Sunday, March 29

Face the Face(book)

I've become one of those late-boomers who has become attracted to Facebook. I don't Twitter because I like to have a life that doesn't involve TTfT (Thumb trauma from texting) and My Space just feels creepy to me. And yes, like anything new, I find myself spending too much time learning all its bells and whistles--like connecting my blog link to it and such.

Still, as the Presidential election showed, the better connected you are with your constituency, the better off you are to communicate ideas in a timely fashion. And I am late to the game. Many environmental activists I know are chewing up Facebook with info about the latest outrage or "ask" to correspond with state and federal representatives. One part of me wonders how man more brain cells will be cooked trying to keep up with the killer applications that seem to roll out by the minute? And yet, I love the ability to stay in touch with friends and others that I'd ordinarily not be able to make more time for in my frenetic (and word filled day).

Clearly many of us are buried under information. Our in-boxes are filled with thousands of unread email, we have accounts to social networking sites that we barely visit any more. Our "favorites" are distant memories. If someone has a killer application that can help me keep all my stuff organized in one place, I'd be all over it.

In the mean time, I appreciate your continued readership. I find that if I can put three or four "worthy" Popular Progressive blog entries a week together, I am doing exceptionally well. As a wise person I know said, "if you want to be remembered, say something worth remembering."

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Wednesday, March 25

Farmers Revolt, Council Backtracks

The City Council meeting in Iowa City was nothing if not potentially fireworks filled last night with residents concerned about the tax referendum, farmers and other vendors, homeowners, and others crowding Emma Harvat Hall.

Residents commented on the projects associated with the local option sales tax noting the need for cooperation between governments and the University of Iowa about what to do to prevent more flooding from the Iowa River, to consult hydrology experts, and to make the process open both before and after the vote.

Vendors from the farmer's market were out in force to protest what they perceived to be a behind the scenes deal to move the market outside the Chauncey Swann parking ramp. On March 3rd, a memo was released from the City's Parks & Recreation Dept. announcing six dates that the market would be held on downtown streets which, according to City Attorney Eleanor Dilkes was picked up by one of her legal staff who noted that the city ordinance for use of public streets would need to be modified. Wording was suggested and placed on the council agenda.

City Manager, Michael Lombardo, who had been meeting with a group that intended to meet with the vendors on April 9th and was on vacation when the item was placed on the agenda, was taken by surprise to discover this had been done. The City Council, after hearing the explanations from staff quickly voted down the proposed ordinance and encouraged the vendors to contact them about participating in the April 9th meeting.

In other actions, the council voted to hold off on voting for a proposed development project on Rohret Rd. pending discussions with the Planning and Zoning Commission due to an organized effort of neighbors who believe that building as close to a wetlands area on the property in question will cause harm, in addition to leveling trees to make way for a relocation of Rohret Rd. The Council also voted 5-2 to reconsider their vote on an $80,000 public arts project they had previous approved, and therefore are contractually liable, and left it up to the City Attorney to meet with the artist to work through the legalities. They also agreed to broadcast meetings discussing city priorities for future budget funding.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Tuesday, March 24

LOST and Found: My Sit Down with Michael Lombardo

Yesterday I met with Iowa City city manager Michael Lombardo to find out from our city administrator's perspective how, in his opinion, the local option sales tax would benefit the community and the risks associated with it. He was generous with his time.

To start, he stated the need for the projects is justified to ask the public to consider the local option sales tax. For one, federal regulations make it neccesary for Iowa City to be in compliance within three years, irrespective of how it is done with regard to the north sewage treatment plan. Secondly, with the damage done to structures on Dubuque street, which is one of two main gateways into Iowa city from I-80, and the Park Rd. bridge, it would be irresponsible of the City not to take advantage of the availability of FEMA funds at this time to mitigate future flooding concerns.

A third point, though not part of the LOST referendum, which Lombardo mentioned is a need to reinforce or harden the city water wells. The wells were nearly contaminated by floodwaters last year. He said it would likely cost $2 million dollars.

I asked him about the fact that some of the construction is reliant on funds not in hand and, with taxes collected at the state level going down, was it sensible to think that people wouldn't end up with higher water and sewage bills to make up the difference. He explained that there are a number of state and federal sources for funds and that the City was pursuing all known grants. He agreed that it is not a sure bet that they will all come through, but expressed confidence that at worst, the city could bond the difference of about $1.5 to 2 million to accomplish the projects through a state program to bond projects related to last year's flood.

I asked about the process to make sure that community interests are addressed to make sure that there is transparency and input as to how these projects are done. For instance, once the treatment plant is shutdown, how will the land be used? When Dubuque St. and the Park Rd. are planned, will consideration be made to improve pedestrian and bicycle traffic? He said that he hoped that there would be a very public process, as city administrator he will recommend it to City Council but ultimately, it is their call.

Lastly, I asked him about the perception that the City should not be trusted to accomplish these projects, in light of the referendum about municipal power and current concerns from some about how money is being used for an $80,000 public arts project. He did point out that he was not sure that support would be there for the tax, but hoped that after the case is made for the necessity of it, that voters would approve the measure. He offered that as people have questions about the referendum that they will contact him.

As he has been on the job for less than a year, he expressed his appreciation for the residents in Iowa City and his commitment to using resources to the betterment of the community. In closing, I mentioned that during the flooding I noticed how people's better selves seemed to be present in dealing with the crisis and hoped that our better selves show up in choosing to support this effort. He said "You don't mind if I use that, do you?"

Despite earlier misgivings I had, particularly about funding the projects, I do not believe there is a better alternative to taking care of these essential projects. If someone has a plan to do it more economically, I hope they will bring it forward. However, I feel strongly that the city manager "gets it" regarding public input as to how these projects are accomplished and is done to improve the quality and safety of the community. I also think that the knives are sharpened (axes are ground?) to prevent this referendum from being successful. May our better selves prevail.

For the facts about the local option sales tax from the city, check out this link.

Monday, March 23

LOST In Johnson County

It's March and local elections are around the corner in Johnson County. First up is a May 5th referendum for a local option sales tax (LOST) of one cent.

In Iowa City and Coralville, the referendum looks like this:

"A local sales and services tax shall be imposed in the city of Iowa City at the rate of one percent (1%) to be effective from July 1, 2009, until June 30, 2013.
Revenues from the sales and services tax shall be allocated as follows:
0% for property tax relief.

The specific purpose for which the revenues shall otherwise be expended is:
100% for remediation, repair and protection of flood impacted public infrastructure,
and local matching funds for dollars received from any federal or state programs to
assist with flood remediation, repair and protection of flood impacted public infrastructure."

