Wednesday, December 22

The DADT Dipsydoodle

I, like a lot of other people were captivated by the Don't Ask/Don't Tell debate that raged in Congress for most of the lame duck session and for the many years prior. As a firm believer in civil rights for all, it was not logical to be for a policy that said it was okay to serve, but don't act out sexually or talk about it--like anyone else could.

However, now that it has been defeated, I have some serious buyer's remorse. It began when I heard stories about Ivy League schools reconsidering their ROTC policies to allow on campus programs to be installed. Today, as I was reading an article on the Nation's website, it really hit home what one of the unintended consequences of DADT's repeal now is. It is an excuse to gin up the war machine's most valuable asset, new blood in the ranks and create the next generation of the Pat Tillman-like hero.

By virtue of gays and lesbians being able to serve as themselves, the message that is now out there is "if they can, why don't you man-up and join up?" It is cool to be a red-blooded American who defends the country against all enemies foreign and domestic no matter who you sleep with (except, presumably, the enemy).

For those of us who think that building up military might is against the idea of creating peace, the movement to make sure that we have the person power to fight any damn war that our government can get us into is always a bad idea. True we have a voluntary army, but now that serving is like taking up smoking--dangerous, but a rite of passage, what young person can resist?

On the other hand, if what it takes for this nation to embrace civil rights for all is heroism at war, then it could be a good thing--it worked out well for African-Americans didn't it? Didn't it?

Friday, December 10

So Long to the Resilient Elizabeth Edwards

In 2008, while my wife was falling in love with Barack Obama and what she thought he represented, I was thinking about campaigning for John Edwards. He was the only candidate talking about the vast expanse between the wealthy and the poor and had a plan to bridge the gap. It was during that time that Elizabeth Edwardsa came to Iowa to promote her book, "Saving Graces" and I decided based on meeting her, that if she thought her husband would make a good president, so could I. Like many people, I lived to regret this decision, but it was because of him, not her.

I remember that she had chemotherapy the day before and, yet there she was holding court for maybe a hundred or 150 people in the Buchanan Hall at The University of Iowa. She read a bit of the book that had to do with her son Wade, who she referred to in the present tense. And she moved people, not just to read her book, but to share their stories.

Elizabeth Edwards struck me as a strong, deep thinking, good-hearted person who had been dealt an incredibly bad hand. And yet there was nothing about her that said, "feel sorry for me." On the contrary there was a resolve in her that said "as long as I'm here, I'm going to make sure my family is okay and try to make my country a better place too."

The tragedy and redemption of her story lies in the knowledge that she lived to see her marriage crumble, but long enough to make sure that her young children would know their mother past their precognitive years and can choose to carry on her legacy in their own way when they grow up. She was there to be sure that her eldest daughter Cate would become a strong woman in her own right.

How many of us wouldn't want to be around for their children as long as possible? The difference for Elizabeth Edwards was she knew she wouldn't be and did the most with the time she had to spend with them, to write books, and to fight.

I'm sure that she was far from perfect, who is? But faced with the untenable knowledge that she would not live to see her progeny grown, she gave of herself like few others likely could. I am fortunate to have spent a few minutes with her. How many people have had the impact on others in the way that she did? Not many.

Tuesday, November 16

Jobs! Jobs! Jobs! In Search of Cooperative Creationism

Who is responsible for job creation? According to the voters a couple of weeks back, the Republican Party, as they seated quite a few of them in Congress, state houses and governor's mansions. But not with carte blanche as they are expecting the changing of the guard to lead to an improved economy and jobs, jobs, jobs. Clearly the voters are still skeptical according to a Rasmussen poll earlier this month.

But here's what I think. We are all responsible for job creation to some extent. Those of us who are innovators can create a job for ourselves and perhaps some others (of course, if what we have to offer is of value to others). For instance, businesses with 1 to 4 employees are the most stable employment group and fairly resistant to recent economic downturns and second most resistant are employers with 500 to 999 employees. Maybe we should encourage the growth of these scales of businesses?

The government can do some things more easily than private industry. Like pump money into areas where there is likely to be future demand (what the private sector used to call research and development, when it was the right thing to do) and to invest in transportation/delivery infrastructure. The government can also provide incentives through tax abatement (though, in the long run is a zero sum gain, particularly when businesses pursue greener pastures).

The private sector can work cooperatively and pump money into creating jobs locally that will spur demand for services and goods. They can do this with the profits that they value so highly. Profits are like a savings account and can be used to dig a company out of a ditch or to spur growth when opportunities arise.

An important question that not too many people asked during the mid-term skirmishes is why aren't the government and the private sector doing what they can do TOGETHER? The simple answer is like the Hatfields and McCoys, they don't like each other much or said differently, they have different agendas. A more complex answer is that the private sector doesn't change fundamentally in terms of how it operates, but the government is a revolving door of policy-changers and bureaucrats who are in the position to try and make these policies work. This doesn't give either a license to fingerpoint and lay blame, but it is easier than working to a common end.

Occasionally things work between public and private interests. I think about places like Newton, Iowa that have successfully changed their ways of doing business because of dependency on a single employer--you remember Maytag, don't you? Now they have diversified around wind and alternative energy businesses. This was made possible both by local inducements, but also by federal and state inducements. This type of job creation is a win/win proposition.

Is it perfect? No, some of the companies creating the jobs are not wholly American companies. TPI, a wind energy company has about 300 of 2500 worldwide workers in Newton, as well as plants in China and Mexico (and also, Rhode Island, Arizona, and Ohio). Could the work be done in the US, absolutely, but the cost of doing business is seen as the obstacle. Also, this means slogging huge trucks in for the coasts and Mexico for assembly of these giant wind generators. Isn't this another place where tax dollars could be used, to support the creation of jobs that increase localized jobs and reduce transportation costs (and the accompanying effects on the environment)?

Maybe the mantra should be how do we increase opportunities for new technology or even refining old ones, reduce the impact on the environment, and put people back to work. It seems that by wishing for jobs to be made is not, pardon the pun, getting the job done. Maybe the lessons of Newton can be applied in other areas that are not in crisis mode and resources in the area can be brought together so that jobs can be sustained.

Monday, November 8

Smart START and DADT Distractions

When Congress returns to Washington in the lameduck session, it is expected that the Democrat Senate majority will to try to push through the START agreements. The START treaty, which also awaits ratification in Russia, would lower each country's maximum number of long-range active nuclear warheads and set procedures for them to inspect each other's strategic nuclear bases. With the immediate seatings of Joe Manchin, Mark Kirk, and Chris Coons in the Senate to replace the interim placements, there is the opportunity to close out the year on a high note where nuclear proliferation is concerned.

Also expected to be discussed is the repaeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT). This may be a taller order, but, because it is supported by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, as well as Army chief of staff Gen. George Casey Jr., chief of naval operations Adm. Gary Roughead and Air Focre chief of staff Gen. Norton Schwartz, it may help to sway the Senate, particularly if the Suptreme Court review of the repeal is completed soon. At odds are field level military leaders who previously have sent letters not to support it. According to Poliglot, "With preliminary reports about the survey of servicemembers suggesting that opposition to openly gay and lesbian service is not as widespread as some of the service chiefs have suggested, and with questions about the ongoing appeal of Log Cabin Republicans v. United States as the background scene, it is not clear that -- despite the comments from Amos [Marines commandant, Gen. James Amos who said Saturday that combat is "intimate" and that this intimacy makes him uncertain of the impact of repealing DADT on "unit cohesion" and "combat effectiveness.] -- all of the service chiefs would be willing to send a similar letter opposing lame-duck passage of the repeal amendment."

With narrow wins by Senate majority leader Reid, it remains to be seen whether he is willing to go to the wall for the repeal of DADT or will let it play out in the next session. Also up in the air is whether, with a narrower margin in the new year, whether Republican leaders will hold out for a changing of the guard.

Wednesday, November 3

Mid-Term Elections: Aftermath Edition

As expected, it was a good night to be a Republican candidate for state office, an incumbent running for re-election for Congress from Iowa, and a bad night to be a Supreme Court Justice up for retention in Iowa. (Popular Progressive predictions: Governor: Branstad; all House Representatives and Senate incumbents; State Offices: Fitzgerald, Miller, Vaudt, Northey, Mauro; and at least 1 of 3 SCJs would be retained)

The big headline: Iowa House and Senate mirror national trend-- House solidly in Republicans hands (59 to 41), Senate majority still Democrats--barely (13 to 12 in contested races).

This and That
Surprising was the ouster of Democrat Michael Mauro as Iowa's Secretary of State particularly as his opponent was widely assailed by members of his own party. Most likely, his defeat was caused by straight ticket voting, not nedcessarily an enthusiam for Republican Matt Schultz who has promised to mandate photo IDs for voting purposes and to make election day voter registration "provisional" which is likely to lower numbers of voters. (Popular Progressive prediction: Wrong--predicted Mauro to retain position).

Also surprising were the margins that the Constitutional amendments to provide funding to create a trust fund for a permanent, constitutionally protected tax specifically focused on environment conservation and restoration statewide and against a state constitutional convention were passed. (Popular Progressive predictions: Correct outcomes, but the margin was much higher than anticipated)

Locally, the the repeal of the 21-only ordinance was narrowly defeated, owing to a better than expected turnout of the greater Iowa City community in favor of Iowa City's bars adhering to keeping underage people from bars after 10 pm. This is a huge feather in the cap of Iowa City mayor Matt Hayak and other city council members who put their ambitions in jeopardy by pushing for the ordinance and fighting against its repeal. (Popular Progressive prediction: correct about closeness of count)

Quick Counts
The Iowa House: Dems = 41 Reps = 59 (Popular Progressive prediction: Dead wrong, Dems did not maintain control)

Iowa Senate: Dems = 13 Reps = 12 )Popular Progressive prediction: barely right and with two races still in play, may prove to be wrong)

Judges: Supreme Court = 0/3 retained; Other Courts = 70/70 retained (Popular Progressive prediction 1/3 correct on Supreme Court retention)

Overall predictions: Of the 21 predictions made for this election, Popular Progressive was correct at least 17 times or 81% for this cycle.

