Monday, August 31

United on Health Care

Meet Kevin Shilling from Greenfield, Iowa. Kevin has voted for Reagan, Nixon, George W. Bush and Republican Senator Chuck Grassley. Like me, he also supports a public health care option. Some things should be beyond partisanship.

School Board Candidates: Think Inside the Box

School Board Directors are decision-makers; that is their chief role. The single most important limiter to decision-making is the budget. As people are deliberating whom to support for the school board election in their area, they should think about this: what does the budget look like and what is a reasonable way to accomplish the tasks that are needed to deal with a growing/declining school district? If push comes to shove, what would they cut and what would they keep? If the school budget is in deficit, how will they balance their budgets?

Clearly, as parents and taxpayers, we will not always agree with their reasoning, but that's also why this is an elected office. A candidate should be able to articulate what motivates their decisions.

With respect to the Iowa City Community School District Board election, we have the double edged sword: a school board operating under a significant deficit and a district that continues to grow. Any candidate who tells you that the district can be grown when the budget is already in the red is misleading you. Growth in this case can only come at the expense of instruction, curriculum, or facilities. All of which affect the students who attend area schools. Ask the candidates what they are willing to sacrifice for growth?

Finally, ask them if they will go to Des Moines and fight for the reallocation of the state funding formula so that schools can sustain themselves. The truth is that too many dollars that should be used for education are misspent, both locally and at the state level. Between the layers of bureaucracy and consultants, programs that have poor outcomes, and a Federal mandate that still has not been funded are leading to ineffective schools.

If a school board candidate tells you we need to think outside the box to solve funding problems, it's only because they are helping to nail the lid on it by not dealing with the hard realities that are present in the dollars with which they have to work.

Friday, August 28

COPE Endorses Three for School Board

Ed Stone and the steering committee from the Citizen's for Outstanding Public Education (COPE) sent the following:

The School Board election on September 8 is rapidly approaching. Please vote.

In this election particularly, we need EVERY vote to elect quality School Board Members who will lead our schools, our community, and the district administration in providing the best for ALL students in our district.

Three seats are open. Six Candidates are currently running. Over the past few weeks we worked together to actively engage the candidates and elicit their positions on important matters of fiscal responsibility, educational equity, meaningful transparency, socioeconomic balance, new high school viability, and management of the district administration, just to name a few.

Three Candidates best reflect the leadership qualities we seek:

Tuyet Dorau
Jean Jordison
Sarah Swisher

Each of these Candidates brings special attributes: Jean embodies a long record of loving and tireless volunteerism for our students and our schools; Tuyet’s west side education and relationship-building acumen allow her to bridge and unify the diverse and sometimes discordant regions of our district; and Sarah provides the experience to make the hard decisions that have for too long been muddied by administrative indecision.

Please join us in supporting these three Candidates on Tuesday, September 8. For early voting instructions, please see the following link:

If you have any questions about our support of these candidates, please contact a member of the COPE steering committee.

Thank you.

COPE Steering Committee

Thursday, August 27

ICCSD School Board Forum September 3rd

The Iowa City Education Association and the Press-Citizen are co-sponsoring a forum with the candidates for the Iowa City School Board on September 3rd.

The event will be from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at the Iowa City Public Library in Meeting Room A. All six candidates for the Sept. 8 election -- incumbent Mike Cooper and challengers April Armstrong, Tuyet Dorau, Anne Johnson, Jean Jordison and Sarah Swisher -- have agreed to attend. The public is invited and encouraged to participate and to submit questions.

For more information, contact Jeff Charis-Carlson, Press-Citizen opinion editor, at or Tom Yates, ICEA co-president, at

Wednesday, August 26

"Lion of the Senate" Ted Kennedy Passes Away

Massachusetts' senior Senator Ted Kennedy has lost his battle with brain cancer last night. Regardless of party stripe or perceived or real imperfections as a man, the country has lost one of its all-time best legislators. A very short list of his accomplishments:

* Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965
* National Cancer Act of 1971
* Federal Election Campaign Act Amendments of 1974
* COBRA Act of 1985
* Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986
* Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
* Ryan White AIDS Care Act (1990)
* Civil Rights Act of 1991
* Health Insurance Portability and Accountabiity Act of 1996
* Mental Health Parity Act (1996, 2008)
* State Children’s Health Insurance Program (1997)
* No Child Left Behind Act (2002)
* Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act (2009)

In July, the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee passed The Affordable Health Choices Act, “landmark legislation that will reduce health costs, protect individuals’ choice in doctors and plans, and assure quality and affordable health care for all Americans.” Party leaders and the opposition spoke of his abilities to work across the aisle with honesty and without retribution. John McCain spoke about the state of health care reform, stating that Ted Kennedy's absence has made a huge difference. McCain said "Ted Kennedy comes as close to being indispensable as any individual I've ever known in the Senate because he had a unique way of sitting down with the parties at the table and making the right concessions, which really are the essence of successful negotiations."

Last month, when President Obama bestowed him the Congressional Medal of Honor, the award his brother John Kennedy created, Ted Kennedy said, “I am profoundly grateful to President Obama for this extraordinary honor. My life has been committed to the ideal of public service which President Kennedy wanted the Medal of Freedom to represent. To receive it from another President who prizes that same ideal of service and inspires so many to serve is a great privilege that moves me deeply.”

