By the dawn’s early light

The Iowa Legislature is often a source of frustration and agony for many who follow the process, and particularly for those involved in the process. But it can also be a source of great entertainment as long as you don’t take things too seriously.

For instance, a bill that addresses persons selected by the general assembly to represent Iowa at the “convention called by the United States Congress to propose amendments to the United States Constitution” in accordance with Article V, has begun to move in the House Committee on State Government. Last year, the bill was moved out of committee but failed to be debated on the floor of the House. What is strange about this bill is that one of the lobbyists is Rick Santorum. Yes! That Rick Santorum, representing the Convention of States Action, has declared in support of the bill. On the other end of the lobbying spectrum, declared against passage of the bill, is the Iowa Minutemen Civil Defense Corp, in addition to the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club. Strange bedfellows, indeed.

The so-called purpose of the Article V convention is to take power away from the federal government and give more control to the states and local government. Speaking of local control, this general assembly has been pretty consistent in its efforts to squash local control. Amendments to Iowa’s Constitution, Amendment Twenty-Five (municipal home rule adopted in the 1960s) and Amendment Thirty-Seven (county home rule adopted in the late 1970s) have been ignored in several bills, one of which is a bill to reinstate the death penalty.

Supposedly, assuming that county attorneys in Iowa’s largest counties are affiliated with the Democratic Party, Senate Study Bill 3085, a bill reestablishing the death penalty in Iowa, provides that “when in the attorney general’s judgment, the interest of the state requires the attorney general to intervene on behalf of the county attorney,” the attorney general will prosecute the case, but there is no mention in the bill that the attorney general, or even the state, will assume the costs of the prosecution. The expense will remain the responsibility of the county. The hypocrisy in this Legislature is immense.

Upon having several laws questioned as to their constitutionality, some legislators have filed amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs in certain lawsuits to defend their legislation actions, or reactions. There is a system of checks and balances involved in our three separate and distinct divisions of government, but the judicial branch is considered the little sister who needs guidance in the eyes of legislators “who make the law.” There is a study bill that would require a plaintiff to provide “notice to the general assembly in actions regarding the constitutionality of a statute.”

You can understand why the general assembly wants to be aware of lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of laws made by the lawmakers. The Iowa and U.S. Constitutions get in the way of the Ten Commandments. A bill that would require public school students to sing at least one verse of the National Anthem every day, study the anthem, and the history of it, had a discussion by a subcommittee. It may not see the light of day, or if you prefer, the dawn’s early light, but it doesn’t apply to private school students. They have the First Commandment.

And now that your attention is tuned in to religion, a subcommittee meeting was held on the definition of “woman.” Although the chairperson of the meeting was mum on the purpose for this necessary description in Iowa law (“Woman” means an adult female human), a woman at the meeting said that “God has made the definition of a woman clear through both special relations, scripture, and general revelation creation.” Amber Williams, an Iowa resident said “He made her, then made him. Male and female, he created them.” Obviously, Ms. Williams has not consulted the biblical Book of Genesis where God made man first and called him Adam, and then made woman from Adam’s rib.

Staying on the subject of religion, students must need religious guidance, and just about anyone will justify this need. A bill that passed out of a subcommittee would allow schools to employ without salary or remuneration a chaplain (not to be confused with Charlie Chaplin, who would seem to be a better alternative – kids need humor, too). The chaplain does not need to “have a license, endorsement, certification, authorization or statement of recognition issued by the board of educational examiners.” But if you’re thinking that this would be some sort of cool job where you could dress in black and talk to students freely, beware. The position does require a background check.

The amusement and entertainment provided by the Iowa Legislature is free of charge to watch. If the governor is not speaking, seats are available without reservations. The cost of this enjoyment comes when you check your rights at the basement door.

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This article first appeared in the February 2024 issue of the Prairie Progressive. The Prairie Progressive is Iowa’s oldest progressive newsletter, founded by Jeff Cox in 1986.
It is funded entirely by subscriptions from our readers. Editor: Dave Leshtz.