Monday, November 1

What I Think Will Happen in Iowa on Tuesday

Prognostication is subject to a lot of skepticism, and rightly so, particularly if there are based on mostly conjecture and a little bit of polling data (in my case, the Des Moines Register's most recent poll for state races and The University of Iowa's Electronic Market).

In Iowa, we are likely to see the Governor's office change hands, as well as at least one court justice be recalled. The key to these two separate votes is the turnout of voters. Regardless of the turnout, Chet Culver and Patty Judge will not receive the vote of confidence they believe they have earned.

We are likely to see a couple of tight races for Congress in the eastern end of the state and the incumbents House members Loebsack and Braley will hold on by a thread--not because they aren't the best candidates, but because they have played political hardball to battle against the millions of dollars of negative ads run against them by both their opponents and the America's Future Fund. Across the state, the usual suspects will keep their seats, including senior Senator Grassley by more comfortable margins.

Despite two very good candidates in the form of Jon Murphy and Francis Thicke, both the incumbent Secretary of Agriculture Northey and State Auditor Vaudt are likely to remain in place, as are the State Treasurer Fitzgerald and the Secretary of State Mauro. There will be a closer race for Attorney General than otherwise should be the case given the inexperience of Republican Brenna Findley, but the incumbent, Tom Miller should continue in the job by less than a 15% margin.

The Iowa House will still have a Democrat majority, but not by more than a handful and the Senate should continue as a Democrat stronghold.

The State Constitutional Convention will likely be voted down and the land and water conservation measure will be approved, but not by much.

On a Johnson County level, the 21-only referendum in Iowa City will be close and may turn out to be a squeaker for rolling back the 21-only ordinance, judging by early voting numbers. Supervisors Janelle Rettig and Sally Stutsman, Senator Joe Bolkcom, Representatives Vicki Lensing and Mary Mascher, Recorder Kim Painter, and Treasurer Tom Kriz will be retained, deservedly, but without opposition. State Senator Bob Dvorsky will also be retained, as will State Representative Dave Jacoby, despite oposition by a pair of Libertarians.

Check back on Wednesday, November 3rd when I recap the election and attempt to justify what actually happened, and whether my predictions prove to be in error.

Sunday, October 31

A Crazy Thought: Sanity Should Prevail

While watching Jon Stewart's "Rally to Restore Sanity," I was struck by attention paid to the idea that many people are fed up with extreme views and the fanning of their flames by the 24 hour news cycle. It is logical that we the people would be wanting to stick a fork in the Tea Party and say it is done. However there is the small matter that the issues they have raised are not necessarily all "conservative."

For instance, the effectiveness of government is not the providence of extreme conservatives, many progressives and moderates are just as frustrated by the political processes of government. Regardless of whether people think that government should be big or small, I think the point we all agree on is: it should work. Frankly big ticket items that Congress debates like wars and health care should raise hackles--they are incredibly expensive. The difference in wars and health care though is that we have waged war for a long time and the return on the investment is not always so hot. How much will health care end up costing? Well, depending on the election, we may not ever know, despite having a couple of model programs that the government runs (The VA and Medicare) that actually work pretty darn good.

Is our disdain of government limited to the majority party du jour or the fact that regardless of which party is in power, the ability to make laws that serve people over other more monied interests is questionable. Whether you fear corporations, millionaires, or labor unions' influence, the major point is that all American people are disadvantaged by decisions that are not intended to be in our best interest.

The hope that I take from seeing thousands of people turning out for a pseudo-political rally is that we realize the joke is on us. We realize that our government is only as good as those who represent us. Fortunately, many politicians are reasonable and decent people, despite what the 24 hour news cycle tells us. It is true that there are some folks with rather extreme views representing people who also share these views, but most are people who want to do the job they were sent to do, but are isolated from the moderating voices.

If pressed, I'll bet most would agree that if they could be assured that they could be elected without taking PAC money, they would--as long as other men or women would do it too. If pressed, I'll bet none of them would add "pork" to bills, if the folks back home wouldn't throw them out if they didn't take care of pet projects. Politicians, like the rest of us, use the tools at their disposal. Also, if politics could be moved into the realm of the non-partisan and parties had less control over who the "strong" candidates are, perhaps we could expect more reasonable people to seek offices. Perhaps, if more third party candidates ran, a more even keeled government might be formed.

But who am I kidding? Jon Stewart, I'm not. I'm a guy in Iowa who has witnessed sausage being made for a little too long. And as soon as this mid-term election comes and come the Caucuses. Whatever end of the spectrum you are on, be prepared to be used for photo opportunities or join the fray. There is sanity in it--somewhere.

Monday, October 25

Early Voting Report

If turnout at the local HyVee grocery store is any indicator, turnout for the mid-term election is going to be much higher than anticipated. While my wife and I were there, there were no less than 40 voters lined up to cast early votes (among Sunday grocery shoppers who were unpleasantly surprised to be squeezing through the voters). I'll leave it to the much more agile John Deeth and the auditors at the Johnson County Auditors Office to determine the statistics, but it may be that there is some reason to believe that close races will be that much closer.

The hot buttons in this area are, of course the vote to repeal the 21-ordinance, retaining district and supreme court justices, and less visably, the call to change the constitution for a phased in penny tax to fund water conservation efforts in the state. This may be the lowest flying object under the radar, but if it goes through, it may well help to protect Iowa's waterways from toxic runoffs.

With respect to the elected county and state office races, all of them are in play, except for Johnson County Board of Supervisors Sally Stutsman and Janelle Rettig, and State Rep. and State Senator Vicki Lensing and Joe Bolkcom who are running unopposed. Also Recorder Kim Painter and Treasurer Tom Kriz are also running without opposition. Of course, there are likely to be write-in votes for others, but there is no organized opposition to these candidates of which I am aware.

Thursday, October 21

Weighing in on a Local Issue: Yes to 21 or No to 19

Several years ago I ran for the city council in Iowa City. At the time I did not support invoking a 21-only ordinance for being in a bar after ten at night. Though I was absolutely sure that bars were making a killing selling to underage customers, I worried what would happen if these same kids ended up at house parties (because I had heard some awful reports). And, at that time, there were a number of other measures I felt could be undertaken that might have made things better and served to curb binge drinking.

One of those initiatives happened. There is now a keg registration, so that there accountability if someone should hold a house party and underage drinkers are there, the responsible party is the person who registered the keg. I'm not saying it has stopped house parties, but it is a deterrent. I also supported raising the age of alcohol servers and restricting the use of alcohol at community events, neither of which has happened.

However since that time, a few things have swayed my thinking on this topic. First, and foremost, I now work at The University of Iowa and have had a better look at the problems that underage drinking can cause. Secondly, the bar owners had not done a whole lot but give lip service to curbing their enthusiasm for selling to minors, as the police statistics prior to the enactment of the current ordinance showed. Finally, and most damning, the number of people who are underage and come from other communities continued to climb. Call it civic pride, but I don't want somebody's child being harmed in my city or on the way home to their own.

Also with the recent decision to let establishments make "split venues" and students still able to go to places that make 50% or more revenue from food after 10 pm, I don't feel that folks will have to roam the streets for entertainment. And nor will entertainers. Plus, the incremental evidence since June shows that the ordinance is doing what you'd hope a law would do, it's reducing underage alcohol offenses.

I believe that the culture of alcohol goes beyond people under 21, and from a perspective of fairness, I wish that the legal age of drinking would go up to 25. Why 25? Because, statistically, that is when alcohol related offenses generally begin to decline. However, a couple of extra years of maturation may do two things, turn the tide for a group of people who desperately need their wits about them so that they can get through college and two, help change the culture of drinking, even if it is ever so slightly.

Realistically do I think that people will circumvent the law? Of course, but a lot of young people are not looking to get into trouble. Some need a compelling reason to stay out of it. Morality cannot be legislated, but laws can help some people to do the right thing by themselves.

As far as what will or won't become of downtown Iowa City's economic heartbeat, time will tell. I do believe that nature abhors a vacuum and with the number of built-in customers in and around it, things will likely be fine. At the worst case, perhaps the rents and real estate values will come down and more people who'd like to live and work downtown could. That's one unintended consequence with which I could live.

Waiting on the "Declaration" of Independents

In July I got an email from the Democratic Party to complete a survey. They ask if I was a Democrat. I honestly had to reread the Iowa 2010 platform and agreed with six of the priorities:
1. We oppose corporate personhood.
2. We support a single-payer health care plan for all citizens.
3. We oppose the Defense of Marriage Act.
4. We support separation of church and state.
5. We support energy independence with locally-owned renewable, eco-sustainable sources.
6. We support removing the cap on Social Security contributions.

What was absolutely missing in these priorities are the Economy and jobs. Democrats used to be the party of the working class person. They still are to a lesser extent, it helps if you are a member of a union. But when the economy and jobs don't make your top priority list, there is definitely trouble in River City.

There are some pretty significant disconnects for both Democrats and Republicans in their platforms and that causes pain for their candidates who ostensibly run on them. Why? Because they are not running for Democrat or Republican, they are Republicans and Democrats running for offices that require getting more votes than the next person. In other words, platforms are nice, but elections are won by keeping your party happy and winning over those people who have their own agenda--these are the Independents.

What I'm focusing on are the Independents who are notorious for "voting with their pocketbooks." Since the early 2000s, their pocketbooks, like many of ours, have shrunk considerably--despite tax-cuts by both Democrats and Republicans. While soccer Moms and Dads have disappeared in this year's dialogue because of the roar of the Tea Party, they are still out there and many of them are not excited about their choices. They are concerned about what will happen next.

