Alexander, who teaches at the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University, said in an interview that the more provocative claims of her book did not come easily to her. When she first encountered the “New Jim Crow” metaphor on a protest sign in Oakland, Calif., a decade ago, she was a civil rights lawyer with an impeccable résumé — Stanford Law School, a Supreme Court clerkship — and was leery of embracing arguments that might be considered, as she put it, “crazy.”

Professor Alexander, who is black, knew that African-Americans were overrepresented in prison, though she resisted the idea that this was anything more than unequal implementation of colorblind laws. But her work as director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Racial Justice Project in Northern California, she said, opened her eyes to the extent of the lifelong exclusion many offenders face, including job discrimination, elimination from juries and voter rolls, and even disqualification from food stamps, public housing and student loans.

“It’s easy to be completely unaware that this vast new system of racial and social control has emerged,” she said. “Unlike in Jim Crow days, there were no ‘Whites Only’ signs. This system is out of sight, out of mind.”

In conversation, she disputes any suggestion that she is describing a conspiracy. While the title is “provocative,” she said, the book contains no descriptions of people gathering secretly in rooms.

“The main thrust,” she said, “is to show how historically both our conscious and unconscious biases and anxieties have played out over and over again to birth these vast new systems of social control.”

Whatever Professor Alexander’s account of the origins of mass incarceration, her overall depiction of its human costs is resonating even with people who disagree with her politics.

Rick Olson, a state representative in Michigan, was one of the few whites and few Republicans in the room when Professor Alexander gave a talk sponsored by the state’s black caucus in January.

“I had never before connected the dots between the drug war, unequal enforcement, and how that reinforces poverty,” Representative Olson said. “I thought, ‘Gee whiz, let me get this book.’ ”

Reading it, he said, inspired him to draft a bill decriminalizing the use and possession of marijuana.

The Rev. Charles Hubbard, the pastor at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, a mostly white evangelical congregation in Garland, Tex., said he had started carrying the book with him everywhere and urges fellow pastors to preach about it, though he acknowledged it could be a tough sell in Texas.

“I think people need to hear the message,” he said. “I don’t think Anglo folks have any idea how difficult it is for African-American men who get caught up in the criminal justice system.”

Mr. Hubbard said he was particularly impressed by how “well-documented” Professor Alexander’s book is. But to some of the book’s detractors, including those deeply sympathetic to her goal of ending mass incarceration, its scholarship falls short.

In an article to be published next month in The New York University Law Review, James Forman Jr., a clinical professor at Yale Law School and a former public defender, calls mass incarceration a social disaster but challenges what he calls Professor Alexander’s “myopic” focus on the war on drugs.

Painting the war on drugs as mainly a backlash against the gains of the civil rights movement, Professor Forman writes, ignores the violent crime wave of the 1970s and minimizes the support among many African-Americans for get-tough measures. Furthermore, he argues, drug offenders make up less than 25 percent of the nation’s total prison population, while violent offenders — who receive little mention in “The New Jim Crow” — make up a much larger share.

“Even if every single one of these drug offenders were released tomorrow,” he writes, “the United States would still have the world’s largest prison system.”

To Professor Alexander, however, that argument neglects the full scope of the problem. Our criminal “caste system,” as she calls it, affects not just the 2.3 million people behind bars, but also the 4.8 million others on probation or parole (predominately for nonviolent offenses), to say nothing of the millions more whose criminal records stigmatize them for life.

“This system depends on the prison label, not just prison time,” she said.

In a telephone interview, Professor Forman, a son of the civil rights leader James Forman, praised the book’s “spectacular” success in raising awareness of the issue. And some activists say their political differences with Professor Alexander’s account matter less than the overall picture she paints of a brutal and unjust system.

Craig M. DeRoche, director of external affairs at the Justice Fellowship, the advocacy arm of Prison Fellowship, a Christian ministry founded by the former Nixon aide Charles Colson, said he rejected the political history in “The New Jim Crow” but still considered it essential reading for conservatives.

