Saturday, October 31

Palin Too Pricey for Iowa Conservatives

An effort to bring Sarah Palin to the Iowa Family Policy Center's banquet next month has left a bad taste in the mouths of many state's conservatives. The group's plan to raise a $100,000 payday to bring Palin to the state has the hair of GOP activists' necks on end at the thought of paying to land a politician's speaking appearance.

The Iowa Family Policy Center's effort would be a departure from its usual practice in the first-in-the-nation state, these Republicans believe, as White House hopefuls have traditionally paid their own way to boost their party and presidential ambitions.

I guess that's just Sarah being all mavaricky and letting the free market do it's thing.

Read more at:

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Thursday, October 29

Obama Expands Federal Hate Crimes Act

Attached to the $680 billion defense authorization bill, President Obama on Wednesday signed a law that makes it a federal crime to assault an individual because of his or her sexual orientation or gender identity. The expanded federal hate crimes law now, which also covers crimes motivated by disability, is hailed by supporters as the first major federal gay rights legislation.

The hate crimes measure was named for Matthew Shepard, a gay Wyoming teenager who died after being kidnapped and severely beaten in October 1998, and James Byrd Jr., an African-American man dragged to death in Texas the same year.

"No one in America should ever be afraid to walk down the street holding the hands of the person they love. No one in America should be forced to look over their shoulder because of who they are or because they live with a disability," Obama said, referring to Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr.

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Friday, October 23

Johnson County: Let Voters Fill in the Blank

There is no good way to say this, but Johnson County, we have a problem. When Larry Meyers passed away after his long battle with cancer, he inconveniently did it with nine months before the next Board of Supervisor's primary. But wait, the special commission that is made up of elected leaders (read: Democrats)decided not to hold a special election citing the cost of holding the special election is not worth the 11 months the person would actually hold the seat and invite people to apply for the job.

With an applicant pool that turned up sixteen potential candidates of various political persuasions, that is a heck of a lot more than usually run for the office if the normal campaign rules applied. The special commission then magically whittled down the field to eight (perhaps using the irrefutable "eenie-meenie-minie-moe" method?).

Now the special commission is going to select that special somebody to fill the seat by next Friday. If people don't like the commissions choice, they have two weeks to turn up about 7,000 people's signatures who are qualified to vote and call for a special election. And here's the thing--someone is going to object because it is likely that the kinds of people who want a special election have a history of being soundly trounced when they occur.

All frivolity aside, we have elections that turn out less than 5% of the public out and, yet we still have those elections. Is it fair for three people to decide who will be the potentially tie breaking vote on the BOS for even 11 months? No. Would it be nice to combine the special election with the regular election and elect someone for one term and 11 months? Yes, but it violates state election laws.

Because I value transparency in elective government, I believe that we need to suck it up and have a special election. Doing so has a financial cost, but to not do so has a higher cost--the suspicion that democracy is being usurped or, more simply, we are being cheated.

Do I believe that it will change the dynamics of the county government? No. I suspect a Democrat would be elected based on the usual voting patterns of the county. But do I think that all Democrats (or Republicans) are the same? No. I'd like the choice to vote for the person I feel is best qualified. One of the reasons I voted for Larry was he was part of a group of people who said "Don't Tread on Me" when they felt they didn't have the BOS's ear. Well guess what--our elected officials are treading on us again.

No matter who the commission selects, I hope people will support a special election. Democracy is a good thing.

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Tuesday, October 20

Energy Star: Greenwashing at It's Worst?

Under the federal stimulus bill, $300 million will go to rebates for consumers who buy Energy Star products. In theory, a great idea--trading in energy guzzling appliance "clunkers" for more energy efficient ones. But are they? Maybe not. The EPA and Energy Departments have a small problem with accountability. Apparently manufacturers are certifying the energy savings of their products with little oversight. According to a Time article:

The Energy Department admits it doesn't properly track how and when manufacturers put Energy Star labels on products. The labels' ratings, which are supposed to indicate a product's energy efficiency, were "not accurate or verifiable," according to the agency. In other words, products that are supposed to save you money, and that are supposed to minimize environmental impact, may in fact do neither.

