Tuesday, September 29

City Defers on Curfew, Votes for Loitering Ordinance

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

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

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It's Not About You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 26

Investigation Over, But Is Justice Served?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, September 25

Deng's Shooting "Justified"

Just in from the Press-Citizen:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 22

Fair Hearing of Iowa City Ordinances

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Saturday, September 19

U V. I C in City Council Primary October 6th

It is hard to believe that in less than a month the primaries for city council seats in Iowa City is occurring. With two at-large city councilors in Iowa City stepping down and five candidates in the running, three of whom are current University of Iowa students, it should be an interesting primary--particularly if there is a substantial student turnout.

Jared Bazzell is a senior Communications major at The University of Iowa and is running on a platform of economic development, public safety, and better community relations between the University of Iowa and the City of Iowa City. You can tweet him here or Facebook him here.

Terry Dickens is a downtown business owner and life-long Iowa City resident. Dickens is for improved public safety including adequate police protection and staffing the Northeast fire station, preserving the Senior Center, affordable housing and new development, and adjusting building codes and regulations to strike a balance between safety and encouraging new development.

Susan Mims, an investment consultant, former School Board president, and a 30+ year Iowa City resident, is Her website is functional as of today. According to the Daily Iowan, "said she is banking on her five years of experience working with finances. “What becomes very big for the next council is finances because they are going to have to cut money,” she said. She stressed businesses should be taxed — not homeowners — for funds so local government can deal with issues such as improving public safety."

Jeff Shipley is a senior at The University of Iowa Political Science major and liaison to the Iowa City Council. He is running on a tough on crime, anti-franchise tax, pro-conservation and beautification, and keeping downtown a friendly place for young adults by not reviving efforts to put a 21 ordinance on the books.

Dan Tallon is a junior at The University of Iowa majoring in Political Science and "would like to see the city government work more for the students. The University of Iowa is an important aspect of Iowa City, and its students should have a voice in city politics. I want to be that voice to protect the interests of students. I also represent the interests of several different groups: renters, service members, youth, as well as the city at large. I would like to see the cost of living in this city go down. Being a student who attends school only on the G.I. Bill, my income is fixed at the rate the Veterans Administration sees fit. A rate that is sometimes well over shadowed by the exorbitant cost of living near campus."

"Iowa City deserves a representative who truly wants to serve the residents, including students, someone who wants to improve the city, someone who wants a fair and balanced budget, and someone who will dedicate their time and effort to the city. I believe I am that person. I have spent my entire adult life, since the age of 17, as a soldier and student, and I would like to transfer those qualities of soldierly virtues and pursuit of knowledge to service of the residents of IOWA CITY!"

At present, it is hard to know who to support as there seems to be no true "progressive" in the race--though certainly there are some "populists", so I'll update you with my findings. However, this might help. Nancy Quelhorst, President and CEO of the Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce wrote "We do not recruit or endorse “chamber” candidates. We do, however, encourage pragmatic individuals with the potential to improve our local business climate (and therefore our community) to run for office. A subcommittee of our Local Government Affairs committee has led this initiative and as a result three local leaders have announced their candidacy to date: Terry Dickens, [District B candidate]Mark McCallum, and Susan Mims."

So it sounds like the primary will be Town vs. Gown. More later.

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Monday, September 14

Weighing the Public Option V. Health Care Cooperatives

Because of increasing pressure from both the right and left, Congress is in the position of either a public option for health care reform, a private health care consortium/cooperative, or not doing either and adding a trigger mechanism that would kick in if the private sector failed on benchmarks to ensure all Americans have access to affordable health care. I have written about the public option in general and will compare the benefits of it against the cooperative and exchange options. Finally, I will discuss the trigger option.

According to Consumer Watchdog.Com "a carefully constructed “public option” to private insurance would provide an antidote to the market consolidation that has propelled premium increases and administrative inefficiencies, shrunk coverage and degraded quality. However, it can only succeed if it:

• Provides all Americans access to the largest risk pool possible. Universal access to Medicare provides the best option.
• Includes new regulation of private insurers to level the playing field with the new public option–namely guaranteed issue, community rating, and a guaranteed base benefit.

The option to join Medicare, regardless of age, would be beneficial to Americans because by almost every measure, Medicare is cheaper and more effective than private plans, according to government and academic research. For example, Medicare spends 2% of revenue on overhead; private insurers typically spend 25% to 27% for overhead and profit."

