Friday, May 29

Cool: Refrigeration Without Electricty

So imagine you have a vaccine that needs to be refrigerated and you are in a place without electricity like sub-Saharan Africa. Check this out from Adam Grosser at TED.

Iowa City: Sanctuary City?

Iowa City has been a nuclear free zone, a free speech city, and hopefully a sanctuary city (if Father Rudy Juarez and other compassionate people have their way) where immigrant workers will not be hounded by the local police to do the work that ICE is responsible for to enforce antiquated federal law. As it stands, most of these workers are not taking jobs from hardworking Americans, but taking the jobs that most American workers are unwilling to do for the wages and conditions offered by employers.

If anything, immigrant workers willingly accept lower than fair wages to do mostly menial labor, in addition to living in fear of being turned in if they do not work off the clock if ordered, complain about job safety concerns, or don't turn the other cheek if harrassed by their employers.

When I lived in Corpus Christi, Texas I became intimately familiar with the practices of a large grocery chain that hired a large number of non-documented workers. Some of the stories of mistreatment I heard broke my heart, but it also gave me a sense of the decency of the people who were willing to take these jobs and thrive despite the challenges they experienced. A worker who was a highly trained engineer from Argentina and was working on his graduate degree at the local university there worked over 40 hours a week and received no benefits, vacation, or even sick days. Because his English skills were limited, he worked on an assembly line. He also repaired the line if it ever broke down. He did this for a wage that was under $6 an hour and felt lucky because he had started the job for less than $4 an hour in 1997.

What is a "Sanctuary City" and why isn't Iowa City one already? According to the Wikipedia, "a sanctuary city is a term given to a city in the United States that follows certain practices that protect illegal immigrants. These practices can be by law (de jure) or they can be by habit (de facto). The term generally applies to cities that do not allow municipal funds or resources to be used to enforce federal immigration laws, usually by not allowing police or municipal employees to inquire about one's immigration status. The designation has no legal meaning."

This is sort of an international good neighbor policy. If the person is living within the law in all other ways, the community is willing to look the other way about residency-status. This is a good thing as the law and fairness are not always intertwined. Some 31 American cities are sanctuary cities including Washington, D.C.; New York City; Los Angeles; Chicago; San Francisco; Santa Ana; San Diego; Salt Lake City; Phoenix; Dallas; Houston; Austin; Detroit; Jersey City; Minneapolis; Miami; Denver; Baltimore; Seattle; Portland, Oregon; New Haven, Connecticut; and Portland, Maine. They have adopted "sanctuary" ordinances banning city employees and police officers from asking people about their immigration status.

I will not argue for a minute that all guest workers are the salt of the earth. Certainly persons who commit serious crimes should not be allowed to be free here. But I do believe that people should have the right to take care of themselves and their families and that, for the most part, this is who the immigrant workers are.

There is a need for the federal government to revisit the policies and come up with some sort of common sense approach that allows these workers to come out of the shadows and gain legal status whether as guest workers or as residents. Until such approaches clear hurdles in the House and Senate and are signed into law, the fairest thing that we can do is to act locally to protect our fellow human beings from the injustice that comes from our broken system.

Friday, May 22

Food for Thought

In Food, Inc., filmmaker Robert Kenner exposes the "highly mechanized underbelly that has been hidden from the American consumer with the consent of our government's regulatory agencies, USDA and FDA."

According to Kenner, "Our nation's food supply is now controlled by a handful of corporations that often put profit ahead of consumer health, the livelihood of the American farmer, the safety of workers and our own environment. We have bigger-breasted chickens, the perfect pork chop, insecticide-resistant soybean seeds, even tomatoes that won't go bad, but we also have new strains of E. coli—the harmful bacteria that causes illness for an estimated 73,000 Americans annually. We are riddled with widespread obesity, particularly among children, and an epidemic level of diabetes among adults."

Featuring interviews with such experts as Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation), Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma, In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto) along with forward thinking social entrepreneurs like Stonyfield's Gary Hirshberg and Polyface Farms' Joel Salatin, Food, Inc. reveals surprising—and often shocking truths—about what we eat, how it's produced, who we have become as a nation and where we are going from here.

See the trailer:

Wednesday, May 20

Bipartisanship: Credit Card Protection and Concealed Weapons

In an act of "bipartisanship," Congress approved the Credit Cardholder's Bill of Rights Act of 2009, a bill that will lessen the power of credit card providers to raise rates and to change terms, and potentially made national parks less safe for families.

The good news:

- The bill extends the grace period from 30 to 60 days before credit card companies could increase the interest rate on the consumer's balance. That effectively bans "universal default," the practice of raising interest rates after a customer is 30 days late. If the customer pays on time after the 60 days for six months, the credit card company must revert back to the old interest rate.