The Lion of the Senate has left the building.

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Monday, August 24

Dan Pink Puts His Finger on the Problem of Incentives

The good folks at TED manage to have some incredibly thoughtful speakers. With the argument for the free market solving everything, what he has to say speaks volumes about what is wrong with the way we do business. Spoiler alert: even the free market can be freed up.

Sunday, August 23

School Board Election Coming Up: Educate Yourself

At this point Moms and Dads are happy their kids are back in school. With a little more free time this might be a great opportunity to see what candidates for the school board have to say about themselves ahead of the September 8th election. First up will be a Sept. 1 forum with candidates for Iowa City Community School District board seats.

Josh Kaine and Jeffrey Manthey removed themselves from the race leaving April Armstrong, incumbent Mike Cooper, Tuyet Dorau, Anne Johnson, Jean Jordison, and Sarah Swisher as the remaining candidates. Their contact information and websites (if known) are below.


Employer: Pearson Education

Tuyet Dorau's website and Facebook group.

Employer: The University of Iowa

Anne Johnson’s website

Employer: Pearson Education

Jean Jordison’s website

Employment: Educator

And Sarah Swisher's website and you can join her Facebook group

Employer: Service Employees International Union

If you think that you won't be able to vote on Tuesday, Sept. 8th, make sure you get an absentee ballot.

Friday, August 28: Traditional voter registration deadline
Saturday, Sept 5: Postmark deadline for absentee ballots to be counted
Tuesday, Sept 8: Election Day

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What's Old Michael Moore Been Up To?

Dining Room Tables, Democracy, and Health Care Reform

Unless you have been comatose, no doubt you have heard about Massachusett's Congressman Barney Frank's retorts to a woman at one of his townhall meetings about health care reform. The woman, who was holding a sign that was doctored to depict President Obama as Hitler, asked "Why do you continue to support a Nazi policy as Obama has expressly supported this policy? Why are you supporting it?" He said, "When you ask me that question? I am going to revert to my ethnic heritage and answer your question with a question. On what planet do you spend most of your time?" After being momentarily stopped, the woman continued her line of questioning and the Congressman, in sincerity said, "Ma'am, trying to have a conversation with you would be like trying to argue with a dining room table. I have no interest in doing it."

And it is a shame when two people, whether it is a Congressman or a constituent, resort to belittling. It is more so a shame when there is no real dialogue going on.

The town hall meeting in Iowa City this Saturday was not nearly vitriolic, but there were a number of people who were clearly not there to listen, but to engage in political theater. Two rows in front of me were two men, one sporting an American flag ball cap and the other wearing a union t-shirt, who engaged each other. The fellow in the ball was booing 2nd District Congressman Dave Loebsack's response to a question asked by an audience member and the fellow in the union t-shirt asked him to keep it down. The other fellow glared red-faced at the union fellow and asked him if he was going to make him. Fortunately a Loebsack staffer walked toward them and they settled into an uneasy truce.

For those who were there to listen and learn, it was no doubt troubling to them to watch normally civil people get bent out of shape over health care reform that may or may not happen and certainly will change as the kinks are worked out. How can anyone know what the plan is unless they actually have read it (and at the size of a phone book, that's not an easy read) or if they come to the townhall meeting to get the synopsis and have the chance to have their questions answered? Congressman Loebsack was quite willing to address questions, but also was encouraging of people to preface their questions with their feelings--an invitation that would be taken advantage of throughout the hour plus meeting.

While Congressmen and Senators are trying to do their jobs to help their constituents to understand what the bill actually is, it does not help that some on both sides resort to out and out lies about what the House bill is about. The Senate will have to forward its own bill (which will likely have its own problems for those who are fighting for or against a public option) and the two houses will have to recouncil the two bills before it goes to the President. If anybody should be pounding the pavement to try to hear what concerns their constituents, it is the Senators and they should not be making pronouncements about "Grandma" and her state of being. They should be genuinely having dining room table conversations about what it is that is scaring their constituents about their health care and then take this back to Washington to write legislation around.

Perhaps if the theater could be scaled back and real people's concerns could be addressed, we could end up with health care reform that is healthy.

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Tuesday, August 18

Deng Investigation Goes to State Attorney General's Office For Review

According to the Press-Citizen this morning, the investigation concerning the altercation that led to the untimely death of John Deng is being reviewed by the State Attorney General's office. For some in the community, this restores the belief that the investigation needed a more impartial set of eyes. According to the account "Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness said the case would be reviewed by the Attorney General’s Office to eliminate the possibility for, or perception of, a conflict of interest." According to a Gazette report, "Attorney general spokesman Bob Brammer said Monday investigators have given the case priority in an effort to bring it to a close as soon as possible."

As the investigation stretches on, the other perception is that there is foot dragging taking place and that law enforcement has provided little in terms of the status of the ongoing investigation. From existing accounts, there is a conflict between what witnesses said they saw. This lack of corroboration may be the crux of the review by the SAG's office.

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Sunday, August 16

Key Democrat Throwing the Towel on Public Option for Health Care Reform

According to CNN, Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota there are not enough votes in the Senate to put the public option on the table and "it was futile to continue to "chase that rabbit" due to the lack of 60 Senate votes needed to overcome a filibuster."