Opponents of the public plan say that the public option would drive private insurers out of business. However the Congressional Budget Office estimates that no more than 10 or 11 million people or 3.6% of the current US population would be enrolled in any public option by the year 2013. The only private insurer that would be driven out of business would be those that are offering marginal plans to those without insurance right now. Hardly seems like a loss, particularly from a consumer's perspective.

The cooperative model as proposed by Sen. Kent Conrad could be formed statewide or in geographic regions. They would be the insurer that would contract directly with health care providers, and like Group Health, would be self-governed by an elected board. Startup money could come from the federal government through grants or loans. At present, there are two such co-ops in the US, Group Health Cooperative of Washington and Health Partners in Minnesota.

The other type of cooperative or exchange is an insurance cooperative where middlemen would shop for the best insurance rates and options from private insurers and make them available to the public who enroll in the cooperative.

The supporters of the two types of programs insist that the free market will respond better if the government is not involved. Unfortunately, the facts seem to suggest that larger insurers pick and choose where they will insure and the costs of insurance to those in marginal markets are higher than elsewhere. For the health care cooperative there is the additional issue of being locked out by hospitals and doctors who can get a better deal from the health insurer giant in their area.

Those who are not sure any additional competitors are needed, that insurers need to be forced to guarantee coverage even for those with pre-existing conditions, say that what is needed is a government trigger. If private insurers are not providing universal, affordable coverage that then is when other additional options should be considered. On a common sense level this sounds good, but the period of time for the trigger options are proposed to be three or four years into the health care reform plan. This would likely mean that some people could be without insurance for five to seven years.

If the United States is serious about creating coverage options and keeping down the costs of providing care, the mine field of how to cover citizens will have to be crossed. By spreading costs out over more people, all Americans are likely to have lower costs in the longer run.

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Friday, September 11

Remembering Our Better Natures

I woke up this morning with the heaviness that this day, I think, brings to many Americans who were alive to witness the events of September 11, 2001. I can vividly recall walking quietly to work and arriving just in time to hear the excited talk about a plane crash in New York City. Moments later, when it became apparent that a second aircraft had been intentionally flown into the World Trade Center towers, I felt a deep sickness in my stomach. When a third jet crashed into the Pentagon and fourth ended up in a field in Pennsylvania, I sat dazed. Who could have imagined such a series of tragic events happening in the United States?

Later, as the pictures of the planes commingled with people falling from the towers and played over and over on the television and in our minds, my wife and I sat together and wondered what it would mean--had the USA lost its cloak of invincibility? Had we entered a new age where fear would be the mantra by which we lived? We had no way of knowing, but we were afraid.

Miraculously, something else came out of it. Complete strangers were talking to each other about what they had witnessed. How rescuers had tried their damned best to save lives. How ash covered survivors had walked out of the fog of destruction and into the arms of complete strangers. For a brief period of time, we were brought together. In that period of time, I felt renewed hope for our nation. That this horrible event could bring the promise of democracy to a new level of civility and appreciation for each other and our nation.

As surely as innocence is lost, maturation stepped in and helped us to find ourselves. The understanding that things change and we must adapt to them became front and center in our collective consciousness. Sadly, as in most things, we could not agree in which direction to adapt. But that is for another time.

For today, I will choose to remember those men, women, and children of all colors and creeds who perished, and those who acted heroically to respond as best as they could. I hope we all will also remember the feeling of being a part of something far bigger than ourselves. A time when our nation wrapped itself not in our flag, but in the cloak of our common humanity.

Thursday, September 10

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Truth

If happiness is so valuable (as our founders apparently felt it was to put it in the Declaration of Independence), it must be because it allows us to seek our truths. This is a good thing as long as these truths include facts, as well as feelings. One of the main reasons I began to blog was because I always felt that facts needed to be brought into arguments where feelings and emotions tended to get in the way of making good decisions.

Here are three issues where facts and feelings have gotten muddied: education, health care, and public safety. I've written a fair amount about health care as of late and was mostly pleased to see the President take a measured approach to making his pitch for 95% or "near universal" health care. I was surprised, as I imagine most Americans were to hear Rep. Joe Wilson shout "You lie" when the President was speaking about his conviction that his plan would not cover illegal immigrants to both Houses last night.