The Energy Star label is one of several "innovations" that are supposed to make consumers' lives easier—but in fact complicate them because the technology is flawed and misleading. The outcome is that unsuspecting consumers can and do get ripped off.

The NY Times explains that the Energy Department has poor oversight over the Energy Star ratings system. In many cases, the manufacturer—and the manufacturers alone—are responsible for testing and evaluating their own products. That's like letting junior high students decide what grades they should get on their report cards. From the Times:

While the Energy Department requires manufacturers of windows and L.E.D. and fluorescent lighting to have independent laboratories evaluate their products, the report said, companies that make refrigerators, washing machines, dishwashers, water heaters and room air-conditioners, which consume far more energy, can certify those appliances themselves.

Friday, October 16

Real Drama: 11.5 Million Africans Displaced By War, 23 Million Hungry

With respect to the Henne "balloon boy" and his family and with disgust aimed at the fixated media covering them, there are real tragedies in the world that the 24 hour news cycle should be covering. According to the United Nations, 11.6 million Africans have been forced from their homes by wars and other conflicts and 45% of all displaced persons in the entire world. The African continent also has some 2,659,000 refugees and asylum-seekers. Some 2 million people were newly displaced during the course of last year.

"Africa is the continent most affected by the scourge and tragedy of forced displacement," the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said in a statement. "While refugee populations have declined in recent years, internal displacement continues to rise and the number of people uprooted from their homes is mounting."

Oxfam International reported in September that 23 million people were facing severe hunger due to climate change- exacerbated drought in East Africa. "This is the worst humanitarian crisis Oxfam has seen in East Africa for over ten years," Paul Smith Lomas, Oxfam's East Africa Director said in a statement.

"Failed and unpredictable rains are ever more regular across East Africa ... due to the growing influence of climate change."

Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and Uganda are the worst hit, while Sudan, Djibouti and Tanzania are also suffering ill effects.

During the weeklong African Union summit that will start Monday in the capital, Kampala, the leaders are expected to sign a pledge to help the displaced across the continent, according to the U.N. agency for refugee issues. The agreement "would be the first legally binding international instrument on internal displacement having such broad regional scope," the agency said.

Oxfam International accused Kenya and Ethiopia of housing Somali refugees in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. It said the Somali government also is abandoning its internally displaced.

"Somalis flee one of the world's most brutal conflicts and a desperate drought, only to end up in unimaginable conditions in camps that are barely fit for humans," said Robbert Van den Berg, a spokesman for Oxfam International in the Horn of Africa.

"Hundreds of thousands of children are affected, and the world is abandoning the next generation of Somalis when they most need our help."

Maybe instead of sending relief, perhaps we should be sending them weather balloons to launch their kids. At least then we'd notice the catastrophic problems that the press seems to largely ignore.

Boys With Toys

Here's a question. If you were running a government, say like ours, where you had made significant outlays of tax dollars, wouldn't you want to find a highly qualified "sheriff" without the baggage of being a part of the industry that has caused you so much consternation to run your enforcement arm? Bloomberg reports that the Securities Exchange Commission has named Adam Storch, a former Goldman exec, as its enforcement division's first chief operating officer. Storch is actually just 29 years old and previously worked in Goldman's business intelligence unit.

The SEC's Enforcement Director who will be Storch's boss, Robert Khuzami, himself the former General Counsel at Deutsche Bank. To his credit, he had been diligent in prosecuting whilte collar crimes while in the USAG's office.

Read more at: huffingtonpost

Thursday, October 15

Is Chicago Creating the Third Ghetto?

From Dr. Jim Throgmorton

Is Chicago Creating the Third Ghetto? Current Evidence and a Reconnaissance Framework
Presented by Andrew J. Greenlee, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Urban Planning and Policy, University of Illinois at Chicago

Wednesday, October 21, 2009
7:00 – 8:30 pm
2520D University Capitol Center
The University of Iowa

This presentation will focus on the multi-state diaspora of Chicago’s public housing residents, as facilitated by the policies of mobility written into the Housing Choice Voucher Program.

