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Archive for April 17, 2011

Loebsack Fundraiser in University Heights, Iowa

Loebsack Fundraiser in University Heights, Iowa


by Paul Deaton

Representative Tammy Baldwin, from Wisconsin's second congressional district was in University Heights, Iowa on Saturday stumping for Dave Loebsack and attending the Linn County Democrats Hall of Fame Dinner in Cedar Rapids as a featured speaker. The talk was mostly about redistricting and its wake.

Attend a fundraiser in Johnson County, Iowa and there is a much different perspective of redistricting than what we read in on-line media. It is about nuts and bolts and for those interested in process the conversations were lively.

While Iowa has legislative approval for the new redistricting map and Governor Branstad scheduled a signing ceremony on Tuesday, according to Representative Baldwin, Wisconsin has yet to see their first map because of their later primary season. She favors a less partisan process like Iowa's.

Congressman Loebsack has embraced his new second district and said he would move to Johnson County before the filing date. His main discussion points were that he has been approached by more than a few realtors and is looking for a condominium. One of his contacts was the same realtor former 2nd District Congressman Jim Leach used during the redistricting after the 2000 census.

Loebsack also told the audience that he would be spending less time in Johnson County to focus on meeting constituents in the additional counties he was picking up because of redistricting. There was a moment of stunned silence as Johnson County Democrats contemplated the idea that they may not be the center of the political universe. It passed when Loebsack assured them that he continued to need the margin provided in the county and that he would be a constant, if less frequent, presence at events.

Other redistricting conversations were held at the event. Someone mentioned that former Iowa first lady Christie Vilsack had called all of the members of the State Central Committee to explain that she had been thinking about a run for office for a long time and that she has the freedom to move anywhere in the state should she decide to throw her hat in the ring. This confirms that she continues to consider a run for office, although which one was unclear.

Johnson County Auditor Tom Slockett said his office was preparing for redistricting at the precinct level and already he knew high growth areas like North Liberty would see more precincts than the current two. When asked about the idea of combining townships like Linn County is considering, he indicated that he hoped to preserve the local aspect of precinct gatherings in places people had come to know.

Finally, there were discussions of who might be running for which seat, concentrated around open Iowa House Districts in the county. The common thread was that there are likely to be multiple candidates in open districts and that the State Democratic Party leadership should keep their nose out of this local business. That seems impossible with IDP Chair Sue Dvorsky being a resident of Johnson County. She is certain to have an opinion, although she was absent from the event so we couldn't ask her about the matter.

While all this talk of local politics took place near the University of Iowa's Kinnick Stadium, the Republicans in Washington kept firing up their chainsaws to cut down everything Democrats have built since the New Deal. Things they never liked, like social security, medicare and medicaid, public radio, the Environmental Protection Agency and many more. Thank goodness we have decent people like Dave Loebsack and Tammy Baldwin fighting in Washington for our interests.

~Paul
Deaton is a native Iowan living in rural Johnson County and weekend
editor of Blog for Iowa. E-mail
Paul Deaton

Beyond Coal in Iowa

Beyond Coal in Iowa


by Paul Deaton

[Editor's Note: This article was first published on Big Grove Garden on January 9, 2011].

In 1910, 18,000 Iowans were coal miners, comprising 28% of the state's non-rural population. According to Dorothy Schwieder's Black Diamonds: Life and Work in Iowa's Coal Mining Communities 1895-1925, “in 1918 Iowa coal production reached it peak of 9,049,806 tons of coal produced” in the post World War I era. If coal mining died out in Iowa as the deposits were depleted, it has remained a dominant fuel in electricity generation. How we got to this has more to do with our history and the unrecognized costs of burning coal than anything else.

Where the author lives, we used an average of 20.6 kilowatt hours of electricity per day over the last two years. It is hard to say what that means. Likewise, it is hard to determine how much of this energy could be saved through our personal action, changing from incandescent light bulbs, unplugging computers, the modem and small appliances for parts of the day. Based on our billings from the electric utility, it costs $0.126 per kilowatt hour for our electricity, which is an affordable purchase price.