Throughout the summer recess a lot of lies have been spread about health care or more accurately health insurance reform. There is no need for me to rehash these. However, it seems to me that now that the planks of Obama's plan are outlined, a reasonable discussion of the facts should help to make a change to our broken system, allow most people to have basic care, and to reduce the long-term overall costs of health care. Again, the devil is always in the details (as members of the Houses reflected in their chuckling at the President's acknowledgment of this fact).

Ultimately, any change comes with compromise and consultation. In reflecting on a couple of issues that are going on in my community about education reform and neighborhood safety reform, it is clear that facts need to be weighed so that good decisions can be made.

With regard to the outcome of the school board election where the message seemed to be fix what is broken in an equitable, transparent fashion, the first order of business should be the naming a new school board president. Given the contentious nature of the meetings and public hearings, it is clear that the board will benefit from having a new voice as it's tacit leader. The next leader should have a consensus building ability and the patience to weigh both the facts presented in public input with those of consultants about redistricting, the Roosevelt repurposing issue and additional school facilities, and balancing the school's budget. The new leader should also have the independence to question the school superintendent and staff's recommendations.

With regard to the southeast Iowa City residents' concerns regarding the safety of their neighborhood, it would be good to balance the facts of crime statistics with the factual efforts of neighbors work amongst themselves to come up with solutions that aid community building. I readily agree and support that city resources should be made available to the residents in the area to improve conditions there, e.g., like making inclusionary zoning a mandatory tool to spread low-income housing out better in the city and police to respond to complaints. However, I disagree that additional laws are needed to deal with the safety concerns, as they can have a chilling effect on overall relations and exacerbate the wound that has been festering due to a lack of understanding and respect between members in that part of the community.

Just as Congress was waiting for the President to offer his calculated plan, the city should wait for the community to offer its plan for improving relations. To parents in the school district who are concerned about how schools will be affected by school district decisions, come up with a plan.

Feelings are easy, truth is harder to find. Fact finding is essential and collaboration key to solutions that work. Who knows, it might even lead to happiness or at the least "to form a more perfect Union."

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Wednesday, September 9

School Board Elects Two New Faces and Keeps A Third

Iowa City Community School District has two new faces in Sarah Swisher and Tuyet Dorau and incumbent Mike Cooper hung on to his seat as 4932 voters turned out for the hottest contested school board race in recent memory. With only 400 votes separating the top finisher (Swisher) from the 3rd place finisher (Cooper), the equally strong east versus west side turnout proved to be the deciding factor as Cooper, Anne Johnson and Dorau did well on the west side, while, Swisher, Dorau, and Jean Jordison did well on the east side. As it now stands, there are three west side members on the school board and four east side members. This should prove to be interesting in dealing with the third high school option and the boundary issues in front of the board.

Best of luck to the new members, the challenges ahead to all are daunting. John Deeth has some good information in breaking down the numbers.

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Monday, September 7

Remember Why There Is a Labor Day

On the 5th of September in 1882, the first Labor Day parade took place in New York City and 10,000 people took an unpaid day off from work to celebrate the American workforce. More importantly, they marched for better working conditions and better treatment in the workplace. On June 28th,1894 Congress finally made it a legal national holiday.

Fast forward to 2009 and we see that the labor movement is alive, but not necessarily well as relocating jobs to right to work states, outsourcing of jobs, and global competition strain relations between management and labor. And frankly, the rest of us haven't helped either with our bigger, faster, and cheaper mindsets, a living wage is disappearing from the bargaining table for those in the industrial/manufacturing trades. As the recession lingers, other workers are becoming job insecure such as school para-professionals, home healthcare workers, and other human service workers.

While unions continue to have Labor Day picnics and politicians come calling for their support, many of the rest of us enjoy a day of leisure. The struggles for the working person have not lessened over the years and, as the health care reform issue shows, we have a long way to go to ensure that conditions for all people improve, both in the workplace and in the world.

My Dad, who was a union printer who moved on to white-collar labor only to find in his mid-70's that he needed to continue to work. Part of it is his spirit and desire to contribute, but the other is cost of living. I'm sure he is working today at Home Depot, as he has for the last few years. When he suffered a hernia on the job it wasn't the Home Depot that paid for his health care, it was Medicare--something the unions supported. While he was on the mend, used his vacation days and sick leave to recover, thanks to the effort of unions. I'm sure the store will be busy with people fixing up their homes and taking advantage of the three day weekend--again thanks to the unions. Labor helped to create safe conditions, better wages and compassion for others.

