Category Archives: Politics


People of color, poor people, women, students, and people with disabilities all face continuing efforts to disenfranchise them. This is not new. But the only way to ensure your right to vote is to vote. Otherwise, those without our collective interests at heart may take that right away, whether you are poor and dark-skinned and female or wealthy and white and male.

Collection of the American Folk Art Museum

Made by Jessie Telfair of Georgia in 1983, this beautiful quilt embodies our collective political voice. From the American Folk Art Museum,

This is one of several freedom quilts that Jessie Telfair made as a response to losing her job after she attempted to register to vote. It evokes the civil rights era through the powerful invocation of one word, “freedom,” formed from bold block letters along a horizontal axis. Mimicking the stripes of the American flag, it is unclear whether the use of red, white, and blue is ironic or patriotic, or both.

We have the right and duty in the US to vote, though there is no legal obligation. Consider the Suffragettes. Consider the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Consider that people continue to try to disenfranchise some of our citizens. The only way to ensure our rights is to vote.




On one side there were Nazis and on the other side there were no Nazis and Trump still came down on the wrong side. #charlottesville

This is the rant I wish I’d written.

Margaret and Helen

helen-mug1From Helen:

Margaret, several people have asked me why I haven’t been writing. The truth is, honey, this isn’t funny anymore. Our President… scratch that… the moron currently occupying the White House just equated George Washington to Robert E. Lee. He can’t understand why a memorial to the symbolic founding father of our country is different than a memorial to a general in an army that fought a failed rebellion against our government.

Mr. President, with no respect intended, I implore you to please step down. You are not qualified for the position you now hold. Quite frankly, you are not qualified to be much more than a reality TV star, a position I hold in very low regard by the way.

There is a reason that in Germany you will find no statues of Hitler, no monuments to the Third Reich, and noChancellor of Germany suggesting there was blame…

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The Face of America

Jim and I are in agreement on this, so I am reblogging here.

How I See It

I haven’t said much about the presidential campaign this year. I know many are very disturbed by it in this country. The partisan splits and us-against-them encampments have left us with no common ground for compromise and problem solving. It is a sad state of affairs.

People in other nations of the world wonder what has gone wrong here. They don’t understand how we can have such a fractious campaign. They are justifiably concerned about the outcome.

You might not ‘like’ either presidential candidate. But, that is the choice we have in November. You should vote anyway.

Things to consider… Whose face do you want to represent America internationally? Does expression at a negotiating table matter? Are important treaties and agreements promoted by making faces at your opponent?

I think the impressions we give to others matters a lot. I want someone who acts like an adult respecting others, not an…

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Theological Anarchy

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution includes the clause we’ve come to think of as the separation of church and state. The intention was to ensure that the practice of religion would be free from government intervention, and limiting the power of the federal government to enact religiously-based laws.

Though the Bill of Rights was ratified more than two centuries ago, how the amendments are to be understood and enforced continually changes.

Challenges to the First Amendment have been in the news recently. There are two issues, in particular, at hand. One is the exemptions allowed religiously-based institutions from complying with government mandates. One is the passage of a state law, which would allow discrimination specifically when the discriminating party claims religious belief. Both have the potential consequence of theological anarchy.

In March 2016 the Supreme Court heard arguments concerning the Affordable Care Act and prerogatives of religiously-affiliated institutions to deny insurance coverage to employees for reproductive health care. These institutions include schools, hospitals, and orders of Catholic nuns. The organizations were already granted a legal accommodation, allowing them to file a two-page form with either the federal government or with their health insurance provider. The form would allow them to opt out of having reproductive health care coverage under their plans. In so doing, the reproductive care would be insured separately and at no cost to the employer.

The religious organizations object, complaining that filing a two-page form is a substantial burden, too much to ask. Though seven appeals courts disagree, the Eighth Circuit Court found for the plaintiffs. The fact that the appeals courts had a split decision is what sent the issue to the Supreme Court.

In other news, the Mississippi legislature passed a bill allowing private citizens, government employees, corporations, and other organizations to discriminate in a wide range of ways, if they claim they do so because of their religious beliefs. The legislation is still subject to resolution of differences between the House and Senate versions. According to the Washington Post,

Mississippi’s House Bill 1523 says, among other things, that public employees, businesses, and social workers cannot be punished for denying services based on the belief that marriage is strictly between a man and a woman. Same goes for people who act on the belief that “sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage” and that gender is determined at birth. It says the government can’t prevent businesses from firing a transgender employee, clerks from refusing to license a same-sex marriage, or adoption agencies from refusing to place a child with a couple who they believe may be having premarital sex.