For them, a Congress that will help them keep more money in their pockets is better than a Congress that they perceive will take more money out. Now, in fairness to Democrats who are in tight races and somehow being perceived as hurting working families, they(and no one from either party) wants to retract the middle class tax cuts that happened in the Bush and Clinton years. The difference is where the line is drawn. Democrats argue for drawing the line at individuals making less than $200,000 and families reporting less than $250,000 which equals 97 to 98% of all Americans. Republicans argue that any new tax is bad for the Economy.

How is it logical to the independent voter that voting for a progressive or even blue dog Democrat will hurt them financially? The crux is in the idea that the remaining 2% whose taxes would go up will withhold spending, thus hurting the small business person or working stiff. Categorically, this is goofy-think. If the middle class receives tax cuts, they are likely to spend money on stuff they haven't been able to buy, pay down debt, or even "gasp" put some money into savings. All are a good thing while the economy is stagnant. Money spent either on debt service or put into savings goods frees up money to be lent and money spent keeps or puts more people to work.

Also, if those who have been not been paying their "fair share" are fully in the mix like the rest of us, the debt on the rest of us comes down fairly dramatically in a much shorter time frame and at no significant hardship to those in question. This may be unpalatable to those in that 2 to 3% range, but they aren't going to go on a peanut butter and mac and cheese diet over it either.

Also, if we ever hope to transform our economy, we need to free up resources from things like war and national defense and use it to rebuild our nation's infrastructure. For example, electricity can be generated and delivered relatively cheaply from sources other than oil or coal on smart grids and people can be moved from region to region by high-speed rail, if the investment is there.

We need education that train/retrain people to work in the new economy. Democrats are investing in this by making it possible for more people to go to college or technical schools.

Reviving the economy calls for everybody who wants a job to have one. Democrats and Republicans both are off the mark in pointing their fingers at each other. It is possible to invest both in public works to build infrastructure and invest in the private sector to build new capabilities. There is no magic to this. What is lacking is a confidence that the investment will pay off. Partisan bickering and gamesmanship are the Debbie Downer of confidence being restored (as well as lobbying efforts that attempt to quash competition).

If this election is a referendum on who "gets it"--the frustration that the Independents feel about their wallets, the Republicans will likely mop the floor with the Democrats who have been tone-deaf with this issue on November 2. If the election hinges on thoughtful people who are demanding a functional government, it may turn out to be a much closer race than expected and we'll all be better off for it. In any case, it will make 2012 a much more interesting year.

Thursday, October 14

Something for the Rankin File

Time magazine mentions Jeanette Pickering Rankin as a top ten political prodigy. My public school education failed to fill me in on the amazing Ms. Rankin, who was the first woman elected to Congress. She was from Montana and a progressive Republican back when there was such a thing.

As a young woman, she was a teacher and later a social worker and became involved in the Women's' suffrage movement. In 1912 she became the field secretary of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Rankin was among eight thousand suffragettes in a 1913 march in Washington, D.C., before the inauguration of Woodrow Wilson.

Rankin returned to Montana and helped to organize the successful Montana suffrage campaign in 1914 which allowed women the right to vote there. As war in Europe loomed, Rankin turned her attention to work for peace, and in 1916, ran for one of the two seats in Congress from Montana as a Republican and became the first woman elected to the U.S. Congress (as well as the first woman elected to a national legislature in any western democracy).

Rankin used her fame and notoriety in this "famous first" position to work for peace and women's rights and against child labor, and to write a weekly newspaper column. In 1918 she led the debate that was integral to the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in the House of Representatives. Two years later, after three-fourths of the state legislatures ratified the Nineteenth Amendment, all American women were constitutionally guaranteed the right to vote.

Rankin made history in yet another way; she voted against U.S. entry into World War I and violated protocol by speaking during the roll call before casting her vote, announcing "I want to stand by my country, but I cannot vote for war." She was criticized for her vote by former allies in the suffrage movement as opening the cause to criticism as impractical and sentimental.

The Republican Party in Montana, unhappy with Rankin's antiwar stance, kept her from running for a second congressional term by gerrymandering her district. She ran for the Senate, but lost the primary and launched a third party bid, which lost overwhelmingly in the general election.

After moving to Georgia, she farmed and founded the Georgia Peace Society in 1928 which unsuccessfully lobbied the Georgia legislature to pass a state constitutional amendment banning war. In the first half of 1937, she spoke in 10 states, giving 93 speeches for peace. She supported the America First Committee, but decided that lobbying was not the most effective way to work for peace.

By 1939, she had returned to Montana and was running for Congress again, supporting a strong but neutral America in yet another time of impending war. Though elected by a small margin in 1940, Rankin arrived in Washington now as one of six women in the House and two in the Senate.

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Congress voted to declare war against Japan. Rankin once again voted "no" to war, this time saying "As a woman I can't go to war, and I refuse to send anyone else" as she voted alone against the war resolution. She was widely denounced by the press and her colleagues. She left elected for good.

The next twenty years of her life were filled with trips all over the world, including India, where she studied Mahatma Gandhi's nonviolent philosophy. She made Watkinsville, Georgia her home base, though she also spent much of her time at an apartment in Carmel, California.

In the 1960s Rankin established a self-sufficient women's co-operative on her Georgia farm. Rankin traveled around the country making speeches and lobbying politicians for peace, just as she had for women's suffrage more than fifty years earlier. In 1968, at age 87, she led a march on Washington; as thousands marched to the Capitol, they called themselves "The Jeannette Rankin Brigade." She continued giving speeches against the Vietnam War until late in 1972, when she became ill and physically unable to travel.

Upon Rankin's death at 92 in 1973, $16,000 in proceeds from her estate were earmarked to assist "mature, unemployed women workers." This seeded the Jeannette Rankin Foundation, which has been helping mature, low-income women succeed through education since it was chartered in 1976. Since 1978, over $1.3 million in scholarships have been awarded to over 600 women.


Friday, October 8

United Oui Stand

Attention all foreigners. You may not have been aware, but both major US political parties in our country are now blaming you for everything. For example:
- Why aren't enough Americans working? It's the damned foreign illegals or the damned foreign companies who are buying influence to keep hardworking Americans out of a job.
- Why no Cap and Trade? That would put us at a disadvantage with the foreigners.
- The economy is sinking, it's because the Chinese own our banks and the Arabs control our oil.
- Manadatory Health care insurance? Damn you Canadiens!

With such animosity, what is today's foreign country to do? Well you could try to fight us, but that would just make us fight back and you (and I) really don't want that, do we? No, a much more civilized solution is to become part of the United States.

Nations of the world, simply call (or text) us and ask how you can become part of the exceptional United States. With membership comes priveleges. If you act now, you can have your choice of having either a "red" state or a "blue" state designation. As a bonus, you will receive a democratic voice in governing this great land that we will now likely have to call the United States of the World, given that it will cover all the continents, not only the Americas.

Also, to all you currently non-American people, by joining the the US of W, you will likely actually have a leader who is more like you (but less corrupt), and is hampered by a very large Congress that can't get anything done. You will have access to our over-crowded public schools--but then a lot of you don't have any public schools. You will be able to set money aside for your retirement that will be guarenteed to be siphoned off by one of the parties. You will be able to worship in any church, mosque, or synagogue of your choice, as long as you accept Jesus as your personal savior and protest in a free-speech zone that is not anywhere close to what you are protesting.

Also, you will be able to help us out of the trillions of dollars in debt that we are in. that is the least you can do so that our grandchildren won't have to foot the bill for all the drunken sailor spending that has been going on.

Of course there will be some challenges to overcome, like will Iowa continue to be the first in the nation-state caucus in 2012 or will some ground have to be ceded to Dubai or some other middle eastern state? Will Federal workers get Ramadan and Tet off? Will sub-Saharan state residents have to deal with childhood obesity? Also, and very importantly, how will we fit all 244 stars on the US flag?

Given our history of developing an instant liking to everybody who is called an American (or now maybe "Worldian"?)--we will likely be more likely to love our brothers and sisters who live below the Mason-Dixon line (or perhaps the Equator) as long as they don't unionize and do learn English. So, no matter if you are living in the artic circle of in the land down under, we will welcome you with the same live and let live spirit that we did for native people on our current continent and immigrants (before the melting pot). Remember, we have a Manifest Destiny to live up to and you would be doing us a solid, as well as getting back into our good graces.

Imagine this, gone will be starvation, joblessness, and war (unless there is a civil war--but why? We're all Worldians now). It will also be easier to collect taxes from corporations who won't need to shelter their incomes in other countries' banks. And best of all, global climate change will be under control because we couldn't sit by while our fellow countrymen are being flooded out of their homes, could we?

And it just makes sense. We have known for years that if we spread our democracy around, all of you would eventually get on board. So why not now? Help the US be that uber-sized shining city on the hill that visionary giants like Ronald Reagan and Ayn Rand dreamed of. States of the world, unite!

Tuesday, October 5

Fall Back Plan for the Future

As some of you may have noted, the Popular Progressive blog has been quiet in the last few months. This was wholly unintentional, but it is symptomatic of where the author has been with regard to the body politic. To press for progressive ideals is not a non-contact sport and it has become somewhat brutal when faced with the likes of the Tea Party and right-winged firebrands who cynically believe that we have become too progressive in Iowa and elsewhere.

Nonetheless, during my time away I have been taking in the voices of gloom and doom and they have given me some pause to reflect. As a person who works with trends and looks at them with a eye that wants to be able to explain what it all means, this is what I can conclude: we have come to the end of the age of quick fixes and easy answers. And had we actually been paying attention, our President, among others, was telling us from the day he was elected and since.