Blogger and writer Anthony Del Pellegrino wrote "But there is another side of Labor Day that is also celebrated. It is the side that rejoices in the dignity of labor. Labor affords one a sense of purpose, as well as the opportunity to rejoice in the fruits of their labors. It is a driving force that does more than just keep an economy strong, it keeps ones soul strong."

So let's rejoice in our labors and those who fought to make things better for future generations. Let's also remember that those who do not remember the lessons of history are doomed to repeat the mistakes of history.

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Sunday, September 6

Why Health Reform Requires Pulling the Insurance Reform Trigger Now

Senators taking a beating from the folks back home are looking for a way to not appear to be kowtowing to insurance interests by proposing a "trigger" in the Senate's health care bill that would allow a public option to take place if the private market fails to provide more access, more affordability, and more competition in 3 to 5 years.

On CNN's "State of the Union" Nebraska's Sen. Ben Nelson said that President Obama needs to support the trigger, "he has to say if there's going to be a public option, it has to be subject to a trigger. In other words, if somehow the private market doesn't respond the way that it's supposed to, then it would trigger a public option or a government-run option, but only as a fail/safe backstop to the process. And when I say trigger, you know, out here in Nebraska, in the Midwest, I don't mean a hair trigger. I mean a true trigger, one that would only apply if there isn't the kind of competition in the business that we believe there would be."

So where are we? Companies like Aetna, American Association of Retired Persons,American Family Insurance, Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, Cigna, Fortis, Humana Inc., etc. provide insurance for millions of Americans. 76.2% of Medicare health spending in 2002 was on chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer's disease. According to a white paper "Health-Care Cost Projections for Diabetes and other Chronic Diseases:The Current Context and Potential Enhancements", 49.2% of the US population is projected to have at least one chronic disease (47% projected on 2010) and 25.9% to have two or more by 2030 (Projected to be 23.5% in 2010).

Out of curiosity, I went to gohealthinsurance.com's website and projected the cost of insuring my wife and myself based on me having one chronic disease (in this case, I chose diabetes). Between my wife and I, we earn slightly under $48,000. Selecting the least expensive plan (provided by United Health One which is "the brand name of the UnitedHealthcare family of companies that offer personal health insurance products, including Golden Rule Insurance Company and United HealthCare Insurance Company" aka "the largest single health carrier in the United States" with 70 million customers)which had a $10,000 per person deductible and a cost of $180.43 for a plan that covered no office visits, but had a 20% co-pay after the deductible had been met and a $6,000 out-of-pocket limit. The plan does not include any prescription drug coverage. If my wife and I had ne stay in the hospital or routine check-ups on my "diabetes", we would pay $28,168.76 out of our incomes and/or savings or 59% of our income for the insurance. There were other plans, of course, but each had a higher monthly payment which a person seeking insurance would have to consider no matter how good the overall coverage was. I had a total of four options to choose from, which is not to say there aren't other options, just no other one's with on-line quotes.

The prevention of chronic diseases is tied to two controllable variables, prevention and maintenance of chronic disease. Both require doctor visits and access to prescription drugs. Based on my small experiment, it is clear that persons who would have difficulty accessing health care on there own would likely have less access to the very things that help them not to overuse it; doctors and drugs. Regardless of the plan I would have chosen, there would not be one that would offer the basic elements that Medicare offers, again--doctors and drugs.

This is an example why a public-option is so needed. The private market fails to address the very needs that would keep more of us healthy or healthier. Regardless of income, all of us deserve at least this much coverage. Given the lack of competition, access, and affordability that many experience today, why should we wait another three to five years to hear that it's still a broken system?

Epilogue: For the record, I didn't look up the profits for UnitedHealthCare until just now. On July 21, UnitedHealth Group Inc. reported a soaring second-quarter profit. The Minnetonka-based company said its profit more than doubled compared with the same quarter last year, when hefty legal charges weighed down earnings. UnitedHealth also said revenue rose 7 percent, as it saw strong growth in its public and senior health insurance. How did they do this, getting out of "unprofitable markets, paying off a fine based on business practices, paying doctors less, and yes, increased premiums.

Revenue rose to $21.66 billion from $20.27 billion on increased premiums, which grew partly because of price increases. UnitedHealth is the largest commercial health insurer based on revenue.

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Saturday, September 5

Does Congress Have the Reich Stuff?