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The Grace of God

The Des Moines River flows about a third of a mile east of our house. Between the house and the river is a street, a recreational trail, and a levee. On the other side of the levee is a housing development. Well, not really. There are several homeless camps up and down the river, and by my estimate the population of homeless residents is growing at an exponential rate.

We walk on that recreational trail as much as possible. Stephanie will walk between two and six miles a day, and I’ll walk two miles three to five times a week. Sometimes we walk the first mile together; sometimes we don’t. After the first mile, homeless camps are nonexistent.

Walking together on a very nice day last week, we noticed a pile of what appeared to be trash along the trail. I jokingly told Stephanie I was going to rummage through it and see what I could find that we might be able to use. I didn’t see Stephanie’s eyes, but I’m sure they were rolling.

I turned around at the one-mile marker to complete the two-mile circuit while Stephanie went on to cover a few more miles. When I approached the pile of “stuff” along the way back there were two people standing around it. The man was loading things up in a wheeled cart that resembled a modified garbage cart. The woman, in pajama bottoms, an open coat that seemed buttonless, and rings coming out of her nose, mouth, lip, ears, and maybe other places I couldn’t see, hollered at their dog who was coming out to greet me.

“She won’t hurt you!” The woman let me know that the dog’s bark was way fiercer than its bite. The white mixed-terrier was carefully checking me out and moving around in a circle seeking my backside. The woman came closer and picked up the dog. I set my fist out for the dog to smell, and we became friends instantly. The woman began talking about the dog and then dogs in general and I thought she was going to pull out a PowerPoint from the trash to go along with her presentation. I had to interrupt her.

“Is that ‘stuff’ yours?” I asked. She told me it was, so I asked the inevitable: “Are you moving.” Again, I was correct. I didn’t find out where they were moving to or from, but I assumed they had been ejected from the land owned by the Tai Dam Village. The Village is owned by the immigrants that were welcomed to Iowa by the late former Governor Bob Ray. The land north of our neighborhood was purchased by the Tai Dam People[1] because it reminded them of their homeland.

One indication that led me to believe they were kicked off the property was the new addition of “No Trespassing” signs displayed along the western edge of the trail. The eastern side of the trail is managed by the Army Corp of Engineers, Rock Island Regulatory District. Both sides of the trail have adequate forest that provides some shelter from the elements for homeless residents.

The homeless camps off the trail north of our home appear to be extremely secluded and neat, compared to the homeless camps off the trail south of our home. The southern camps are littered with trash, often strewn about in an area that could consume half of an acre. The homeless are not scary per se, and most keep to themselves. Those living north of us will often nod or say hello. Those living south seem to be more reserved, and if you say anything at all to them, they seem to hurry off.

An intersection south of us is a busy one, with two main thoroughfares of the city meeting. Most days you will find at least one person standing on the median with a cardboard sign informing you that they are homeless. Sometimes they will indicate that they are a veteran, “anything will help,” and “God Bless.” During peak hours of the day, you may see three people panhandling at a position on all three medians.

It’s a sad world, but many of them appear to be reasonably content. However, the evidence of depression is overwhelming. You’ll notice that sleeping is the way of life. When you do spot someone outside their tent, or cardboard house, every possession they own is stuffed into a bicycle baby trailer being towed by a bicycle; an act to indicate that they trust no one! It’s the one reason they are not willing to spend the night in a shelter.

What’s the point here? Homeless people are criticized by ‘normal people’ who basically don’t understand why someone would want to sleep in a tent in the woods when the temperatures are below freezing, and in some cases, below zero. Why don’t they get a job?

Many homeless people do not want interference from the outside. Mental health, physical health, and the lack of financial stability are factors that keep these campers from socializing with the rest of us. Authority and authority figures may be frowned upon, but those I have come in contact with have some of the most respect for just about anyone who communicates with them, and doesn’t shame them with indignity, police included.

My religious upbringing has brought me to accept them for what they are. “For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you took Me in.” I’m not going to take a stranger in, but I really am beginning to see the homeless as a real part of human life.

“But for the grace of God, go I.”

