Monday, December 28

2009: The Year That Almost Is (Over)

It is a tradition of the Fourth Estate to review the year as soon as it draws to an end. It sells papers, magazines, and brings in muchas advert dollares. Since bloggers are not reliant on ad revenue, I will summarize 2009 now (not beholden to any corporate entity except Google who owns Blogger.Com. For all your blogging needs, choose Google).

2009 saw the first African-American President inaugurated and ammunition and gun sales skyrocket--welcome to "Change America Needs."

2009 saw a drawing down in Iraq and a loading up in Afghanistan. It saw a reup of the Patriot Act and Guantanamo still in operation.

Congress allowed the national debt to increase to 12.4 trillion dollars while 40+ million people continue to not have health care. The health care that is likely to occur in 2010 will cut that number to 24 million.

The Supreme Court welcomed a new member of its rowing crew when Sonia Sotomayor was confirmed despite the NRA, the Republican Party, and others who objected to her. The Supreme Court continues to function, as of this time.

Iowa saw its state income decrease 7.8% at the end of October and 6.7% of its workforce unemployed. The universities of Iowa stimulated the economy by using Federal tax dollars to encourage employees to retire early.

2009 saw Tea Partiers, Birthers, Obamafacists, and come together and Jon and Kate break up. 2009 saw "King of Pop Music" Michael Jackson pass away and Glenn Beck become the king of pop punditry.

2009 also saw Sarah Palin go rogue and Edward Kennedy go underground. It saw a Tiger and a governor lose their marriages and marriage equality to occur in Iowa and Washington DC.

In Johnson County, urban chickens, school plans and closings,curfews, and a bridge to nowhere (actually to Sutliff) were debated ad infinitum. To build or not to build led to the biggest voter turnout of residents in University Heights for a council election, while Iowa City saw the lowest turnout in twenty years. A County Supervisor's passing led to an appointment and a special election. The killing by a sheriff's deputy of a homeless refugee was ruled justifiable, but holding the man accountable who likely caused it was deferred.

Finally, 2009 saw people affected by job losses in record numbers, corporations being bailed out, and housing markets collapsing. So to those of us who escaped 2009 in good shape, remember that 2010 is just around the corner. Happy New Year?

Thursday, December 10

Scattershooting About Johnson County Politics

So the two parties have had their conventions and (D) Janelle Rettig and (R) Lori Cardella are their parties' candidates. If there is any drama to unfold it would have to involve a brave soul gathering 250 signatures to be placed on the ballot to run a third person for the controversial seat. It would actually be a more compelling race if that would happen. Failing that, it will rely on the candidates to turnout their bases.

And what will happen come June? The seat that will be decided by special election will be up for grabs again. Is this an effort to turn out the base for the Senatorial and House primaries? I would hate to think that people would have ulterior motives--I'd be "shocked."

You never know who you'll run into at a pizza place. Mike O'Donnell may be leaving the Iowa City Council, but his longer term aspirations may involve being the next County Recorder. He was notably absent from the Democratic special county convention.

And what was the Iowa City Council thinking when they approved a 2% franchise fee acknowledging that they might be able to do without half of it? They have deferred action in the past, why not wait until they have more information? As it stands most of us would not feel the pinch of a 1% hike, but the University of Iowa and other tax-exempt entities will in April--unless the council brings it up after the new members are seated.

Question for Sheriff Pulkrabek and JC County Attorney Lyness--what, if anything, have you decided to do about John Bohnenkamp? You may recall that he disregarded a public safety officer's order last July (and his own wife's pleas) to clear out of the crime scene which may have contributed to the shooting death of John Deng. I seem to recall that there was a continuing investigation about this point that has not been reported.

And area State Legislators--why not look at taxing non-residential uses of condominiums for rental property? Clearly it is disadvantaging those communities like Iowa City that have large numbers of absentee landlords. $2 million dollars can help a city keep it's budget balanced without the residents taking it fully on the chin. Also, it probably is keeping apartments from being built which in less supply.

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Wednesday, December 9

Runaway Iceberg Heads for Warmer Climate

According to CNN and other sources, an iceberg, more than twice the size of New York's Manhattan island, is drifting slowly toward Australia.

The iceberg, measuring 54 square miles, cleaved off the Ross ice shelf nearly 10 years ago and had been floating near Antarctica before commencing on its unusual journey north.

Named B17B, it was about 1,056 miles off the coast of West Australia, according to the country's Antarctic Division.

"B17B is a very significant one in that it has drifted so far north while still largely intact," said Australian Antarctic Division glaciologist Neal Young, who spotted the slab using satellite images taken by NASA and the European Space Agency.

It was three times its current size when it broke off Antarctica’s Ross Ice Shelf in 2000 and Young said it was one of the largest to be spotted so far north.

‘It’s one of the biggest sighted at those latitudes."

Scientists believe the iceberg will break up and melt rapidly as it continues its journey north. Before it melts, however, it could present a danger to ships navigating the region, Young said.

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Friday, December 4

Kotowing to Big Insurance: All in the Grassley Family

With thanks to Peter Hansen for this information below. If there was any doubt that Sen. Charles Grassley has compelling reasons to deny a public health care option, the information below will certainly add more.

*For Grassley, insurance is a family business – two of his children are
on the payroll of the industry.*

* Daughter Michele Grassley Clarke is the Executive Director for the
Iowa chapter of the National Association of Insurance and
Financial Advisors.
* Grassley daughter Wendy Grassley Speckerman is also listed on the
staff of the association. [National Association of Insurance and
Financial Advisors <>]
* This group is opposed to any public health plan option as part of
a national health care reform package. [Press Release, Association
of Health Insurance Providers
<>, April
20, 2009]

*Grassley’s campaigns have benefited from industry largesse.*

* He has received $493,149 in campaign contributions from health
insurance companies over his career. [Center for Responsive
Politics <>]
* His number 1 career contributor is Blue Cross/Blue Shield at
$81,200. [Center for Responsive Politics <>]

Wednesday, December 2

Braley and Loebsack Want More Specifics About Obama's Plans

Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) released the following statement tonight in response to President Obama’s speech on Afghanistan.

“In September, I sent a bipartisan letter to President Obama outlining many of my concerns about the situation in Afghanistan and stating my strong belief that we should not commit more troops to Afghanistan without a clearly defined exit strategy. As the Iowa National Guard prepares to deploy more than 3,000 soldiers to Afghanistan, we owe it to them and their families to have a comprehensive strategy that addresses fundamental military, political and economic challenges in Afghanistan and the surrounding region.

“I look forward to reading the specific details of the proposal laid out by President Obama in order to work with my colleagues to determine the best way forward for the people of the United States and Afghanistan.”

Congressman David Loebsack said:

“I firmly believe that we must put policy before politics, and I intend to hold the Obama administration as accountable as I did the Bush administration,” said Congressman Loebsack. “As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I plan on asking some tough questions during hearings and briefings in the coming days and weeks with our senior military and civilian leaders. Our servicemembers and their families deserve a thorough and accurate assessment of the President’s strategy, and I intend to make sure that they get it.”

“I plan to review the President’s decision extremely carefully to ensure that it supports our national security and lays out achievable and well-defined goals that will effectively deny al Qaeda a safe haven and allow our troops to come home,” added Congressman Loebsack.

Congressman Loebsack will be seeking some of the following details on the President’s strategy:

· Clearly laid out goals, a well-defined mission, and a rubric for measuring progress.

· An organized political-military structure within the plan that will fully utilize and coordinate our civilian economic, agriculture, political, and development resources with the military mission.

· A realistic accounting of the cost of this plan.

· A well defined plan to transfer responsibility for Afghan security and stability to the Afghan people so that our troops can come home. This includes a plan to help the Afghan government combat corruption and assume responsibility for their country’s future.

