A Discourse on Bernie with my Brother

Wow…it’s been a while.

I have to say that I have missed blogging, but after the 9/11 anniversary event, the course of this blog seemed to change, and I with it. It was moving in a direction toward which I didn’t entirely know how to charter, and so I backed off.

Stories from the Heartland has gathered a lot of dust. It’s been more than three years since my last post–a missive about the Midwestern winters I suffered through each year, trying to tame my San Diego blood in sub-freezing temperatures.

But when my brother emailed me after Bernie’s primary loss in New York saying we should write a blog post about it, I perked up. I love sharing writing space with people, and he doesn’t have a blog. So I agreed.

And since his win in Indiana last night and his march toward our home state of California, it’s good to keep the conversation going.

Here’s what he wrote:

Optimism in the Afterglow

Post-New York primary, the delegate count is probably insurmountable for Bernie. But, wow, who would have thought someone with such uncompromising dedication to taking on the power structure of this country would come so far?! I am optimistic about the future.

Younger people broke heavily for Bernie and I’m not so sure this is because you become more “pragmatic” or conservative when you age. I think the most important factor driving the generational divide is the difference in where people get their information.

My mom and other good friends of her generation, who generally hold the same values and ideals as I do, were suspicious of Bernie because of things they had heard watching the news or listening to NPR. A limited set of sources. I get a lot of my news from Huffington Post or Common Dreams or my Facebook feed, all of which synthesize news from a broad array of sources. And those younger than me who spend more time on the internets have an even greater and more diverse set of sources from which to get their information and read opinion. Remember that poll showing that the word capitalism has stronger negative connotations than socialism for millennials?

So I’m optimistic that this movement will grow and that we will continue to fight for economic and social justice. For real equality of opportunity. I’m optimistic that the younger generation more clearly understands the degree to which large corporations control our economy and environment. And they’re looking for alternative models.

Bernie represents a manifestation of an alternative, and it has encouraged many. If Hillary indeed becomes the Democratic nominee, we must make sure she feels the pressure to fight against old friends. This article by Naomi Klein shows just how hard that might be.

But the Republican alternative at this point is either corporo-fascism (Trump) or theologo-fascism (Cruz). And I’m optimistic that not only will we reject those divisive alternatives in November, but we will continue to build on the progressive movement that Bernie, a socialist (well, democratic socialist) invigorated.

Thanks bro!

aaronHere’s a quick background on my brother. He’s always smiling, and he has a great smile. People are always commenting on his great smile. He’s optimistic and passionate about his beliefs, and he’s had some brushes with activism. But he also lives in San Diego, a hotbed of content, of sunshine and glistening ocean views. I’m not quite so optimistic.

Here’s my response:

I’ll Believe It When I See It

All the momentum and excitement Bernie has generated among the young people, the progressives, the decline-to-states and the I’ve-had-enough-of-the-status-quos is wonderful. But it’s no more wonderful than Occupy Wall Street, Save the CSU, Black Lives Matter and the 2000 Nader campaign.
All of those occurred in my conscious lifetime, and I have been marginally or deeply involved in them. They have all had great surges, and then the bottoms fell out and the momentum fell with it.
I’m not hopeful that once Clinton gets the nomination, much to my chagrin, that she will keep talking about the many points that Bernie raised—equal pay, universal health care, affordable/free college, a ban to fracking. These issues are not just pressing, they are dire.
We face a very real catastrophe on our hands in the form of climate change. Humans are quite adaptable for sure, but geez. What is the next 10, 20, 30 years going to look like? Bernie’s chutzpah to not take corporate money, to fund a national, high-profile campaign at a truly grassroots level, made me think that I could trust him to not kowtow to corporate interests when it came to the environment. Clinton? Is she going to say what needs to be said? Do what needs to be done?
That’s just one issue.
I’m glad he was able to direct the conversation toward progressive values, but that conversation has not been picked up by the mainstream media in any substantial form. Most voters don’t read alternative media like you, dear brother. Bernie doesn’t have the name recognition that Hillary has. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Bernie’s disdain for the establishment (media included) has been the major obstacle of this campaign. And it’s a main reason he hasn’t topped Hillary in the delegate count. People don’t know who he is, and the media’s not about to tell them.
So where do we go from here?
For real, on-the-ground change to actually happen there needs to be continuing agitation on very local levels that translates to elected leaders in city council, county seats and state government. Even school boards!!
This is what the Tea Party did, then they were able to get people into the House, into the Senate…and they have hijacked the GOP. This is what the Christian Coalition did before them, moving conservative social values into the GOP platform.
Progressives need to think in that broad, long-term vein, where we can steer the Democratic Party and force it to address some of these intensely needed and crucial policies Bernie has been relentlessly stumping. We need enough candidates running on all levels of government that it doesn’t seem so strange to have a true progressive on the ticket.
The optimist in me hopes that Bernie’s movement doesn’t wither away like the others I’ve witnessed. I hope he can continue to encourage his supporters to stay active in the political process, to get involved on their local levels. And I hope he doesn’t go away. I just put a “Birdie” bumper sticker on my Prius (ha ha, shut up), and I don’t wanna take it off.