- Customers must be given 45 days notice before implementing the new rate, if the credit card company increases the interest rate on its customers universally.

- The bill also freezes the initial interest rate of the cardholder for the first year they have the card and prohibits credit card companies from charging cardholders a penalty fee when they exceed their credit limit (unless specifically agreed to in writing).

Additionally, the bill protects the credit rating of younger Americans. Americans under 21 years of age must have a co-signer who can vouch that the minor has means to pay the credit card bill or agree to be equally responsible for payment.

- Under the new law, credit card companies must provide a clear detailed billing statement that does away with hidden fees and discloses any changes made in billing by the company.

The Bad News:

However to get this bill through, the House and the Senate pasted on an amendment to allow persons with concealed gun permits to carry them in national parks. As a poison pill amendment, the defeat would have caused the whole deal to be scrapped. Sam Farr (D-CA) vehemently spoke out against the gun portion of the bill, saying that it was "dumb amendment and Congress should be embarrassed we have to vote on it." The bill passed 279 to 147 (Boswell, King, Latham, yea; Loebsack, nay; Braley, No vote) in the House and passed last week in the Senate 67 to 29 (Harkin, nay, Grassley, yea).

As reported on the Huffington Post, John Waterman, president, U.S. Park Rangers Lodge, Fraternal Order of Police: "One should ask, what do guns have to do with credit cards? We are disappointed that congress chose to disregard the safety of U.S. Park Rangers, the most assaulted federal officer, and forgo the environmental process set up by them to assure the protection of our national parks. If signed by Obama, this will clearly be a change in the president's rhetoric towards taking better care of our environment and protecting federal employees."

Monday, May 18

Iowa City Council Race to the Center?

In a little over six months, current council members Connie Champion, Mike O'Donnell and Amy Correia's seats will be up for grabs. However, so far Iowa City council candidates are a little shy coming out of the gate. At present business people Susan Mims (a former school board member)and Terry Dickens (a central-district business owner) have formally announced their candidacy for the two at-large seats (one of which will be vacated by Correia). The question is will any more progressively minded folks step forward to address issues that the current council has been slow to act on, like an affordable housing agenda which may include inclusionary zoning.

When the current council was elected, it was widely thought that there would be movement toward addressing housing needs for moderate and low-income workers. To date, that has not born fruit, in part because of the flooding in 2008, but also the inability for this council to prioritize their agenda so as to accomplish the task. With a need to reinvigorate the tax-base, it seems unlikely that the council will move ahead, even with city staff seeking input on the next City Steps plan (at the ICPL Thursday night at 7 pm).

For Iowa City's future, it is hoped that a more diverse candidate pool arises.

Wednesday, May 13

Repurposing Roosevelt, Changing School Bells, and Staff Cuts, Oh My!

No one said being a school board director was a glamorous job. The pay is non-existent, you make unpopular decisions; but one qualification for it must be the ability to meet late into the evening. Last night was no exception. In a meeting that went until 11:30 pm, the school board managed to make West High Principal Jerry Argenbright, elementary school librarians, teachers, district parents, and students upset. At the regular meeting, they voted to reduce elementary school librarians and media center assistant positions to save $168,000 out of a proposed $6 million dollar deficit (which will mostly be made up by using the overage from prior year budgets). They refused to reconsider a change to the school bell schedule that will make it likely that teachers will have less time to meet with students after-school at West High School. In an especially heated exchange between a concerned parent and the board in the open discussion period over the funding of projects at Mann and Longfellow elementary schools, Toni Cilek chose not to answer the parent's question saying that the purpose was to receive input and that her concern had been addressed in previous meetings. Patti Fields much later in the meeting did discuss capital items that totaled approximately $153,000 for the two schools.

Former board member Lauren Reese sympathized with her former colleagues, and challenged them to consider the boundary issues around the schools as part of their decision process about Roosevelt. Charles Stanier presented information about energy consumption at the schools and encouraged the school board to consider lowering energy costs at all schools which could save them $275,000 per year.

As for the work session, where the board discusses business without public comment, which started after 10 pm, board members listened to the district superintendent Lane Plugge's recommendation to build a new elementary at the Crossings and his new view that Roosevelt should not be closed, but should be "repurposed" without elaborating his vision of how. After his presentation, the six members present did not have any questions for him, but vigorously defended their process in front of the remaining audience of about 20 people and made assertions that the opposition to the tentative plan had been dishonest in discussing the facts before tentatively laying out their likely votes to support superintendent Lane Plugge's recommendation. At the end of the evening, the board decided to calendar the vote for approving the plan for June 9th when all members are scheduled to be on hand.