Unfortunately, many people have the mind set that all problems should and can be solved in an election cycle or else, throw the bums out and try again. That type of magical thinking works marginally well with sports teams (although as a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan, I can assure you that it doesn't always work). The President and Congress are dealing with the economic carnage of two wars, as well as banking and housing financing fiascoes that broke down the markets (caused by egregious policy/practice mistakes of the past--and yes, there is blame enough to go around for both parties, the industry lobbyists who convinced them it was good politics, the Gordon Gecko wannabes who recited the greed-is-good mantra to underlings who made it so, and the simple-minded consumers who accepted this false largess as their birthright). Add to this an emotionally charged "fixing" of an ailing health care system that is still some time from being realized and is it any wonder that people are questioning their allegiances?

Fast forward to the election that will occur about a month from now. With the pumping media storyline that Republican and particularly right wing voters are being "energized" to vote and lefties and Democrats being "disenchanted"--it would seem that results are already in and we'll go from having a party of "No" to a nation of "No."

And what do we get in return for our buyer's remorse, a promise to bring back the failed policies that created the deep hole that we find ourselves in. Like all efforts to turn the economy around, we have to remember that it is not like a family budget and it is more like a million headed hydra that generally works best if investment is occurring. If the private sector really is the answer, why is it so reluctant to step forward and lead us out of the recession? Is it that those who have feasted during the "good" times are still too bloated to stand up?

Instead, the spotlight has been shone on the one sector that is actually investing in helping the economy to reinvigorate itself. Unfortunately for it, but fortunately for the democratic process (and unlike a Fortune 500 company--where the CEO gets what they want)-- our elected CEO doesn't call all the shots. Opposing forces (and by this I mean members of Congress from both parties who are holding out their hand to interests who care not a whit about "the average American")count on these failures to weaken the position of those shaping policy and, while opinions may legitimately be different, real people are hurt waiting for the promised "trickle down" to happen.

Regardless of the outcome of the election, there is some serious work that needs to take place in this country:

1) People holding the purse strings need to pony up--if it is a business that isn't investing in its next generation or a billionaire who is sitting on his or her money, get off the dime. The government should not need to give you an incentive to invest in the country and the people who have gotten you to where you are today. There is something very patriotic about investing in solving your country's problems.
2) Gasbags, whiners, and blamers need to shut up and roll up their sleeves to give back to this nation what they have been fortunate enough to get out of it.
3) Regardless of what party or ideology you belong to, we are in the midst of a crisis of confidence in each other. United we stand, divided we shall surely fall. Find something that you can do in your hometown or state that can make a condition better--that was the pioneer spirit that created so much good in this land.
4) Reevaluate what is really important. Instant gratification is expensive as we have literally taxed our planet's limited resources to death. What if the measure of wealth was not how much you have, but what you do with what you have?
5) Reimagine the future for your family, town, country and help to create the plans that gets us there.

I do not doubt that we are bigger than our problems. I do believe that our short attention spans have clouded our ability to believe that things can and will get better. I close by repeating these words that Paul Wellstone said, "If we don't fight hard enough for the things we stand for, at some point we have to recognize that we don't really stand for them."

Friday, July 30

You @#%$@#^& Nutbag: Our Freedom to Criticize

I'm not sure this is news, but Americans love their freedom of speech--mostly as it applies to criticizing others. Whether the criticism is for the President for choosing to appear on the View or the mayor for a quote he made, people online and "live" are all over it. Modern media probably couldn't exist without it and certainly is encouraging of it. Still, is it that people are afraid that their freedoms are being taken away and so they are getting in their final digs before the socialist-, Nazi-, Big Brother, Corporate-, Dictatorial-Government boot finally comes down? Or is it that Americans are predisposed to believe that their ideas and opinions are as valid as anyone elses, regardless of the subject and without regard of anyone elses' feelings?

In any case, all this critic-speak and punditicism seems to be leading to cautious action or poor action from our political leaders--fearing they will either lose power or cede power to the other side. We the people do not play by the same rules (and perhaps why we are so "mouthy"). To illustrate my point, think of a decision you make every day--going to work, taking your child to school, whatever. Now imagine if the roof of your house were removed if and giants were looking in on you as you were getting ready to do your daily routine. How weird would it be for someone to tell you how to dress or what to feed your child? Yet every day we opine about other people and their choices like somehow we know better than them what is best for them to do.

In the political realm this makes politicans do nutty things like making legislation that made sense when proposed into legislation that is, well, not very good. Thinking back a few years, do you think the "doughnut hole" in Medicare magically appeared? Probably not. Probably a perfectly well-crafted bill was watered down because of well-orchestrated criticism. So, rather than scrap the whole bill, legislatorive staff hammered out the details to make the buill palatable until, guess what, there was a doughnut hole in Medicare.

I'll grant you that being the President or the mayor carries extra weight than the rest of us carry, but it does not mean that their humanity should be sacrificed in the wake of someone else needing to express their opinion. And it certainly goes double for others whose opinion you choose to slash in burn as a comment to a newspaper or over the phone when you call in to speak on a radio talk show.

I do not suggest that people shouldn't be critical of others. That would be hypocritical coming from a blogger like me--particularly as I am currently being critical of others (maybe even you, I don't know). I do suggest that being critical should also balanced with a recognition that we are all human beings and should be treated with respect. I have failed on this point in the past and likely will in the future. However, if we can't hold out higher standards for ourselves, what good is all the freedom?

And, by the way, in the unlikely event that our freedom of speech is going to be taken away in the near future by whomever--to that oppressor I respectfully say in advance, go f!@k yourself.

Monday, July 26

What's the Alternative?

Al Franken said it best when addressing the Netroots Nation, " I know progressives are frustrated...because it feels at times not everyone in our party is pushing at the same pace." Al's absolutely right, it isn't even closer to the direction that many in the progressive movement thought that the 2008 election outcome would propel us. So far many things, from healthcare, the environment and global climate change legislation, Wall Street reform, and civil liberties have been co-opted or watered down in a race to make sure "we" can win the mid-terms.

So many of us are ruminating on the idea that helping the mainstream Democrats will bring us more of the same. If this is progress, why bother? We are told to consider the alternative. If Republicans are able to win the House or Senate back, what will happen to even the short-term gains that have been made? And this is a truly frightening--not hopeful-- proposition

We are asked to "hope" a little longer, be willing to wait for "change" a little longer, but so far the return on our investment has been questionable. What the mainline has to consider is that when you make promises at election time, people really do count on you delivering on them. It is likely that some of the people who joined the Tea drinkers did so because they felt that what was promised was not being delivered. We all wanted "change we can believe in"--sadly, what we have gotten is politics as usual.

We are told that change is not instant, that we must keep our eye on the larger prize. We must do more to keep hope alive. But while platitudes make for great conventions, legislation is how we get things done. And does anyone really believe that the legislation pushed through in the last year and a half is for the people? If it is, I hope every Democrat running for reelection can articulate how it helps us on Main Street. We need to ask the mainline to consider the alternative of losing support by the people who pushed the hardest for change to happen.

Sunday, July 25

Shirley Sherrod and Us

Shirley Sherrod, the USDA employee who was summarily fired last week, as it turns out, is everything that America should embrace. She has overcome her own personal barriers and prejudices to help small farmers be protected by those that would take their land, regardless of color. Yet, this week, as Keith Olbermann nicely summarized was "thrown under the bus" by the Obama administration, the NAACP, and other groups before examining the evidence to the contrary.

As Iowans, we should be particularly outraged at our former Governor and attorney, Tom Vilsack who said, when the story from Fox and other news agencies first came out, "We have been working to turn the page on the sordid civil rights record at USDA. This controversy could make it more difficult to move forward on correcting injustices." After his rush to judgment and learning that there was more to the story, he made the correct decision to rehire Sherrod. At the moment, it is unknown what the outcome will be, but Mr. Vilsack may find himself under the wheels of the bus, if that is what is called for justice to be served.

The failure of the press in reporting this story is almost unforgivable. Clearly we are in an age of propaganda, the likes we have never seen before, where a foreign owned news company is acting as a mouthpiece to drive a rightest agenda (and doing so with great success). However, where was the fact-checking by CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, etc.? How embarrassing must it be for seasoned news professionals to look at each other and say "I thought you checked the facts."

Also, how simple are we as people to jump with the press to the conclusion that a person was guilty without so much as a chance to be heard? What a disservice to our shared humanity?

I hope that Shirley Sherrod is rehired. I hope that she is considered for the Secretary of Agriculture position. It is clear that through her actions, the citizens of the United States were better serviced than by her bosses or others that sip from the teat of the USDA.

Wednesday, June 30

What We Can Learn From Radicals

Radicalism isn't a right or left thing, it's both. Folks who want to drown government in a bath tub exist on both sides of the political spectrum. People who want freedom without consequences are as prevalent on the right as they are on the left. What we can learn from radicals , left and right, is that their formerly extreme views often become our eventual mainstream ones. Consider how radical "gunowner rights" have been and how they have been mainstreamed by the NRA and other 2nd Amendment proponents. Consider how Marriage Equality and Don't Ask, Don't Tell are moving more and more to the mainstream thanks to the left.

What we should learn from radicals on the left and right is that these movements don't take place over night and the mainstream tends to gravitate in gradual steps. This is why it is important to view the left or right leanings of the nation as a harbinger of things to come. And often the leanings take place in the halls of government.

The changes that have been played out in placing individuals on the Supreme Court is, in my opinion, the most important application of radicalism: putting people with radical ideas in the places of power. As a result of neoconservative radicalism, we have given rise to rampant corporate power-grabbing, lessened civil liberties to give government more power, and awarded more personal power to those who would enact it by the business end of a gun.

Radicals teach us that nothing can be gained without struggle. They teach us that without moderating forces, the values we presume to be our birthright are not protected. They teach us that we must be in the fray or willing to accept the consequences. Most importantly, they teach us that if their ideas are championed in the correct places, cooler heads seldom prevail.

Saturday, June 26

A Civil Discussion: Why Is It Not Okay to Stray from the Party Line?