It prevents the government from “discriminating” (through taxes, fines, withholding benefits, or other forms of retaliation) against a “person” (broadly defined as an individual, religious organization, association, corporation and other kinds of businesses) for acting on their religious convictions regarding sexuality and marriage. That includes employers, landlords and rental companies, adoption and foster care agencies, people and companies that provide marriage-related services (rental halls, photographers, florists, etc.).

The bill protects doctors who refuse to provide counseling, sex-reassignment surgery, fertility treatments and other services based on their religious convictions, and allows companies and schools to establish sex-specific policies regarding dress and bathroom use. It allows state employees to recuse themselves from licensing or overseeing a same-sex marriage, so long as they take “all necessary steps” to ensure that the marriage isn’t impeded or delayed as a result. And it gives foster and adoptive families license to “guide, raise or instruct” children as they see fit, a rule that Human Rights Campaign argues would make LGBT children vulnerable to being forced into “conversion therapy.”

Emphasis above added in bold by me. But read it again: “It prevents the government from “discriminating” (through taxes, fines, withholding benefits, or other forms of retaliation) against a “person” (broadly defined as an individual, religious organization, association, corporation and other kinds of businesses) for acting on their religious convictions regarding sexuality and marriage.” In essence, the bill says a person, broadly defined, can act however they want with regard to someone else’s sexuality or marriage, as long as that person claims it is due to their religious convictions.

Supposedly these two current issues are narrow, one about contraception and reproductive health care, and the other about sexuality and marriage. But why stop there? Why is SEX so special, that it gets special exemptions? If a person (or organization or corporation) can be exempt from following the law in these circumstances, why should they ever follow the law, any law they don’t like? Why can’t they claim their religious conviction prevents them from serving people of color? Or requires that they marry their daughters off at age 10? Or requires them to stop paying taxes? Or allows killing other people because they don’t like them? What is off limits here?

And what accurate test is there of religious conviction? Is it like the Monty Python test for witches? How can we tell who is acting out of conviction and who is just plain mean and ugly?

In other words, anyone could claim any moral or religious position and ignore standing law, not just relative to health care or insurance or marriage or sexuality, but on any issue. All the hypotheticals we saw in the Hobby Lobby case regarding insurance coverage of birth control or other reproductive care, blood transfusions, vaccinations, diabetic care for those who “eat too much,” etc., these don’t begin to scratch the surface. Anyone could claim exemption from any law, on the basis of their claimed religious or moral beliefs. Corporations will be able to rape the Earth with no constraints, claiming that “man is to have dominion over the Earth.”

There is NOTHING out of bounds.

Theocratic Anarchy: no rule of law except each person’s or organization’s own interpretation of what is allowed based on their beliefs.

The only upside? No legislators would be needed, as no law passed would ever have teeth again.

Give Peace A Chance – Bomb Agrabah

Elyse nails it with her win-win-win-win analysis here. Take a look at her blog post and leave comments there, please.


It was one of the most embarrassing things about working at the World Health Organization for an American like me.  My knowledge of geography really wasn’t all that hot.

I was pretty good at Europe.  I knew that Italy is shaped like a boot, and Switzerland, where I was living, looked like a delicious croissant.  Russia and China?  No problem.  South Africa and Chile — those were easy — they’re at the bottom (and I had been to Chile, so I knew that it was south).

It didn’t help that several countries changed names at the precise moment when I was trying to find them on the map.  Yeah, I’m talking to you Burma/Myanmar. 

But I’m a pretty quick study.  My knowledge of geography grew daily as I had to figure out where the hell everybody was when they went away without me.  Today I can proudly say…

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Moments from a Campaign Event

Though its influence wanes as campaigning changes, Iowa is still the epicenter of the US presidential race. There are more candidate visits per capita here than anywhere else in the country. In years past I’ve seen John Edwards, Rudy Giuliani, and others within shouting distance while just going about my business. We’ve attended some rallies and avoided many others. In September while visiting Amana, we saw Republican candidate Scott Walker with his campaign bus and a throng of about eight supporters. Yeah. And the next week he withdrew from the race.

Besides candidates, other celebs come on their behalf. Just this week we’ve been invited to campaign events featuring Howard Dean, Wendy Davis, and actor Tony Goldwyn from Scandal.

