Articles on this Page
- 11/10/19--18:39: _In Coralville, Sen....
- 11/11/19--08:03: _Open house seeks pu...
- 11/12/19--08:58: _Daylight Donuts is ...
- 11/12/19--10:52: _Mark Sanford, who w...
- 11/12/19--13:52: _Iowa Supreme Court ...
- 11/13/19--10:27: _Q&A with Alex Gibne...
- 11/13/19--11:32: _Sen. Elizabeth Warr...
- 11/14/19--09:09: _Deval Patrick annou...
- 11/14/19--10:59: _The Pentacrest has ...
- 11/14/19--12:15: _Cranksgiving return...
- 11/14/19--20:46: _‘Democracy means vo...
- 11/15/19--07:48: _Emergency winter ov...
- 11/15/19--10:49: _Iowa’s Ride, the ne...
- 11/15/19--13:54: _Don’t bother readin...
- 11/15/19--13:56: _Fixin’ for a coffee...
- 11/15/19--14:52: _Five questions with...
- 11/15/19--16:00: _Heaviness in Mirror...
- 11/15/19--16:45: _James Tutson and th...
- 11/12/19--08:58: Daylight Donuts is reopening in a new location
- 11/14/19--10:59: The Pentacrest has a new larch
- 11/14/19--12:15: Cranksgiving returns to Cedar Rapids this Sunday
- 11/15/19--07:48: Emergency winter overflow shelter in Cedar Rapids opens on Friday
- 11/15/19--14:52: Five questions with: Comedian Dave Maher
“I think I’m going to make a very short speech, because Alexandria said it all,” Sen. Bernie Sanders told the people packed into the Expo Hall of the Coralville Marriott Hotel and Conference Center for the 2020 presidential candidate’s rally, featuring Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Actually, the Vermont senator spoke for 38 minutes, 10 minutes longer than he did during his last area rally two weeks ago.
Enthusiasm was high in the Expo Hall for all the rally’s speakers, including Linn County Supervisor and Iowa Co-Chair of the Sanders Campaign Stacey Walker, Iowa City Councilmember Rockne Cole, author Naomi Klein and Nick Salazar, the state director of LULAC and the other co-chair of Sanders’ Iowa campaign. But when Ocasio-Cortez took the stage, the response was deafening.
The freshman member of Congress from New York was accompanying Sanders on a two-day, three-stop campaign swing through the state. It was her first visit to Iowa, and she said she was impressed by how “neighborly” the Iowans she met while door-knocking for Sanders were.
Ocasio-Cortez said the sort of neighborliness she had seen in Iowa was also at the heart of Sanders’ agenda, and that he stands for “a politics of loving thy neighbor.”
“To me, that’s what policies like Medicare-for-all are all about,” she said. “To me, ending police brutality in America is loving thy neighbor. To me, ending a brutal policy of caging children and their parents is about loving thy neighbor. To me, a living wage is loving thy neighbor.”
“And to me, a Green New Deal is loving thy neighbor, our children and the planet.”
Ocasio-Cortez rejected the complaint that progressive policies like the ones she and Sanders support are “pushing the party too far left.”
“We’re not pushing the party left, we’re bringing the party home,” she said. “It’s time that we become the party of FDR again. It’s time that we become the party of the Civil Rights Act again. It’s time we become the party that fights for queer liberation again, the anti-war party, a party that stands for peace and prosperity. That’s the party I want to be again, and I want to go back home.”
Ocasio-Cortez said too many people had become disillusioned by politics, and too many political leaders put limits on the expectations of what is possible. She pointed out that, with the New Deal, the federal government brought electrical power to the poor in rural American for the first time, a feat that would be considered unimaginable by much of America’s current political elite.
It was a theme Sanders returned to in his remarks.
“Our major obstacle is not Wall Street, and it’s not the drug companies, the insurance companies, the 1 percent and all their billions of dollars,” he said. “Our major obstacle is what the establishment does to us every single day in limiting our imagination as to where we go and what we do.”
“The message that comes down every day from the political establishment, from the economic establishment, from the media establishment is ‘don’t think big, don’t have dreams, don’t have a vision, don’t have new ideas, because you are powerless, you’re nothing. Real power rests with the people on top.’”
“What this campaign is about is fundamentally changing that dynamic, and understanding that real power rests with us, not the 1 percent,” he concluded.
“We will never accomplish our goals if we do not believe we can accomplish those goals,” Sanders explained. “If we believe that all we are worth as workers are eight or nine bucks an hour, that is all we will ever get. If we believe that we are not entitled to health care as a human right, we will never have health care.”
In his speech, Sanders also responded to reports that billionaire Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, will run for the Democratic presidential nomination. (Bloomberg hasn’t announced a run yet, but on Friday, he filed the paperwork necessary to appear on the ballot in Alabama’s March 3 primary.)
“I’d like to say to Michael Bloomberg and other billionaires, ‘Sorry, you ain’t going to buy this election,’” the Vermont senator said.
Bloomberg has reportedly been encouraged by other billionaires — including Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos — to run to provide an alternative to Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, both of whom are advocating for increasing taxes on billionaires and reducing the political influence of the wealthiest Americans and corporations. The Washington Post, which is owned by Bezos, attempted to reach the billionaire for a comment about his support for Bloomberg, but did not receive a reply.
According to an adviser to Bloomberg, the former Republican who changed his party affiliation to run for mayor of heavily Democratic New York City, plans to skip the early primary and caucus states and concentrate on the Super Tuesday contests on March 3 instead.
“You’re not going to get elected president by avoiding Iowa, by avoiding New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada,” Sanders said. “You’re not going to buy this election by spending hundreds of millions of dollars on media in California.”
“Those days are gone.”
“Yes, we don’t have a super PAC and I’m not worth $52 billion [the current estimate of Bloomberg’s wealth], but this is what we do have,” Sanders continued. “We have raised more campaign contributions from more Americans — averaging $16 a donation — than any candidate up till this time in the history of the American politics.”
“Bloomberg can have his billions, but that is why we are going to win this election.”
(Interestingly, Sanders chose to ignore the billionaire already in the race, Tom Steyer.)
The discussion of expanding people’s imagination of what is possible and directly criticizing a rival other than Trump (in this case, Bloomberg) were the first major, new elements Sanders has incorporated in his Iowa speeches since he launched his campaign in February. The senator also included all the features familiar to attendees of previous rallies in his speech on Saturday.
He discussed his plans for fundamental change in areas ranging from health care to criminal justice and immigration reform, as well as the need to combat climate change and ensure the reproductive rights of women.
“Our campaign is going to end a corrupt political system dominated by billionaires and wealthy campaign contributors,” Sanders said. “Our campaign is going to end the grotesque level of income and wealth inequality that exists in America.”
Sanders also emphasized, as he always does, that political leaders can’t on their own create the sort of revolution he says America needs. Grassroots support, he said, is always needed, and politicians and the people must work together.
“Our job is to have the courage to envision the kind of America we want, and to have the guts to fight for that America.”
Open house on flood control and First & First West
National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library — Tuesday, Nov. 12 from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.
After accepting a casino just isn’t in the cards for First and First West, the city of Cedar Rapids is seeking public input on what to do with the downtown site.
An open house on Tuesday, Nov. 12 will allow people a chance to speak out on what they would like to see on vacant land. The event will also feature information about the upcoming flood control projects on the west side of Cedar Rapids.
The 90-minute open house starts at 4:30 p.m. and will be at the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library.
The eight acres of land have been unused since the 2008 flood. For years, the land has been reserved for a casino, but the plans were rejected in 2014 and again in 2017, despite Linn County voters approving a gambling referendum in 2013.
The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission (IRGC) decided adding another casino in the state would hurst business at existing casinos, citing the lack of growth in Iowa’s gaming businesses.
City officials decided in 2018 to start going in a different direction. About a year ago, the city chose Indianapolis-based firm Flaherty & Collins as the developer, said Caleb Mason, an economic development analyst for the city.
But Flaherty & Collins’ focus was on upscale housing, Mason said at the city council’s development committee meeting on Oct. 16, and the city has different plans for the location. It wants an attraction that will pull people into downtown Cedar Rapids.
“This destination, this attraction piece, to pull people in and engage them in the site wasn’t front and center in our discussions with Flaherty & Collins,” Mason said. “So, the steering committee really suggested we need to clarify that.”