“The facts are the facts,” he said. “The numbers are the numbers.”

Webcast link. Click to view.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Senator Sanders preaches to the choir

"There are presently more people living in poverty in the US than at anytime in the entire history of the United States, while corporate profits are at an all time high." — Senator Bernie Sanders

SUNDAY, September 14 Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders spoke in Des Moines. Although Paul and I had already had a busy weekend, and in spite of the fact that neither one of us was feeling particularly swell (we both came down with a stomach bug the next day), we were nevertheless glad we made the effort to hear him. 

We arrived early to allow enough time to compensate for my slow mobility due to my still-mending ankle. Good thing we did. The place ended up jam packed. By the time he spoke, it was a SRO, and I was grateful to have gotten a seat — especially one that was second row center.

The event was hosted by Iowa CCI (Citizens for Community Improvement), and before Senator Sanders spoke, six or so CCI members had three minutes each to address specific topics ranging from clean water to the need to increase the minimum wage. All the while the room was becoming more and more crowded and overheated.

Senator Sanders noticed. First he asked those who were capable of standing to give up their seats for older people, moments later he pointed out seats that had been vacated and not filled, and soon he was signaling to those running the event to get some electric fans going and directed — not at him despite the fact that he was obviously, literally, feeling the heat — but at the audience. I was impressed with how, without making a big to-do about it, he noticed and took care of all those around him.

Finally it was Senator Sanders' turn at the podium, and let me just say this — the man does not suffer fools gladly. I don't mean that he was mean or rude. He's just 100% laser-focused on solving problems, and boy howdy, he had a whole lot to say. I was taking notes as fast as I could. 

Here are a few points and quotes as best I could scribble them.

The first topic the Bernie addressed was unemployment. He said that although the official government rate in this country is listed as 6.1, it's really double that because it doesn't take into account the large number of people who have given up looking for a job or continue to look but aren't tallied because they're no longer reporting to the government. Add to that the large number of people who are underemployed at part-time jobs because they can't find full-time work. Youth unemployment is 20%, he said, which translates into 5.5 million young people of working age who don't have jobs, and black unemployment is 30%.

Senator Sanders cautioned that although some might be tempted to blame President Obama, he urged us to recall the state of affairs when George Bush left office; the country was losing 700,000 jobs a month, and 60,000 factories closed in 2001 alone.

The next topic he addressed was American poverty, saying "there are presently more people living in poverty in the US than at anytime in the entire history of the United States, while corporate profits are at an all time high." 

He maintains the United States has the most unequal wealth distribution of any other developed country in the world. Currently, the top 1% in the US own 37% of the wealth in our country while the bottom 60% own a microscopic 1.7% of the wealth. And since 2008, 95% of all economic growth in the country has gone to the top 1%. He also said that it takes the combined salaries of 450,000 (!!) public school teachers to equal what the top 25 hedge fund managers on Wall Street make.

Contrary to appearances, Senator Sanders wasn't
directing the choir, but he WAS preaching to it.

Senator Sanders proposes An Agenda to Rebuild the Middle Class. "We need a major federal jobs program to put millions of people back to work," he said.

According to him, the American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that repairing our infrastructure of roads and bridges in the US will cost three trillion dollars, which happens to be, Senator Sanders said, the amount we spent on the war in Iraq. In his plan, he puts one trillion towards infrastructure.

Senator Sanders believes that the most important issue of his ARMC is overturning Citizen's United because as long as it exists, the rich will control government to the disenfranchisement of the poor and middle class.

The next item on his agenda is raising the minimum wage.

The Senator said that the US is the only major country that doesn't guarantee health care as a fundamental right, and despite the fact that we spend twice as much on health care as other developed countries, the outcomes are no better and sometimes worse. To address both issues, he proposes making Medicare available for everyone as a single-payer health care program. 

Other points on his agenda are strengthening Social Security and addressing global warming. Count me in, Senator Sanders.