This looks good on paper, but as state and federal revenues decrease, there is no guarantee that these projects will be supported at the levels they would need to be without other supports (e.g. rate hikes on water bills). For instance the Iowa City plan would call for about $59 million dollars from state and federal sources beyond the taxes collected via the LOST.

In North Liberty, the purpose "100% for the construction and improvement of city streets, including but not limited to Highway 965." You can add your own punchline here.

In Tiffin, it gets more interesting as 25% is for park and recreation
improvements and 75% for community improvements including sidewalk, street, public safety, water and sewer improvements and any other lawful purposes of the City of Tiffin. I don't know what that lawful purpose could be, but if, for instance, the mayor, Royce Phillips, gets a raise, you voted for it.

However, look what happens in the unincorporated area of the county, the extra penny will be for "50% for property tax relief in the unincorporated area of the
county of Johnson." and the other 50% for "improvement and/or maintenance of Johnson County secondary roads and bridges."

In unincorporated Johnson County, there is significant agriculture and it could be argued that there is some relief needed because of the flooding last year. However there are some very nice pieces of prime real estate that are out there that forward thinking developers could jump on in the next four years that would become very attractive to home buyers knowing that their taxes would be significantly lower than their urban neighbors. Of course, with some improved roads thrown in there, wouldn't you want to jump on that bandwagon? I'd throw up a sign that says "Johnson County Welcome Sprawlers."

The best solution for the long-term health of the communities is one that isn't on the table. State Senator Joe Bolkcom tried to get a bill considered to allow localities to impose a local income tax. This is the fairest way for projects to be paid for, as it is a equitable tax which has the added feature of making sure everybody can pay what they can afford and for cities to take on projects that they can sell.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Saturday, March 21

March Madness, Bailout Bonuses, and Other Green Thoughts of the Week

So AIG and other bailout-rewarded companies gave their executives a bazillion dollars in bonuses. I say fine. It is another reason why renewed tax cuts for the very wealthy are such a dumb idea. Wealthy people know how to take care of themselves. Imagine the size of the cajones that the AIG brass had to use taxpayer money to pay rewards to the very people who drove AIG to the brink of bankruptcy. Nice work if you can get it.

This kind of March Madness makes the NCAA tournament seem like very small potatoes as compared to the gamesmanship that occurs on Capitol Hill.

Instead of trying to make up for past poor lawmaking, Chris Dodd and Barney Franks can ramrod the Obama taxcuts through Congress for the rest of us working slobs who aren't fortunate to be employed by Wal-Mart; who gets the best "in-your-face-unions" award for paying $934 million in bonuses, averaging to $666 for each domestic part-time and full-time front-line worker.

Then they can break-up the oligopoly that the major banks have so that the rest of us can feel safe that the money we have left in the bank will be there next week. Finally, they can give teeth to the SEC, FTC, FDA so that we can feel that whatever "fail safes" they write bills for will have the manpower to be enforced.

These "green" jobs will be there to protect our greenbacks, as well as our food supply.

Speaking of green jobs, I mentioned to my wife that I had a "shovel ready" project in mind for which the stimulus money could be used. She wisely shook her head and walked away when I suggested "digging shallow graves for the CEOs of failed corporations and banks." In fairness, I did tell her I was inspired by Charles Grassley.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Yes We Can! -- Garden Organically

The White House is going to have an organic Victory garden after all. Although they have ignored the opportunity to have Iowa's own Ed Fallon tend it, it is still a good thing that Michelle Obama is making a point of showcasing the effort. Now if they can get the Presidential limo to run on biodiesel (as Air Force One doesn't qualify as "public transportation").

Commend the Obamas as Ed did.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Thursday, March 19

Just Say No to Pork

I love pigs. I do not love how large hog containment farms and the Big Pork lobby get to screw up the water supply and possibly the overall health of the rest of us in Iowa. If anything about last year's flooding should resonate to anyone who does not live in a rural part of the state, when there is a sh*t storm, it all flows downstream.

We are not talking about a little hog poop. We are talking about millions of gallons of swine feces that has had an adverse affect of aquaculture in the upper Iowa river valleys. As Iowa is the leading pork producing state, it is not inconsequential that it also leads the nation in factory farms. For context, the total U.S. hog population numbered 53 million in 1965. This number was spread over more than 1 million pig farms in the United States, many of which were small family operations. Today, 65 million hogs are raised on just over 65,000 farms across the nation. Many of these factory farms are raising 5,000 hogs at any given time.

According to, human health is "threatened by the likelihood of animals to excrete pathogenic microbes. The tremendous quantities of waste that concentrate on the premises of industrial animal producers may exceed the capacity of the landscape to absorb the nutrients and neutralize the pathogens. The annual production of manure produced by animal confinement facilities exceeds that produced by the human population of the country by at least three times. And unlike human sewage, the majority of waste from factory farms is spread upon the ground untreated."

Joe Hennager, organizer of the group STIR (Save the Iowa River) has suggested that a step in the right direction is for all of us who value clean water over cruelty to pigs to step up and pledge to stop eating pork. I've taken Joe up on the pledge. This is a easier to do than to wait for our weak-kneed legislators to find the cajones to allow the Dept. of Natural Resource do its job and enforce clean water laws.

6 Years in Iraq Down 2 to Go?

Today marks the 6th anniversary of the war in and on Iraq. With US forces committed to the country for at least another two years and an escalation in Afghanistan under way, we should not forget the men and women who have had their lives put on the line, nor the hundreds of thousands of civilians who have died during this prolonged conflagration.

With concerns about the economy here at home, we should be doubly aware of the connection between our warring ways and the economic engine that runs it.

Tonight in Iowa City, a Candlelight Peace Walk will commemorate the anniversary of the Iraq War. The walk will begin at 7PM on the sidewalk in front of Old Capitol, on the west side of the intersection of Clinton St. & Iowa Ave. This night we will remember all those who have suffered and died in this humanitarian crisis. This includes U. S. and Coalition soldiers who have died, U.S. and Coalition forces injured, all those who have committed suicide as a result of their experience, as well as innocent Iraqis who have died, been injured, or displaced. And this includes all of their families and friends. Please bring your own candle. The walk will end at Old Brick where refreshments will be served, approximately 9 PM. For more information contact PEACE Iowa - (319) 354-1925.