To enhance understanding of this diaspora, it will first provide background about the rise of Chicago’s “first ghetto” after WW I, and the subsequent rise of what Arnold Hirsch has termed the “second ghetto” as a result of post-WW II policies that resulted in the construction of concentrated clusters of high-rise public housing projects. The presentation will then contrast the “second ghetto” with the Chicago Housing Authority’s Plan for Transformation (1999 to the present). This part will focus on how the Plan’s multi- pronged strategy of deconcentrating poverty through place-based improvements (mixed income communities) and people-based benefits (housing vouchers) has helped fulfill the promise of “transforming” Chicago’s most disinvested spaces of public housing, but has also created room for the retrenchment of some former public housing residents into racially- and economically-segregated communities within the region, mostly via voucher-based residential mobility. Spatially, the presentation will focus on moves made throughout the State of Illinois, especially in terms of flows in and out of Chicago/Cook County, but it will also touch on interstate flows of people from Chicago and other Illinois housing authorities to places such as Iowa City.

This presentation is free and open to the public

Wednesday, October 14


On Tuesday, October 20th the Human Rights Education Committee, City of Iowa City Human Rights Commission, Goodwill of the Heartland, City of Iowa City Housing Authority and Iowa Workforce Development will be hosting a Building Blocks to Employment Job Fair at the Eastdale Plaza, 1700 S. 1st Avenue, Iowa City.

The Building Blocks to Employment Job Fair is designed to assist entry level employees in obtaining gainful employment in and throughout Johnson County.

Representatives from local employers include: ACT, Inc., Census 2010 -- Neighborhood Centers of Johnson County, Goodwill of the Heartland, Iowa City Community School District, Mediacom, Mercy-Iowa City, Quality Associates, Reach for Your Potential, Systems Unlimited, Team Staffing, Thomas L. Cardella and Associates, University of Iowa, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, U.S. Cellular, Cambridge Tempositions and Vangent, Inc.

Goodwill of the Heartland, Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services and Iowa Workforce Development Center will also have representatives available to assist participants.

The Job Fair will run from 5:00 p.m. -7:00 p.m. with free childcare provided. Bus passes compliments of the City of Iowa City Transit Division are available on a first come first serve basis.

For more information, please contact Paul Retish at 335-5331 or

Tuesday, October 13

Reducing Malpractice v. Reducing Patients' Rights?

Factcheck has an interesting report about the effects of reducing malpractice claims and the impact on health care reform. Factcheck quotes the Congressional Budgeting Office that says that reducing malpractice claims would be equal to .5% cut in health care costs. While that figure may sound like small change, it is equal to $11 billion today and up to $41 billion over the next ten years.

While this is much smaller than some politicians have claimed (for example Rep. John Boehner on Oct. 2 said "We could save over $100 billion a year in less medicine being practiced if in fact we were to have real reform of medical malpractice laws."

The CBO also said "there's no consistent evidence that damage limits would keep doctors from ordering unnecessary tests.

Researchers say there's no good data on how much defensive medicine is being practice. Doctors could order additional tests for many reasons, including boosting their income and because patients ask for them. And it's difficult to separate the effects of tort reform from other factors that affect health care spending.

Thirty-six states already limit the compensation that patients can receive for medical errors. The 14 states that have not done so are Arizona, Delaware, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington and Wyoming.

Insurance giant WellPoint Inc. said in a May report that malpractice suits are one of the popular explanations for rising health care costs. However they point out this is much less true than costs associated with advances in medical technology, increasing regulation and rising obesity.

Will tort reform help without hurting patients? A study by UCLA/Rand Research claims, according to FactCheck, "that a 10 percent reduction in costs related to medical malpractice liability would increase the nation’s overall mortality rate by 0.2 percent. It concluded that the savings in money would not be worth the cost in lives." FactCheck cites another study published in the Journal of Health Economics, by health economists from Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which "concludes that "tort reforms" don’t have any significant effect on patient outcomes."

The idea of reducing costs without harming those who have been medically harmed due to caregiver malfeasance is tricky territory given limits already in place. The proportion of medical malpractice verdicts among the top jury awards in the U.S. has declined during the past 20 years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News. "Of the top 25 awards so far this year, only one was a malpractice case. At least 30 states cap damages in medical suits, primarily for “pain and suffering” awards." Still, if there are reasonable ways to reduce drawn out trials, perhaps these can be considered as the House bill does by allowing financial incentives for states that try alternative medical liability programs that don't limit damage awards. All Business reports "States, for example, could require patients to first get a medical expert to certify that a case is "medically meritorious," or they could set up "early offer" programs that encourage doctors to admit errors and offer restitution as a way of discouraging lawsuits."