The city notified Flaherty & Collins of the change but is not ruling out working with the developers in the future if they submit a new plan, according to the Gazette.
City councilmembers Ann Poe, Marty Hoeger and Ashley Vanorny all expressed their enthusiasm for the site’s potential during the Oct. 16 meeting. The three members are part of the development committee.
“Whatever we put here we have the opportunity to create a crown jewel in Cedar Rapids … [and] to have this much acreage near our downtown is something that you never get that opportunity in an established city like Cedar Rapids, especially our size,” Vanorny said. “I’m excited about what’s to come.”
Mason said it was “natural” for the First and First West site to be incorporated into the Nov. 12 open house on flood control, which was already scheduled.
After the open house feedback is received, the next step will happen at the Nov. 19 city council meeting, where councilmembers will initiate a request for proposals. Then, developers will submit a master plan, and the city council is expected to choose a proposal next year.
“It was disappointing when we weren’t able to get the casino at that site,” Poe said. “But in my mind, I always felt like something wonderful would go there, and I still believe something wonderful will go there. … It’ll be interesting to see what the community thinks and what their vision [is].”
This open house will focus on the west side of the system, including elevating O Avenue across a flood levee, reconfiguring E and F Avenue and a new restroom and storage facility at the McGrath Amphitheatre that includes a built-in floodwall.
Attendees will also see updated concepts for the NewBo/Czech Village gateway that will be part of the 16th Avenue floodgate.
The entire flood control system plan, which was approved in June 2015, is expected to cost $750 million over the next 20 years. The goal is to complete the project in 10 to 15 years, according to the city’s website.
Daylight Donuts has found a new home on Iowa City’s east side. Daylight is moving into the space at 1681 S 1st Ave, which used to be Sun Cafe, the owners announced on Monday in a Facebook post.
The donut shop has been closed since May, when it lost its lease on the East Court Street location that had been its home, since Scott and Vicki Ward opened the shop in July 2011.
“The location that we’ve been fortunate enough to lease for the last eight years is in the process of being sold,” the Wards explained in a post on Daylight’s Facebook post at the time.
Scott Ward told Little Village in September he wanted to keep Daylight on the east side, even though it was easier to find suitable spaces in other parts of the city.
The 1st Avenue location became available because Sun Cafe has moved to 953 S. Riverside Dr., taking over the space that used to house Zio Johno’s. The Italian restaurant has relocated to 342 Hwy. 1 West, and will reopen in a section of what used to Paul’s Discount.
There are almost 1,000 Daylight Donuts shops in 28 states, all of which are independently owned. What the shops have in common are ingredients and recipes from the Daylight Donut Flour Company.
Tommy and Lucille Day started the Daylight Donut Flour Company in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1954. “They produced their famous light donut mix each morning and sold it to shops in the afternoon, mostly from the trunk of their car,” according to the company’s site. There were 200 Daylight Donuts shops by the time the Days retired in 1977.
The Wards haven’t announced an opening day for their new location.
“We look forward to seeing many of our old friends and making new ones,” the Wards wrote in their Monday Facebook post.
Mark Sanford, one of three candidates running against President Donald Trump for the 2020 Republican presidential nomination, announced on Tuesday he is dropping out of the race.
The former South Carolina congressman made his announcement during a press conference in New Hampshire, where he had focused his long-shot campaign. During his 65 day-long campaign, Sanford visited Iowa twice.
Sanford didn’t attribute his decision to his lack of name recognition (Sanford’s biggest moment in the national spotlight came when he was governor of South Carolina in 2009, and he secretly left the country to spend time in Argentina with his mistress) poor fundraising (according to FEC filings, Sanford had only raised $60,448 through Oct. 15) or the Republican Party’s hostility to Trump challengers (the Republican parties in three states, including Sanford’s homestate of South Carolina, have canceled their primaries and declared their loyalty to Trump).
Instead, he said the ongoing impeachment inquiry was proving too much of a distraction and preventing “a nuanced conversation on the fiscal deficit,” which Sanford said was central to his campaign.
“You gotta be a realist, and what I did not anticipate is an impeachment,” Sanford told reporters in Concord, New Hampshire on Tuesday.
But as The Post and Courier of Charleston, South Carolina noted on Tuesday, Sanford’s problems trying to find an audience in New Hampshire went well beyond any distraction the impeachment inquiry might be causing.
“In a recent social media post, Sanford lamented being refused the opportunity to speak at a GOP candidate spaghetti dinner in Londonderry for fear of offending Trump supporters,” the paper reported.
Sanford’s announcement comes just before the Friday filing deadline for participants in New Hampshire’s February 11 primary.
When Sanford launched his presidential bid, he transferred the $1.3 million leftover from his failed 2018 Congressional reelection campaign (he represented the Charleston area in Congress from 2013 to 2019) to his presidential campaign. That money, or what remains of it, can be transferred to any future campaign for federal office — House of Representative, Senate or presidential — Sanford chooses to launch.
Joe Walsh, a former one-term congressman turned right-wing radio talk show host, and William Weld, the former governor of Massachusetts, are still running against Trump in the 2020 Republican race. Neither is likely to succeed, as both have acknowledged.
Walsh had to begin his campaign in August by apologizing for his long history of making racist statements. Weld had to rejoin the Republican Party in January, before he could launch his campaign in February. Weld quit the GOP in 2016 to run as vice president on the Libertarian Party ticket.
The Iowa Supreme Court ruled last week that Coe College in Cedar Rapids can’t include their seven Grant Wood paintings among the college’s sellable assets, which lowered the value of Coe’s endowment fund by $5.4 million.
The seven paintings — “The Fruits of Iowa” — were originally a mural that businessman Eugene Eppley commissioned Wood to paint in 1932 for the Hotel Montrose in Cedar Rapids. After the hotel was sold in the late 50s, Eppley had the mural taken down and separated into seven panels. (The Montrose, which stood at the corner of Third Street and Third Avenue for 82 years, was demolished in 1988.)
The paintings were first loaned to Coe College with the understanding they could be taken back after one year, but they remained on loan at Coe for two decades. In 1976, the arrangement changed and the Eppley Foundation, which owned the paintings, donated them to Coe. A letter accompanying the donation stated that Coe was receiving the paintings with the understanding that “this would be their permanent home, hanging on the walls of Stewart Memorial Library.”
Despite the letter, the college treated the paintings as an unrestricted gift for accounting purposes, which meant their potential sale value could be added to the overall value of Coe’s endowment fund. But during the college’s routine annual audit in 2016, auditors determined that classification was wrong.
If the paintings can’t be sold, that potential sale value can’t be included in assessments of the endowment fund.
According to Coe, the term “permanent home” in the donation letter was a reference to the paintings no longer being just on loan or temporarily displayed, and wasn’t intended to restrict what the college could do with them. Because Coe could not ask the Eppley Foundation to clarify the intention behind the donation — the foundation no longer exists — the college went to court, asking a judge to rule in favor of its interpretation of the letter.
Coe said it was seeking the ruling just for endowment accounting purposes, and had no intention of actually selling the paintings. But as Wood’s work continues to increase in price, the sales estimates buoyed the value of the endowment.
In January, the district court ruled the “permanent home” designation in the letter meant the painting can’t be classified as salable assets. Coe appealed the decision to the Iowa Supreme Court, which affirmed the lower court ruling on Friday.
Coe College Vice President for Advancement David Hayes emailed a statement to Little Village after the ruling.
As the Iowa Supreme Court’s opinion detailed, the need for this petition was not about any intent to sell the paintings, but rather was necessary to confirm the appropriate accounting treatment for a select few of the Grant Wood paintings the college owns and displays on our campus. Because of the inherent ambiguity of the original gift letter and the lapse of time from when the gift was made, the college sought clarity on the impact of these works when valuing Coe’s total endowment. Today’s ruling by the Court confirms the college’s current classification and treatment of these murals, including our practice of occasionally loaning the paintings to other art institutions to celebrate the work of Grant Wood.
A school’s endowment is based on its donated money and financial assets. The size of a school’s endowment can be important to prospective students and their families.
According to a study by the National Association of College and University Business Officers, almost half of a school’s endowment withdrawals are typically used to pay for student scholarships and other financial aid programs. The study looked at data from 802 colleges during the 2018 fiscal year.