[1] In 1975, when the Communists took over Laos, the Tai Dam fled to Thailand to seek asylum.  From Thailand, 12,000 Tai Dam were resettled in France, Canada, Australia, and the United States.

Led and encouraged by Governor Robert D. Ray, the citizens of Iowa sponsored 1500 Tai Dam as refugees in 1975-76.  Since then, our population in the United States has grown to 10,000.  Eighty percent of us remain united in the state of Iowa.  https://www.taistudiescenter.org/tai-dam/

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The Blizzard of “75”

We just went through a blizzard earlier this month. I read several comments on X [Twitter] and Facebook reliving ‘the Blizzard of (fill in the year).’

The “Blizzard of 75” is most prominent in my memory. It hit Omaha and Sioux City hard, and the tiny western Iowa town of Vail where I was living at the time.

I was working the night shift (here is where Joe Friday would say “with my partner Bill Gannon) at Farmland Foods. There had been a recent layoff, and several of us from different departments were assigned to a belly table, the beginning of making bacon. It’s a task that removes the skin from the belly, trimmers cut off remnants the machine didn’t get, and the belly is moved through a machine that pumps pickle (a mixture of salt, water and certain chemicals) into it. A couple on the end of that machine hang them on racks before sending them to the smokehouse.

Thursday night, January 9, the workload was light. We finished early and decided to go to the Pla-Mor bar for some beers. Someone suggested that we get a twelve-pack and drive over forty miles away to wake up one of our co-workers who didn’t stop with us. We woke him up and he invited us in for another beer. He had been married less than a month and neither he nor his new bride were really fond of any of us. We made the right decision in leaving.

As we were getting closer to home, it began to snow. The prediction was for two inches. When the driver dropped me off there may have been an inch on the ground already. The wind began to pick up and it was howling like a wolf. The LP gas man was trying to get up the road to fill my 500-gallon LP tank, but he couldn’t make it. I was hoping we would have enough to get through the weekend. As the day progressed, the weather deteriorated. The wind got stronger, and the snow fell heavier.

Our crew was to begin work at 3:30 pm. There was no way I was going to get out of our driveway. And if I could have accomplished that, there would have been a growing drift of snow on the southside of the road that was already a few feet thick. I called in to work, hoping to leave a message that I couldn’t make it. Instead, the plant superintendent picked up the phone. I explained my situation to him, and he had the balls to tell me that “you only live nine miles away.” I told him I would try to make it. After I hung up the phone, I told my wife that if the plant called, tell whoever calls that I must be somewhere between work and home.

As the snow fell, the wind increased to between 30-50 mph across the area, snow began to blow around and reduced visibilities. All the while the temperature crashed, temperatures were in the mid-30s when the snow fell, by noon the temperature fell to 25, and by rush hour the temperature was 15. By the morning of January 11, the temperature had fallen to the single digits, only to fall further the next day. When you combine the wind and cold, wind chill values were near zero for much of the day, as Nebraska/Iowa residents walked home from stalled cars, the wind chill was at or below 0. It was miserable on January 10.  Source: Omaha TV Channel 3 – KMTV

Early in the afternoon, the liquid propane delivery truck was attempting to drive up the hill north of my house to fill the 500-gallon tank. It was drifting so badly he couldn’t make it close enough for his hose to reach and he had to give up. That evening, our electricity went out and we ran out of propane. Normally, it wouldn’t have been much of a big deal. We had a direct vent wall furnace located in the wall between the two bedrooms. A direct vent wall furnace does not need electricity to work. But there we were, my wife, our almost 1-year daughter, and me, in the dark and getting colder.

We slept best we could that night. The following morning, we received a call from my mom. Dick, my brother-in-law, was coming up to get us.

The heavy snow [approximately 12 inches] was accompanied by winds gusting as high as 80 mph which blew it into drifts as deep as 20 feet and paralyzed the region, stranding thousands of motorists and causing 15 deaths in northwestern Iowa. Source: Omaha TV Channel 3 – KMTV

We lived on top of a hill. Dick was three blocks away. But he trudges through snow drifts against the wind and arrived at our door, winded. He came in the house only for a minute to get his breath back. Then, he wrapped Sara, our daughter, in a quilt and headed out the door, down the hill through back yards. His footprints in the snow from his hike up the hill had all disappeared, covered in by the blowing snow. Terri and I followed him best we could, and appreciated the fact that the wind was behind us.