Yesterday we had the opportunity to attend an event for Hillary Clinton. She’s a persuasive, knowledgeable speaker, and kept the tone positive. Aside from asserting that the Republican candidates are working in an evidence-free zone, she spent her time talking about her policy positions and plans, rather than tearing down anyone else. She spoke for about 15 minutes, followed by about 30 minutes of questions and answers.


Besides the campaign rhetoric, there were a few moments from the event that stood out. First, as we entered the building, we filled out our contact info on a small form, which served as our tickets into the event. While we had our heads down, a young woman asked if we were ready to sign “commitment cards,” committing to caucusing for Hillary. I growled, “NO!” and then heard laughter. I looked up to see our friend Caroline, a campaign worker. She knows our position and was just pulling my chain.


We went inside and were directed to the left for seating. It’s a small venue, allowing for about 400 to attend. Our seats were to the left of the podium, near the doorway through which Clinton ultimately entered, and three feet back from the rope line. There was just enough room for people to walk in front of us, which they did as the room filled.

About a half hour before things started, a woman appeared before us and positioned herself and her equipment at the rope line. “I know what I’m doing. I’m good,” the woman said, brushing off a staffer’s attempts to get her to move. She was Washington Post photographer Melina Mara, getting ready to photograph Hillary Clinton as she entered the room. We’d already heard her celebrate “making it” across the secured area with no one stopping her. “No one yells,” she said when Jim asked her about it. “I don’t get in trouble.”

“I know what I’m doing?” I asked her. “That’s all you have to say and people leave you alone?”

“Yes, that’s all there is to it!” She had already reached for me, taking my hand as she spoke. So I reached back and we hugged.

A few minutes later I saw her stroke another photographer’s face and hug him as she greeted him. Yet later, as she talked to an old vet, she had her hand on his knee as she squatted on the floor in front of him. I asked the photographer who recently joined us, “Does she make friends like this wherever she goes?” I nodded toward her with the older man.

“What, you mean I’m not the only one?” He smiled, and then said, “You don’t get to be on staff at the Washington Post without being good at this.”

Yep. She’s good.


Speaking of photos, here is a photo taken by Gazette photographer Andy Abeyta. Jim and I are on the far right of the photo.



I spent a lot of time watching the Secret Service agents. Prior to Clinton’s arrival in the room, visible coverage went from two burly men for an hour, to adding a burly woman, to adding about 10 more men just before Hillary came in. Those were the ones I could see; I expect there were more. As soon as the meeting was over, they formed a picket fence in front of her since the crowd was up and moving and they needed to cover differently. (They did make room for people to step up and shake her hand or thank her for coming.) The guy on the picket fence immediately in front of me cracked a smile back when I caught his eye.


Another interesting moment: Clinton asked how many in the audience had previously attended a caucus. (For those of you who haven’t, you don’t just go step into a booth and vote when it’s convenient for you during the day. It’s a scheduled meeting, a process that takes a couple of hours.) The vast majority of us raised our hands. We all laughed, including Hillary.


After the event we met our friend Sarah, another campaign staffer, in the hallway. She wondered what we thought. Clinton is very impressive and, frankly, comes across better in person that she does on television. Her goals for the country are for progress rather than regression or destruction. She wants better economic equity and fairness. She supports women’s rights to healthcare, including for reproductive health. And she understands more about national security and diplomacy than any other candidate. Yes, we were impressed. And then we signed the commitment cards Sarah offered us, to caucus for Hillary Clinton on February 1.



Locate the Nearest Exit

Any of us who fly from time to time know the familiar flight attendants’ spiel. Besides the wise reminder to “adjust your own mask before helping others”, we are told to “find the exits closest to you, keeping in mind that your closest exit may be behind you.”

I comply. Not only do I find the exits, I also decide which will be easiest to reach, even if it isn’t the closest.

In 1980, a fire started in the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, killing 85 people. That disaster and others in the early 80’s taught me to find the exit on my hotel floor.

I’m not afraid. I have a better understanding of probability than the average Joe, due to numerous classes on it and a career in financial management. I know the probability of an airplane emergency or a hotel disaster is exceedingly low, and I run more risk every time I get in my car. But I look. After all, it only takes a moment to register this information.

The probability of being a victim in a mass shooting also is exceedingly low. (The current rate of occurrence, however, is many times greater than the airplane disaster or the hotel fire.) However, up until now I’ve considered this type of violence to be either TARGETED (not at me) or RANDOM (low probability). Now it feels like the potential for it is everywhere.