Financial aid, including scholarships and grants, accounted for half of Coe’s expenditures during the 2017-18 academic year, according to the college’s annual report. Coe’s endowment fund for the 2018 fiscal year was approximately $90 million.
“A large and growing endowment is the engine that powers an institution, and building such an endowment at Coe is essential,” the college’s website states.
Writing for the Iowa Supreme Court, Justice Edward Mansfield noted the impact the court’s decision will have on the endowment.
“While we sympathize with difficulties faced by small private colleges in a trying financial environment, it is difficult to see this fortuitous increase in the value of an asset as rendering the original restrictions impracticable or impossible to meet on the present record,” Mansfield wrote.
“Furthermore, although Coe has demonstrated that its endowment has dropped by $5.4 million due to the reclassification of the paintings as a restricted gift, it has not offered proof of actual financial difficulties resulting therefrom.”
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Regarded as one of the most important documentarians of the last couple decades, Alex Gibney has focused his camera on con-artists and fallen heroes in films such as The Armstrong Lie, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief and The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley. His 2007 doc Taxi to the Dark Side, about the torture and murder of an Afghan taxi driver by U.S. troops in 2002, earned the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
Gibney’s latest work, Citizen K, takes aim at Russian president and enigmatic power broker Vladimir Putin, via the story of Putin opponent Mikhail Khodorkovsky. In the 1990s, after the fall of the Soviet Union and the birth of “Old West” capitalism in Russia, Khodorkovsky became one of the country’s seven foremost oligarchs, heading the Yukos Oil Company. But in the early ’00s, when Putin took control of the state and began to implement a more authoritarian government, Khodorkovsky spoke out against the president. He was arrested in 2003 on charges of fraud, a move widely regarded as politically motivated. After two (rather theatrical) trials, Khodorkovsky was sentenced to 14 years in prison, but was pardoned by Putin in 2013 after serving a decade and garnering international support.
Now living in exile in London, Khodorkovsky, once regarded as the richest man in Russia, has become one of Putin’s foremost critics. His initiative, Open Russia, advocates for democracy, independent media and aid for political prisoners. Gibney’s film includes extensive interviews with Khodorkovsky, as well as journalists, activists and on-the-street Russian citizens both pro- and anti-Putin.
Citizen K had its Iowa premiere on Sunday (weeks before its Los Angeles premiere) at FilmScene—The Chauncey. Gibney was in Iowa City for the event, first joining University of Iowa students for a dialogue hosted by the UI Lecture Committee, then, after the screening of Citizen K, sitting down for an audience Q&A moderated by FilmScene’s interim director Andrew Sherburne.
“My films in a way take pools of black and white and blend them back into gray,” Gibney told the audience.
Citizen K’s official theatrical release date is Nov. 22, and the film will be available to stream on Amazon’s Prime Video in early 2020.
Gibney discussed the themes of his work, what Americans should take away from Citizen K and his approach to tackling such sweeping subject matter in questions asked by Sherburne during the audience Q&A, and by Little Village in an interview afterwards. A selection of these responses are collected below.
AS: Your films oftentimes grapple with issues of power — referenced in this film is that power is a bit of a facade, an illusion. Whether it’s Lance Armstrong or the Church of Scientology or the story we just saw here, over and over you’re looking at these powerful institutions or individuals and dissecting that and deconstructing those facades. I wonder, what sort of lessons have you learned in a career investigating power?
Be careful what you wish for. Look, power in some ways gets a bad rap. Without power, we couldn’t get anything done. We need power to be able to move things — to make change to advance civilization, power is necessary. But I also became interested over time in abuses of power and particularly in terms of promises made that are really illusions. With [the group of UI students I met with] before the screening, somebody raised the notion of the Wizard of Oz and the man behind the curtain. And I’ve been interested in being Toto, I guess, and pulling back the curtain to show the guy operating the levers behind the Great and Powerful Oz. And I think the more we do that, the more all of us do that, the better it is, because then we don’t fall for the trick of the illusion. It’s a useful paradigm.
But at the same time, I think my films are interested in the way we’re attracted to those images of the Great and Powerful Oz. We’re attracted to the powerful, the successful, and if they run cons on us, part of the crime of that is the con that they’re running and part of the crime is on us. In other words, our gullibility, our willingness to believe in this magnificent lie that is too good to be true.
AS: How much of this film is about Russia and how much of it is perhaps about America?
I think it’s all about Russia, and I was very conscious not to use the words “Donald Trump” once in this film. But that said, and going way beyond Trump, I think the film serves as a kind of cautionary tale, in a lot of ways. Let’s not pay attention to Trump for a second, but let’s pay attention to someone who recently entered the presidential fray on the Democratic side, Michael Bloomberg. One might call him an oligarch. I think there’s a cautionary lesson here about what happens when too much power and wealth is concentrated in too few hands.
I was really interested, in this film, in some of the parallels in terms of how fictions become real, because the fictions are so powerful, and how televised imagery ends up becoming quite a potent myth-making machine. It’s a fact that Donald Trump, to steer it back to Trump for a second, is one of the worst businessmen in history, and yet he became hugely popular by being a successful businessman through an essentially fictional TV show called The Apprentice, and that gave him enormous political credibility. That’s really interesting, because Vladimir Putin was a nobody, he was a two-bit functionary, but television turned him into a kind of James Bond-like figure, probably also because he was complicit in the bombing of some innocent civilians who he then tried to say he was protecting.
I think the other aspect that it is a cautionary tale for us in this country is what happens when the rule of law gets eroded. I think you can see, whatever you think of Khodorkovsky — and he’s a complicated character — we can agree that particularly by the second trial, the rule of law was a joke. Now, he took advantage of the absence of the rule of law to make his fortune, but by the time he’s in prison and they’re accusing him of stealing all of his own oil after they’ve already accused him of not paying taxes for having sold the oil, you get the idea that it’s a pretty slippery slope. Once political leaders manage to subvert powerful institutions which are meant to protect important checks and balances and the freedom of us all, then it’s a pretty slippery slope.
LV: The documentary covers over 30 years of Russian history. I feel like this could be a miniseries or more. Are there any rabbit holes you went down that ended up on the cutting room floor?
I would have liked to have spent more time on the ’90s in Russia. To me, that was fascinating, and that brief period where Putin comes to and consolidates power. In the four-hour cut, that’s where most of the time was, was in that period.
LV: Did you have a four-hour cut you had to whittle down?
LV: Do you think you’ll ever release that?
No. I wish we could. The problem with docs is always archival footage. I always wanted to release the original cut of the Armstrong film, as embarrassing as that might have been, but we could never do that because we would have to license all that footage.
LV: Was the language barrier ever a problem, both in the interviews and traveling Russia?
I had an associate producer, Ophelia Harutyunyan, who’s Armenian but she’s a fluent Russian speaker. So that was hugely helpful, and also our crew was Russian, entirely Russian. And they were awesome, because they really knew how to operate inside Russia. Khodorkovsky, the interview with him was very consciously done simultaneously translated. He had an earpiece and I had an earpiece, and we could communicate in pretty much real time. … It could be back and forth very quickly. Sometimes a little bit of a lag, but also — I can’t say I got good enough at Russian, but I got good enough at knowing the flow of the sentences and could pick out enough words so that I could then interject a little bit more quickly over time. It got to be more fluid; I was surprised at how well it worked.
LV: Did you consult any specific books?
I did, there were a number of great books I dug deep on. David Hoffman wrote a book called The Oligarchs, which is incredible. Masha Gessen wrote a book on Putin that’s very good [The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin]. Peter Pomerantsev wrote a book that’s magnificent — Nothing is True and Everything is Possible. And Martin Sixsmith’s book on Khodorkovsky [Putin’s Oil: The Yukos Affair and the Struggle for Russia]. And I read a lot more books on Russia. I felt like I had to get into the zone because that was not a country or a period I knew nearly enough about. But David Hoffman’s book I went back to over and over and over again, because he was the one that did a really good job of showing the kind of raw exploitation and dirty deals that happened between business and government in the ’90s … You begin to see that unholy alliance between big money and the power behind politics that can be a scary thing.
Cedar Rapids Town Hall with Elizabeth Warren
Taft Middle School, 5200 E Ave NW — Saturday, Nov. 16 at 6:30 p.m.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren brings her 2020 presidential campaign to Cedar Rapids on Saturday for a town hall at Taft Middle School. The Massachusetts Democrat’s return to eastern Iowa comes after a couple of weeks during which billionaires have been publicly complaining about her policy proposals. The senator’s plan for a wealth tax of 2 percent on personal fortunes worth more than $50 million has been a particular focus of billionaire ire.