"The fact of the matter is there are not the votes in the United States Senate for a public option. There never have been," Conrad said on "Fox News Sunday."

His comment signaled a shift in the health care debate, with Obama and senior advisers softening their support for a public option by saying final form of the legislation is less important than the principle of affordable coverage available to all.

The question everybody should have when they attend a town hall meeting from now on is: if everybody is required to have insurance, who will insure that it is affordable?

The normal free market model tends to low ball costs to lure people to join a program hoping to drive other competitors out of the market and then up costs when there is no reasonable viable option to the consumer. I would like any Senator or President Obama to explain how they will prevent that from happening, if there is no public option or watchdog/oversight.

What if private insurers, like they have been alleged and known to do, collude with each other. The government hasn't enacted Taft-Hartley Act in a bazillion years. What tough measures will be in place and who will guard the guard, since many times agencies are stocked with veterans and lobbyists from the industries they are supposed to watchdog.

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Dealing with Trouble: When Neighbors Organize

Yesterday morning I attended a meeting at Fairmeadows Park organized by neighbors of a group called "Bringing It Together" (BIT) headed by Brandi Mastain in the Grant Wood school area who are concerned by recent outbreaks in crime in their area. Also in attendance were four Iowa City Council members: Mike Wright, Regina Bailey, Ross Wilburn, and Connie Champion; Acting City Manager, Dale Helling; Police Chief, Sam Hargadine and several of his officers; Neighborhood Services Coordinator, Marcia Bollinger in addition to 125 to 150 people mostly from the area.

The group, made up almost entirely of homeowners, were concerned about lawlessness in their part of the community and their frustration with the city's efforts to curb it. About 1/2 when asked by a show of hands if they had witnessed young people "wandering" until after midnight in mass and being disruptive held up their hands. About a 1/10 had experienced "severe issues" such as property damage or other disturbances. What was of most concern were 6 reported cases of gunfire in the last year and 4 within the last month, as well as an increase in breaking and entering charges (43) this year and that crime generally was higher in their area than in all of others of the city.

According to Mastain, the seriousness of what is happening in their area of town is a "bigger issue than college kids binge drinking downtown." Many of the crowd expressed a frusttration that their area was not receiving more help because for the majority of Iowa Citians, it doesn't affect them.

They asked the Police Chief Hargadine if a curfew could be put in place. The chief explained that he recommended a delinquent behavior ordinance instead because of the enforcement issues of a curfew. When asked if the city council was considering this, Hargadine said it had not been formally brought to the council which elicited groans from the crowd.

Neighbors did commend the police department for having foot patrols in the community, but were concerned by the lack of coverage between 11 pm and 3 am due to policing calls from downtown bars. The Chief agreed that the force was spread thin, but did say if his office receives calls, his officers respond as quickly as they can. He did say that he was 15 officers short of the staff he felt he needed. A member of the audience asked the chief if residents in the area could assist the officers on patrol and Chief Hargadine encouraged the questioner to contact his office.

The neighbors commented on the amount of section 8 and public housing in their area. They mentioned the influx of out-of-state people showing up as unfair to Iowa City residents and Iowans who should receive top priority. They also mentioned the perception that people are being told to come here that there is a "billboard in Chicago advertising to come here." Mastain asked the person to bring proof of this. She said that property values are being devalued by the crime and presence of section 8 housing.

When pressed by Carol Kula, a high school teacher and resident in the area to give the crowd something concrete to take away from the meeting so they wouldn't feel like thy had "wasted their time being there," Mastain encouraged people to join their group and to go before city council on Tuesday night with their concerns. A neighbor mentioned that they should introduce themselves to their neighbors so that they would be able to know who was causing trouble in their neighborhood. Jarrod Gatlin said, "We need to know. Who are these kids?"

The organizers stressed that the meeting was about public safety, not the race of the kids involved in the crime problem, but stressed it was time for the neighbors to "make them uncomfortable; not allow them to make us uncomfortable."

As there were more than three members of the city council present, the members were not allowed to comment on the crowds concerns, but individually, the council members did stay after the meeting to listen and ask questions of those present.

As an observer, it was interesting to note the lack of renters at the meeting. I did speak to Royce Ann Porter briefly who heads a group called Iowa City Community School District Concerned Parents Committee who told me that her group represents low-income residents and has more to say. I'll follow up on this. I noted on the survey that was given to participants of the meeting that the questions were not specific to the type of respondent, but wonder if by the nature of it, only half the story is being told.

I hope that the BIT group will seek out input from the folks who were so clearly not present--I'd guess they would have a better outcome if they brought everyone together--more BITE, as it were.

Other accounts from the Press-Citizen and Gazette

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Friday, August 14

The Best Health Care System in the World?

This is yet another example of why we need health care reform. Some people in this story are taking unpaid leave from their work to access free medical/dental/vision care because their employers do not provide health care benefits, nor can they afford their own plan.

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Credibility Is Important?

I know I should play nice, given my last posting, but this is too delicious not to share. Glenn Beck hung on a pitard of his own making.

