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Outraged over NSA data-gathering? Let’s sleep on it.


Warning: Satire.

‘Welcome to this press briefing on the National Security Agency’s efforts to make the nation more secure. We know you have questions. I can’t say how, but we know.”

In recent days, we’ve seen the disclosure of NSA’s efforts to gather massive records of Americans’ phone calls and Internet activities in the name of thwarting terrorism. Is this just the tip of the iceberg?

“You could say that. And today I’ll disclose a few more programs.

“You know that tag on your mattress that the government doesn’t want you to remove? It’s actually a sophisticated sensor that gathers data on sleep patterns. Terrorists tend to stay up late plotting terror, so this is crucial.

“In addition, a sensor in your refrigerator keeps tabs on food expiration dates,. Would-be terrorists are notoriously careless when it comes to the freshness of dairy products. ID chips commonly implanted in pets provide us with a treasure trove of data on treats, tummy rubs, who is a good boy and who decidedly is not.

“Sensors in most bathroom mirrors produced after 2004 tell us much about facial hair growth patterns, critical to determining identification, radicalization and moisturization.

“Various cable and satellite TV providers have handed over reams of data on viewing habits. We’ve found that suspected terrorists often watch ‘Lifetime’ movies in an effort to harden their hatred of American culture. We tried to monitor teen text messages but were unable to crack the sophisticated code.”

“Oh, and that voice on your vehicle GPS? That’s a live NSA operative.”

This is astounding. How can you justify these constitutionally dubious activities?

“Oh, it’s all legal under the Patriot Act’s ‘This, That, Whatnot and Miscellany’ provision, approved by broad bipartisan majorities in Congress. Also, these secret programs have been cleared by a secret court. What can go wrong? After all, non-secret courts always get it right.”

But this president pledged more transparency, right?

“We believe our argument for secrecy is very transparent. What president in his or her right mind would curtail these activities? If terrorists attack, and the public finds out we pulled back, is Sen. Rand Paul going to rush to the White House to pin a defender of civil liberties medal on POTUS? Not likely.”

But should our leaders really use our fear as an excuse to dramatically expand government’s ability to spy on us, and keep that spying a secret?

“What a silly question. You should have gotten more sleep last night.”


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Moving – Updated

24-Hour Dorman has moved to a posh spot on The Gazette’s newly designed Web mothership.

You can now find my blog here.

Please, I beg you, update your bookmarks, links, blogroll, feeds etc.

UPDATE –– Here is the link to the new RSS feed:


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ChetChase 2010 – The Week

It was a very active week in the race to become your Iowa governor.

Party of Five — Five Republican gubernatorial candidates/near-hopefuls/explorers met in a forum sponsored by Iowa If you couldn’t be there, I was not, Radio Iowa’s O. Kay Henderson graciously posted the audio here.

There were gobs of agreement between Bob Vander Plaats, Chris Rants, Rod Roberts, Jerry Behn and Christian Fong. Another possible possibility, Paul McKinley, had a conflict and couldn’t make it.

They’re not crazy about the smoking ban, but nobody showed much interest in relighting that coffin nail.

Casinos? No more needed. State Budget? Chet messed it up big time. Medical marijuana? No thanks, although Sen. Behn, R-Boone, did wax nostalgically about the days of kinder, gentler pot. That’s just what he heard, anyway.

Speaking of nostalgia, the candidates were asked whether they’d welcome former Gov. Terry Branstad in the race. Polls show the old guy is still fly with folks who still use the term “fly.”

Here is the candidates’ composite answer, “I’d welcome such a fine statesman’s ideas. But, please, don’t dilly dally. Oh, and I’d just like to say future, future, future, future, future and, in conclusion, future.”

I wrote about the Branstad saga.

Kathie Obradovich did a better job here.

There were some disagreements at the forum. Rep. Roberts, R-Carroll, was the only one who doesn’t favor reinstating the death penalty. And although they all dislike gay marriage, only Vander Plaats thinks you can stop it with a magical/illegal executive order.