The sleep deprived reporter Gregg Hennigan from the Gazette "Live Blogged" the meeting (go here for more details).

Tuesday, May 12

The Bloom Is Off Roosevelt?

According to the Daily Iowan, School Board President Toni Cilek said the board is hoping to make a decision on Roosevelt by the end of the month. “We have gathered a lot of information and feedback over the past few months, and there is a lot of dialogue we will be discussing this week,” she said. “We should come to a decision by our following meeting or the meeting after that.”

Despite efforts by Roosevelt parents, community members, and interested others, it is likely that the school board will elect to close Roosevelt Elementary. The reasons are many, but the simplest one is because it is the easiest choice. With a budget that is $6 million in the red, a growable elementary school in near proximity, land to open a larger and more geographically desirable school, and the strong likelihood that Roosevelt can be used in other ways which could include taking it off the school district's hands, the positives outweigh the negative impact of angry parents and avoid the more serious problem of boundary issues and their affect on educational equity.

Although the turnout of pro-Roosevelt forces is expected to be high this evening, much of the discussion of Roosevelt's future will occur in a work session, which means that the public can witness, but not comment on the proceedings. No decisions will be reached this evening, but the clock is ticking on the future of this westside institution.

Single Payer Protest in Senate Chambers

You don't want nurses to turn their backs on you, but that is what happened when Sen. Max Baucus spoke.

Sunday, May 10

The Mathematics of War

If you don't know about TED, a global network of highly connected individuals whose work covers a wide gamut in the Technology, Entertainment, Design, and other fields. This particular TED talk by physicist Sean Gourley is interesting as it shows the pattern of war and how wars can be elongated or ended.

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Roosevelt Rally: A Cry in the Wilderness?

On Friday evening, several parents and some supportive others, my wife and I included, rallied across from Roosevelt Elementary under a threatening sky. With news reporters from KGAN, KCRG, and the Press-Citizen present, a handful of hopeful leaders of the Save Roosevelt group, the Roosevelt PTO, and We Love Our Neighborhood Schools encouraged the public to go to the school board meeting Tuesday night at 7 pm wearing green (Roosevelt's school color) to show support for not closing Roosevelt.

While a number of motorists honked their horns in support, the turnout from Roosevelt parents and students was relatively small, however there was a Read America program going on at the school at the time and perhaps that is exactly what should be the focus. What will be sad is if those parents do not make their voices heard to the Board of Directors on S. Dubuque St., which not coincidentally, is the site of a now closed public school. Hopefully the stormy Friday night eally was not foreshadowing of things to come.

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Friday, May 8

Single Payer Health Care: No Seat at the Table

I'm not sure if a single-payer health care system is the best model, but you'd think that our Senators would at least want to hear the case for one. Apparently not.

Here is a list of all Senators on the Finance Committee,
including at least a couple who you might have considered to be
"liberals". Where are their voices? Is there not a single one of them
who will stand up and say, "No wait a minute, we need to hear what
the single payer advocates have to say." So especially if one of
these is one of YOUR personal Senator, they especially need to hear
from you now.

Bill NELSON, FL, Robert MENENDEZ, NJ, Thomas CARPER, DE, Chuck
GRASSLEY, IA, Orrin G. HATCH, UT, Olympia J. SNOWE, ME, Jon KYL, AZ,

Thursday, May 7

Political Will or Won't?

The LOST referendum is still up in the air and both sides are claiming victory, but saying "no" to defeat. In Iowa City and Coralville, there are votes to recount--with paltry 7 and 8 vote margins between the 1 cent 4 year sales tax. The county reported that the turnout of registered voters was around 15% for Iowa City and just over 17% in Coralville. Regardless of how it all turns out, Iowa City and Coralville voters lost and non-voters won.

Non-voters did not take time out of their day to vote, I mean it took 3 or 4 minutes at the highly congested precinct 17 where I was one of three people voting at 7:45 in the morning. Non-voters won because they did not expend fuel in cars, on bikes, or on foot to make their voices heard on an issue that one group said would be a 17% hike in their sales taxes. Non-voters won because they can contentedly continue to grouse about how taxes are wasted without the nagging feeling that comes from actually making a actual statement of what you believe was the best choice.

But, do you know who really won big? Small town voters. All 655 "yes" voters cashed in on casting their vote. You see, they actually stand to be big winners from sharing the sales tax revenue from Iowa City. It was kind of like winning the lottery for their communities where people spend a lot of dough out of town.

But back to the lack of voting in the larger communities; was this simple laziness? No, its likely that the incredibly wearing Iowa Caucuses and equally taxing presidential campaign tuckered people out so badly that they couldn't work up the the juice to vote. Heck, there were barely yard signs on this issue--you'd have thought it was a school board election or something.