I appreciate those people who put in time and effort to help candidates to be elected for their parties. It is a noble calling. However, it is painful when their partisanship does not allow them to call on their elected leaders to do the right thing when they compromise away things that hurt their constituents. The argument I hear from my much more committed to winning one for the party friends is we win if we are moving things "in the right direction." I would put the emphasis on "right" over direction, as many of the compromises are there to appease right of center groups. My recent post about the DISCLOSE act showcases an example of such appeasement.

However, how can we trust in a politics that promises change, but delivers gradualism or plain sells out a group of people for the opportunity to declare victory for our side now? Whether it is funding the war, tackling global climate change, economic policy, or health care, it shouldn't surprise anyone that through whittling away at legislation, average people are asking "So how does this help me?"

This is the very type of politics that Paul Wellstone and others fought (and some continue to fight) against. Wellstone said, while debating against a bill, “I believe that we will deeply regret this stampede to pass this legislation and the way in which we have taken all the human rights, religious freedom, right to organize, all of those concerns and we just put them in parenthesis, put them in brackets, as if they don't exist.” By treating those special interests and the people who are the public face for them as having more "personage" than someone affected by results of that legislation, we should not be surprised that it leads to a radicalization of politics both further right and left.

Should we feel empathy for those who choose to support their parties, of course. They are genuinely trying to do things to the best of their abilities to shape policy around what they believe is best. But should we not also point out when they are being sycophants and not using their critical thinking ability?

I understand that no political party or politician is without flaws. Voting more and more becomes an exercise in who will do less to make you angry that you voted for them than a feeling of genuine belief that they are representing your interests. However, if we really believe that the Constitution has any relevancy in our lives, we need to remember that our representative democracy is dependent on an informed electorate, not just those who excel at cheer leading.

Monday, June 21

The DISCLOSE Act: A Bill That Is False Advertising

After reading the Washington Post's article about the so-called campaign finance bill, I was equally appalled by the fact that it would exclude players like the NRA, the US Chamber of Commerce from reporting large contributors in campaign ads, but also would allow corporations who win government contracts of less than $10 million could use those earnings to support candidates of their liking. This prompted my firing off this letter to our 2nd District House Representative:

Dear Congressman Loebsack,

The current version of the DISCLOSE Act, is embarassing to the Democratic party, to the district you represent, and the United states of America. By allowing groups like the NRA to be excluded from this legislation, the argument that this creates transparency is an illusion. Further, by allowing any government contractor to be able to use money that has been paid by the American people to effectively align candidates of their choosing, is ludricrous legislation at best.

I support campaign finance reform that creates an environment of real transparency. I strongly urge you to either amend this legislation or offer a stronger remedy. As it stands, vote no!

PRIDE: In the Name of Protest

This is the fifth year or so that I've marched with my fellow Unitarian Universalist church members in in the Iowa City Pride Festival. This particular year, the parade was both eye opening and anger provoking.

Perhaps because it is an election year, the turnout of Democrats running for office was very noticeable. Also noticeable were the outpouring of religious right folks who numbered around twenty or thirty who seemed to feel that those in the parade were commiting an abominable sins.

I imagine that if there were a non-abominable sin parade, these same folks would find a much smaller audience than they were able to attract at this weekend's event. Nonetheless, the group did disperse as quickly as the last GLBT parader swung their rainbow flag past them.

While I appreciate protestation and practice the art of it on a regular basis, I wonder if an opportunity to educate was squandered on Saturday. Granted, I would not expect either side to be converted, but at least there should be a way for people who fear for others' mortal souls to hear that those "sinners" are doing all right without the power of their prayers.

I wonder how it is possible for a group of anti-Gay zealots to "love the sinner but not the sin" when they focus so much of their attention on the sinners? I am glad to support my friends as an ally, but I also dispair at those who would choose to believe that their existence is somehow a threat to them or their God--the very same God that we are made in the image of.

Wednesday, June 9

Post-Primary Mini-Dissection

It was a great day to be a local incumbent in Johnson County as all of them made it through the primary either unopposed or winning by large margins. It was also a very good day for women candidates of all parties as US Senatorial candidate Roxanne Conlin, US House candidate Mariannette Miller-Meeks, and Iowa House candidate Sandra Greiner withstood multiple challengers. On the other hand, in state- and national-level politics, it was not a good day to be a staunch conservative, as more moderate candidates were successful in defeating their "I'm more conservative than you" adversaries.

Voter turnout in Johnson County was an abysmal 10%, but showed that registered Republicans were more excited about the primary than their Democrat counterparts as more party faithful on the R side voted in the primary. A look at the early voter stats showed that Republicans won over Democrats in upping their membership for the primary. So what does this mean come November? It means that both parties will be working on turning out registered voters. It means that incumbents in challenged races will have to remind people why they should keep them around. It means that even in the Republic of Johnson County, there are those who aren't thrilled with the status quo on a state and nationwide level. However, the only thing that is stronger than the winds of change are the doldrums of apathy--and that will be what both parties will be dedicating themselves to defeat.

Tuesday, June 8

Primary Day: How I'm Voting

Primaries for me are difficult to generate excitement over, but this one is interesting on a couple of fronts. Locally. Janelle Rettig's "re-election" is an easy choice. She's doing a great job and has earned the opportunity to continue to serve. Besides, she and long-time incumbent Sally Stutsman are not being opposed by anyone except Write-In. In fact, other than the race for Dave Jacoby's House seat, there aren't any local primary contests that are contests. I was surprised that Janet Lyness was not challenged and I'll actually be writing in her 2006 opponent, Nick Maybanks, as my choice. Her office's handling of the John Deng investigation still makes my skin crawl.

The big races, of course, are the US Senate Democratic primary and the Republican Gubernatorial race. I have been disappointed at the tone of these races, as it shows what is wrong with the body politic, too much monkey business--both from the candidates and the party movers and shakers.

In the Democratic Senate race, the discourse is not helped by the fact that there is not an ideal candidate in the bunch and the sense that Roxanne Conlin's candidacy was a direct result of the IDP's belief that Chuck Grassley can only be defeated by a rainmaker; nobody can deny that Conlin has found deep pockets (although professing to prefer publicly-funded elections). Tom Fiegen, who was endorsed by the Des Moines Register has a great idea about generating jobs and has some progressive ideals, but his personal stance toward womens' reproductive rights and his low blows about Conlin's husband hurt him with the traditional base. Bob Krause, who is the only one who wants to end the war in Afghanistan and properly fund the VA is running a poor third. While I will vote for Krause, I am not sure that his pro stance on gun rights will help him win other progressive friends.

I hope to develop an enthusiasm for Roxanne Conlin, but so far she has been big on platitudes and short on plans. I'm not sure that Iowa's record for electing women to higher offices helps either. On the other hand, Chuck Grassley is looking weaker and, if anti-incumbency fever peaks in November, another of Iowa's "traditions" could very well change.

On the Republican side, Terry Branstad may very well return have the opportunity to return to Terrace Hill. The fact that Chet Culver doesn't generate a lot of goodwill among the party's more progressive members and the "strategy" of encouraging folks to cross party lines to vote up Bob Vander Plaats is a sign of how weak Culver may be. The saving grace for Culver may be that people are more afraid of what Branstad may do to gin up base support and then even reluctant Dems will have to support him. I will write in my vote for 2006 candidate Ed Fallon during the primary. Culver has not earned my vote either around labor issues or showing leadership about Iowa's economy.

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Monday, May 31

More Law or More Ingenuity?

The Iowa City city council is considering a more restrictive aggressive solicitation ordinance that would keep panhandlers and street musicians at least 15 feet from each other, would limit the area within the Ped Mall to something like a putting green on a miniature golf course for them to ask for help, and disallows the use of obscene language on solicitation signs. In asking the city council to reconsider the need for the more restrictive ordinance at their last meeting, I asked the members to look at current data to drive their decision, as they typically do when considering fiduciary matters. By a couple of the city council members’ own accounts they have been given no data that indicates any arrests or citations have occurred since the original aggressive solicitation ordinance was put in place over six months ago. That ordinance already prevents panhandlers from being within ten feet of store entrances and exits, fifteen feet from crosswalks, and twenty feet from ATMs, among other things.

Given as reasons to support the new ordinance is the request coming from the Downtown Association that there have been complaints by customers concerning some of the panhandlers bothering their customers and the effect is this hurts DTA businesses. Not to second guess the council or the DTA, but if there is a "problem" with aggressive panhandlers and street musicians on the Ped Mall, why aren't current laws being enforced?

The goal the City seems to be leaning toward is the systematic eradication of (or vastly limiting Ped Mall access to) those seen as "undesirable" by the business/real estate owners and others, whether they are acting in accordance with the current law or not. If the “data” that is driving their decision are the potential dollars and cents that businesses feel would come from a Disney-like public center, they should be straight forward and say so. If that is the intent, I’d go so far as suggesting that the City sell the Ped Mall to a real estate developer who could then privatize the space formally. At least then the real costs of doing business would not fall on the taxpayers.

As far as the notion that downtown is somehow unsafe? Why send the message to be afraid of downtown or the people in it. There is an old adage that works: “there is safety in numbers.” To ensure the numbers of people that are needed to support local businesses, incentive is needed to keep locals and out-of-towners discovering the specialness of downtown Iowa City. Look at what already brings people downtown: Friday night music, Saturday and Sunday night movies, art walks, theater, and festivals are all crowd pleasers. Why not work smarter to harness the power of individual creativity and community resources to convince any doubting Thomases that our downtown has a lot to offer and to support? Bring in a crowd and you won’t have to worry about a relatively small number of people.

To be clear, every businessperson is looking for a way to boost their bottom-line and that is her or his individual right. Panhandlers and business people probably at least this in common; they both want to make a living. But, as long as the Ped Mall is a public commons, the rule of law should balance a private request with the public good. The Iowa City bottom-line, in this case, should be to leave well enough alone.