According to United for Peace and Justice, the war in Iraq has led to:

• at least one million Iraqis killed
• 4.5 million Iraqis displaced and 5 million orphans
• over 4,000 U.S. service people killed, tens of thousands wounded
• more than $600,000,000,000 already spent
• $720 million spent each day
• estimates that in the end we will spend upwards of $3 trillion

The Voice of America probably has one of the more ironic stories stating "As Iraq enters its seventh year of war, he [Robert Gates] predicted the country will emerge much better off by the time U.S. troops finish their scheduled withdrawal at the end of 2011, nearly nine years after they arrived." I'm sure that the facts on the ground do not support that assessment.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

I Wonder If It'll Be A Collection of Connect-the-Dots or a Coloring Book?

According to CNN, George W. Bush to write book on important decisions of his presidency. The book, tenatively to be called "Decision Points" will be released in the Fall of 2010, just in time to sink the chances of more Republicans from being elected to Congress.

"I am spending time on the book every day," Bush was quoted saying in a news release. "My goal is to bring the reader inside the Oval Office for the most consequential moments of my personal and political life.

"I look forward to painting a vivid picture of the information I had, the principles I followed, and the decisions I made," Bush said. Look for Bush's paint-by-numbers book in fine hobby stores everywhere.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Wednesday, March 18

Iowa City Announces Housing Program for Eligible Low and Moderate Income Families

This program was just announced and is for persons who lost housing due to last year's flood and/or are low to moderate income qualified homeowners.

Low and moderate income families, including those affected by the flood, and local builders received a shot in the arm with the announcement this week that the City of Iowa City is eligible for a new state program that will help replace housing that was lost during last summer's devastating flood. The "Single Family New Construction Unit Production Program," administered by the Iowa Department of Economic Development (IDED), will provide acquisition assistance (downpayment) funds for 15 to 17 homebuyers to help with the purchase of the newly constructed homes.

Program guidelines specify that the purchase price of the new homes be $180,000 or less, including the cost of the land and contractor profit. Single family detached homes, duplexes, zero-lot lines, row houses, condominiums and/or manufactured homes that are affixed to a permanent foundation all qualify for the program. The new homes must be built within the corporate limits of Iowa City, and must be completed and ready for occupancy by the end of the year.

Homebuyers, including people affected by the flood, who earn the area's median income or less and who qualify for the program, are eligible to receive up to 30% of the purchase price of the home to apply as a downpayment. The income guidelines are: for a one-person household, the median income (the maximum amount that applicants can earn per year) is $50,800; for two, $58,000; for three, $65,300; for four, $72,600; for five, $78,400; and for a household of six, $84,200.

The acquisition assistance will be set up as a 10-year forgivable loan. Homeowners who live in the home for 10 years or more will not need to repay the loan, but if they move before the 10-year term has expired, they'll be required to pay back a prorated amount. Application guidelines for residents who are interested in applying for the program have not yet been established. More information will be released at a later date and posted on the City's website after the process has been determined.

Area builders and developers who are interested in the project must submit construction proposals to the City of Iowa City by April 3, 2009. The City will then select proposals and submit an application to IDED by mid-April. More information, including program requirements, may be found on the City's website at

Tuesday, March 17

Go Greener For St. Patrick's Day

I appreciate the festivities on St. Patrick's Day. I do. I like a green beer as much as the next and a good parade. But when I see the aftermath of a St. Patty's Day bar crawl, it saddens me--and I think it would the good Saint too because of all the garbage that is strewn about the streets. So here is are three suggestions:

If you can, get your beer in a glass or stein--it is reusable. If not, bring your own cup. If you can't use your cup, make a pledge to recycle the plastic cups you use.

If possible, buy a locally-made, or organic brew. The closer to you your beer is made, the less damage to the environment and probably the better it tastes.

Use public transportation, cab, walk, or carpool to and from your nearest pub or bar. That way you can enjoy yourself and limit your carbon footprint at the same time.

These suggestions may not drive the snakes out of Ireland, but they will make the planet a slightly better place.


Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Monday, March 16

Red Cross Says USA Tortured Detainees

According to the Washington Post:

The International Committee of the Red Cross concluded in a secret report that the Bush administration's treatment of al-Qaeda captives "constituted torture," a finding that strongly implied that CIA interrogation methods violated international law, according to newly published excerpts from the long-concealed 2007 document.

The report, an account alleging physical and psychological brutality inside CIA "black site" prisons, also states that some U.S. practices amounted to "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment." Such maltreatment of detainees is expressly prohibited by the Geneva Conventions.

The findings were based on an investigation by ICRC officials, who were granted exclusive access to the CIA's "high-value" detainees after they were transferred in 2006 to the U.S. detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The 14 detainees, who had been kept in isolation in CIA prisons overseas, gave remarkably uniform accounts of abuse that included beatings, sleep deprivation, extreme temperatures and, in some cases, waterboarding, or simulating drowning.

At least five copies of the report were shared with the CIA and top White House officials in 2007 but barred from public release by ICRC guidelines intended to preserve the humanitarian group's strict policy of neutrality in conflicts.

The report continues to describe the treatment of an accused al-Qaeda operative who was waterboarded multiple times, and "suffered approximately 175 seizures that appear to be directly related to his extensive torture -- particularly damage to Petitioner's head that was the result of beatings sustained at the hands of CIA interrogators and exacerbated by his lengthy isolation."

President Obama's expressed reluctance to conduct a legal inquiry into the CIA's policies despite his commitment to closing Guantanamo is puzzling in light of this report. Hopefully now that this is public information, a closer look will happen.

Andrew Sullivan's The Daily Dish has more.

Three Reasons Why It's Hard to Pity Big Business

Here are a few reasons:

Insurance giant AIG executives receiving $185 million dollars from bailout money from US taxpayers while 10,000 laid-off people go to find a job at a career fair at Dodger's stadium.

Clean water quality in Iowa being sacrificed by Iowa legislators under duress from the Farm Bureau and the Pork Producer's Council.

To Defeat labor initiatives like the Employee Free Choice Act, business PACs not only gave nearly five times more in campaign contributions than labor PACs did in the last election cycle ($365.1 million versus $77.9 million, including contributions to leadership PACs) they are backed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which spent $144.4 million on lobbying efforts in the 2007-2008 election cycle, or more than $400,000 for every day Congress was in session. By contrast, the entire labor sector spent less than $84 million on lobbying efforts during those two years.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Double Blogging

My time this week will be split between this blog and Pat Stansbury's Century of the Common Iowan blog. Pat is taking some well-deserved R & R after three years of blogging at the CotCI. I hope to fill his shoes on a temporary basis, but Pat does keep the standard high.

Sunday, March 15

How to Right-Size Government

Government is necessary, really it is. Can you imagine what life would be like if people did whatever they liked, whenever they liked? Those folks who don't believe in evolution would get a big taste of "survival of the fittest" if there weren't rules in place and a body to enforce those rules--and history bears this out. However, the real issue is how big is big enough where governments are concerned?