I understand that the county will likely recount this miserable excuse of "the will of the people" and once again the non-voters win. They can feel good about griping about the high cost of elections and how this is yet another waste of their money--and shoot, a recount in this case seems hardly worth it,unless you live in Tiffin, Solon, University Heights, Oxford, Swisher, etc.

Monday, May 4

We Are Roosevelt and We Are In Need of a Serious Discussion

I wrote an op-ed piece that appeared into today's Press-Citizen. Jeff Charis-Carlson was faithful in editing and publishing it, but minor vanity suggests that I really do need a newer picture--I have lost a good deal of weight since the photo next to the op-ed was taken. But be that as it may, a more important point that I did not address was ongoing the boundary issues that plague the school district.

Even though I could only cover so much ground in 600 or so words, rightfully I was called to task for not addressing it. So to that point, the school boundary lines need to be redrawn to reflect the most equitable way to allow kids to go the least amount of distance to receive a top-notch education. This is such a local hot potato, but needs attention from the public and the board to accomplish real school equity. Without doing this, we will forever be placing band-aids on the schools and hving the appearance that we have intentionally segregated schools. Said differently, unless we are going to put the schools on rollers and move them around to meet the changing needs of the community, parents will need to become open to their child going to school where it best makes sense and the school district make the necessary accomodations to all schools to make them all at a par.

I hope others will continue to lead on the issue of boundaries. If you are interested, the COPE group (Citizens for Outstanding Public Education in Iowa)has more information for you to consider.

Sunday, May 3

LOST In Johnson County: Part 2

In the last several days I have been approached by a number of people who are wondering how I'm voting on the local option sales tax. On Saturday I spoke with Congressman Dave Loebsack who supports the measure in part because it allows federal and local funds to be used for the mitigation of flooding. He said that some folks who are against the tax point to the stimulus money and say it is all that is needed. He pointed out that the stimulus money works as a match to local funds and that folks against the tax are mistaken to think that federal dollars will do it all.

Also on Saturday I had a similar conversation with county supervisor Rod Sullivan who is supporting the tax, but who told me that those who say that the sales tax is shared by "out of towners" are correct, but so too are property taxes as our area has many out of town property owners. I did say to him that renters actually end up paying those taxes, so it isn't exactly an apples to apples argument. But his point is still taken.

Friday I briefly spoke to multi-time candidate for city council, Brandon Ross who is against the sales tax because it is unfair to make poor people pay for Dubuque Road being raised. And it is true that the poor would pay a share of the tax, but on the other hand, two area trailer parks were flooded out last year and the poor were affected adversely too.

A local environmentalist and two-time county supervisor candidate, Tom Carsner, who is not supporting the tax, believes that all sales taxes are regressive and that even though this one has a sunset of four years to it, it still should be voted down. Strange coming from a Environmental Advocate.

As for me, I have been conflicted on which way to vote. Generally, I agree that sales taxes are the most regressive form of taxation, but when a natural disaster occurs, do you hold a general principle up over what is better for the public good?

And what is the public good? Clearly flooding is not in the public good or poor infrastructure. If you are concerned about the environment, the poor, commerce, and/or appropriate use of tax monies, this vote benefits many people. The plans were jointly devised in consultation with some of the best hydrologists in the world. As was explained to me, the problem last summer was backflow. That the water couldn't move fast enough downstream as to keep water from backing up and flooding Cedar Rapids, Coralville and so on.

One key point of backup was at the Park Road Bridge. I listened as city engineer Rick Fosse, whose job prior to working for the city was flood mitigation, explained to a group of us how the raising of the bridge would have allowed water to flow downstream better and could have conceivably reduced the amount of flooding both in Coralville and the Normandy Drive and Foster Road areas.

Another thing that is not in the public interest is to have raw sewage flowing into the Iowa River, which is already one of the most polluted waterways in the Midwest. When the "north" treatment plant was flooded out, the sewage did wash into the river.

Lastly, it is not in our best interest to have of freshwater wells contaminated. While all the wells did not get contaminated, reinforcing those wells will be a very good use of public monies.

At the end of the day, we have limited choices about how to fund these $86 million projects. Right now we have the leverage of FEMA and stimulus package funds being available to us. If the tax is voted down, it will mean that either other capital projects go nowhere and the projects are paid for that way over a much longer period of time or, more likely, in raised water bills and/or property taxes. This way at least there is a time limit and we all share the burden. It isn't an ideal situation, but pragmatically, it is what is best for the most.

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Friday, May 1

That's Just Ignorant

With the H1N1 flu stories fast and furious, why does it not surprise me that some would choose to use it to push other agendas? Check this out from Media Matters.

The Daily Show has a better take.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Snoutbreak '09 - What to Call Swine Flu
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