· A commitment from our NATO allies to support this plan with additional troops, civilian experts, and resources.

· A plan to work with the Pakistani government to further secure and stabilize the region and deny extremists who wish to do us harm a safe haven.

Loebsack Supports Fair Elections Now Act

Response from Congressman Loebsack to my recent inquiry about publicly funded elections which I favor.

Thank you for contacting me about the Fair Elections Now Act. I'm honored to represent you in Congress. Your opinion is very important to me and my priority is to provide Iowa's Second District with the best representation possible.

I share your concerns about the rising costs of Congressional campaigns and the potential influence of large campaign contributions. In the past, Congress has enacted statutes that have restricted or banned certain funding sources, limited certain expenditures and required disclosure of funds in an effort to enhance electoral competition and allow candidates to focus on important issues rather than fundraising.

The Fair Elections Now Act, H.R. 1826, was introduced by Representative Larson on March 31, 2009. I am proud to be a cosponsor of this bill, which would establish the option of publicly funded campaigns. A candidate who chooses public financing would receive a base grant equal to 80% of the national average of spending by winning House candidates in the previous two election cycles and a 400% match of contributions that do not exceed $100 per individual contributor per election. In addition, this bill would provide broadcast vouchers of $100,000 and would also prohibit the candidate from spending funds raised from Political Action Committees (PAC's).

H.R. 1826 has been referred to the House Committee on Administration, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and the House Committee on Ways and Means. Should this bill come to the full House of Representatives for a vote, please be assured I will keep your views in mind.

Thank you again for contacting me about this important issue. I encourage you to visit my website at and sign up for my e-newsletters to stay informed of the work I'm doing in Congress. I am proud to serve Iowa's Second District, and I am committed to working hard for you.


Dave Loebsack
Member of Congress

Obama's Resurgance in Afghanistan

In an elegant show of reasoning and logic, President Barack Obama, with his security team in tow, spoke in front of 3400 West Point cadets and explained why he was committing 30,000 more American troops to the War in Afghanistan beginning in January 2010. Despite his reassurance that the war will be limited to:
• Denying al Qaeda a safe haven
• Reversing the Taliban's momentum to overthrow Afghanistan's government
• Strengthening Afghanistan's security forces and government,
what is being repeated is a surge policy. With the idea being to have enough boots on the ground to finish what has been, to this point, a largely unwinnable war, his hope lies in repeating the relative success that his predecessor's policy had in Iraq.

To his credit his plan has a timeline, but like all war plans, there is an escape clause depending on what is happening in the country when the withdrawal of troops is scheduled to start in July 2011. The plan also includes commitments from 43 countries to step up and support the effort, which is commendable if it works. Lastly, Obama pointed out that the extra $30 additional billion price tag per year will have to be paid for and that he would work with Congress to do that. With the current plans to overhaul health care and to invest in job creation, one has to wonder what will be cut to accommodate two wars that have already cost taxpayers over a trillion dollars.

As the President travels to Oslo to accept the Nobel Peace Prize in nine days, one has to wonder if he should decline the honor. To accept such a prize under the shroud of escalating this war is tragic, regardless of his reasoning for doing so.

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Monday, November 30

Krause, Fiegan, and Conlin: Grassley Challengers

To the point that Roxanne Conlin entered the race to be the Democratic U.S. Senate candidate, scarcely a peep had been made by the state's newspapers about the two other candidates running for the Democratic nomination. Bob Krause and Tom Fiegan have been pounding the pavement furiously trying to shore up support ahead of the June primary for months.

To be sure, neither Fiegan nor Krause are as well-known candidates as Conlin who is best known for being defeated in her run for Governor in 1982. And neither are women, which brings excitement to a core constituency, particularly as Iowans have not seen fit to elect a qualified female to Congress--ever. And, if you saw Rekha Basu's column in the Des Moines Register, Conlin has a compelling personal story. Still, since there is so much time to learn about each of the candidates and how they would represent Iowans, it is worth the investment.

For instance Bob Krause was one of the youngest elected members of the Iowa House. He is the only candidate calling for a draw down in Afghanistan. He ran unsuccessfully for State Treasurer and he served in the Transportation Dept. under Jimmy Carter.

Tom Fiegan, a former State Senator who hails from Clarence, is running because "based on my 21 years as a bankruptcy lawyer and an economics professor, I believe we need to do something positive to create a job for everyone who wants to work, provide healthcare for those without, and outlaw the type of financial piracy that got us into this mess in the first place." Fieganomics, as he calls his plans to improve the economy for Iowans calls for using federal monies to lead to full employment, universal health care, and "banning financial piracy on an individual and national level."

Roxanne Conlin's bona fides include currently running her own law firm (she graduated from the Drake Law School in addition to acquiring a Masters degree in Public Administration), serving as the Assistant Attorney General for the Southern District of Iowa, and being the first woman to serve as president of the AAJA (formerly the American Trial Lawyer's Association). She also tried the very 1st Iowa Civil Rights Act in 1969 and was the state chair of the Democratic party. She is running against the special interests and career politicians that run Washington and to help small businesses, creating jobs through alternative energy.

I'll be adding issue comparison's about each candidates in the coming weeks.

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Saturday, November 28

Honoring All Our Troops

CNN reports that soldiers who die by suicide will not receive a letter of condolence from the President Obama. The reason for not honoring military personnel? It is an inherited policy. The unwritten policy has been in place "at least since Bill Clinton was president," according to a New York Times article. With 184 military personnel reported dead by suicide in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001 and at least 128 active-duty soldiers confirmed to have killed themselves in 2008, compared with 115 in 2007, 102 in 2006 and 87 in 2005, it makes no sense to dishonor their memories to their families.

Regardless of the reason for death, every military personnel deserves the recognition of the Commander-in-Chief for their service to their country. Contact the President and your Congressional Representatives to call on them to change this disrespectful policy. While you are at it, you might also ask them to stop putting our soldiers in harm's way without a good reason.

President Barack Obama

Representative Bruce Braley
Representative Leonard Boswell
Representative Steve King
Representative Tom Latham
Representative Dave Loebsack

Senator Charles Grassley
Senator Tom Harkin

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Tuesday, November 24

Thanksgiving Reform

The day after tomorrow my wife and I will likely sit down to negotiate Thanksgiving reform with my Chicago-based father and his wife. On the table will be the required watching of a football game. In past years the football game has been widely popular with the Chicago group, but with one increasingly vocal dissenter favoring a non-football alternative--my wife, the holiday may be more contentious than in years past.

My father or "the majority leader" of the football game party, my wife, the minority leader favoring an anything-but-#%#%$#$-football option, will meet in caucus and hammer out partisan strategies. As I owe allegiances to both points of view, I plan to offer a pumpkin pie amendment that will stipulate that for the non-football option, I would be willing to give up my second slice of pumpkin pie. However, should the other side want to negotiate additional jellied cranberries to take football off the table, in addition to pie--I'll withdraw my amendment. I am open to a yam amendment too, but I understand the Yam Council is sending a lobbyist to arm twist me.

In addition to football reform, there will be endless filibustering between the spouses, who never see eye to eye on any issue (except for their great choices in husbands). No doubt there will be closed door reconcilation that will occur so that the holiday can remain peaceful.

Regardless of the politics in your household, I think we can all be thankful we have the family football to kick around. Because, while Tip O'Neill was close when he said all politics are local, anyone who has spent quality time with their kin knows--all family politics are deeply personal.

Wish me luck.

Monday, November 23

Senate Candidate Krause Calls for Drawdown in Afghanistan

From Bob Krause's campaign:
Speaking to an audience of Democrats at the Iowa Democratic Party's annual Jefferson Jackson Day dinner on Saturday night, Bob Krause of Fairfield became the first candidate in the Iowa U.S. Senate race to call for a drawdown of troops in Afghanistan.

