Thursday, July 30

School Board Candidate List Now at Five, er Make That Eight

With the announcements of April Armstrong, incumbent Michael Cooper, Tuyet Dorau, Anne Johnson, Jean Jordison, Josh Kaine, Jeffrey Manthey, and Sarah Swisher running for three school board seats, the make-up of the school board could shift dramatically at a time when the boundaries of the schools are being discussed for revision, the budget is currently $4-6 million dollars in the red, and a new high school is scheduled to be built. For a non-partisan race, this one is shaping up to be anything but.

The Lineup:

April Armstrong (R) is a Weber Elementary and Northwest Junior High parent who was on the Facilities Advisory Committee (FAC) that recommended the closure of Roosevelt Elementary.

Tuyet Dorau (D) is a Coralvillian who wants to focus on helping the district overcome its $6 million budget shortfall and eventually build a third high school in the North Liberty area. She also wants to also look at settling the district's boundary issues and plan further ahead than five years.

Anne Johnson (I) is a North Libertarian who recently helped lead a petition drive to encourage the school board to work toward the third high school. The mother of a Penn Elementary third-grader and a 4-year-old son, she said she has been attending school board meetings in recent weeks and offering her opinion regularly. She said along with working on the third high school and the district's budget issues, she wants to work on improving communications between the board and the public.

Jean Jordison (R) has been on the district's Comprehensive School Improvement Plan Advisory Committee which was selected by Superintendent Lane Plugge.

Joshua "Josh" Kaine (D) is a Dad and member of the We Love our Neighborhood Schools group and is "hoping to represent those of us in the community who feel strongly about the value of smaller neighborhood schools. Supporting historic preservation, with an emphasis on obtaining a better balance of tax dollars spent on new vs. older schools. Working for greater transparency in communications with the public from the board and the district, including an emphasis on seeking public input well before plans are written."

Jeffrey Manthey (I) also a North Liberty resident wants to focus on the budget, boundary changes across the district, crowding at West High and disparity of students receiving free- and reduced-priced lunches in the district.

Sarah Swisher (D) co-chaired the Yes for Kids campaign for the $39 million bond referendum in 2003 said she wants to, among other things, promote income and social equity in the schools and expand the number of volunteers working in the district. She also is a local labor leader for the SEIU and a former county chair for the Democratic party.

John Deeth (D) has a different take. Well worth the read.

Note: Thanks to a tip from an anonymous comment I received, I updated this story to correct the party affiliation for Tuyet Dorau who I listed initially as Independent. I've also added links to other sources with more info about the candidates.

Community Discussion on Deng Killing Moves to City Hall

Dr. Vershawn Ashanti Young, a University of Iowa professor of African-American Studies and Rhetoric organized a forum on racial issues in Iowa City that was to be held at the Iowa City public library. According to the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Young said he is interested in discussing issues that he said are not directly tied to, but are related to, the death of 26-year-old transient John Deng. Deng was shot by a Johnson County Deputy after stabbing another man on July 26.

However, according to Donald Baxter who attended the discussion, the group, at his instigation, marched to the City Hall and had the discussion there. The Cedar Rapids Gazette reported that 30 or so people met at Iowa City's City Hall to discuss the killing of John Bior Deng, the homeless man who was shot by Johnson County deputy Terry Stotler during an altercation between Deng and Iowa City resident John Bohnenkamp outside a bar on Prentiss St. last Friday.

At the meeting, participants questioned whether race played a role in the shooting. Deng is black and Stotler is white. They also wanted to know more about the fight between Deng and Bohnenkamp and asked why Stotler didn’t try only to wound Deng. Young said “All the community is asking for is a liaison, a conversation.”

So far the investigation has been conducted with limited information being provided to the press and public. As of yesterday, County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek has not released transcripts of the 911 calls about the incident or commented on the ongoing investigation.

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Monday, July 27

Tale of Two Stories

In a disturbing local story, a homeless man was shot by an off-duty sheriff's deputy after allegedly stabbing a University of Iowa worker during a disagreement. According to police reports, "the deputy confronted the knife-wielding transient. The transient ignored the deputy's repeated commands to drop the knife. Instead, the armed transient advanced threateningly toward the already injured Iowa City resident and was shot by the deputy."