Garry Klein is a member of FAIR! and Citizens for Community Improvement

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Protest Press Conference Scheduled Tuesday

Iowa City, IA – On June 1, 2010, Iowa City Council will be considering a third reading to reduce the free speech zone of the Ped Mall to appease business interests that lobbied its members. We find this to be abhorrent to the 1st amendment Rights of all Iowa Citians and ask the City Council to reconsider passing this ordinance. On June 1st at 6:30 pm in front of City Hall, Citizens United for Free Speech will have a press conference to present our side of the story. Members of Iowa Citizen's for Community Improvement, the ACLU, the Bill of Right's Coordinating Committee, FAIR!, as well as street performers and fund-raisers for non-profit groups who will be affected by enacting a more rigorous "aggressive panhandling" ordinance will also be on hand.

As of the release of this notice, the current ordinance has not resulted in the citation or arrest of one person that it was intended to address. Our group is calling for a review of the enforcement of the current ordinance and asks the City Council to delay the last reading of the ordinance until more facts that would justify the action are presented by those who desire the law changed. We will share our survey results (see: that shows few Iowa City residents or visitors find the Ped Mall to be a dangerous place or unappealing to visit and because the impact for any group seeking goodwill donations will be permanently impacted by the Council's decision, believe this is a "solution seeking a problem."

Last month, the Mayor of Seattle, Washington, Bill McGinn, noted about the aggressive panhandling bill that he vetoed and his City Council backed up, "Although being asked for money on the street can be uncomfortable, it isn't illegal and the Supreme Court has said repeatedly that this is protected speech." He also noted his concern that the law would be leveraged unfairly against those who were perceived to be a threat. We share his concerns.

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Wednesday, May 26

What Do You Think?

I have posted many articles about the Iowa City Council and the Ped Mall, but what do people really think about Iowa City's Downtown? Take this short Click here to take survey.

Council's Stance Far from Middle of the Road

As the Iowa City Council gathers to decide whether to make an aggressive panhandling ordinance more rigid, a couple of different thoughts have solidified in my mind. 1) This ordinance radically changes who can speak and gather on the Ped Mall 2) How law enforcement officers will be challenged to fairly enforce the law.

The panhandling ordinance has the chilling effect of lumping all "panhandlers" under one law--that is a street person, a musician, a person seeking support for cancer research, or a political group seeking financial support for an issue are all painted with the same brush. The City Attorney's office say they have no choice, it is a matter of treating everyone as equal under the 1st Amendment. The only thing is, the law leaves out a very important group in this scenario, business owners. By in fact saying that we are doing this to protect our "fragile" business district, this is giving more importance to this group of people's free speech rights than others in the public.

In essence, the public space that is being limited to accommodate business interests is infringing on the civil liberties of all kinds of people from street beggars to Girl Scouts. This is a radical notion. And while the city council sees their action as, middle of the road, balancing the rights of business people and the public interest, they have made the middle of the Ped Mall a free speech zone that does not invite free speech and is likely to create a larger problem than it solves.

All laws come down to enforcement. If the Iowa City Police Department is using its resources to make arrests, it will make them based on who does the reporting. In other words is anyone going to call the police because a Girl Scout is selling her cookies on the Ped Mall? Not too likely. However if the law is enforced only with those people that produce an "yuck" response for others, does the end justify the means? Laws are supposed to create equity, not arm the constabulary in putting people away with whom others label as unsavory to the eye or holding views that are different than their own.

The argument I have made is that the current law works or doesn't work based on who is making the call and who is enforcing it. If people are concerned their businesses suffer from panhandlers, make the call to the police. At least then we'd know that the law was being applied. Currently we know the law is not being used as is shown by the lack of citations. Or maybe common sense is prevailing. Maybe, law or no law, people are are communicating that they are bothered by others' actions and common decency and courtesy are working?

In investigating this issue, I found it really interesting talking to people who do panhandle. They don't want to be a bother and are horrified by those who they see as violating a code of ethics. I think that most people want to live and let live until it comes to their own livelihoods. I truly think that panhandlers and store owners are not that far apart in their desires, they have a difference of opinion of what are fair business practices.

Thursday, May 20

Who'd a Thunk It? Financial Security from Health Carer Reform

The following information comes from Bill Hawthorne, Public Outreach Assistant at the Mesothelioma and Asbestos Awareness Center. If you know anyone who has been affected by Mesothelioma, it is very expensive to afford the treatment because research has not found a cure for this type of cancer. My thanks to Bill and his organization.

Health Care Reform Will Help Everybody

Many Americans assume the new health care reform act will benefit mostly the poor and uninsured and hurt everyone else, according to polls. As Matt Yglesias wrote, “Basically, people see this as a bill that will take resources from people who have health insurance and give it to people who don’t have health insurance.” Those who still oppose the reform say that people ought to pay for their own health care.

We all believe in the virtues of hard work and self-reliance, but these days it’s a fantasy to think that anyone but the mega-wealthy will not, sooner or later, depend on help from others to pay medical bills. And that’s true no matter how hard you work, how much you love America, or how diligently you take care of yourself. The cost of medical care has so skyrocketed that breaking an arm or leg could cost as much as a new car. And if you get cancer or heart disease — which can happen even to people who live healthy lifestyles — forget about it. The disease will not only clean you out; it will leave a whopping debt for your survivors to pay.

And the truth is, we all pay for other peoples’ health care whether we know it or not. When people can’t pay their medical bills, the cost of their health care gets added to everyone else’s bills and insurance premiums. When poor people use emergency rooms as a doctor of last resort, their care is not “free.” You pay for it.

Another common fantasy about medical care is that the “free market” provides incentives for medical companies to develop innovative new drugs and treatments for disease without government subsidy. It’s true that private enterprise is very good at developing profitable health care products. But not all medical care can be made profitable.

For years, the U.S. government has been funding medical research that the big private companies don’t want to do because there is too much cost for the potential profit. This is especially true for diseases that are rare and expensive to treat. An example of a recent advance made possible by government grants include new guidelines for malignant pleural mesothelioma treatment developed by Memorial Sloan-Kettering mesothelioma researchers. Another is a blood screening test for mesothelioma developed by thoracic surgeon Dr. Harvey Pass. The health reform act provides for more dollars for such research, from which even many of the tea party protesters will benefit.

The biggest fantasy of all was that people who had insurance didn’t have to worry about health care costs. But the fact is that in recent years millions of Americans have been bankrupted by medical costs, and three-quarters of the medically bankrupt had health insurance. And yes, insurance companies even dumped hard-working, law-abiding patriots. But the health care reform act will put an end to that, and now America’s hard-working, law-abiding patriots are more financially secure, whether they like it or not.

Wednesday, May 19

Transcript from 5/10 Panhandling Discussion

Below is the transcription from the 5/10 Iowa City Council meeting which included a second consideration of an "aggressive solicitation" ordinance modification, the details of which can be found here.