According to Warren, a wealth tax of 2 cents on every dollar of a person’s wealth over $50 million would produce enough revenue to provide universal child care for children from birth to age 5, create universal pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds (with professional-level wages for childcare and pre-K workers), and support free tuition at public colleges and universities for every undergraduate, as well as the canceling of student loan debts for approximately 95 percent of people currently trying to pay off those loans.
“I believe in a progressive income tax and the rich paying more,” Leon Cooperman, a billionaire and CEO of the investment firm Omega Advisors, said about Warren’s tax plans. “But this is the fucking American dream she is shitting on.”
Cooperman’s remarks were reported in a Politico story titled, “Corporate America freaks out over Elizabeth Warren.”
Warren’s wealth tax has been part of her platform since she launched her campaign in January, but it’s only since she become a front-runner in the polls that potential payers of the wealth tax have become vocal.
Politico also quoted a statement billionaire Michael Novogratz gave to Bloomberg, “Ninety-seven percent of the people I know in my world are really, really fearful of her. It’s a little carried away.”
Patricia Hogan of the New York Times estimated how Warren’s wealth tax would have impacted 10 well-known billionaires — from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to Jim Walton, a member of the family that owns Walmart — if the tax had been in place since 1982. All 10 would remain billionaires, although their fortunes would be smaller.
“Warren Buffett, a billionaire since 1990, would have amassed $10.4 billion rather than $88.3 billion. Mark Zuckerberg, who became a billionaire at 23 in 2008, would have $32.5 billion instead of $61 billion,” Hogan explained.
At least one billionaire is doing more than just complaining.
Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City whose personal wealth is estimated to be $53 billion, is taking steps to launch a campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. Although Bloomberg has made no announcement yet, he has filed the paperwork needed to appear on the ballot in the Democratic primaries in Alabama and Arkansas (the two states with the earliest filing deadlines).
Bloomberg is reportedly interested in running to prevent either Warren or Sen. Bernie Sanders from winning the Democratic nomination, because he considers their positions too extreme.
Warren’s town hall at Taft Middle School is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. It is free and open to the public, but space is limited, so anyone interested in attending should RSVP online.
Deval Patrick, the former governor of Massachusetts, announced on Thursday morning he is running for president. This brings the number of Democrats seeking their party’s nomination back to 18. (It had dropped to 17 when Beto O’Rourke finally realized he stood no chance of winning and quit the race no Nov. 1.)
“I admire and respect the candidates in the Democratic field; they bring a richness of ideas and experience and a depth of character that makes me proud to be a Democrat,” Patrick said in a video posted on Twitter. “But if the character of the candidates is an issue in every election, this time is about the character of the country. This time is about whether the day after the election, America will keep her promises.”
In a spirit of profound gratitude for all the country has given to me, with a determination to build a better, more sustainable, more inclusive American Dream for everyone:
— Deval Patrick (@DevalPatrick) November 14, 2019
As The Washington Post reported, Patrick’s admiration and respect lasted until his first TV appearance on Thursday morning.
In a morning interview with CBS, Patrick appeared to knock former vice president Joe Biden as out of touch and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, his home state senator, as too dug in on her ideas.
The campaign, he said, was caught between “nostalgia,” the desire to return to what existed before President Trump; and “our big idea or no way.”
“Neither of those seizes the moment,” he said.
In his announcement video, Patrick highlighted his humble upbringing on the South Side of Chicago in the late 1950s and ’60s. He grew up living with his grandparents, parents and sister in his grandparent’s two-bedroom apartment.
“Still, my grandmother used to tell us we were not poor, just broke — because ‘broke,’ she said, is temporary.”
It was a temporary condition in Patrick’s case.
An excellent student, he was the first in his family to go to college and then law school. By the time he started his own family, Patrick was a powerful and politically well-connected corporate attorney in Boston.
In his 2011 memoir, Patrick recounts a favorite anecdote that reflects his success as an attorney. When his daughter was in elementary school in the 1980s, she had a homework assignment that required her to describe the four seasons to her parents.
“First you drive up and the doorman takes your car,” she said, confusing the Four Seasons, the luxury hotel, with the actual seasons.
Patrick has been using that anecdote in public since at least 2007, according to the Huffington Post.
Patrick was elected governor of Massachusetts in 2006, the first black person to hold that office. He was reelected in 2010.
After leaving office, Patrick followed in the footsteps of his immediate predecessor as Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney, joining the investment firm Bain Capital in 2015.
Bain became famous during Romney’s 2012 presidential run as a practitioner of “vulture capitalism,” buying companies, gutting them and selling off anything of value piece-by-piece. That reputation didn’t dissuade Patrick from joining as the firm as a managing director three years later. Patrick has described his work at Bain as focusing on socially responsible investing.
But Bain isn’t the only business on Patrick’s resume that will attract attention during his run. Last year, Huff Post published a long story on Patrick’s work as an attorney before becoming governor, and his role in the subprime mortgage crisis, “Deval Patrick, Foreclosure Mogul.”
Patrick has already missed the filing deadline for the primaries in Alabama and Arkansas. According to the Post, Patrick will focus his early efforts on his neighboring state, New Hampshire.
No Iowa events for Patrick have been announced yet.
Editor’s note: This story originally listed the number of candidates at 19, instead of 18. We had momentarily forgot Beto O’Rourke dropped out. LV regrets the error in keeping track of the candidates.
A new larch was planted on the Pentacrest on Thursday morning to take the place of the larch that was felled by strong winds during a storm in the early morning hours of Sept. 10. That tree was approximately 70 years old, and beloved by generations of University of Iowa students and other visitors to the Pentacrest.
Appropriately enough, given the make-up of the UI student body both past and present, the new tree is a teenager from the Chicago suburbs.
“The new European Larch tree is approximately 15 years old,” UI Director of Media Relations Anne Bassett explained in a written statement. “Native Larch trees can live over 200 years, and the new tree is expected to live 100-plus years as long as Mother Nature is kind to it. The tree came from Fiore Nursery, located in the Prairie View and Bolingbrook suburbs of Chicago.”
Generally speaking, fall is a good time to plant a deciduous tree, according to Richard Jauron, extension program specialist at Iowa State University and a mainstay of the Hort Gang on Iowa Public Radio’s Talk of Iowa.
“Mid-November is rather late in the fall planting season (especially this year with the winter-like weather in recent weeks),” Jauron said in an email. “Planting the tree correctly and periodically watering the tree until the soil freezes improves the tree’s survival odds. The tree should be checked if there is a prolonged period of mild temperatures this winter.”
The previous larch “had survived the 1998 straight-line winds and suffered damage from both the 2006 tornado and 2007 ice storm,” wrote Thomas Dean in the most recent issue of Little Village. “It provided shade for many during the Iowa City Jazz Fest and other Pentacrest performances. It had entertained generations of students and kids with its long, low branches that were easy to climb on, though many on campus tried to discourage it.”
The new tree is approximately 28 feet tall, and it will be years before any of its branches are big enough for even the smallest child to sit on.
Cranksgiving Cedar Rapids 2019
NewBo City Market — Sunday, Nov. 17 at 10 a.m.
Cedar Rapidians should bundle up if they want to participate in this year’s Cranksgiving — a cycling scavenger hunt and food drive that benefits a local food pantry.
Cyclists will be given a manifest on Sunday, Nov. 17 with a list of items (totaling around $20) that need to be purchased from specific stores in the area. The items must then be brought to Loaves and Fishes Food Pantry, 1285 3rd Ave SE, to be donated.
Having participants go to the food pantry is an important element of the event, because it gives them a chance to see how beneficial a resource it is to the community, said Logan Orcutt, co-owner of Goldfinch Cyclery. The Cedar Rapids bike store is the organizer of the event and brought the first Cranksgiving to the city in 2017.
While Sunday’s scavenger hunt doesn’t start until 11 a.m., cyclists should plan on arriving at NewBo City Market at 10 a.m. to check in, plan their route and grab some breakfast to fuel up for the ride. Breakfast will be provided by Roasters NewBo and La Reyna.