However, according to a story by Gazette reporters Adam Belz and Aaron Hepker, two eyewitnesses saw something quite different. According to their story "the 26-year-old homeless man was not wielding a knife and did not lunge at anyone, said Brock Brones and Mike Tibbetts, both of Iowa City."

Brones and Tibbetts, who both work for a telecommunications company, got off work Friday at 7 p.m. and drove with another co-worker to Old Capitol Brew Works to have a drink. As their vehicle was coming out of the alley next to City Electric, which was blocked by bags of cans and bottles and some broken glass, they saw the episode unfolding to their left and turned off the radio so they could hear what was going on.

A skinny black man was laying on the pavement with his head against the tire of a car about 40 feet away. He was missing teeth, his clothes were dirty, and he had blood on his torso. The deputy, wearing civilian clothes, had a gun pointed at the man, and a third man was standing next to the deputy telling him to shoot, Brones and Tibbetts said.

The homeless man on the ground appeared to be drunk. The deputy told him not to get up, or he would shoot, Brones and Tibbetts said.

"I don't give a f---," the homeless man responded.

The deputy repeated the threat, and ordered the man not to get up. Again, the homeless man said he didn't care. Then he stood up, put his arms out, and stumbled a few feet to the side before the deputy shot him in the chest from about 15 feet away, Brones and Tibbetts said.

The two men insist the homeless man had no knife when he was shot.

"There was no knife. There was no lunging," Tibbetts, of Iowa City, said."(The deputy) didn't try to talk him down. He shot him dead, right in front of my eyes."

Brones said the homeless man was wobbling and, though he disobeyed the deputy, he never made a threatening move.

"It wasn't aggressive," Brones said. "He was just drunk."

Police squad cars soon arrived, and the deputy, who Tibbetts said looked stunned, held up his badge for police to see.

Police have not identified either the deputy or the man he killed. Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek has declined to comment. The deputy has been placed on administrative leave.

“It’s just standard operating procedure following a traumatic incident such as this, until the outcome of the Iowa City police and DCI investigation,” said Sgt. Dan Quiles of the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office.

It started, police said, when a patron and his wife left the Hawkeye Hideaway on Prentiss Street and saw a 26-year-old man fiddling with bags of cans and bottles in the alley next to City Electric. An argument ensued, police said, and the 26-year-old, who is homeless, stabbed the patron, who friends identified as John Bohnenkamp, a University of Iowa maintenance worker and a regular at the Hawkeye Hideaway.

The deputy, who was not in uniform, drove by the scene in a tan-colored vehicle, police said, stopped, jumped out, drew his gun, and trained it on the homeless man.

From then on, the detailed account Tibbetts and Brones gave The Gazette is at odds with the police account, particularly in how it describes the moments before the deputy fired his gun.

"He could hardly stand," Brones said of the homeless man. "He was just wobbling."

Bohnenekamp underwent emergency surgery Friday night at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, and was released Saturday. Bohenenekamp has declined comment “Stop calling me, because I’m not going to say a word,” he said.

In a town that has been rife with racial tension and prejudice against the homeless, this story is likely to raise some questions. Hopefully there will be a fair, transparent investigation into the events that transpired.

Friday, July 24

Gates v. Crowley: Not Just Black and White

When Judge Clarence Thomas was in front of the Senate Judical Committee during his confirmation hearing for the Supreme Court, he was vigorously questioned about allegations made by a subordinate that Thomas had subjected her to inappropriate harassing comments of a sexual nature. In the context of those allegations, Thomas said "This is not an opportunity to talk about difficult matters privately or in a closed environment. This is a circus. It's a national disgrace. And from my standpoint, as a black American, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas, and it is a message that unless you kowtow to an old order, this is what will happen to you."

Fast forward to a July 16 at a little after 12:30 pm when Distinguished Harvard Professor Henry Gates, Jr. was arrested at his own home during an investigation about a break in called in by one of Gates' neighbors by Officer James Crowley "after exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior, in a public space directed at a uniformed police officer."