When we arrived at Dick and Carol’s house, mom, my stepfather, and half brother were already there with Dick and Carol’s oldest daughter. We sat in the kitchen by the gas oven, trying to stay warm. I don’t recall how long we had to stay in the crowded small area blocked off with blankets, but it was a storm I will never forget.

A few days later, one of my co-workers took me to an intersection two miles west of town. There, he showed me the remnants of a snow drift that had been over thirty-feet tall. Heavy equipment, including a dragline, was brought in to clear the intersection and corresponding roads.

My late brother, who lived in California, said he didn’t want to move back to Iowa because we had tornados and blizzards. “Ahem,” I would reply, “don’t you have earthquakes and fires that consume hundreds of square miles at a time?” Joe insisted that I was more vulnerable to an earthquake than him because I lived near the New Madrid Fault Line. “It’s right there in Missouri!” He would argue. Well, yeah. It’s in Missouri, but it’s in southeast Missouri and runs southwest into Arkansas and Oklahoma. I attempted to persuade him that he was more a target of a tornado where he lived (Temecula, CA) than I was susceptible to an earthquake in central Iowa.

Anyway, Joe left Iowa before the Blizzard of ’75 and really never experienced living through a blizzard. Lately, I discovered that a blizzard in rural Iowa is more threatening than one I lived through in the city.

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It Came To Me In A Dream

John was in the emergency room. The ER doctor told him he was going to need immediate surgery to alleviate the problem he had. It was going to be risky, and he needed to have the surgery without delay.

He called his wife, Mary Ann, who was at work, and told her about his situation.

“Honey, I’m sorry I can’t be with you,” she exclaimed. “After work I must run up to the mall where Stoneman’s is having a sale on women’s pants suits. I need a new one because the two pair I have are made with pockets on the jacket, and that makes me look fat.”

He was stunned! He was totally shocked! John didn’t know what to say. He had no idea that pockets on suit jackets made a woman look fat.

 

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Pissed as a Peacock!

Decades ago, I would sit down in front of the television set at 5:30 pm (Central time) and watch national news, followed by local news. It wasn’t really local; the local channel came out of Omaha – 80 miles away. But that was how I got my evening news. I read the Omaha World-Herald and the Des Moines Register in the morning or throughout the day. Subscription prices to the World-Herald and Register/Tribune were manageable.

Today, I read all of my news online from some of the same outlets and they are cheaper if you receive them online. Additionally, I subscribe to the New York Times at a little over $20.00 a month, follow journalists on X (Twitter), and receive unwanted blurbs from various other free sources. I subscribe to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the e-paper of Stephanie’s hometown, and The Observer, my hometown newspaper, both at reasonable costs.

Currently, I watch television for a Kansas City Royals baseball game, which costs me just short of $100 for six months. But I have been a Royals fan since the early 1970s. I watch the NFL games on NBC, CBS, and any other free channel if I can get it, especially if the Kansas City Chiefs are playing. I’ve been a Chiefs fan since I saw them play in the old KC Municipal Stadium back in the 1960s. That’s the extent of my tv watching.

I am outraged that the National Football League has decided to broadcast the upcoming January 13th game between the Kansas City Chiefs vs. Miami Dolphins “exclusively” on Peacocktv. It is bad enough that the last time these two teams met on November 5th, the game was broadcast on the NFL Network. Neither Peacock nor the NFL Network are available unless you subscribe respectfully to each. More costs and more damned passwords are not what I need nor want!

I missed the November 5th game, and I’m going to miss the January 13th game. I refuse to subscribe to a streaming source for one game. In 2022, Peacock Media had revenue of over $2.1 billion. It paid the NFL $110 million so that it could be the sole broadcaster of the January 13 game. I sincerely hope it loses money.