"It is my view as a retired military officer and a student of military strategy that we need to disengage from Afghanistan because what we are doing is not strategically sustainable,” Krause told the crowd at a rally following the keynote speech by Vice President Joe Biden.

"We are in direct danger of committing our remaining uncommitted national reserve of troops so that we have nothing left for emergencies,” Krause explained. “Further, I seriously doubt that we need to keep the Taliban at bay in Afghanistan to secure our national security. We are putting large numbers of U. S. and foreign troops in the land that invented xenophobia. Unfortunately this troop insertion stirs the pot and makes the situation much worse than it needs to be.”

“I hope that, when President Obama makes his troop strength decision after Thanksgiving, he does not accept the advice of the neoconservatives, and instead does the prudent thing and closes out this war that former President Bush lost through inaction several years ago,” said Krause.

In extended remarks after the speech, Krause added, "Joe Biden in right on this one. We are spending $60 billion per year in the war in Afghanistan and 2 billion on Pakistan, even though Pakistan is strategically more important to us.”

“If the Pakistanis can control the Pashtuns within their own borders, it will have a very positive spin-off effect on the Pashtun nation in Afghanistan,” said Krause. “Insuring that Pakistan can continue as a cohesive nation is where our strategic emphasis needs to be. Having our forces in Afghanistan drives Taliban into Pakistan and actually helps to destabilize Pakistan.”

Krause warned that our trying to control Afghanistan directly with U. S. troops not only causes backfires, but it is incredibly costly. “If we put in an additional 40,000 new troops -- at a cost of about 1 million dollars per soldier in the field -- this will put the new war budget for Afghanistan at $100 billion,” said Krause. “This for a war that, even by known guerilla warfare statistical planning factors, we would be unlikely to win because it just is not enough troops.”

Krause also pointed out that this figure does not include the “80 year tail on government costs for treating the additional 10,000 per year Post Traumatic Stress Disorder cases that would likely come from the insertion of the additional soldiers.”

"Iowans need to call President Obama and ask him to listen to those who are urging caution, and not to those who want to continue and to escalate this strategically untenable battle," concluded Krause.

A former state legislator, school board member and transportation official, Krause has served as the president of the Iowa Department of the Reserve Officers Association and is currently chair of the Iowa Democratic Veterans Caucus.

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Marriage Equality

A meeting at Peoples Church Unitarian Universalist on Saturday brought social justice activists from liberal faith communities in Waterloo, Cedar Rapids, and Iowa City together to discuss what can be done to support continued Marriage Equality in Iowa. State Senator Bob Dvorsky assured the group that the Iowa Senate would not allow amendments to be attached to bills that would change the current law that allows for same-sex marriages to occur.

Nonetheless, he did say that forces could move through the Iowa House to attempt to bring the issue to a state constitutional convention. However, he was clear that the Democratic leadership would not be supportive of such a push. He did say that proponents for Marriage Equality should not be complacent.

A lobby day will be coming up on February 11, 2010 to talk with House and Senate representatives and make the case that civil Marriage Equality is good for Iowa regardless of religious leanings. OneIowa and the Interfaith Alliance are working within communities to educate the public on the issues.

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What The Corridor Can Learn From New Orleans

When Hurricane Katrina unleashed its fury, it was largely blamed for the monumental damage that followed in New Orleans and its neighbors. Further evidence showed that the failure of the levees were to blame and that the Army Corp of Engineers who manage those levees failed to upgrade them despite reports that the levees were sorely in need of shoring up.

The Corridor and particularly Iowa City and Coralville have relied on the Army Corp of Engineers to manage the waterflow at the Coralville Dam. As we learned, the slowness in releasing the water may have contributed to a lot of the flooding that happened in the area. It is hoped that the improvements that are being planned to improve Park Road bridge and other plans will lead to long-term solutions. additionally, it is hoped that the Army Corp of Engineers have learned from the past and will regulate water flow better in the future.

Perhaps Corridor leaders should consider the measure that the New Orleans City Council did. See the video below.

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Thursday, November 19

We Represent the Lollipop Kids?

I appreciate the efforts that were made to create the environment for a special Johnson County board of supervisors election, as I support transparency and openness where government is concerned. However, I have to admit when I learned from the Daily Iowan that proponents for the special election were giving out lollipops as a reward for signatures, I found it hugely hysterical. It reminded me of when George Etre was running for Iowa City City Council and he was giving free drinks away to sign his petition to qualify. It kind of dilutes the message when it appears that a "token" is given for something that really shouldn't need any encouragement. I found it particularly tickling to then hear that many of these same students have no plans to vote in the special election. How mercenary is that?

As for the next steps regarding the county supervisor race, each political party will nominate one candidate for the election; and any additional independent candidates would have to garner 250 signatures on a petition to be on the ballot. It is my sincere hope that if anyone who feels their viewpoint is not addressed by either party will go solicit the 250 signatures. Because at the end of the day, the real argument is not whether we have a Democrat or a Republican representing us, but whether we have people with good ideas willing to commit their time to do the job.

For the record, I feel like Jannelle Rettig is a good choice and I think a special election will reiterate this. However, the value of elections, beyond who is running for offices, is the free flow of ideas about what citizens believe their government and communities priorities ought to be and for the offering of solutions to address the problems that concern us all.

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Friday, November 13

Special County Election Will Happen

Advocates for a special election to occur to replace the late Larry Meyers and to challenge the seating of appointed County Supervisor Janelle Rettig by special committee have apparently gathered over 8000 signatures which were presented to the Johnson County Clerk's office this afternoon. After the abysmal turnouts for city council races less than two weeks ago, it is hoped that the petitioners will do the service of actually voting in the special election.

Also of interest, staunch Republican supporter Lori Cardella is suggesting she may step forward to run for the office according to the Coralville Courier. I am looking forward to the prospect, as I think it will create the environment for the values of Johnson County to present themselves at the polls.

Janelle Rettig, who has been in campaign mode since last year, will need to be nominated by Johnson County Democrats by county convention according to the their last month meeting notes and Cardella would likely have to be nominated by the Johnson County Republicans also by convention.

According to the auditor's website the rules of going forward are:
Meyers' term was scheduled to run through December 31, 2010. The appointment will run through the canvass of the the November 2, 2010 general election, unless the public petitions for a special election. The petition would require 7,299 signatures (10 percent of the presidential vote in the 2008 general election). The deadline for a petition is November 13, 2009, 14 days after the appointment.

Two supervisors will be elected to four year terms in the November 2, 2010 general election. Following the canvass of votes from the November 2010 election (on November 8 or 9, 2010), an elected supervisor will immediately take office.

Thursday, November 12

Stimulus Monies Shore Up Safety Net on Iowa's Medicaid Recipients

The Iowa Policy Project reports that the stimulus monies used for Medicaid in Iowa have been paying dividends. For every $1 that the state puts in, $1.70 is matched by the Federal government. The ARRA legislation includes certain “triggers” built in for the extra FMAP percentage increases, based on changes in state unemployment rates. Note that as more people have become unemployed that there is a proportional increase in Medicaid enrollment. When Iowa’s three-month average unemployment rate topped 5.2 percent in April, May and June 2009, the state qualified for an additional FMAP increase of about 1.9 percent, bringing the total Federal Matching Assistance Percentage to nearly 71 percent. Due to this raised matching rate, the federal government contributes about $2.42 for every dollar Iowa spends on Medicaid through October 2011.

Here are some interesting factoids about Medicaid courtesy of the IPP

Medicaid: Iowa’s Health Care
Safety Net
 In May 2009, Medicaid
provided essential health
care coverage for 410,857
state residents, or nearly 1
in 7 Iowans.