In the fight to reform health care, it seems like an even-handed approach to make it easier for medical treatment to occur and for providers and patients not to see each other as "the problem" is just what the doctor (and patient) have ordered.

Chet Culver's 10% Solutions

Chet Culver has twice now invoked his solution for the state budget shortfall. 10% cuts across the board, no exceptions. This presumes that all budget items have equal weight. This is a fallacy.

If human services are cut 10%, this has a multiplier effect to those who are already in the most need. If this is applied to staffing child abuse or elder abuse investigators or to provide aid for mentally ill persons, these funds are already spread too thin.

Why not take a harder view on how tax dollars are being spent or not being collected? Tax abatement is an example of how government provide "welfare" to corporate entities with the promise that jobs and revenue will be created through their largess with our tax dollars. Clearly job creation is not going well, so why provide the "out" when we need the income?

Also, are all programs that are being funded with tax dollars necessary given the shortfall? If push comes to shove, are we really going to continually take dollars away from education so that more roads can be built? Clearly the 10% solution is easy to explain and appears to be fair, but in the longer run, it is a recipe for disaster.

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Friday, October 9

Health Care Reform: Mom and Pop v. The Big Box

To hear it from antagonists of a public healthcare option, the possibility of "Guvment Run Health Care" is likened to a Big Box store moving into town and killing off the Mom and Pop local operations. The only thing is, the Mom and Pop's in this scenario are not the local hardware store or five and dime, they are Fortune 500 companies with revenues that exceed the GNP of Israel and Venezuela combined:

1. UnitedHealth Group Fortune 500 Rank #21 (Revenues $81,186,000,000)
2. WellPoint #32 ($61,251,100,000)
3. Aetna #77 ($30,950,700,000)
4. Humana #85 ($28,946,400,000)
5. Cigna #132 ($19,101,000,000)
6. Health Net #165 ($15,366,000,000)
7. Coventry Health Care #226 ($11,913,600,000)
8. WellCare Health Plans #381 ($6,521,900,000)
9. Universal American #494 ($4,659,200,000)
10. Amerigroup #509 ($4,516,000,000)

It seems implausible to me that a public option would be capable of crippling all of these giants. If such an option makes a dent, it is likely because the insurance giants' profits are well above the cost of doing business or not serving people who can least afford their products. If a not-for-profit can compete and can service areas where competition is less than robust or even where there is limited competition, isn't that the way economies are supposed to work?

Thursday, October 8

Jobless and Workers Getting Mixed Messages From Senate

With the benefits for Iowa's unemployed expiring, the US Senate continues to quibble over who should qualify for an extension of benefits. Here's a suggestion: everyone who is unemployed and actively seeking work or retraining.

The conflict over whether "high unemployment states" should be the only one's receiving Washington's largess, will be lost on every worker who is left out. The House didn't seem to have any problem seeing this logic, perhaps Senators need to get out more often.

At least one Senator seems to get it, Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., is planning to introduce a measure that would extend jobless benefits in all 50 states by 17 weeks.
"Distinctions in state unemployment rates may make sense in Washington, ... and they don't make sense to the 15 million unemployed workers nationwide who are struggling to get by and get back to work," said Shaheen.

Meanwhile The U.. Supreme Court has made a ruling regarding older workers that is likely to make it easier for employers to discard or demote them. The court raised the burden of proof for demonstrating age discrimination, ruling last term that a "mixed motive" including age as a factor was not strong enough evidence. Senators Tom Harkin and Pat Leahy are working with Rep. George Miller to pass legislation that would require employees to only prove that age had been a "motivating factor" in their termination or demotion.

According to the Wall Street Journal,

the Senate also addressed the effects of the court's opinion in Circuit City v. Adams, a 2001 decision that enlarged the reach of employees who are required to address disputes through arbitration rather than through the courts. At the hearing, Jamie Leigh Jones, who had worked for a former subsidiary of Halliburton (HAL), argued that arbitration can prevent important information from entering the public record. Jones said she was drugged and raped while working in Iraq in 2005 and has spent the past four years trying to get her case heard in court rather than in the arbitration she agreed to when she was hired.