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Remember What Your Grandma Told You: Play Nice

I marvel at my fellow Americans. In our individual pursuits of happiness, we some times forget that we are also a nation of individuals that rely on other individuals to keep us free, to keep us well, to care for our kids, to educate us, and on and on. In other words, despite our dependency on each other, we don't always play nice.

Yet, time after time, I have seen the good of our coming together in times of trouble. A neighbor's house catches fire, everyone on the block is there to lend a hand to the family. If a person passes away, family, friends, and even strangers come together to mourn. When a soldier goes off to war, other people look in on their families. If there is a natural disaster, people line up to help. We have a great compassion and obligation to others in our country's fabric.

As I think about the future of health care reform, I see that things are not likely to get better unless we can agree on a plan that works, even if it is incrementally instituted. And to arrive at a place where our elected representatives can do their jobs and practice due diligence, it is good that real people with real concerns are attending the townhall meetings as well as sycophants to the either side of the free market divide. I'd actually like to have more opportunity to hear what those in need have to say than those who are fundamentally opposed to any changes to our current system.

Our representatives should hear what people need in the way of health care for their families, but more than that, the rest of us need to hear it too. We need to listen and think about what we can do to support our neighbors, members of our communities and the agencies, like local free medical and dental clinics, that are often the difference between some people being treated and no care. We need to push against anybody who would get in the way of health care being limited to a person in need and support those, in the meanwhile, who are stepping up and filling a gap to the best of their ability.

And we need to commend those in the health field that bend the rules. When I was unemployed a year ago, I was extremely thankful for my medical doctor's creativity to treat me such that we didn't end up in bankruptcy court. For us it also meant buying prescription drugs that we needed through a pharmacy in Canada that imported them from a pharmaceutical house in India. Yes, I'm admitting that we broke the law, but we needed the medication and we could not afford it otherwise. You'll forgive me if I'm not apologetic about it.

When I attend a townhall meeting in the next week or so, I'll ask why any industry should hold that much sway over what you and I receive in the way of health care. Personally, I think having a universal insurance exchange with a public insurance option is a reasonable compromise so that neither the insurance companies nor the government receive our complete confidence in their abilities to do what is best for us.

If you live long enough, you realize that everybody needs help. Everybody deserves to be able to be as healthy as they can be. The problems that we are facing call for our shared responsibility and we need to play nice with others. That is the only way health care reform can and should happen.

Health Care Debate: Cutting to the Chase Daily Show Style

Jon Stewart and his writers do a wonderful job of distilling silliness and everybody gets skewered. In case you are actually interested in debunked myths, Fact Check has 7 for you to consider.

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Thursday, August 13

24 Points of Reason

This post comes courtesy of from the White House's David Axelrod:

8 ways reform provides security and stability to those with or without coverage:

Ends Discrimination for Pre-Existing Conditions: Insurance companies will be prohibited from refusing you coverage because of your medical history.

Ends Exorbitant Out-of-Pocket Expenses, Deductibles or Co-Pays: Insurance companies will have to abide by yearly caps on how much they can charge for out-of-pocket expenses.

Ends Cost-Sharing for Preventive Care: Insurance companies must fully cover, without charge, regular checkups and tests that help you prevent illness, such as mammograms or eye and foot exams for diabetics.

Ends Dropping of Coverage for Seriously Ill: Insurance companies will be prohibited from dropping or watering down insurance coverage for those who become seriously ill.

Ends Gender Discrimination: Insurance companies will be prohibited from charging you more because of your gender.

Ends Annual or Lifetime Caps on Coverage: Insurance companies will be prevented from placing annual or lifetime caps on the coverage you receive.

Extends Coverage for Young Adults: Children would continue to be eligible for family coverage through the age of 26.

Guarantees Insurance Renewal: Insurance companies will be required to renew any policy as long as the policyholder pays their premium in full. Insurance companies won't be allowed to refuse renewal because someone became sick.
Learn more and get details:

8 common myths about health insurance reform:
Reform will stop "rationing" - not increase it: It’s a myth that reform will mean a "government takeover" of health care or lead to "rationing." To the contrary, reform will forbid many forms of rationing that are currently being used by insurance companies.

We can’t afford reform: It's the status quo we can't afford. It’s a myth that reform will bust the budget. To the contrary, the President has identified ways to pay for the vast majority of the up-front costs by cutting waste, fraud, and abuse within existing government health programs; ending big subsidies to insurance companies; and increasing efficiency with such steps as coordinating care and streamlining paperwork. In the long term, reform can help bring down costs that will otherwise lead to a fiscal crisis.

Reform would encourage "euthanasia": It does not. It’s a malicious myth that reform would encourage or even require euthanasia for seniors. For seniors who want to consult with their family and physicians about end-of life decisions, reform will help to cover these voluntary, private consultations for those who want help with these personal and difficult family decisions.

Vets' health care is safe and sound: It’s a myth that health insurance reform will affect veterans' access to the care they get now. To the contrary, the President's budget significantly expands coverage under the VA, extending care to 500,000 more veterans who were previously excluded. The VA Healthcare system will continue to be available for all eligible veterans.

Reform will benefit small business - not burden it: It’s a myth that health insurance reform will hurt small businesses. To the contrary, reform will ease the burdens on small businesses, provide tax credits to help them pay for employee coverage and help level the playing field with big firms who pay much less to cover their employees on average.