 Between October 2007 and
May 2009, Iowa’s Medicaid
enrollment increased by 13
percent. Children make up
the fastest growing
population of Medicaid

 54 percent of Iowa’s
Medicaid recipients are
children, a total enrollment
of 221,863 in May 2009.
However children
accounted for only 17
percent of Medicaid
expenditures in 2008.

 Elderly and disabled
populations together
comprise about 30 percent
of recipients, but account for
nearly 72 percent of
Medicaid expenditures.
This is largely due to the
high cost of prescription
drugs, home-based and
community-based services,
and nursing home care.

Monday, November 9

Too Big to Fail: Sanders Says "Break These Babies Up"

Sen. Bernie Sanders makes some very good points. Whether you agree with his assessment that the "to big to fail" companies need to be broken up, the point that these companies are costing us all is irrefutable.

More than a year has gone by since Congress passed the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street. The Federal Reserve has committed trillions of additional dollars in virtually zero-interest loans and other assistance to large financial institutions resulting in the largest taxpayer bailout in the history of the world.

President Bush and Ben Bernanke told us we needed to bail out Wall Street because we could not allow big financial institutions and insurance giants to fail because if they failed it would have led to the collapse of the U.S. and global economies.

Today, most of the huge financial institutions still standing have become even bigger — so big that the four largest banks in America (JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Citigroup) now issue one out of every two mortgages; two out of three credit cards; and hold $4 out of every $10 in bank deposits in the entire country.

If any of these financial institutions were to get into major trouble again, taxpayers would be on the hook for another massive bailout. We cannot let that happen. We need to do exactly what Teddy Roosevelt did back in the trust-busting days and break up these big banks.

That is why I introduced legislation that would give the Secretary of the Treasury 90 days to identify every single financial institution and insurance company in this country that is too big to fail and to break up those institutions within one year.

If it’s too big to fail, it’s too big to exist.

Sunday, November 8

Rental Help Available for Iowans

I received this from State Representative Vicki Lensing:

As part of the federal economic recovery program, Iowa has received $11 million to help qualified Iowa renters pay their rental and utility bills. To qualify, you must be at risk of homelessness and your income must be at or below 50% of the local area median income, although in some areas of the state, the criterion is stricter.
The program, called Iowa Rental Help, can help current renters, and families and homeowners who are moving into rental properties. The homeless are also eligible for help. The goal is to help recipients gain stability and adequate housing.
Iowa Rental Help can provide qualified Iowa renters with rent and utility payments for up to 18 months (including up to six months in arrears), moving expenses, security deposits, rental deposits,and more.
When individuals contact Iowa Rental Help, they will be connected with a case manager to determine whether they qualify. If so, the case manager will help develop a plan that will best benefit them. The case manager will also meet with them every six months to reassess the situation. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development administers the program nationally; the Iowa Finance Authority (IFA) administers the program in Iowa. For more information on the program, Iowans can call 877.386.9104, visit, or text RENT to 30644.
A large number of calls have been coming into the program and Iowans should expect some delays in speaking to a case manager.

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Tuesday, November 3

City Council Election: A Sleeper and A Squeaker

Today's Iowa City election netted the lowest turnout since 1985. The Iowa City precincts during September's school board election reported 4,394 voters at the polls, while the City Council election today saw 4,682 voters turn out. As expected Susan Mims and Terry Dickens won the at-large race with 75% and 70% of the vote over The University of Iowa students Dan Tallon and Jeff Shipley. Mark McCallum gave Connie Champion the closest race she has ever had in her four elections as Champion narrowly defeated McCallum by 172 votes.

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Gitmo Detainees: Where Are They Now?

One of the earliest Obama pledges was to close the detention camp at Guantanamo. After Congress moved to block any Guantanamo detainee from entering the United States, the courts appear to be relocating the detainees to exotic places like Herzagovinia, Palau, and Chad.

Chisun Lee wrote this as an Op-Ed for the NY Times:
As the Obama administration and Congress try to forge a legal framework for detaining suspected terrorists, they might want to take a close look at what's happening at the federal district courthouse just a short walk down Pennsylvania Avenue from both the White House and the Capitol.

Trial judges there have quietly decided 31 of some 200 cases brought by Guantánamo inmates seeking freedom. Dossier by dossier, the jurists have answered the core questions that policy experts have been addressing in theory: When can the president place someone in preventive detention, and how solid does the evidence need to be?

President Obama, like George W. Bush before him, has claimed the power to detain not only Qaeda and Taliban members, but also those who "support" them. Last year the Supreme Court ruled [2] (PDF) that the courts can scrutinize these detention decisions and overturn them if they are invalid. But the court didn't say exactly what a valid detention looks like, and Congress hasn't stepped in to make it clear.

Nonprofit news source Propublica, has a chart of where 36 of the, as of January 17, 2009, approximately 245 detainees have ended up. Here is what happened to detainees prior to 2009.

It's a Beautiful Day to Exercise Your Vote For Nobody

Some and John Deeth are predicting a miserable voter turnout for the elections in Johnson County. I don't much care what people plan to do, the right to vote or not vote is "democratic" in the literal sense. My hope is that after the dust clears, folks will figure out how their vote woulda, coulda, shoulda mattered, had they informed themselves about the consequences of their inaction.

Generally when people don't vote, it is because they don't see much difference between the leading candidates (sorry Susan and Terry, but blue and white or white and blue signs are not much of a difference maker) or they are so burnt out on all things political that they leave it to the habitual voter to make the decision for them.

Frankly the races in Coralville and University Heights have more riding on them than the Iowa City race because there are clear demarcations of differences on community growth in the UH race and Coralville now has the issue of what happens if Mayor Jim Fausett has to step down because of his health. Iowa City has so little at stake to the average lethargic voter that it is possible that Sara Baird could actually edge out one or both of the students running as a write-in candidate.

The game changer in IC could be if voters accidentally stumble into a voting booth and decide to exercise their privilege by turning in a blank slate. Sometimes a recorded vote for nobody is the best vote of all. It would be extremely amusing to learn that nobody won the IC at-large race. But that isn't likely to happen. Tomorrow's headline-- "A Victory for Apathy."

Saturday, October 31

Palin Too Pricey for Iowa Conservatives

An effort to bring Sarah Palin to the Iowa Family Policy Center's banquet next month has left a bad taste in the mouths of many state's conservatives. The group's plan to raise a $100,000 payday to bring Palin to the state has the hair of GOP activists' necks on end at the thought of paying to land a politician's speaking appearance.

The Iowa Family Policy Center's effort would be a departure from its usual practice in the first-in-the-nation state, these Republicans believe, as White House hopefuls have traditionally paid their own way to boost their party and presidential ambitions.

I guess that's just Sarah being all mavaricky and letting the free market do it's thing.

Read more at:

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Thursday, October 29

Obama Expands Federal Hate Crimes Act

Attached to the $680 billion defense authorization bill, President Obama on Wednesday signed a law that makes it a federal crime to assault an individual because of his or her sexual orientation or gender identity. The expanded federal hate crimes law now, which also covers crimes motivated by disability, is hailed by supporters as the first major federal gay rights legislation.

The hate crimes measure was named for Matthew Shepard, a gay Wyoming teenager who died after being kidnapped and severely beaten in October 1998, and James Byrd Jr., an African-American man dragged to death in Texas the same year.

"No one in America should ever be afraid to walk down the street holding the hands of the person they love. No one in America should be forced to look over their shoulder because of who they are or because they live with a disability," Obama said, referring to Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr.

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Friday, October 23

Johnson County: Let Voters Fill in the Blank

There is no good way to say this, but Johnson County, we have a problem. When Larry Meyers passed away after his long battle with cancer, he inconveniently did it with nine months before the next Board of Supervisor's primary. But wait, the special commission that is made up of elected leaders (read: Democrats)decided not to hold a special election citing the cost of holding the special election is not worth the 11 months the person would actually hold the seat and invite people to apply for the job.