Clearly there is a wide divergence of opinion on this subject from anarchy to dictatorship, but even toward the relative middle, there is a gulf between what is "fair" government. For some, the totality of government worth is tied to the amount of taxes that are extracted from them. For others, it is the perception of how safe their government makes them feel. For others, it is the use of government policies and their taxes to do the things that the private sector is unwilling or unable to do that produces equity or fairness.

As we are a representative democracy, it is not always practical for the electorate to vote on whether their tax dollars are being spent wisely or if laws are agreeable to the majority. In fact the way that the Constitution works assures everyone that whether they are in the majority or minority, their rights will be protected. Still, the powers that be in a locality, a state, or the federal government need to be informed by the citizenry and this is good.

To the point at hand. Do we need government to be small enough to drown in a bathtub or big enough to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool? That is and probably always will be the million dollar question. I propose some "rules" for deciding if the government that affects you most is the right size:

1) Does the government deliver what it promises? For example, if a tax referendum occurs do the items the tax is raised for actually get paid for or are other unspecified projects moved up the list after the vote?

2) Are decisions made by the body a result of a desire of efficiencies or turf protecting? For instance, if an efficiency can be created by cooperating with other governmental bodies or with private interests, does it happen?

3) Are more people helped or hurt by the decisions that the government makes? This one is a hard rule to enforce because "help" and "hurt" are in the eyes of the beholder. My thought is if the rights of all are protected by an action, then do it.

4) Is the action taken by the government beneficial to the community it serves more times than not? In this regard I don't mean that you agree with every decision they make, but merely that the decisions made are intended to support the well-being of the community.

5) Could the job be done with less governance? Does a state need to create an agency when a oversight board would be as effective?

6) Does the government get in the way of people negotiating with those they have grievance with? Labor/management relations comes to mind on this point.

Certainly there could be other rules or a different way to right-size (e.g. determined by tax-rate formula). I leave that to your comment.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Friday, March 13

Questioning the Sales Tax Issue

There are some folks who oppose taxes (see Ax the Tax) because they don't believe the government has a place for anything other than public safety. There are people who believe that some taxes are needed to perform the tasks that the private sector does not do or is unwilling to do. There are people who oppose sales taxes because they are inherently unfair to the poor and those who oppose property taxes because they are unfair to landowners. The one thing that eveyone can agree on is that taxes are not well-loved.

This brings me to the Local option Sales Tax referendum that will require 50% + 1 of us to vote for it to allow a 4 year 1 cent sales tax to be imposed to allow Iowa City to upgrade Dubuque St. and replacing the bridge on Park Rd. (estimated cost $32 million)and relocating the north water treatment plant (estimated cost $63 million). We are told via the Iowa City website that the money will be earmarked specifically for:

"Improvements that will help the city maintain vital transportation, emergency, and public health services in both routine and emergency situations.

The ballot language for Iowa City states:

0% of the revenues generated by this tax will be used for property tax relief and the remaining for the following specific purposes: 100% for remediation, repair and protection of flood impacted public infrastructure and local matching funds for dollars received from any federal or state programs to assist with flood remediation, repair and protection of flood impacted public infrastructure."
The estimated income over the 4 years is $36 million which means there will be a deficit of $59 million created by these projects. This means that barring huge federal grants, water bills and other fees can be expected to increase or other services will be cut to accomplish these goals.

The key questions to taxpayers should be, are these projects necessary and, if so, are there alternatives to the proposals to accomplish the desired outcomes?

Complicating the matter is that the amount of funding is up in the air due to the rules that the state legislature has made. If voters in Iowa City vote down the tax hike, Iowa City will not benefit at all from taxes collected elsewhere in the county, nor will other cities receive tax revenues for sales taxes collected in Iowa City. Given that Iowa City is the largest municipality in the county, the benefits to smaller communities lessen if Iowa City doesn't play ball. Similarly, if Iowa City votes "yes" and other communities vote "no", there is less of a pot of money for Iowa City.

There are two scheduled fora in the next two weeks. One will be this Wednesday April 8th at Coralville City Hall from 7 to 9 pm. Speakers will be the city managers and planners from Iowa City, Coralville, and North Liberty.

For a more independently run forum, the League of Women Voters also is sponsoring an informational night Thursday April 16th at the Iowa City Public Library at 7pm. Tom Slockett will spend 10 minutes describing the law and how it works. Each city and the county will describe their ballot and what the money would be used for. The Pro and Con representatives will have 5 minutes to state their cases and there will be 30 minutes of written questions. Committed Mayors are from Iowa City, Coralville, University Heights, Shueyville, Oxford, and a representative from the Board of Supervisors.

Cramer v. Cramer: The Dance on the Daily Show

Jim Cramer, who recently came to The University of Iowa to shape young business school minds with his brand of financial prognostication is schooled by Jon Stewart on the Daily Show.

Thursday, March 12

Weigh In on Roosevelt: Take this survey

For residents of Johnson County, below is a link to a survey that has been developed by Charles Stanier about the Roosevelt School issue. You do not need to be a parent of a Roosevelt School student to complete it, as this is a community-wide issue.

and while you're at it, take a minute to sign this petition:

A Polk in the Eye for Iowa Homeowners: Foreclosure Rises

The rate of housing foreclosure filings nationally jumped dramatically in February. According to Realty Trac

Foreclosure filings — default notices, auction sale notices and bank repossessions — were reported on 290,631 U.S. properties during the month, an increase of nearly 6 percent from the previous month and an increase of nearly 30 percent from February 2008. The report also shows one in every 440 U.S. housing units received a foreclosure filing in February.

With one in every 70 housing units receiving a foreclosure filing in February, Nevada continued to document the nation’s top state foreclosure rate. Foreclosure filings were reported on 15,783 Nevada properties during the month, a 9 percent increase from the previous month and a 156 percent increase from February 2008.

Arizona posted the third highest state total in February, with 18,119 properties receiving a foreclosure filing during the month — a 23 percent increase from the previous month and an 88 percent increase from February 2008.

Nevada, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Texas, Georgia and Virginia also reported foreclosure totals that were among the nation’s 10 highest.

In Iowa, things are not as bleak as the national picture, but in several key counties, things could be better. Polk County has the highest foreclosure rate where 1 in every 518 housing units is in foreclosure. Rounding out the top six are:

Scott - 1 in 1192
Pottawatamie - 1 in 1276
Harrison - 1 in 1391
Clinton - 1 in 1487
Linn - 1 in 1911

Johnson County is 9th on the list with 1 in 3644 homes in foreclosure.