After completing the scavenger hunt and donating the purchased items, cyclists should make their way back to NewBo City Market for an after-party, where a free T-shirt and pint from Lion Bridge Brewing Company are waiting. Every item donated/purchased also earns participants a raffle ticket for a chance to win prizes — so make sure to hold onto those receipts.
Last year’s event had around 150 participants, and roughly 2,000 pounds of food and hygiene items were donated.
“It was incredible,” Orcutt said. “We basically filled the food pantry to the brim.”
Cranksgiving originated in New York City in 1999. Now, 20 years later, there are close to 100 independently organized Cranksgivings across the country, including Iowa’s events in Cedar Falls, Clinton, West Burlington, Sioux City and Iowa City. The latter recently celebrated its first Cranksgiving.
“There’s the obvious benefit and takeaway of giving back to the community, but it’s also a really valuable way to get people on their bikes,” Orcutt said. “If someone can ride over 20 miles in November, then maybe it’ll get them thinking of riding their bike to work in the spring.”
Orcutt also mentioned that the event will be happening regardless of the weather, because people are reliant on the food pantry either way. “Elements will not deter this event from happening,” he said.
Cyclists will be able to register for the ride on Sunday at NewBo City Market, but people are encouraged to register online to ensure they get a T-shirt.
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The next primary for the state legislature is almost eight months away, and almost all the political attention in Iowa is still focused on presidential candidates. Nevertheless, the Game Room at Big Grove Brewery and Tap Room in Iowa City was full on Wednesday night as Christina Bohannan held the first event of her campaign for a seat in the Iowa House of Representatives.
The first-time candidate, a University of Iowa Law School professor, is running for the seat in the 85th District, currently held by Vicki Lensing, co-owner of Lensing Funeral & Cremation Service. Lensing was first elected to represent the Iowa City area in the legislature the same year Bohannan moved to Iowa.
A native of Florida, Bohannan came to Iowa City in 2000 to take a position as a visiting professor at the law school. Two years later, she joined the faculty full-time, and is now Lauridsen Family Fellow in Law and director of the Master of Studies in Law program.
“I’m running for the Iowa House because I love this state,” Bohannan told the people gathered at Big Grove. “I moved here 20 years ago to take a faculty position at the University of Iowa in the law school, and I immediately came to admire a lot of things about Iowa.”
“Its long-standing support of public education was not only a priority, but a source of pride,” she said. “People really felt it, they talked about it, it was something that mattered to them. It’s been a pioneer state in civil rights. It was the home of many firsts for people of color, for women, for the LGBTQ community. It has valued hard work, and that has lead it to balance business interests with worker interests. And it’s really talked a lot about inviting immigrants here to work and to build lives.”
“I love Iowa because these values are my values.”
After briefly giving a sketch of her life growing up in a working class family, and becoming the first in her family to go to college — she received a degree in environmental engineering from the University of Florida and worked for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, before attending the UF College of Law — Bohannan said her attachment to those Iowa values motivated her to pursue public office.
“I’m running for the Iowa House because I’m afraid we are losing the values that make Iowa Iowa,” she said.
“We have been disinvesting in public education for a while now at all levels; K-12 teachers’ pay that is too low and college tuition that is too high,” Bohannan continued.
She called the state’s privatization of Medicaid “a disaster,” and said “we are one of the very worst states in the nation in terms of the number of psychiatric beds that we have available.” (In June, Politifact examined the number of staffed beds available for patients in need of psychiatric care in Iowa, and concluded “the number of beds per capita is still very low compared to other states.”)
“The legislators in charge will say, ‘we just don’t have money,’” Bohannan told the audience. “Don’t believe it. We do have money, we’re just not spending enough of it on education and health care.”
She cited Iowa’s refundable tax credits for corporations as an example the state’s misguided spending.
Iowa is one of only two states that offer corporations refundable tax credits. Not only do those credits allow major corporation to avoid paying any corporate income taxes to the state, but because the credits are refundable, the state ends up paying millions of dollars to those corporations.
In Fiscal Year 2019, Iowa spent approximately $211 million on corporations, including Dupont and John Deere, through refundable tax credits, Bohannan said. As she pointed out, that amount is “very close to the entire state general appropriation for the University of Iowa in that exact year.”
Bohannan also said that “despite mass shootings, high gun suicide rates, the legislature recently took the first step toward passing a constitutional amendment that the NRA describes as an ‘iron wall’ around gun rights.” She promised to work to break the grip of the NRA on the legislature. (Bohannan’s daughter Mira is one of the founders of Students Against School Shooting, and wrote about her experiences with the group for Little Village in February.)
And she called climate change “the most difficult” of the challenges facing the state.
“But here’s the thing: Iowa is ready to get to work” on climate change, Bohannan said.
“Iowa can lead the way in developing alternative energies and combating climate change. And there’s a lot more that we can do. Our farmers can store carbon, we can develop alternative transportation, there’s a lot that we can do. We just need our legislature to make it easier rather than harder.”
Bohannan said she hopes to be able to work with Republicans in a way that reflects the “common sense” and “fairness” she believes are essential to Iowa values.
“Any of you who really know me know that I look for every opportunity to work across the aisle with folks to come up with bipartisan legislation for the good of people in Iowa,” she said. “That will be an absolute priority for me.”
“At the same time, as a Democrat, I will tell you that we need to do everything we can to flip the Iowa House and Senate, and take back the majority. I will work tirelessly for candidates up and down the ticket, all over Iowa, to support them and to get us to take back the majority in the legislature.”
But District 85 is already a safe seat for Democrats. Incumbent Rep. Vicki Lensing, a Democrat, hasn’t faced an opponent in either a primary or general election since the district was created in 2012, after the redistricting that followed the 2010 census. (Lensing had represented the same general area when it was previously District 79 and District 78 in previous legislative maps.)
Bohannan didn’t mention she is challenging a fellow Democrat in her speech.
Speaking to Little Village after she concluded her remarks, Bohannan discussed running against a long-time Democratic incumbent.
“Maybe it’s because I’m a constitutional law person, but I really think that democracy means voter choice,” Bohannan said. “And that doesn’t mean a lot when there’s only one name on the ballot for that many years. I think the beauty of terms is that every two years people get to decide anew, who they want to represent them in the coming years. And sometimes, with no disrespect to anyone who’s gone before or the work that has been done before, people just decide that they want a change.”
“The truth is, I think that nationally and in the state that we are in a moment of questioning of the political status quo, and what we really need going forward. I think that I bring — with my background as lawyer, as an engineer –unique skills and perspectives on a lot of the issues that are confronting the legislature right now.”
The Democratic primary for state and federal offices, other than president, will be Tuesday, June 2, 2020. The general election — including the presidential candidates — is Tuesday, Nov. 3.
Editor’s note: Theo Prineas is Bohannan’s campaign manager. Prineas works part-time at Little Village, distributing magazines and doing data entry for the online events calendar. He has no editorial role, and no input on political coverage.
With bitterly cold weather starting early this fall, Linn County made it a priority to open an overflow shelter for people experiencing homelessness “as soon as we possibly could,” said Ashley Balius, community outreach and assistance director for Linn County Community Services.
The shelter will open at 6 p.m. on Friday.
It’s located at the county-owned Fillmore Center, 520 11th St. NW, which until Wednesday housed Linn County Child and Youth Development Services. The Child and Youth Development Center is relocating to the new Dr. Percy and Lileah Harris Building. A ribbon-cutting for the new building is planned for Friday, Nov. 22 at 2 p.m.
In September, the Linn County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved use of the building as an overflow shelter. Last year, an overflow shelter wasn’t identified until November and didn’t open until December.
The county is contracting the overflow shelter services to Willis Dady Homeless Services.
“Our committee is grateful and excited to have access to this amazing space,” Willis Dady’s executive director Phoebe Trepp said in a news release. “With winter hitting early, this will be a life-saving place for dozens of our community members. This is a great start towards ensuring the safety of all people in Linn County.”
The Cedar Rapids Police Department worked closely with other city and county agencies, as well as Willis Dady, on the plans for the overflow shelter. Both CRPD and Willis Dady staff have seen more people sleeping outside than in years past, Balius said. The cause of this increase has not yet been determined.
Earlier this year, Willis Dady and Linn County Public Awareness Committee released a study on homelessness in the county, and its effects on the individuals and families undergoing that experience.
The number of homeless individuals on a given night varies, but in January 2019, the study found 242 people experiencing homelessness. In January 2018, it was 317 individuals.