Whether we suffer from the adverse health effects of emissions from coal plants is hard to determine. We live in the plume of a couple of coal boilers, one at Archer Daniels Midland in Cedar Rapids and the University of Iowa Power Plant in Iowa City. The unregulated emissions like fine particulate matter between 2.5 and 10 microns in diameter and mercury likely impact our health, although without testing the extent to which it does is hard to say. That these two coal burners operate intermittently, and also burn oat hulls from Quaker Oats, corn stover and other biomass as part of their fuel reduced the impact of coal.

These days, a majority of the coal burned in Iowa is mined in the Wyoming Powder River Basin, taking the money out of state. It appears there is an increasing vertical integration of coal delivery in Iowa, as Warren Buffet's BNSF Railroad delivers it to his MidAmerican Energy plants for electricity production. There are other utilities in the state, but MidAmerican, Alliant Energy and the Rural Electric Cooperatives dominate. Whatever efficiencies Buffet's operations create, in a competitive public utility market, what his operatives say carries weight.

If we accept that burning coal is problematic, then what can we do about it? A first step, at least outside government, has to be looking at our personal usage and becoming better managers of that. For most of us, the expense is so low, and the methodology to approach conservation so undeveloped that it really takes work to sort through this. If we truly believe in what we say, this is a necessary undertaking, one to be pursued in developing a sustainable life in Iowa. Iowans need to get beyond coal, and it will take individuals realizing effort is required to get us there. We are at a beginning point, just barely.

~Paul
Deaton is a native Iowan living in rural Johnson County and weekend
editor of Blog for Iowa. E-mail
Paul Deaton

An Iowa Blogger Perspective

An Iowa Blogger Perspective


by Paul Deaton

Some of us follow Working Life, a blog about the economy and labor. In a post titled, “Organize – Don't be Distracted by the Unhinged,” Jonathan Tasini wrote about his lawsuit against Huffington Post, “Ms. Huffington’s fear is that bloggers will unite, thus ending her ability to exploit them.” Blogger exploitation?

There was no reason to believe Huffington Post is or ever has been anything but a money maker for Ariana Huffington. The same goes for The Daily Beast, Daily Kos, Talking Points Memo and many other popular and corporate-style blogs that lean left. There is nothing wrong with trying to make a buck and regardless of compensation, people write for free or for very little money, given a venue. People need a means of expression and the many on-line platforms, including newspaper forums, blogs, social media and Google and Yahoo groups provide an outlet. It is the lubricant of 21st Century social discourse bridging the distance that so often separates like minded individuals. There is an underlying assumption that seems to be that this is not really “writing.” Maybe if bloggers were paid as the article suggests, then it would be “real writing.” I disagree.

Writing in social media, and by this I mean all of the above forms, is its own reward subject to the same Sturm und Drang of life as we know it in any form. To seek to be paid a living wage as a writer raises questions about the sanity of an author. There are so few writers who make a living at it. The best hope is to develop a readership as part of an actual social network where a person can seek and get feedback on ideas.  If there is some compensation along the way, it is mostly to be spent in coffee shops, bars and restaurants, engaging in society and getting more grist for the mill. Writing seems more the process of living rather than a specific output in time. Few among us get paid to live our lives, nor should we.

A number of friends strive to be journalists, and I respect what they do to maintain their perspective and that peculiar form of journalistic ethics. Don't look for that here. Howard Zinn's The Politics of History, David Hackett Fischer's Historians' Fallacies and other works suggested historical writing, and by extension, most other means of expression, have some ideological viewpoint. Bloggers have an ideology even if it isn't obvious at first. As one blogger blogged, “What [else] are political bloggers for?


My point is that when Tasini presses suit against Huffington Post he is missing the fact that much of our lives contain work without wages. Thing about a blog is that if we don't like posting on one, we can post on another or start our own and at the core of these posts is a notion that what we do is work without wages. Usually, the platform belongs to someone else. We can attempt to monetize this work, but that is fools gold.

We seek to influence readers, interact with them, in person and on-line in furtherance of a perspective. At least that is what some of us hope for when we post on progressive blogs.

~Paul
Deaton is a native Iowan living in rural Johnson County and weekend
editor of Blog for Iowa. E-mail
Paul Deaton