Wednesday, March 11

Well-Being in the Iowa 2nd Congressional District

Gallup-Healthways have put out a new survey assessing the well-being of people in the USA. The research and methodology underlying the Well-Being Index is based on the World Health Organization definition of health as "not only the absence of infirmity and disease, but also a state of physical, mental, and social well-being." Below is how Iowa's Fightin' 2nd District looks according to those nimble number crunchers at Gallup.

The Well-Being Index is comprised of over 40 questions providing an Overall Composite metric based on six individual and interrelated Domains and Indices of Well Being: Life Evaluation, Emotional Health, Physical Health, Healthy Behavior, Work Environment, and Basic Access.

Raw Score: 65.6
National Rank: 200/435
State Rank: 4/5

Life Evaluation This Index combines the evaluation of one's present life situation with one's anticipated life situation 5 years from now.

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index asks Americans to evaluate their lives by imagining a "ladder" with steps numbered from 0 to 10, where "0" represents the worst possible life and "10" represents the best possible life.
Evaluation of present life situation
Anticipated life situation 5 years from now

Raw Score: 39.3
National Rank: 239/435
State Rank: 2/5

Work Quality This Index surveys workers on several factors to gauge their feelings and perceptions about their work environment. Prior large-scale meta-analyses have shown important linkages between worker engagement and several organizational performance outcomes, such as worker attendance, retention, productivity, profitability, safety, and customer ratings.

Positive work environments are characterized as those where workers express satisfaction with their work, report using their strengths in their area of work, and work in a culture of trust and partnership. Conversely, negative work environments lack satisfying work and are characterized by poor supervision.

This index is based on asking workers the following questions each day:
Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with your job or the work you do?
At work, do you get to use your strengths to do what you do best every day, or not?
Does your supervisor at work treat you more like he or she is your boss or your partner?
Does your supervisor always create an environment that is trusting and open, or not?

Raw Score: 49.6
National Rank: 281/435
State Rank: 5/5

Basic Access The Basic Access Index is based on thirteen items measuring resident's access to food, shelter, and healthcare, and a safe and satisfying place to live.
Satisfaction with community or area
Area getting better as a place to live
Clean water
Safe place to exercise
Affordable fruits and vegetables
Feel safe walking alone at night
Enough money for food
Enough money for shelter
Enough money for healthcare
Visited a dentist recently
Have a doctor
Have health insurance

Raw Score: 85.6
National Rank: 127/435
State Rank: 4/5

Healthy Behavior The Health Behavior index includes items measuring life style habits with established relationships to health outcomes. This index is based on four key items relating to smoking, a healthy diet, and exercise.
Raw Score: 61.6
National Rank: 309/435
State Rank: 2/5

Physical Health The projected cost of American healthcare by 2017 has been estimated at over $4 trillion. At least 50% of these costs will be due to preventable disease, including diabetes, cardiovascular conditions, and strokes.

The physical health index is comprised questions related to:
Estimates of Body Mass Index
Disease burden
Sick days
Physical pain
Daily energy
History of disease
Daily health experiences

Raw Score: 78.7
National Rank: 94/435
State Rank: 1/5

Emotional Health This index is primarily a composite of respondents' daily experiences. It includes one item that probes for prior history of diagnosed depression. In the remaining items, respondents are asked to think about how they felt yesterday, from the morning until the end of the day - who they were with, what they did, and how they felt based on responses to the following nine items:
Smiling or Laughter
Being treated with respect
Learning or doing something interesting

Raw Score: 79.0
National Rank: 201/435
State Rank: 5/5

Tuesday, March 10

Mobile Shelters for Homeless

A group in Los Angeles is tackling shelter for the homeless with a rather novel approach.

According the the group:

EDAR (Everyone Deserves A Roof) provides shelter to the homeless in an innovative cost and usage effective way. The EDAR unit is a purpose-specific, special four-wheeled enclosed device, very roughly reminding one of a covered shopping cart.

During the day, the EDAR unit is used to pursue the necessities of life. Personal belongings are secured by the use of locks. The front and back of the cart have storage baskets with removable canvas pouches. The unit is waterproof and provides protection for what it contains. EDAR's wheels are better than a supermarket cart's, being slightly larger and easier to steer in a consistent fashion. There are two brake and locking mechanisms which ensure the unit will not move on its own.

At night, the EDAR unit easily hinges out and down to Night Mode in less than 30 seconds, becoming a sleeping unit. Unfolding the unit allows it to lock in place as the flat metal base extends. The metal and wood base has a mattress and military-grade canvas cover, providing a robust tent-like shelter. The unit is flame-retardant, waterproof, windproof and helps protect from the elements. There are translucent windows that provides light and a view of the surrounding area. By re-folding the unit, the EDAR quickly returns to Day Mode.

While far from ideal in all climates, this is far more humane than no shelter at all. EDAR estimates that the cost of a bed at a shelter costs $100,000. The carts EDAR builds cost $500.

Some facts to consider:

- Each year, more than 3 million people experience homelessness in the United States, including 1.3 million children (approximately 1 in 50).
(Estimate: National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty)

- Of 23 major US cities surveyed, an average of 23% of shelter requests by homeless people are estimated to have gone unmet.

- Of the surveyed cities, 77% of the emergency shelters estimate they will have to turn away homeless people, other than families, because of a lack of resources.
(Estimate: United States Conference of Mayors: Homeless and Hunger Survey December 2006)

Sunday, March 8

CSAs Make Sense

Because agricultural diversity is important, because locally-grown crops make good environmental sense, and because farmers don't need subsidies, but they do need reliable customers, I am becoming a believer in Community-supported Agriculture. CSA's work on a very simple premise, invest in farmers and receive "stock options"--i.e., produce, meat, eggs, bread and more.

There are some additional bonuses, you know where your food is coming from, you can choose whether it is certified organic or whether the farm uses organic and sustainable practices or not. you can be informed how your meat is raised and processed and if your eggs come from chickens that aren't pent up in cages. You can even choose to visit your food and help to grow it.

Finally, for people like me, if you have a less than green thumb, you can be assured that someone is doing it well and enjoys it.

I went to a local CSA fair today and met Kevin Powell who raises Mulefoot pigs in Strawberry Point--as a pork fancier, it was cool to learn how this type of pig, which was almost extinct is being raised in Iowa. Kevin has about 40 head of pigs on his families farm. I also met Christy from the Ecollective Farm that has happenings out on their place. I met Mark from Scattergood School that has a 30 family CSA group and Andrew from Grinnell Heritage Farm that has been in his family for 152 years.