Robert Reich, Bill Clinton's old Secretary of Labor and a pretty good economist in his own right (A graduate of Dartmouth College, Reich is a former Harvard University professor and the former Maurice B. Hexter Professor of Social and Economic Policy at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University. He is currently Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley. Reich also serves on the board of directors of Tutor.com, and is a trustee of Economists for Peace and Security.), had this to say about health care reform:

1. I will not stand for a bill that leaves millions of Americans without health care. It's vitally important to cover all Americans, not only for their and their childrens' sakes and not only because it's a moral imperitive [sic], but because doing so will be good for all of us. One out of three Americans will experience job loss and potential loss of health insurance for themselves and their families at some point. One out of four of us who have health insurance is underinsured --unable to afford the preventive care we and our kids need on an ongoing basis. And those of us who don't get preventive care can get walloped with diabetes, heart disease, and other major illnesses that wipe us out financially, or force us into emergency rooms that all of us end up paying for.

2. The only way to cover all Americans without causing deficits to rise is to require that the wealthiest Americans pay a bit extra. The wealthy can afford to make sure all Americans are healthy. The top 1 percent of earners now take home 23 percent of total national income, the highest percentage since 1928. Their tax burden is not excessive. Even as income and wealth have become more concentrated than at any time in the past 80 years, those at the top are now taxed at lower rates than rich Americans have been taxed since before the start of World War II. Indeed, many managers of hedge funds, private-equity partners, and investment bankers -- including those who have been bailed out by taxpayers over the last year -- are paying 15 percent of their income in taxes because their earnings are, absurdly, treated as capital gains. We should eliminate this loophole as well, and use it to guarantee the health of all.

3. Finally, I want a true public insurance option -- not a "cooperative," and not something that's triggered if certain goals aren't met. A public option is critical for lowering health-care costs. Today, private insurers don't face enough competition to guarantee low prices and high service. In 36 states, three or fewer insurers account for 65 percent of the insurance market. A public insurance option would also have the scale and authority needed to negotiate low drug prices and low prices from medical providers. Commercial insurers now pay about 30 higher rates to providers than the government pays through Medicare, because Medicare has the scale to get those lower rates. A nationwide public option could get similar savings. And those savings would mean lower premiums, deductibles and co-payments for Americans who can barely afford health insurance right now.

Reich wrote a great column about the need for a public health-care plan in June, which is a must read.

The American public is decidedly split on what to do, but most agree reform is needed, though most don't want to foot the bill for the uninsured. The August Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates poll on "ATTITUDES TOWARD HEALTH CARE REFORM" shows that 79% of Independents, Democrats and Republicans favor "starting a new federal health insurance plan that individuals could purchase if they can’t afford private plans offered to them." However when asked to define what the public option means, only 37% of the respondents knew that it meant "Creating a government-funded insurance company that competes with existing private insurers to offer health coverage at market rates."

Coupled with this is the opinion that the single-payer system that has been proposed is likely to be D.O.A. with only 20% of all respondents strongly favoring such a plan. While 61% of Democrats support this plan, 18% of Republicans do and 34% of Independents.

The divide is wide, but for any real reform to happen, at a minimum, what Reich proposes needs to occur. The question is will the plan that President Obama is preparing for Congress going to incorporate Reich's ideas and make it clear what the public option is--we'd better hope so.

Friday, September 4

Des Moines: The Fat and The Furious

According to Men’s Health Magazine, Des Moines is Iowa’s "Fat City" coming in #33 on their national survey of “America's biggest fast-food addicts.” As a person who visited last month’s State Fair, it is not shocking, though I thought it was limited to the month long bacon-nalia. Apparently not. Des Moines beat out such luminaries as Chicago (aka: City of Broad Stomachs), Dallas, and Washington, D.C. to capture its coveted position.

Men’s Health’s criteria rankings were based on the number of main stream fast food establishments, the percentage of residents who were fast food customers, those who consume it regularly (seven or more times a month), the number of obese residents and the fewest number of residents getting their daily recommended fruits and vegetables.

The top (bottom) five most fast-food addicted cities were from red meat states:
1) Arlington, TX
2) Anchorage, AK
3) Charlotte, NC
4) Sioux Falls, SD
5) Raleigh, NC

Wednesday, September 2

Endorsing Informed Communication

After attending last evenings District Parent Organization/Gazette School Board candidate forum, two impressions were lasting. One: candidates felt that communication from the district and School Board to the public were generally lacking and two: trust with the public has been broken regarding the processes that allow the district to function. What was generally absent in the conversation is their priorities for how the board would communicate priorities and the financial constraints that will hamstring them for the foreseeable future in making decisions.