I like him.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Sooner or later, they all come to Iowa

“My debut upon the world's stage occurred on February 26, 1845, in the State of Iowa.” — Buffalo Bill

THIS IS Iowa after all. On the way to work today, there were all manner of Des Moines police cars planted along I-235 near our downtown exit. At first we thought they had set up a speeding sting, but when we got to our turnoff, a parking enforcement vehicle was parked at the intersection. 

Paul said, "Okay, who's coming to town? No way they'd reach all the way down to parking enforcement if they didn't need a whole lot of roads blocked for somebody big." I opined that it would have to be either the P or the V, and given the current world situation, I was betting it was the V.

Yup. It's every Democrats' favorite crazy uncle, Joe Biden

Sunday afternoon both Clintons were also in central Iowa to headline at the 37th and final Harkin Steak Fry. As those of you who follow politics closely probably know, Iowa Senator Tom Harkin is retiring in January after serving 10 years in the US House of Representatives, followed by thirty years in the Senate.

Senator Tom Harkin

Paul and I have only ever gone to the steak fry together once — in 2004 when Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Bill Richardson and I don't remember who all were on the dais that afternoon because they were ALL running for president!

More recently, in March of 2013, by happy accident I got to be Senator Harkin's personal guest at the Iowa High School Girls' Basketball Tournament championship game. It was great fun!! I shocked him by rooting for the team from Iowa City instead of the team from Ankeny where I live. (Here's a link to a post I wrote at the time about the game and sitting with the Senator in case you're interested: B-Ball.)

For forty years, Tom has been a staunch prairie-populist-progressive and champion for the disabled, but rather than having me do a bad to mediocre job of summarizing his career, I've attached the Civic Skinny column from the September 9, 2014 issue of Cityview, Des Moines' weekly independent newspaper owned by Michael Gartner

Ever heard of Mr. Gartner? Besides owning this newspaper and the local Iowa Cubs, the minor-league baseball team is the farm club for the Chicago Cubs, he was page-one editor of the Wall Street Journal, before he became the editor and president of the Des Moines Register, before he became editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal while at the same time serving as president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, before he became president of NBC News. Quite the media ascendance! But he had a rapid fall.

His last job was when and where he got famous, or possibly infamous. In 1993 Dateline NBC did a story on GM pickup trucks that were allegedly exploding on impact due to faulty gas tanks, and the show included film footage of one of the trucks detonating when hit, but it was a staged crash; the vehicle had been rigged to explode. 

Mr. Gartner resigned as a result of the scandal. Not that he necessarily knew about what had gone on. Maybe he did; maybe he didn't, but he was the head of the network and stepped down. If you're not from Iowa, and you've heard of him, that's probably why.

He's a good writer though. Although he signs certain personal notes he puts in his paper from time to time, he doesn't sign the Civic Skinny column, but it sounds like him. 

Whoever wrote the column did a good job.

Sen. Tom Harkin gets ready for the final Steak Fry. He has been Iowa’s worrying mother and rich uncle.


Tom Harkin is on his final lap.

Instead of spending his days and nights campaigning for a sixth term in the United States Senate, he and his wife and children and grandchildren took a trip to Australia late last month. Instead of making endless calls to raise millions to run again, he’s going through the papers that soon will be archived at the Harkin Institute at Drake University.

The tributes are pouring in — awards here, dinners there, proclamations and appreciations everywhere. And this weekend, at the 37th annual Harkin Steak Fry in Indianola, thousands of Iowans — and hundreds of reporters — will gather to hear Bill and Hillary Clinton sing his praises and, midst their political caginess, genuflect to his Iowa.

And, in many ways, it is his Iowa.

Tom Harkin is the last of the Midwestern Populists, the champion of the disabled, the guardian angel for the poor, a guy with his heart on his sleeve. He’s the only Iowa Democrat ever to be re-elected to the United States Senate, and he was re-elected regularly. He has defeated more incumbents in congressional elections than anyone in American history. He has worked tirelessly to ensure that our children are fed, our land is preserved, our old people are cared for, our universities are strengthened.