Your Medicare is safe, and stronger with reform: It’s myth that Health Insurance Reform would be financed by cutting Medicare benefits. To the contrary, reform will improve the long-term financial health of Medicare, ensure better coordination, eliminate waste and unnecessary subsidies to insurance companies, and help to close the Medicare "doughnut" hole to make prescription drugs more affordable for seniors.
You can keep your own insurance: It’s myth that reform will force you out of your current insurance plan or force you to change doctors. To the contrary, reform will expand your choices, not eliminate them.

No, government will not do anything with your bank account: It is an absurd myth that government will be in charge of your bank accounts. Health insurance reform will simplify administration, making it easier and more convenient for you to pay bills in a method that you choose. Just like paying a phone bill or a utility bill, you can pay by traditional check, or by a direct electronic payment. And forms will be standardized so they will be easier to understand. The choice is up to you – and the same rules of privacy will apply as they do for all other electronic payments that people make.

Learn more and get details:

8 Reasons We Need Health Insurance Reform Now

Coverage Denied to Millions: A recent national survey estimated that 12.6 million non-elderly adults – 36 percent of those who tried to purchase health insurance directly from an insurance company in the individual insurance market – were in fact discriminated against because of a pre-existing condition in the previous three years or dropped from coverage when they became seriously ill. Learn more:

Less Care for More Costs: With each passing year, Americans are paying more for health care coverage. Employer-sponsored health insurance premiums have nearly doubled since 2000, a rate three times faster than wages. In 2008, the average premium for a family plan purchased through an employer was $12,680, nearly the annual earnings of a full-time minimum wage job. Americans pay more than ever for health insurance, but get less coverage. Learn more:

Roadblocks to Care for Women: Women’s reproductive health requires more regular contact with health care providers, including yearly pap smears, mammograms, and obstetric care. Women are also more likely to report fair or poor health than men (9.5% versus 9.0%). While rates of chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure are similar to men, women are twice as likely to suffer from headaches and are more likely to experience joint, back or neck pain. These chronic conditions often require regular and frequent treatment and follow-up care. Learn more:

Hard Times in the Heartland: Throughout rural America, there are nearly 50 million people who face challenges in accessing health care. The past several decades have consistently shown higher rates of poverty, mortality, uninsurance, and limited access to a primary health care provider in rural areas. With the recent economic downturn, there is potential for an increase in many of the health disparities and access concerns that are already elevated in rural communities. Learn more:

Small Businesses Struggle to Provide Health Coverage: Nearly one-third of the uninsured – 13 million people – are employees of firms with less than 100 workers. From 2000 to 2007, the proportion of non-elderly Americans covered by employer-based health insurance fell from 66% to 61%. Much of this decline stems from small business. The percentage of small businesses offering coverage dropped from 68% to 59%, while large firms held stable at 99%. About a third of such workers in firms with fewer than 50 employees obtain insurance through a spouse. Learn more:

The Tragedies are Personal: Half of all personal bankruptcies are at least partly the result of medical expenses. The typical elderly couple may have to save nearly $300,000 to pay for health costs not covered by Medicare alone. Learn more:

Diminishing Access to Care: From 2000 to 2007, the proportion of non-elderly Americans covered by employer-based health insurance fell from 66% to 61%. An estimated 87 million people - one in every three Americans under the age of 65 - were uninsured at some point in 2007 and 2008. More than 80% of the uninsured are in working families. Learn more:

The Trends are Troubling: Without reform, health care costs will continue to skyrocket unabated, putting unbearable strain on families, businesses, and state and federal government budgets. Perhaps the most visible sign of the need for health care reform is the 46 million Americans currently without health insurance - projections suggest that this number will rise to about 72 million in 2040 in the absence of reform. Learn more:

Tuesday, August 11

Who's Insuring That People Without Coverage Get It?

Lost in the battle of wills and words over health care reform is the fact that 46 to 48 million of our fellow Americans have none and more may join them until the economic recession we are in dies down. It hasn't escaped my notice that those screaming the loudest on both sides of the aisle likely have what Ralph Nader calls "gold-plated health insurance." So who is really focusing on those in the most dire of straits?

Those without care are pawns in the middle of a war. The basic conflict playing out here: whether I should be able to profit on you being healthy or not.

If health care is a right, as in "the pursuit of happiness", then the profit motive comes across as crass, if not criminal. If health care is a commodity like soy beans or corn, then why shouldn't anyone be able to take a risk, invest, and turn a profit? From this 10,000 foot level, it is a philosophical discussion that can be debated for eons and likely will be.

However, here on earth, people's lives are greatly affected by their access to reliable, equitable, affordable health care services. And there is not a doubt that these services are not evenly distributed throughout or even available in all communities. This is patently indefensible.

The fact that a PhD economist who writes for the Cato Institute has a level of health care that a poor, rural or urban person with a sixth grade education can only dream about is unfair. Intellectual exercises and fomenting have no place in deciding the fate of who gets health care and who doesn't, particularly when what we are doing as a society is not working and costing all of us in the end.

So let's go back to the basics. Government is in the business of doing what the free market/private sector is unwilling or unable to do. Business is good at generating revenue, but historically not as good at sharing profits.