My wife and I are likely to buy a spring share from Grinnell Heritage and a fall share from ZJ Farm in Solon. We will likely get our summer produce from Oak Hill Farms in Atalissa. The great thing is all of these deliver to the Farmer's Market so we can pick up eggs, breads, plants etc. at the same time.

CSAs are not risk free, if the growing season is lousy, farmer and partners both are affected, but the good news is that the risk is shared and thus better for all.

If you've thought about going local, check the local foods connection blog out.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Friday, March 6

Whose Winning the War of Words?

This is a stretch, but here it goes. I think that the words we use give us a sense of how we see the world. This is to say that whether we are a hopeful (which has 20,620,000 Google "hits") people or a fearful (12,700,000 Google hits) people, it shows up in the words we use. Now there are serious flaws in precisely measuring the words we use, the language we speak being an obvious one. Another is the technology we use to collect "word usage." since many people do not use computers or use them only to gather information (not to write it); so it is hard to know what they are saying and thereby thinking.

These two significant limitations put aside then, we still can get a sense of what a significant subsection of the population is thinking about and, perhaps, make some glaring generalizations.

There is a liberal bias to the Web, at least there are 80,900,000 hits for "liberal" and only 59,500,000 for "conservative". Democrats and Republicans are fairly close with 42,000,000 and 37,510,000 hits respectively. Libertarians get 1,760,000 hits while Socialists receive 5,840,000 and Communists--10,400,000 hits.

But it is clear we are a conflicted people as "red states" get 168,000,000 hits and "blue states" only get 57,600,000. Among the political entertainers, Jon Stewart receives 8,430,000 hits and Rush Limbaugh 4,800,000. Fox News receives 54,100,000 hits and CBS News 116,000,000.

Thursday, March 5

Another Blow For Old King Coal

The Coal Plant in Marshalltown is dead. Despite a massive effort to "git 'r done"--the Alliant Energy plant planned for Marshalltown has been called off. According to Alliant Energy:

The decision to cancel the project is based on a combination of factors including the current economic and financial climate, increasing environmental, legislative and regulatory uncertainty regarding regulation of future greenhouse gas emissions and the terms placed on the proposed power plant by regulators.

“Our company and our partners appreciate the tremendous support demonstrated for this project by our labor partners, industry, agriculture and business leaders, the community of Marshalltown and economic development organizations across the state," says Tom Aller, president-IPL. “While our company is disappointed in this missed opportunity to further Iowa’s efforts to grow its economy and position our state as a leader in renewable energy, we will continue to focus our efforts on expanding our renewable energy resources and energy efficiency initiatives and reducing our environmental impact.

Concerted effort by environmental activists to prevent the plant from being permitted and built was largely responsible for slowing the project. "Given the fact that clean coal is still a theory and that federal legislation to limit global warming pollution from power plants is inevitable, the smart money is now on clean, renewable energy," said Marian Riggs Gelb, executive director for the Iowa Environmental Council.

In an article in the Des Moines Register, Senate majority leader Mike Gronstal says:

“Warren Buffett says Iowa has the most progressive policy in the country as it related to energy production. We've done that with both base-load capacity for coal-fired plants. We've done it with natural gas plants and we have become a world leader in wind energy. And we’ve done that all by working with those folks."

“I want to keep Iowa a world leader particularly in the area of wind energy and other renewable sources of energy,” Gronstal said. “We’re going to have discussions with those folks. They’ve made their decision and we’ll consult with them. We’ll hear they’re concerns, we’ll decide if we’re going to act.”

Bill to Have County Public Hearings for CAFOs Alive!

According to Iowa Citizens for Community Action:

Victory - HSB 186 passes out of committee!

Because of your efforts to contact key state legislators, we are getting things done and moving critical legislation forward. Yesterday afternoon, we helped pass HSB 168 out of the House Environmental Protection committee. It's an important bill that would require all counties to hold public hearings on all proposed factory farms that are large enough to require a construction permit (for hogs, that's 2,500 head in total confinement at any one time). It passed out of committee by a vote of 11-10.

Thanks for taking action! This victory happened because of your efforts to swing Representative Elesha Gayman to vote for the bill. She has been supportive, but was getting pressure to vote against it. Your calls and emails leading up to the vote helped convince her to vote in favor of it. Now HSB 168 is eligible for debate by the full House.

Foreclosed Conclusions

With the news of new programs for homeowners at the cusp of foreclosure coming to a lender near you, I took a look at the state of foreclosure in Iowa and elsewhere. With 303,419 home foreclosure filed as of December, 2008, it is good that this aid has come.

First the good news, Iowans are doing much better than most.

Iowa, which is 23rd in total population, has the 14th lowest rate of foreclosure filings. This is particularly good in the context that we have the 10th highest homeownership rate. We slip a little when the number of foreclosure filings are compared to the total number of homeowners, here we fall to 17th among all states and the District of Columbia.

If you are interested in knowing who the top and bottom five states are:

Highest Numbers of Foreclosure Filings
California: 89,449
Florida: 50,808
Arizona: 15,962
Nevada: 15,039
Michigan: 13,563

Lowest Numbers of Foreclosure Filings
Vermont: 16
Montana: 38
North Dakota: 44
South Dakota: 45
Nebraska: 46

Lowest % of Filings Per Homeowner:
West Virginia

Highest % of Filings Per Homeowner:

(Sources: Realty Trac December 2008, BLS estimate of state populations for 2008, Homeownership Rate by state 2007, U.S. Census Bureau. Web:

I Want My Digital TV?

Thanks to Adam Burton. This is a video any person with an elderly parent who is not already a cable subscriber should watch:

The Straight Scoop on Dog Poop

On the face, this is a bizarre little topic for a progressive blog I know, but using a plastic bag and throwing dog poop in the trash is not a environmentally sound solution. Here are statistics regarding the impact of canine crap in the landfill:

• The average person in the U.S. generates about 4 pounds of solid trash per day.
• At that rate, the United States generates 210 million tons of trash per year.
• There are an estimated 44.8 million dogs in the United States.
• Dogs on average poop 23 times a week! That’s an average of 15 – 30 pounds of waste per dog per year.
• In a city of 100,000 people or 43 square miles, dogs can generate about 2 1/2 tons of feces per day. That’s almost 2 million pounds a year.
• A plastic bag can take up to 1,000 years to decompose in the landfill.

add to this that uncollected poop goes through the storm sewer system and may contaminate the water supply.

Given these facts, it makes sense to rethink doggie doo disposal. How about flushing it down the toilet (or poo down the loo)? For those of you who already do this, you are more of a genius than I. But there is still the issue of picking the stuff up.