The facts as laid out in the police report and the facts as described by Dr. Gates in an interview in the Root are in conflict. As the charges were later dropped, there may never be a clear understanding of what actually occurred unless a civil suit is filed by Dr. Gates or if the officer is subjected to disciplinary action.

What is impossible to know is if it was merely a misunderstanding that quickly became a battle of wills between two proud men; one exerting his authority as a police officer, the other his position as a well thought of scholar at a prestigious University. It is likely that both men acted "stupidly" in the face of fear and bravado.

Did race play a part in how the events turned out, from Gate's perspective, absolutely. His own words belie the fact that he felt threatened because of his race. With the police officer it is less clear.

Police officers often ask for identification during the course of investigating a reported incident. In many cases people comply with their requests. Based on the officer's report he said that Gates' behavior led to his arrest, not his race.

I am not in the position to take sides. What we can agree to is that earnest black men in the United States feel and are targeted for persecution based on their race and earnest police officers feel and are damned for doing their job.

As there were witnesses and the court of public opinion, there will no doubt be sides being taken. The sad thing is that two adult men could have chosen to act civilly toward each other and didn't. That is a legacy that we can not abide. It is a national disgrace.

Thursday, July 23

Three Ways to Pay For Health Care Without Hurting the Hurting

Amy Logsdon provided this link to this Citizens for Tax Justice proposals to pay for health care without hurting the bottom 60% of taxpayers in Iowa. If you are in the top 1% of income earners, you won't like this but at least you can afford it. CTJ proposes:

If Congress enacts the surcharge included in H.R. 3200, the richest one percent of taxpayers in Iowa would have an average tax increase of $12,637 in 2011 while middle-income taxpayers would have no tax increase at all.

If Congress instead enacts the Medicare tax expansion described here, the richest one
percent of taxpayers in Iowa would have an average tax increase of $11,454 in 2011.
The middle fifth of taxpayers would have an average tax increase of just $56.

Finally, Congress could enact the President's proposal to limit itemized deductions for the wealthy. The richest one percent of Iowa taxpayers would have an average tax
increase of $5,796 in 2011 while middle income taxpayers would have no tax increase at all.

The CTJ folks say that these proposals could raise between $260 to $543 Billion dollars over the next 10 years. how many Iowans would be affected? 2100, the majority making over $200,000.

Wednesday, July 22

Lean, Green, Military Machines Good for Green Economy?

Imagine owning a motorized vehicle that could fuel itself on biomass that it finds lying around. Pretty cool idea, huh? Now imagine that technology is used to do reconnaissance and surveillance work for the military. Kind of creeps you out, doesn't it? That is exactly what Robotic Technology Inc. and Cyclone Power Technologies Inc. is designing. Maybe not the ideal of green industry that President Obama has been touting, but hey!

It's called a EATR or Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot, a Phase II Small Business Innovation Research project sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and recently was featured on Fox News and other news outlets who erroneously reported that the device could use human flesh as fuel causing the builders to put out a press release dispelling the urban legend. Good to to know.

The press release says “We completely understand the public’s concern about futuristic robots feeding on the human population, but that is not our mission,” stated Harry Schoell, Cyclone’s CEO. “We are focused on demonstrating that our engines can create usable, green power from plentiful, renewable plant matter. The commercial applications alone for this earth-friendly energy solution are enormous.” EATR apparently runs on fuel "no scarier than twigs, grass clippings and wood chips –small, plant-based items for which RTI’s robotic technology is designed to forage."

Tuesday, July 21

Bottom Line: Health Care for Those Who Don't Have Access

In March Families USA released a report that said one out of three Americans under 65were without health insurance at some point during 2007 and 2008. The study, commissioned by the consumer health advocacy group Families USA, found 86.7 million Americans were uninsured at one point during the past two years.

Among the report's key findings:

• Nearly three out of four uninsured Americans were without health insurance for at least six months.

• Almost two-thirds were uninsured for nine months or more.

• Four out of five of the uninsured were in working families.