So let's focus on the 46 to 48 million people without health insurance. If it makes the most economical sense to put them under a public-funded single-payer, government-run (dare I say it, a non-profit monopoly) program, so be it. If the private sector could do it better, they would have by now. Let's face it, if everybody had access to reliable, affordable health care, this argument wouldn't be going on.

Monday, August 10

Scared to Death by Section 1233? The Facts May Help

In July, Rep. John Dingell of Michigan and eight fellow Democrats (Rep. Robert Andrews [D, NJ-1], Rep. Dale Kildee [D, MI-5], Rep. Carolyn Maloney [D, NY-14], Rep. George Miller [D, CA-7], Rep. Frank Pallone [D, NJ-6], Rep. Charles Rangel [D, NY-15],Rep. Fortney Stark [D, CA-13], and Rep. Henry Waxman [D, CA-30]) introduced H.R. 3200, America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009--a.k.a "the health care reform bill", in the House. The bill includes Section 1233, "Advance Care Planning Consultation," which requires Medicare to pay for one session of end-of-life counseling every five years for the purpose of:

A) An explanation by the practitioner of advance care planning, including key questions and considerations, important steps, and suggested people to talk to.
B) An explanation by the practitioner of advance directives, including living wills and durable powers of attorney, and their uses.
C) An explanation by the practitioner of the role and responsibilities of a health care proxy.
D) The provision by the practitioner of a list 13 of national and State-specific resources to assist consumers and their families with advance care planning, including the national toll-free hotline, the advance care planning clearinghouses, and State legal service organizations (including those funded through the Older Americans Act of 1965).
E) An explanation by the practitioner of the continuum of end-of-life services and supports available, including palliative care and hospice, and benefits for such services and supports that are available under this title.

On July 18, Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) said that the House's health care reform bill could be "a slippery slope for a more permissive environment for euthanasia, mercy-killing and physician-assisted suicide because it does not clearly exclude counseling about the supposed benefits of killing oneself."

Last week, Sarah Palin wrote that she doesn't want her parents or her disabled son "to stand in front of Obama's 'death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide . . . whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil."

Is this true, let the bill speak for itself:

In Section 1233 of the original version of the House bill, Congress requires Medicare to cover one session of "advance care planning consultation" every five years for Medicare patients to talk about living wills, hospice care, durable powers of attorney and more. Does the bill require Medicare patients get counseling? Nope. Does it prevent counselors from raising assisted suicide and euthanasia with patients as an option? Nope.

So with a legitimate gray area in the bill, Blue Dog Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), who along with Baron Hill of Indiana, Jim Matheson of Utah, Zack Space of Ohio, John Barrow of Georgia, Bart Gordon of Tennessee, and Charlie Melancon of Louisiana, struck a deal with Rep. Henry Waxman to narrow the health care bill's scope and cost. Ross' amendment to the bill addresses the question of end-of-life care.

Ross' amendment makes it illegal for counselors to promote or list as an option suicide or assisted suicide. Ross also states that the counseling is entirely optional, and that seeking counseling on a living will, for example, will not be interpreted by a hospital as declining full and aggressive treatment. For more on states' stands on assisted suicide, see here.

In its current form, the health care reform bill does not push euthanasia or assisted suicide. Rather it prevents health care providers from discussing these options. If anything, people should be more concerned that a physician is unable to discuss all options to their patient, rather than being worried that the physician will force euthanasia on an unwilling patient.

Lynn Fallon Wants Good Food In Schools

From Lynn Fallon:

Hi. This is Lynn Fallon. I’m working on the national Farm to School program because I believe our kids deserve safe, nutritious, economical, tasty school lunches.

Childhood obesity has become a critical problem in the United States. One-third of U.S. children are obese or overweight; 11 % are obese in Iowa. Over 80% of our children do not eat enough fruit and vegetables each day, but 1/3 of them drink a can, bottle or glass of soda (not including diet soda) each day.

Despite this bad news, regular access to healthy food has been proven to be one of the strongest predictors of improved school performance. Along with the health benefits to our children, local farmers benefit by added sales, which then benefits the local communities.

This brings me to the reason I’m writing to you today. I know everyone is busy, but I think providing our kids with healthy food is really important. If you can do one thing from the list below, it will show our elected officials that we want them to support the Farm to School legislation.

Call, email or write and ask them to support Section 122 of the Child Nutrition Act reauthorization. See contact information at the end of this note.

Write a letter-to-the-editor, to your local newspaper, supporting the Farm to School program. I would love to get a copy if it gets published. You can email it to me at

Sign up for Action Alerts at:

Saturday, August 8

In Memory of John Deng

John Bior Deng, or "Deng" to his extended family and close friends, was given a very moving memorial service today at the Oak Hill Funeral Home in Coralville. Sudanese relatives a from Houston, Omaha, Michigan, as well as those from the Sudanese community in Des Moines, and Iowa City sat consoling each other. In addition, his friends, staff of the Salvation Army where he often ate, and a host of others who wanted to commemorate Deng's passing sat in witness.

His uncle Peter from Houston, Texas related to the overflowing crowd that while Deng was considered by many to be "homeless", in the Sudanese community, if you have family, you have a home. He was saddened that Deng did not let others know what his situation was. Others explained that in Sudan, many members of the family would share their plates, their huts, and so on. His cousin from Michigan described their childhood in the Sudan and how all of them had come to the United States for the freedom they could not have in their war torn country. His cousin from Nebraska encouraged anyone who may have witnessed his death to step forward and help them to understand the killing of a young man they and many others knew to be peace loving.