In my quest for greener dog waste disposal, I ran across Flush Puppies. These are biodegradable disposal, flushable doggie waste bags. I'm not endorsing them, but I've ordered some to try with my two mid-sized dogs and I'll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, March 4

What Part of "Science" Don't You Understand?

The Press-Citizen reported that more than 220 people, including 56 University of Iowa professors, have signed a faculty petition against House File 183 - The Evolution Academic Freedom Act, which was introduced this session by State Rep. Rod Roberts, R-Carroll. As you might imagine, Representative Roberts is not a scientist and, apparently, maybe not a very good lawmaker either. It does not come as a shock that he is, according to his biography "the Development Director with Christian Churches/Churches of Christ in Iowa."

Now if there is a desire to teach theological premises in schools, great--as an elective course, why not? A comparative religion course might actually be helpful to help young people to understand the beliefs of others and to better form their own beliefs. But to infuse a science curriculum with a discussion of a type of creationism that has no basis in science and must rely on faith is antithetical to the study of science.

In any case, churches are better suited to the teaching of their brand of religion and it is less confusing that way. There is a lot of good that comes from the teachings of Jesus Christ for instance, even without a basis in science. Treating people with dignity is a great idea whether it came from Christ, Mohamed, Confucius, or Pagans. So to Rep. Roberts, I say, respectfully, your beliefs and a need to produce students who have a mind for science need to be separated. People get enough mixed messages in our society.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Tuesday, March 3

Farmers Market Expanding Horizons in Iowa City

In an effort to bring the variety of benefits of green-living and fresh veggies to the open air of downtown Iowa City, the Farmers Market will spread out on the streets one Saturday each month this year. This from the City of Iowa City:

Now in its 37th year, the Iowa City Farmers Market looks forward to an exciting change in 2009. One Saturday each month, beginning May 30, the Iowa City Farmers Market will move to downtown Iowa City. The Downtown Farmers Market will be located on Iowa Ave. between Clinton and Linn Streets and along Dubuque St. between Jefferson and Washington Streets. All the regular vendors will be there as well as some additional vendors from our waiting list. The special Saturday events such as Market Music and Art in the Park will continue, as well as cooking demonstrations by local chefs, Irving Weber Days on May 30 and Kids Day on September 12. This new venue for Farmers Market will provide a fun, festive environment for both its regular and new customers. It joins other successful downtown outdoor markets such as in Cedar Rapids, Des Moines and Madison, Wisconsin, which draw throngs of happy customers each market day.

The Downtown Market Days will be May 30, June 13, July 11, August 8, September 12, and October 17. Downtown Market customers will receive two hours of free (validated) parking at any of the cashiered downtown parking ramps.

The other Saturday and Wednesday markets will remain in the Chauncey Swan Parking Ramp across from City Hall between May 2 and October 31. Wednesday markets will run 5:30-7:30 p.m. and all Saturday Markets (Downtown and Chauncey Swan) will run from 7:30 a.m. to 12 noon. This is a new closing time for our Saturday markets (previously closing at 11:30 a.m.).

The vendors are all lined up and making plans for a successful 2009 Farmers Market. Make plans to join us for both the Chauncey Swan and Downtown Farmers Markets!

The Farmers Market is organized by the Iowa City Parks & Recreation Department.

The Horrors of Employee Rights

The SEIU sent this link to me. This is a humorous video--only it isn't. Watch and cringe.

Monday, March 2

Booklovers Against Homelessness

This past Saturday hundreds of Johnson County residents stopped in at the Hope United Methodist Church to buy books that support the operation of Shelter House. More than $4,800 were raised to benefit the shelter which provides social services to families and individuals who are homeless in Johnson County.

This winter more than twice the number of homeless have stayed at Shelter House or at an overflow shelter that has been run by volunteers from area churches. As the economy continues to sag, more and more people are finding themselves on the streets, renters and homeowners alike.

Currently, the Shelter House is in the midst of a capital campaign to build a 70 person shelter to replace their current facility that holds 29 people. If you are interested in making a donation toward the new shelter, please call 338-5416 or make an on-line donation at

Need more reasons, check out 5 things you should know about homelessness. Also check out the US Conference of Mayors 2008 report "Hunger and Homelessness Survey"

A Take on the ICCSD Issues from Rod Sullivan

From Johnson County Board of Supervisor (and citizen) Rod Sullivan's Salvos reprinted with his permission:

Since I seldom let any big issues pass by without comment, it is time to discuss the ICCSD building plans. Unfortunately, I could not attend either forum on the subject. This is a very complex set of issues, so I'll try to break it up into digestible pieces.

First, whether one agrees with her or not, I applaud Mayor Bailey for expressing her concerns over the closing of Roosevelt. I find it amazing that the Press Citizen suggests that she mind her own business. It IS her business! She is a citizen! What's more, the Press Citizen is always critical of local governmental units for failures to communicate. That is exactly what happened here ­ but it is not the fault of the city!

Additionally, Iowa City has a comprehensive plan for the whole city, and it is quite good. It includes the preservation of older neighborhoods ­preservation that will be ineffective without neighborhood schools. And thePC says the City Council "should not interfere"? The PC should have instead demanded that the ICCSD go over this in a joint public meeting with the City Council.

Secondly, we should recognize closing Roosevelt is a tough call. Students and staff deserve good facilities. The building has clearly deteriorated to a critical point. There is room to build on at Horn. My problem is the school at "The Crossings". There aren't any kids there yet ­there are kids at Roosevelt. Perhaps repairing Roosevelt would be more expensive but there are very real costs to suburban sprawl. These should be discussed at length in public forums. Similarly, let's ensure that other older buildings get the maintenance they need so we do not find ourselves in this position again.

Thirdly, we need to discuss similar issues at Longfellow and Mann. I served on the Yes For Kids Steering Committee, and we sold the bond issue in part on improving accessibility at these older schools. I understand that this can be expensive. I understand that it might be cheaper tear down the older schools and to rebuild on the parking lots and/or playgrounds. But wenever said anything about closing them. Fixing, yes. Closing? It was never mentioned. Whatever the case, these neighborhoods MUST have schools, and they MUST be accessible. Anyone who understands Iowa City and the electorate knows this is non-negotiable. We already voted to do it. I personally told people the ICCSD would be fixing this! I was an honest volunteer- please do not make me a liar! As Larry the Cable Guy would say, just Git 'er done!

It has been mentioned that many kids already do not enjoy "neighborhood schools". Kids are bussed to several elementaries throughout the District. While this is true, it ignores the fact that most kids in theICCSD DO have neighborhood schools. When you factor out rural kids, who are going to be driven/bussed in any scenario, most kids live within walking distance of their elementaries. This is the way the public wants it, and experts in all sorts of disciplines agree it is generally best for the community psychologically, sociologically, and environmentally.