I guess Vander Plaats hasn’t explained to his rivals just how much fun impeachment would be.

So who won? You got me. Fong showed that he can hold his own and doesn’t need any training wheels. Rants had the best command of the issues. Vander Plaats didn’t stumble, but he also didn’t offer much evidence to prove why he’s the clear front-runner at this early date.

2. Roberts Fails to Tweet — What’s up with Rod Roberts, thinking he can get into the governor’s race with a thougthful speech to a room full of supporters that was all wordy with bio and viewpoints and stuff. Doesn’t he know he was supposed to send out a tweet?

Roberts does have a Web site, with a cool flag that waves. Neat!

3. That’s not My Name — Christopher Rants, who did tweet his announcement, is now Chris Rants, for the purposes of running for Iowa’s highest office. And he has a new Web site. It’s orange and blue, like the national champion Florida Gators. No waving flag, but there’s an odometer to show you how fast he’s wearing out his car.

He Chris, time for an oil change!

4. If I had $100,000 — I’d send out a press release, just like Christian Fong did earlier this week. His campaign reports raising that tidy sum in just its first three weeks of existence.

So who gave him the money? It’s a mystery that won’t be solved until disclosure supports are filed in January. Suspense is already building.

Perhaps the whiz kid will  use some of that scratch to finish his Web site.

5. Chetanooga Choo Chooo — Gov. Chet Culver will be riding the rails Sunday to officially promote passenger rail service. Any resemblance to a campaign whistle stop tour is completely coincidental.

Culver also started handing out I-Jobs bonding dollars for road and bridge projects. But then some pesky economists interviewed by The Des Moines Register’s Jason Clayworth questioned whether the huge program would actually stimulate anything.  

What? The governor couldn’t hear that over all the train noise. Sorry.

Retrolection 2009 — Democrat Harold Hughes and Republican Robert Ray were the big winners in last week’s retro gubernatorial primaries.

Hughes took 48 percent of the vote, holding off Tom Vilsack with 26 percent. Herschel Loveless and Ansel Briggs tied for third. Culver was 5th.

On the GOP side, Ray took 40 percent to Branstad’s 29. Samuel Kirkwood got 15 percent.

That sets up a dream Ray-Hughes match up.

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Column — Library Uncertainty

Cedar Rapids Library boosters certainly make a strong case for a new central library.

But I wonder whether the $45 million project may catch a fatal case of uncertainty.

The library board of trustees wants to replace the flooded 85,000-squarefoot central library in the heart of downtown with a 105,000-squarefoot library on higher ground on the northeast edge of downtown. They want more space, more computers, a larger collection, more amenities and no threat of water.

They hope to use Federal Emergency Management Agency, state and private funding to cover the bill.

Of all the public facilities pipe dreams floating around, I find the library most compelling. It could benefit thousands of local residents, including folks who are hanging on in nearby flood-affected neighborhoods.

But library backers also say they need more operating bucks. So they want voters to approve raising the current 4-cent library property tax levy to a maximum of 27 cents for 10 years. They’re determined to put it on the ballot in November’s city election.

Essentially, the levy vote will be a referendum on plans for a new, larger library.

But what will voters know going into the booth?

Unfortunately, they may not know where, exactly, a new library would be located. It all depends on whether the library board and City Council, which has the final say, can figure it out soon.

They won’t see an architect’s plan for a new library. That comes later.

They may not know, for certain, how much FEMA will chip in. Some of the funding will still be more hope than promise.

That worries me. I’d like to see this project make it. This, potentially, could say something important about the future of Cedar Rapids.

But when ballot measures die, uncertainty is usually the cause of death. Where facts are fuzzy, more often than not, criticism, and sometimes misinformation, fills the gap. And the ill-tempered electorate heading to the polls this November will be in no mood to take “trust us” as an acceptable answer.