He won’t turn his back on any issue or any cause, until his wife, Ruth — the Senator’s political strategist, straight-talking adviser and budget officer — slows him down.” You just can’t fight every fight, take on every cause,” she tells him. Sometimes he listens; sometimes he doesn’t.

As the father of the Americans With Disabilities Act, he has changed an entire nation, with access ramps and push-button doors and accessible bathrooms and curb-cuts and handicapped parking spaces and low drinking fountains and kneeling buses and hand rails — all the things that are invisible to able-bodied people but that have opened up the world to the disabled. Those things and more — like closed-captioning television — now are taken for granted in America, and it’s all because of Harkin and his genuine desire to help the people.

But Harkin — who still lives in the bungalow in Cumming where he grew up — has changed this state, too, probably more than anyone ever has. He rose to power in the era of the earmark, and he learned to grab his share, particularly for Des Moines and central Iowa.

In the 15 years from 1995 to 2010, when earmarks were abolished, he funneled more than $350 million into Polk County. The Principal River Walk? He found more than $5 million for it. The Des Moines River Greenbelt? Another $20 million or so. The Science Center of Iowa? Three or four million. The World Food Prize Hall of Laureates? More than $3 million. Education projects in the county — things like programs to help kids learn skills, to keep them in school, to equip their classrooms, to fund their research, to help everyone from pre-kindergartners to medical students? Some $40 million.

Health care? Millions for the nursing college at Mercy, plenty for the Free Clinics of Iowa, about $2 million for the Geriatric Research Center at Des Moines University and another $1 million or so for a wellness center at Grand View. Transportation? He guided more than $20 million into the building of Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway, at least $17 million into central Iowa trails, tens of millions into the airports in Des Moines and Ankeny.

All of this is in addition to the hundreds of millions sent here through non-earmark legislation, for things like Pell Grants for college students and school-lunch money for needy students and all the other things that are lifelines to those who need food or shelter or health-care or schooling. For 40 years in Washington, 10 in the House of Representatives and 30 in the Senate, he has watched over this state — sometimes like a worrying mother, sometimes like a rich uncle. Need a phone call to help get an appointment at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda? He’ll make it. Need to find an organization to move into the shuttered School for the Blind? Here he is with AmeriCorps.

Tom Harkin went to the old Dowling High School in Des Moines, then on to Iowa State and law school in Washington. He is one of the most distinguished graduates of Iowa State, a university that in recent years snubbed him, insulted him and deeply hurt him when it belittled and diminished the Harkin Institute, which was to be at Iowa State and was to house his papers. After a shameful episode in which university officials quietly agreed among themselves that they would censor research proposals from the Harkin Institute that didn’t fit their Farm Bureau philosophy, the Senator moved the institute to Drake.

This was after Harkin had protected his alma mater with earmark funds. Look at the year 2002 alone: $2 million to start the biorenewable research resource consortia, $3 million for the Forensic Science Testing and Evaluation Lab, $2 million for Smart Materials for Future Aerospace Systems, $3 million for the Center for Aviation Systems Reliability, $3.6 million for the Engine Titanium Consortium, $1 million for the Center for Food Security and Public Health. The list runs on and on, adding up to more than $20 million, and that was just a typical year.

The nation’s senior junior senator — Chuck Grassley went to the Senate four years before Harkin — will turn 75 this fall. He’s hard of hearing, but otherwise fit. “I didn’t want to be one of those guys who leave drooling,” he told a friend a year ago when he explained why he was giving up a sure seat in the Senate. Besides, he said, he still has things he wants to get done.

Without question, he’ll continue his work on behalf of the disabled, one way or another but probably involving the Harkin Institute, which former Iowa Chief Justice Marsha Ternus is shaping at Drake. The papers will start being trucked in from Washington soon, and the renovated and retrofitted Cowles Library and its staff are ready to receive them and archive them.