A cook at the Salvation Army described her conversations with Deng as uplifting and that he was very sensitive to offending her, offering "five minute apologies" if he suspected he said anything that might have made her uncomfortable. Another woman explained how he would bring her a chicken sandwich and cherry cola when he'd see her in the Ped Mall. Another told of how he helped to deliver chairs from the UI Surplus with a smile.

Many reflected that the newspaper accounts of the events leading to Deng's death made him a person they did not recognize and wanted people to know the Deng they remembered.

The burial took place at St. Joseph's cemetery in Iowa City after the visitation and memorial.

Boom, Bust, War: You've Got to See It: The Order

I went to the Hardacre Film Festival last night, and though I don't fancy myself a film critic, if you get the chance, go see "The Order" by Paul Dalio. It gives you a view of how the world works that is equal parts vastly entertaining, powerfully thoughtful, and cynically frightening.

Without giving up the whole story, it shows how the left and right are being played against each other and who wins.

See the trailer for it here.

If you want to enjoy some first rate films, take the trip to Tipton today. For $6, it really is a great time.

The 5 Percent Allowance: A License to Defraud?

Organic = good, right? The U.S. Department of Agriculture's "certified organic" program allows up to 5 percent of a certified product to consist of non-organic ingredients. In the scheme of things, this should still be better than industrial farming food-like substances, but wait, there's more. According to Jim Hightower:

With the phenomenal growth in consumer demand for organic products, such giants as Kraft and Dean Foods have rushed to capture this multibillion-dollar market, except they don't want to play by the rules. Big Food found its enabler in [Barbara] Robinson, who was chosen to administer the organic program during the George W. Bush years.

Consulting regularly with the corporate powers, Robinson has brought synthetic after synthetic under the organic label. At the start of the certification program, 77 non-organic ingredients were on the allowable list, which was supposed to shrink as time passed. Today 245 ingredients are listed.

Likewise, the program was supposed to set uniform standards for how organic foods are produced. Yet 65 of the standards recommended by the board since 2002 simply have been ignored by the administrator. For example, the board proposed specific rules to ensure that organic dairy farmers provide "access to pasture" for their cows, but Robinson's team has refused to implement the proposal. Thus, a giant milk purveyor such as Dean Foods (Horizon dairy products) is allowed to sell "organic" milk from cows that are confined in factory conditions rather than allowed to graze in open pastures. By failing to set rules that apply to everyone, the USDA is permitting private, for-profit organic certification firms to create their own standards, which means corporate interests can shop around for the most lenient certifiers.

What is interesting to me is the way the USDA, under Robinson, has defined "organic" food. According to the USDA:

• Organic is a production claim
Organic is about how food is produced and handled.

• Organic is not a content claim
It does not represent that a product is “free” of something

• Organic is not a food safety claim
Organic is not a judgment about the quality and safety of any product

Organic does not mean a product is superior, safer, or more healthy than conventionally produced food

Many people choose organic products because of what they perceive to not be in them, e.g., chemicals growth hormones, what have you. But, by the USDA's own definition, they do not share this view, nor, apparently do they enforce it.

Hightower suggests calling the Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack's office at 202-720-3631. Tell Sec. Vilsack what you think organic means and suggesting that Rayne Pegg, the new administrator that he appointed, to do a better job, with better rules in place to make sure we get what we think we are paying for. In honor of National Farmer's Market Week, do it.

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Friday, August 7

Kaine Bows Out of Board Race

Josh Kaine has decided not to seek a seat on the ICCSD.

"After meeting with my campaign committee and looking closely at the shape of the school board election, I have decided to withdraw from the school board race. While I feel strongly about the issues that will face our next school board, I have personal and professional commitments that must take precedence over the time and energy needed to campaign. I wish the best of luck to the other candidates and for the next school board-- your work will not be easy."

There You Go Again

Heart throb to the Right, Ronald Reagan, was known for defusing his often younger opponents' views by using the phrase "there you go again" and following up with his more seasoned if not reasoned viewpoint. It was a remarkably effective technique that made me wonder how he would have fared with the kind of "hotheads" that are showing up at health care townhalls and actively disrupting them. The strategy for these disruptions is in a memo that has been widely circulated on the web from Bob MacGuffie, a "founding member" of Right Principles, a group whose core values includes "to the fullest extent possible that governmental power should be devolved to the state and local level and that a free society prospers from and depends on the unbridled self-initiative of its people."

Apparently the "unbridled self-initiative" part includes shouting down the elected representatives of their districts so that any kind of meaningful dialogue cannot take place. As it stands Americans are evenly divided about what to do about the health care reform. And certainly with millions of dollars being pumped into reframing health care reform around who do you trust more "us", the corporate and free-enterprising citizens or "them", the socialist, over-blown government that wants to control your lives (or, as seen from the other side of the fence, "us" the greedy, self-absorbed corporations and their right-winged henchmen and "them" the government whose job is to fill the gaps that the private sector is unable or unwilling to do).