With an applicant pool that turned up sixteen potential candidates of various political persuasions, that is a heck of a lot more than usually run for the office if the normal campaign rules applied. The special commission then magically whittled down the field to eight (perhaps using the irrefutable "eenie-meenie-minie-moe" method?).

Now the special commission is going to select that special somebody to fill the seat by next Friday. If people don't like the commissions choice, they have two weeks to turn up about 7,000 people's signatures who are qualified to vote and call for a special election. And here's the thing--someone is going to object because it is likely that the kinds of people who want a special election have a history of being soundly trounced when they occur.

All frivolity aside, we have elections that turn out less than 5% of the public out and, yet we still have those elections. Is it fair for three people to decide who will be the potentially tie breaking vote on the BOS for even 11 months? No. Would it be nice to combine the special election with the regular election and elect someone for one term and 11 months? Yes, but it violates state election laws.

Because I value transparency in elective government, I believe that we need to suck it up and have a special election. Doing so has a financial cost, but to not do so has a higher cost--the suspicion that democracy is being usurped or, more simply, we are being cheated.

Do I believe that it will change the dynamics of the county government? No. I suspect a Democrat would be elected based on the usual voting patterns of the county. But do I think that all Democrats (or Republicans) are the same? No. I'd like the choice to vote for the person I feel is best qualified. One of the reasons I voted for Larry was he was part of a group of people who said "Don't Tread on Me" when they felt they didn't have the BOS's ear. Well guess what--our elected officials are treading on us again.

No matter who the commission selects, I hope people will support a special election. Democracy is a good thing.

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Tuesday, October 20

Energy Star: Greenwashing at It's Worst?

Under the federal stimulus bill, $300 million will go to rebates for consumers who buy Energy Star products. In theory, a great idea--trading in energy guzzling appliance "clunkers" for more energy efficient ones. But are they? Maybe not. The EPA and Energy Departments have a small problem with accountability. Apparently manufacturers are certifying the energy savings of their products with little oversight. According to a Time article:

The Energy Department admits it doesn't properly track how and when manufacturers put Energy Star labels on products. The labels' ratings, which are supposed to indicate a product's energy efficiency, were "not accurate or verifiable," according to the agency. In other words, products that are supposed to save you money, and that are supposed to minimize environmental impact, may in fact do neither.

The Energy Star label is one of several "innovations" that are supposed to make consumers' lives easier—but in fact complicate them because the technology is flawed and misleading. The outcome is that unsuspecting consumers can and do get ripped off.

The NY Times explains that the Energy Department has poor oversight over the Energy Star ratings system. In many cases, the manufacturer—and the manufacturers alone—are responsible for testing and evaluating their own products. That's like letting junior high students decide what grades they should get on their report cards. From the Times:

While the Energy Department requires manufacturers of windows and L.E.D. and fluorescent lighting to have independent laboratories evaluate their products, the report said, companies that make refrigerators, washing machines, dishwashers, water heaters and room air-conditioners, which consume far more energy, can certify those appliances themselves.

Friday, October 16

Real Drama: 11.5 Million Africans Displaced By War, 23 Million Hungry

With respect to the Henne "balloon boy" and his family and with disgust aimed at the fixated media covering them, there are real tragedies in the world that the 24 hour news cycle should be covering. According to the United Nations, 11.6 million Africans have been forced from their homes by wars and other conflicts and 45% of all displaced persons in the entire world. The African continent also has some 2,659,000 refugees and asylum-seekers. Some 2 million people were newly displaced during the course of last year.

"Africa is the continent most affected by the scourge and tragedy of forced displacement," the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said in a statement. "While refugee populations have declined in recent years, internal displacement continues to rise and the number of people uprooted from their homes is mounting."

Oxfam International reported in September that 23 million people were facing severe hunger due to climate change- exacerbated drought in East Africa. "This is the worst humanitarian crisis Oxfam has seen in East Africa for over ten years," Paul Smith Lomas, Oxfam's East Africa Director said in a statement.

"Failed and unpredictable rains are ever more regular across East Africa ... due to the growing influence of climate change."

Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and Uganda are the worst hit, while Sudan, Djibouti and Tanzania are also suffering ill effects.

During the weeklong African Union summit that will start Monday in the capital, Kampala, the leaders are expected to sign a pledge to help the displaced across the continent, according to the U.N. agency for refugee issues. The agreement "would be the first legally binding international instrument on internal displacement having such broad regional scope," the agency said.

Oxfam International accused Kenya and Ethiopia of housing Somali refugees in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. It said the Somali government also is abandoning its internally displaced.

"Somalis flee one of the world's most brutal conflicts and a desperate drought, only to end up in unimaginable conditions in camps that are barely fit for humans," said Robbert Van den Berg, a spokesman for Oxfam International in the Horn of Africa.

"Hundreds of thousands of children are affected, and the world is abandoning the next generation of Somalis when they most need our help."

Maybe instead of sending relief, perhaps we should be sending them weather balloons to launch their kids. At least then we'd notice the catastrophic problems that the press seems to largely ignore.

Boys With Toys

Here's a question. If you were running a government, say like ours, where you had made significant outlays of tax dollars, wouldn't you want to find a highly qualified "sheriff" without the baggage of being a part of the industry that has caused you so much consternation to run your enforcement arm? Bloomberg reports that the Securities Exchange Commission has named Adam Storch, a former Goldman exec, as its enforcement division's first chief operating officer. Storch is actually just 29 years old and previously worked in Goldman's business intelligence unit.

The SEC's Enforcement Director who will be Storch's boss, Robert Khuzami, himself the former General Counsel at Deutsche Bank. To his credit, he had been diligent in prosecuting whilte collar crimes while in the USAG's office.

Read more at: huffingtonpost

Thursday, October 15

Is Chicago Creating the Third Ghetto?

From Dr. Jim Throgmorton

Is Chicago Creating the Third Ghetto? Current Evidence and a Reconnaissance Framework
Presented by Andrew J. Greenlee, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Urban Planning and Policy, University of Illinois at Chicago

Wednesday, October 21, 2009
7:00 – 8:30 pm
2520D University Capitol Center
The University of Iowa

This presentation will focus on the multi-state diaspora of Chicago’s public housing residents, as facilitated by the policies of mobility written into the Housing Choice Voucher Program.

To enhance understanding of this diaspora, it will first provide background about the rise of Chicago’s “first ghetto” after WW I, and the subsequent rise of what Arnold Hirsch has termed the “second ghetto” as a result of post-WW II policies that resulted in the construction of concentrated clusters of high-rise public housing projects. The presentation will then contrast the “second ghetto” with the Chicago Housing Authority’s Plan for Transformation (1999 to the present). This part will focus on how the Plan’s multi- pronged strategy of deconcentrating poverty through place-based improvements (mixed income communities) and people-based benefits (housing vouchers) has helped fulfill the promise of “transforming” Chicago’s most disinvested spaces of public housing, but has also created room for the retrenchment of some former public housing residents into racially- and economically-segregated communities within the region, mostly via voucher-based residential mobility. Spatially, the presentation will focus on moves made throughout the State of Illinois, especially in terms of flows in and out of Chicago/Cook County, but it will also touch on interstate flows of people from Chicago and other Illinois housing authorities to places such as Iowa City.

This presentation is free and open to the public

Wednesday, October 14


On Tuesday, October 20th the Human Rights Education Committee, City of Iowa City Human Rights Commission, Goodwill of the Heartland, City of Iowa City Housing Authority and Iowa Workforce Development will be hosting a Building Blocks to Employment Job Fair at the Eastdale Plaza, 1700 S. 1st Avenue, Iowa City.

The Building Blocks to Employment Job Fair is designed to assist entry level employees in obtaining gainful employment in and throughout Johnson County.