The coming year will see scholars, speakers, researchers, fellows and students passing through the Institute, which will, of course, be handicapped accessible.

But first, thousands of Iowans will gather for the last time this Sunday at the Steak Fry. Hillary and Bill Clinton will be there, of course.

But they won’t be the stars

Monday, September 15, 2014

Hanging out with Carole King

“On the roof, it's peaceful as can be — and there the world below can't bother me.” — Gerry Goffin, Up on the Roof

SATURDAY Paul and I attended an event at a political friend's house on behalf of Senate candidate Bruce Braley, and guess who was also in attendance — musical legend Carole King. I know, right?! There were only about 40 or 45 people there, so we got to see her up close and personal. Paul got a CD signed, and I had my picture snapped with her. How cool was that. 

After we see an artist in concert, or in this case stand right next to her, we like to dig through on-line biographies to learn more. Hers is too extensive for me to do justice to now, but I want to call attention to a few pinnacles.

Carole had seven US Billboard Top Ten albums as a performer

1971 – Tapestry (No.1)
1971 – Music (No.1)
1972 – Rhymes & Reasons (No.2)
1973 – Fantasy (No.6)
1974 – Wrap Around Joy (No.1)
1976 – Thoroughbred (No.3)
2010 – Live at the Troubadour (with James Taylor) (No.4)

She had five US Billboard Top Ten singles as performer.

1971 – I Feel the Earth Move (No.1)
1971 – It's Too Late (No.1)
1971 – Sweet Seasons (No.9)
1974 – Jazzman (No.2)
1974 – Nightingale (No.9)

She wrote or co-wrote 118 pop hits landed at the time on the Billboard Hot 100.

I'm not going to list them all (I'm sure you're relieved), but I want to highlight a few I liked the most. I would be surprised if there aren't some you didn't know she wrote. 

Will You Love Me Tomorrow (1960) — co-written by Gerry Goffin, made famous by The Shirelles.

Take Good Care of My Baby (1961) — co-written by Gerry Goffin, made famous by Bobby Vee.

Crying in the Rain (1962) — co-written by Howard Greenfield, made famous by the Iowa-born Everly Brothers (As Pam knows, this one can actually make me cry.)

Go Away Little Girl (1962) — co-written by Gerry Goffin, made famous by Steve Lawrence (Back in the day, I thought this was dreamiest song EVER.)

Up on the Roof (1963) — made famous by The Drifters (This is seriously one of my all-time favorites.)

I'm into Something Good (1964) — co-written by Gerry Goffin, made famous by Herman's Hermits.

Oh No Not My Baby (1964) — co-written by Gerry Goffin, made famous by Maxine Brown.

Don't Say Nothing Bad about My Baby (1964) — co-written by Gerry Goffin, made famous by The Cookies.

(You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman (1967) — co-written by Gerry Goffin, made famous by Aretha Franklin

You've Got a Friend (1971) — made famous by James Taylor

After Carole and Bruce left, Paul went door-knocking, and with my leg propped up on the couch and an ice pack on my sprained ankle. I made calls to voters.

It's unfortunate that I was having such a bad hair day. (Paul is in the 
background beaming.) I had on blue pants that exactly matched her scarf.

A picture of Arvid Oliver taking a picture of me standing with Bruce Braley.

This picture is hilarious because it was snapped at the EXACT moment that Paul made
a joke that cracked everyone up including Carole who's on the right!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

More witnesses come forward

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." — Martin Luther King, Jr.

MORE PEOPLE who were on the scene when Michael Brown was killed are talking about what they saw. Here's a piece from the Daily Kos.