So why not hold off until all those questions are answered? State law requires that a library levy be voted on in a city general election, held every two years. After this year’s, the next is 2011.

But the Legislature could change that law, just as it gave us a break on the sales tax. That would pave the way for a special election next year. It’s no sure thing, but a November vote could be riskier.

Backers are certain they can’t wait. Uncertain voters, however, may insist.


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Don’t Go Changin’

State Rep. Christopher Rants stopped by my office Tuesday afternoon for a chat. I’ll be columnizing on our conversation over the weekend.

I’ve been writing about Rants for 12 years, since I was a cub Statehouse reporter for his hometown Sioux City Journal. And during all that time he’s been Christopher Rants.

House Majority Leader Christopher Rants, House Speaker Christopher Rants, House Minority Leader Christopher Rants etc.

Now that he’s exploring/running for governor, he’s going by Chris Rants.

I gave him some mild guff for making me change my ways. He explained.

“We walked around and…what do people assume my name is? They meet me for the first time?” Rants asked me.

“Chris,” I conceded.

“Exactly,” Rants said.  “I’ve got 2 million people I’m trying to meet. So you don’t start by telling them, `No, my name is something else.’

“It’s the name that my teachers in school called me. My Sunday school teacher called me Chris. My neighbors call me Chris. So it’s not like it’s a big deal.”

No, it’s not. And it could be worse. He could have shortened it to C-Ra or something like that. Chris also takes up less space than Christopher, which is a bonus for a columnist trying to squeeze his long-winded pontifications into a shrinking piece of newspaper real estate.

And lots of politicians make little changes when they think about climbing the political ladder. It’s not unusual.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, lost his mustache and updated his discount wardrobe a few years ago when he toyed with the idea of running for governor.  Former Senate President Jeff Lamberti, R-Ankeny, also shaved his mustache before he ran for Congress in 2006.

Names sometimes get shorter. Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Conn. insisted that Iowans just call him Joe when he ran for president in 2004. It made him so appealing here that he opted to skip the caucuses.

The pretentious-sounding Malcom Stevenson Forbes Jr. became just good old flat-taxing Steve Forbes when he tried, twice, to win the caucuses.

The emerging 2010 GOP gubernatorial field is full of short names – Bob (Vander Plaats), Rod (Roberts), Paul (McKinley), Jerry (Behn) and Chris (Rants). Vander Plaats has run for governor enough times to also earn the JFK-esque shorthand moniker “BVP”

Christian (Fong) is an exception, but his name has its obvious advantages.  

And of course the winner will be up against Democratic Gov. Chet, not Chester, Culver.


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Stupid System

Christian Fong’s campaign for governor sent out a news release today trumpeting that the Cedar Rapids Republican raked in $100,000 in campaign donations in the three weeks since he jumped into the race.

Swell. Then I sent a reply to Victory Enterprise’s Brian Dumas, who sent the release, asking  if he has a  list of donors and donations. He replied:

We do, but we will file when required by law and at that time you’ll be able to review the disclosure and see the numbers are accurate.

Unfortunately, the time required by law is Jan. 19, 2010. So trumpet in July, check back in January.

Of course, it goes without saying, that the real story is exactly who gave to Fong and how much they gave.  And, obviously, 1,000 $100 donations would say one thing about Fong’s campaign and four $25,000 donors would tell an entirely different story.

Instead, we get a big number and some happy talk about how Fong’s campaign is off and running.

To be fair, Fong’s campaign is simply playing a time-honored game, by the rules as written. But I say it’s the rules need changing.

Every time I hear people talk about complex campaign finance reforms and tight limits and public financing, I roll my eyes. All I want is a system where candidates, especially statewide candidates,  are required to report often. Once a month. Maybe once a week.

Why should a half-dozen-and-growing field of GOP gubernatorial hopefuls, and Democratic Gov. Chet Culver, be able to shake the money tree all through 2009 and not report a dime until 2010? They shouldn’t.