Representatives from local employers include: ACT, Inc., Census 2010 -- Neighborhood Centers of Johnson County, Goodwill of the Heartland, Iowa City Community School District, Mediacom, Mercy-Iowa City, Quality Associates, Reach for Your Potential, Systems Unlimited, Team Staffing, Thomas L. Cardella and Associates, University of Iowa, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, U.S. Cellular, Cambridge Tempositions and Vangent, Inc.

Goodwill of the Heartland, Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services and Iowa Workforce Development Center will also have representatives available to assist participants.

The Job Fair will run from 5:00 p.m. -7:00 p.m. with free childcare provided. Bus passes compliments of the City of Iowa City Transit Division are available on a first come first serve basis.

For more information, please contact Paul Retish at 335-5331 or

Tuesday, October 13

Reducing Malpractice v. Reducing Patients' Rights?

Factcheck has an interesting report about the effects of reducing malpractice claims and the impact on health care reform. Factcheck quotes the Congressional Budgeting Office that says that reducing malpractice claims would be equal to .5% cut in health care costs. While that figure may sound like small change, it is equal to $11 billion today and up to $41 billion over the next ten years.

While this is much smaller than some politicians have claimed (for example Rep. John Boehner on Oct. 2 said "We could save over $100 billion a year in less medicine being practiced if in fact we were to have real reform of medical malpractice laws."

The CBO also said "there's no consistent evidence that damage limits would keep doctors from ordering unnecessary tests.

Researchers say there's no good data on how much defensive medicine is being practice. Doctors could order additional tests for many reasons, including boosting their income and because patients ask for them. And it's difficult to separate the effects of tort reform from other factors that affect health care spending.

Thirty-six states already limit the compensation that patients can receive for medical errors. The 14 states that have not done so are Arizona, Delaware, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington and Wyoming.

Insurance giant WellPoint Inc. said in a May report that malpractice suits are one of the popular explanations for rising health care costs. However they point out this is much less true than costs associated with advances in medical technology, increasing regulation and rising obesity.

Will tort reform help without hurting patients? A study by UCLA/Rand Research claims, according to FactCheck, "that a 10 percent reduction in costs related to medical malpractice liability would increase the nation’s overall mortality rate by 0.2 percent. It concluded that the savings in money would not be worth the cost in lives." FactCheck cites another study published in the Journal of Health Economics, by health economists from Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which "concludes that "tort reforms" don’t have any significant effect on patient outcomes."

The idea of reducing costs without harming those who have been medically harmed due to caregiver malfeasance is tricky territory given limits already in place. The proportion of medical malpractice verdicts among the top jury awards in the U.S. has declined during the past 20 years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News. "Of the top 25 awards so far this year, only one was a malpractice case. At least 30 states cap damages in medical suits, primarily for “pain and suffering” awards." Still, if there are reasonable ways to reduce drawn out trials, perhaps these can be considered as the House bill does by allowing financial incentives for states that try alternative medical liability programs that don't limit damage awards. All Business reports "States, for example, could require patients to first get a medical expert to certify that a case is "medically meritorious," or they could set up "early offer" programs that encourage doctors to admit errors and offer restitution as a way of discouraging lawsuits."

In the fight to reform health care, it seems like an even-handed approach to make it easier for medical treatment to occur and for providers and patients not to see each other as "the problem" is just what the doctor (and patient) have ordered.

Chet Culver's 10% Solutions

Chet Culver has twice now invoked his solution for the state budget shortfall. 10% cuts across the board, no exceptions. This presumes that all budget items have equal weight. This is a fallacy.

If human services are cut 10%, this has a multiplier effect to those who are already in the most need. If this is applied to staffing child abuse or elder abuse investigators or to provide aid for mentally ill persons, these funds are already spread too thin.

Why not take a harder view on how tax dollars are being spent or not being collected? Tax abatement is an example of how government provide "welfare" to corporate entities with the promise that jobs and revenue will be created through their largess with our tax dollars. Clearly job creation is not going well, so why provide the "out" when we need the income?

Also, are all programs that are being funded with tax dollars necessary given the shortfall? If push comes to shove, are we really going to continually take dollars away from education so that more roads can be built? Clearly the 10% solution is easy to explain and appears to be fair, but in the longer run, it is a recipe for disaster.

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Friday, October 9

Health Care Reform: Mom and Pop v. The Big Box

To hear it from antagonists of a public healthcare option, the possibility of "Guvment Run Health Care" is likened to a Big Box store moving into town and killing off the Mom and Pop local operations. The only thing is, the Mom and Pop's in this scenario are not the local hardware store or five and dime, they are Fortune 500 companies with revenues that exceed the GNP of Israel and Venezuela combined:

1. UnitedHealth Group Fortune 500 Rank #21 (Revenues $81,186,000,000)
2. WellPoint #32 ($61,251,100,000)
3. Aetna #77 ($30,950,700,000)
4. Humana #85 ($28,946,400,000)
5. Cigna #132 ($19,101,000,000)
6. Health Net #165 ($15,366,000,000)
7. Coventry Health Care #226 ($11,913,600,000)
8. WellCare Health Plans #381 ($6,521,900,000)
9. Universal American #494 ($4,659,200,000)
10. Amerigroup #509 ($4,516,000,000)

It seems implausible to me that a public option would be capable of crippling all of these giants. If such an option makes a dent, it is likely because the insurance giants' profits are well above the cost of doing business or not serving people who can least afford their products. If a not-for-profit can compete and can service areas where competition is less than robust or even where there is limited competition, isn't that the way economies are supposed to work?

Thursday, October 8

Jobless and Workers Getting Mixed Messages From Senate

With the benefits for Iowa's unemployed expiring, the US Senate continues to quibble over who should qualify for an extension of benefits. Here's a suggestion: everyone who is unemployed and actively seeking work or retraining.

The conflict over whether "high unemployment states" should be the only one's receiving Washington's largess, will be lost on every worker who is left out. The House didn't seem to have any problem seeing this logic, perhaps Senators need to get out more often.

At least one Senator seems to get it, Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., is planning to introduce a measure that would extend jobless benefits in all 50 states by 17 weeks.
"Distinctions in state unemployment rates may make sense in Washington, ... and they don't make sense to the 15 million unemployed workers nationwide who are struggling to get by and get back to work," said Shaheen.

Meanwhile The U.. Supreme Court has made a ruling regarding older workers that is likely to make it easier for employers to discard or demote them. The court raised the burden of proof for demonstrating age discrimination, ruling last term that a "mixed motive" including age as a factor was not strong enough evidence. Senators Tom Harkin and Pat Leahy are working with Rep. George Miller to pass legislation that would require employees to only prove that age had been a "motivating factor" in their termination or demotion.

According to the Wall Street Journal,

the Senate also addressed the effects of the court's opinion in Circuit City v. Adams, a 2001 decision that enlarged the reach of employees who are required to address disputes through arbitration rather than through the courts. At the hearing, Jamie Leigh Jones, who had worked for a former subsidiary of Halliburton (HAL), argued that arbitration can prevent important information from entering the public record. Jones said she was drugged and raped while working in Iraq in 2005 and has spent the past four years trying to get her case heard in court rather than in the arbitration she agreed to when she was hired.

"It's very apparent to me that corporations adopt arbitration as a way to wipe clean the record of disputes that arise," she said.

Sen. Al Franken offered an amendment to a defense bill that would restrict funding to contractors that require their employees to go through arbitration to settle sexual assault claims. In April, Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., introduced a broader bill seeking to invalidate many binding arbitration clauses and return consumer, employment and civil rights disputes to the courts.

When Mark de Bernardo, executive director of the Council for Employment Law Equity, defended the use of arbitration as a faster and cheaper alternative to litigation, he faced sharp questioning from Franken.