New witnesses to Michael Brown killing say he had his hands up
by Laura Clawson
Thursday, September 11 2014

In the past week, new witnesses to the killing of Michael Brown have come forward publicly. Crucially, two construction workers who were on the scene did not previously know Brown or his family—and they say he had his hands up when police officer Darren Wilson fatally shot him. Not only that, this isn't something they've started saying only since hearing other witnesses describe the scene; a video shows the men standing and watching the immediate aftermath of the killing, with one of them raising his hands, apparently echoing what he'd just seen:

"He had his f**n hands up," one of the men says in the video.

The man told CNN he heard one gunshot, then another shot about 30 seconds later.

"The cop didn't say get on the ground. He just kept shooting," the man said.

The other worker agrees that Brown had his hands up. The two men did not see what happened when Brown and Wilson first crossed paths, but were about 50 feet away from Wilson when he began shooting.

Spontaneously-erected memorial to Michael Brown
at the site of his death.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

How Ferguson has changed and proposes to

“As you grow older, you'll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don't you forget it — whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, he is trash.” — Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

RECENTLY I shared a couple of columns from New York Times writer Nicholas Kristof talking about the everyday discrimination black people face and white blindness to white privilege. It stirred some surprising comments on Facebook, although I must say that certain sentiments expressed seemed only to confirm Mr. Kristof's position that so many of us white people just don't get it.

I mean to write my own version, but for now I'd like to pass along three things:

— An opinion piece from the NYT written by Jeff Smith, assistant professor of urban policy at New School University in New York City and former Missouri state senator from St. Louis.

A New York Times graph comparing arrest warrants in Ferguson to other Missouri cities of the same size.

— A news piece by Frances Robles also of the NYT talking about changes proposed for the court system in Ferguson.

I must say that IMHO, you can't look at the arrest warrant chart and not figure that something has been badly amiss in that town.

Michael Brown in his high school cap and gown.

In Ferguson, Black Town, White Power
AUG. 17, 2014

POLITICS, wrote the political scientist Harold Lasswell in 1936, is about “who gets what, when, and how.” If you want to understand the racial power disparities we’ve seen in Ferguson, Mo., understand that it’s not only about black and white. It’s about green.

Back in 1876, the city of St. Louis made a fateful decision. Tired of providing services to the outlying areas, the city cordoned itself off, separating from St. Louis County. It’s a decision the city came to regret. Most Rust Belt cities have bled population since the 1960s, but few have been as badly damaged as St. Louis City, which since 1970 has lost almost as much of its population as Detroit.

This exodus has left a ring of mostly middle-class suburbs around an urban core plagued by entrenched poverty. White flight from the city mostly ended in the 1980s; since then, blacks have left the inner city for suburbs such as Ferguson in the area of St. Louis County known as North County.

Ferguson’s demographics have shifted rapidly: in 1990, it was 74 percent white and 25 percent black; in 2000, 52 percent black and 45 percent white; by 2010, 67 percent black and 29 percent white.

The region’s fragmentation isn’t limited to the odd case of a city shedding its county. St. Louis County contains 90 municipalities, most with their own city hall and police force. Many rely on revenue generated from traffic tickets and related fines. According to a study by the St. Louis nonprofit Better Together, Ferguson receives nearly one-quarter of its revenue from court fees; for some surrounding towns it approaches 50 percent.

Municipal reliance on revenue generated from traffic stops adds pressure to make more of them. One town, Sycamore Hills, has stationed a radar-gun-wielding police officer on its 250-foot northbound stretch of Interstate.

With primarily white police forces that rely disproportionately on traffic citation revenue, blacks are pulled over, cited and arrested in numbers far exceeding their population share, according to a recent report from Missouri’s attorney general. In Ferguson last year, 86 percent of stops, 92 percent of searches and 93 percent of arrests were of black people — despite the fact that police officers were far less likely to find contraband on black drivers (22 percent versus 34 percent of whites). This worsens inequality, as struggling blacks do more to fund local government than relatively affluent whites.