Paid for by Ranting Hacks for Openness.

Fong’s release is below:

Fong Raises $100,000 in three weeks.

For Immediate Release: July 21, 2009 Contact: Marlys Popma 515-238-6564

(Cedar Rapids, IA) The campaign of Cedar Rapids businessman Christian Fong (R) announced today it had crossed the $100,000 mark in financial contributions. Fong launched his campaign three weeks ago.

“Despite an economic recession and a multi-candidate field, Christian has surpassed his initial targets in regards to fundraising. The $100,000 number is not commitments or pledges, but checks that have been written. Christian’s vision of restoring the Iowa Dream is being well received and Republicans are responding,” said Marlys Popma, Fong campaign manager.

Popma continued, “Considering Christian entered this race with no donor base, crossing this early threshold is a clear indicator that the campaign is off and running. We know we have a long way to go to reach our internal primary fundraising goals, but our quick start is extremely encouraging.”

Christian Fong graduated from Underwood High School in Southwest Iowa at the age of 16 and then attended Creighton University, graduating at age 19. After college, he and his wife, Jenelle, located in Cedar Rapids and Christian started work at AEGON. Fong put his career on hold to attend Dartmouth, earning his MBA. He and his family returned to Cedar Rapids, where they reside today and attend River of Life Ministries church. When the floods of 2008 hit Cedar Rapids, Fong founded and still serves today as the CEO of Corridor Recovery, a non-profit flood relief organization that coordinated recovery efforts. The Fongs have three children.


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1. Why do we keep misplacing top state government officials in this country? First, it was the governor of South Carolina. Now, we can’t account for Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Marsha Ternus in the wee hours of July 12.

Was she home while a seven-pack of 19-year-olds drank beers and partied loudly on her property? Did she know her husband was outside getting busted for interfering with the busting of said beer party? Was she hiking the Appalachian Trail? She’s not saying.

So you can vote, go to war and enter into a legally binding contract, but you can’t down some brews around a bonfire at the chief justice’s house? What kind of country is this?

2. Why would anyone think that remodeling office space for county officials is a higher priority than creating a facility to house juvenile justice programs?

Linn County Supervisor Jim Houser thinks offices are a priority. Supervisor Brent Oelson says juvenile justice should rule. Both projects are seeking I-Jobs bonding bucks. This will be a good chance to see if I-Jobs is really interested in critical infrastructure projects or handing out pork to politicians.

3. Why did House Speaker Pat Murphy think it was a good idea to say he’s backing state Rep. Kerry Burt, who is now under state  investigation, “100 percent?”

 Burt, a Waterloo Democrat, has been accused of providing an incorrect home address in a scheme to save about $37,000 in tuition for his kids at the Price Lab School at UNI. He’s also awaiting trial on a drunken driving charge. Innocent until proven guilty, of course. Still…

“I support Kerry Burt,” Murphy said. “He’s been a very good legislator in his first term of the Legislature. … I’m 100 percent with him.” Murphy told The Des Moines Register.  Really? 100 percent?  Wouldn’t 65 percent make more sense? How about 40? Just until this unpleasantness gets cleared up.

At least Gov. Culver had the sense to say he’s “very troubled.”  

4. Why do Republicans think the smartest plays on health care reform are to accuse Democrats of moving too fast and call for delay?

The issue has been around for decades. It’s been studied and debated to death. The GOP did next to nothing during the 12 years it ran Congress, including 8 with W. in charge. And now it’s all  moving too fast?

“All right guys, as long as Americans remain stupid and forgetful, our strategy can’t fail.” And as long as you have Michael Steele out delivering those talking points, it’ s a slam dunk.

5. Why is my 4-year-old ill-suited to be a spokesperson for Dubuque tourism? She can’t pronounce Dubuque. Instead, she says “The Puke.”  She thinks it’s a lovely city, however.


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