“It shows what one night in Cedar Rapids might look like, but it doesn’t necessarily give us the full breadth of the picture,” Balius told the Gazette. “When we look at the total number of people accessing homeless services, the numbers are increasing.”
Balius told Little Village that the county has long-term plans in mind to address homelessness, including a homeless services resource center and a day center.
Some of the needs that have been identified include a place for those who are homeless to do laundry, shower, store their items and have a safe space to go during the day.
“These are some key services we know we want to provide that don’t currently exist in the community,” Balius said.
Balius said because the overflow shelter has taken priority, conversations about these long-term plans had been paused, but will start up again once the shelter is up and running.
The shelter will be open from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. every day of the week through March, if the weather stays cold.
Willis Dady is also accepting donations of packed food items (such as granola bars, beef jerky and tuna packs), clean blankets and warm outerwear. Prepared food donations will not be accepted. Donations can be dropped off during the shelter’s operating hours.
Last month, members of the RAGBRAI staff announced in a Facebook post they were quitting and starting their own week-long cross-state cycling event, Iowa’s Ride, that would compete directly with the well-established Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. According to that Oct. 15 post, Iowa’s Ride would follow a west-to-east route, as RAGBRAI always does, and would happen the same week as RAGBRAI, July 19-25.
On Friday morning, Iowa’s Ride’s staff announced in a Facebook post that they were going in a different direction — literally. They have decided to switch to an east-to-west route, and are changing the date of the event so it no longer directly conflicts with RAGBRAI.
We have been meeting with and listening to many cycling teams and cyclists throughout the state…. The most overwhelming concern that keeps coming up is the date of the event and how it is dividing long standing cycling teams. We have even heard from teams trying to decide who gets the team bus for the week. This was never our intent, and this is not good for anyone who just wants to ride their bike.
We want to do the right thing for riders in Iowa, so we will change the dates of Iowa’s Ride to begin riding on Sunday, July 12th and end on Saturday, July 18th. IOWA’S RIDE will also start on the eastern edge of Iowa in a Mississippi River town and travel west, ending seven days later in Western Iowa.
Iowa’s Ride is offering to refund entry fees to anyone “disappointed by this decision.”
Despite the Facebook post, Iowa’s Ride’s official website still had the old information posted on Friday morning, listing the dates for the event as July 19-25, and stating, “Iowa’s Ride will travel across Northern Iowa, beginning somewhere along Iowa’s western border and ends along the eastern border on the Mississippi River.”
T.J. Juskiewicz, who served as RAGBRAI’s director for 16 years, said in October he and his fellow RAGBRAI staff members quit over constraints placed on their ability to communicate with members of the RAGBRAI community and the general public regarding a $50,000 donation to the University of Iowa’s Stead Family Children’s Hospital in support of fundraising efforts for the hospital inspired by Carson King.
According to Iowa’s Ride’s site, the route announcement for the inaugural ride will be revealed later this month.
I want to gush about Parasite, which opens at FilmScene—The Chauncey today, but it’s one of those movies where the less you know going in, the better. Still, while you’re here, I think there are a few things I can say about Bong Joon-ho’s latest masterpiece that will, hopefully, entice you to go see it and have the mind-boggling experience I did, without diminishing that experience for you.
• Parasite is a Thanksgiving feast of a film, except your uncle didn’t overcook the turkey, your sister didn’t forget the pumpkin pie and rather than awkward dinner-table chatter, you get to enjoy it surrounded by the laughs, gasps and awed sighs of your fellow audience members. This meal of a movie is meaty, spicy, sweet — just a well-rounded experience that leaves you satisfied, yet eager for another taste.
• This is a South Korean film from one of the country’s foremost directors (Bong is famous for his social satires and risk-taking films that deftly maneuver between genres). I have never more wished I could speak Korean than while watching Parasite — not because the subtitles are burdensome to read, because they’re not, but I wanted to train my eyes directly on the faces of the performers as they delivered every line. The acting is phenomenal, the characters equally so. There are no heroes, no villains, but everyone onscreen is intriguing.
• There are three super cute dogs!
• This film is genuinely funny, thrilling and thought-provoking, particularly regarding issues of family, class and the deification of wealth.
• Most scenes are filmed in two locations: a dingy, lower-class neighborhood of semi-basement residences, and a gorgeous architectural mansion, luxurious and clean and clinical, with a yard so green and sunny, it’s surreal. They make for enticing settings, and set up some beautiful, haunting shots.
• One of the characters keeps saying, “This is so metaphorical,” which is basically how I watch movies.
• Parasite unanimously won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, the highest honor at one of the world’s most prestigious film festivals.
• It has a 99 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It also has a 4.6 rating on Letterboxd — making it tied with The Godfather as the highest-rated narrative film on the site — with 47 percent, or nearly 43,000 viewers, giving it five stars out of five.
• I heard all this hype before I saw Parasite, so while I was excited to see it for myself, I was prepared for the likelihood that it would not live up to my expectations. I needn’t have been; it instantly became my favorite film of the year. And not to brag or anything, but I’ve spent, like, half the year sitting in movie theaters. (Maybe I should go for a walk this weekend….)
• There’s a good dose of food porn in this. I left the theater craving ram-don and plum tea, neither of which I’ve had before.
• As soon as the screen faded to black at the end, the woman behind me at FilmScene’s early-bird screening let out what seemed to be a involuntary “WOW.” Like, same.
• Many of the non-critic Twitter and Letterboxd reactions to Parasite discuss driving 50, 100, 200 miles to catch a screening of this already-legendary foreign film. We are blessed to have it in our own backyard. Don’t take it for granted! Get thee to FilmScene!
• Yes, there’s a possibility I’m “over-hyping” this movie; there’s a chance you won’t enjoy it as much as I and others have. But I can all but promise it’s worth the cost of a ticket, and the risk that you might have one of your best movie-watching experiences of the year (or ever).
• I shan’t risk saying more. You can watch this trailer, I guess — the trailer alone is stellar — but I’d honestly recommend just heading straight and clean to the theater as soon as you can. I’ll see you in the concessions line.
Iowa City’s newest coffee shop isn’t actually in a shop. Fix! is in the common area on the south side of the second floor of The Chauncey, Iowa City’s newest high-rise.
“Originally, the building was not designed with a coffee shop in mind,” said Monica Moen, owner of Fix! and a member of the Moen Group, the building’s developer.
But Moen realized that a coffee stand might be a welcome feature for occupants and visitors to The Chauncey, so she converted a second-floor closet into a work area for baristas.
Moen knew what kind of coffee shop she wanted to open — one that would encourage people to relax (despite the caffeine) and talk with friends; one that serves its coffee and tea in interesting cups on willow trays. But even though she had experience in customer service, Moen had never worked in a food or beverage business.
“I don’t like to be ill-prepared for things,” Moen said. “In February, I attended the Seattle Barista Academy for a week, in order to learn about sciences of coffee, which just absolutely intrigued me. I knew I needed to have that information under my belt to get a sense of what needs to be done in order to prepare the perfect espresso.”
Moen also hired an experienced manager. Max Johnson used to manage the cafe at Prairie Lights (and was the music editor at Little Village, back when Little Village had a music editor).
“He’s been instrumental in attracting career baristas to work in the shop,” Moen said. “It’s been extremely comforting for me that we’ve got a group of really earnest, committed and devoted baristas.”
Fix! started serving customers this week. Its hours are currently 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. In the coming weeks, the hours will expand to 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
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Dave Maher’s Coma Show
Iowa City Yacht Club — Friday, Nov. 15 at 8 p.m.
Comedians generally ask about the meaning of life by pointing out its trivialities, mining the mindless ephemera that we absorb as fodder for exposing our ridiculousness. Generally, life is a laughing matter — and death (while not off the table for the talented) remains more of a punchline than a set up. Dave Maher dodged a bullet in 2014, surviving a month-long coma by pulling out of it before they pulled the plug — but that experience provides the set up to his show rather than the punchline. Rather than killing his career, his coma rekindled his comedic interests. He’s presenting the Coma Show to the Yacht Club on Friday, Nov. 15, at 8 p.m.; tickets are $9.