In 1991, before we moved to Iowa, a mass shooter at the University of Iowa killed four faculty members and a student, and seriously injured another, before killing himself. Since the shooting I studied at UI and taught there. On Valentine’s Day of 2008, a mass shooter at Northern Illinois University killed five people and wounded 21 more, before killing himself. Two of my college degrees are from NIU and I taught there, also. The murders were in a classroom I’d frequently used. There is no way to kid myself that mass shootings can’t happen where I am. The potential for it is everywhere.

Last night before I fell asleep, I conceded that the wise move is to locate the exits, in every public place I visit. Jim and I planned to attend the annual “Thieves’ Market” at the university union this morning. Mentally I located the exits of the rooms used for the market’s vendors.

Today while we spoke with a photographer selling his wares, the building fire alarm began to blare. The photographer was reluctant to leave his booth. I pointed down the aisle. “Your nearest exit is about 100 yards that way. When you need to leave it will be easy to get out.” Jim and I headed out the door.

Public health risks are addressed in every realm but firearms. Automobiles, yard darts, hotels and airplanes, sudafed, all are highly regulated to improve public health and safety. The one thing intended to kill us is not.

I am not afraid. I am sad and ashamed that we accept the violence, that it has become so commonplace, and that my only defense is to locate the nearest exit.


My Private Meeting

I had a ‘private meeting’ with President Obama. About 25 of us were invited to meet him when he visited the U of IA for a speech in 2012. We were asked to line up along the wall at the far end of the room where our meeting was to take place. 

Twenty minutes before his speech, he entered the room and stood in front of a blue curtain backdrop. The first person in our group walked toward him. For each of us in turn, the President reached out his hand, said hello, and asked our name. I said I was very happy to meet him and work for his re-election. He thanked me. I was thrilled with his ‘endorsement’ of my efforts.

We turned with arms around each other. The photographer took a flash picture. I left the room. The next person followed in this efficiently organized set of ‘private meetings’.

My ‘private meeting’ took all of 30 seconds. The President had no idea who I was. Based on what I have read and learned, Kim Davis of KY had the same kind of brief arranged experience with Pope Francis. He had no idea who she was. Their ‘private meeting’ was arranged to get political mileage for a cause according to these Esquire and NY Times stories, among others.

She claims to have received a rosary gift. So did everyone else. I have a picture with the President as proof of my meeting. If I had a political cause to promote, this evidence could easily be used to show the President’s interest in me and my cause. I think that is what the supporters of Davis are doing. It is wrong to use the Pope and his influence that way.

That is my opinion.

Hastert | My Link To The Story

The indictment of former Speaker Dennis Hastert hit the news last week. He is accused of violation of federal banking laws and lying to the FBI about it. The news came as a big surprise to most people. Hastert had a reputation as a decent and down-to-earth person.

Hastert was a high school teacher and wrestling coach at Yorkville High School in Illinois from 1965-1981 before entering politics. In November 1986, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from the 14th district in Illinois. That district is a far southwest Chicago suburb.

At the same time, I was a high school teacher in a district north of Yorkville. I was active with the Education Office of Fermi National Accelerator Lab in Batavia. One of my teacher colleagues in that office was also a teacher at Yorkville HS. Another colleague was a teacher and wrestling fan at a neighboring district. Both of them knew Dennis Hastert.

All three of us were physics teachers and active in the American Association of Physics Teachers organization. In the winter of 1988, the AAPT held their annual winter meeting in Crystal City, Virginia, across the river from Washington, DC. We went to the meeting to present educational materials from the Fermilab Education Office and to attend various workshops. We decided to contact Hastert to see if he could give us a tour of the Capitol. He had been elected barely a year earlier and was eager to show us around.

Wikipedia Commons

It was the most amazing tour you can imagine. This was before security was tightened after 9/11. We rode the underground United States Capitol subway system connecting the Capitol and the Senate and House office buildings. Senator and former astronaut John Glenn was in the next car to ours. Hastert showed us the cloakroom, off-limits to nearly everyone, bullet holes from the 1954 shooting on the floor of the House chamber, tunnels and secret passage short-cuts, and many other unique places. Hastert was happy to see us and treated us royally.

He went on to be Speaker of the House from January 6, 1999 – January 3, 2007. I didn’t agree with him politically. But, I still held him in regard for the way he treated us on our visit. As a fellow teacher, I felt a kinship with him.

The part of his indictment connected to his alleged sexual behavior with a high school aged student troubles me deeply. It contradicts the things I assumed about him as a positive influence for young people. It goes against all of the beliefs and standards I hold dear. What a surprising and disturbing story.