And then my bro wrote back…

I do agree that the tea party movement was quite successful at creating a Republican party with strong and cohesive values. But remember how this originated – a consortium of big-money think tanks funded by the Koch brothers and their ilk.

Real Populist movements throughout our history have originated in the streets. We shouldn’t seek to emulate the tea party approach because we’ll never be, and never should be, top-down led. Top-down inspired, sure, as what Bernie has done. But remember, the reason Bernie has done so well is because of the aforementioned movements that have infiltrated our psyche.

Occupy and the 99% vs. 1%? That completely changed the dialogue. Black-lives Matter? That is not fizzling out any time soon, and will be here in one form or another until “the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes.”

The movement to stem Climate Change continues to strengthen. You’re right, not fast enough. But as Dad would say, that means we just have to push harder because the alternative is giving in. We change the conversation and the politicians will follow. Keep bringing it up at dinner parties, chatting with your friends and acquaintances. Keep posting on your blog.

Because the young people are reading this stuff…




Living in the Battleground

Did you know Joe the Plumber is running for Congress? He is, and guess what? He’s running in my district.

You remember Joe, aka Samuel Wurzelbacher. He had his 15 or 16 minutes of fame during the last presidential contest in 2008 when he questioned Obama about his tax policy. Back then, like now, Obama was talking about his plan to raise taxes on those making more than $250K a year. Joe didn’t like that. Obama’s opponents, Sen. John McCain and Sarah Palin, made “Joe the Plumber” an example of the hard-working Americans Obama wanted to exploit with his tax plan.

Joe has since written a book and gone on to become a conservative activist and is now, like I said, running for Congress in my district. He’s running against Rep. Marcy Kaptur, a Democratic incumbent, who is serving her 14th term in the House.

Now, I haven’t been following politics much since our move to Ohio a year ago, but one thing I find interesting is that living in this state, and in our previous state of Iowa, we have been afforded a glimpse into the political machinery of our two-party system. Both states are considered battlegrounds. In Iowa, we had the privilege of caucusing in 2008. That was a memorable and exciting experience. That state is still hotly contested. Media outlets in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines, are raking in a lot of money from political ads.

Today, as I drove north from Toledo to Ann Arbor, I saw a billboard that read: “Obama supports Gay Marriage & AbortioGOP billboardn. Do you? Vote Republican” That was the second time in three days I’d seen that billboard. Well, I happen to agree with civil rights and a woman’s right to choose, so I’m not going to vote Republican. But, I liked how it laid out the GOP platform so straightforwardly. It’s so black and white. And so short-sighted.

There is a lot of money being spent in Ohio trying to sway voters to either side. It’s been apparent to me that the Republicans have more money because I’m seeing more ads. During the Olympic coverage on NBC about 3/4 of the ads I saw during the broadcasts I watched were political ads. The Republican ads blasting Obama and trying to unseat Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown were far more numerous than ads against Republican candidates. It was clear to me that the Democrats are being outspent.