I had a chance to talk to Dave a few days before his arrival in Iowa City and ask a handful of questions:
You cut your teeth as part of Chicago’s improv scene, then did stand up; now you have a full show. Each of these involve different modes of storytelling, from sensing surprising turns to quick snapshots to your current phase, which seems as much a non-fiction account as a comedy act. Nonetheless, it all remains comedy. Can you explain how you’ve used your background in comedy to help knit together the current show? Do you think that you’ve become funnier as the show has developed?
I do think I’ve become funnier. I’m not sure how much of that has to do with the specific mode I’m working in as much as pure hours logged … the longer you go, as long as you’re still working hard, the graph turns up. Also, being more clear-eyed in my life allows me to work smarter. When the set-up is good, the punchline is better. When you’re using stuff close to the bone, it is easier to be funnier than creating things out of thin air.
I’m interested in stand up as a container — because a lot of people say they like comedy or stand-up comedy in a way they don’t about music. People like “pop-punk” or something specific. People are getting hip to it; there’s so much stand up. But being part of a way of comedy that sees stand up as a multi-faceted thing, I want to help expand what “stand up” looks like to people.
The improv does come up in my show in a specific way — there’s a 10 minute part that’s improvised, but also structured. It takes a specific path. I use that stuff together because I think improv was my training for years and years, and it is ultimately what I’m most comfortable with. So I use these modes to create a situation where I can be funny by being completely in the moment.
The fact that you were featured on This American Life indicates others (with “refined judgment”) regard you as having become as much of a non-fiction storyteller as a comedian. Can you talk about what you’ve learned about storytelling or non-fiction wring as you’ve continued to develop and refine your shows?
I think the most important thing in pretty much any artistic craft, which includes storytelling, is specificity and concreteness. It is an ethos that guides every aspect of making things for me. Or, if I’m watching something or experiencing someone else’s art — the weakest moments are generalizations, when the speaker isn’t giving vivid. Concrete details. [In] the most recent version of the show, the most recent director (I’ve had a few), Mary Carr, is the memoirist, who talks about carnality in memoir and writing.
She’s talking to any writing that appeals to the senses — the carnal detail. I talked to [my most recent] director about adding carnality, and one of his suggestions was to add five colors throughout the show: the color of the walls of the room, of the light, of the puke bucket next to the bed. For me, that stuff is really powerful in grounding a specific texture.
When I was doing just improv, people would talk about an apocryphal story where a performer is on stage, and they’re talking on the phone. The object work with the phone was so good that 75 percent of the audience members knew that the phone was “red” even though it didn’t exist. When you’re getting advice from people, and they say shit like, “Find your voice” — I banged my head against the wall out of frustration. I wanted something like, “Tell a story from childhood,” or, “Talk louder on stage.” It’s so much louder than vague generalities.
If comedians have continued to play the role of the court jester, pointing out the truth that nobody else is able to admit, what kinds of permissions do you feel like your near-death experience has given you? What kinds of truth are you able to share in this format that you weren’t able to express earlier in your career?
The current iteration of the show, I am pretty generous to the people who wrote eulogies for me. I think, if I wanted to, I could be more barbed toward those people. There are moments — people ask a lot of things about those eulogies and, to be honest, after five years of going through this stuff, there have been moments where I’ve been zen and felt enlightened and understood that people wanted to be bigger, and I’ve had times when I’ve used them as ammunitions in a Facebook fight after I woke up. A guy called me a “cancer in every room that I enter,” and I told him that “I have 100s of Facebook posts that disprove that.” Another guy: “It’s a shame that you weren’t around for the two weeks when people had nice things to say about you,” which is the best burn ever.
I’m kind of a demanding friend. I’ve had shit happen since the coma … people are very permissive in allowing me to say whether the eulogies are in line and out of line. When people tell me stories about when they found out I was in a coma and how boring those stories are — when I can be naughty about these moments, people like that. I also get specific about bodily moments in a coma. People wince: And when I point out that I was the one who went through that, they can laugh. Those are some of the kinds of truths.
I think the truths that I’m expressing now — you have found very intuitively and wisely the sort of thing that I’m most insecure about in the mode that I’m working, the fear that I’m not actually a comedian … the question is, “Where’s the jokes?” That’s at the least generous to myself. But the thing that I like about being so deeply autobiographical is that I don’t have peers talking in depth about faith in their work, which is something I do, and that I’m happy to do and I don’t even come from a “I’m a Buddhist,” so this. My faith is a very open ended — the show kind of ends on a question of “What if…” It lets me explore kind of broad theological-adjacent questions, and I like that I get to do that in a context that I want to trick people into thinking it is just a comedy show.
My brain is constantly scanning for ammunition to beat myself up with. It isn’t the specific thing that I’m thinking — it has nothing to do with how I feel. If it is my identity as a comedian, that’s just the fuel for the day. If I try to make myself be Dave Atell, pure maximum hard laughs and quantifying them — people talk about laughs per minute, and I think few of the punchline-punchline-punchline comedians do that. It’s a way for me to feel “less than.” But I know that I’m making things be what I want. I can’t have it both ways: I’m either doing what I want, or I need to change it so that I am.
It seems like story tellers know that the truth is always told best by an ending, because you already know how all the parts relate together. Comedy interrupts that sense of wholeness and pauses at its moments of incompleteness, holding it up in an ironic mirror for a laugh. In a way, a joke is more human than a story, because laughter, rather than knowledge, is the best tool for moving forward through uncertainty. How has your experience telling your story — for laughs — equipped you to live more fully when you’re not on stage?
I’m very interested that you’d call jokes more human than stories — I see what you’re saying about incompleteness, but the thing that came from the Met special that Hannah Gatsby did: people think that jokes are less human than stories because they only include a smaller snapshot than a lived experience. In my shows (plural), I’m pretty happy, and I came to peace around just letting certain moments have no laughs. I decided that it was okay.
People talk about how anything can be comedy as long as your first priority is getting the laugh. Another insecurity that I had to reckon with is that, if I’m honest with myself, the laugh is a second, very high priority. Sometimes I want to cultivate a sense of wonder, or make a point. This frees me from needing to just listen ironically. Ironically, as a comedian — I’m quite good at taking myself seriously and not always great at laughing at myself. Twisting this stuff for jokes helps me, offstage, not to take myself too seriously.
When I was recovering from all this stuff in the first place, I was getting great laughs from the medical staff because I could barely speak. The idea of being funny in that situation is so absurd and funny in itself — so being in those situations and wanting to turn it into material, and to turn it into material that I now know in my bones, reminds me that the best part of it was when I could take half a step back and make a joke. The best joke acknowledges the situation but doesn’t step totally outside it.
Assuming that you’re taking better care of your physical health since your coma, what kinds of comedy do you anticipate developing in the next iteration? What sorts of genres, venues or situations do you see yourself exploring? What would a comedy based on your living well look like, instead of pulling a Mark Twain in your failure to die?
What if I kept trying to put myself in the hospital?
So: the second show is “Feed Wolf Ice Cream,” and it is a show set in the afterlife, based on the premise of what happens when people ask if I saw anything. The premise of the show is that I did see something — the afterlife — and at the beginning of the show I’m in the afterlife, with the audience, and giving an orientation to what it looks like.
The new show, that I’m just starting to set myself into and just scratched the surface of — I haven’t committed to anything yet, but I think it’ll be about aspects of my personality that are hopefully as universal as possible: being frustrated that other people don’t behave the way I think they should all the time [for example] …
I used to work at this record store and the owner would educate me and I would borrow CDs and I would hear his thoughts. I was getting into Public Enemy, and he described how Nation of Millions was them coming out against society and Fear the Black Planet as a more reflective gaze at the community. I don’t want to create a community of ranting, raving and blaming. I can go off and yell and scream and be frustrated, but if the twist is showing how I am more responsible than the other person — it is a different way of being … It’s abstract, and ultimately I want to ground it in a visceral experience for the audience.
Mirrorbox Theatre Presents: Orange Julius
CSPS Legion Arts — through Nov. 16
There is much to wade through in Basil Kreimendahl’s Orange Julius, which had its Iowa premiere this week at Mirrorbox Theatre (it runs through Saturday, Nov. 16; tickets are $15. It’s not a traditional family drama. It’s not a traditional play, for that matter. Many shows are fairly linear and logical in their progression — the story and action build up to a climax and then have a denouement clarifying the resolution and final thoughts. But this one feels pretty cemented in “dream logic.”