Hayek: This is second consideration, and staff has requested expedited action.
Bailey: Move second consideration.
Wright: Second.
Hayek: Moved by Bailey, seconded by Wright. Discussion? We clearly have some members of the public here, so…sign in or…or put your name on a sticker and put it on the, uh, book please, and state your name and…address us.
Klein: Uh, good evening again, Garry Klein again, and still at 628 2nd Avenue, as far as I know.
Hayek: And, Garry, I’m sorry to interrupt you. I’m going to ask that people limit their comments to three minutes tonight. Based on the late hour, and the number of people who apparently need to address us. (both talking) Just so everyone can get…
Klein: May I ask the Mayor if…if I run out at three minutes, can I come back for another three? Cause I know this is more than three minutes. I timed it.
Hayek: Yeah.
Klein: I was timing for five, but three I…
Hayek: We’ll play it by ear.
Klein: Okay. Okay, so uh, I…first of all, I wanted to thank everyone behind me for coming. I was surprised. This…when I sent you a letter, I understood I was the first correspondence that the City Council had heard from about this, uh, about this issue, other than the…the person who spoke at the last meeting. So when I sent that letter, uh, I did for three specific reasons. One, I wondered if this is an overkill measure, given my understanding that exactly zero, uh, aggressive panhandling citations have been issued, if I understood, uh, from the Council Members…I asked that question of…of that issue. So if we already have something that’s working, and we have three or four other ordinances that can be used if people get out of hand, why are we here tonight? Why are we here at this late hour? Um, secondly, as a person who’s been before this Council many times
on free speech issues, um, this further limitation of free speech, essentially putting people in the planters to keep them away from the entrances of businesses seems, again, to be, uh, not very promising given that these same folks may be our…our street musicians, as well as folks like student groups who are raising million…over a million dollars for things like, uh, dance marathon, as an example. Um, and finally, is this really fair to other businesses in downtown, I mean, we’re…we’re treating the ped mall as this very special place, where the rest of downtown has to kind of contend with the fallout when we keep making…making rule changes in that area. Um, so I can understand, given what I just heard about the, uh, from the money for block grant money why perhaps you haven’t heard from, uh, some of the non-profits and their issues. But I also…uh, I guess there are people, as you see behind me, who have a views…a viewpoint that differs from yours, or at least your first vote. So, I want you to think about the different between meaning well and acting well, because we all mean well. Everyone here means well, that’s why we’re here tonight. I think in making your first consideration you meant well…to make things better for the…for businesses on the ped mall. I understand there are issues. But for everybody I hear who says there’s a problem on the ped mall, I read something or see something on a community program that says, we love…here, can I give you a direct quote. This is from a…a tenant on the ped mall. Downtown is safe. I feel safe. Everybody watches out for each other. It’s not just a place to do business. It’s a place for friends to meet and to hangout. Well, a lot of people believe that, and that’s why they’re down there, and it’s not just about business, even for the business owners, apparently. I did contact the DTA to find out who are these people who said we need to do this now, and I was told, well, we’re not going to tell you, so I wonder, did they tell you? Uh, thirdly, um, you know, you have a Member on the Council who frankly may, in my estimation, at least have an ethical consideration in making a vote. Why? Because he has a business on the ped mall. Two he has, uh, in the past made statements about his feelings about panhandling, and how that affects his business. There’s an economic interest at play here. My concern then is that for fairness that…that that person really consider whether it’s through a moral compass or through a higher power, whether it’s appropriate to vote on this issue. Um, so…the last thing I’m going to say, and I’m going to move out and let other people talk, is that at the very least, you mention that this item is being asked to be expedited by staff. What I’m asking you to do is get more data, for crying out loud. If what I’m hearing here is zero people have been arrested on existing aggressive panhandling ordinance, why are we trying to make it harder? So having said that, I…my request to the Council is let’s separate these votes out. There may be more people who need to be heard from, including the Downtown Association. I’m…I’m not saying that I’m the arbiter of all things that are right about the City. I’m not saying that at all. I’m saying that there are people who are going to be affected, and it’s not just the…it’s not the usual suspects. And with that I’ll…I do want to, uh, give something to, uh, for you guys to look at. You may have seen this. It’s called preventing panhandling. There’s a lot of different ways we can approach this thing. It’s good information, and maybe we can try education over adjudication.
Hayek: Mr. Klein, for your information (applause) Mr. Klein, so that you and the others understand, there’s no present motion to consolidate the second and third readings of this item. The…the motion is to pass second consideration, which would still leave the third consideration for the next City Council meeting. (unable to hear person in audience)
Wright: Not tonight!
Hayek: Not tonight.
Fidelis: My name is Libris Fidelis, and of course I live downtown at Capitol House Apartments. Uh, I have made a previous correspondence, connection, uh, through the emails, uh, to the City Council, and I believe I spoke at one of the previous, uh, Council meetings, but I’m not sure if I did or not. The pending Iowa City ordinance concerning the allegations of panhandling, uh, is both labeled and prejudicially, uh, excessive in its effect upon denying basic United States’ civil and constitutional rights to a minority of this City’s impoverished citizens. In the four years that I have lived downtown in Capitol House Apartments, I have regularly, almost daily, made at least six or more round trips per week walking on the downtown sidewalks and right through the ped mall, which is now being labeled by the Sheraton Hotel as “City Plaza.” Those daily walks have been especially, going to the Wesley Center Free Lunch program on north Dubuque Street, and Capitol House Apartments, from Capitol House Apartments, uh, but also randomly I’ve been going to the Wedge for occasional breakfast, to the Iowa City Public Library, to the Bread Garden Market for groceries, to the Post Office, uh, to the Downtown Transit Center, to Old Capitol Mall and to various food establishments for meals. Never in my four years of walking downtown have I witnessed anything remotely resembling what is described in the proposed ordinance as aggressive behavior as the result of impoverished solicitations that have regularly been asking for charitable assistance from the public in presence. Yes, I have witnessed the very rare, occasional minor violent or threatening gang altercations in the ped mall area, but those are very rare, and has never involved impoverished solicitors who are regularly asking for charitable handout donations. There are two very serious civil rights denial issues that our City is attempting to press into, uh, ordinance. First is to deny the City, by City ordinance the right of certain minority citizens to be present in certain locations in our city. A second is to deny this, by City ordinance, the right of certain citizens to communicate their plight with the public, in the hope that some minor monetary aid will be forthcoming from an understanding and sympathetic public. Any restriction or denial of these two basic fundamental human and constitutional rights results in civic disqualification of citizenship rights upon a certain selected disadvantaged segment of our society. Such an act by ordinance if passed by Iowa City Council will be therefore a response to a perceived non-reality that the issue might concern public safety when directed to historically peaceful, impoverished solicitors. But rather, this is actually a personal vendetta by certain commercial
economic special interests, that originates from a dislike for seeing in the public presence the apparent low-income and non-income disadvantaged citizens who come to the central downtown area to solicit for generous but meager charitable assistance. The end result of this ordinance is, if approved, uh, by Iowa City Council, will be a prejudiced ordinance that is aimed at excluding citizenship on a particular segment of our society, just because of their personal appearance and activity to solicit charitable handouts in a typically peaceful manner. This committee, uh, Iowa City committee, uh, Iowa City Citizens Community Committee urges that this ordinance must be stopped now by a City Council vote against passage. It is both immoral and presents a caste making precedence for our city, which I believe will only result in a more probable civil rights lawsuit, which our City cannot win, and which will incur the wasted legal expenses thereto for our City to pay. Vote against this potentially tragic and defaming ordinance now. Thank you.
Hayek: Thank you. (applause)
Smithers: Uh, my name is David Smithers. I’m from…I live in Wellman, so I’m an ex-urban Iowa Citian. Um, I’ve lived and worked and went to school in…the greater Iowa City area for nearly 40 years. At least five of those years, mostly in the 70s, I lived in Iowa City itself. Uh, the downtown of Iowa City together with the University of Iowa campus is a historic and vital commons. Not only to Iowa City, but essentially to the world. We’re a UNESCO Literature City (mumbled) to Iowa and to the nation. The commons needs to be protected in order to protect the First Amendment rights of free speech and assembly. The commons has existed in downtown Iowa City, and the U of I campus, in conjunction with commerce and residential usage, for over 150 years. Uh, changes in commerce have induced…include an influx of federal dollars. The urban renewal that started in the mid-60s and just ended not too long ago. Uh, to the present day. It has also seen changes in transportation, and the nature of the pedestrian experience. Much commerce has fled to the…the malls and the big box stores for sure, where there exists cheap land and free parking. The congregation of people in such commercial areas has not been (mumbled) by any notion of commons though, and that is a very mixed bless…blessing indeed. Free parking is no substitute for free speech and free assembly. And that’s the reason for people like me, and other people, go to downtown Iowa City to…to mingle and to shop and to eat and get Library books and so on. And, yes, occasionally people, uh, protest down there, and some people ask for help. It is, uh, a vital dynamic for this city and it’s part of our history. Now a dark cloud is closing in…over us, and I’m not just talking about volcanic clouds from Iceland, that’s bringing down our cold rain. Post-911 America has witnessed increased laws of security, especially security of property. Human rights, including economic human rights, has taken hits, such as English-only laws here in Iowa, where place immigration, enforcement raids, restrictions to protect and sometimes, um, restrict free speech, something called free speech zones. That was mentioned not too long here…long ago here in Iowa City, uh, a few winters ago in Des Moines, uh…homeless people were cleared out of their heated hooches by the City of Des Moines, in the dead of winter, and now Iowa City with, afraid of its increased socio-economic and ethnic diversity has spewed forth with curfews and prohibitions on youth groups, uh, congregation..congregating, and now increasing restrictions on homeless people, among them neglected veterans, asking for help. Two thoughts come to my mind, well…two things bother me. Arizona immigration laws, and now this! Uh, Iowa City becoming more, progressive Iowa City becoming more intolerant. One word comes to my mind, I hate to say it: boycott.
Hayek: Thank you.
Clark: Excuse me (noise on mic). Good evening, Mayor, Council Members, my name is Sarah Clark and I live in the, uh, northside of town. Iowa City already has an ordinance in effect that, um, which outlaws aggressive solicitation. I would like to see some evidence that the current ordinance has not been effective. Why is there a push for further restrictions? It seems to me that these changes are being driven by one organization’s perception that downtown can only be rescued by further restricting certain persons and their activities. I’m in downtown Iowa City several, uh, several times a week, often to visit businesses within the ped mall zone. Not once have I felt threatened by someone panhandling…panhandling. Nor have I ever been directly approached by anyone asking me for money. What I have seen on a number of occasions are one or two individuals sitting quietly near the curb holding a small sign asking for a donation. Are these persons aggressive, in their panhandling? No, they are not. Have…how have they reacted, have they reacted in an aggressive or threatening way when I acknowledge them, but say that I cannot give them a contribution? No, they do not. These proposed changes to the ordinance have already created some unintended consequences as evidenced by a letter to the editor in today’s Press-Citizen from University of Iowa Dance Marathon organizers. Are you now going to amend the proposed ordinance changes to provide exceptions for non-profit organizations? You head down a slippery slope when you begin to differentiate between acceptable and unacceptable solicitors. I think these proposed changes are unworthy of the Iowa City I love. Rather than corral panhandlers into an even smaller area, wouldn’t it be more productive to provide information about local social services? One of the reasons I chose to move to Iowa City last year was because I knew it was not a ‘one flavor’ city where everyone looks and acts alike. The diversity of ped mall users, including panhandlers and solicitors from non-profit organizations contributes to the wonderful vitality that we enjoy in Iowa City. I believe the proposed ordinance would have a detrimental impact on that vitality, and I urge you to reject it. Thank you very much.