My final point is that we tend to assume too much. We assume that the public always wants the cheapest option, but local voters have proven that is not always the case. Voters approved the SILO tax, Conservation Bond, Library bonds in three communities, pool bonds in two communities, and much more. Voters have spoken out in favor of jail alternatives, even though they cost more. Voters have spoken out in favor of arts and culture expenditures, even though they cost more. So instead of assuming people want the cheapest option possible, we could just let people vote on it.

This is evidenced by discussions around school size. The ICCSD tells us we need elementary schools to be built for 450-550 kids in order to be as cost efficient as possible. Yet we are never told what size elementaries should be in order to maximize student performance. Almost every study of student performance shows the optimal elementary size to be 250-400. Why not ask the public if they prefer the cheapest, the best, or some hybrid?

The same discussion needs to take place at the high school level. Explain to the public that a North Liberty-north Coralville high school would only have 600-1000 students. That means fewer opportunities (not NO opportunities, but fewer opportunities) for advanced classes and extracurricular activities. It would not be the most cost effective response to overcrowding at West. But again, almost every study of student performance shows the optimal high school size to be 600-1000. Why not ask the public if they prefer the cheapest, the best, or some hybrid?

I do not envy School Board members. I know most of the ICCSD Board pretty
well. I know most of the ICCSD Administration pretty well. These are good people
we are talking about, who really care about our kids. These folks work very
hard, some as volunteers, and rarely receive the thanks they deserve. School
financing is tricky, and most of us do not fully understand it. There is no
issue more dear to the electorate than the schools. And theICCSD is faced with a
number of difficult decisions.

Lots of people have a dog in this fight. We all want to claim the moral high ground of doing what is "best for the kids." But what is best for one is not necessarily best for the next. And what is best for a single school is not necessarily best for the entire District. This is why we elect a Board­ their job is to make these decisions. I just hope the decisions are made following lots of public input.

People in the ICCSD need more details on school funding. There are staffing issues; fine. Lay out the problems so the public can opineintelligently. The more information we share, the better our decisions.

I simply hope that the ICCSD Board and Administration seeks input and then gives that input serious consideration. Do not assume that the voters in the ICCSD want the cheapest. They just might want the best.

Sunday, March 1

That Was Paul Harvey

It may puzzle some progressives that I have genuine sweet spot for Paul Harvey who passed away today at the age of 90. But I have good reason--he was a populist embodied in a newscaster. Born an Okie in Tulsa, he literally grew up in radio landing his first job while still in high school. From 1951 until today, he was news radio.

As a kid growing up in Dayton, Ohio and listening to the static of AM radio, there was was something special about the halting, upbeat patter that was "the voice" of Paul Harvey. Sure he could be schmaltzy and quaint, but he was never less than reassuring--professorial even. Everybody listened to PH. He had more awards and acclaim than most people will ever see. In 2005 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor by George W. Bush for lifetime achievement. For my money much more appropriate than George Tenant's.

Sure he was probably more politically aligned to Mike Huckabee than Barack Obama, but he was accessible. He was more someone's slightly cranky grandfather than Rush Limbaugh's's crazy uncle. You could learn from Paul Harvey. You could learn how to be decent, caring, and present.

Even at the very end, Paul Harvey was the most listened to news personality on radio with 25 million people tuning in to hear his corn fed "News and Commentary" reports, personal anecdotes, and shameless shilling. Farmers, pimply teenagers, soccer moms waiting for the time when he'd say "Hello Americans, I'm Paul Harvey. You know what the news is, in a minute, you're going to hear ... the rest of the story." To this day, I enjoy imitating him when he would say "page two" and the most memorable tagline in the history of radio, "This is Paul Harvey. Good day."

I know we will have plenty of good days to come and yet there was something comforting in that warm cackle of a voice that so clearly enjoyed being with us as much as we looked forward to hearing it pour over us. That was Paul Harvey. Good night.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Sebelius a Good Second Choice

As much as I personally wanted Gov. Howard Dean to be appointed to the Secretary of health and Human Services post, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius is a solid choice for two very good reasons. President Obama needs a nominee that won't embarass him by having some dark cloud hanging over his/her head and by all accounts Gov. Sebelius is as baggage free as they come. Secondly, she is well-liked by President Obama and has valuable experience to push his important health care agenda.

She is best known to the party faithful for the Democratic response to former President George W. Bush's last State of the Union address--which went marginally better than Gov. Bobby Jindal's and likely caused her name to fall off the list for VP candidates--nonetheless, she has been a popular Democratic governor in a state that Republican-dominated. She also brings a breadth of experience as she served as Kansas' Insurance Commissioner before she ran for Governor.

In that capacity, according to CQ Politics:

Sebelius walked the line between government regulation and a free market. “Competitive markets and solvent businesses and having people feel good about doing business in the state is not only good for industry, but for consumers, since it leads to better rates and services.”

And she also pushed to eliminate duplicate or cumbersome regulations. “What we’re trying to pull off is a balancing act between being effective protectors for the consumers of this country and not having lots of regulations and laws in place that impede the market,” she said in 2001.

In 2005, she won an $85 million increase in Medicaid dollars for the state, boosting doctors’ pay for the first time in a decade. “The payments are still low, but it certainly helped shore up the safety net system,” said Barnett.

She has called for universal health care, a major theme for Democrats during the 2008 presidential campaign. “We must commit ourselves to universal coverage, improved quality of care, and increased affordability,” she said in her Jan. 10, 2007 state of the state address. It was not enacted.

There is praise in Kansas for her bipartisan approach, a theme Obama has emphasized.

“When you’re a Democrat in Kansas, you get nothing done if you’re not bipartisan—it’s the nature of the beast,” said Neufeld.

Any Obama health overhaul plan likely will demand sacrifices from the health insurance industry, which Sebelius knows well from her time as state insurance commissioner from 1994 to 2002.

She already has fought one major battle with the health insurance industry, at the state level, conducted during her gubernatorial election campaign. In 2001, Indiana-based health insurer Anthem announced it would buy Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas. Unlike private, for-profit health insurers, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas is owned by its state policy holders.

Though Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas’ members approved the sale to Anthem, Sebelius used her power as insurance commissioner to block the move, taking the fight all the way to the state supreme court, where she eventually prevailed.

As recently as last Tuesday, Sebelius signed into law a bill that reduced the Kansas budget by about $300 million to address a $6.4 billion deficit, but the legislation in large part avoided reductions in spending for health care programs, such as Medicaid. With the need for health care coverage for all increasing, Sebelius will be a position to push Obama's agenda with credibility.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]