"You said the net result of the use of arbitration is better workplaces," Franken said, cutting off de Bernardo's response. "She was drugged, she was raped, she had to have reconstructive surgery. If that's a better workplace, what was the workplace like before?"

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Wednesday, October 7

Housing: Green and Affordable?

As we struggle with the need for new housing to be both affordable and as green as possible, we have to ask if these goals are compatible? Apparently some folks have been figuring this out and doing it.

Housing Matters: Can Building Green Be Affordable?

The Iowa City Housing and Community Development Association presents a discussion on building sustainable and affordable housing. 7 p.m. Oct. 28th, Iowa City Public Library Meeting Rm. A. Speakers: Gregory Paul Johnson (Small House Society). Don Otto (DPO Construction LC).

Here are some links to other thinkers and doers:

Green affordable Housing Coalition

The Green, Affordable Housing Guide

Anti-Loitering Passes, Mims, Dickens, Shipley, Tallon Win Primary

The Iowa City Council passed a city-wide loitering ordinance and less than 4% of registered voters (1,872 to be precise) turned out for the city council primary. A great day for democracy in Johnson County. With elections costing at least $75,000, Iowa City residents, particularly those who complain about how taxes are spent, should take a look in the mirror.

By a vote of 6 to 1, the City Council has locked down "city sidewalks, streets, trails, bridge, or crossing or to congregate, stand, loaf or loiter in any hall, doorway, passage, or entrance of any public building, theater, hotel, eating house, lodging house, store, shop, or factory, or other like building so as to obstruct such place or hinder or prevent persons walking along or into or out of such place or attempting or desiring to do so." A violation can be proven "whether a person is actually hindered or prevented from passing." Good work city council, I expect law enforcement to be out in force on the Ped Mall looking for violators.

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Tuesday, October 6

Do It For the Kids

From Every Child Matters

With 38,000 of Iowa's children living in poverty, 35,000 without health insurance, 38,000 reported abused, 160,000 alone after school every day and with the inability of thousands of families to access quality child care, the Every Child Matters Education Fund, Early Child Iowa, Every Child Counts and Child Care Resource and Referral of Iowa will be holding events throughout the week of October 5 to call attention to the needs of Iowa's most vulnerable citizens.

The events will take place throughout the week:

October 7
Urbandale Public Library
3520 86th St
Urbandale, IA

October 8
Children's Hall at Children's Square
North 6th and Ave. E
Council Bluffs, IA

October 9
Iowa Central Community College
One Triton Circle, Room CEB 108
Fort Dodge, IA

All events will begin at 10:00.

Schedule as follows:
10:00 - 11:30 - advocacy training and update
11:30 - 12:15 - lunch
12:15- 12:45 - media availability and event

The week long series of events are of a wide array of "Step Up" activities taking place in every state during Step Up for Kids week, October 5-9, 2009. As people step up for kids across the nation, they will be asking officials to directly address the needs of children and families as they make their budgetary decisions and to shift spending priorities in the direction of our most valuable assets.

BACKGROUND: With 14 million children living in poverty, 7 million without health insurance and 3 million reported abused or neglected in the U.S., the Every Child Matters Education Fund (ECMEF) is sponsoring the 2nd annual "Step Up for Kids" week, giving organizations and individuals a chance to celebrate our children while at the same time calling for solutions to the issues confronting them. According to the ECMEF-published Homeland Insecurity (3rd edition, 2009), the U.S. has the worst child poverty rate among 24 rich countries and ranks 20th among 21 rich democracies when it comes to child well-being.

For more information, contact:

Tom LaPointe,
Every Child Matters

Sheila Hansen,
Every Child Counts

Primary Fever--Catch It

Iowa City City Council at-large candidates need your support. If you are eligible to vote, have the desire to brave the rain, and want to participate in a democaratic process, go vote. Also, the many poll workers who are working on their knitting, reading books, and/or chatting really would love your company.

Don't know where? This should help. You can vote all the way up to 9 pm. How good is that?

Don't know for whom to vote? Here is a link to the candidates info. Don't like what you see, you can always write in candidates that you think would do a good job. It is a democracy after all.

1057 Legislators Show Support for Health Care Reform

This is encouraging.

Progressive States Network, a group representing state legislators across the country, announced today that 1057 state legislators from all fifty states have signed letters to Congress asking for real health reform, including a public health insurance option, strong affordability protections, and shared responsibility among individuals, employers and government for health care costs.

State legislative leaders, along with mayors from around the country, will be coming to Washington, D.C. next week to bring this message of state support for reform to Capitol Hill and the White House.

“State legislators have been on the front lines of health care reform for decades,” said Texas Representative Garnet Coleman, co-chair of Progressive States Network, “Most proposed elements of federal reform are based on ideas already debated and in many cases enacted in the states. So state legislators know what is needed to make reform work.”

In addition to these letters showing broad-based state legislator support for reform, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) in August voted to support federal health care reform, including a public health insurance option. The vote at the annual NCSL conference was overwhelming, with representatives of 38 states supporting the resolution. As Iowa State Senator Jack Hatch (D, Des Moines), who introduced the amendment, said at the time, “We sent a very clear message to people dragging their feet in Washington: the time to act on health reform is now. We need a public health insurance option to make sure working families and small businesses are free to choose the best health care available at a price they can afford.”

“Talk radio and television may generate a lot of noise,” said Nathan Newman, PSN’s executive director, “but the over 1000 legislators in all fifty states supporting affordable, quality health care for all Americans, including a public insurance option, reflects the voices of communities across our nation. These legislators are asking to fix a broken health care system and improve both individual lives and the economic competitiveness of our nation.” The list of 1057 legislators supporting reform reflects 943 legislators signing a letter to Congress and President Obama sponsored by Progressive States Network itself, along with two separate letters from legislators in the states of Connecticut (92 additional names) and New Mexico (25 additional names) reflecting advocacy of similar reforms.

A full copy of the PSN letter with all signers, along with links to the New Mexico and Connecticut letters, can be obtained at

The text of the PSN letter was developed in consultation with national health care reform advocates, including the AFL-CIO, AFSCME, Community Catalyst, Families USA, Herndon Alliance, National Women's Law Center, Northeast Action, SEIU, and Universal Health Care Action Network.

Speaker Bios:

Karen Keiser (D) has been serving as a state senator in Washington since 2001. She currently is chair of the Senate Health and Long-Term Care Committee where she has earned a reputation as a tireless advocate for improving the nation’s outdated, inefficient and fragmented health care system.

Kyrsten Sinema (D) serves as the Assistant Leader to the Democratic Caucus in the Arizona House of Representatives. Now in her third term, she is the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee and the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.

Herb Conaway (D) has been a member of the New Jersey Assembly since 1998 and is a private practice physician specializing in internal medicine. Dr. Conaway currently chairs the Health and Senior Services Committee and is the immediate past chair of the NCSL Health Committee.

Jim Campbell (R) is a second term state representative from Maine. He is very devoted to issues relating to the elderly, as is evidenced by his participation on the board of the Southern Maine Agency on Aging which serves Cumberland and York counties.

Jack Hatch (D) serves as Assistant Majority Leader in the Iowa Senate where he is also Chair of the Senate Health & Human Services Budget Committee. In June 2009, he was selected to chair the White House Working Group of State Legislators for Health Reform.

Nathan Newman is Executive Director of the Progressive States Network, which works to promote national reforms benefitting working families in the states working with progressive state legislators and allied community groups, unions, and advocacy organizations.

Tuesday, September 29

City Defers on Curfew, Votes for Loitering Ordinance

The City Council deferred on the decision to invoke a city-wide minor curfew when a coalition of community members stepped forward with a plan to work with family members on the Southeast members to reduce the trouble with youth that has been troubling neighbors there. By a vote of 5 to 2, the City council has put off the curfew pending the results from actions of a group to reach each family within the community to get their perspective of what needs to happen to address youth crime and violence in the area.