"It's very apparent to me that corporations adopt arbitration as a way to wipe clean the record of disputes that arise," she said.

Sen. Al Franken offered an amendment to a defense bill that would restrict funding to contractors that require their employees to go through arbitration to settle sexual assault claims. In April, Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., introduced a broader bill seeking to invalidate many binding arbitration clauses and return consumer, employment and civil rights disputes to the courts.

When Mark de Bernardo, executive director of the Council for Employment Law Equity, defended the use of arbitration as a faster and cheaper alternative to litigation, he faced sharp questioning from Franken.

"You said the net result of the use of arbitration is better workplaces," Franken said, cutting off de Bernardo's response. "She was drugged, she was raped, she had to have reconstructive surgery. If that's a better workplace, what was the workplace like before?"

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Wednesday, October 7

Housing: Green and Affordable?

As we struggle with the need for new housing to be both affordable and as green as possible, we have to ask if these goals are compatible? Apparently some folks have been figuring this out and doing it.

Housing Matters: Can Building Green Be Affordable?

The Iowa City Housing and Community Development Association presents a discussion on building sustainable and affordable housing. 7 p.m. Oct. 28th, Iowa City Public Library Meeting Rm. A. Speakers: Gregory Paul Johnson (Small House Society). Don Otto (DPO Construction LC).

Here are some links to other thinkers and doers:

Green affordable Housing Coalition

The Green, Affordable Housing Guide

Anti-Loitering Passes, Mims, Dickens, Shipley, Tallon Win Primary

The Iowa City Council passed a city-wide loitering ordinance and less than 4% of registered voters (1,872 to be precise) turned out for the city council primary. A great day for democracy in Johnson County. With elections costing at least $75,000, Iowa City residents, particularly those who complain about how taxes are spent, should take a look in the mirror.

By a vote of 6 to 1, the City Council has locked down "city sidewalks, streets, trails, bridge, or crossing or to congregate, stand, loaf or loiter in any hall, doorway, passage, or entrance of any public building, theater, hotel, eating house, lodging house, store, shop, or factory, or other like building so as to obstruct such place or hinder or prevent persons walking along or into or out of such place or attempting or desiring to do so." A violation can be proven "whether a person is actually hindered or prevented from passing." Good work city council, I expect law enforcement to be out in force on the Ped Mall looking for violators.

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Tuesday, October 6

Do It For the Kids

From Every Child Matters

With 38,000 of Iowa's children living in poverty, 35,000 without health insurance, 38,000 reported abused, 160,000 alone after school every day and with the inability of thousands of families to access quality child care, the Every Child Matters Education Fund, Early Child Iowa, Every Child Counts and Child Care Resource and Referral of Iowa will be holding events throughout the week of October 5 to call attention to the needs of Iowa's most vulnerable citizens.

The events will take place throughout the week:

October 7
Urbandale Public Library
3520 86th St
Urbandale, IA

October 8
Children's Hall at Children's Square
North 6th and Ave. E
Council Bluffs, IA

October 9
Iowa Central Community College
One Triton Circle, Room CEB 108
Fort Dodge, IA

All events will begin at 10:00.

Schedule as follows:
10:00 - 11:30 - advocacy training and update
11:30 - 12:15 - lunch
12:15- 12:45 - media availability and event

The week long series of events are of a wide array of "Step Up" activities taking place in every state during Step Up for Kids week, October 5-9, 2009. As people step up for kids across the nation, they will be asking officials to directly address the needs of children and families as they make their budgetary decisions and to shift spending priorities in the direction of our most valuable assets.

BACKGROUND: With 14 million children living in poverty, 7 million without health insurance and 3 million reported abused or neglected in the U.S., the Every Child Matters Education Fund (ECMEF) is sponsoring the 2nd annual "Step Up for Kids" week, giving organizations and individuals a chance to celebrate our children while at the same time calling for solutions to the issues confronting them. According to the ECMEF-published Homeland Insecurity (3rd edition, 2009), the U.S. has the worst child poverty rate among 24 rich countries and ranks 20th among 21 rich democracies when it comes to child well-being.