By contrast, consider the city: After decades of methodically building political power, blacks in St. Louis City elected a black mayor in 1993 and black aldermen or alderwomen in nearly half the city’s wards, and hold two of three seats on the powerful Board of Estimate and Apportionment, which must approve all city contracts. Well-established churches, Democratic ward organizations and other civic institutions mobilize voters in black wards. But because blacks have reached the suburbs in significant numbers only over the past 15 years or so, fewer suburban black communities have deeply ingrained civic organizations.

That helps explain why majority-black Ferguson has a virtually all-white power structure: a white mayor; a school board with six white members and one Hispanic, which recently suspended a highly regarded young black superintendent who then resigned; a City Council with just one black member; and a 6 percent black police force.

Many North County towns — and inner-ring suburbs nationally — resemble Ferguson. Longtime white residents have consolidated power, continuing to dominate the City Councils and school boards despite sweeping demographic change. They have retained control of patronage jobs and municipal contracts awarded to allies.

The North County Labor Club, whose overwhelmingly white constituent unions (plumbers, pipe fitters, electrical workers, sprinkler fitters) have benefited from these arrangements, operates a potent voter-turnout operation that backs white candidates over black upstarts. The more municipal contracts an organization receives, the more generously it can fund re-election campaigns. Construction, waste and other long-term contracts with private firms have traditionally excluded blacks from the ownership side and, usually, the work force as well.

But there’s a potential solution that could help Ferguson reinvest in itself and also help African-Americans compete for a bigger share of the pie: consolidation with surrounding municipalities, many of which face similar challenges. The St. Louis region has seen some preliminary support for the idea, with resistance concentrated in smaller political units whose leaders are loath to surrender control.

Consolidation would help strapped North County communities avoid using such a high percentage of their resources for expensive public safety overhead, such as fire trucks. It could also empower the black citizens of Ferguson. Blacks incrementally gained power in St. Louis City in part because its size facilitates broader coalitions and alliances. Another benefit of consolidation is the increased political talent pool. Many leaders just aren’t interested in running a tiny municipality.

In shrinking cities, politics is often a nasty, zero-sum game. But consolidation could create economies of scale, increase borrowing capacity to expand economic opportunity, reduce economic pressures that inflame racial tension, and smash up the old boys’ network that has long ruled much of North County.

When the state patrol and the national television cameras leave Ferguson, its residents will still be talking about how they can move forward. And they may be ready to expand the conversation so that it’s not just about black and white, but green.

Ferguson Sets Broad Change for City Courts
By Frances Robles
SEPT. 8, 2014

FERGUSON, Mo. — In the first major sign of change in this small city since last month’s police killing of an unarmed black teenager, the Ferguson City Council said Monday that it would establish a citizen review board to provide guidance for the Police Department.

It also announced sweeping changes to its court system, which had been criticized as unfairly targeting low-income blacks, who had become trapped in a cycle of unpaid tickets and arrest warrants.

Municipal court fines are the city’s second-highest source of revenue, leading many critics to argue that the authorities had a financial incentive to issue tickets and then impose more fees on those who did not pay.

Young black men in Ferguson and surrounding cities routinely find themselves passed from jail to jail as they are picked up on warrants for unpaid fines, one of the many simmering issues here that helped set off almost two weeks of civil unrest after the teenager, Michael Brown, 18, was killed by a white Ferguson officer on Aug. 9.

Data from municipal courts across Missouri show that in 2013, the city of Ferguson had the highest number of warrants issued in the state relative to its size. Arrest warrants are often served by municipal courts when someone fails to appear in court to pay fines for a traffic or other violation, like shoplifting, assault or disturbance of peace.

The high rate could reflect more crime as well as heavier prosecution, and it could be indicative of a fraught relationship between law enforcement and citizens. Brendan Roediger, an assistant professor at Saint Louis University School of Law and supervisor of the school’s Civil Litigation Clinic, said that resentment toward the police in Ferguson “is primarily formed around these interactions and not around investigations of serious crimes.”

Mr. Brown’s killing put a national spotlight on Ferguson, a small city in north St. Louis County. The unrest served to highlight longstanding complaints by a predominantly black community that they were being harassed by the police.