I felt that two candidates really understood the financial constraints better than the others, Mike Cooper and Sarah Swisher. A dialogue between the two of them was particularly telling as to how funding streams affect what can be done regarding busing students. This is not to say that other candidates didn't talk about "fiscal responsibility", but there was no particular context given for their statements.

With regard to creative/pragmatic solutions to the issues of student achievement, school overcrowding, and boundary issues, Jean Jordison highlighted the successes of the Davenport schools in using their school bond referendum monies in an accountable way. She also highlighted the need to look at best practices. Sarah Swisher also promoted the idea of targeted year-round schooling at Kirkwood and Grant Wood elementaries. Mike Cooper expressed an interest in exploring whether expanding junior highs to grade 9 or opening a separate 9th grade academy could be considered.

With respect to communication, April Armstrong and Tuyet Dorau were clear about ways to communicate the business of the board to the public in transparent ways using technology, board members being responsible to visit schools multiple times a year, and attending school events where they could communicate with parents. What was lacking in their presentation was how they intended to be effective in doing this given their own careers and family obligations. A discussion with Jan Leff and Tim Krumm may convince them that the time commitment to hold public meetings is considerable, particularly over a four year term.

Anne Johnson's contributions were not negligible, but were often agreements with others on the panel. Her most significant contribution was bringing up teacher salaries and her desire to keep district cuts away from the classroom, with the understanding that teachers would need to be open to a less than 5 to 6% pay hike annually when the allowable growth formula maxes out at 4%. Both Swisher and Dorau expressed a need to work to increase the state formula.

I was sitting next to former Iowa City council member Bob Elliott and he was supportive of candidates Armstrong, Cooper, Dorau, and Johnson. A former school administration professor on my other side, Arnold Lindeman liked candidates Cooper, Dorau, and Swisher.

At this time, I will limit my endorsement to only one of the candidates. I feel that over a four year term a lot of things can and will change. What I hang my endorsement on is what has a person done in the past, how successful have they been in pushing for change, and their willingness to stand in the face of adversity. In my estimation, only Sarah Swisher has demonstrated the experience, pragmatism, and toughness to work well with this board to really prioritize needs and creatively support equity in all the schools which is crucial to the long-term success of all students in the district. I also know that she can arm herself to the teeth with information when needed, as she did when she pushed for "Yes, for Kids."

I note that Mike Cooper has often been a refreshing voice on the current board, e.g., when it has been stalled or when district financials are presented. I wonder if he will hold up for a 4 year term like the last two years, particularly, as he noted candidly "at some point the board has to do it's work." Unfortunately, to do its work, there is some significant fence mending needed with public trust.

With regard to April Armstrong, Tuyet Dorau, Anne Johnson, and Jean Jordison, each has strengths, but each has a different learning curve. Dorau, clearly eloquent and intelligent, will need to bone up on the functions of the board and the process of this type of governance--I suspect reegardless of the outcome, we will see her in the political arena in the future. Armstrong, while clearly a leader in her particular school's PTO and a solid communicator, did not impress with her knowledge of the financial aspect of the job. Jordison often the most eloquent about neighborhood schools was also the most noncommittal about her function the board other than to move actions forward. Lastly, Anne Johnson was knowledgeable about achievement, as one would expect from an employee of Pearson Education. If Mike Cooper were not running, I would likely be more supportive as they have similar backgrounds and he has the experience.

Regardless of these observations, I wish all the candidates good luck between now and about 10 pm on election day, September 8th. Given the light turnout that often accompanies this election, the separation between winners and runner-ups may be a handful of votes. You can vote early through Friday at the County auditor's office or go to the website for the polling place nearest you on election day.

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Tuesday, September 1

Local Homeless Shelter Gets Needed Shot in the Arm

The Shelter House received $2.6 million dollars in state funding from the I-Jobs program which will be used to expand its facilities from a 29 bed space facility in a converted residential home to a modern facility that will house up to 70 men, women, and children including veterans. The I-Jobs program is being funded through revenue generated from state casino tax revenues.

As a former board member of the organization, I salute the work and perseverance of Director Crissy Canganelli and Board president Dottie Persson and the dedicated board members former and present.

I am particularly proud that a life skills and job training program component will be integrated into the facilities thanks to generosity of Dale and Kay Prediger.

More stories. HereHere and here.