All those emails I’m getting from the Obama campaign telling me so were not lying. Democrats are losing the money race. Just like in Wisconsin a few months ago. There, outside Republican money from wealthy donors like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson, fueled the effort to defeat the campaign to recall Gov. Scott Walker. I have had faith that money could not buy an election. But when Walker retained his seat, I was disheartened. Apparently if voters hear a message often enough, even if the facts are muddled, they will believe the message to be true.

And all that money now — including $10 million from Adelson — is going toward ads, like the billboards I saw around town.

When we lived in San Francisco, we saw a few very interesting political upheavals, including the recall of Gov. Gray Davis that put Arnold “The Terminator” Schwarzenegger in the governor’s seat. It was the first successful recall of a California elected official. And it opened up a whole new can of worms for that state. We watched California’s state government take a free fall from dysfunctional to non-functional, and then we packed up and moved to Iowa.

And now, living in the battleground of Ohio, I feel like my vote really counts. My  neighbor, unmoved by neither Obama nor Romney, disclosed she might not vote in this election. I can’t think of a worse outcome than that. And think of all that money wasted!

Stay away Terminator

Today, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said out loud what many Californians (and probably a lot of other people around the world) have thought, or maybe didn’t think because why would they: “No matter where you go in the world, people still want to come to California,” Schwarzenegger said. “There’s no one screaming like, ‘I can’t wait to get to Iowa.’ That I can guarantee you. They want to come here to California.”

I had to laugh when I read this because, being from California I would have never considered Iowa a destination. In fact, Iowa never entered my thoughts except when I watched “Field of Dreams.

But now that I live in Iowa, I thought Schwarzenegger’s comment to be offensive and misplaced. There are far worse places than Iowa that get far less tourism and far fewer mentions in national media coverage. He had one thing right: California does attract more tourism. People think of it as a destination. And I, too, would rather spend time sunning on the beach in San Diego or running through Golden Gate Park than battling through another Iowa winter (or summer for that matter).

Iowa has some good things to offer, though. It has the Iowa State Fair, as pointed out in a rather snarky comment by a Des Moines Register reader. It has lots of open space and blue skies most of the time. It has Iowans, who have this remarkable ability to stay in Iowa and survive the winters, and it has lots of pork, if you’re into that.

One thing it does have that California doesn’t, and Schwarzenegger can read this as a direct, in-your-face stab at his policies during his tenure as governor, is a functioning state government. While this year has seen a steep budget cut for Iowa, its legislature and governor are working more or less in union to address the problem. There will be no IOUs. There will be no late budget.

No, the pragmatic and earnest Iowa politicians are aiming to push through the legislative session in record time–just to save the state a bit more money after it reorganizes government and trims the budget. I can’t imagine Schwarzenegger or any of the California state legislators making fixing the state a common goal and actually getting something accomplished.

And that is one good reason to come to Iowa.

California Dreamin’

Here I am in California, but it feels like purgatory.

My family and I are here for a month, in and out of the Sacramento-area, while my husband completes a medical school rotation. It’s been about a year since I’ve spent any length of time here, and right now it feels like such a tease.

We left California–the land of our births–more than three years ago. At the time we didn’t know what adventure lay before us as we made our way on Southwest Airlines to Omaha, Neb., and finally to Des Moines, Iowa. We had our twin boys, rapidly approaching their first birthday, and a household full of stuff to fill our new house on a quiet street in the northwest part of the city.

We have had many opportunities to come back to California to visit friends and family, and each time it felt great to come back, feel the sun on my face and enjoy the relative ease of slipping back into my California comfort zone.

This time has been different. It almost pains me to be here. I’d rather stay away and forget it exists for the time being–that time being the remainin year and a half in Iowa and subsequent residency years somewhere else.

I wonder if this is what a caged bird feels like, when seeing the vast space before it, wanting to fly around, perch on a tree over there, bathe in a birdbath over there. Freedom is so close, but unattainable.

So I wonder, how do you continue to forge relationships, build careers, keep on going full speed when you are stuck in a holding pattern?