The greed of the NFL is beyond my ability to keep up. There comes a time when you have to say, “if I have to pay again to watch my favorite team, perhaps I have a problem.” I’m disgusted that the NFL wants to take advantage of me and other Chiefs and Dolphins fans who are not in the immediate Kansas City or Miami viewing area (Local television stations may broadcast the game – it’s one of the requirements for streaming). In addition to paying a monthly fee, there are no free trials during this game. “In addition to a subscription, viewers will also need a supported device, which includes Windows and Mac computers, select Roku models, Android and iOS devices and select FireTV devices.”

This is an experiment that should be labeled “SCRATCH!” on Sunday morning.

On the bright side, the Iowa Hawkeyes Women’s Basketball team is playing on free television Saturday night. [FOX].

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At the Car Wash

Years ago, I attended a round-table discussion with the late Congressman from Iowa, Leonard Boswell. He wanted to know what small businesses needed to compete. Most people at the meeting talked about taxes, paperwork, etc., while one business owner replied “customers.” I never thought of it before that day, but that reply made the most sense. How to acquire more customers is probably not something the government can assist with.

Operating a small business is tough. A locally-owned bookstore must compete with Amazon. A family-owned restaurant has to compete with McDonald’s, Chipotle, and IHOP. And locally-owned gas stations are a thing of the past. It is my opinion that the fastest growing small business is that of washing cars.

Driving east on Hickman Road in Des Moines one afternoon, I noticed a previously vacant lot had construction activity. My first thought was that it might be a new small business. “That’s good,” I thought. A few days later I was driving on East Fourteenth Street and saw the construction of a similar building with similar colors. I paid closer attention and realized a new car wash was being erected. It was an identical match to the building on Hickman Road. It dawned on me: “How many car washes does Des Moines need?”

When I was actively lobbying at the Iowa Capitol, a man named Bill Smith befriended me. Actually, he was the third lobbyist at the Capitol that year whose name happened to be Bill Smith. The other two Smiths were Iowans and at least one of the Bills lobbied issues similar to the ones I worked on. Why this particular Smith wanted to buy my lunch occasionally perplexes me to this day. I suspect he was using receipts to show his client that he was speaking with legislators. Usually, legislators in Iowa cannot accept a meal from a lobbyist because of cost limitations (and the potential for being outed for having a lack of ethics). Bill must have noticed that I enjoy eating. I tried not to accept his generosity, but his money to the cashier was far quicker than the eye. His issue was to eliminate sales tax on car washes. I knew that, and I would have opposed that matter if I had a client who cared. He sat with me at a table in the cafeteria, so I imagine he also wanted to talk to someone interesting. There is no doubt that I was an interesting character. That’s probably why most people didn’t want to sit with me.

I don’t know how he accomplished his goal since I never saw him talk to a legislator, but a provision in a bill toward the end of the session included his brief lobbying success.

NEW SUBSECTION. 96. The sales price from the sale of water, electricity, chemicals, solvents, sorbents, or reagents to a retailer to be used in providing a service that includes a vehicle wash and wax, which vehicle wash and wax service is subject to section 423.2, subsection 6.

The language above was enacted and is added to the rest of the one-hundred nine [109] exemptions from state sales tax.  The exemption allows car wash owners to avoid paying sales tax on “water, electricity, chemicals, solvents, sorbents, or reagents to a retailer to be used in providing a service that includes a vehicle wash and wax.”

Prior to May 25, 2012, every five dollars you paid to wash your vehicle had 30 cents deducted from the owner’s profit to pay a sales tax. It’s even more significant in the Des Moines area now since the sales tax rate has increased to seven percent from the six percent rate of 2012. It’s not just the increase in nickels and dimes flowing into the pockets of car wash owners, there’s also an added benefit of not having to comply with the monthly sales tax paperwork.

However, like Walter and Skyler White in Breaking Bad, I also have to think that many of these so-called small businesses might be laundering more than automobiles.

No wonder car washes in Des Moines are sprouting up faster than coffee kiosks.

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