Hayek: Thank you. (applause)
Bennett: Hi, I’m Darcy Bennett, the Executive Business Director of Dance Marathon, and I’m just here to inform you on how the panhandling ordinance could go ahead and affect our organization, as well as other non-profit organizations. We are a
student-run philanthropy that raises funds for children with cancer, pediatric oncology patients and their families, treated at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital. The money that we raise goes directly to the Hospital and the community surrounding it with the…area families who are treated here. For the last three years we have raised over a million dollars each year for pediatric cancer families and patients. With the money raised we provide financial, emotional, and social support to these families. There are many programs that have been implemented with this, including child life assistance, summer programs for oncology patients and their siblings, and hospital renovations. We also fund a lot of the small things, like a dinner every other Sunday night, and parking vouchers for hospital ramps that can really mean a lot to families who are staying in our hospital for weeks to months at a time. We recently donated $1 million actually to the University of Iowa College of Medicine to fund renovations to a research laboratory and to the establishment of a research fund. We work year-round to raise funds and awareness for pediatric cancer, and during the weekend in February, we celebrate the lives of those children who have passed before us, and who are here with us today, in a 24-hour event. In order for students to join our event, they are required to raise $400, and much of this money is raised from our downtown panhandling, as you may call it. In the past years we’ve raised up to $30,000 per year with this downtown panhandling, and even though that doesn’t sound like much to a million dollar organization, it really, truly is. In…to put it in perspective, uh, we spent $30,000 per year for holiday gift cards that are donated just to the families so they can go ahead and provide presents and different things for their children around the holidays. We understand the main objective of this ordinance, but it does pose problems for a non-profit organization, like ourselves, and many others. One of the fundraisers that we, as I have mentioned earlier, do is kind of called ‘canning’ where we ask dancers or student participants to ask for donations in the pedestrian mall from 11:00 PM to 2:00 AM. This opportunity allows students of any socio-economic status to raise funds for pediatric oncology, as well as continued participation in an educationally beneficial activity during the late-night and weekend hours. This new ordinance would greatly decrease the amount of participants allowed to fundraise in this manner. We normally would have 30 students out on one night and this may decrease down to 10 students on a particular night. And, many students in our organization really do rely on this source of fundraising, as many of our dancers, including myself, do not have wealthy family members who can go ahead and cut a check for $400 in order for them to participate in our event. For this reason it is really important that we do offer this opportunity to students to be able t supplement their own fundraising costs, and as necessary be able to raise the full amount through downtown ‘canning.’ Not only will this decrease our student participation, but it may also affect the amount of money we are able to give back to the Iowa City and University of Iowa community, as you’ve heard previously. We are constantly revising the ‘canning’ program to abide by City ordinances and the University of Iowa cash handling stipulations. We’ll be willing to make adjustments as you feel necessary to please the general public; however, if this is passed in the current format it could directly impact the amount of money we are able to raise in our downtown ‘canning’ program. So, as a result, we would just like to ask you to possibly think of a revision for this for non-profit organizations or I don’t know all of the stipulations behind everything, so just kind of consider us when you’re thinking about passing this ordinance. And I would like to thank you for your time and just ask you to consider us, as well as the pediatric families and patients.
Hayek: Thank you. (applause)
Fiegen: Mr. Mayor, Members of the Council, my name again is Tom Feegan from greater Iowa City. Given the late hour, let me be brief. I have two concerns about your ordinance. The first relates to the First Amendment. We have an inalienable right to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, and it appears to me that this ordinance, including the tightening of the panhandling, is a abridgement of that right. The second is, the ped mall in our fine city is a unique public space. One of the prior speakers referred to it as a ‘commons.’ And, it is that, and it offers to all of us, all citizens of Iowa, all visitors to Iowa City, a unique patchwork that includes people that may be offensive to some of us, that may be different than all of us, but they are part of Iowa. They are part of Iowa City, and this ordinance in essence seeks to push them into the shadows, because there may be some inconvenience. There may be some uncomfortableness, and I would say to you as the elected representatives of this city and this patchwork quilt that you do not pass the second reading of this ordinance, and you do not shunt these people who are human beings into the dark corners of Iowa City, but allow them to be part of the patchwork that is our ped mall, that is our downtown. Thank you. (applause)
Hayek: Anyone else wishing to address the Council? Briefly, Garry!
Klein: It will be very brief. I…I wanted to offer…I was about to say a fig leaf, but that would be inappropriate. A, uh, a…olive branch! That’s what I was looking for (laughter). I don’t know biblical stuff; I get confused (laughter). Uh…but, one of the things that I did pay attention to is, you know, I look at things that have been successful in our city. One of the things that has been successful for the DTA has been the shop, or..and actually the Chamber of Commerce as well, is the shop local or the 350 programs, and I got to thinking, if…if we really believe that our social services could be better served by educating the public, and…and I really mean that. By having posters, having flyers, having information on the DTA’s web site, you know, because we, let’s face it, panhandlers are some of the most web literate people I know, and uh, and so it’s about where are…where are resources available. So, part of it is not to…I’m not a…I don’t want to be in the business of shutting people up, so much as I want to be in the business of helping them have better information, make decisions, and I know given, uh, a lot of things that were said tonight, and things you’ve been working on tonight, you like to…you like to have data to drive your decisions. As I said earlier, I feel in this particular case the data isn’t helping you here. It’s the anecdotal information that seems to be driving the decision. I think we would all feel better, uh, if this decision was based on fact rather than, uh, observation. So with that, again, I…I ask, I, like everyone else, I would love for you to change your minds and vote against, uh, this particular ordinance so that we don’t need a third reading, but if, you know, if…if you feel the need to have more people come visit you, I suppose we could do that! So, thanks so much!
Hayek: Thank you, Garry. Council?
Dickens: I could recuse myself, but I…I have a real hard time doing that. I…I’m downtown all the time. Some of you people come downtown occasionally. I’m there 330 days a year. I do get some Sundays off, um…I was, uh, I was…had an aggressive panhandler just come up to me last week. I was heading down to pick up my packet a week ago Thursday, and he would not back off. And finally I said, I’m on my way to the City Hall, if you want to follow me down, you’re more than welcome. So there is still some aggressive panhandling going on. Um, I see it all the time. I will recuse myself from voting on this, but I will not remain silent on it, because I live and breathe it every day and our customers, and non-customers, people that are just downtown, will come in our store to get away from some people, because they are still very aggressive. I would say overall it’s gotten a lot better. And I think it has, and those people sitting down, I know most of those people. I say ‘hi’ to them every day. I don’t have a problem with those. It’s still the aggressive, and they’re not…they’re not giving up. And, that’s the only reason…I will not vote on this, but I will not remain silent.
Dilkes: Let me just say one thing with respect to…to this, um…if I had thought that Mr. Dickens had a legally compelled conflict of interest I would have advised him as much. Um, I…I don’t. Um, clearly the decision to recuse himself though is his.
Wright: Terry, if I could just…step in. The aggressive panhandling already is illegal, um, what we’re talking about here is further restrictions, and that’s where I really start having a big problem with this ordinance. Um, for a bunch of reasons, uh, and I’ll probably rehash to a certain extent what I’ve said before, but we’re focusing first of all a group of people that’s essentially powerless. Uh, they have no economic clout of this community. They’re down on the street asking for money. That’s really not a fun way to make a living. I’ve talked with some of these folks. I know what kind of abuse they take. Uh, and the aggressive incident you spoke about is already illegal under our existing ordinance. Um, furthermore, I feel this is just a, yet one more whack against First Amendment rights to free speech. Panhandling is protected speech in the United States. Uh, I think the…unfortunate thing that we’re facing here…is that very frequently panhandlers are not well dressed. They don’t have good haircuts. They’re coats are dirty. They make us feel uncomfortable, and I think that’s what we’re really talking about here. It’s not a matter of safety downtown from the panhandlers. Uh, I…I said it the last time and I…I still agree with it this time, I find the…I’m sure the intentions behind this ordinance were good, but I think its overall affect is still mean-spirited and small-minded and the Council should be embarrassed that we’re even talking about it.
Hayek: I, um…I have legal training. I take First Amendment issues very seriously, um, our City Attorney’s office, which has…approved this, um, ordinance, uh, takes First Amendment issues very seriously, as well. In my estimation, um, this is both constitutional and reasonable. It allows solicitation to continue, uh, in the downtown area. Um, I am…I’m not interested in exceptions. I think that is a slippery slope. We cannot say that certain people can be within an area and others, uh, cannot as it relates to this ordinance. And that will impact toward the non-profits. Um, you will still be able to solicit, uh, in the designated areas within the entire city plaza, um, so based on that, I will continue to support this. But I…I appreciate the views of those who feel very strongly about this, and uh, I’m glad you showed up tonight, and I’m glad that the City Council will, uh, follow its tradition of…of making sure we have ample opportunity for public input on a very important issue.
Wilburn: The only piece that I would, uh, add, or highlight, is that um, as you had said, Mr. Mayor, it still allows, um, panhandling in that strip within the middle of the ped mall, so, but there is some reduction, um, and that piece that I added last time was that…aspect that we have in terms of balancing, um, balancing rights, and that’s between, um, the businesses and the individuals that have come forward, uh, with concerns, um, about aggressive panhandling to help try and provide some type of (mumbled) in terms of ease…um, ease of clarifying where…where it cannot occur in the pedestrian mall. Um, that’s the only piece that I would add.
Hayek: No further discussion?
Bailey: Well, the commons requires a balancing act and we’re fortunate that we still have a commons in downtown Iowa City. Many cities have turned their pedestrian plazas or the city plaza that is legally and technically called, they’ve turned them back into vehicular traffic. I was just reading today about, I think it was Sacramento, has gone back to vehicular traffic in their pedestrian plaza. Um, and what I’m seeing in our downtown, which concerns me, um, because I love our downtown, is a fragile economic environment right now. We are fortunate to have so many local businesses down there, and that balancing act between people who want customers coming in their business and feeling comfortable…I always feel comfortable downtown. I’ve never been downtown where I haven’t felt comfortable, but I also have, you know, parents in town who don’t feel comfortable coming downtown, and I understand their perspective. Some of it is, oh, people don’t look like us and they look a little different, and I get that, and I can, you know, say Mom, come on, but I don’t want them to feel unsafe, and I understand that important balancing act with this. There’s still an area that’s designated. It’s still balancing rights, and it’s balancing issues. I’m glad to hear from everybody tonight who’s concerned about our community, because that’s what it takes to build community, and I know that many of you think I’m wrong, but I am going to continue to support this, in support of our wonderful locally owned businesses downtown in this very challenging and difficult economic time.
Wilburn: And there is the education…I forgot there is the education component related to this, involving the parking meters, which I think everyone does support, and those resources will go to some of the, uh, non-profits that are working with, uh, providing support for some individuals, and uh, and I do agree with (mumbled) no exceptions.
Hayek: Anything further? Roll call, please. Item passes 4-1, Dickens abstaining.