June Gloom

It happened to be a glorious day in Iowa. Not just for me. I heard the word “glorious” spoken several times out of several mouths. It was a “glorious” day.june-gloom-explained

And a rare one. While some of my cohorts in San Francisco are suffering from June Gloom, I had a remarkably fanastic day in Iowa. I even went so far as to encourage fellow Californians (yes, I still consider myself a Californian) to move here to escape the destruction a certain political Hummer (read: Arnold) is having on the Golden State. Closing parks and beaches? What sort of message is that supposed to send? Aren’t we all doing our part.

Well, not me, obviously. I’m in Iowa. But isn’t it the political obstacle course set up in Sacramento’s gilded halls that has caused this meltdown? Read about proposed park and beach closings here.

It’s interesting to write about California’s problems from abroad. Having lived there all my life, save for the last three years, I feel somewhat distanced from the place. I feel I can view it a bit more objectively. But I want it to land on its feet. It has so much to offer. On the other hand, the fickle California voters have shot themselves in the foot. By voting in stodgy Arnold the Governator and then re-electing him, they did themselves in. I proudly say I did not vote for him–even fought against his election and re-election. But, California is a complicated place with complicated people and complicated problems. It’s not all Arnold’s fault. But at least he’s not planning on running for president.

So I am sorry for the gloomy June in California, not so much for the fog rolling in from the Pacific or the thick marine layer hovering over beach towns, but because the state has managed to dig itself into a canyon. And, any life lines that are extended end up frayed and broken.

Remember: in a democracy, your government is what you make it. There are lessons to be learned from our mistakes.

Score Another for Iowa

Eager, anxious Californians waited Tuesday morning to hear the state Supreme Court’s ruling on Proposition 8, passed by voters in November, that banned gay marriage in this state. The court upheld Prop. 8, leaving many angry and perplexed. Others, of course, were elated. This is the changing face of California.

I have watched this drama unfold from a distance. Meanwhile, where I am standing, Iowa’s top court affirmed gay couples’ right to marry. An interesting juxtaposition. Here you have one state, California, a place that has become known for its left-leaning politics and ideologies—a place where many people in Iowa find distasteful for all of its freeness and peace, love and understanding. But this is not the case. A state with these attributes would not have had such a oscillating view on equal rights and gay marriage.

Maybe it’s time we stop thinking of California as this liberal, free-wheeling bastion of equality and progressive values and start seeing it for what it really is—a conflicted hodgepodge of sun-soaked people who really can’t seem to screw their heads on right (friends and family excluded, of course). First with the election of Arnorld Schwarzenegger and then his re-election, then the demise of the state legislature’s ability to come to a consensus and pass a decent budget without cutting vast sums of money from public infrastructure (namely education and social services). Now the back and forth on gay marriage.

It has only taken one try so far here in Iowa. From my vantage point it seems pretty definite that this state in flyover country, that only gets attention every four years during presidential primary campaigns, is setting the standard for equal rights and humanity in our country. Not only that, but real estate here is actually affordable. And, perhaps with climate change, its weather will get a little better.

At least for now, Iowa has shown its worth.

From SF Chronicle:

Calif upholds gay marriage ban

By LISA LEFF, Associated Press Writer

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The state Supreme Court has upheld a voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage, but also decided that the estimated 18,000 gay couples who tied the knot before the law took effect will stay wed.

The decision Tuesday rejected an argument from gay rights activists that the ban revised the California constitution’s equal protection clause to such a dramatic degree that it first needed the Legislature’s approval.

The announcement of the decision caused outcry among a sea of demonstrators who gathered in front of the San Francisco courthouse awaiting the ruling.

The Two-State Solution

From Yahoo! Buzz http://buzz.yahoo.com/buzzlog/92599?fp=1

California: Breaking up is hard to do
California’s budget problems are kind of like the boy who cried “wolf.” Nobody pays attention anymore. Well, hardly anybody. A radical idea that would split California into four distinct states garnered some attention on the Buzz. Commenters chimed in with their thoughts. Some even suggested names including Calidormia (for the “bedroom communities and burbs all across the state”) and Califarmia (for the huge agricultural regions). The commenter notes that Calinormia could make for a nice state, but, alas, normal doesn’t exist out west. Experts argue that the proposal doesn’t have a chance of working, but we say “never say never.” This is the state the elected Conan the Destroyer, after all.