For more information, contact:

Tom LaPointe,
Every Child Matters

Sheila Hansen,
Every Child Counts

Primary Fever--Catch It

Iowa City City Council at-large candidates need your support. If you are eligible to vote, have the desire to brave the rain, and want to participate in a democaratic process, go vote. Also, the many poll workers who are working on their knitting, reading books, and/or chatting really would love your company.

Don't know where? This should help. You can vote all the way up to 9 pm. How good is that?

Don't know for whom to vote? Here is a link to the candidates info. Don't like what you see, you can always write in candidates that you think would do a good job. It is a democracy after all.

1057 Legislators Show Support for Health Care Reform

This is encouraging.

Progressive States Network, a group representing state legislators across the country, announced today that 1057 state legislators from all fifty states have signed letters to Congress asking for real health reform, including a public health insurance option, strong affordability protections, and shared responsibility among individuals, employers and government for health care costs.

State legislative leaders, along with mayors from around the country, will be coming to Washington, D.C. next week to bring this message of state support for reform to Capitol Hill and the White House.

“State legislators have been on the front lines of health care reform for decades,” said Texas Representative Garnet Coleman, co-chair of Progressive States Network, “Most proposed elements of federal reform are based on ideas already debated and in many cases enacted in the states. So state legislators know what is needed to make reform work.”

In addition to these letters showing broad-based state legislator support for reform, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) in August voted to support federal health care reform, including a public health insurance option. The vote at the annual NCSL conference was overwhelming, with representatives of 38 states supporting the resolution. As Iowa State Senator Jack Hatch (D, Des Moines), who introduced the amendment, said at the time, “We sent a very clear message to people dragging their feet in Washington: the time to act on health reform is now. We need a public health insurance option to make sure working families and small businesses are free to choose the best health care available at a price they can afford.”

“Talk radio and television may generate a lot of noise,” said Nathan Newman, PSN’s executive director, “but the over 1000 legislators in all fifty states supporting affordable, quality health care for all Americans, including a public insurance option, reflects the voices of communities across our nation. These legislators are asking to fix a broken health care system and improve both individual lives and the economic competitiveness of our nation.” The list of 1057 legislators supporting reform reflects 943 legislators signing a letter to Congress and President Obama sponsored by Progressive States Network itself, along with two separate letters from legislators in the states of Connecticut (92 additional names) and New Mexico (25 additional names) reflecting advocacy of similar reforms.

A full copy of the PSN letter with all signers, along with links to the New Mexico and Connecticut letters, can be obtained at

The text of the PSN letter was developed in consultation with national health care reform advocates, including the AFL-CIO, AFSCME, Community Catalyst, Families USA, Herndon Alliance, National Women's Law Center, Northeast Action, SEIU, and Universal Health Care Action Network.

Speaker Bios:

Karen Keiser (D) has been serving as a state senator in Washington since 2001. She currently is chair of the Senate Health and Long-Term Care Committee where she has earned a reputation as a tireless advocate for improving the nation’s outdated, inefficient and fragmented health care system.

Kyrsten Sinema (D) serves as the Assistant Leader to the Democratic Caucus in the Arizona House of Representatives. Now in her third term, she is the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee and the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.

Herb Conaway (D) has been a member of the New Jersey Assembly since 1998 and is a private practice physician specializing in internal medicine. Dr. Conaway currently chairs the Health and Senior Services Committee and is the immediate past chair of the NCSL Health Committee.

Jim Campbell (R) is a second term state representative from Maine. He is very devoted to issues relating to the elderly, as is evidenced by his participation on the board of the Southern Maine Agency on Aging which serves Cumberland and York counties.

Jack Hatch (D) serves as Assistant Majority Leader in the Iowa Senate where he is also Chair of the Senate Health & Human Services Budget Committee. In June 2009, he was selected to chair the White House Working Group of State Legislators for Health Reform.

Nathan Newman is Executive Director of the Progressive States Network, which works to promote national reforms benefitting working families in the states working with progressive state legislators and allied community groups, unions, and advocacy organizations.