In the middle of all this is the loss of rational thought and clear facts. And that is what needs to prevail on an issue as electrically charged as this. We need a national debate about health care that allows both sides to lay out their arguments for and against and what solutions they propose for those who are uninsured and those who will be if health care costs continue to rise.

There is nothing wrong with vigorous debate, but if no one can hear the debate, no good can come from it. With apologies to Elvis what we need is "a little less talk, a little more conversation."

Do I Offend You?

Recently there has been a spate of stories about differences of opinion that have led to cries of outrage and people being offended. A story on the Des Moines Register website about public outcry over Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers buying advertising that offended religious persons, is such an example. However, nowhere in the Constitution do I see a sensibilities clause; in other words there is no freedom from being offended.

I will grant you there is a big gap between a difference of opinion and outright hate speech. In other words, I do believe that we have to be held accountable for our words when they are intentionally hurtful and leads to harm to another person.
But that does not mean that when my tender sensibilities (about the Chicago Cubs, for instance) are violated by a person whose opinion is polar opposite to mine (say a White Sox fan), I have the right to have the person from airing it.

The sticking point is how far in polite society do we let things go? Are the apparently politically motivated disruptions at health care town hall meetings (from both sides) offensive? Sure. Should they cause meetings to be stopped? Heck no. Just like in any circumstance where a heckler gets overly disruptive, the person should be shown the door. But the discussion should go on.

The fact that there are Barbarians at the gate should not keep discourse from occuring. And the same goes for advertising. The ad campaign that Atheists have paid for that has ruffled the feathers of folks in Des Moines all the way up to Chet Culver should be countered. But how about it being countered by folks choosing to not ride the bus or to take out an ad that is pro-religion?

There is no doubt that how each of us views the world could offend another person, but that doesn't mean we aren't entitled to voicing our opinion. The most useful thing that comes out of free speech is the intellectual exercise of defending our beliefs. If we have no faith in what we believe or have no basis in facts, perhaps the best lesson is we change our position.

Wednesday, August 5

Grassley Goes Medieval on Health Care

Sure it's taken out of context on Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show", but what the heck is Chuck Grassley trying to communicate. Frankly what are any of the lawmakers trying to do to make affordable health care available to those who need it?

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Chuck Grassley's Debt and Deficit Dragon
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Full Episodes
Political HumorSpinal Tap Performance

Sunday, August 2

Small Town News

I was in Kalona over the weekend with my wife, my sister and her family. We stopped into the Kalona General Store to pick up some pickled asparagus which we have enjoyed in the past. While we were there, we witnessed the proprietor of the store insist that a woman with a physical disability and her service dog, a Great Dane leave the store. As a result of seeing what took place, we left the store empty handed and caught up with the woman and her dog named "Sir Vivor".

By the American's with Disabilities Act, businesses are required to accommodate disabled persons and service animals are such an accommodation. Service animals are easy to spot because they wear distinctive vests and are extraordinarily well trained. The owner of the dog should, but does not have to, keep the service certification with them.

In this person's case, she was hit by a drunken driver and suffered a stroke. As a result, her dog serves to support her physically as well as help her through grand mal seizures when they occur. She explained that in Kalona she has had a history of difficulties with the local business community and actually had to go to court to have the local pharmacy allow her and her service animal on the premises.

A Gentleman's Agreement?

In 1947, the landmark film "A Gentleman's Agreement" created a sensation around the issue of Antisemitism in the United States. In that film, Gregory Peck plays a magazine writer who is struggling to find an angle to write a piece about Antisemitism that hasn't been done. Though he is a Christian, he decides that he will make it known that he is Jewish and see how it plays out. A lesson he learns is that people who say they are against prejudice often stay quiet or occasionally talk about it "and think they've fought the good fight for democracy."

As Anne Dettrey, a Dorothy Parker like writer played in the movie by Celeste Holm says, people need to "take the step from talking to action. One little action on one little front.

It's got to be with action, not pamphlets...

It's got to be with people--nice people, rich people, poor people...big and little people.

And it's got to be quick."

In the case of the death of John Bior Deng, this is what seems to be happening. The local Sudanese community, University of Iowa professor Vershawn Young, and other concerned people are looking at this incident as an opportunity to pursue social justice in a center of intellectualism which largely does not act. To this end, Dr. Young and others are taking action to look into how the police and the public address persons of color in our community.

Young has taken the personal step of applying for the Police Citizens Review Board, a commission that "reviews reports prepared after investigation of complaints about alleged police misconduct. It then issues its own written reports that contain detailed findings of fact and conclusions that explain why and the extent to which complaints should be sustained or not sustained. The PCRB maintains a central registry of complaints against sworn police officers and prepares annual reports to the City Council on the disposition of these complaints."

In the case of Deng's death, the jurisdiction is with the County, but the investigation is being done by the Iowa City Police Dept., as is the protocol. Of concern is the degree of fairness that this incident will provoke, given that Deng was a transient black man. Fortunately, there were a number of witnesses to the incident and this should ensure that the investigation is thorough. What is not clear is the degree of transparency that police will provide as the investigation is on-going. To this point, police are not releasing 911 transcripts or much information about their investigation.

If you would like to take action, write to the local papers and the county board of supervisors. If you would like to support Vershawn Young's application to the PCRB, send an e-mail to