Here’s my two cents:

Make the Bay Area its own state. Include Santa Clara, San Mateo, San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Sonoma and Mendocino counties (maybe Santa Cruz, too). Erect a 20-foot wall around this new state and let no one in or out without adequate identification.california_north_90


If cost of living were not an issue, this region would create a utopian state. You’ve got redwoods (check), beaches (check), a world-class city (check), and international airport (check), good art, theater and music (check), interesting, diverse people (check), a solid economy (check), public transportation (check), mountains (check), Sea Ranch (check), rain and sunshine (check), good biking (check)…I could go on for about three more pages. Most important, however, I think is the progressive ideology that permeates these counties.

A new state would most likely have universal, singer-payer health care, better public transportation, tighter regulations on air and water pollution, more community gardens, more outdoor music festivals, free public Wi-Fi, an ample amount of newspapers and publications and a high literacy rate. The schools would also be top-notch and well funded.

I would move to this new state in a heartbeat. Now all we need is a name.

Natives Among Us

When I was growing up in San Diego in the ’80s (I acknowledge I am dating myself, but hey, 30 is the new 20) a certain bumper sticker began to appear on rear windows and bumpers on cars all over the city. It resembled California’s license plate at the time basic blue background and gold lettering that read: “California Native.”licenseplate

I remember sitting in the passenger’s seat of my mom’s 1971 VW bus (I was native to that) and wondering about what it meant to be “native.” The details of my pre-teenage mind’s processes are blurry, though I can imagine thinking of Native Americans, since in the third grade I wrote an in-depth report about the Cherokee, and how they made necklaces out of fingertips.

As a native Californian, I never thought about life outside California. My only trip outside the state before my senior year in high school was to a place called Denver, where it snowed and my ears popped when I got off the airplane. (After that, my purview widened, and I even crossed the Atlantic.) But looking back and thinking about those bumper stickers, I wonder if it was the native Californian’s answer to the sprawl that was creeping into our fair state. The secret of California had been set loose. Migrants from every direction came to settle on our turf. Maybe these bumper stickers were the assertions of our flag in the sand, of our right to our dominion, of our right to trespass.

So, when I noticed a rash of similar bumper stickers mounted to car windows and bumpers in my current state of residence, Iowa, I wondered about what it meant to be an Iowa native and why the surreptitious rise in Iowa pride? Comparing current iowa_stickerevents in Iowa to the time of the “California Native” bumper sticker of my youth, I can come up with two reasons, though I must disclose that this is not a scientifically-backed research.

1) Immigration.

The topic has been hot for a few years now, especially following a meatpacking plant raid that found hundreds of illegal immigrants mostly from Mexico working and living in remote towns. Iowa has historically been a white—of northern European descent—populace. Much of the state was agrarian, and lived in small towns. It was typical, small-town America. Home of apple pie, Fourth of July parades and all that kitschy stuff you find in the “Americana” genus. There has been an increase in Latino and refugee immigration in the last few decades that has changed the way Iowa looks, even in rural areas. Not everyone is happy about it.

In Des Moines, for example, the largest city in the state with about 400,000 people, there are solid populations of Asians, Africans, Latinos, Bosnians and Middle Easterners—many of whom are Iraqi refugees. While these populations don’t necessarily blend together, they do exist within the city limits, and have created a more metropolitan feel in certain respects.

2) Changing landscape

There is, however, a backlash that has been going on. People often fear change. They fear the “urbanization” of Iowa, and a recession from the strong Protestant ethos of hard work and fortitude. Iowa has recently been reclassified as an urban state. An interesting fact, given that the majority of the state’s land is tied up in corn and soybean production. But more people in Iowa live in urban areas than rural. Here’s a quote from a 2002 story in the Des Moines Register:

“We are two Iowans—one living in Des Moines inner city, the other living on a six-generation family farm—who believe strongly that rural and urban Iowa share a common destiny. Those who insist the two are locked in struggle fail to see that the best future for Iowa builds on the historic strengths of both our cities and farming communities.”