• People without health insurance are less likely to have a usual doctor and often go without screenings or preventative care.

One would wonder if the folks in DC really are trying to fix the problem or create a slew of new ones by attempting to bring everyone in the pool all at once. With the predictions from the Congressional Budgeting Office showing that the current plans are not likely to produce a reduction in government outlays in the long run, it might be a good time to retrench and develop a plan that helps those most at risk. To do this almost assuredly calls for a single-payer system to achieve affordable care.

The questions then become, what's that system and who pays for the average of 46 million people who are uninsured annually? Answers: "Medicare plus" and we all do. If every worker and employer paid into the system, like they do for social security and unemployment insurance, we could cover those who are the most at risk today. If we learn that the coverage is equal to or superior to the private sector, there is not a doubt in my mind that the demand would be there for a single-payer health care system for everyone who wanted to be in the pool.

The point is that it moves us in the right direction. Providing needed care to those who can ill afford any insurance is a moral imperative, if not an absolute right. If we can do this and do this well, the skeptics and opponents of universal health care will be forced to provide better reasons why the private sector is more credible or become truly competitive.

Monday, July 20

Batter Up?

Both the school board and city council races are around the corner in Iowa City and the surrounding communities and so far there are a very limited number of brave souls stepping up to run for the offices.

On deck for the next Iowa City city council is the hiring of a "permanent" city manager, looking at revenue projections and solutions to shore up a sagging tax base, and the usual issues that face the city council every year (re: crime, college students in the bars, etc.). No to mention the continued need for affordable rental housing and the needs for the poorer cousins in the community. So far Mark McCallum, Susan Mimms, and Terry Dickens have announced they will run for office. More on this can be found on John Deeth's blog.

As for the school board, there is the boundary issue where the existing and future schools are concerned, as well as the transparency issue of how business is conducted at ICCSD. Finally, there is the staffing issues for the coming school years in light of decreasing revenue at the state level. With possibly all three of the incumbent board directors opting not to run for re-election, there is a real need for candidates to step up.

In these stressful times, it may be difficult to attract civic-minded individuals to fill these elected slots, just as it is hard to find volunteers for non-elected commissions. Let's face it, the grief that a person has to be willing to deal with is significant, as well as the commitment of time-- and yet, it is crucial that fair-minded people do the work. If we end up with ineffective persons to govern, it is largely the fault of the attentive public for not putting themselves in the game.

Eclectic Electric Car in CR and IC

What goes 130 miles per hour, uses no oil and emits no carbon dioxide? The Tesla all-electric roadster which will make a stop in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City on a coast-to-coast journey this Tue. & Wed., July 21 & 22

Where: Kirkwood Community College, Auto Technology Building, Main campus from 7:00 –9:00 pm Tuesday, July 21

University of Iowa Madison Street Services Building (MSSB) in Iowa City, on the corner of South Madison and West Prentiss streets. from 8:00 – 9:00 am Wednesday, July 22

Both events are free and open to the public.

The Renew America Roadtrip™ is America’s first green coast-to-coast trip in an all-electric sports car. The event will help raise awareness of renewable, sustainable, and eco-friendly initiatives and features three electric cars, including the Tesla Roadster. The Tesla Roadster is a $100,000 all-electric sports car. The Roadster is a pure battery-electric vehicle with a range of 240 miles per charge, a 130 mph top speed, and goes from 0-60 mph in 3.9 seconds. In addition to the Tesla roadster, the Renew America Roadtrip team includes Jerry Asher and his “Spirit of DC” plug-in-hybrid Prius and a beautiful new 2009 Nissan Altima hybrid support vehicle provided courtesy of Nissan USA. The stop is a chance to view the all-electric Tesla Roadster and talk with the crew of the Roadtrip project, which is demonstrating the advantages of all-electric vehicles. The team will be visiting the area and charging up the vehicle on their way cross-country from New York City to San Francisco.