The audience has to work more than normal to digest and transform what is seen on the stage into a unique experience for each individual viewing it. It doesn’t speak to good ole dependable logic. It speaks to the unconscious, to feelings, to dreams, to memories. It speaks to the things we don’t normally give voice to.
In telling the story of a child desperate to connect with their father in his final days, Nut, played by Ellie Desautels, vacillates between straight-up storytelling and full immersion into a memory, or an imagined reality in the past. Desautels smoothly transitions from a memorial place of telling versus showing to an incredibly active alternate past where Nut imagines being in Vietnam during the war alongside their father.
Desautels lights up in these scenes in particular. The three soldiers discuss being a “man,” fear and the repression of it: things Nut has been wrestling with themself. The script, however, doesn’t seem to offer a clear reason for this exercise on the page, and it became confusing whether Nut was representing their father, with Dennis Barnett, who plays Nut’s father Julius, portraying an embodiment of Nut’s feelings of exclusion and otherness in these scenes; or whether Nut was playing the role of a man they’d seen in a photo with their father, who was never identified; or if Nut is inserting themself into these memories simply to feel closer to their father — imagining what it may have been like to befriend him and fight beside him and care for him in ways Nut wasn’t able to growing up.
The script is unclear, and the vision of this production doesn’t seem to come down entirely in any one camp. It’s up to us, the audience, to choose (or not).
Julius is as demanding role as Nut (like father/like child, I guess). The physical demands and the timing of transitions require expert attention and Barnett does his all to provide it. As we hop around in time, so must he. He is a scared young man in Vietnam, a healthy father and a dying and pathetic man at various times. Whereas Desautels came alive in Vietnam, Barnett excelled as a father not knowing how to connect with his child, unaware that soon his body would be riddled by cancer and his ability to think and communicate would be beyond repair.
There was a particular scene closer in the second half where Barnett was so real, I felt as though I saw my own father. He filled every second of those few minutes, tender with the moment at hand, like a father hoping to connect with the child he feels so far away from.
Though there is a heaviness to the experience of this play, there are also some lovely moments within the absurdity of the family dynamic (family existing by blood, and family created through the intense shared experience of war). At times, Nut straddles the fourth wall, talking to the audience while also keeping a few toes in the water of the memory they describe while the audience watches it play out — in these moments, the energy rests in their family’s actions.
Marcia Hughes’ France — Nut’s mother — is full to the brim of love and care for her family, but also allows the frustration and confusion to seep in as her role as wife turns into caregiver, watching her husband erode and being unable to stop it.
Hannah Spina’s Crimp is beautifully honest. It takes a lot of work, loyalty and love to make slipping on a character’s shoes seem effortless and Spina is a master of just this — she approaches Crimp with a fearlessness, openness and honesty that make it difficult to imagine anyone else capable of rising to her level in this role.
Speaking of fearlessness; Omarr Hatcher, though having just been introduced to the stage within the past year, already attacks his roles with a deep respect and willingness to play that is laborious for some of the most seasoned actors to achieve. We feel his deep love of the character he portrays, the love he has for the characters sharing that world and the love he has for the stage itself. His generosity makes him simply buoyant and joyous to behold.
The limitations of the space that Mirrorbox plays in are always an interesting hurdle to overcome. It’s a small space with very limited entrances/exits and technical capability. Doug Anderson’s seemingly simple set was dynamic, though a bit cumbersome at times, and had the ability to shift and change as the actors repositioned parts of it to suit the needs of the scene. Jim Vogt’s lighting was at times hopeful with color, and other times bleak, tinged with a stagnant fluorescent feeling. He was even able to incorporate some “trippy” elements, directly assisting in the mood and action performed.
The sound design varied. There were ambient sounds for memory and storytelling, but then suddenly had the feel of Vietnam War movies from the ’80s as very recognizable tunes were used that felt a bit obvious and pulled me out at times. Additionally, having two different sound stories for three different types of place/time blurred the lines that were already fairly blurry on the page to begin with.
Mirrobox’s mission is a worthy one. Bringing contemporary new works to Iowa (showing us more of the world outside our little midwestern oasis) is incredibly important and seldom attempted. Mirrorbox also operates on a more truncated rehearsal timeline, and I am often left wondering what more this play could have achieved with just a few more rehearsals for the actors and director(s) to grow and finetune the relationships and reactions on the stage. A lack of rehearsal can sometimes allow for moments of indulgence to seep in and emotional discoveries not quite earned — this production was susceptible to that at times.
Though not perfect, this play is still important for many reasons. In exploring these topics — trans identity, PTSD, caregiving, self-exclusion, grief, guilt, the importance of learning how to eat crow sometimes — we learn we have a lot in common, and we find ourselves suddenly relating more than we realized. Because these things aren’t spoken enough.
Kreimendahl, a University of Iowa playwrights workshop graduate, showed courage in creating this piece. That courage, the bravery of the cast and crew who breathed life into it and what we as audience do in witness to that life are perhaps what this show is about. Our neglected emotional wounds can bleed forever if we let them — or we can recognize them in all their gory glory and begin a process of healing. And yes, it takes a lot of work. And there is always a scar left behind: a beautiful reminder that neither our flaws nor our advantages alone make up the sum of our whole. It is the moments of catalyst they create that propel our growth and bring us closer to the persons we hope to become.
James Tutson and the Rollback Album Release Show
Big Grove Brewery and Taproom — Friday, Nov. 15 at 9 p.m.
James Tutson and the Rollback’s new record, Make You Free, is a tight and appealing, R&B-inflected collection of songs. Tutson’s vocals — sometimes smooth as can be and sometimes rough around the emotional edges — are front and center, but this album is also clearly the effort of a unified band. That marks an evolution in the unit’s work, because the other four members of band — Heath Hospodarsky on guitar (along with Tutson), Tyler Carrington on drums and vocals, Erik Lehmann on keys and vocals and Haven Wojciak on bass — are no longer a pickup backing ensemble for Tutson. Rather, Make You Free demonstrates the possibilities of true collaboration, made all the more impressive by the fact that the record was live-tracked, meaning the band’s sound comes together naturally when they are in the room together rather than piecemeal via individual tracking and subsequent layering.
“Much of the new record and indeed this whole band approach involved not thinking simply in terms of individual instruments and parts, each person playing the best he could (and roughly ‘all-out’ musically), as we had, but rather simplifying, paring down, allowing individual parts to shine at moments and then disappear. We became more dynamic,” Carrington wrote in an email interview. “This had an interesting side-effect, too: where the first record (On Hope, 2017) had been a rock-ed up ‘full band-ification,’ of James’s folk rock stuff, these new songs became much more traditional R&B, even though none of us had really played R&B before. I’m not sure we could have anticipated that, but it now feels totally natural.”
Carrington’s decision to reach out to a musical hero also enhanced the recording of Make You Free.
“There was a Hammond B3 in the studio in Nashville, but none of us was a B3player, so we didn’t put down any B3 parts initially in the week-long session down there. But our producer suggested that he could get a studio player from down the street to play some parts, and we said we’d think about it. In the meantime, I reached out to my all-time favorite band — Dawes, out of LA — and their keyboard player, Lee Pardini, who is just hands down one of the very best in the business, and asked him if we could get him to play B3 on the record, since Dawes was also in Nashville at the time recording,” Carrington wrote. “It was a shot in the dark, like asking the great Robert Duvall to come read some lines in a local theater production. Amazingly, Lee got back to me a few days later and was game. By that time, we were back in Iowa, and Dawes was leaving Nashville, but Lee offered to put down the parts out in LA, and Heath and I flew out there to ‘supervise,’ which was amazing. Lee is also about the nicest guy you’ll ever meet, and we have since had the chance to hang with him a bit and like to think of him as an honorary member of the band.”
The members of the band each have busy careers and young children at home. Carrington says his profession (he’s teaches German studies and history at Cornell College in Mount Vernon) provides a good analogy for how the band works:
“I, the professor, sometimes compare our band to undergraduate students with bad study habits, as we will often fail to schedule practices when people are traveling and there isn’t the pressure of an upcoming show or recording session or something and then will have to scramble (‘cram’) in the days ahead of a show or whatever to bring everything and everyone up to date. So it’s tricky, to be sure. But it’s a credit to the band and the members’ musicianship that we’re able to play tight shows on often little rehearsal time.”
James Tutson and the Rollback will perform Friday, Nov. 15, at 9 p.m. at Big Grove Brewery in Iowa City. There is no cover.