The article continues to note the rapid erosion of farmland—cornfields that are transformed overnight into suburban housing and strip malls, and farmers who can no longer afford to raise crops on their family’s farmland. This topic is for another day, but the point is that Iowa is in a situation similar to that of California’s circa 1982. The population is urbanizing. Sprawl is creeping in. Waterways and the air are being polluted. Traffic congestion is mounting. And people are coming in from elsewhere.

But, like Californians, who often have a myopic view of life outside the state, Iowans have a sense of pride in their home state. People who are raised here and choose to leave after high school or college often find themselves returning to Iowa to raise their children. I, similarly, would like to return to California to raise my children. But I know that if and when I return to California, children in tow, I will not find it the same as when I left. It is more crowded, more expensive and dirtier. And the schools…not so good.

Iowa natives returning to the mother ship will also find their state changed. More people, more buildings, fewer cornfields, and deteriorating infrastructure. The schools are still good though, and the land is still cheap. And with the influx of immigration there is more diversity and “culture” in the way of street festivals, music and food.

Whatever the case, California has dramatically transformed since the 1980s, and Iowa is following suit. While I don’t believe Iowa will explode into a megalopolis like Los Angeles or the San Francisco Bay Area, I do wonder if government planners can acknowledge the growth and respond to it in sustainable, evironmentally sensitive ways. An article in the Register on Sunday discussed the idea of a light rail system to ease the commuter burden into downtown Des Moines. A great idea. Just  like BART, in the Bay Area was a good idea, and was shot down by residents of the Peninsula. Ever seen the traffic on 101 during weekday rush hour?

This California native hopes that Iowa natives take a hard look at the transformation of their state and stand up to ensure that quality of life and of the environment does not suffer.

Iowa: The new SF

Have I been waiting all this time for a line like this to come into my brainspace? Thank you to newspaperman Phil Bronstein for pointing this out.

As a San Francisco-o-phile living in Iowa, I felt some deep churning in my belly when I read these words from Bronstein yesterday (thanks Jamie for sending this out). He attributes this to the recent gay marriage decision by the Iowa courts, and to the presidential visit for Earth Day in nearby Newton, Ia. Read the entire text of Bronstein’s yap here: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/bronstein/detail?entry_id=38933&tsp=1

There are some significant differences between Iowa and San Francisco, however, that I’d like to point out.

1) Weather: Just an example of the sheer extreme of Iowa weather, last weekend when it was 30 mph winds in Des Moines and about 50 degrees, two of my San Francisco girls were sunbathing at Ocean Beach, enjoying record heat in Fog City. Not only that, but the -30 degree temps in January and February would make any San Francisco hibernate all winter long. ALL winter long. Twain said the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco. That may be true if you’re living in the Sunset, but not true if you’ve ever lived through an Iowa winter. I guess Hannibal, Mo., never got that cold.

2) People: While Des Moines is relatively diverse–there are many immigrant populations that are more or less separated from everyday white culture–the population here is homogeneous. Puting race aside, even the fashion sense is homogeneous. It reminds me a bit of San Luis Obispo–lots of khakis and polo shirts, and when a punker strides by with a dog collar, tatoos and leather pants, it is a sight to behold. In San Francisco, someone dressed in khakis and a polo would be the sight to behold. Unless, of course, you’re in Nob Hill or Pac Heights.

3) Cost of Living: I bought my house in Des Moines for the price of a minimal down payment in San Francisco. An entire, three-bedroom, two-bathroom house! Not kidding. Oh, in a nice neighborhood.

4) Food: I miss San Francisco food every day. Where else, besides maybe another major city like New York, Chicago, Paris, London, Los Angeles, could you walk down any street, hop in the nearest eatery and treat yourself to a fantastic meal, snack, slurp or what have you. It’s a pleasure you only really can fully appreciate when you don’t have that ability. Des Moines is getting better–there are smatterings of Thai, Vietnamese, Indian and BBQ around, but nothing is quite up to par. And there is little emphasis on local, organic or non-meat-centric food. A tough place to be for a foodie or a food-conscious vegan (though I am not, or I’d be a size 0).

I can go on and on with this list, it seems, but I will leave you with this thought: If Iowa is the new San Francisco, it’s time to invest in real estate before flyover country becomes the center of the new world.

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