For more details on RAR check out the Web site:

For more information on the event, contact I-Renew
Mike Carberry
Executive Director
Iowa Renewable Energy Association (I-Renew)

PO Box 3405
Iowa City IA 52244

mobile: 319-594-6453
office: 319-338-1076

Tuesday, July 7

I've Seen the Future and It Is Chicken Feathers

I would not advocate for petroleum-based plastics, whether they were biodegradable or not. However, if you had 4 billion pounds of chicken feathers to discard every year, in addition to eggs that don't meet USDA standards, it might not be bad to consider other uses--even biodegradable plastic bags, car fuel, and mulch made out of chicken feathers. This makes even more sense as the EPA reports, plastic packaging adds 29 million tons of non-biodegradable waste to landfills every year.

Enter Dr. Justin Barone of the Agricultural Research Service who, along with Walter Schmidt, have developed a process that uses only heat, pressure and water to dissolve the sulphur-sulphur bonds in the keratin of the feathers to create plastics. The production is much cheaper and easier than traditional petroleum-based plastic. Not only does the feather plastic reduce waste, but the plastic made from feathers and eggs are also biodegradeable.

While cloth bags for shopping are gaining acceptance, if a replacement for the oil-based plastic bag can be made inexpensively, perhaps this is a good use of science. If chickens can run our cars, this might answer the age old question: "which came first, the chicken or the egghead?"

Thursday, July 2

(Gimme) Shelter House

After attending the very touching groundbreaking ceremony with about 110 concerned folks at the new Shelter House location yesterday afternoon, I feel the need to convey some information that you may not know. As a "truth in advertising" statement, I was a Shelter House Board member until this past month. My opinions to follow do not represent the views of the Shelter House or its board members.

No one appreciates the voice of dissent more than I do. I'm on the short end of the stick in many causes I have been associated with, but in the case of the Shelter House, too much misinformation has come from those fighting against it being built.

1) The Shelter House is not a facility for pedophiles or any other kind of sexual predator to live, as it serves the needs of homeless men, women, and children. The difference is that the shelter does have a mission of compassion for those in need, even if it does not provide shelter to all. That is to say, the Shelter House has programs for all homeless people including helping them to stabilize and find work. It has facilities for people to shower, change their clothes and launder. The new facility will likely train people in the culinary arts and other vocations, in addition to housing them. At present, volunteers bring in dinners for the homeless to the shelter.

2) The 30 or so people who were picketing the site are the worst kind of fearmongerers, as the shelter does more to prevent sexual predators from using its facilities than most rental property managers do. A scan of the Iowa Sexual Offenders Registry site will show you examples of that. In addition, the sexual predator rate in Iowa is much lower than the national average something like 1 in 1000 people are convicted sexual predators and most of that number involve acquaintances and/or family members.

3) Though the Hilltop owners and the Waterfront Neighborhood Association would like you to believe that they are just trying to protect kids, it should be noted that this same group has been using every conceivable legal and public relations maneuver to stop the shelter from being built including numerous nuisance lawsuits after the state Supreme Court reversed a lower court decision.

4) The Shelter House has been planning an enlarged shelter for roughly seven years. Ernie Lehman was the mayor when the original plans were rolled out at a public meeting. Locating an acceptable location has been extremely difficult. As you may imagine, no one is rolling out the red carpet for a homeless shelter. More importantly, we had some very specific requirements for a new location. We wanted it to be on a bus line, in closer proximity to other low income support services, and on land affordable for the shelter to be built to the scale that meets the demand.
It is true that we received ideas for possible locations from Joyce Barker and others, the board's new building and/or executive committees vetted each one. However the location on Southgate and Waterfront best met the needs for the shelter.

5) While city,county, and federal government officials have been great and the funds have been very helpful to the success of running Shelter House and it's services, donations by people like you and me keep the shelter going and are sorely needed to complete the new shelter. At this time, about half the money to build the new shelter has been raised. If you are in Iowa City tomorrow (Friday, July 3) night, you can help by coming to Dawn's Coffeehouse at Dawn's Bead and Hideaway (310 Washington St.) anytime between 5 and 8 pm. For a donation you can listen to Saxophonist Saul Lubaroff and support the building of the new shelter. If you can't come, consider making a donation this way.