By a vote of 6 to 1, the City Council reaffirmed their support for a citywide loitering ordinance which they believe will be effective in dealing with groups that obstruct city byways.

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It's Not About You

Tonight the Iowa City City Council will go through a second reading of the curfew and loitering ordinances. While a case can be made for any law that is put on the books, the question has always got to be "who does it help, who does it hurt?"

The minor curfew ordinance helps police officers round up youth who are out after the appointed hour so that they may prevent them from getting into worse trouble. The curfew ordinance helps homeowners feel like their property is more secure.

The curfew ordinance hurts youth who do not have support systems at home or are being abused. It hurts kids who hang out with their friends doing innocent kid stuff or serious soul-seeking. It hurts parents who now have yet one more concern about what their kids are doing. It hurts relationships between adults and kids--including police officers and potential crime victims by making it less likely that kids will seek out the police for help.

The loitering ordinance helps police round up youth and adults who are out en masse and may be threatening to others. The loitering ordinance allows business owners and homeowners to report congregation that interferes with commerce or quality of life.

The loitering ordinance hurts all youth and adults who are chatting with their friends on a sidewalk, hanging out at a bus stop or storefront who are perceived to be interfering with others. The loitering ordinance hurts police officers because they have to judge, rather than enforce a law that is vague. It hurts people of who are likely to have their motives questioned.

For laws to really have an impact, it is important that they help more than they hurt. The underlying precept that seems to be guiding this set of ordinances is who is helped as opposed to what is fair for all. The "who" in this case are people who refuse to see their responsibility in the larger inequity drama that they are playing into.

As one of the city council members said last week about the curfew to a group of high school students who spoke in defense of their rights, "It is not about you." Nonetheless, it is about "somebody," otherwise what are these laws even being discussed?

Typically bad laws hurt those who are seen as a threat by others whether the threat is real or not. Bad laws can be prevented by addressing what is "threatening." Unfortunately, the majority of the city council does not seem to be motivated to walk the harder road.

Saturday, September 26

Investigation Over, But Is Justice Served?

The report from Iowa's Attorney General exonerates the Johnson County Deputy Sheriff who used deadly force in killing John Deng on July 27th. Based on corroborated evidence from nine of "at least a dozen" witnesses on the scene, the deputy, Terry Stotler, tried to separate a knife wielding Deng and John Bohnenkamp and both men failed to heed his orders to stop.

According to the report, Stotler identified himself and drew his handgun as the two men fought on Prentiss Street. Stotler intervened between the two men and trained his gun on Deng. Stotler told Deng "Sheriff's Department. Drop the knife!" He ordered Bohnenkamp to "Run! Get out of here!" and he refused. Bohnenkamp's wife Cynthia was also screaming at him to run. Both Deng and Bohnenkamp remained in adversarial positions both refusing to heed the officer's directives after he issued them multiple times.

When it appeared to Stotler that Deng was "tensing up" within five feet of Bohnenkamp, he fired one shot that struck Deng in the left arm and entered the abdomen and Deng fell to the ground. A police officer from the Iowa City Police Department was witnessed kicking the knife away from Deng that was videotaped from a squad car.

Three witnesses who were on the scene offered contradictory statements, but because of their resistance to reporting to the police, their "unconcealed hostility toward all official personnel, and the weight of evidence that disproves their accusations," their testimony was largely discredited by the State Attorney General's report.

While the report answers many questions, facts in the report open up some new ones:

While Deng's alcohol level was tested and well above the legal limit, Bohnenkamp's was not. Why?

Why was Bohnenkamp not charged for his part of the altercation for interfering with official acts after refusing to heed Stotler's orders?

Further, the report does not address the events that led up to the two men ending up in a heated argument that turned to violence. Unless County Attorney Janet Lyness opens an inquiry that Bohnenkamp's actions are deserving of legal action, it appears that justice for all will not be served. Regardless of the actions on the evening of July 27, 2009, it must be agreed that this was a senseless tragedy.

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Friday, September 25

Deng's Shooting "Justified"

Just in from the Press-Citizen:

An investigation into the shooting death of John Bior Deng has found that the Johnson County Sheriff's deputy who shot him was justified in his actions.

The investigation found that Deputy Terry Stotler, "at the moment that he discharged his handgun, reasonably believed that John Deng was within an instant of stabbing John Bohnenkamp a second time," the report reads.

"It was apparent that Deng had already stabbed Bohnenkamp once. When Deputy Stotler ordered him to drop his knice, Deng refused to do so, and made a statement indicating that he had no fear of Stotler's handgun. By one account, Deng announced his intention to kill Bohnenkamp, and by all accounts he was displaying great anger."

The report, written by Iowa Deputy Attorney General Thomas H. Miller, concludes:

"Deputy Stotler's description of events is corroborated by credible witnesses and by the available physical evidence. There exists no credible evidence to contradict any portion of his description of events. Having concluded that Deputy Stotler acted with justification, I am closing my file without further action."

Deng Death Investigation Press Conference at 1:30 p.m.

From Iowa City Police Department as of 9:01 pm Thursday 9/24:

The Iowa City Police Department will host a media conference on Friday, September 25th, regarding the John Deng death investigation.

The Iowa Department of Justice's Office of the Attorney General has completed its review of the case and has returned its final report to Janet Lyness, the County Attorney of Johnson County. Officials will comment on the investigation and review, and the Attorney General Office's report will be made available to the media and general public. The following officials will be present at the media conference:
• Thomas H. Miller - Deputy Attorney General, Office of the Iowa Attorney General;
• Janet Lyness - County Attorney, Johnson County;
• Sam Hargadine - Chief of Police, Iowa City;
• Lonny Pulkrabek - Sheriff, Johnson County.

The media conference will be held in Emma Harvat Hall (Council Chambers) in the Iowa City Civic Center, 410 E. Washington Street. The room will be open and available for set-up and seating beginning at 1:00pm on Friday, September 25th. The media conference will begin promptly at 1:30pm. Hardcopies of the Attorney General Office's report will be available during the media conference.

Tuesday, September 22

Fair Hearing of Iowa City Ordinances

The City Council has two more readings of the controversial minor curfew and loitering ordinances. Below are links to both. While FAIR!, the group I am chair of, supports efforts to make Iowa City and Johnson County safe and vibrant, we also have concerns that the enforcement of these ordinances may run contrary to those goals. We fully support neighborhoods implementing Neighborhood Watch programs and community dialogues and think that the City may be using a hammer to accomplish what good communication could effectively solve. Please take a look at the ordinances and if you are able to contact City Council members between now and September 29th, it would be appreciated.

Curfew Ordinance:
This was approved on first reading by a vote of 4 - 3 (Correia, Wilburn, Bailey voting in the negative; O'Donnell, Champion, Hayek, and Wright voting in the affirmative).

Some points to consider:
* Curfew is implemented by age groups, but many teenagers do not carry proof of age.
* Other ordinances, including disturbing the peace are already on the books.
* Persons who are causing disturbances are aware they are violating existing laws, no assurance that this ordinance will change behaviors; has not been effective in other communities.
* Likely to escalate tension in neighborhood without other tools; e.g., mediation, community dialogue, social events,+APPROVED+ORDINANCE+IN...-a083631565

If you aren't sure about who it will affect, see this small clip by one of the council members.

Loitering Ordinance:
This was approved on first reading by a vote of 6 - 1 (Correia voting in the negative; All others voting in the affirmative).

Some points to consider:
* Loitering ordinance applies to sidewalks, trails and can be enforced by the perception of "obstruction"--meaning if I believe you are obstructing my ability to get around you, you can be fined $50.
* Hard to enforce in that it relies on subjective judgment of police officer.

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