On the eve of what was expected to be a tense City Council meeting on Tuesday, the first meeting since the shooting, the city instead pre-emptively announced many changes activists have long sought.

Among other things, the Council was scheduled to vote on capping how much of the city’s revenue can come from fines. The city also announced a one-month window to quash pending warrants, a major victory for the activists and lawyers who had pressed for change and were expected to force the issue at Tuesday’s meeting.

“The overall goal of these changes is to improve trust within the community and increase transparency, particularly within Ferguson’s courts and police department,” one council member, Mark Byrne, said in a statement. “We want to demonstrate to residents that we take their concerns extremely seriously.”

Lawyers and activists cautioned that the change could be truly meaningful only if other municipalities followed suit, because Ferguson is not alone in its predatory tactics, said Julia Ho, a community organizer at Hands Up United, an organization that formed after Mr. Brown’s killing.

“The bench warrants and traffic fines were a regressive tax on the poor and criminalization of poverty,” Ms. Ho said. “If people no longer receive these charges, that’s huge: It keeps people from getting stuck in modern debtor’s prisons.”

The Arch City Defenders, a nonprofit legal group, and law professors at the St. Louis University School of Law recently wrote a letter to the mayor, James Knowles III, asking him to waive all pending fines and warrants for nonviolent offenses. The letter said that the warrants served as barriers to employment and housing and that waiving them would be an important conciliatory gesture to the community.

Mr. Brown was killed after a brief struggle with the officer, Darren Wilson, who was seated in his vehicle. Although the police said Mr. Brown went for the officer’s gun, witnesses have said that the officer fired at Mr. Brown as he fled and continued shooting after he put his hands up in a sign of surrender. A St. Louis County grand jury is evaluating the case and is expected to make a decision by next month on whether to indict Officer Wilson.

The federal Justice Department has its own civil rights investigation into the shooting and the Police Department’s practices.

Thomas B. Harvey, executive director of the Arch City Defenders, said the changes were about three-quarters of what they had requested. “Although it’s not exactly what we asked for, it’s a substantial step forward,” he said.

Ferguson, a city of just 21,135 people, issued 24,532 warrants for 12,000 cases last year, the group said in a recent report. That amounts to three warrants per Ferguson household.

The city’s traffic fine revenue has increased 44 percent since 2011, city records show. When drivers who could not pay failed to show up for court, the city issued warrants and increased the penalties.

About 20 percent of the city’s $12 million budget is paid through fines, Mr. Harvey said. Under the proposal announced Monday, the city will cap that at 15 percent and spend any excess on special community projects.

“The Council believes that this ordinance sends a clear message that the fines imposed as punishment in the municipal court are not to be viewed as a source of revenue for the city,” Ferguson’s Council said in a statement. “We are hopeful that the Council’s clear statement will encourage the municipal judge and prosecutor to explore and utilize alternative methods of sentencing, such as community service, to punish violators and deter similar unlawful conduct.”

Mr. Harvey said he was concerned about whether the fines would actually decrease and expressed skepticism over the fact that the City Council was endorsing a community service penalty that does not currently exist. “That’s still $1.7 million in fines collected, but it is a million-dollar drop,” he said.

The city said it would commit to funding a community improvement program and would hold ward meetings to elicit community input on what other changes should be made.

The city said it would also introduce an ordinance to repeal the “failure to appear” offense in municipal court, eliminating the additional fines imposed on those who do not attend court, and abolish administrative fees, such as the $25 fee to cover the cost of police personnel who arrange for the towing of abandoned vehicles.

Some of the fees the city planned to eliminate, such as the $50 charge to revoke a warrant, were illegal in the first place, Mr. Harvey said.

The city said the municipal judge had established a special docket for defendants who are having trouble making monthly payments on outstanding fines, the city said, giving people the opportunity to renegotiate their payment plans.

At the behest of the City Council, the municipal judge also established a one-month warrant recall program.